Divorce is scary. Not because of the fear of loneliness or ostracisation that comes with it for women but because getting a divorce seems to be an impossible journey to make. From my vantage that is.
The power in a cis-het marriage leans towards the man in the relationship, hands down. I won’t make it easy for anyone consuming this; it’s not just in my case. As a person who identifies as non-binary and queer and as someone who has lived a good part of their life and marriage presenting as a woman and straight, the intersections of violence in my life are both amusing and downright infuriating. Let’s not forget, we have two beautiful children from this marriage too.
That I am done being married somehow seems insufficient a cause to step away from it.
Them: No, you must try.
Me: But I have tried for 20 years without uttering a word about being done, why would I want to continue?
Them: No, you can’t leave the man in the lurch, your husband! Their father!
Me: But I don’t plan to leave him in the lurch, I plan to reclaim me! He is their father and has been a friend to me. And, I don’t want to be in a marriage and have a romantic relational bond! I am done!
Sometimes I can’t tell if one voice is mine and the other theirs. They all seem like mine in my head anyway – my own doings, my own fears of ostracisation, of feeling abandoned, of guilt and shame. Oh! Such shame!
Marriage is centered around the patriarchal notion of power – to keep relating as the roles we are defined by.. No matter the ‘liberal’ nature of relating, those in lesser power roles know the difference, know what liberal means for them. They are allowed, sanctioned, and made visible to do things that women before them were not. The awareness of this is apparent when you live in spaces where other women are seen differently. I am acutely aware of the gendered role my mother has been pinned to, acutely aware of what that does to how she is viewed, her role is that of a homemaker no matter that she has a doctorate or that she wanted to be an MBBS doctor and not one with a PhD. I am aware that given the motions of patriarchy, she cried helplessly, afraid for my children now that I wanted to step away from this marriage.
I am aware that the reasons my own legal partner gives me to stay put is that our marriage was not like everyone else’s. Yes, for him. And thankfully for me in some ways. I didn’t have to live with his parents, I didn’t have to visit and sit with them frequently, I didn’t have to adhere too much to their lifestyle. After consuming those terrible Indian sitcoms, after having braved my own joint family’s traumas, I don’t think I was ready at 21 to deal with having more lived experience of the same as a married woman. But does that mean our marriage was not like others’, not like a typical marriage? Yes, I had my own life. For the most part, we lived like two separate beings in the same house, hanging out and having sex when it pleased us. But when we moved into our own home, it was my mother who helped me set up the kitchen. I found myself cooking more than him, and for him too. Now two decades in and a year of separation I can see that cooking might not be something I completely detest. But then, there was the unsaid rule that I gravitated towards, begrudgingly.
I gravitated towards several such unsaid rules, despite detesting what had become of me. Children by 27, Lamaze classes with my sister, birthing without the other parent in the same room, the first painful few years of parenting on my own with my mother and father and hired assistance, supporting me through sleepless nights, sore breasts, sick days, and fatigued body. I spoke to many women in my place and told them they need to think of this time as single parenting. “Just let go of expectations that he would be there, treat this as a time with your child and that you are a single parent!” It’s the only way I kept myself sane. It’s the only way I presume most new mothers keep their sanity even now.
It hurts my heart as I write this, but these are the unsaid rules of being a woman. You gravitate towards the oft-walked route when put in the maze that is heteropatriarchy.
Things get better, no? Over time? My life did too. Older the children, the more comfortable my legal partner got with them. He is excellent at fun and games. Excellent at taking them out for long trips to play, to play a sport, to get them in the right schools, and right tuitions. For a good 10 years of our life since I was pregnant, we slept in different beds because the children needed me, the mother. The daily scrub, the daily grub, the daily snorts, and the daily poop was all mum’s department and the paid assistance we thankfully had from the Dalit women who lived with us. Unsaid rules and conveniences, all a plenty our life has been made of. Maze of heteropatriarchy. I saw everything and I made accommodations for this beautiful man in my life, isn’t that what being a partner is? I am sure he was making accommodations, and financial planning for us all. One of the rules of heteropatriarchy is to not have conversations. We were good at this rule. We understood each other silently. I know I did, until I started feeling that the silent ways my legal partner understood me was not enough. It was already 20 years by then, you see.
What is the ethos of child raising? What are the hopes for our partnership and how does it serve the world? How does asking me what I want every step of the way serve the relationship? I wish these things were things we’d chant when we sit at the wedding pyre. But that’s not patriarchy then, no!
Remember I was saying, I want a divorce? I’ll tell you what comes in the way. It’s these unsaid rules of patriarchy and its power. What I am mortally afraid of is how hard it is to make someone see the space you are in, and that it is my burdensome task even to get a response. Even if that someone is the same person you’ve known for 20 years. Fear of loss, fear of what it would mean for the children, the terror of trauma for all is justified. As much as my emotions are valid, what it means to lose a partner of 20 years is both our grief. His perhaps different from mine, but grief and fear all the same. But let me tell you what the grief and anger of those in power does to those who don’t have it. As someone who is seen as a woman, as someone who is genderqueer and pansexual, as someone who is not seen in the world in the same way a man is, financially and socially I am at risk of losing everything I have in this fight to let go of confinement to structures that don’t work for me. I fear the loss of my children. I have navigated conversations of a variety with lawyers and everyone else concerned and have been told to “be careful”. To live a lie about my queerness so that a case is not made against me as a person “not fit to be a good mother”. What genderqueer and pansexual person who doesn’t have the same connections as a cis man with friends in the judicial system, thuggery and otherwise, stands a chance of a battle within the same system that upholds marriage as scared and pure? I am scared to have my own thoughts, that don’t align with cis-heteronormative patriarchy. Thoughts are in the head, no? How can that affect anyone? Pray tell me how does one parent when ideologies in parenting, and living and visbilising humans aren’t the same?
I’ll tell you what I am doing with my children. I am teaching them all about patriarchy, capitalism, queerness, disability, casteism, mental health and how to navigate this crumbling and beautiful world. You know what they have learnt? To hide information, I teach from their other parent, lest they be tagged weird, strange, or not normal. This is how many stories of survival, brilliance, and alternative ways of being get hidden from mainstream bloodshed of everyday life. I am made to believe as I smirk and write this, this is how greatness continues. Queer parenting and conversations about that are for another time. In any case, life seems to run away from my hands when fear lurks in such close quarters.
For now, here is what keeps me awake at night: what will happen tomorrow as I continue to be a giant pain in the ass of patriarchy? What fears grasp at me as I cut patriarchy’s vile tortuous umbilical cord?