Most of the mature gay men in India are married and it’s frustrating if you are looking for more than a quickie
“We can meet today after office and see how things go,” V said over the phone. I was scared yet excited. This was 2011 and my first date with a man. V was married, I was confused. This was my entry into the same sex relationships and V was eager to be my guide. We had liked each other’s profiles, exchanged images over Planet Romeo and were chatting for more than a week. That he was married was a perfect fit, a surety that he would be discreet and restrained unlike the flamboyant and proud gays I was wary of.
Though I felt like a conspirator in this act of betraying his wife, there was no choice. All the men I found desirable and safe on this dating site were married and I was done vacillating. About to turn 30, I had not yet explored my urges for a male body. Morality could wait.
Being gay in India is not easy. It gets tougher when you prefer mature men, most of who come with the “married” tag. They range from those who feel entitled to have the best of both worlds to ones who feel suffocated in a heterosexual marriage. What’s common among them, however, is the belief that dating men is not equal to cheating their wives. “At least I am not dating a woman,” is the commonest refrain. Some have also devised their own rituals. R, for instance, didn’t let me touch his organ. I could have his rear end but the symbol of manhood was reserved for the lady, probably making sex with men less sacred.
A’s guilt varied in proportion to how far he was from his hometown. “When in my own city, I prefer going alone to a forest or riverside and sit there for hours to take off the load of mental stress,” he said earning extra kisses from me.
Starting out, I found dating married men to be convenient. They were more discreet and hence less likely to indulge in robbery or blackmailing, something I had heard was common in the gay world. They also seemed more like me, a man confused about his sexuality, not acknowledging the social conditioning that made him believe that he is “not gay enough”. Can I just fit in, like they have?
After a few years, I also had this hope of finding my dream man, even if he is married. “People find love in all kind of situations. Maybe I become a reason that unshackles him from a meaningless, dreary family life,” I would humour myself.
It took me a long time to realise, however, that married men are less likely to engage emotionally. Some will send WhatsApp forwards on deep love and friendship but won’t even go for a short walk, trying to wrap everything in the room. It could be the fear of being seen with a younger man, uncertain emotional territory that could challenge their stable family life or just lack of bandwidth. To avoid these questions, some of these gents prefer dating married men like themselves. Besides surety of a hushed affair, they also tend to be less demanding of each other. “It’s easier being with people like us. They know what it takes to be married and having responsibilities. We can be just friends and leave it at that,” V said once.
They had not only accepted the heterosexual marriages but also propagated it to others. N, for instance, threatened to out his former boyfriend if he didn’t get married to a woman. “Now he is well settled and happy with his family,” he said to me once. At a later time, however, he accepted that marriage was just a compromise. “It’s much easier to be gay for your generation. There is Internet, role models and more talk about sexuality. We didn’t know any better than getting married.”
Dating married men came with a power struggle. I felt helpless as they controlled how and when we date. But more than that it was the limited time window. They always had to rush back to families. “What will I say at home?,” was the commonest refrain when asked about outstation travel. The only person who had a night out with me was someone whose wife was visiting her parents around that time. The unequal relationship was frustrating and it exploded every once in a while on strangers like this man who had put ‘sincere’ in his profile description on Grindr.
“How can you be married and dating men and still call yourself sincere?” I questioned him. After taking a few insults from me, he asked, “What harm have I done to you?”
The question immediately disarmed me. Who was I to take a moral position on someone’s life, especially a stranger’s? What did his profile trigger in me that I decided to be nasty? Was it frustration at not being able to find single men or did I feel sorry that I could not be similarly married and nonchalant? Whatever it was, it didn’t take into account that not everybody is privileged like me to be single and exploring.
In India, pressure to get married is big especially with parents and relatives having a say in how we live. Popular media has just now started talking about alternate sexuality in a more sensitive manner but we still lack something like a ‘Giovanni’s Room’ or “Portrait of a Lady on Fire” that could depict the mental chaos queers experience while battling conventions.
Even though some of us are asserting our sexual identities, there are many more succumbing to the pressure
This stress is taking a hidden yet violent toll on people. Two persons known to me died by suicide just before their “forced” engagements to women. A female doctor slit her wrists after outing her husband of five years alleging mental torture. A friend’s wife decided to divorce him after he came out to her. The intervention of both sets of parents, however, convinced her to remain married and take solace in spiritual healing.
I was also in denial about my sexuality and looking forward to settling down in marriage. Besides dating men, I was meeting prospective matches through matrimonial websites. My male dates also advised me the same. “You are always the dominant one in bed and don’t have feminine gestures. There should be no problem managing your marriage.” Of course all of them had managed to have a seemingly happy married life.
But would I be able to live the pretence? Some days I felt upbeat for marriage, at others it seemed a punishment. I said yes to a girl, our parents met but I retracted in a few days. No lessons learnt, however, because I convinced myself that she was not the “right” one. That’s what women married to gay men have to live with. They are often blamed if the marriage doesn’t work while man’s lack of passion is overlooked.
I had devoured enough LGBT books and movies, which were informative but not transformative. I was hoping against hope for a divine intervention. I wished love (from any gender) would flood my life and lead me on to the right path. Love didn’t arrive, but sent help.
I had a big crush on this single, mature, publicly out writer from Mumbai. I watched his videos strewn all over social media on loop and DM’ed him on twitter. We were soon doing WhatsApp video calls. I had never felt this fervent before and even though it didn’t last long, the experience introduced me to my deepest desires. Why should I settle for anything less than this?
I also recognised that there are many single mature men available, if not in my city, then somewhere else. I just need to preserve and explore. Soon, I deleted the matrimony profiles and came out to my friends and family.
Have the affairs with the married men ceased? After over two years of abstaining, I met A after the lockdown last year. He came with a Covid negative report, an asset around that time. I deferred for a while but then gave in after he persisted. We went into the woods around a lake, a long time fantasy. But I remained steadfastly clothed, not wanting to give myself away.
“There’s an empty room in my office. Maybe we can go there,” he suggested noticing my discomfort.
“Mmm I would prefer we travel some place. Will you go out for a night with me?” I tested.
“That’s not possible. I have a family,” he said. I nodded silently, agitated for being stuck in this loop.
“We should meet again some time,” he suggested while we drove back.
“Not like this,” I said calmly, hopefully putting an end to hurried sex with the married and occupied. I would rather date the flamboyant and proud.