Reason as the Leading Motive

Dissecting the Indian Male

Posted by Jerry on May 29, 2006

[Refer to this post for a more formal treatment of this issue: Disecting the Gay Indian Male.] 

So, at work, I sit beside this handsome, Indian boy; he’s tall, has broad shoulders, a sharp face, and wears rectangular, thick-framed glasses. As I said, he’s quite handsome.

Anyway, the point of my writing this post, however, is not to explore the details of his attractiveness, but to consider his non-verbal interactions with me in light of the larger attitude of masculinity and collectivist mentality in India.

This handsome bloke (yes, we speak British here) has this habit of nonchalantly placing his hand on my thighs while talking to me; or holding my hands in his and looking directly into my eyes when he’s asking me for some help or advice (typically, in matters of editing and studying).

Needless to say, being that I have the “hots” for men, or in other words, being that I fancy young blokes, his non-verbal style of communicating with me is only slightly uncomfortable – oh, but I’m NOT complaining! Just merely stating the fact that it’s a wee bit uncomfortable – especially the hands-on-my-thighs part.

And no, he is not gay – that is a fact. I’m certain of it. In all other matters, he displays the kind of typical straight boy goofiness that young, straight American males tend to display – a kind of hollow excitement of being perpetually at the cusp of puberty, only just becoming aware of their raging testosterone, and consequently going berserk!

His physical frankness with me is not unusual as a manner of behavior among Indian men. One could argue quite persuasively that India is an androgynous – if not an outright feminine – culture; its men are very well-adjusted to displays of sensitivity, emotional depth, and homosocial intimacy (I wonder if Bollywood has a big role in shaping the Indian male psyche as such).

It is not rare to see men walking around the city-streets hand-in-hand, or arms over their shoulders, or displaying other signs of very intimate affection towards each other. This one time at the train station, I saw a group of young men caressing each other’s hair, one of them combing the other’s lengthy locks with what seemed like so much love in his eyes, while the other men in the group carried on a lively and animated conversation among each other.

Well, all of this means, it gets awfully hard for *actual* gay men like to me to figure out who’s in who’s “camp” – if you know what I mean. It’s incredibly risky to assume someone’s gay, or someone has the “hots” for you just by their non-verbal behavior and displays of intimacy.

I suppose this could possibly lead to a further psychological burial of a gay man’s homosexual expression because of the ambiguous nature of homosocial behavior he observers among the men around him. Moreover, this ambiguity probably leads Indian gay men to try and seek satisfaction and fulfillment of their psychological desires to be intimate with another man in such homosocial relationships (i.e., in safe homosocial intimacies with straight men) thereby repressing a full-blown expression of their proper sexuality with other gay men.

All of that (and other socio-psychological causes) then probably leads some Indian gay men to delude themselves into thinking that they are in fact bi-sexual, or maybe even straight! And not as a matter of fact, but as an act of conditioned force upon their own minds – undoubtedly, with terrible consequences for themselves and for those they come in close contact with.

The collectivistic influence:

The collectivist expression in all of this is the apparent lack of any notion of individual space and personal privacy. It is deemed rude and disrespectful for one to insist on privacy among friends, colleagues, co-workers, relatives, or family members. In fact, insisting on privacy on any matter is also looked upon with suspicion.

For example, if I insisted on closing the door to my bedroom, certainly it must be because I have something to hide! What is it that I do that cannot be shared by others?

In fact, at work, I am routinely subjected to all kinds of questions about my personal and professional life that I find quite intrusive and unnecessary for them to know about. One of my co-workers insisted on finding out my middle name and my official signature – and I barely know the guy!
Yet, insisting on privacy or declining to answer such questions casts you in a suspicious light; you are considered as possibly dishonest, or at least obnoxiously conceited.

It is also regarded as offensive to maintain personal space between yourself and another person. Why would you want to maintain such a distance (a distance that Indians would find inordinately greater than necessary)? Is it because the person has foul odor? Do you not like being next to the person? Maintaining personal distance also could be construed as your unwillingness to be friendly with the person.

Thus, everybody wants to be in everyone else’s business and everyone else’s personal space. That is the culture. It is a clear expression of its collectivist influence. The psychological mentality of collectivism and the physical reality of a highly over-populated country exacerbate the rampant disregard for and stifling of individualistic notions.

This collectivistic influence probably plays a fueling factor in the kind of social, non-verbal behavior Indians exhibit among themselves. Even when they are being hospitable towards each other, the manner of their hospitality borders on force, coercion, and then even suspicion. It’s too much to get into right now.

20 Responses to “Dissecting the Indian Male”

  1. Wow! I can only imagine what you must be going through! Not only to be in such a homo-phobic culture, but a homosocial homophobic culture, it’s like you’re doubly screwed! Not only can you not know whom to… “date” as it were, you cannot even pick up on some of the cues that we in America (called “gaydar,” as you probably know!) use!…

    Geez, I wish I knew what to tell you…

    Good luck?

  2. Ergo Sum said

    Yea.. the concept of the “gaydar” collapses here… it’s quite useless. Indian boys even wear clothes like what Americans would consider “gay fashion” — butt-hugging tight jeans, sharply cut shirts, fancy highlighted hair, etc.


  3. innommable said

    Oh Indians! LOL!

    Last weekend I accompanied Edgar to Devon, TWICE in a row. He took me to a restaurant where some young, guys work as waiters, and Edgar thinks they’re “so hot!” I guess they could be, but anyway, we had something of a dilemma trying to figure out if they were gay. They were very, how shall I say, very “friendly” with Edgar.

    We couldn’t figure out if they were just being platonically friendly, since they recognized him from another night, when he went there all “lungi-fied” on a date with some guy he met at a restaurant in Boystown, or if they were being “friendly,” because they found him attractive.

    Ugh! I thought it was pretty clear that at least ONE of them was straight, or at least bi, when I saw one of the waiters talking to some girls out on the street, looking very much like he was in the process of wooing one of them. Edgar was somewhat disappointed at the prospect that that one was straight.

    Oh Edgar! LOL!

  4. Semperviva said

    And no, he is not gay – that is a fact. I’m certain of it. In all other matters, he displays the kind of typical straight boy goofiness that young, straight American males tend to display – a kind of hollow excitement of being perpetually at the cusp of puberty, only just becoming aware of their raging testosterone, and consequently going berserk!

    This paragraph is SO true and so astutely expressed!! Wonderful! AHHAHA! I love it!

  5. Wow, what an interesting read, This is indeed something I have noticed for a long time about Indian men. You see, about 80% of the men in my apartment building are Indian and I have witnessed this intimate behaviour you describe on several occasions.

  6. dreamynbored@gmail.com said

    As a bisexual Indian living in the US, I was pleasantly amused by this article.
    Growing up in India, it was quite normal for me (and all bachelors, adolescent boys and younger boys) to hold hands, touch each other and be comfortable with others in one’s personal space. Many of my photographs from school and college days would show me and my friends in such situations. But none of these behaviours is considered homosexual in India and these rarely have homo-erotic overtones. To say the least, it was confusing to me too. While some of my friend would surreptitiously squeeze my hand or play footsie under the table, none of them would exhibit such behavior in confidence or in public. While all kinds of touching is prevalent, there is absolutely no kissing in public. (it is very rare to find men kissing women too in public) Almost all these people marry women and rarely ever have sexual intercourse with men. Some may, but in secret. It is considered ‘normal’ for boys to maybe explore each other in adolescence. ( I have had several classmates who were found groping during lectures and just made to stand up by the Professor for an hour as a punishment, for not paying attention in the class). These might also be because of the social setup in which it is difficult to get intimate with a girl before marriage. However all such behavior typically ends after marriage. A man moves through homosexuality, bisexuality before becoming a husband and exclusively heterosexual. While homosexuality is not widely accepted, such behavior is considered natural during teenage, the age of hero worship, when one moulds oneself into a man. Thus this resembles pederasty a little bit and I am inclined to draw connections to the Greek influence, Indo-Greek languages and cultures of ancient times and at around 300BC, the Greek invasion from the nortwest borders (Philip I, Alexander the Great, Selukes Nicator) and the introduction of drapes (clothing) which later became lungi and sari. Homosexuality, as a crime was introduced into Indian Penal Code (laws) by the British colonialists in 18th and 19th centuries and stands the same even now.

  7. RR said

    Pretty interesting read. Tend to disagree with the notion that the traits you describe make Indian culture androgynous. Shall try and shed some light on the behaviour of the Indian male, as the physical contact with other men that you talk about is something that I too indulge in with those close to me. The way I look at it is that it’s no different from the playful physical contact that a male would have with a female friend, sans any sexual undercurrent. This leads me to wonder whether the perpetual physical distance maintained between heterosexual men in the US is perhaps a conscious choice so that they aren’t mistaken for being gay. The same behavious that plays out between men and women who have a completely platonic relationship ought to exhibit itslef, quite naturally one would assume, between 2 heterosexual men.

    Coming to the intrusive nature of the typical Indian, I don’t necessarily see it as collectivism on display (the guy probably doesn’t really give a shit about you or your life), but much rather the fact that most people are fairly jobless and have few pursuits to keep their minds occupied. Give a guy a proper job and a proper hobby, and he’ll start minding his own business right there.

  8. RR said

    Also need to raise the question of why certain societies veer towards individualism while other veer towards collectivism. Most developed nations are individualistic, and this might perhaps be because the need for social cohesion is far less when you’re protected from the elements and far more capable of surviving all by yourself. Compare this to most collectivistic societies where co-dependence is the key to survival, and is essentially the selfish means to ensure one’s survival. As basic survival becomes simpler and systems fall into place (in terms of law and order, etc) I’d wager that the selfish gene within every human will come to the fore leading to more individualistic societies ..

  9. Charlotte said

    J, you werent talking about S, were you? Ewwww. Yeah, he was rather too friendly with you, hehehe! I remember his last day at wrk when he spent all that time with you, making unnecessary noise in the cube.

    And no, he is NOT “this handsome, Indian boy…tall, has broad shoulders, a sharp face”…he is so NOTTTT! He’s barely 5 5” and really nonmuscular and skinny.

    You could do so much better 😛

  10. Sinus said

    emmm….lissen up. I’m agreeing with Charl on this one. I KNOW who u talking about! What kind of taste do you have ya??
    You, who have found stud-looking rickshawallas in the city.
    “he’s tall, has broad shoulders, a sharp face, and wears rectangular, thick-framed glasses. As I said, he’s quite handsome.”…umm..HOW?

  11. Ergo said

    Oh gawd… you two. Listen, he’s quite attractive, okay…going by Indian standards! I mean, he does have a square jaw, a broad smile, proportionate body (which includes the broad shoulders), and he is CERTAINLY NOT “skinny”! Anyway, but the post is NOT about him yaa! READ the second paragraph!

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  13. tigerarmy said

    Dreamynbored- The Indian sari had nothing to do with the Greek invasion. Cotton was cultivated in India centuries before the Greeks arrived.

  14. lovefaithtruth said


    I have been gay for almost as long as I have known and in India for the same amount of time. I staunchly believe that each place has its own highs and lows, just like America, India or Bhutan (nee Myanmar):*

    But here’s my humble opinion on Ergo’s observations on the Indian (“homosocial”) culture and the the Indian gays ( re the formal rendition of the view above)

    First of all let’s be very clear all the touching, hand holding and friendly groping (really?!) that has been described and quite rightly so, is common not just to the Indian subcontinent but also to the world playing fields of soccer, football, hockey, cricket, baseball, army, construction, card table and many other straight planets. Well hetero-sexually speaking of course.

    All the confusion about it, though, somehow looks like (and please pardon my really limited knowledge) a typical Hollywood description – “ oh I don’t really know what all that touch was about” ..of course you knew darling, and so did he! Incase of doubt, do not ass-u-me, wait and watch, more signs will become evident (ask dear Edgar – re 3). Please do not for a moment think “ he loves me-he loves me not” cos life is not a great ride on baitbus and neither is it a confusing sex signal.

    We Indians love to touch and feel as much as all other men around the world do. Physical contact is an expression of mental intent, universally, and not vice versa. By the way, just like a woman knows immediately how innocent a friendly brush actually is, men are not so hooked on to, but then men have hardly been regarded as the perceptive ones, except a few of course. We (Indian) gay men though, and I speak only from personal experience here, know exactly which touch is consequential of what intent…don’t we? And I am not complaining either.

    I find it a complete hogwash, no matter how urban, semi-urban or rural I may be to believe that I will actually repress my natural urges because of this sub continental behaviour and thereby, think “ my urges are normal and just like all my normal fellow villagers, I should go ahead and marry” Oh please, there is no confusion and even if there is, the rise and fall settle it pretty well, (the pulse I mean). Repression does happen, all the time infact, but behaviourial confusion and androgynous Indian is not the reason of it. No, not at all.

    Indians are immensely hospitable and friendly and yes other people’s business is everyone’s business here and yes, why do you have to close your bedroom door, huh? Well I do and I am not going to justify it. Friends do want to know all but if they don’t get the fact that you will not tell them all and they don’t know how to leave you alone, trust me, leave them. You’ll be termed an arrogant prick, but only by those who claim to be your friends and aren’t really so. To others you will just be a snob, and yet there will be many who just don’t care, and they are the real fun ones to hang out with..he he

    And all that physical space issue, well tell me truly, is it because of spitting/mouth odor/irritating habit of poking at each emphasis, which is it? Cos besides that, physical distance is a non-issue, we Indians are far too conscious of it, see a man and a woman even whispering to each other and its sacrilege.

    Actually, in my case, I take pride in the fact that I have a few friends who know it all. In this strongly anti-gay society there a just a few handful who’ll know that when I am watching Cindrella, who am I actually looking at. .

    Its liberating and frankly cathartic, as well.

    But trust me, on the straight touching…its only straight and if you get a true friend, a straight man, enjoy it – its a real tough one, really tough but its worth it….I think so,


  15. Cedric said

    Hello everyone. I was little bit enlightened because I have read the comment/s regarding that kind of issue. Actually I came from Southeast Asia who has a an Indian friend from Tamil Nadu who is a Muslim. At first, I was shocked when he was holding my hand while we were chatting. I was feeling uncomfortable because I am not used to it. In my country if anyone hav seen you holding hand with another man, it means you are gay lovers. In my country, u cannot see both men holding hands in public even gays are not holding each other. So i was surprised and wondering why he is keep on holding my hand while going from the office. Actually that Indian friend of mine is my colleague. Everyday he is holding me while going and chatting. I am proud of him because he is not ashamed to display this act in public. But it is an opposite reaction of me because I am afraid and uncomfortable to display this kind of act(holding hands with each other) in public. It is tempting me to think that maybe he is a gay or a bisexual. What should I do? If I will refuse to lend my hand for him he will mistake me. Actually he is very close friend of mine. As I was researching on this kind of act especially in India, I have known that is very normal and common in India especially for relatives and close friends of the same sex. It is part of the customs of India expressing the intimate meaning of friendship especially for men. I am doubting him that he may be a gay because I am bisexual and in my country if you are holding another man’s hand, it means you are attracted to him. So at least some things are clear to me regarding that kind of act.

  16. Patrick said

    Hi everyone,

    I am from Singapore and I too have an Indian friend who was a great personality. He helped me in several crucial situations. Even in Singapore two men holding hands has a seperate meaning. But my friend who was with me was my room mate for 4 years. Very handsome man. Whenever he was overjoyed he use to tap on my thigh. Holds my hands or keeps his hand on my shoulder while walking. A few times I too suspected him on his behaviour. A few friends of mine, suspected him and asked me to take a test. I was not comfortable to do that as I may loose my close and good friend. But my other friends forced me to test him. One friday after office I proposed him for late night movie and from there I brought him to my apartment where I stay alone. He came without any hesitation which make me more nervous. That day we had our dinner in my house and had a long chat over the night and went to bed. Then I went to his room and started testing him. He woke up from his sleep and asked me what is the matter that you are in my room. I told him that my fan is not working. He did not tell me anything. I tried to put my leg on him and I started silly testing on him. He understood the situation. He did not tell me anything that time. But got up and walked out to the living room and slept in the sofa. Next day morning he just walked out of my house and after that he never talked to me. The damage has happened. He left the company and joined another company. I lost my friend. Then I decided that we should not assume anything without knowing the cultural differences. Even today my heart becomes heavy when I think about that incident. I lost my very good friend. It shows he is from a very good cultural background. I hats off to him.

  17. June said

    This has nothing to do with cultural differences..but as you rightly put it in your last line “he was from a very good cultural background”.That is the crux. You get good and bad people in every culture..the grooming and the background makes the difference.

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