Friday, August 21, 2009

Married Gay Men and their social implications Ashok Row Kavi

Married Gay Men and their social implications

Ashok Row Kavi


Thursday, August 13, 2009, (New Delhi)

One of the most common problems I've faced as a community counselor is of married gay men and their issues. I still remember a young married man who wished to know how to "balance" his life with a wife at home and a male lover in the army, of all things. The issues got sticky as the army lover wanted to come and meet him at home now knowing that along with the parents he would end up meeting his "stepwife" (suatan in Hindi).

In a very forgettable instance, I remember a young man planning to marry a woman knowing full well that he would not meet his conjugal obligations. The idea behind the marriage was to grab an apartment offered by his employer at a throwaway prize for only their married employees. The plan was to divorce the hapless woman after a year and get in his gay lover to live-in an ever-so-happy pink future. When I pointed out that a divorce might mean the wife getting the apartment besodes alimony payments, he asked me about pre-nuptial contracts. When I said they were illegal everywhere in the Union of India except in Goa, he huffed out of the office and never returned, till eight years after he walked in a bitter man very sick with AIDS related complications.

The sad stories are still continuing and seem to provide an endless drama of sorrow and tragedy. My community based group, the Humsafar Trust, does what are called "tracking interventions" every 18 months. These are structured questionnaires which are answered by random men in sex sites through what are called "time-location- clustering", a social marketing techniques to get some credible information about any population.

What came about was startling. Around 50 to 55 per cent of men-who-had-sex-with-men (MSM) were mostly also having sex with women, Of these around 25 to 30 per cent were heterosexually married to women. Besides, all these bisexual men were having two female partners on an average every month and on an average these men were also having sex with between 5 and 7 male partners a month. In other words, there was a huge bridge MSM population that was having sex with both men and women.

Now just suppose that the HIV or STI prevalence among exclusive gay men was a high 20 per cent. This "high pressure zone" was the tank from which HIV and STIs "flowed across the bridge of bisexual men into the female population. That being the case, the government's HIV prevention programs had to be made more integrated by asking MSM to use condoms with both men and women. Besides, the female partners, the wives of MSM also had to be treated for STIs to prevent what was called "the ping pong effect".

In this, if the man alone went for treatment without getting his wife also treated, she might re-infect him even if he did not have sex outside marriage with men or women. The NACO's programs in Phase III of the National AIDS Control Program (NACP III) finally got on board the wives and female partners of MSM. However, it is the social implications of gay men married to women that will become more obvious as the days go by.

Men get married not only to reproduce and have stable social relationships but also for inheritance and familial stability. I many joint and extended families, young men do not get powers of attorneys in family business' till they are married and become "responsible house-holders". The imperative to marry is sometimes greater on men than women despite the fact that a single woman is more stigmatized than a bachelor.

However, as Section 377 is read down and society "unravels" into liberal globalised economies, things will rapidly change. It is not un-common to see parents now groping with young men who bring him their foreign male spouses to introduce them to parents. Also men living as "single" gay men in other cities cities also feel they have more space to have relations with both sexes without being hauled over to be forced into "arranged marriages".

Whatever it may be, the future will be fraught with a lot more social heartbreak, need or counseling and "upstream marriage services" before the dust settles after the re-interpretation of Section 377. The main goal though should be a mentally and physically healthier society, never mind the ranting and raving of the loony Right wing forces..




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