The first Daddy of my trip lives just outside of Miami. I have lunch at his home one sticky Floridian afternoon in the heart of Summer. He lives off the grid in a large commune. In the shade of a lychee tree, he prepares mango, coconut and guava for me from his impressive, self-sustained backyard.
My attention wavers as he speaks of his landscape projects and aspirations for the future. After lunch, we swim naked in the pool. His voice is deep, his body is strong and his cock is hung like a bull.
Over the next few days, I dutifully surrender to his care and our bodies consensually assume the roles of Daddy and son. It seems these are familiar roles for both of us. In fact, this dynamic is one I have returned to again and again over my life, with various older men across the world.
Together, we live a brief fantasy of co-dependence and insularity. I barely leave the house during my stay because Daddy insists on taking care of my banal daily responsibilities.
“Don’t worry about any of it,” he tells me while I sit on his lap later that evening by the pool. He places his index finger over my lips and I nibble at the tip in approval.
At night, my libido regenerates more rapidly than his. I am a demanding child, squirming for attention. The heat in Florida is so intense that even as we sleep, we maintain a constant state of wetness on the sheets beneath our sweaty entangled limbs.
Our play dynamic is both total and fleeting, because this connection is only possible temporarily. It thrives because I pursued an opportunity to visit while I had very little else on my plate.
On the other hand, there are plenty of other arrangements between Daddies and sons that demand far less involvement, thereby enabling independent lives for each party beyond the dynamic.
Over the next month’s travel through the American south, I use my networks to find and meet three more Daddies of varying size and ilk, carving out my ever-increasing, personalised library of generous, mostly white, and mostly gay-identifying older men.
These particular Daddies are part of a Facebook community of anti-establishment gay men. In this sense, they are unusual specimen who differ from other archetypes, like the corporate Daddy or the ex-pat Daddy.
Each Daddy, in his own way, serves to ease the emotional burden of being for his son and, in my case, the financial burden of travelling.
Much later, I learn that the southern chapter of the Facebook group had recently come under intense scrutiny. Allegations of sexual assault had emerged against the older generation, some of whom apparently felt their Southern hospitality entitled them to the bodies of younger members.
This is a concern for every son. The language of Daddy/son dynamics can obscure the sacred space of consent and desire, and all parties present need to remain vigilant to make sure abuse and assault aren’t ever disguised as sex. But this is true of many encounters – the few who do it wrong become inaccurately representative of the many who do it right.
Daddy/son roles immediately reorganise the power of sexual intimacy. Sex changes once both parties acknowledge the wisdom of the father figure and the naivety of the son. As two people become more settled in these roles, fingers dare to dance across the body with greater confidence and the skin surrenders on command.
This arrangement of power can also be seen in the language of the terms; ‘Daddy’ is always capitalised in subcultural practice, while ‘son’ is left in lowercase as a sign of respect and submission to the elder.
The Daddy/son dynamic is unique because it is both reciprocal and consensual. It is one of many sexual subcultures, especially in the gay world, that can seem abusive and unequal from the outside. However, Daddy/son play can be fulfilling for everyone involved – including, as I learned recently, when you no longer identify as a man.
A great deal of erotic desire rests in the aesthetics of gender conformity. Sexualised bodies are typically synonymous with the production and performance of archetypes: the butch lesbian, the leather bear, the undiscerning bisexual, the hung black guy.
Archetypes are fetishised with little care given to the reality of an individual’s sexual preference or gender identity because they are built upon aesthetics. The black cock is distanced from the body to which it is attached, while the smooth young twink is ritually emasculated and assumed to be submissive.
We live in a society that constantly circulates these images and, subsequently, archetypes come to occupy a fascinating role within our sex lives, especially when we choose to reclaim agency over the roles that we’re assigned and the roles that we desire.
Daddy/son play does not transcend these eroticised archetypes, but it does demonstrate their fallibility.
Engaging in Daddy/son play, regardless of how gender specific the terms are, cannot undermine my gender identity because there is no singular way to be man, woman, both or neither. Being misgendered or fucking in a certain way does not subvert the very personal relationship I have with my own gender. It does, however, beg the question of why I find a sexual dynamic built upon binary iterations of masculinity so immeasurably arousing.
More than a power agreement of sexual submission and domination, the roles of Daddy and son facilitate an emotional bond of mutual learning and togetherness that is entrenched in the history of gay mentorship.
This dynamic can be traced all the way back to Plato and Socrates. Greek philosopher Socrates famously took young Plato under his wing to mentor him, and there remains much speculation about the sexual nature of their intimacy. The formal name of this kind of dynamic is ‘pederasty’, which can involve love, play or both.
Age and wisdom tend to inform the sexual posture that each party adopts, as one teaches and the other learns. Oscar Wilde once called this kind of pederastic love between a man and a boy the “noblest form of affection.” Pederasty also has a long history in ancient Persia and Moorish Spain, and in pre-modern Japan, where the well-documented practice of Shudo denotes a samurai custom in which adult samurai engage in pederastic relations with younger samurai. In many of these ancient cultures, the psycho-sexual bond of pederasty between a man and a boy was considered an educational institution.
Today, the language of Daddy/son evokes a sense of familial paternalism, but this bond cannot be equated to either incest or paedophilia. Instead, Daddies are vast repositories of knowledge surrounding gay histories, gay spaces and gay bodies. However, to demonstrate this we must first ask ourselves, what makes a Daddy?
Daddies are notable but often forgotten fixtures in the gay world, falling somewhere between the bear and leather-kink subcultures. In fact, Daddies can be bears and leather-clad men simultaneously.
The role is a choice – a space one consensually enters, and certainly not a permanent identity category. I’ve known versatile men to switch at will between muscle-bottom and Master. The Daddy assumes his role once he enters into the dynamic alongside his son. Daddy and son cannot exist without one another. As such, the two will often recognise each other from across the room.
For me, the sexual charge of Daddy/son play has a great deal to do with my yearning for the gender fixity of boyhood. The role of son is a return to the simpler pleasures of childhood: being treated with gifts, having no responsibilities and being commanded around by the will of a parent.
This is not new and it is certainly not limited to the gay world. For all genders, there is both pride and power in twisting the sexual submissive to your advantage and surrendering to that which you secretly desire.
Daddies function at the cross-roads of co-dependence, nurturance and the firm hand of a disciplinarian that so many of us naughty kids long for in the moist visions of our fantasy.
From their stocky bodies, I learn how skin darkens, sags and crumples together after half a century in the sun. Moreover, I’ve learnt first-hand of the AIDS crisis from many of my Daddies. To watch your Daddy on the verge of tears as he speaks about the friends and lovers he’s lost to AIDS crystallises the intergenerational trauma that all queer men possess, which is too easy to forget in the company of only millennials.
Indeed, many Daddies have lived through an era where the queer experience, especially in the American south, meant something quite different. It’s one thing to engage with this difference on paper, and another to have the transmission of queer culture come from an embodied historian during pillow talk.
The discretion and transgression of Daddy/son play can largely be boiled down to ageism, and the practice’s misguided connection to paedophilia. Certainly, there is an age where a boy cannot consent to any kind of sexual intimacy – no-one is disputing that. However, after a son has reached an appropriate age of consent and wishes to tend to his passions, the only limitations to his desire are the ones imposed on him by the sexually repressed society in which we live.
My response to this society that seeks to monitor and outlaw consensual queer love, especially when it’s kinky, is this: Don’t yuck my yum. There is something so universal about the culture of Daddy/son play.
The erotic, Freudian impulse of surrendering to paternal power is a wilful reversion to a primal infancy. For the son, the fantasy is a total abandonment of agency. In both body and mind, the son gives himself over to be owned, shaped and delivered to a new manhood. From Daddy, the son learns discipline and obedience all over again.
There are many who participate in this culture, many more who fantasise about it and perhaps more still who are afraid to confess that, deep down, they want to be held and controlled, if only temporarily, by hands much larger than their own.
Saliva drips from the corners of Daddies’ mouths upon hearing that I’m both Afghan and Muslim. The disclosure of my race and faith consistently opens up a plethora of assumptions about me that I struggle with. “Did you have to leave everything behind? Were you kicked out of the family when you came out?”
I notice that it’s so easy for the white gay world to pity Afghans and Muslims alike, especially when they’re queer. Those neural pathways are well-oiled. In fact, stereotypes about the brutality of my struggle register with me as the white guilt of men who, though progressive, use me as an opportunity to centre their own stereotypes, instead of listening to the nuances of my history and culture.
These stereotypes are their fantasy and, like all fantasies, demand a creative conception of the truth. It gets Daddies off to think they’re taking in an impoverished young boy with nowhere else to go: a textbook case of the saviour complex. The reality of my education, financial stability and social support network falls on deaf ears. As much as this fantasy repulses me, it also drives me to exploit it.
Like all forms of interactive role-play, Daddy/son play hinges on clear communication and the respect of boundaries. The giving of power is quite different to it being taken involuntarily. From a consensual agreement, the son can benefit as much as the Daddy. Power dynamics can also change, however, especially if a relationship does not conform to traditional expectations of sex.
Take the third Daddy whose son I became on this most recent trip, for example. He responds to my Facebook request for a local to assist me in New Orleans for a week, using all the subcultural language suggesting we’re on the same page with the agreement.
I scope his photos. He is retired and strikes me as the kind of person more interested in companionship than sex. We speak over the phone before I leave Florida, where I tell him that, although I’m happy to spend time with him while I’m in New Orleans, I’m not interested in fucking. He seems shy to even speak about sex and tells me he’s only helping me out with a home.
His type is almost a cliché: old, lonely, rich white man living in a beautiful house with no-one else around to share his wealth. What a pity. For the first few days, he spends a couple of hours showing me his hometown every day, buying me meals and gifts, and then retires home for an afternoon nap, at which point I enter the city to make new friends and re-assume my other identity.
This transition between versatile roles can be tricky and one night he confronts me about these new friends I’ve made in New Orleans. Possessive and deranged, I think to myself. Really lucked out with this one. “Please, is there anything else I can do to change your mind?” he asks, mistakenly thinking my body, consent and chemistry are up for debate.
Perhaps he grew up in a world where sex and consent were negotiable, but, fortunately, that is not my world. Plus, cornering your object of desire tends to only ever push them further away. I pack my belongings quickly and call the young and handsome photographer I’ve been sleeping with downtown. Within the hour, he’s picked me up and I’m gone, leaving the role of son behind temporarily (but not before relieving his liquor cabinet).
Consent and the freedom to leave at any time are perhaps the most liberating components of Daddy/son play, as opposed to real father/ son relationships. To surrender to this form of play is to reclaim ownership over a language and relationship most of us were subjected to without our consent the first time around.
For me, the boy I once was and the name I was given by my parents will never be dead. He lives within me, in tandem with my gender diversity, and in the role of son we unify momentarily. Some may be surprised to find that role-playing doesn’t necessarily discriminate against non-binary identities and gender-diverse people.
With Daddy/son play, my role of son becomes a gay retelling of Nabokov’s Lolita fantasy, a consensual nonbinary ‘Lolitx’, whose kinkiness is informed by the older man’s fantasy of archetypal girlhood/boyhood.
More and more, I resonate with Joanne the Scammer because, as you’ve now learned, high-drama exploitation fantasies are similarly right up my alley. Joanne is an internet sensation who frauds the men in her life for money and power.
Like Joanne, my performance of son also takes advantage of old, rich, white male money and I, too, look damn good doing it. Perhaps my race, faith and gender will forever prevent me from reaching the centre of society, but sampling the spoils of privilege once in a while sure is nice.
Regardless of whether my compensation makes a marginal blip on the savings of my Daddies, together we trade in fantasy and delusion. I get what I want out of them and they do the same with me.
Shafik Zahyr is a freelance writer and multi-media artist based between the San Francisco Bay Area, USA and Melbourne, Australia. They are currently not accepting any more fatwas at this time as their inbox is full.
Being a stealth trans man when transphobia is on the rise
Being queer and body positive
Another way to transition: Holistic pathways to gender affirmation
Gender affirming sex: Paying for sex as a non-binary person
The gender trouble with hair loss
Butch lineage: The difficulties of chronicling a subculture
Personal, professional and deeply political: On being femme and non-binary