“So, you like girls or boys?” my emaciated, five-foot-four tuk-tuk driver asks in an innocent tone with a hopeful glint in his eye.
Normally, when travelling in unfamiliar countries, I wouldn’t blithely announce my sexual orientation to strangers (it avoids unnecessary hassle and inane questions). But I blurt out “boys.”
I’m not sure why. This guy is the antithesis of my type (I like ‘em tall, broad and masculine) and I am not remotely attracted to him. I blame the jet lag.
Immediately he turns to me and says, “I like you a lot.” I should have seen it coming.
After arriving in Sri Lanka’s capital city, Colombo, in the early hours of the morning and following a few hours of snatched sleep, I was awake and eager to explore. I’m in the country courtesy of the Sri Lankan tourist board and, oddly enough, the press junket has coincided literally within a few days of the ‘defeat’ of the Tamil Tigers, which means that the military presence around the city is still at a peak.
My intention was to just meander on foot around the city. However, as the tank parked outside my hotel complete with several machine gun-wielding soldiers testifies, walking around with the various military blockades in place might be more difficult than I imagined. Cue the arrival of my driver.
The signs preceding his seduction were pretty obvious. Within minutes of getting into the tuk-tuk, and after establishing that I was from Europe, he launched into a story about a visiting German ‘friend’ who had taken a series of photographs of him (I don’t think he meant of the typical tourist variety). Next he tells me I’m a “beautiful boy. You are a model, yes?” No but flattery is always appreciated.
“I got a big surprise for you,” he says, glancing knowingly at his crotch. I burst into laughter. He slows down and turns to me, flashing a set of blindingly white teeth which all Sri Lankan men seem to possess. “Seriously, it’s 10 inches. You want to see?”
My mind wanders between a) how he proposes to show me his goods in an open air tuk-tuk while driving down the middle of the street, b) how odd a huge appendage would look on such a small frame and c) debating if I would like a peek. I mean, how often do you have the good fortune to encounter the illusive 10-incher?
I politely decline. I certainly didn’t expect to get hit on in Colombo. Well, not within six hours of arriving anyway. But as I later discover Sri Lanka is a hub of gay activity, albeit underground.
Despite the fact that in both India and Sri Lanka men hold hands and walk arm in arm (a sign of friendship), consenting gay sex is punishable by up to 12 years in prison in Sri Lanka.
Recently, voices trying to repeal the archaic Victorian laws have grown louder but like other countries on the continent Sri Lanka is steeped in religious and cultural proscriptions against homosexuality. Which leaves my driver, and others like him, in closeted misery with only rare sexual encounters with visiting tourists as an outlet for their frustrations.
As I bade him farewell by a small beach fenced off with mile-high razor sharp barbed wire, he awkwardly made a final pass at me which I fended off with a smile and a fistful of cash. I thrust more than double the amount we agreed upon into his hands (for services rendered, as it were) and walked away. Glancing back over my shoulder, my eyes followed him speeding along the road against a backdrop of turbulent grey seas. Whoever his next fare was I hope he got lucky.