Azhar profiles anonymous South Asian gay men and women who are in, have been in, or want to be in, marriages of a convenience with members of the opposite sex to appease their families.
“Particularly in South Asian cultures, sexuality is still largely taboo,” Azhar tells PRI. “People don’t talk about their sexuality in an open way and they certainly don’t talk about their sexuality if they are not heterosexual.”
Coming out in those cultures, he says, “is just not done.”
One anonymous subject explains these sham marriages are “to get societal pressures off their back and to appease their parents and families, and generally the society,” but he also seems to believe “it’s about prioritizing and working toward the greater good.”
Another man seeking a marriage of convenience insists he would be disowned if his parents knew he was gay. He’s been looking on mock-marriage websites for a few years, but says that often matches can come through “mutual friends who are in a similar circumstance.” By his estimation, a third of gay British South Asians are looking for this kind of partnership.
“The only reason is because of the way that we’re raised in regards to religion and community. They just don’t want to be disowned.”
“Marriage is a huge deal in any community, but within the South Asian community, it’s the pinnacle of family life,” Azhar explains. “Quite often in South Asian cultures, when two individuals get married, it’s not just about them—it’s about the entire extended family.” That can exert a great deal of pressure on gays and lesbian to conform and enter into heterosexual unions, even if that means a lifetime of unhappiness.
“Effectively they’re lying — they’re lying for the majority of their lives,” he says. “It’s about saving face in front of the extended family and the entire community.”
Such arrangements are nothing new—in China, they’re called “xinghun,” and experts believe there are some 16 million gay men married to women. But their prevalence in the United Kingdom, where equal marriage is legal, is surprising.
The sole lesbian interviewed in My Big Fake Straight Wedding says she does want a loving relationship with a woman, she just worries that if it doesn’t work out, she will have forfeited her entire community for nothing.
“You’re still gonna have the family there, you’re still gonna have the society there,” she says. “If that breaks down—if that relationship breaks down—you’re still left alone.”