Forced to hide, lead dual lives

Manoj* looks ordinary in a crowd. Few would imagine that the man in his mid thirties leads an extraordinary, dual life – he has a wife and a boyfriend. He is discreet and has learnt to juggle between the two.

But at the other end of the spectrum there are people like Sanju.
Sanju like to call himself Sanjana – despite being married to a woman. He has a steady boyfriend for the past 10 years. And he says his wife has accepted him the way he is.

Making a casual bun of his waist-long hair, he recounts the ordeal of being hounded by his family when he ran away from home in Chapra district in Bihar. Realising he is not “normal”, the family soon married him off. His protests went unheard; he was beaten up and his hair cut “like that of man”.

Now he leads two lives – of a husband and a “girlfriend”. Assuming the second role comes more naturally to him. 

“It has not been easy. Even though I tried to tell myself to settle in the marriage, I could not accept it.”

A dancer with a troupe, Sanju tries to change his demeanour in front of his children. The long hair has to be tied up. His “feminine” characteristics mellowed.

Like Manoj and Sanju, several gay men are forced into straight marriages.   
Returning to the closet is easier than convincing family members about their sexual orientation. Homosexuality is not only frowned upon. In most cases, the consequences of being a “deviant” in the family are unbearable.

The recourse several gay men adopt is marrying a woman and having homosexual partners outside the marriage.

Both the parties feel trapped in the marriage.
In a recent case, an All India Institute of Medical Sciences doctor committed suicide, blaming her “gay” husband for torturing her. The woman had mentioned in her suicide note that her husband had multiple sexual relationships with men and that the couple had never established a physical relationship, according to the police.

Who is being wronged — the gay man or the woman? Who is to be blamed for marriages which end like this?

A gay man who is compelled to lead a life abnormal to him due to societal pressure? Or the gay man who gets into a marriage despite knowing of his orientation?

 “During counselling, we always advise they have to avoid marriages at any cost,” says Anjan Joshi, an LGBT activist and member of Society for People’s Awareness, Care & Empowerment (SPACE).

Women often do not come to know of their husband’s sexuality.
“Many women choose to compromise as they have no other options. While some of them choose to file for divorce, some women live separately to avoid the stigma of going through divorce and people knowing about the husband’s sexual orientation,” says Joshi. Of the registered gay members at SPACE, some 42 per cent men are married.

Many of the members are under pressure from their families to get married ‘next year’.

“In a lower middle-class family, which parent gets the concept of his son being gay? It traumatises me to think I will have to be intimate with a woman. The message is clear: we do not want to marry. Even if I get married, I will end it soon,” says Sudhir*. His parents are likely to get him married off next year.

Sahil* ran away from his house in Benaras to escape marriage. He left a note behind threatening to commit suicide if his family members forced him into it. “There was no other way out,” chuckles the 25-year-old.

“It is understandable why men cannot communicate about their orientation due to social pressures. But in some cases, men put up very little resistance to not get into marriages. We always advise gay men even if they do not come out of the closet, they should avoid getting married. This is to ensure somebody else’s life is not affected,” says Gowthaman Ranganathan, a lawyer with  Alternative Law Forum, Bangalore.

In most marriages of this kind, the couples are asked to part with mutual consent. In some cases women choose to continue with the marriage for the sake of their children.

A woman filing an FIR under Section 377 against her gay husband is not advisable and this practice needs to be discouraged, say activists.

“The provision is a colonial one and needs to go out of the law book. Taking recourse to penal provisions is highly problematic,” says Ranganathan.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code criminalises certain sexual acts, which makes homosexuality a crime in India.

Parting ways
Even though marriage laws differ on the basis of religion, there are three options broadly available for ending the marriage – annulment, judicial separation and divorce, explains Tripti Tandon from Lawyers Collective.

Annulment can be sought on the grounds that the marriage has not been consummated or the parties have not had sexual relations even once. “This is often the case with gay men married to straight women,” says Tandon.

Another ground for seeking annulment is where one of the parties in the marriage has given consent on account of force or fraud about a fact pertaining to the other party.

“It is an open question whether the courts would consider the pressure faced by gay men from their parents as ‘force’,” she adds.
In this case, the woman can claim that she was kept in the dark about her husband’s sexual orientation.

The ground for judicial separation and divorce are adultery and cruelty — which has been interpreted to also include refusing to have sex with the spouse or openly having a relationship with another person.

For a few men, not being “openly gay” is to ensure social acceptance. With a regressive law in place, they choose to opt for marriages with sexual partners outside it.

“In a few cases, men even ask their wives to keep the marriage intact and explore sexual relationships outside the marriage,” says an LGBT activist.

Some men even feel their homosexual relationships would end once they marry.
“Why should I not marry? Once I get married, I will not engage in homosexual relationships,” says Sudarshan*, 20. He refutes he is bisexual and reiterates that he is “clear in my mind”.

This is a misconception several people hold: they would cease to be gay after marriage. Marriage is often looked as the way of turning straight.

“The trauma continues. You do not feel sexually inclined towards the woman and then having to be physically close to her is traumatising,” says Rakesh*.
Their trauma surpasses the feeling of wronging the other person.

Tushar M, LGBT rights activist and member of Equal India Alliance, feels a combination of factors shape the decision of a gay man marrying a woman.
“Lack of self esteem, parental and social pressure, the existing criminalisation and blackmailing by police often forces people to give in to pressures to marry a partner of the opposite sex,” he says.

When gay men are dragged to court, there is no relief for them. Legally, a gay husband is the ‘party at fault’. This is for refusing sex, intimacy and companionship to the wife.

“Though gay men suffer immensely in such marriages, the law neither recognises nor relieves their suffering. On the contrary, they live under the constant fear of being reported to the police (by the wife or her family) for having committed an offence under Section 377,” says Tandon.

As Sanju’s phone constantly buzzes, he smiles, “I have to rush to meet him now. I had promised to meet soon after the performance.”
And he is proud: for being in love with the same partner for 10 years now. He can trade the stigma for it.
*These names have been changed

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