“If I had wanted a kept boy, I would have gone shopping for one in Bangkok and brought home one who would have been grateful to be chosen.”
From the days of the Ancient Greeks to the bars of Bangkok and the backstreets of Morocco, the young boy kept by his older male lover has featured in the lives and literature of many nations. Novelist, Glyn Yeldham, ponders the concept and recalls some of the ones he has known, first hand or otherwise.
A dinner party.
It could have been a typical, pleasant dinner party evening with friends. Three couples enjoyed the soup, the prawn curry main course and the traditional English trifle for dessert.
But the underlying tension between Christopher, a law lecturer in his early forties, and Siew, his young Malaysian lover of almost three years, cast a dark cloud over the conversation.
Chris, naturally talkative, was sharing his views on the nature of relationships and the need for a degree of balance to support the ones that lasted. Siew, normally charm personified, wore a scowl that suggested storms ahead.
“So much bullshit!” he suddenly yelled. “You don’t give a damn about balance, just like you don’t give a damn about anyone else apart from yourself.”
“Isn’t that a bit rich coming from you?” Chris responded with surprising viciousness. “You are forever demanding equality in this relationship, then demonstrating your version of it by staying at home every day, turning down all offers of work, ignoring even the little chores that would help to keep our home functioning smoothly and, on my return, enquiring not how my day has been, but instead what little gift I might have brought home for you. Where’s the equality in that? If I had wanted a kept boy, I would have gone shopping for one in Bangkok and brought home one who would have been grateful to be chosen.”
I recall the dialogue quite precisely because, at the time, it seemed to me to summate exactly the challenge that these relationships, unequal in age and economics, face if they are to achieve mutual respect and stability.
Imbalances that screw it all up.
No, it’s not easy. The affection that arises between a boy and a man, the one revering the maturity and economic wellbeing of his older partner, the other inspired by the energy and youthful charm of his younger lover, takes a lot of maintenance. Imbalances are all too common, unhappy endings all too predictable.
On the one hand, there’s Suchard, a retired Thai rent boy endlessly demanding new shirts, a motorbike or cash to send home to Issan from his now all too cynical partner. On the other, James, an overweight, retired bank manager hoping for an eternity of passion with his slim, young lover who speaks only twenty words of his companion’s language. Does this read like a recipe for happiness?
They are simply clichés, as is the aging Stewart, addicted to the smooth bodies of “his boys”, whether Russian, Thai, Cambodian, Chinese, Tunisian, or Romanian, to cite just few of the nationalities most favoured by the sex tourist industry.
Other unbalanced examples include Marcos, the younger boy from the wealthy Asian home, brought up by nannies and servants, educated in Europe at his parent’s expense and expecting a continuing life of decadence and luxury in the arms of Tony, a caring older lover who may have worked hard all his life to create the modest wealth that he now possesses, only to see it daily squandered on the demands of his supremely selfish young partner.
Not to forget Kurt, the ruthless wealthy old man, accustomed to getting everything he wants when he wants it. For him, his lover will have no more longevity than a disposable toothbrush, tossed aside the moment a bristle falls out or, in the case of Shoji or Jun or Rudy or Alexei, the moment a grey hair appears or the chiselled features take on the softer roundness of the later twenties.
Balances that make it work.
So is it all gloom and imbalance? Of course not. Phillip met Yung when the boy was working on the checkout of his local Tesco that just happened to be on Phuket, the Thai island. 12 years later, they are happily together, sharing the stresses of their respective careers. Yung just appointed Phillip a director of his fast-growing website creation business. The thirty-year age gap seems suddenly irrelevant when the balance becomes evident to all and the relationship becomes a true partnership.
Paul met Kim, a former Vietnamese boat boy, in a bar in Leeds. Together for just three years, Paul had an accident that forced him to retire from his career as a sports coach. Kim trained first in accountancy, then in IT, while continuing to work in his cousin’s restaurant as the evening chef. Just recently, Kim paid for the specialist building work on their shared home and took Peter to Macchu Pichu for his holiday of a lifetime. Peter had tired himself out doing much of the general work on the home extension. Teamwork defines the relationship. It’s the reason it will probably last forever.
So balance is possible, equality attainable, not literally dollar for dollar, baht for baht, but just in the way that two people acknowledge the needs of the other and wish to show their love and affection through the generosity of their behaviour. There may be a gulf in ages and wealth. But genuine mutual respect, admiration and affection can bridge the gulf and create relationships that endure and inspire. The experience of shared efforts, ups and downs and hopes and dreams creates the bond of partnership that the kept boy and his keeper can barely imagine.
And the last word on the subject goes to the Pet Shop Boys.
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