When I was fourteen my grandmother considered selling my hand in marriage to the teen son of one of her followers. She would have gotten land in Montana out of the deal. I’ve forgotten how many acres I was worth as a virgin, but I remember the hideous sensation of knowing it.
Of course, I don’t know now how serious she was. That’s the trouble with abusers who flout all the rules. I couldn’t know if any limits on her behavior existed, and sometimes she’d decide retroactively that she’d been joking all along. Maybe it was no more than a passing fancy she uttered, but maybe she really wanted that land to start a compound.
My mother had legal and physical custody and grandma was not my legal guardian. I’m not as confident as I’d like to be that my mother definitely would have said no. She’d say it now and I’d like to believe she would then, but it’s a hope and a wish, not a firm truth I can cling to.
I thought my grandma was serious at the time and didn’t think anyone could save me. I don’t remember my intended groom’s name, but his nickname was “Buzzy” and that was painfully uncool to my public school attending, secular music listening teen self. I didn’t want some dorky homeschooled Duggar-like farmboy to marry!
So I did the only thing I knew to. I had sex with my boyfriend. Fourteen is definitely on the young end, but we were there together and he was my choice. He was the boy with black eyes and small hands I wanted my first time to be with, not some country bumpkin I’d never met who’d keep me barefoot and pregnant in his kitchen.
I never actually told my grandma how I’d tanked my bride price. I did refuse to become betrothed to “Buzzy” and she dropped it. Maybe sex wasn’t necessary. It felt like it was, like my virginity had made me uniquely vulnerable to certain forms of exploitation, and now that it was gone it could no longer be used against me. She dropped all mention of Montana and started buying trailers in the park to sell (at profit) to her followers.
This morning I saw a meme that reminded me of this ancient sexual and family history. It shows two headless pregnant torsos facing each other. The figures are holding between them a sign pointing at the bellies and labeling the fetuses as future husband and wife. On the parenting pages where it’s shared, commenters gush over how cute it is.
No one thinks my story is cute. Arranged marriage is generally looked down on in the US, and treated as a cultural oddity of Bollywood and Fiddler On the Roof. Something other, ethnically and racially different people do, something inferior and quaint we graciously let them have. (My society has a haughty racist tone.)
Yet this heterosexual nonsense, this trans and queer erasure in the name of “adorable” suggested future matrimony, is treated as cute. As sweet. As somehow acceptable while traditional arranged marriage practices are seen as unromantic and cold, or as the product of overbearing meddlesome parents. In American movies with ethnic arranged marriages, the romance is found when a party leaves their intended for their true love.
We, as a culture, want our children to happen to fall in love with the people we would choose for them. We want the control and contribution of matching our baby with the baby of a friend, but we want to pretend it was their idea. So we end up with this “cutesy” social pressure, wrapped up in compulsory heterosexuality and rigid cis gender adherence.
If my story isn’t cute, this meme isn’t cute. Calling infant boys “ladies men” and infant girls “heartbreakers” isn’t cute. Mutually fantasizing with other parents on the future marriage of two parties too young to consent to the arrangement isn’t cute. My grandma wanted to choose my future husband based on her friendship with his father. She wanted to arrange my marriage. These torsos remind me of her.