XXFactored Jun11: Living In, Female Sanitary Products, Appropriate Parenthood, Male Orgasms & A Playboy Bunny
June feels like a good month. It’s the first time I have ever welcomed a monsoon in Mumbai.
I’ve been doing some writing, outside of these two blogs. My commentary on relationships has been getting an interesting (read masaledaar…look at the comments) response at Yahoo! Real Beauty. But the site’s new Recommendations section also featured a style post, a book review and 2 app stories, all by me. FriendsOfBooks carried my list on 10 Great Vacation Reads For Children. I did some advisory content work on the topics of Romance, Relationships, Love & Sex (sorry, I can’t explain more due to the terms of the contract).
And in between all that, here’s what I was reading:
- ‘Notes On Living With My Ex-Boyfriend For Eight Months‘ : Egad! When living in goes wrong. It was strangely comforting, though….to know that you don’t stop feeling or living. (via ThoughtCatalog)‘
- ‘Should I Be Embarassed To Buy Tampons?‘ : Funny, I always thought it was very thoughtful of local chemists to newspaper-wrap sanitary napkins on sale. Was I being unknowingly regressive? Or do we just not *have* to shout out every little detail about our bodies? (via TheFrisky)
- ‘Dads, Hug Your Daughters!‘ : Pertinent but preachy? (via TheFrisky)’
- ‘Man Takes Revenge At Girlfriend With Abortion Billboard‘ : Does this make you go “Aww, how sweet!” or “Ooh, touchy, touchy!”? (via YourTango)
- Just in case you ever wondered…’What A Male Orgasm Feels Like‘ (via YourTango)
- Indian parents seem to be caught in that unfortunate tug-of-war between the conservative ‘ladki se paisa nahin lenge’ attitude and pro-feminist/independence world for their daughters. (via Twitter)
- ‘The 5 Stages Of Most Relationships ‘ : Rather depressing how many of these are true! (via Maxim)
- A rather funny (and annoyingly familiar) flow-chart on ‘How Men and Women Argue’ (via Maxim)
- ‘The story of an ex-Playboy bunny‘: Actually a rather good read. (via The Good Men Project)
A colleague of mine from the Paris office came to visit and stayed in Mumbai for three months. We became friends and I was delighted to meet her again a year later. In conversation about the country she said she had fallen in love with, she suddenly remarked,
There are a lot of gay men in India!
I was surprised. We debated briefly on whether this could be possible. I mean, since human beings are fundamentally the same worldover, barring superficial differences of physical appearances, can something as deep-rooted as sexual orientation vary by region?
The debate petered off when it fell into the abyss of ‘Why does a person turn out to be homosexual? Heredity? Environment? A deviant childhood experience?’ Neither of us had enough information to make a call on that, and true to our analytical roles, we let it drop with a unanimous judgement of ‘Data insufficient’.
But I went back to her original assumption later and discovered that it boiled down to a laughably simple point. She said she kept noticing men all over the place with their arms slung around each other’s shoulders. At my confusion, she clarified,
In Europe, only gay men do that. Straight men never put their arms around each other that way.
It took me awhile to get over my surprise at that to tell her that it was common practice in India among men, straight or not and no one thought twice about it.
It was a telling point. Cultures vary and etiquettes differ. On one hand, the West is a lot opener about displays of affection between opposite sexes. So kissing, hugging and dancing are all regarded as normal where these would raise a few stares in most parts of this country. On the other hand, behavior between people of the same sex is rigidly demarcated in a way that it doesn’t even occur to Indians to think about.
After the above conversation, I’ve been studying how we behave with people of the same sex. There is a fair degree of physical contact between men, with the arm-around-shoulders being the most common one. A man riding pillion on a bike and scooter is at ease holding the rider by his waist or shoulders. Older brothers, fathers and authority figures express their role of ‘benevolent benefactor’ by the arm on the middle back of their protege. Friends will massage each others backs in a gesture that would seem quite erotic if they had been from opposite sexes.
Women with women are even freer. There is plenty of hugging and kissing in the more Westernized factions. And in the others, there is a lot of touching, of holding hands, of squeezing up next to, of putting heads on the other’s shoulder or lap. I’ve done it myself without thinking about it, for years on the end.
In fact the one interesting thing that came to light recently was when I realized that two women would not mind sharing a bed but a lot of men would be uncomfortable doing so. I don’t understand the reasoning behind this since the same two men would be perfectly fine with sharing their personal effects and talking about deeply intimate things that women would shy away from.
Body language is as nuanced and subjective as any of the verbal ones; possibly more since it is the one language that speaks only the absolute truth. This may be why the loose-limbed gesture that popular media often patronizes comes across as juvenile to real gay people. It could be why we occasionally blunder on the gay/straight perception divide and why ‘gaydar’ isn’t down to a precise science. And it may also point to the fact that sexuality isn’t a binary defined world (one or the other) but as fluid as our moods and passions.
I was at a seminar with a group of people recently when one of them declared that he was gay. In the lunch break, one of my friends slipped over to me and whispered,
Of all the people, I never would have guessed that this guy was gay.
I didn’t follow my friend’s surprise. I hadn’t really had the chance to think about the guy too much since his declaration came pretty early in the day. But if I had had a chance to spend a little more time and if I’d been asked to hazard a guess, I’d have guessed him to be gay.
Why? According to my friend, he didn’t display any of the ‘classic gay mannerisms’ by which I take he meant the whole effeminate-loose-limbed thing that Bollywood portrays as ‘a mature view of homosexuality’. Obviously. This person was very ‘normal’ in his body language and expression and there was nothing effete about him.
And still I’m quite certain I’d have caught him on my gaydar. There was something, a little difficult to describe that set him apart from the straight men. A softness, a gentleness, a certain something that showed him to be very close to and cognizant of his own emotions.
I’m not saying that straight men are insensitive or stupid with their emotions (though a number of them may be). I’m saying that women and men, straight men that is, process their emotions and express them differently. What do we mean when we say that women are ‘in touch’ with their emotions? It means that our emotions are as close to our conscious, working minds as say, our clothes are to our bodies. We don’t really need to think too much about how we feel because well, it’s a film that’s constantly running, we already know. Chances are, if you ask a woman how she feels about something at a point of time, she will articulate her feelings much more precisely and vividly and accurately than the average man. I don’t think it is because women feel more or that we talk more. I think it’s just that we tend to keep our emotions closer to our consciousness and constantly some part of our brain is processing,
How do I feel about this? What is this feeling called? What else am I feeling? Do they contradict each other? Do they overlap?
I have a feeling men do this slightly differently. Obviously since I’ve never been a man, all I can do is guess but I’m thinking emotions are more like furniture in their mind. They don’t really think too much about it unless there’s a new piece to fit in, which they do as quickly and painlessly as they’re able to. Once that’s fitted into their minds, they focus on other things and don’t bother about it anymore, unless something demands their attention. Which may be when you pose the same above question to a man, his response will most likely be to look startled as if the thought of thinking about emotions (furniture?) didn’t occur to him at all. After which he pauses to think about it or look around inside him mind and perhaps he’ll catch something amiss. Wherein we go on to his taking time to analyze what’s different (or not). If it isn’t like the way he’s expecting to find it, he’ll probably be even more confused and dumbfounded over why you brought it to his notice in the first place.
Okay, so all of that is just the difference between men and women and how they handle their emotions. I’m saying gay men do this the way women do and not the way (straight) men do. It’s really subtle and after all, you can’t really tell what anyone’s thinking inside their heads. But if you pay attention, you might catch a glimpse of what goes on behind by what passes on their faces.
Our gay colleague didn’t hesitate for a minute in identifying and airing his opinions about the so-called soft issues of emotions. What’s more, his speech was liberally spiced with words like “I feel” as opposed to the more straight-guy-speak of “I think”. These two are used interchangeably in everyday speech but if you think about it, you may notice that women use “I feel” more than men do. And our gay pal did too, unlike the other men in the room. And hence quipped my internal gaydar,
Another thing to add is how men react to a woman’s physical presence. This isn’t something I could comment on in this particular case since Mr.Gay was seated across the room and most likely hadn’t seen me till then. There is a certain way men look at women in the first few moments. There’s an internal data-capture happening of all the visual aspects and as a woman, you can sense it. In streetspeak, it’s called ‘being checked out’. Sometimes it happens in a flash of a second, a full body scan in a second. All men do it to all women they meet. With the exception perhaps, of gay men.
Do you notice that gay men look at you straight in the eye while speaking and continue to keep looking right there? They’re waiting, watching for your response, seeking your validation, trying to guage what you’re feeling. Very like a woman. Straight men on the other hand, look at you, look around, occasionally look down, sometimes fixate on your bustline or waist or nose. They only look at you straight in the eye when they’re being aggressive, either threatening you or trying to intimidate you or going all out to seduce you. In all cases, a focussed, aggressive action. Straight eye contact is aggressive as far as the straight man goes. It’s connecting as far as women and gay men go.
That’s the difference. And the ability to catch that is what we call gaydar.