Written by Ankur Mehta
Illustrated by Purnata
I was struck when he said, ‘I’m sorry you are too young for me.’
I looked at the photograph I had sent him via WhatsApp, after long conversations with him, on the gay dating app, Grindr. Me, with my thinning hair and a grey beard; I couldn’t possibly look young. But to him I was. And not in a nice way. He wanted someone wrinkled. Older, the better. How could that be desirable, I thought. It was, for this strapping young man, in his thirties, a professor in a junior college of the Mumbai suburbs, with his handlebar moustache, and thick wrists. I asked him, ‘What is the oldest guy you had sex with?’ Eight-five, he replied.
I had stumbled upon this desire very recently. Young adult men, not boys, men ‘ready to settle down’ as they say, who loved older men, sexually, and sought them out actively. A young, rather aristocratic looking man, with broad shoulders and long firm thighs, whom I met in Ghaziabad, said he liked men who looked like his father – big powerful-looking men, with moustaches and a protruding belly. I asked him, ‘Isn’t that incestuous?’, trying to be funny. He looked rather disgusted at the suggestion. ‘I am just describing what I want. My father is the handsomest man I know.’ I felt foolish. Desire existed in an unmoderated domain for him, where analysis was an unwanted voyeur. It’s what he wanted. And he would settle for nothing else. I was not big enough for him. I also did not have a beard then. Nor a belly.
We assume what people find attractive. Let me rephrase that: I had always assumed what people find attractive. Youth. Fitness. Light skin. Muscled body. Cute face. Beard. I did find that attractive. Still do. But OTHERS did not necessarily seek out the same thing. The very kind of boys I found rejecting me in my youth, were the ones drawn to me as I grew older, attracted not despite my age, but because of my age. Not all of them. But a substantial number. Those who were clear in their profiles: ‘Only seeking Matures. Young men below 40 please stay away.’ Never ever had I felt more desired. Or amazed.
On porn sites I had seen videos of young guys having sex with older men. Somewhere, maybe without thinking about it as such, I classified this as deviant – desperate youngies, hypersexual oldies. Like chubby porn. There was money involved, probably. It couldn’t possibly be part of the spectrum of desire. Everyone should love youth, right? That’s what everyone tells us. That’s how it should be. Old men prey on young women. Old women prey on young women. Old people prey on young people. Right?
I have always known I’m a gay man. However, I did not get along with young gay men when I was young. They felt I was too serious for them, too mature for them: an old man trapped in a young body. The dismissal was mutual. I didn’t quite enjoy the things that young people seemed to like. I did not enjoy alcohol, partying, loud music, dancing, going shopping or watching movies. My tastes were much too boring, for them. My tastes were ‘mature’ but that did not mean I found ‘matures’ desirable. I desired the young body. But young men did not desire my body, young though it was.
Gay friends, I felt, approached me for career advice or emotional counselling. I was the big brother they could lean on. The sensible asexual friend. I had (still have) body image issues and so I felt they looked down on me as too fat, too unshapely, wearing tight clothes pretending they fit me, choosing trousers with elastic bands. I felt I was being rejected for my body and not just my tastes. I didn’t belong with this younger generation. I always felt like an outsider and so I invested my time in my work. I never really dated, especially, after one serious affair and heartbreak (‘you are too practical, no fun’).
I focused on my career, rising up the corporate ladder, earning money and finding sexual pleasure in rent boys. These were eager young men easily available on the internet or other networks for a small fee. It was very convenient for them and me. They would come, they would have sex with me, take the money and go away. No clinginess. No mess. No risk and drama of rejection and hurt. No mess and pain of wanting what you might not have.
With some of these men, I struck friendships. At no point did I assume they desired my body. I was nice to them. If they were nice, like wishing me for festivals, I suspected they wanted more money – which was often the case. For me, their arousal when we were together, was part of their youth. I did not like it when they would want to watch porn clips, of women mostly, in order to have sex with me. I did not call such guys back. I did not like those who, after sex, insisted they had girlfriends and sex with men was just a hobby, a timepass. This was a turn-off for me. I would give them money and ask them to leave. I preferred those who did not talk too much, who performed more and proclaimed less. I did not allow myself to feel that they might find my body attractive.
My lack of self-confidence in my private space was in opposition to my over confidence in the corporate world. I was very happy with my life. A single life; with staff to take care of your housekeeping needs; young men who take care of your sexual needs; friends for your social and emotional needs; another group of friends for your intellectual needs. A neatly compartmentalised life, until one day during the lockdown, you miss them all, and tired of webinars and video calls, you start spending more time on Grindr.
You know you can’t really meet people because of the social distancing norms for health and safety reasons. So you have to satisfy your desires digitally. This is when I stumbled upon what was for me a totally new bower in the garden of sexuality – sexy youths who yearn for the companionship of older men, who desire their ‘papa bear’.
I was familiar with Twink clubs, Straight Acting clubs, Muscle clubs, Sugar Daddy clubs, Bear clubs and Otter clubs. This classification is common and casual especially in dating apps. People are clear what they want. There are spaces to cater to men who like older men with lots of hair on their bodies and big stomachs. Men who don’t like smooth, young boys and a whole range of choices that is not part of popular media. What surprised me was the number Twinks and Muscles who liked Bears. They saw the Laughing Buddha and Santa Claus as sexual, desirable, delightful, beings.
Here were these young, beautiful men who clearly knew what they wanted. They wanted older men and the range varied. Some preferred men who are wrinkled, bent and stooping on a stick, a movie grandfather. Some preferred them to be fit, muscular uncle types. Many of them wanted moustaches. Some wanted wobbly pot bellies and jiggly buttocks. Some wanted chest full of grey hair to whose cushiony comfort they could abandon themselves. Many preferred older men who were ‘loose’ – which means natural, not sculpted in the gym. Regular older men, with dad-bods, or shall I say, Indian dad bods 😀
My world really changed because I grew a beard. I was always clean shaven and happy to look cherubic, thinking this would attract other men, a calculation with low returns. But the moment I grew a beard and it turned out to be grey, I realized I was in high demand. It took me by surprise. People complimented me for my looks – women, and men. Something had changed. It was the beard that got me attention on Grindr, more than anything else. Especially the fact that it was grey. I was now officially ‘papa bear’.
For all the porn talk that is popular on Grindr, I was shaken and taken by the genuine kindness, gentleness, romance that I was showered with by these men who sought matures. They were not seeking money. They were not simply seeking a body. It was borderless – no compartments. Friendship. Mentorship. Desire. Support. I felt parental, the word is ‘vatsalya’ combined with the shringar and the madhurya, the sexual and the romantic. A tenderness between a young man and an older man. A ‘pure feeling’ as one of the men said, that few understand, or at least, give in to.
The young men I met during the lockdown could spend hours chatting with me; discussing their careers, nature, politics. I would ask them, ‘Don’t you have friends your age?’ They did. They played PUBG with them. But that was not enough. They found pleasure in men like me – older men, with beard, with experience.
They were not part of the ‘gay scene’; they did not want to go to parties. They don’t want to meet younger gay men. They were not interested in queer politics. It bored them. Sometimes, younger men hit on them and they would laugh about it. Some of them are stunningly good looking. They go to gyms and sculpt their body; they could be poster boys in gay clubs. They were aware of the impact they had in the gay world, but they were not interested in that. Youth just did not arouse them. And their gymming was not to attract old people either. They said they love going to gyms because they liked their bodies, and wanted to look good and attractive.
My insecurities returned. What did they want from me? Surely it could not be my body.
You see Bollywood stars and celebrity-creators clinging to their youth, with the hair dyes, the face lifts, the tummy tucks, the keto diets and the Instagram posts, fearing old age, fearing rejection, fearing aloneness. But I was now confronted by the opposite: a paradise I had never known before in my life, a paradise I refused to believe could exist, a paradise where I was desired as I was, mature and plump. For me it was permission to be myself.
Still, you can’t help second-guessing: was there something perverse about it, even if you are dealing with adults? Is it the right thing to do, even if the consenting man is post graduate in political science? Then you realize, there is mutuality here, between two grown-ups and what’s coming in the way is mixed baggage. Where are these rules coming from on how to be gay? Who said only young people fall in love? And why should they only fall in love with young people? Why do we put our desire in boxes made by other people?
What I love about the boys I’ve met is how full of life they are. One sends me photographs of his haircuts and enjoys me praising them. Another tells me how he cannot talk to his family and prefers staying away. Another wants me to send him selfies every day, doing ordinary things. Another sends me juvenile jokes, and gets upset if I do not reply instantly. One lives in a slum in Mumbra, another lives in his small village near Kota, one is a sales person from Kakinada, one is a small businessman in Ajmer. One loves to see me nude, one just wants me to send emojis occasionally. The video chats are short, just a kiss, a smile, a moment of adoration, under bed sheets, or from the bathroom, avoiding the scrutiny of family. I see their innocence sometimes, their fears, the burdens placed on the youth by society. These man-boys, looking to sleep on my chest, and feel safe – which is also an important and beautiful function of intimacy.
I have never been monogamous so I chat with multiple people simultaneously. I clarify I don’t like exclusivity. Some do have a problem with that, but most don’t. I don’t talk about one to the other. I feel that is violating privacy. But they know there are others.
Occasionally they ask me about my ‘partner’. I laugh and change the topic. When they try to make me jealous, of other papa-bears in their life, I feel relieved. No pressure of being the only one. I have heard stories of possessive boyfriends, drama and even suicide attempts, bouts of depression. That world of clinginess terrifies me. My have coped with aloneness not by seeking the one but by craving the many who also find solace in many.
I am also in high demand because I’m single. I found this out because most of the older men are married. These married men meet the younger men in hotel rooms during travel, for sex which is shrouded in secrecy and maybe self-hate. They don’t want to have conversations. These young men are looking for not just sex; they are looking for a friendship. They don’t want to encroach on the married life of these older men, but treated as guilty secrets, they feel humiliated, denied, deprived, waiting in the margins for crumbs.
A delightful young banker I know from Jogeshwari hails from a very affluent North Indian family. He told me he had a relationship with a solicitor from the age of twenty to twenty-three. It ended when the solicitor’s wife and children found out about it. His other relationship was with a civil servant who was twenty years older than he. For five years, the gentleman would travel to his city and spend so much time with him that his wife got suspicious about it. She realized this was not just friendship and forced him to break it off. These were long term relationships, and he was still in touch with those people. He was in his thirties now, with two relationships under his belt. I asked him if he himself would get married and he said unhesitatingly that he would. He could not push things away for longer. He has to accept the inevitable. He was not too happy about this but saw it as the way things are, even should be. He didn’t see anything wrong with loving an older man and having a deep emotional bond with him; while being married. He did not see his sexuality as being any impediment to his married life. He was very comfortable with it. There was no anguish or doubt in his head. Would he let his wife have lovers? I asked. He did not reply. The thought had not occurred. And what if his children found out? He blocked me. I guess, he loved daddies who indulge, not daddies who interrogate. But some papa-bears want their lover boys to be decent, not just dashing.
For me, these last few months have been discovering that fixed notions of how the gay world is or should be were based on propaganda. There are many worlds out there, hidden, but real and thriving, if we look beyond the shadows.
I have seen men who I once felt were unreachable, out of my league, eagerly welcoming me into their fold, enjoying my body, enjoying my maturity. With them, I feel I am myself, not performing, not pretending, not transacting, just being, taking a moment at a time. Yes, may be these boys are seeking a father figure. And maybe my own erotic and sensual pleasure is mixed with the desire for loving those children I never had. I am not their father and they are not my children. To classify such attraction as ‘incest’ or ‘fetish’ is just another way of invalidating different desires. I just want to enjoy this feeling, without analysis or judgement. Let it be what it is – natural.
Ankur Mehta (name changed) is a planning-to-retire IT consultant who lives in Bengaluru mostly but prefers Mysuru, and is often found in the beaches of Bali.