I was around twelve years old when I first started Noticing girls. There was a gorgeous young woman named Clara in my class. I told a boy in my neighborhood about her, how I loved her deep brown, flowing, perfect hair, her long, pianist fingers, and the way her face was always flecked with paint to the point where the color blended with her freckles into a living, walking starry night.
He stared at me for a moment, then said that his dad had told him that young women were tools of the devil, made to tempt men to sin. I asked him about young men. He said his dad hadn’t said anything about them.
When I told my parents about that strange encounter, they laughed like I had missed a punchline.
When I was seventeen I told the head of the GSA at my school that I was bisexual. He told me that there was no such thing, and that I was lying to myself, unwilling to accept being fully gay.
Things I Enjoy In No Particular Order:
- Chests – Male and Female
- Showers so long you can’t feel your feet by the end and the bathroom mirrors have become so fogged that fixing your hair afterwards is like trimming a Chia Pet blindfolded
- The popcorn sex scene in Troll 2
- Mad Max: Fury Road
- Kissing your way down the back of someone’s neck to the top of their spine where you can feel the shape of their bone with your lips
- Good Beards
- Getting off-topic
- Japanese whiskey
Self Portrait: Science School, 2003
The photograph hangs above my desk at all times. In it, two boys stand arm in arm. One is tall for his age, with lanky arms and a shirt three sizes too big. His hair extends around him like a mane, obscuring his forehead and eyes before draping down over his shoulders. His smile is far too big for his face. The other is short, extremely so, with dark, tawny skin and black curly hair cut just short enough to seem fashionable. He seems comfortable, relaxed, at home. On his shirt is a plain white nametag with “Sam” written on it in drawling, messy letters.
Lauren was completely asexual, but I told her that wasn’t a problem. I was content to just talk with her for hours. But sometimes, when we were sitting on the floor of her room playing Go, I would let my eyes wander up and down her chestnut skin, and I would wonder what she looked like naked.
When I visited Australia for a month, I really went for one reason only: My friend Sam. Sam and I had known each other forever, but I hadn’t seen him in nearly three years. When we saw each other outside the dingy, rundown, cockroach-infested, wreck of a hostel I was staying at, those years and all my doubts disappeared. He tackled me to the ground, and within three days I had left that dump and we were living together. His apartment was tiny, but it was perfect. The walls were the color of slate, the carpet was so thick you could feel yourself sinking in it, and the kitchen constantly smelled like butter and garlic. Like I said – perfect.
Self Portrait: Outside of Pie in the Sky, 2010
My mouth hangs open, pineapple held between my less than perfect teeth, eyes too wide for a little too long. Emma sits across from me, hands on her knees as she rocks back in laughter, her frizzy hair and perfect freckles black in the lack of light. She had just told me that eating pineapple makes semen sweet.
Sam and I have known each other for fourteen years. We met at camp, when he one day walked up to me and decided that I was his friend. I just went with it; I didn’t really have any friends at that point anyways. Sam was always the promiscuous one, trying to start parties (and fights), meeting new people, making new friends, having more sex than a teenager should legally be allowed to, and generally making a mess of himself. I was happy to follow along. People tended to overlook me, but Sam never did. Wherever he went, he always made sure I was welcome.
The last summer he ever came to America, we bought some spray paint, “borrowed” a rowboat, and painted Jellyfish on the bottom of the center street bridge at three in the morning. He told me he would miss always having me around.
Things I Find Attractive In No Particular Order:
- Passion about anything, especially if I know nothing about it
- Willingness to be silly
- Love of bad movies
I am not a synesthete, but Del (the gayest man I’ve ever known) once told me that my name tastes like the smell of copper and old books as he and I sat on a dock three thousand miles from home.
Every night Sam would come home from work and I would return from exploring the city, him with a bag of groceries and I with a bottle of our favorite sake. We would cook dinner together, play some videogames, and then he would ask me what I wanted to do that night. The answer was him, but it was never said out loud. Some evenings we’d go and delve into the Sydney nightlife, where he would do his best to get me laid, and other nights we’d simply pass out drunk after bingeing a shitty show for six hours.
Marina and I sat on my couch, wrapped in the thickest blanket I could find, watching The Return of the King. I was rubbing her back, slowly, carefully, gently moving forward around the soft curve of her shoulders towards her chest. She leaned back into my arms, and moved my hands around to her breasts.
“It’s okay,” she whispered, as Gimli caved an Orc’s head in on the screen. “You make me feel safe.”
Two weeks in, while we were curled up on his couch that had also been my bed watching High Fidelity, I told Sam I loved him. He kissed me on the cheek and told me he loved me too, but not in the same way he knew I loved him.
Self Portrait: January, 2016
The interior of the restaurant is dimly lit, but not by choice. One of the ceiling lights had gone out, and the owner had yet to fix it. Sam and I sit next to one another at a corner table next to the window, a steaming bowl of nabe and bottle of sake between us. He is bent over the bowl, holding his chopsticks haphazardly, mouth closed, chewing. I am holding my phone, camera ready, pointed at him. I am smiling.
I told him the picture was for my host family in Japan. I really just wanted a picture of him.
The thing that your friends talked about incessantly for like three years straight. Not honestly all it was cracked up to be. Went in with high expectations, hoping it to be earth-shatteringly, mind-blowingly, life-changingly incredible. Turned out to be awkward, sore, confusing, but generally pretty great. You won’t really remember it the next day either.
The word Emma calls you, six years later, when she finds out how many people you’ve been with. You’ve taken it on as a mark of pride so it can’t be used against you, but each time it stings a little bit more.
Open Relationship: Label,
The only real way to make long distance work for you. Took a lot of trust at first, but by now seems like second nature. It probably helps that you have an unnatural obsession with systems and rules, though that same obsession is why no one will play Monopoly with you.
The first time she tells you she’s sleeping with your close friend your mouth will taste like chalk and old milk for a week. You’ll never wonder what inadequacy tastes like again.
She was a goddess. Her long tawny hair blew out behind her as the pressure rushed from the café when she entered, and took my ability to think straight with it. She looked up at me and smiled, and when she did, a freckle disappeared into one of her deep, pale dimples. “What can I get for you?” I asked breathlessly. She requested an apple bear claw and a small coffee. Her Adam’s apple rode up and down her perfect neck like an elevator as she spoke. I reached out to her with the small paper bag containing her order, and she plucked it from my grasp with long, graceful fingers tipped with perfect cyan shells. They matched her eyes. She handed me back the receipt after signing, and gave me a small smile and a wink so quick I barely caught it. Just below her lazily looping signature was a telephone number.
“Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power.” – Oscar Wilde
When I was seven years old, a kid named Max who lived close by invited me over to play. He was heavily involved with the “in” crowd, so not wanting to be a total dweeb, I jumped at the opportunity. I wandered over to his house on my own on a sunny Saturday in April. I don’t remember the exact date, but as I meandered along the heavily wooded gravel road that connected my street to his, I remember thinking that I’d rather have been outside climbing my favorite tree. Upon arriving, the first thing I noticed was that his house was enormous. It was like nothing I’d ever seen before: a towering, ancient monolith, an obelisk, a pillared monument of wealth and human effort. I couldn’t help but stare for a moment before going inside. I was greeted by his babysitter, a young woman, probably about seventeen, who gave me an odd look when I said Max had invited me over. She led me upstairs to his attic room filled with toys and videogames of every variety. Max sat in the center, playing on his PlayStation, surrounded by candy wrappers. He greeted me a little too warmly. We played for a while with his Legos, adding on to the enormous silo made of mismatched bricks that Max said he’d been working on for ages, before he suddenly, abruptly told me to take off my pants. “Why would I do that?” I asked. Because I told you to, he said. I didn’t. I left crying, but never told my parents. Max changed schools later that year, for reasons unknown. He was eight at the time.
I ran into Max a while ago. He had been accused of assaulting a girl at a party in college. He had the same smarmy grin as he did years ago.
How to Lose an Idol
Just Say No. And Mean it. When she asks you, don’t think about how she’s your idol, about how you don’t want to disappoint her. Because idolizing someone doesn’t make them a good person, and people were made to be disappointed. And when you don’t say no and she pushes you down and kisses you deep and hard and you feel the bile rising in the back of your throat push her off, because you aren’t helpless, you aren’t as weak as you think you are, I know you see yourself as a ten-year-old, lost and confused in a body four sizes too big, but you’re twenty years old and you aren’t trapped so just push. Push yourself up, and leave.
Please, for the love of God, just leave.
Things I’m Terrified of In No Particular Order:
- Seeing her on the street and having to smile and nod and pretend nothing is wrong
He kissed me on the cheek and told me he loved me too, but not in the same way he knew I loved him.
Life continued as normal.
I called Sam yesterday to wish him a happy birthday. He told me he missed me, and that I should move down to Sydney to be his roommate for a year after graduation. I’d already found a job there a week before the call.
Dylan Johnson comes from the Boston area, and doesn’t have much to say about himself other than that he enjoys writing in the third person, as it makes him feel important.