I love weddings. Being witness to a celebration of love between two people is undoubtedly special and a healthy distraction from a world in continuous turmoil. The three things I enjoy most about a wedding are dressing up, eating cake (or jalebis) and dancing: elements of the gay stereotype I’m afraid I’m unapologetic in owning.
When I first came out to my family, or rather when I was forced out of the closet to my family, it was not easy for them to accept. “What will people say?” is something which understandably perturbed my mother, and concerns around the community is nothing if not an Indian obsession right? “This is not what we do… it’s what white people do”. My mother has certainly made the journey from that difficult time and is now one of my greatest champions. So much so, that other members in the community, reach out to her for support when their own children come out. Thankfully the bond between Indian mothers and their sons was far stronger than both the fear of prejudice and perceived rebuke from a community.
I was about 11 years old when South Africa held its first democratic election. It was an incredible time to be alive and it was not lost on me that I was fortunate to grow up in a time, in South Africa, that was remarkably different to that of my parents and grandparents, who were until South Africa’s constitutional democracy considered second class citizens.
In 1999, when our constitutional court in the judgement National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality and the South African Human Rights Commission v Minister of Justice and Others struck down the pernicious sodomy laws in South Africa, Justice Albie Sachs noted: “At a practical and symbolic level…[this case] is about the status, moral citizenship and sense of self-worth of a significant section of the community. At a more general and conceptual level, it concerns the nature of the open, democratic and pluralistic society contemplated by the Constitution.” I was too young then and perhaps too closeted to appreciate how this judgment would impact my future as a gay man living in South Africa.
A famous South African legal theorist, Etienne Mureinik, considered the change from Apartheid to democracy as a move from a culture of authority to a culture of justification. As difficult as it was for my family to grapple with their own fears and prejudices of having a gay son, they could take comfort in the fact that their son would never face arrest or be deemed a criminal. That’s why laws do matter.
In April last year, my dream of having a big gay desi wedding was realized and having my family be a part of this important celebration (and let’s be honest, weddings are the pinnacle of all Indian life!) was something that I will never take for granted. The interconnectedness of our present world means that during my wedding and after, I’d often have young men from India and Pakistan sliding into my DM’s on Facebook or Instagram both congratulating me and asking my advice on how I got my family to come around. Most heartbreaking were those messages where I was told that they could never see themselves enjoying what should be their right to enjoy, the simplest and most basic human desire of loving and being loved. Those broke my mother’s heart too.
I consider myself really fortunate to have been a part of the celebrations of queer weddings. What has struck me about each wedding is how the notions of love and marriage are reclaimed and re-imagined. There was none of the “together forever, until death do us part” rhetoric but rather a pragmatic acknowledgement that love is [not just] love (sorry Lin-Manuel Miranda) but love is commitment, love is hardship, love is political, love is more than just the social construct of marriage. (Yes, down with your patriarchy and heteronormativity!)
I’ve had far too many good cries at these weddings. Witnessing the love and support which all of my friends have received from their parents, families and friends made me realise that there is good in this world.
Admittedly, there is perhaps a lot about the experiences of my friends, and that of myself and my partner, which stand apart from other men and women who face attraction to the same sex. Prejudice against members of the LGBTIQ community has by no means dissipated and in this regard, I need to acknowledge my own sense of privilege as a cis-gendered male of a certain class living in South Africa. I’m fortunate that I have accepting family, who have embraced my partner. For many, this is sadly not a reality.
When the legalisation of same-sex marriages was finally realised in South Africa through the passing of the Civil Unions Act, I was still a student finishing my law degree and going through the challenges of coming out.
As a South African Indian, with a Hindu (Gujerati) upbringing, my own experience of marriage is very much stooped in tradition, culture and family. Marriages within my family are larger than life, characterised by fun, food, music, dancing, colourful festivals and much ceremony. I remember at the time secretly harbouring the fantasy of having a ‘monsoon wedding’-style marriage. I didn’t think it was practically possible. I’m happy to say that my wedding was exactly everything I dreamed it to be.
Click here to see more of Keval and Andrew’s beautiful wedding.