STORY: “How did I get to this point?” I kept asking myself nervously and guiltily, during the two-hour train ride. I’m a father, provider, protector, moral beacon, and compass. I thought I knew and owned my shit, but clearly, I didn’t!
On the one hand, it felt so wrong to be doing this, a betrayal of my family, my ex-partner—a woman, and our kids. And a betrayal of what I had always thought was right. Yet, something I couldn’t pinpoint was telling me I needed to take this step, that, shockingly, in doing so I might finally find some clarity and truth in my life.
I’d been searching websites for weeks to find the right guy. One minute, I’d pluck up the courage to e-mail a candidate. Then, the next minute, I’d back out and close my laptop forcefully, almost like slapping my face, a punishment for even thinking of going there. No matter what, though, time and time again, the idea forced its way back into my head.
My self-esteem had suffered mightily, year after year in a sexless, loveless relationship in which affection was routinely denied, almost as a form of punishment. I didn’t know who I was anymore. I needed more. I wanted to feel desired. I wanted someone to kiss. I wanted a goddamn connection.
I steered clear of Grindr and Gaydar. I didn’t want to feel any pressure to have sex, or that I might disappoint someone. The mutual expectations that would accompany a hookup truly frightened me. I wasn’t ready for that. There were so many beautiful, strong, confident men on those apps. I just didn’t fit in. Instead, I decided I should hire an escort so that I could be in control of the situation.
I’d be paying for his time and could do whatever I wanted—however much or as little as I was comfortable doing. He wouldn’t have to want me or even find me attractive. He’d be paid just to show up and do what I wanted. Being in control would be my safety net.
I came across a profile on an escort site that seemed perfect. His name was Jean-Baptiste. He was French, in his mid-20s (I was in my early 30s), and he had a gorgeous body and eyes to die for—oh man, those eyes! He looked kind, smart, and confident. His image made my heart pound louder than the others did.
So, I took a deep breath and contacted him, nervously typing. How should I approach the subject? Would I sound like a sleaze bag? What would someone in his position expect to hear? I hit send and closed the laptop. I was immediately hit with a sense of dread and shame. I was a bad person for even thinking about paying for the possibility of sex. Was he doing this against his will? My view on sex work at that stage was admittedly outdated and cliched.
I had to stop torturing myself with this anxiety. Maybe, he wouldn’t even reply. He’d just read the email and think “Fuck this guy! What a loser!” And that would be that. But, then, a mere 15 minutes later, my phone pinged with an incoming text message.
He came across as lovely, grounded, thoughtful, and honest, at least as far as his texts could reveal. He expressed interest in me, asked about my situation, and seemed genuine. Of course, I realised he was probably playing his part. But we ended up finding a day that worked for both of us. And that’s what had me on the train that day.
I took the train into London, getting off at Kings Cross, which was only a 10-minute walk from his apartment. As I made my way there, I experienced a weird mix of dread and excitement. The voice in my head kept asking “Is this right? What if it’s awful? What if it’s not what I expect? What if he takes one look at me and refuses to see me? And, worst of all, am I about to betray everyone I love?”
I’ve been confused about my sexual orientation and lines have blurred constantly throughout my life. I remember being with my best friend in high school the day he finally came out to me. Somehow, I’d known he was gay, so when he told me, I wasn’t surprised. I told him it didn’t matter to me. But, then, he asked me if I was gay, too.
I replied that I thought I might be gay, but I really didn’t want to be. Now, I hate that I may have made him feel bad. But, when applied to myself at that moment, being gay was a negative. The idea felt limiting, scary, and dangerous. And, I didn’t want to be any part of that. I was brought up during the AIDS crisis. The government’s AIDS advertisements featuring John Hurt’s booming voice and the images of the tombstones of all those dead young men were seared into my memory and made me so goddamn scared.
I wanted kids, a family, a good job, a nice car, and, from what was known at the time, being gay just wasn’t compatible with that. I wouldn’t allow anything to get in the way of those dreams.
This internalised homophobia followed me through my 20s and 30s. Even now, in my 40s, I look at many gay men with utter envy. How comfortable they seem in their bodies; how free they are with their love; how full their social networks are with supportive, close-knit gay friends; and how successfully they have embraced their “gayness.” What a wonderful place to be in life, so free, and at peace with who they are!
After hovering around his location for what seemed to be an eternity, I rang his doorbell. Immediately, his head popped out of the window above me and he shouted ‘Hi!” down to me. I headed up the stairs nervously and was greeted at the top by these goddamn amazing eyes and gorgeous smile. I remember heading into the apartment with him feeling excited, while simultaneously thinking I’d somehow failed by allowing myself to be in this position. The voices from my ex-partner’s years of put-downs and undermining comments rang in my ears.
We sat on his sofa, he got me some water, and we started chatting. He was easy to talk to. He told me he was a med student whose lofty goal was to eventually save the world. And then he asked me why I was there. I explained I’d been in a relationship with a woman for 10 years and had two amazing kids. I admitted I wanted to feel desired by another man and be with a guy for the first time in more than a decade. I hadn’t craved it during my relationship with my ex, but it was always there in the background, sometimes more prominently than others. When she and I used to watch straight porn together, I would fixate on the guys, looking at their bodies and their dicks, and wondering how it would feel to be in that position again.
It felt like we chatted forever. When we were done, he leaned over to kiss me. I stopped him in his tracks. “I’m not here for sex,” I blurted out. “I want you to know that. I just want to be with a man.”
In retrospect, while I deep inside I probably craved sex with him, I was too insecure, overwhelmed by the prospect of confronting my fears about sex with another man, and was ready to settle for cuddling. I wanted the close feeling one gets when wrapped in another man’s arms after sex without having to contend with the actual sex.
Having gotten that out of the way, I leaned in for a kiss, put my hand on his cheek, and felt the pricks from his stubble. A rush went through me, like taking a puff from a cigarette first thing in the morning. It caused my head to spin and the noise my fingers made caressing his jaw was pure heaven.
It had been a long time since I’d experienced the biting of lips, tongues flicking wildly, and the intoxicatingly aggressive rawness of kissing another man. Briefly, I wondered “Why is it so different from kissing a woman?”. I didn’t know the answer. But, there was just something so guttural, uncomplicated, and brutal about kissing another guy.
I had decided that I wasn’t going to get naked. Work and kids had given me a dad bod and I didn’t feel comfortable exposing myself to him. But, he took his top and shorts off. I looked at his body and stared. I began pressing various spots on him with my finger. Nothing moved. Every part of him was just so firm. I giggled as I did it, which made him laugh, too. He was beautiful, athletic, toned, with a medium build, arms to fall into, and legs to have wrapped around you.
It felt surprisingly comfortable sitting across from him in his underwear—like it should have been this way all along. It brought back a fantasy I’d had in my early 20s, when I’d imagined myself living in a flat in London, coming home to find my boyfriend on the sofa, and him pulling me down to his level for a kiss. Of course, I’d followed a different path, and that had never happened.
We kissed for a long time. When we came up for air, he grabbed my hand and led me into his bedroom. I became nervous. This wasn’t what I was paying him for or what I thought I wanted. He said he really wanted to have sex with me, but he knew I didn’t want to. So, instead, he just wanted to lie on the bed with me. My panic quickly subsided.
My relationship with gay sex has always been wrapped in fear and compounded by self-doubt. From my vantage point, expectations about sex in the gay male community are overwhelming: don’t be femme, don’t be fat, definitely have a good body, and make sure you’re well hung. That evening, I wasn’t able to deal with these issues, even though I was paying for a sweet, hot escort’s time, and he truly seemed to want to please me.
As I thought about it more, I had a realisation: my fear of the perceived judgments of others in the gay community and my sense of inadequacy in those areas were in many ways responsible for pushing me into a more hetero-normative role, where I felt acceptance was easier to come by. Of course, that was overlooking one thing: I was betraying my true desires.
We got on the bed and I asked him to just lie between my legs, his head on my chest, so I could stroke his hair. For me, what I craved most was the power of human touch and that simple connection was all I was prepared to handle that night. Stroking the hair on his chest, while we continued talking, infused me with a sense of fulfilment, wonder, and beauty. I was convinced then that I didn’t want all the complications that came with sex; I wanted what came afterward—the sense of being connected to another man, knowing what makes him tick, and the expression of vulnerability that involves.
After a while, my time with him came to a close. I would have remained there for an eternity if I could have. And, while I knew he was being paid for it, the experience he gave me was a launching point for infusing my life with a new honesty and facing my fears about sexual intimacy in the gay community I’d belatedly decided to become part of.