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Growing old when you’re gay

Going beyond the flamboyant stereotype can reveal a life full of unusual challenges for the single gay man.

brunch Updated: Nov 12, 2016 19:26 IST
Gay men talked about men and the size of an organ just like heterosexual boys discussed women, cars, engines and horsepower
Gay men talked about men and the size of an organ just like heterosexual boys discussed women, cars, engines and horsepower(Shutterstock)

Between India’s homophobia and the quest for individuality in a conformist world, same sex lovers have few chances at long-term relationships.

At different stages of my life, I have been in love with an aspiring journalist, a spa therapist, a waiter from a gay bar in Bangkok, a call centre trainer, a manager at a mall, and an aspiring doctor. I expected long-lasting relationships, but came out of these beautiful periods absolutely alone and, of course, back to being single.

My first ever kiss was with a boy, my household domestic help. That was when I was 18 years old. He was 17. He left for his village in Bihar and never replied to any of my letters that told him how much I missed him, and asked when he would return. I cried and filled my life with the normalcy of studies, routine and then, work.

More than a decade later (1999), I came out to myself and then to my mother. I had had no sex life since the boy from Bihar – not even a kiss or a hug with anyone. I satiated myself watching music videos. I recall being aroused by a Jermaine Jackson (brother of the late Michael Jackson) music video. I treated that VHS with utmost care, playing it for that measly yet ‘unreal’ pleasure.

As I explored my sexuality, I realised the gay world survived in the underbelly of Delhi – dark, mysterious, bitchy, yet comforting. Tight clothes, fashion and cruising was all part of it. We talked about other men, leched at them, discussed sex and the size of an organ with tangible excitement. I guess this was no different from how heterosexual college boys discussed women, cars, engines and horsepower.

Our private spaces were away from society in the form of parties at farmhouses and later at bars that needed at least one profitable week-night. The pent-up need for privacy assured that money would flow on that single night that a bar opened its doors to us. The dimly-lit space, strangers, some familiar faces, the body-to-body dancing, the leg between legs – it would all happen that one night, turning a ‘public’ space to something very private.

These were our few hours of freedom. We had no other space, whether it was at work, at home or elsewhere, to merely be ourselves, probably exaggerating our sexuality for that brief time.

The one-night outings left me dazzled on occasions, falling in love with lust and intimacy and not necessarily the person I was spending time with. Still, these outings and moments were so precious that neither my lovers nor I realised that we had little in common other than our sexuality. No wonder these ‘relationships’ never lasted.

After several attempts, the last being almost six years ago, I immersed myself in long hours of work leading to sleeplessness, with just my phone and I in bed. I compensated for my emotional and mental state with sarcasm, shoes and watches, none of which gave me joy even when acknowledged.

I dreamt of relationships, cried at the drop of a hat, not knowing why, and yet hoped I could have a home of my own – with my lover an active participant in this dream. I knew if this were ever to be a reality, a homophobic society was hardly a place for it to flower. I often felt dejected when I saw my peers married, creating homes and spaces that were their own. I knew they had the privilege of finding partners at a place of work, college and so many other hetero-dominated avenues. They didn’t have to wait for a chat site or a private party or a gay night at a city bar to meet someone.

I am 48 years old now, more experienced and confident. Yet, I get jittery at times over the next steps after a first meeting with a ‘new’ guy. Is he the one or was it the cute one I was out with the other night, or the fellow I chatted with at an LGBT function or on Grindr (a gay chat site)?

I am often confused, toying insecurely with options, scared of expanding my energies on one person, wondering, at the same time, if these efforts are pointless. Or is it just that I still wished to explore the world and people that made it?

Maybe I had become a product of gay culture and its liberalism, the deep need to challenge the law, the normative, while recognising individuality. At times, I felt I had grown to differentiate between sex and love, but was not sure if that was something consistent in me. I thought that maybe a relationship or a commitment could be far different from the typical.

“I don’t know if you are a person who needs more than one person in your life. Maybe you need an open house of many people,” my mother said a few days ago, worrying that I might be left alone and lonely after she goes, hoping that probably one of the many in the open house would stick.

I dread the thought of her going; she has always been part of my life. I dread dying alone, with no one by my side. Maybe the solution lies in what my mother said – a new kind of family structure: that of friends, many of them. Some who stay over, some who leave to return the next day or night, but not a moment without the sense that someone is around for me, no matter what.

Sharif D Rangnekar is a communications consultant, a writer and the founder of Friends of Linger, a Delhi-based music band. His recently released single ‘Miss You’ has taken the Internet by storm.

From HT Brunch, November 13, 2016

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