By B. East
Whenever I need to fill out my marital status, I always cringe and anger creeps over me as I check the box “Married”. Yes, I am legally married, not to a man, but a queer woman. This is an arrangement called “marriage by formality’, which some members of the Chinese LGBTIA+ community choose to do to avoid the constant nagging from parents and satisfy the family’s grand high hopes for the expansion of the family. On the surface, it appears to be a pretty straightforward arrangement.
The decision never came easily. At the time, I had been fighting with my parents and the rest of the family as much as was possible on the issue of marriage: They tried to put me on a decided schedule, and I firmly refused; they tried to play the family bond card – I should take on the responsibility to carry on the family lineage – but I never buckled. I struggled, suffered, and I finally embraced my sexual orientation, which was such a relief, not to say just liberating. It truly can be described as “once one goes gay, one cannot go back”. I had experienced how beautiful and exciting my life can become when I stay true to myself, and I did not want to give that up.
However, as my parents got older, I’d see the disappointment in their eyes and it made my guilt even more profound. I would often think, “ They never treated me badly during my formative years and I had rebelled enough. Should I just find a way to cater to their needs just this once?” Then came the opportunity: I came out to one of my high school classmates who happens to be a lesbian. She had been searching for a partner for a “convenience marriage”, and we “clicked”.
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We planned feverishly for almost two years and assumed that we had thought this all through, but trickery by any other name is still trickery. At the marriage ceremony, I started to feel uncomfortable. I was putting on this a grand show that would have to continue being performed even after the wedding, much like weaving an enormous tapestry of lies. Such is life in all its drama: The self-acceptance I had gained over the years was eroded in the two hours it took to officiate the ceremony.
Now, each time I tick the box marked “married” as my status, I despise myself for not being forthright, maybe even brave enough to stand in my truth. The anger then turns to my parents, who, in their dotage, are unable to understand my sexuality. Granted, their lack of understanding and acceptance is assumed on my part because I am yet to come out to them. I dare not take this ultimate step because I am afraid of the consequences – my parents, heartbroken and in tears, feeling they have no choice but to cut ties with me, and all thanks to my reluctance. I would never be able to forgive my cowardice.
But life still has to go on. This is the arrangement I have chosen and will have to come to terms with it. I cannot fully live life as my authentic self, but I might use my experience to help others to realize their desire to live authentically.
I have always been upfront with my queer friends about my identity. At first, it was a way to relieve the pressure, but later after the word of my “success story” got out, many more friends began to come to me for advice. My advice remains the same: Avoid the convenience marriage trap at all costs. I usually lay out all the challenges I have to surmount in my life as possibilities they have to factor into their decision-making process. . There is little to nothing to be gained from entering into a marriage contract just to appease parents and have kids. It is not worth it. I have lived on the other side and the grass is not always greener.
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