It could have been me. That was the first thought that crossed my mind when I read about Priya Vedi.
Less than a year ago, I typed up a suicide note and wondered who to send it to and how to end it. For some reason, I couldn't go through with it. Probably because I couldn't let him have the pleasure of seeing me crash and burn.
I deleted the note and called a friend instead.
I was married to him for a few days when I saw messages on his phone, to a long-term friend of his, about his recent encounters with men and intricate details of what happened behind closed doors. We were both divorcees. Our previous marriages were short lived and ended due to infidelity. I couldn't believe it was happening, again. And that this time around, my husband was cheating on me with a man.
I confronted him. He denied every bit of it. It was exactly what I wanted to hear. I gave in to his lies and crocodile tears and relocated from the US to the UK. In about two months, I discovered he had known that he was gay for about 15 years. His best friend, who is married to a woman and has two kids, is his long-term partner. Another wrench came when I realised that this was not even an exclusive relationship. My husband was also in a long-term relationship with another man, whom he was about to marry, but ended up cheating on him too. Thanks to Grindr and Craigslist. Infidelity made all the more easier.
"From being the lovely new bride, I became the shameless non-sanskari bahu who wouldn't stand by her man to "correct" his problem."
Needless to say, the floor beneath me caved. But I still couldn't leave him. Love is a crazy emotion. Yes, I knew I was in love with a construct of my imagination, but it was still a real feeling. Judge me all you want -- I just couldn't let go.
In the days that followed, he emotionally abused me in all ways possible. From being the lovely new bride, I became the shameless non-sanskari bahu who wouldn't stand by her man to "correct" his problem. He made cheap insinuations about what I wore and how late I returned from work. I was asked to pay my share of the rent for sleeping on the couch in his living room. In his delusional world, I was not an Indian wife with values that could earn his respect.
His family happily joined the bandwagon. How can a married woman not cook food for her husband? He is not sleeping with a woman. How can a married woman not help her husband financially? There are many women who live with gay men, why is she special? Needless to say, I was everything that was wrong with the world.
Not many people realise that the impact of such trauma is not just emotional. It's physical as well. It messes with the way your body operates. Sleeping continuously for a few hours, feeling hungry, remembering the route to work were luxuries for me.
I shut my ability to reason and went with the flow. I found doctors, therapists, anyone I thought could help us sort out our situation and help him accept his sexuality. I hoped this would give me a clean exit. But nothing improved. He remained his true narcissistic self.
"I realised that my problem was not just the man I married. It was a society with preconceived notions of how a woman's life should be lived."
I stumbled upon Bonnie Kay and her website, which addresses straight women married to gay men, while browsing one afternoon and emailed her for help. And help was available in no time. I got references to an online support group for straight spouses where I met numerous people from all age groups and nationalities. I was welcomed into the virtual family. For months, they have been my greatest source of strength.
Slowly, the shock wore off and I realised that my problem was not just the man I married. It was a society with preconceived notions of how a woman's life should be lived. It took me two months to save up some money, pack whatever I could in a suitcase and break free. Make no mistake, I was not as strong as you might think I was. I was shattered, depressed, confused, ashamed and afraid. I had no clue what to do from there on... Something that a very good friend of mine, Cath, said to me, stuck with me. She said, "You might not have a future exactly as you envisioned. But you can build a future where you will be happy."
And she was right. She was right as hell.
Why did I take that time to move out of an abusive relationship? Was I afraid of society? Yes. Was I scared that it would hurt my family? Yes. Was I petrified about what people would say about me? Oh, yes.
All of my fears came true, yet I moved out. One year later, do I regret it? Hell, NO.
What are the major problems people in my situation face? And how could we, as members of society, find solutions?
"Society" is not the law
We -- you and I -- form this society. Just because I have been married to a cheat and a gay man, and then had the guts to walk out, doesn't mean that I am an outlaw. Nor does someone who chooses to live their life in a way we perceive as different.
Build awareness and acceptance
It is definitely unfair that we discriminate against people based on their sexuality. Is it enough to just wait for Section 377 to be nullified and gay marriage to be legalised?
" Can we not talk to our previous generation about the topic and educate them that it [homosexuality] is not a Western "disease" or influence?"
No, there is more. Over the last few years, I have heard a lot of people making seemingly harmless jokes about gay men or women without realising that a gay person in the group may remain forever closeted for fear of their jibes. Can we not politely interfere and stop these jokes?
I had never thought of how delicate the matter is until my mother asked me if it was good or bad that the infidelity was not with a woman this time. I was furious at her. How could it be good? Later, she explained with tears welling up in her tired eyes, that in a small town in Kerala, we don't discuss sex, forget sexuality. She really had no clue.
Can we not talk to our previous generation about the topic and educate them that it is not a Western "disease" or influence?
Gay men and women need to realise that while it is unfair on them to be treated differently for reasons beyond their control, it does not, under any circumstance, buy them a ticket to go trash someone else's life.
Redefining the meaning of marriage
Being married is beautiful. It's a wonderful feeling to be in love, to come home to someone. But it does not define one's existence. The purpose of one's life is not confined to getting married, having two kids, buying a house and a car and then becoming grandparents. There are lots of things one can do with this life. Travel, learn something new, try a new career, help someone in need, the options are endless.
My life started after I got divorced (the first time). I travelled, and still do, around the world. It sounds amazing but it is a lot of work and includes overcoming numerous hurdles to keep the job, manage life alone. But for the first time in years, I can say that I am truly happy and at peace.
"When I told my sister-in-law and her husband that her brother was gay, she asked me if I was cooking good food for him!"
Being divorced does not make you a failure. It simply means that you are not ready to spend your life in a rotten relationship and you have the courage to break free and start over again. It makes you look at life in a new light. Embrace the change and the challenge.
Updating the concept of the "Bharatiya Nari"
When I told my sister-in-law and her husband that her brother was gay, she asked me if I was cooking good food for him! What is the connection? Being an Indian woman, am I just supposed to clean the house, provide good food for the family and wait for my gay husband to turn straight? As long as you are selfless, you are an angel and the moment you voice your opinion, you are on a broom.
Now, all is done and dusted. The more important question is - is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Yes, there is. And I will start with an overused cliché. Time heals. Trust me, it does.
None of us are immortal. We all have an average life span of 70-80 years (that is, if you don't get hit by a bus or piss off a criminal). The first 20 years are spent in learning to live and the last few trying not to die. How would you want to spend the rest of the years you have got? Stay trapped in a bad situation blaming fate and god? Or break free and take the risk of rebuilding your life?
"I am coming out as a straight spouse in the hope that it reaches at least one person trapped in an abusive relationship."
When I share such a personal matter on a public forum without even using a pseudonym, I am not washing my dirty laundry in public, or even asking for help and sympathy. I don't care what anyone, including my family, thinks of me anymore.
I am coming out as a straight spouse in the hope that it reaches at least one person trapped in an abusive relationship. There is help available. All you need to do is ask for it.
I can't help wondering whether Priya would have lived had she found the right kind of help and support. Would she have lived if she had the guidance to start over again?
If you are a straight spouse married to a gay person, and need help, you can seek support here.Get help at http://www.indianstraightspouse.org and firstname.lastname@example.org.