Last year, my partner C and I tied the knot at the local city hall before a select group of people comprising of close friends and one family member on each side — the fathers of the brides. That our fathers made it to the ceremony warmed our hearts, impressed some friends and surprised a few others. This was followed by my first American Christmas — also my first family Yuletide — in a warm southern state, which was a welcome relief from the New England chill. Now, a business-related event is taking me back to India, my place of origin, and compelling me to face my extended family, some of whom have gaped in horror, felt anger, sadness, and general confusion at the turn of events in my personal life.
C and I are as similar as we are different. She comes from a Southern Catholic family that has witnessed biracial marriages before, whereas I have a Hindu middle class upbringing with little ethnic intermingling, though my family has upheld the value of cultural diversity in our surroundings. She grew up on Midwestern farms, I in an Indian city of over three million people. So, when we found that we agreed on bigger issues like being gay, double espresso shots and frequent museum visits, we decided to waste no time and swiftly married. Her family welcomed me very warmly over this past Christmas, and her mother threw us a wonderful reception in her backyard. Although it was clear that we hailed from very different social and cultural worlds, never for a moment did I feel unwelcome in their household. There was even a pitbull puppy to play with during my stay!
I might not have fully noticed our interracial, interfaith, binational lesbian wedding had my mother not reacted so virulently. She reminded me repeatedly on the phone that my partner was a ‘foreigner’ and a ‘woman’ — both identities seemed to matter to her with equal significance — and that I was completely out of my mind to take such a decision. An aunt considered tele-counseling me out of the wedding, convinced that her reasoning would prevail. For some odd reason, T-Mobile saved me, and her calls reportedly failed each time she tried calling me. A few older family members blamed my West European education for corrupting my sexuality — it must have been that stint in Paris (when in doubt, blame the French!) — oblivious to the colorful life I had once led while living in the subcontinent. Never underestimate the strength of an underground gay scene! The bottom line of all this was neither my sexuality nor my wife was going to be welcome back home.
Fortunately, the backlash didn’t affect me much at the time, since my dad voluntarily played the role of the great educator and defender of LGBT rights to my dismayed family members, including my mom. Dad’s strong reasoning coupled with his direct support for my ‘cause’ provided me with a powerful line of defense against hostile family members. Thanks to Dad’s relentless support, my mother had a change of heart over the past months, my aunt quieted down and the others could do little but let out occasional deep sighs. More recently, my mother has started sharing recipes for curry and a host of Bengali recipes with my wife, has regularly inquired about C’s health, and is probably shopping for Fabindia kurtas for her American daughter-in-law ahead of my visit. For this incrementally progressive behavior, I owe my dad for his consistent support of his daughter’s sexuality, and surprisingly, my grandmother. To her, it is like ‘shoi-patano’(a special bonding between female friends in Bengal) with the added stamp of legality.
Since the wedding has made me come out to more people than I had ever intended, this trip back to my place of origin makes facing their reactions inevitable. Will my physical presence stoke the intensity of their opposition? Will they be passive aggressive or confrontational? What should I do under such circumstances – face them upfront, smile and nod, or rebook my tickets and leave early? Ever since my trip to India has become confirmed, I have been thinking of various strategies to save skin and self-esteem, and to return back to New England in one piece.
However, all is not bleak. My parents being aware of my misgivings have repeatedly assured me of their support, which is most essential. My mom reaffirmed, “Everybody wants you to be happy. They are a little confused about the means you have adopted but will come around over time.” My cousin — the other pink sheep in the family — has promised to drop by to collect her wedding favor. For all good reasons, I am both her inspiration and biggest support. It is a rare pleasure to have a gay cousin, and to share the trials and tribulations together. Yet, a two-week stay in India will also bring me in close proximity with less supportive family members, remind me once again the dire state of gay rights back home, and probably make me postpone my wife’s visit to India indefinitely.
Despite these rough possibilities, as I pack my suitcase, I hope for happy surprises, less heteronormative aggression, and just the simple joy of visiting my roots.
This is the first of a series of three posts on my journey and back.