My relationship with weddings has been a rocky one; not in the least because as the male of the species I was never entitled to dream about such a happy day. Weddings were for girls. For mum’s to sacrifice for and for little girls to fantasise over. For men, weddings were something you paid for, or a day to snare your girl and ensure you could carry on the family name and gene pool.
Allow me to introduce you to Gubs. Former BBC journalist, our star guest at unconvention London and of one of my readers. Yes. According to recent stats 45% of my readers are male. They are indeed!
Gubs recently got married and I had the absolute pleasure of attending his beautiful wedding day. When Gubs started planning his wedding, he contacted me to say he wanted to contribute to Nu Bride. Well of course, I happily obliged and welcomed some testosterone and a new planning perspective. So you’ll be hearing from Gubs a lot more!
But more than what, I wanted to share with you Gubs’s powerful journey to saying “i do” a juxtaposed tale of oppression and unconditional love.
Gubs recounted that as a man planning his wedding, he was surprised at the majority of inspiration, articles, wedding fairs and generic messages in marketing materials were geared towards the female species. The bride. Gubs wondered why there were so few inclusive resources, or voices for the groom and for the grooms who also happen to be gay.
Up until just 3 years ago as a gay man in the UK I did not have the same right to get married as heterosexual couples did. Yes! That’s right just 3 years ago!
I am aware of the many outdated memes and stereotypes that stick in the wedding industry like glue. I am discovering the closeted institutionalised racism too. Hell, we still haven’t had a woman of colour on the front cover of a UK mainstream wedding magazine yet. So if we struggle with inclusion of different types of women, then sadly it’s no surprise that an industry that runs the risk of being stunted by tradition, isn’t hitting the mark with being more inclusive to men and same sex couples, which makes me whince a little especially since same sex marriage was legalised in the UK well over three years ago. We can all do better, self included. But I shall save that for another article.
I am also aware of the growing intolerance our society has with any kind of difference that isn’t represented in mainstream popular culture. I am aware of the followers who drop off my instagram account whenever I share images of same sex couples and I am aware of great prejudice within our own families and friendship circles and how this permeates.
When I found out Gubs and his husband, Gary were the target of hate, receiving such repulsive and cruel trolling the day after their wedding day (after an image leaked and went viral), their first day on honeymoon. Yeah. let that sit with you for a moment. The target of hate simply for choosing to marry the person they love. I wanted to share Gubs’ story more than ever. We have SO much to learn about equality and tolerance. So lets start here.
Gubs and Gary got married on the most glorious sunny day at Clearwell Castle. A stunning castle venue in Gloucestershire. An elegant wedding like any other. A venue Gubs never dreamed would be accessible to him.
Gubs goes on to say;
At 43 years old I got married in a castle, in Gloucestershire of all places, something I could not ever have dared dream about or think possible for the first 40 years of my existence.
As a young British-Asian boy I was told to not play in the sun for too long ‘as no one would want to marry me if I was too dark’. I was told I had to be a doctor, dentist or an accountant ‘as no one would want to marry me unless I had a good career’. I was told I had to marry a girl from India ‘as British-(Asian) girls didn’t respect their Punjabi backgrounds anymore. So what did I do? I became a gay barman who dropped out of university. I did eventually work hard to become a Broadcast Journalist at the BBC for over a decade but by then it was far too late for me to be a suitable boy.
In my 20’s, weddings – especially big, long, brash Punjabi ones, became the weekends from hell. I was just beginning to come out to those around me and at least once a month I had to make the long journey back to my ancestral city of Coventry to attend another cousin’s wedding; where I would inevitably end up having to stay sober so I could drive my family home while my dad could drink with the uncles. If you’ve never been to a Punjabi wedding – then you haven’t lived.
It was during these numerous weddings I would inevitably be questioned by numerous uncles and aunts about what I was doing for a job (nope still not a doctor guys), asked how tall I was (yep still 5ft 6 inches), and pleaded with to get married soon, before my options of catching a decent, family oriented girl who’d make the perfect daughter-in-law ran out…
At 26 my mum passed away. And then all hell broke loose. You MUST get married now. You have to honour your mum’s memory said one aunty as we watched the smoke rising from the crematorium’s chimney on the day of my mum’s funeral! If you get married, your wife could make chappati’s for your dad!
If you get married I’ll buy you a car said one uncle.
I’ll give you a deposit for a house, said another!
If you get married your mum’s short life would not would not have been wasted.
I was offered everything and the world, but all it made me feel was that I never wanted to get married. Ever!
At this point in my life marriage, to someone of the opposite sex, was just something expected of me, especially being an only son. The guilt placed on me was suffocating and I nearly caved a few times. Friends of friends who identified (in secret) as being lesbian or bi offered to marry me to keep both our families happy. Naive, innocent girls from India could be produced as if by magic to marry me; they would even turn a blind eye if I wanted to live a secret and ‘alternative’ lifestyle. I was becoming more confident as a gay man and coming out to more people but I was also feeling like I was losing the very people I loved.
Divorce rates began going up in the 80s and 90s and with my growing immersion into the London gay scene since starting (and then dropping out of) university, I lived by the belief that getting married was not only something I couldn’t do, it was definitely something I didn’t need or want. Why do I as a (sometimes proud) gay man want to live up to a heterosexual ideal that wasn’t even working? Why do I care about settling down, having children and a buying house with a white, wicket fence, when by law I didn’t have the same rights as straight couples who were getting married (and divorced) every weekend?
I was too busy building my career, exploring the globe, trying to understand where and how I fitted into the world, but all the while desperately looking for that special someone I could settle down with. Even if it meant we’d not have the same rights to each other’s assets, pensions, healthcare etc as heterosexual couples.
I certainly wasn’t a gay right’s activist by any stretch of the imagination, but I saw the painful truth of inequality I would live under if I met the man of my dreams.
But it wasn’t until I met Gary that everything changed.
I was 40 and had been with Gary for over a year and a half, when I nervously felt able to tell my dad the truth about his son.
I spoke to everyone about how I was going to do it; take him out for a meal and talk to him man to man, tell him with with my sisters there, get someone else to do it for me, take him away for a weekend and tell him on neutral territory. In the end I took him over to his sister’s house and told him with the amazing support of my aunt and uncle. And boy was I glad I did that.
I still remember that evening and how awful it felt for everyone. To see a man being forced to finally face a truth he’s denied and dreaded for over 30 years was searingly painful. I could barely get my words out and couldn’t even say the word ‘gay’ in front of this man whose heart was breaking in front of my very eyes. I knew it would be hard but this was on another level.
It was my aunt who finally asked me in if I was gay..and I weakly said yes! He said he knew what I was going to say. He said he knew!
He knew and yet spent years, decades even, trying to fix me up with girls, trying to convince me to meet girls, asking various relatives to find a girl for his son!
I was livid.
But then he started saying all the rubbish I was expecting. Why do you have to be this way? You can change it, I know you can. Think of your sisters. What will the family think if everyone finds out you’re ‘this way?’
Everything he said implied that who I chose to love would have a direct and negative impact on my family.
Driving him back home was the longest, quietest and most agonising journey of my life. I think I told him I loved him. At least I hope I did.
I just remember thinking why didn’t I just leave it alone? He would have been happy living in denial and I could have just lived without yet more guilt. We didn’t really speak for about a year and our relationship has changed. I’ll always be a disappointment but we all have our crosses to bear.
Telling my dad didn’t really make me happy. The pain, the anger, the loss, the feeling of hopelessness and despair of that evening made me realise one thing though; the law may have changed but it still meant nothing to the one person I so desperately wanted to be proud of me.
I knew my dad wouldn’t come to our wedding. But I’ve come to accept that. He’s come such a long way! Treats my partner with kindness and respect, drinks with him at family functions, comes and visits and even stayed over at our house and in his own way accepts as much as he can. I lived undercover and in survival mode for so many years, so if I’m to respect the hurt and pain I may have caused some people, I also have to appreciate and acknowledge the sacrifices and hurts I’ve endured. As painful and unfair the situation may be I have to accept things for the way they are.
I can’t change the world but I can change my world and build a future. I do have the right to walk down that aisle and register by law that my love is as pure and valid as anyone else. At the end of the day all anyone truly wants is….Love!
Gubs and Gary’s wedding was a day that was filled such joy and abandonment, free from prejudice and judgement. Filled with unconditional love from every single person in the room, especially the children. We can learn a lot from children.
Their day is a day I will hold Dear to me forever. Not just because Gubs is a Dear friend, but because I am aware of what it took for him to walk down the aisle and overcome prejudice within his own family, not just because they were gay, but also because of their differences in race and faith. So when they walked down the aisle together and “our time has come” started playing well, I was off. A powerful unspoken moment. When they were declared legally married. The most rapturous cheer and applause and energy I have ever experienced at a wedding, because we all knew what it took for them both to get there.
And then, after the post-wedding buzz, the trolls came along to try and gatecrash the party and failed.
I won’t link to any of the platforms promoting hate or show screenshots of the hatred, because they are irrelevant and I will not give them a platform on Nu Bride, a corner of the internet that celebrates and cherishes inclusivity and equality.
But I will share just one message I saw in reference to Gubs, it stood out amongst all the hate like a shining beacon:
“Don’t be afraid, he did it. So can you”
To me Gubs is the real inspiration here. The real lesson in profound resilience, tolerance and unconditional love. Still able to show compassion, love and forgiveness to a father who he feels has never truly accepted him.
It’s Pride in London this weekend and there was a question posed on a debate show this week; should heterosexuals be allowed to attend pride? I think the answer is absolutely yes! We must be each others allies. We are forming silos and becoming more and more segregated and less aware of each others differences and indeed common ground in the UK. With inclusion, comes better understanding and less fear. With less fear comes more tolerance, with more tolerance, comes acceptance.
Our sexuality and gender preference is ours, no-one else’s.
We all have the same capacity and understanding of love and what that means. To be accepted, to be acknowledged, to be humanised, to be included. It is so simple. And as one of my dear colleagues Karen at Smashing the Glass wrote in the most fitting and timely article said:
Inclusivity is the first strike of the hammer against the seemingly immovable wall of prejudice….the more you celebrate things that are different, the less “other” they seem
Gubs you are a remarkable example and a true inspiration for tolerance and unconditional love. Congratulations to you and Gary and to everyone out there who cares about equality. Happy Pride.
Wedding photography: Lens Monkey