The one thing Indians hear unanimously, irrespective of which part of the country we grew up in, is – "family is everything." We are repeatedly told that a person's family will be there for them when no one else will. We are told that there is no bond like the familial bond.
As an indigenous queer woman, running a queer feminist resource group, I agree with all of the above. But who constitutes a family isn't just about biology.
Not all natal families step up for us in times of need. This is where chosen families – the ones who love us unabashedly for what we are, who we are, and what we stand for – come in.
This is precisely why, along with a batch of other pleas in the Supreme Court seeking marriage equality, we wanted to point out that this is as much about families as it is about marriage.
We want our laws to not question the legitimacy of chosen families; we want a reality where the intimacy of chosen families is not just recognised but also celebrated.
Familial Violence Is Real
Blood is not always thicker than water – and no one knows it better than queer and trans persons.
On 1 April, a closed-door Jan Sunwai or Public Hearing on Familial Violence on Queer Trans People was organised by the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), along with the National Network of LBI (Lesbian, Bisexual, Intersex) Women and Trans Persons (The Network) to bring these concerns forward. At least 31 queer and trans persons testified in front of the panel.
More often than not, our assigned families are the biggest roadblocks that stop us from being who we are.
Only recently, I received a call from a queer woman after she came out as queer to her family. She was under house arrest but she managed to flee – after her parents tried to kill her. This happened right here in Delhi, in India's capital.
There are countless reports of queer and trans persons being forced into conversion therapy by their own families, recorded instances of people going to courts to seek protection from their own families, and so many news reports of queer and trans people being subjected to physical violence – again, by their own families.
There are numerous people who fight such odds every day – to just exist, to be themselves.
There are accounts of queer and trans people telling their families that they want to cut their hair – because they want to 'focus on studies.' They change their clothes after stepping out of their homes – because they do not want to start another argument, or worse, physical and emotional abuse. Even the act of looking at themselves in the mirror is a challenge – because they are fighting to be themselves.
They are formulating strategies on an everyday basis – for the simple act of self-expression. What our assigned families don't understand, our chosen families give us strength to be.
Who Is There for Me But My Chosen Family?
In case I have not emphasised it enough, no one has been there for me like my chosen families.
When my father, who supported me wholeheartedly, passed away, my queer mother travelled thousands of kilometres from Goa to a village in Assam-Arunachal border, just to be there for me. I cannot remember the number of times she's been there for me emotionally and financially – anything I needed, no questions asked, she gave it to me as any mother would. The fact that I am not related to her by blood does not diminish our relationship in any way.
She organised a birthday party for me, when I did not feel like ringing in the day. She has taken care of me when I was sick – scolded my friends, asking them to take care of me.
The same goes without saying for my partner. She is there for me every step of the way – sharing my joys and sorrows – being everything for me, without a question. Why should I not be 'allowed legally' to name her as my next of kin? To have her take decisions for me when I am unable to? Why should I be denied this basic right?
...Or my queer child (who is 27 years old), whose partner felt nervous to meet us because... we are family – and partners are usually nervous while meeting the families of their significant others.
My partner and I have created our own family – our own ecosystem. These are people who will walk with us, who will support us in taking decisions. It is a reminder that we have surrounded ourselves with people who love and accept us for who we are – just like families are supposed to do.
And most importantly, chosen families are a reminder that we are never alone.
(As told to Mythreyee Ramesh.)
(Rituparna Borah is an indigenous disabled queer feminist activist with 15+ years of experience on gender, sexuality, and LGBTQIA issues. She is the Co-Director of Nazariya: A Queer Feminist Resource Group in Delhi, India. She is a part of the LBI Women and Trans persons network and is a co-petitioner in Marriage Equality Case in Supreme Court in India.)
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