Another Day, Another Toxic Man?

“How are you so hot?” “Meer” typed. His Snapchat avatar wore a massive smile as he typed out his messages.

Photo by Raad Bhatti on Unsplash

I had just “met” Meer, which I doubt was his real name, on Bumble a few hours back. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I had given Bumble my hard-earned (and internationally useless) Pakistani rupees to see who liked me. You see, the app’s problematic. It tells you how many people swiped on you, without letting you see who it was who liked you. And honestly, I’m not swiping on some horny 21-year-olds just because that’s who the app automatically sends to my feed. So yes, maybe I was shameless; I paid for the app. I got the information on who swiped and then, cutting Cupid out of the picture, I decided whether I liked them back or not. My profile bio would have told you that I make that decision using the force of a decent intellect, but the truth is that I’m just as horny as those 21-year-olds. 

Image on Bumble by anonymous

Meer and I were busy chatting on the app. For once, I felt that movie spark, that rush of giddiness, nerves, anticipation and anxiety whenever his name would pop up in a notification. I tried to ignore the barrage of messages coming through WhatsApp, but one caught my eye. It was my father, messaging me that he was heading out to meet up with his old friends from the Air Force. I typed out a hasty “okay” and went back to talking to Meer. In any case, those old retirees were most likely going to meet for a drink, and knowing my dad, he’d be driving to and from. Why waste energy convincing him not to do it? The whole lot were toxic for each other. It was amazing how a group of highly trained men, men who had once been able to fly the world’s most sophisticated fighter jets, had been reduced to spending their evenings in misogynistic banter, sloppy political debate and all-round debauchery.   

My profile said that I wanted “a committed relationship” and that “I’m over my casual sex phase,” but the wonderful thing about casual sex is how casual it is, so whenever offered, I take the deal. Now the issue is, men in Pakistan are clingy. They’re also insecure, and want your complete attention at all hours of the day. They also want you to compliment their genitalia every few minutes, describing over and over again what you would do with the floppy meat between their legs. 

“You are spoken to, and while you may have the ability and option of speaking back, you’d most likely be speaking to a wall.”

Sexting with Pakistani men is like every other interaction with them, romantic, sexual or even platonic. You are spoken to, and while you may have the ability and option of speaking back, you’d most likely be speaking to a wall. In a sexual context, these men just take and take and take, and hardly give. You send them a dick pic, and the most you’ll get is a “hmm,” which gives you enough of an idea as to what’s going on in their heads. After that they swiftly move the conversation back to a dimly lit photograph of their own penis. 

None of the decisions regarding the photo are or ever were aesthetic decisions. The photos, sometimes blurry, mostly confusing, and hardly appealing, are invariably taken with one objective and message only: “my dick is beautiful, my dick is hard, who wouldn’t want to suck it off?” Pakistani men have this unique self-confidence. It tells them and it tells you that the stuff in their pants is magical and that you, the (un)fortunate soul stuck in a one-way sexting chain, would and should move heaven and earth and to get up close and personal with that.

Of late, Bumble has been trying to get us “bees” to be more introspective, and its great tech solution is to have you list your “interests” and then to choose your “favourite.” Being the literary gay that I am, I chose “reading” as my top hobby and/or interest. I believed Meer’s claims about his love of reading because, well, his profile was grammatically correct. If you’ve texted with as many filthy Pakistani men as I have, you, too, would also look at these nuances while swiping. Beyond just the perfectly placed commas and adequate-length sentences, his photos oozed a certain queerness that only other queers and gays can see. 

“Yeah, so I work as a government contractor,” Meer said. This is what I hate about online dating. You have no idea what the emotion behind the message is. He’s saying he’s a contractor… is he proud of his job, or does he hate it? How am I supposed to respond? In my mind, a contractor is a straight-up yawn, but what do I know? He may have dreamed of being a contractor all his life, and now some doofus on a dating app is going to shit on his parade? I’m sassy, but I know when I should try to not be rude.

“Oh, so that must mean you’re loaded, huh?” I asked cheekily. 

“Are you accusing me of being a corrupt contractor?” he replied instantly. 

“Well, if I can get a bit of that sugar, I can be quiet about it.”

“Oh, is that so?” 

The conversation flowed like that for a while. Quick replies, swift jabs, and tongue-in-cheek humour. For once, I felt like part of a rom-com cast. The stunning female lead, waiting for her knight in shining armour. What could go wrong? 

Things moved quickly from there. The night was young, technically, and the chemistry pouring out of the phone had to be acted on. Otherwise, it felt as if all would be lost. The chemistry, the spark, felt so precious that both of us wanted to meet up that same night, as if by not doing so we would let this moment escape us forever. We had moved from Bumble to Snapchat and then the biggest move: from Snapchat to WhatsApp.

The logistics of going out are never easy. The biggest obstacle, my father, had already taken himself out of the equation, making it a bit easier to carry out the plan. I walked over to my parents’ room where my mother was bundled up in a corner of her bed, angrily flipping through the TV channels. 

“Ma, I’m going out to meet a friend,” I quickly spoke into the room. 

“Which friend?”

“Oh, umm, Usman.” Throwing out a name she’d be familiar with would be the path of least resistance.

“You met him yesterday.” 

I did not dignify that with a response. My mom looked around the room. With a tinge of concern in her voice, she asked if I could stay ’til my dad got home. I rolled my eyes at her, reminding her that we hired help at home; she wouldn’t be alone. I wasn’t giving a chunk of my own salary for our maid and her family to live in the servants’ quarters without having it help me. What would be the point of that? 

A part of me, the part not totally infatuated with the idea of meeting Meer, understood her concern. My father had always been level-headed, but post retirement, all of these air force boys (yes, they referred to themselves as boys) had completely let loose. They were out on the town, chasing the youth they’d had to give up when they’d graduated from being handsome cadets to fighter pilots—the youth they’d had to give up because of their duty to the country and their duty to the families they were raising. But all this chasing, at his age, had been rather ugly for all of us to deal with. 

Once, my father’s hungover lips let it slip that his friend had hired a mujra-wali to perform; the old men had sat in a circle and thrown money at the dancer. He’d laughed about how one of his friends had even gotten a lap dance. As a family, we never addressed that conversation again. My poor mother, however, dreads what her husband will do in the company of his best friends. 

As I made my way out of the house, she loudly asked if I would get back home early. I grunted in response. She could perceive that however she’d like. 

One thing about Pakistanis, particularly Lahoris, that gets on my nerves is the snootiness around food. I asked Meer before leaving the house if he was okay with this new noodle bar. “Sure, sounds good! As long as I get to see you,” was his response. As I got closer to the restaurant, my phone pinged. The spark was still real so I scooped my phone up, only to see Meer saying he “wasn’t feeling noodles” but that I “should still decide where to go.” After some back and forth, we finally decided to meet at the Air Force golf club, the one good thing my father had gotten for his family, post-retirement. Something about their food just slaps, and it’s a location that shut Meer up.

“I try not to shy away from anything—you have to feel the world, grasp it in all its entirety.”

Meer looked exactly like his photos. His short hair faded seamlessly into his short beard. His face softened whenever he smiled, the lines around his lips became more pronounced and the crow’s feet around his eyes perked up. Women always talk about how these lines are menacing, but maybe they just don’t carry them well? Men do, though. And boy oh boy, was I falling hard. 

I like to think of myself as someone who is open to experiences. I try not to shy away from anything—you have to feel the world, grasp it in all its entirety. For the conversation between Meer and me, this meant that I had to hear about the world of gaming. I noticed that as we sat there, Meer’s knees would accidentally knock into mine, or his hand would graze my shoulders when he’d laugh. I didn’t say much, but I wanted to see where we were going with this. 

“My friends and I used to play Dota back in the day,” he proudly announced, after detailing all the other games he’d played and mastered.

“Ah, okay. Well, you should know, the most gaming I’ve done is, like, the Sims!” He chuckled when I said this. The type of gamer-boy chuckle that’s laced with silent judgement.

“Well, I must teach you then.”

“Of course! I’d love to properly try gaming out.” 

“I’ve been told I’m a pretty good teacher.” 

“I’m sure you are,” I chuckled. 

“Are you doubting my abilities to teach?” he asked slyly and winked. “Even if the lesson doesn’t go well, you’ll still get to play with my favourite joystick.” I was having a hard time believing this man and his unrelenting smoothness. I mean, it’s one thing to be flirty online, but to be this flirty in person with such ease, it’s a talent! I smiled and felt a warmth rush to my face. 

“How about I use that joystick tonight?” I surprised myself with my own forthrightness. He leaned forward, held my hand and placed it on his crotch. 

“You sure?” He said, while he looked straight into my eyes. “Well, now it’s a definite yes!”  

The logistics of getting home for some good old “homo fun” were precarious. It’s a balancing act between having to be discreet and possessing the absolute privilege of being a man in Pakistan.

If I closed my door, no one would really question it, no one would think that their son would be getting topped by a man he had swiped on a few hours back. On the other hand, my mother could easily walk in and ask for clothes to feed her washing machine with, because she’s hell-bent on doing the washing at night. Strange. 

No one enters the home without my father knowing, and my mother is someone whom I can manage, distract and, quite frankly, gaslight, even though I don’t enjoy doing it. But sometimes to serve the flesh you must forgo your ethics. So, I set the plan in motion. 

Common club procedure involved the staff already knowing what member’s account to charge the food to. There was no need to leave a trail for my father to sniff out; he probably sniffs enough at his gatherings. Uncharacteristically, then, I chose to pay upfront. That extra step from the club to the car drove Meer and his urges insane. This change in pace from taking things slow to now planning out a full night of all things bodily had also shifted the mood between us. He was in my ear like a mosquito, “What do you like?” “Can you ride mine?” “Listen, I don’t really like hairy men, so maybe shave a bit when we get to yours?” “Oh my god, do you wanna call a third?” 

I kept glaring him down. We were in the open air; the wind could carry our voices to anyone, literally anyone, and then what would we do? Why was he ticking checkmarks in his head for things he wanted to do in bed, and why were we discussing them now? His breathy whispers rang so close to my ear; each syllable made me want him less, but everything was happening so fast. 

“This is Lahore. Men having sex with each other isn’t legal.”

It’s one thing if the sole purpose to connecting and talking is to fuck, but I had thought this man was different. Well, I guess I did fall for such a rom-com trope! From the electrifying exchange of messages, the rom-com does go to a hot scene with the leads flinging each other across a room. No one in those movies asks a barrage of questions, lists demands and pushes you to shave down there. If sex is on the table, you’d better eat! But then again, the movies were doing that in cities like LA or New York. This is Lahore. Men having sex with each other isn’t legal.

There was only one stop between us and our fun—the pharmacy. No fun is complete without some rubber. As we stopped in front of the pharmacy, the green neon light filled the car in an almost old-school movie way. The light danced off of Meer’s cheeks. It outlined every strand of his hair and it glimmered in his eyes, too. Parked in front of the pharmacy, I looked and smiled at Meer, and then he looked and smiled at me.

“I’ll wait here. Go for it,” he finally said. 

“Umm yeah, not happening. I visit this pharmacy quite a bit. They know me. They also know I’m not married.”

“There’s NO way I’m walking in there to get condoms. I get shy, yaar.” 

“Then I guess you’ll have to leave,” I said, snickering. 

“Dude, what the fuck!” he exclaimed. 

“Ay! Listen! The place is mine, you’re in my car. The least you can do is walk in, pick up a Durex box, pay and come back. Just don’t look up. Be on your phone and walk with confidence.” 

The logic was strong. Every gay interaction is give-and-take. I was currently giving a lot, and he had to give something in return. He knew it.

“Well… uhh… I don’t have any cash. I spent it all on food.” 

“You really were way too horny, there, weren’t you? I paid for our food. Here, take this and bring us those condoms, Meer! I handed him a 1000 rupee note. He sulked his way out of the car, making his way around the back and getting to the pharmacy door, which I made sure to park well away from. My eyes followed him as he entered the shop; he wandered around as if he were shopping for a new pair of pants. As I followed his moves, I heard the light hum of my phone vibrating.

An unknown number was calling. I had stopped picking those up—the last time I had answered an unknown caller, they told me my bank was shutting down my account and asked me to tell them my national ID number, my PIN and home address. I had heard that scammers the world over were getting smarter, but trust Pakistan to get the dumbest ones on the planet. I rejected the call, looked up and saw Meer still casually strolling the aisles. The phone rang again. I rejected the call again. Meer was out of sight, but nowhere near the neat condom rack I could see from the car. The phone rang a third time. Same number. I rejected it yet again. Looked up again. Meer was nowhere near the condoms, STILL. The phone rang YET AGAIN. This time, I picked up. 

“Haan? What scam is this now,” I screamed into the phone. The person on the other end shuffled. I could hear the quick movement of air around the mic. 

“Asalamalaykum. This is Hawaldaar Rafiq from DHA Thaana.”

A police officer. Is calling me. And they’re calling from jail. I quickly tried to recall what the law said about men “lying with other men.” Meer and I hadn’t even gotten to any sort of penetration, so why was he calling? I looked around the car, too. Lahori surveillance had reached dystopian levels, it seemed.

“Walaikum salam Hawaldaar Sahab. What can I help you with?” I asked gingerly. 

“Haanji, is this Mian Sarim? Son of Mian Ashfaq?”

“Yes, this is Mian Sarim.”

“We have your father with us. He’s in custody, actually, in our holding cell. He has asked us to contact you.”

“Wait, wait, wait. Why is my father in jail?” 

“Possession of alcohol and driving under the influence.” 

“My father, a publicly upstanding citizen, former Air Force man, finally outed as a chronic drinker. Hilarious.”

I managed an “Oh” in response. But then I wondered if that were an appropriate response to a son hearing about his father’s arrest. I couldn’t very well tell the hawaldaar that the news rather tickled me. What other reaction could I have had? My father, a publicly upstanding citizen, former Air Force man, finally outed as a chronic drinker. Hilarious. As I waited for the hawaldaar to speak again, I looked over and still didn’t see Meer near the condoms, which was ridiculous, but given the news, the stakes had changed and the condoms were now useless. 

“Hawaldaar Sahab, what do we do now? Do I come for some bail-shail money?” Unlike my father, I’d never been inside a thana, nor in a holding cell. Heck, I didn’t even know what the going bail rate was. 

“No bail, sir. This is serious!” The policeman’s tone matched his answer—serious. One thing I did know was that you never show the police any fear. 

“Oho, Hawaldaar Sahab! My father served in the fauj. I am sure we can work something out. Haina?” 

Silence. There were faint murmurs in the background but nothing that I could decipher.

“Sir Jee, I am someone who follows the law and procedures, but if you can get here before we make the FIR, you can take him home. You could give us a small bonus for this favour, after all.” 

I chuckled. The hawaldaar had balls. 

“I’ll be right over. Negotiation is my favourite pastime. Oh, and Hawaldaar Sahab, don’t drink anything without me!” 

I could tell he smiled; I heard his sharp exhale on the phone. We hung up and I decided to take matters into my own hands. I had thought about storming into the pharmacy and dragging this Meer out myself but thankfully, as I looked up for the last time, he was running toward the car with a small bag… a bag too small for even the smallest box of condoms. 

“Dude, I am not cut out for this,” he said, panting as he got inside the car. 

“Well, good thing you went today. A good rehearsal for when we actually do it.”

Silence hung in the air. He furrowed his brows and looked at me, confused. 

“Look, I just got a call. My dad has gotten into some police trouble. I gotta go there.” Right then, my phone hummed again—my mother was calling. 

“You are so fucked up! You liar!” 

I stared at him. Almost angry, and shocked at the accusation. My phone in my hand, still vibrating.

“That would be quite the lie, Meer— 

“You know, I used to hear about guys like you. Talk up a guy, make it look like shit will go down, and then bail. You’re just unable to perform, or maybe you’re fucking scared, I don’t know, but you’re just trash, man!” He tossed me the small packet with what felt like all of two condoms inside it. 

“We’ve known each other for… maybe five hours. I don’t owe you shit. Get out of my car.” 

“You older chubs. You’re what’s wrong with the gay community here. No wonder we’re such a sorry lot!” Meer said, slamming the door on his way out. I cackled. 

Even Meer couldn’t see what was wrong with Pakistani men.

Photo by Umar Farooq on Unsplash

Arslan is a writer based out of Lahore, Pakistan. They were part of the South Asia Speaks Mentorship in 2021. Like most of us, they are working on their first novel, praying that the manuscript somehow figures itself out!