“Married men, go and f**k your wife. You have no right to be here!” read a profile on a gay dating app. As I scrolled through the app, I could see similar sentiments echoed in many profiles. To some, this may come across as harsh, but only till one quantifies the phenomenon of married men sleeping with other men.
In my exchanges with them, we seemed to share the same generic taste in music, movies, fashion, travel, etc. The same need to keep a secret. Very few of us are open to everybody. It is safe to see that most queer Indians are partially in the closet. So married men who sleep with men (irrespective of Identity Politics) seem to have a lot in common with us. The bone of contention is the one difference that stands out: a wife and /or children.
Needless to say, pondering along these lines made me want to know: How do these men view themselves? Do they feel guilty? Are they hurt by the derision shown by the community they wish they could belong to, or do they look down on the LGBT community, thinking their life choices are better since they have sex and societal approval on their side?
Below are the true-life accounts of three married men and one engaged man on how they are leading their double life. I have changed names to protect privacy.
* Jayesh is in his late thirties, working in a high-level managerial marketing post in the Media industry. He has been married for the last 9 years and has a 3-year-old son. For an outsider, he is leading a perfect life, a high-paying job and a happy family, but the image is far from the truth. “I never wanted to get married in the first place, but when I decided to, I knew what I was getting into. But I wanted to keep my parents happy.” At that time it seemed like a small price to pay until the trysts with other men began after marriage.
“The only thing that keeps me motivated now is my son, but I always have this fear: how will I face him if he ever finds out? I feel trapped, and there is no way out now. My wife waits for me at night for dinner when I get late and I get a sudden pang of guilt as I don’t deserve this affection. But I can’t stop myself from leading this double life. My parents, for whom I took this step, are not even aware of what toll that decision has taken on me. They don’t even know I did it for them.”
He never gets emotionally involved with any men, as he knows it will be crossing the line. I ask him what he would have done if he was not married. “I love travelling, I would have spent my time travelling and live life without any guilt,” he says. But he knows there is no turning back now, and he finds solace in cruising profiles on gay apps and having casual encounters with other men.
* Saif, in his late forties, is a national marketing manager in the manufacturing industry. He has been married for the last 17 years and is a doting father of two sons. His job keeps him travelling throughout the week, but he ensures he goes home every weekend.
“I enjoy my gay life without any guilt. For me it’s just an indulgence- a habit, like my smoking, I have tried to quit smoking several times but I know I have always failed. Same is with my sexuality. I enjoy my gay life, but no one needs to know. I never thought of not marrying, I always wanted a family of my own with kids.” I ask him do you feel guilty for leading this double life “Never, I look after my family, and do more than anyone I can think of. My sex life is not taking anything away from them. So why should I feel guilty?”
* Dinesh is in his early thirties and identifies as bisexual. He had his fair share of girlfriends and married his wife after a year-long courtship. He felt his bisexuality would help him stay faithful, but he was proved wrong. He realised that he is more attracted–physically and emotionally towards men than women.
After marriage, he had a serious relationship with a man for over a year. It surprised him that his boyfriend became his number one priority, even superseding his wife and kids. He was left devastated when his boyfriend left him as he found it too complicated. Now he has occasional sexual encounters with random strangers but has never fully recovered from the breakup. Things are not hunky-dory at his home either now; he tries to spend time with his wife but feels stifled. He has to make an effort in being an affectionate and caring husband, an act that exhausts him.
I ask him if he will ever tell his wife in future about his double life “Never. My wife will take the kids and file for divorce. It will be a humiliation for my family and I can’t face anyone if this thing is leaked out. I’d rather stay unhappy in this marriage then humiliate myself in society.” I realised he didn’t seem to consider what emotional toll the truth would take on his wife, but was too depressed and scared to worry about anyone else but himself.
* Ashish in his late twenties came out to his parents, who immediately began pressuring him to marry. His father was confident that his ‘inclinations’ would change after marriage. In the meantime, Ashish had been in a couple of relationships with men that didn’t work out. During a six month hiatus abroad, he began suffering from homesickness and realised that he is very scared of being alone. He went into depression as he was alone at nights there and feared that he would die alone.
So once he was back home, he informed his parents that he was ready to marry. His elated parents found a girl through arranged prospects and are currently preparing for the wedding which is a few months away. I ask him: does he not think he is doing something wrong? “I know I am being selfish, but I am hopeful that I will make it work,” he says with a smile that doesn’t seem to reach his eyes.
Gay rights activist and former chairperson of The Humsafar Trust Ashok Row Kavi, founder said that one esitimate is that 75 per cent of gay men India are married to women. "Quite a few of these marriages end badly or are unhappy relationships, either because the wife finds out or the man fails to achieve a balance in his double life. What is worse, some of these men contract STDs and STIs and pass them on to their unsuspecting wives. So no wonder they are looked down upon in the community and ostracised," he said.
By no means am I justifying their actions or accepting their arguments, but I can’t help but wonder: If I had less accepting parents, if I was not financially independent, or if not surrounded by wonderful, supportive companionship, would I be wearing their shoes right now? What do you think?