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He Had Sex With Me. Then Told Me I Wasn't Man Enough

A train journey and a sexual encounter with a closeted man makes Vibhu Vasudev ask why men hold rigid ideas about masculinity.

The train was reaching Ernakulam Town station around evening, but late as usual. Going back to work after weekend breaks at the parents’ place by train is indeed an overwhelming trip. My father was closer to my elder brother while we were in school. He had more hopes and aspirations for my brother. I didn’t talk much as a child and was mostly by myself. But I remember the time when my father would—as he continues to—advise my brother. 

An illustration of two men in a city. One man is looking at the other, who is walking away. The man walking away is looking at his phone. 

He told my brother to warn those who were trying to use force against him. “When people don’t listen and try to invade your space, then you too use force to make them stop and even hit them, if the situation demands.” I guess even I had taken that advice to heart even though no one had aimed to hit me till now. 

Memories of watching movies on Sunday evenings with parents, when we had cable connections, are still fresh. All kinds of movies from mostly Malayalam and Tamil to some rare cases of English and Hindi films that my brother or I would want to watch. 

Back then I was a fan of Bollywood as I badly wanted to leave Kerala and wanted to be cosmopolitan, at least within India. I wanted to pick up Hindi more than English. I couldn’t understand English movies without subtitles then and it’s only recently, as I started teaching canonical texts, that I have discovered more Hollywood and western literature. It was not an easy or natural inclination for me, as I thought it was because I was closer to my mother while growing up. 

My mother doesn’t speak English often. She gets anxious, like Mrs Shashi Godbole from English Vinglish. But she is an awesome conversationalist and storyteller in her mother tongue, Malayalam. 

I remember watching “Avvai Shanmughi” as my first big screen experience. I also remember my mother laughing a lot then. My brother used to be a Rajni fan and still continues to be, I guess.  

My father believes that he preaches what he practices. I don’t intend to prove him wrong or hurt him anymore. But he was mostly involved in building a house during his prime. So, responsibility of the children fell on my mother mostly within the home. 

As an upper-middle class Nair household, discussions pertinent to manliness and manhood were often matters to joke about. Female sardonic humour, which is delivered with sweetly melting voices, often offer some deeply hard-hitting and propositional dialogues that could not be contained in a lifetime of retrospection. Those words resonate and linger in most of us while growing up to be a category of men that doesn’t really want to be like the first remembered action hero of Malayalam films, Jayan. That is to say, who don’t value the ideal performance of being a stereotypically heteronormative and patriarchally wired man. Nor were we entertained to be like the outspoken Mohanlal or Mammooty characters. Forget the roles of Suresh Gopi. Even though, allegedly, we were allowed to be anyone’s fan. 

Nair women unanimously loved the evergreen hero, Prem Nazir. They blush upon discussing his demeanour and genteelness. At least in my family and other ‘Mallu aunty’ circles. Since Tamil ties were also active in these family circles, the similar fondness was also found towards MGR and Kamal Hassan. A lot of these aunties loved sharing the ‘charming men stories’. 

I met a very distant family friend, probably in her late 60s or early 70s, at a wedding a few years ago in Kannur. She then asked this other aunt of mine if her sons aren’t getting married anytime soon. My aunt replied; “wedding will be there. Only doubt is if you’ll be around then.” This form of active give and take was a normal way of being affable and even intimate for many, especially amongst older Malayalis. 

Malayalis speak more sarcasm than Malayalam, always I have felt. 

I get treated as a man as I have a lot of facial hair and I have a stereotypically manly voice. I liked giving voice overs for theatre productions and documentaries. One of my income supplementing ideas was to become a voiceover artist for soft porn movies. Even if they are being dubbed from other languages. Dubbed versions of popular movies in other regional languages are a laugh riot from what I remember. 

I enjoyed being Caliban in “The Tempest” a lot. There was a line in the play in Act II, scene 1, where Sebastian calls Gonzalo an “old cock”. To keep a deadpan face without being able to blush in front of a class of almost 40-50 teenage girls in their first semester of British literature classes, was one of the toughest exercises in acting I had undertaken till date. Girls in the last three rows were specifically amused and sniggering away to glory, while most of the other girls in the class had their heads deeply planted inside their texts. 

The movies and their characters were my true friends while growing up. I wanted to slap the face of the first old man I loved, like Sridevi in “Chaalbaaz” slapped Anupam Kher after getting intoxicated in the movements of her tandav nritya. 

It’s these movie characters and literature that got me my clan as well. Most of my friends, at least by spirit, identify as loners. Hence, literature plays a great role in our lives. Literature is the companion to pain, rather a brotherhood that embalms the process of developing kindness and compassion. 

Baldwin and Lorde have been my favourite companions for some time now. As much as they helped me practice kindness with strangers, it also helped me forget the hurt and disappointments with people in general as well. Giovanni’s Room examines the subtle beauty of sexual healing over sexual pleasure. “To feel in myself now a faint, a dreadful stirring of what so overwhelmingly stirred in me then, great thirsty heat, and trembling, and tenderness so painful I thought my heart would burst. Out of this astounding, intolerable pain came joy; we gave each other joy that night. It seemed, then, that a lifetime would not be long enough for me to act with Joey the act of love.” 

I don’t see myself as a family person but I don’t understand what kind of companionship or purpose might keep me going. Isn’t the purpose of life to live it? And what essentially does living entail if there is no love or no sense of direction on what to achieve when the waves seem to be forming concentric loops?

That’s what I guess becomes the process of finding oneself and finding love. Leaving the home of parents and all its inconclusiveness is always a difficult ordeal. The mind and heart rush with thoughts about everyone part of this home. Can there be a home without love? 

I got inside the Kochuveli Express. As usual, I was blessed with the berth next to the urinal and bath to be further serenaded with a trip of ever-changing synesthesia, born from the innumerable scatological endeavours—each new scent a fresh anatomy to demystify and a thāli to keep turning and ponder about. 

For some strange reason, the scent of pee always reminds me of the urine and fart infused stench that his boxers had, coupled with the scent of his Nivea moisturizer that he applied amply. He was my hot senior from college who lived in the same block. Nivea should seriously consider making him their brand ambassador for the sheer number of bottles he had collected and placed in his room to create a sea of navy-blue Nivea bottles. Is this dark blue a symbol of masculinity as well? I’ve often wondered. Slight artistic eccentricities of a small artist in the making, I thought. He couldn’t be the big artist, as he had his family business awaiting him. He must be still using Nivea though, as it still hasn’t gone out of trend with the men of the world.   

A guy was sitting on the opposite upper berth, with his huge backpack next to him. He had a slim outline with sleeky curls and tiny glasses. We looked at each other and locked eyes for a moment. We didn’t smile or suggest anything, but then I looked outside the window. Evening musk or murky yellow and purplish orange had slowly started making way for the darkness to get through. Later, as I raced my eyes against him, he was still looking at me. I was kind of titillated, rather than excited as these moments are usual in these track lines, while travelling or cruising. 

To cruise on the railway tracks next to the temple pond close to my friend’s place in our suburban village of a neighbourhood was a clandestine affair that everyone knew but was revulsed about and hence considered it blasphemous to even talk about it. The boys coming after an evening drench in the temple pond often smelt of Cinthol and Lifebuoy soap behind the ears and of Ponds or Cuticura talc in their armpits and chest. The wet powder sticking to dark bodies in the late evening mist wafting with burnt gingelly oil, agarbatti and sandal from the temple, was somewhat subtle and even tender on nights when the moon was fully out or when the temple had shut after every majestic utsavam. 

This boy came down to the berth I was sitting on, and this time he smiled, and I immediately smiled back as I was waiting to smile since I saw him. We started talking. He was very pally and touchy as well. I too made some touchy advances and later rested my head on his shoulder. He too rested his head on my head, which made it easier for him to touch me genitally. 

An illustration of two men sitting in a train, next to each other. One man has his arm around the other. 

Suddenly he started asking me about whether I have other kunnanmar (dicks/dickheads; slur for gay boys in Malayalam around Kottayam) in Bangalore that I meet often. I didn’t really acknowledge that question. 

Then he started asking if I’d continue living this way because we spoke a bit about marriage and family.

I said marriage to a girl was out of question for me. 

He just couldn’t accept that. He said I am fooling around, and he is asking a very serious question. But I did say I’m giving a serious answer with a smiling face which I guess was triggering him more. His feelings of maybe having had to bury a part of himself or not wanting to acknowledge the reality or gravity of this phase that we know exists but might not be a phase after all. 

He might have even seen me as a threatening force. Living on my own terms and conditions. The never-ending solitude of being a man. In this lost sojourn, every one becomes queer, and very few realise it, even fewer people accept it. Guess he wanted to belong to none of these categories and always be a man. He studied philosophy for his graduation. We spoke about Kierkegaard’s spheres of existence, and I was asking whether if it is not a very reductive way of approaching or observing life. But he was emphasizing on the importance of an ethical standpoint and outlook in life. He solely believed in the value of blood and family ties. Upsetting or distancing from family was also out of question for our boy. 

We were about to lie down after arranging the berths. He then asked me to come up to his berth. I went and then he started enlightening me about orienting myself into a normal and decent human again. I was wearing my crimson jute cotton short kurta with long wooden buttons I got from Commercial Street, Masjid Road. Simultaneously, he was also continuing to touch me genitally and kept saying how I need to make use of my masculinity more effectively and not wear these printed colourful boxers and stop using eyeliners. 

He saw my eye pencil fall out from my bag as well while we were trying to arrange bags under our berths. Then he said I had a huge dick. Most of the gay boys’ marvel over my dick and most of those who have come back to me have also done so for my dick and most often my dick becomes the mystery for most of them who have been around as well. Attracting mad dancers like Shiva or a spear of destiny up the arch of St John’s. Some even profess Sufi love and still continue to aim for the same age-old Mecca. The constant after it all is me and now, I see how being well endowed with a loaded lifestyle is mostly what matters when it comes to being together with someone even for short term. 

He then said that he now understands how all my “actual” work must be quite dick-centric. Everything I said about work and alike must be lies. The institutions I mentioned must not be crazy to hire me, he said. 

Then I was kind of switched-off for a bit and came down and resigned to my berth. Not really sleepy as these berths often keep me awake. The light opposite my berth and above the entryway was hitting my face directly, which kept me wide awake for most of the night. 

Then I thought to myself as to how most of this phobia or insecurity around masculinity is not caused by anyone but by men with strong homosexual tendencies. They live in denial, and they end up projecting their misery and insecurity onto others who have maybe accepted or at least started accepting themselves for who they are and what they like and what they want to identify as. This makes it troublesome for everyone involved in the equation with these men. These are some reasons that make me ashamed to acknowledge and discuss my gay relationships or rather situationships or even better will be to just say sexcapades to sound patronisingly simple and these sexcapades are what we mostly get in the growing jungles of city loneliness.

His name is Jenson. He is from Kottayam but working a job that he doesn’t like in Bangalore. Before the night ended, he called me up to his berth again. I went up again as I wasn’t particularly sleepy and his body was quite warm, so maybe ignore what he is trying to say and focus only on the bodily warmth was my intention. 

He then told me that he earned Rs 10,000 a month. He asked if I could help him. I smiled and said I’m trying to help myself. Then he got annoyed and told me to stop doing the shit I am doing and make myself worthy of what I have. He said, “life ordained you for greater things and why do you choose to invest in your costumes and make-up?” I didn’t know what to answer him then and even now. 

The time spent with Jenson was special. He is a fan of tough love. The kind that I am used to as well. Our love language back home was to explode and create dramatic outbursts when there are matters of hurt feelings to convey. He would have indirectly yelled at me at least more than twice until that point. It was also intimate and lovely to begin with when he asked me what I did for a living. When he wanted to know more about Kalidasa and Bhasa. But he became rock solid too soon as he saw the eye pencil. Touch and feeling up the crotch is friendship for him. The queer friendship that only seeks to satiate the skin’s hunger or lust. 

He is a straight boy who hadn’t had a good release in so long. His pre-cum itself came out in loads. I wanted to lick it and lip lock him with it, but he was already highly resistant to my gentle kisses or any fondling I attempted. My flamboyant subtlety and fragile advances were too much for his manly streak to tolerate. We were soon welcomed by the tearing cold winds of the early Bangalore mornings. 

I was wondering if he would be willing to exchange numbers with me but by the time everyone was up, he didn’t want to look at me and didn’t raise his head from his phone. Obviously, I expected too much too soon as always. But it was good when it lasted as everything else that comes and goes. 

When I went back the second time to his upper birth, we exchanged body warmth as I hoped but he also kept taking out some agitation on my dick by twisting my ball sac and pulling my foreskin. I tried to tame him with kisses and gentle touches. But that made him bitter and more passive aggressive. Later, he continued to talk about being respectable for the kind of profession I’m in as a teacher and how I need to always have a formal, manly and respectable persona to command attention and reverence and not play such roles as I am playing now that will only make me a butt of ridicule everywhere I go. 

I told him that I play different characters from films and other stories to feel more in sync with where I am in life. I told him I am currently Mrs Sulochana Thankappan from Thalayana Manthram. He said I am crazy then and he didn’t want to talk afterwards.

I had to get down at K.R Puram station and he wanted to get down at Cantonment as he stayed closer to M.G Road. Before I got down, I took out my eye pencil and darkened my eyes that had smudged in the morning mist. I then smiled at him, held his hand and said, “kaanam” (see you). 

Next time when I was in the same K.R Puram railway station, I searched for him on Instagram and found his profile that seemed quite inactive then. I sent him a follow request and a message asking if he is fine. It’s been years and he still hasn’t seen my message even though he approved my follow request. He posts pretty much every week with pics of his naughty new-born, Joe. He also has the same curls like Jenson.

Vibhu is a teacher of literature, poetry, film and writing. Hoping to be a full-time writer someday.

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