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i do?

The thought of marriage awakens a conventional wedding fantasy from her childhood, but it is also a bitter reminder of her otherness as both a queer woman and a member of the BDSM community. In an honest appointment with herself, Jaya Sharma analyses these contrasting truths.

ILLUSTRATION BY OPASHONA GHOSH

For someone who’s queer and kinky, I have almost no fantasies. Strange, na? And even stranger, perhaps, is that the one fantasy I do have is of walking down the aisle in a church, wearing a long, flowing, white wedding dress. In stark contrast to the reality, as most fantasies are I guess, of my being someone who has resisted and opposed marriage for most of my adult years. I’m 55 now, and it’s as good a time as any to look back at my life through the lens of marriage.

I’d like to start with when I was in college and lucky enough to have found feminism. Not that my feminist friends were all against marriage, but I certainly was. I gave up no opportunity to declare to coupled friends, at any real or imagined moment of feeling neglected, that friends were as important as lovers and spouses had made sure we forgot this. The image I had — and still do of marriage — is one of a monstrous tree which does not allow anything else to grow below it.

The family pressure started at age 21 after my mother went to a jyotishi. Despite being an inauspicious manglik (or was it double manglik, I don’t dare ask my mother lest it revives her own fantasy about my getting married, which managed to fade only fairly recently), the astrologer assured her that I would soon marry an engineer. To this day, I have never had even a lover who was an engineer, so that’s that.

This was also the time that I found my first boyfriend, long after all my friends had hooked up. A Tam Brahm who I kept so well a secret from my family that they still don’t know about him. Even though they are from Rajasthan, the caste connect would have made them more than happy (and all ‘South Indians’ are, of course, soft-spoken and gentle). Until then I had understood, in theory, that marriage as an institution was necessary to maintain the caste system, and, now, here it was playing out in my immediate life. I knew the pressure to marry him would have been immense. So a secret he remained.

A secret that I was unable to keep was when, at the ripe age of 35, I was attracted to a woman for the first time in my life. It was the days of landlines, and what my mother heard on the phone extension did not leave much to the imagination. (My father had passed away by now). I heard words familiar to us in the queer community…“It’s all my fault. I must have done something in my past lives to deserve this. This is a disease….” The love between my mother and me was too strong to be broken even by this, but what did change was that the hugging came to an end, and I stopped sitting on her lap (which I used to do often, despite being more than twice her size).

Fast-forward to a year ago when the words ‘loss of innocence’ suddenly came to me while lying on a couch. Watched by my psychoanalyst on her rocking chair behind me, I realised that my mother ‘finding out’ about me (as though it were a crime) meant that for my loss of innocence, a price had to be paid (not least of which was the end to hugging). The loss of innocence, celebrated by parents when their children get married, meant something quite different for me.

My opposition to the institution of marriage continued, fuelled by newer reasons that were related to being in a same-sex relationship. When my partner and I tried to take out a joint loan for a home, we were told, “Spouses and blood relations only”. Ten years down the line, after we broke up, began the emotional and financial mess of trying to divide up the home. It was officially in my name, but she had continuously contributed to the repayment of the loan. This split was also marked by my emotional inability to tell my mother that I had broken up, because I knew how happy it would make her. The reverse of married friends and cousins for whom even the rumblings of marital discord meant proactive intervention/intrusion by parents. When any discord ended in divorce, it left me sorely tempted to say to my mother, “So much for your persistent whining about the need, no, the necessity, of getting married so that ‘budhaape mein koi saath ho’, so that we are not left all alone, old and sick.” I also wanted to be mean and smirk about the lakhs of rupees spent on weddings, which never won them any guarantee.

One thing I did share with happily or unhappily married friends and cousins was the struggle with monogamy. It seems so much simpler to be monogamous, but how little emotional or sexual sense it makes. How could just one person meet all of our (many) needs? If anything was unnatural, it was this. But the intense drama and tension, all the time, and the energy expended in managing more than one romantic sexual relationship made me end up wishing I was monogamous.

It was only when I joined the Bondage, Domination, and Sadomasochism (BDSM) community, at the ripe(r) age of 47, that I reconciled to the fact that I had no choice. How could I even try to be monogamous when I was fast discovering even more erotic and emotional dimensions to myself. Mission impossible! Mercifully, I am now surrounded by people who are involved with more than one person, and each relationship has a different dynamic. Not that there isn’t jealousy or heartbreak, but there is also an exploration of desires, which acknowledges the community’s wonderfully mind-boggling diversity and often refuses to be contained by monogamy. Not that there aren’t folks among us who are monogamous or married. Including those who discovered that marriage offers more than its fair share of non-consensual humiliation, not only by spouses but also by their families.

Non-monogamy did not mean that I was content. Psychoanalysis helped me see that hovering near my aversion to monogamy was my fantasy of the beloved — the ‘one’, the only one, whose gaze would always be on me, for whom nothing and no one would be more important than me. (Always belied by the cruel realities of life). It also helped me consider the possibility that this fantasy was playing out in my unconscious, defying my rational mind, and that I was not unique in feeling like this. As though in the beloved we find what we lost in infancy, when we have to accept that we are not all-powerful and the mother was not (ever) ours.

I know that marriage is the monstrous tree that doesn’t let friendships thrive as they should and an institution which keeps the caste system going, despite those who brave inter-caste marriage, even at the risk of death; that denies same-sex partners bank loans and much more; that ties the knot of monogamy even tighter; that doesn’t live up to its promise that we won’t be lonely in our old age, and yet…my fantasy of the white wedding gown persists. Time to lie down on the couch and invoke my analyst on the rocking chair behind me. Five years of psychoanalysis, and I never got around to figuring out what this was all about. Of course, it’s to do with all the gorgeous women walking down the aisle in the Hollywood films that I grew up watching. Of course, it’s because marriage, other than death, seems to be the only occasion which brings together friends and families from miles apart. I don’t need to lie on the couch to figure this out. Might it be, however, that my fantasy about the white wedding dress is also about my fantasy of the beloved? That all desire for marriage is, in part, a fantasy? But, session’s over.


Jaya Sharma is a feminist, queer, kinky, political activist and writer based in New Delhi. As part of a feminist NGO, she has worked on issues of gender and education for over 20 years. As an activist, she has cofounded and been involved with queer forums in Delhi. She is also one of the founder members of Kinky Collective, a group that aims to raise awareness about Bondage, Domination and Sadomasochism. She is currently writing a book entitled Fantasy Frames: Sex, Love and Indian Politics to be published later this year. You can contact her at jayajulie@gmail.com.