I often yearn for the simpler times before I came out of the ominous closet. Being gay came to me easily when I was 15, because I wasn't aware of the labels associated with what I felt back then. It was easy for my adolescent brain to go through life with a sexual intent that was hardly met until I was allowed to travel in a packed local train with men of all shapes and sizes. The early years of exploring your sexuality are ideally the most thrilling because you never know who in your vicinity is going to end up becoming a random sexual experience.
One of my earliest experiences was chilling with my childhood buddy, playing video games, banging hot wheels into each other, and borrowing 10 rupees from our parents to go surfing at a cyber cafe. There, at the age of 14, we would freefall into the murky backalleys of early 2000s internet pornography - the sorts that even after you shut the browser, a pop-up of a woman moaning kept returning on the desktop.
Before we got shunned from the local cyber cafes, we would take our half-hour surfing period to look at images of pink penises and vaginas and excitedly head to my friend's place after to masturbate together. His mom would be out for work and his younger siblings would still be at school. So that's what we did for almost two years. We obviously didn't think too much about it. A year later, the jerk-off sessions turned into handjobs, making out, and blowjobs. While it was mostly me on the giving end of it, I thought of it as early target practice, since today I am as gay as Easter Sunday.
However, today, my childhood friend is married and has a wife and kid of his own, and he even had a great pre-Covid wedding party. I know for a fact that he's straight now because when we interact, we don't delve upon those days of mutual gratification. Also, because he very much claims he's straight to this day. So what were those encounters?
In my conversations with other gay and bisexual friends, I have found that each and every one of them has at least one sexual story where a straight man was involved. And I don't mean straight in just a dude-bro way; these men are actually not attracted to men on an emotional level. They aren't homosexuals. They just fall under this weirdly grey category of " mostly straight ".
Recounting some of his experiences, my closest queer friend Farhad Karkaria said, "I have had almost 15-20 experiences where a moment of intimacy with a straight dude turned into a sexual experience." And does he believe these men are in denial when it comes to being gay? "I don't think so," Farhad replied. "I think this is a whole subset where we don't know how to really define it."
Farhad also believes that other gay men should back off from defining what sexuality bracket these men fall under. That's important since there's a level of gatekeeping within queer spaces, where you have to be so and so and identify as such and such to find yourself being accepted in the bigger community. But gay men shouldn't be the ones to comment on how these straight men are ruining their wives' lives, especially because we never stop fetishising straight film actors and athletes and going out of our way to elaborate how they can destroy our holes. If that was the gay agenda all along, some of us didn't get the memo.
Studies suggest that 10 percent of men who claim to be straight indulge in same-sex activities, which can range from jerking off together to getting pounded by each other like it's the end of times. It's not even like the straight dudes are sexually tops only, reclaiming their sexual control in any way. In several such instances, straight men are even willing to go all the way and try things most gay men would shy away from. This is also common on porn websites and sites like OnlyFans where straight pornstars will have a male sex encounter because their gay fans demand it and are willing to pay for it.
Joe Kort, a renowned sex therapist, recently created a buzz on TikTok when he chose to dive into this phenomenon. He said there are several reasons why men who call themselves straight do this. "Some do it because they've been sexually abused as children and are reenacting childhood abuse, some do it because they're bi-curious, some do it because they're kinky and have a fetish. Some men do it for money (called gay for pay). Some men do it for financial domination, which is like BDSM without the rope. Some men suffer from homosexual obsessive compulsive disorder which is really just OCD attached to the worry that you might be homosexual."
Kort also claims that gay men are more willing to engage in fantasy play, verbal play, and various sexual acts and fantasies that many women are uncomfortable with or disgusted by. "The straight men who tell me that they are having sex with men tell me they appreciate and enjoy the transactional nature of the sex that they can't necessarily get with women," he said.
Ramit*, a straight friend who has indulged in male-to-male sexual experiences in the past said, "I like it because there are things like blowjobs or fingering that I really enjoy but my girlfriend either doesn't do it well or is too disgusted to do it." Ramit plans to settle down with a woman eventually, and he doesn't see himself getting romantically involved with a guy ever. "I don't wish to hold hands, read books and go on dates [with men]. I like the in-the-moment nature of it, that's all," he said.
It's also interesting to note here that these straight men don't really count sleeping with gay men as cheating on their female partners-an observation made by both, my gay friends and Kort too, who also added how what one is aroused by isn't necessarily correlated to or attached to their sexual orientation. That's because, in essence, being gay means more than just performing oral and anal sexual acts. It's mainly arguments over who will do the dishes once you start dating.
But obviously, such situations can be unnerving for some gay men. My friend Farhad once hooked up with an internet celebrity who was known to be extremely straight in his carefully crafted online world. "It befuddles me because there he is online being the biggest jock I know but then we're hooking up and he wants me to belittle him and piss in his mouth," Farhad said.
Gaurav Deka, a trauma informed psychotherapist and coach, told VICE that sexual expression and sexual orientation are at two extreme ends of the spectrum. Everything in between is often ever-evolving. "In my observation and practice, I have realised that the internal homophobia that people have is a result of family conditioning and trauma, and sociocultural norms," he said. "The phobia is real because it is literally a fear." His understanding is that as per evolutionary psychology, the idea of belonging is central to the idea of survival. So while we may argue that these people who call themselves straight and still find themselves on Grindr at midnight are actually spineless and lack courage, they are probably doing so in clear conscience as a way of survival.
On the other hand, psychologist and queer rights advocate Deepak Kashyap suggests that this experience of men having sex with men irrespective of their orientation or gender expression is also very Indian - or South Asian - in its nature. "Out here, just like most things, identities are fluid and not rigidly defined, especially personal identities," he said. "Hence straight men don't think that a little bit of sexual masti (fun) with other men makes them gay. That's beautiful and must be protected against stringent identity boxes that the West has formed their entire civilisation on."*Name changed on request