He was 43, he had said: a lawyer. I was a lawyer, too, but it hadn’t come up. His response to most of my last eighteen messages had been “yes. Good boy.” He had greeted me on Grindr with the word “cute.” Now, three hours later, I was at his flat in north London. He clearly owned the flat himself. This is one of the reasons why I only really did casual hook-ups with men over 35 in my past life as a gay man. I certainly had no intention of sneaking men past any one of my seven housemates into my ground-floor bedroom. With 43-year-old lawyers, this does not happen. They live alone.
He was wearing a denim shirt, brown cords, and loafers. One of my favorite things about by-appointment casual sex is noting what clothes men wear for it. Specifically, I like that they seem to be wearing what they had planned to wear anyway. I’m a trans feminine person, and so I have a heightened sense of my own visual presentation and how sexually palatable it may be to gay men (often, it isn’t at all). For me, sexual expediency often required me to “tone down” and merge in with more gender conforming styles. That sounds like a betrayal of my own identity, but whatever—it’s true. However, for visits such as these I would always wear skinny jeans with a loose fitting, high necked chiffon blouse from Zara’s women’s department. As any bad scene from any “gay romance” straight-to-DVD movie will show you, men’s clothing is easy to take off: vests and t-shirts can be whisked off, open collared shirts removed in a few frenzied manipulations. Not so with a blouse, buttoned up to my neck, buttoned on the “other side” and with a separate panel of fabric hiding the buttons. This has to be undone in stages and with boner-killing meticulousness. This lawyer’s admission of defeat at the process came just two buttons down. It derailed me in seconds.
Sighing (exasperated, not sexually) he whispered, “undress yourself for Daddy.”
“Sorry,” I replied, leaping up before even thinking about it, rebuttoning. “I don’t do dads.”
The first person to ever ask me outright and sincerely if I was gay was Father Thomas Finnegan of Christ The King parish. He was known to his parishioners as “Father Tom.” Mum had driven me to the presbytery after phoning him and asking him if he would speak to me. Earlier that afternoon, I’d had a panic attack and run into the middle of the street barefoot. I had become convinced that puberty was an act that I was guilty of, that my adolescent curiosity about masturbation and bodies and pornography was evil and that no amount of confessions could save me from damnation. I was so consumed by anxiety I couldn’t bring myself to articulate it to my mum (I was 14 years old and, after all, it was largely about wanking). So, instead, Mum, having seen my religiosity intensify and been concerned for months (at one point she confiscated my copy of the Catechism), suggested Father Tom, knowing I would accept his counsel.
“Are you gay?”
The question was fired out, gently, about twenty minutes into a tentative discussion of my sexual wrongs (again these were masturbation and watching pornography—some of it gay, some of it not). Father Tom was not the kind of priest who thought being gay was a straightforward sin. He was a progressive, he would be kind about it.
“No,” I answered. His nod suggested he didn’t believe me.
Father Tom explained that I was living with scrupulosity, a kind of religious OCD that itself was considered sinful in former times. St Teresa of Avila and other heavenly A-listers suffered with it. Very glam. Its moral danger lies in the idea that, being so consumed with the inescapability of your sin, you in fact deny the mercy of God—sometimes called Final Despair or The Unforgiveable Sin.
When I explained to Father Tom I had not made confession to just my own parish priest but various priests in churches around the city so that none would notice its frequency he immediately asked me to stop. It was not healthy to have so many spiritual fathers at a time when my conscience was fractured. I needed to work with one spiritual director exclusively. He then asked me if I could recall the form of absolution a priest must utter after confession for the sacrament to be valid and efficacious. Of course, I did and still do:
God the Father of mercies
Through the death and resurrection of his Son
has reconciled the world to Himself
and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins;
through the ministry of the Church
may God give you pardon and peace,
and I absolve you from your sins
in the name of the Father, and of the Son,
and of the Holy Spirit.
“The prayer opens calling God the Father of mercies,” he said. “It is from Corinthians and is part of the new way we see God in life with Christ. Your picture of God is closer to that of the Old Testament—wrathful and angry. Like a man in the sky with a giant beard casting judgement, when in fact God is your father.”
I still remember my immediate thought: that Father Tom’s insistence that God was my father was not comforting. Of all the persons in the Trinity, God the Father was the one I got on with least, conceptually. The Son had the decency to be a human being and the Holy Spirit was pleasantly vague—sort of a benign wind that set Apostles’ hair on fire at Pentecost.
The Father seemed to be slightly unsure of His own role. Sometimes He ordered genocides on peoples like Amalekites (including their children), but at other times He was supposed to be gentle and kind. He certainly wasn’t stable. Anyway, wasn’t that what Our Lady was for? We were Catholics, after all. If God seemed distant, Mary was your fixer. She was like a dial-up modem to God: you could connect with her and she’d pass the relevant information on. I didn’t need to bother with God the Father; He seemed almost irrelevant.
I certainly didn’t say this all to Father Tom, but I must have intimated at least some of it, because he linked my confused understanding of God’s fatherhood with my insistence at that time that I, myself, was called to the priesthood—suggesting that in this I might be similarly confused.
“You are very young, still, and a long way off being considered for that. You need to focus on rebuilding inner peace in your Christian life and maturing into Christian life. A priest must be mature. After all, a priest is a father, too.” As it turned out, I never became a priest. At 18 I stopped attending confession and soon after stopped attending Mass regularly. But I think God and I are the most relaxed we’ve ever been with each other, these days. I suppose we’ve learned not to expect as much from each other, so neither of us gets disappointed. In this way, he is finally easy to relate to as a father.
I’m one of those queers who has a broken relationship with their father. Political conservatives and Christian “gay conversion” therapists would like me: I fit their stereotype. Although I have little respect for these people, they may be right about one thing: dads matter.
He was from a broken home, and he arrived at adulthood inheriting his parents’ alcoholism. At once both damaged and hard, self-centered and self-destructive, he was incapable of the self-denial parenthood demands. His resentment usually came out in small aggressions: I held my knife and fork incorrectly, my t-shirts shouldn’t be tucked into my shorts (it was girly), and I was generally too sensitive. For all of these I was admonished regularly. Yet, for as long as I can remember, his censure was defanged by his own behavior. He left me alone in a park to go and buy drink, so I told on him to my grandmother. He’d set about correcting my table manners then disappear for weeks. As the years passed, his attempts to impose paternal authority were met with increasing bemusement, distrust, and finally disdain. We stopped speaking. Years passed.
I heard from him recently via Twitter. He had joined and found my account by searching for my mother’s name. He tweeted saying “you look very happy. Glad to see you have a good sense of humour. Welcome to visit any time.” This was so surreal that it was almost comical. I blocked him. I don’t do dads.
When the lawyer tried to be my daddy, I wasn’t surprised. I knew when I began seeing older men that it would happen eventually. The “sexy daddy” figure is like an albatross around your neck if you have any kind of intergenerational sex, albeit an albatross with a beard and a hard on. In gay discourse, to say “I have daddy issues” is a sexual statement, a kind of come-on. It cues a roleplay in which a generalized past trauma enacted upon the queer male by authority figures is resolved sexually, usually through domination by a new, ersatz father figure. “I have daddy issues” is a statement that comes with the reserved subtext, “so why don’t you resolve them by fucking me?”
A pioneer of of the erotic daddy trope in gay porn is director Joe Gage. His 1970s Working Man Trilogy is considered seminal (there’s semen) to those who are learned in pornography’s history. I recently watched the first one, Kansas City Trucking Co., alone, in my mother’s living room, clothed and unaroused. The film inspired nothing that would change that. Gage’s characters are not “gay-identified”: the ingenue of Kansas City, Joe, is young but classically masculine, seduced into homosocial bonding and handjobs that culminate in slo-mo cum-fountain shots purely because life as a trucker on the road keeps him away from his girlfriend. His sexual mentor is buff and bearded. This is “straight acting looking for same” erotica.
Gage dismissed frequent anal sex as “not very cinematic” due to his desire to focus more closely on the penis: “The whole idea of making homosexual pornography . . . [if] you strip it down to its absolute basics, [is] the worship of the phallus, the worship of the penis. If you’re going to make homosexual pornography, you’d better light the dick. So masturbation and oral sex are . . . the best way to photograph. You’re highlighting the penis—that’s what it’s about.”
I am not his target audience. That said, the sex scenes are unusually tender compared to much of the rougher intergenerational BDSM porn now so ubiquitous online. The intimacy of older to younger men is fatherlike, a schooling in masculinity. As a femme I do not belong to this imaginary scape, nor does anyone who isn’t white or lean and muscular. I feel like a deviation from the sexual lesson plan the film devises.
This, in the midst of this soft focus porn, is the origin of my prudish discomfort at sexual fatherhood. I don’t have daddy issues but I do have issues with daddy issues as a sexual model. Much of my teens were spent using the church to rehabilitate fatherhood from my own father. The price I paid for this was the sexual repression involved in being faithful to the fathers of the church. Liberating myself from this mental bondage in adulthood, I am furious when any part of my desire is framed as yet more conflict resolution with fathers.
This is what daddy roleplay entails. It is Freud-lite. No doubt for those who enjoy it, part of the thrill of the daddy is his enlivening of sex with the taboo of incest. Daddy issues are often no more and no less than this. Incest is taboo precisely because it sullies the sanctity of fatherhood with sex; it relies on a presumed sanctity of the father. I, in contrast, am bewildered and bored by the expectation that I should debase the sanctity of sex with the defunct iniquity of a father. There is no joy for me here: to call a man “daddy” is only to pity him. It is not to have forbidden sex with that which gave me life but, instead, it is a kind of necrophilia. Hamlet went mad enough just chatting to his father’s ghost; he didn’t need to suck its cock too.