“You are not gay. Don’t pretend to be one,” O said, examining my listless face as he penetrated me in the missionary position.
I felt nothing except a pain in the arse. When it was my turn to mount him, the sensation remained dull again. That was one of my initial encounters with men.
“How did you discover yourself?” was my standard question in those days.
O was a divorcee with two teenage children. “Well, I got married at a young age. I used to have these dreams of being with men and when our marriage ended, thought maybe this is the right time to explore this side of me,” he offered.
I immediately resonated with the dreams but was left wondering: why was he a more authentic gay than me? Why was I not enjoying anal sex?
The difference, I realised much later, was that I am a side. People like me lie down, kiss, caress, suck and bite each other but rarely go down the hole. We are mostly invisible, many hiding their preferences lest they are labelled as lesser gays. Hell, even dating sites don’t offer a ‘side’ option in ‘positions’ categories. So we have to make do with ‘versatile’.
Most of the porn also skirts the ‘sides’. The actors jump so quickly to blow jobs and penetration (sometimes with clothes on) that there is no room for deep kissers, embracers, armpit lickers or foot suckers. When was the last time you saw two men in a long, tight hug hoping to melt into each other? Or kissing, purring and frotting? Gay sex is mostly imagined around pleasure and climax via f**king.
“You people must be the only ones having safe sex dates during the pandemic because you go from the rear,” joked a straight friend, leaning on the stereotype that anal sex is the be-all and end-all of male-to-male courting.
This overindulgence of intercourse to define gay male relationship in collective culture is regressive. It denies us a deeper, mutually intimate expression of eroticism, something easily accessible to heterosexuals. Needless to say that such projections marginalise the sides. My indifference to anal sex fed the confusion about my sexuality for a long time especially since I have another frowned-upon desire: of courting mature men.
“Am I gay or just a straight man having daddy issues?,” I would ask myself. Every encounter seemed a dead end. Penetration was like an exercise I did to fit into the gay world.
An understanding came from an unlikely quarter. “My husband and I also don’t like f**king,” said R, a female straight friend. “We lie around kissing, hugging and doing everything other than penetration.” Existence of sides among heterosexuals was the discovery that freed me from feeling weird. After all, their intercourse enjoys greater cultural legitimacy and is replicated as a prototype in all sexual relationships. If that can be subverted, so can the anal sex among gays. Over time, I met more men who were okay with being sides, adding “not into anal” to their dating profiles.
Penetration has long been used as an expression of masculine dominance. Gay dating profiles are constructed around f**king and playing gender normative roles, imitating the heterosexual settings. In India, from where I come, this valuation seems to be more prevalent. Bottom shaming is rampant.
There are a few bottoms who are thankfully trying to disrupt this imbalance. Their means may include topping the tops (cowboy position), controlling the pace of intercourse or considering themselves as more masculine because they are able to take it like a man, found a small study done by researchers at the University of Sussex. Similarly, there are tops who draw their self worth from being considerate to the needs of the bottoms.
Two ‘sides’, on the other hand, don’t have to try hard. They are on equal footing by default.
Sides can feel more stigmatised within the gay community but the perception can also be reversed, especially for someone in denial. When O declared that I am not gay, I did feel elated. “Maybe now I can go back and live my straight life, get married to a woman,” I thought. The dreams, however, kept chasing me, forcing me to go deeper, recognise passion for men and find my own definition of gayness. Coming to terms with both same-sex attraction and the meaning of my erotic interests took many years and not everyone may be privileged to have that much time. That’s a good enough ground for a more diverse imagination of eroticism that involves all sides.
Lightbug is a story collector who daydreams about a homo-normative world. He is on twitter at @gaylores