And then he called me a fag.
It felt like — I wanted it to feel like the wind had been knocked out of me, like someone had slapped me in the face or kneed me in the balls. But I just looked at him. It didn’t feel like anything.
Fag. The word was still etched on his face, curled in the snarl of his lips, the way his eyes were starting to widen with his own shock, his own shock as the word sprang off his lips and danced across the air towards me.
He looked panicked. “I didn’t mean — “
And then it hit me in the face.
Fag, cocksucker, fudgepacker, some prancing little bitch with their mascara running as they choked, gargling on some hairy, better man’s cock, fondling his sweating balls as they rocked back and forth on bruised knees, desperately digging into their own ass with painted nails, panting yes daddy as they violated themselves, sucking up thick dribbles of some other man’s semen, of his juices, and slurping it down like a cock-hungry whore. Fag. Fag fag fag.
Barely able to walk the next day, ass sore, bleeding, oozing from a jagged, puffy little asshole and filling with lust at the sight of another man’s jawline, his stubble, the thick fingers of his big hands, groaning with pleasure as he slips them under my shirt and flicks my nipples. Prancing back and pulling down my pants over my stiff cock, dropping to my knees, eager to be used, begging to be violated, so damn hard at the thought. A Homo, ponce, fairy.
Putting on panties and eyeliner and begging some bigger, better, stronger man to take me home and fuck the shit out of me, smear my lipstick over my worthless fucking face. Slobbering, drooling over every hot bod and tight ass, over every straight guy, bro and athlete, all the things I can’t have. Fairy, poof, queer. Faggot. Ignoring all the glares and angry looks, ignoring them all in the heaving, panting thralls of my perversion, stalking with innocuous bottles of beer and rohypnol after my glory of drugged midnight ass fucks; a creeping, flop-wristed predator consumed in my desperate lust for every strong, masculine, straight man.
Fussing over every pocket square and wrinkle and bright, sissy color of my too-tight pants and floral shirts. Spending 300 dollars on a haircut and a shave and arguing — bitching — over which kind of moisturizer is better for my gleaming, surgery-tightened, tan-bed darkened skin and parading, flouncing, in a constantly changing selection of tiny, neon, ass-baring underwear. Faggot.
He saw it. He looked at me and he saw it, that, and he called it, the word jumping, swooping out like a bird springing into flight.
I was a fag. A Fag. Capital f.
And he looked panicked but he didn’t look — , he didn’t look surprised. He didn’t look like had made a mistake, like he hadn’t said the right thing. Just that he’d said it out loud.
“Max, I’m really, I’m sorry, I didn’t — “
“You did though.” My voice sounded hollow. It felt like my clothes didn’t fit. All of sudden my pants were too tight and my shirt was too loose, I could feel them, sliding around on my skin, threads grating against my bare skin, on the lifted hairs of my arms.
The guy was already lost around the corner, the guy who’d recognized me, the guy from the app, who’d seen me here, who’d outed me, with a shoulder grab and a “hey stranger!” and a little too intimate of a backrub. Vanished in the night, dropped his bomb and went. Soared off over the horizon and left me here, in the cratered, smoldering wreckage of everything I’d ever tried to build.
“I- I won’t, tell anyone, Jax, — Jackson, I’m not going — unless you want me to, I — “
I could still feel it, the smoothed down swath on the back of my shirt, pressed up against my skin. His handprint, swept across my back. Across my little faggot back.
“I was just surprised, I’m not judging you, it’s not a bad thing — “
“Shut the fuck up.”
And all of a sudden I knew how I felt, I knew what I was feeling, the handprint warm and sticky, sweaty, on my back (my little fag back). I felt the hot rush of shame burst and flush in my cheeks, squeeze and strangle in my chest. “Shut up.”
He was white as a sheet. He was white as sheet.
I couldn’t say anything. I tried to force them out but my throat was crushed as tight as a straw, my brain was scrambled, jarbled up. All I could see was my Mom, my Dad, my sister, the flashing slideshow of their faces, the anger, the disappointment, the revulsion, the confusion the shame. The shame.
I pushed, scraped back, the chair screeched across the pavement, it sounded like bad brakes and I was standing, the world tilting dangerously around me. “I’m going”
“Max — “
I staggered back and his hand clenched around my wrist.
I yanked back, and he smacked down across the table, his glass spilling, shattering, beer going everywhere, his sleeve smearing through the butter. He swore.
I pulled back, his hand fell. I felt dazed. “I’m going” it just floated out of my mouth.
I turned around. I walked out, shoved the door open, the stupid little gate they had around the patio.
The pavement was hard. I didn’t know where I was going. I turned, turned again, the footsteps clacking, echoing in the buttery glow of the streetlights and the distant hum of traffic.
Their faces were on a loop in my mind: his white-faced shock, my sister’s blank, missed-a-step surprise, the unguarded snarl of his disgust, his warm grip sliding across my back, and the way my little fucking dick twitched at the weight of it. I was a bitch. A fag.
Another turn and there was a line of trees, a smooth bank of soft darkness at the edge of the street and I remembered what route I was on, what path I was taking. I picked up the pace, my shoes echoing, again, the rhythm popping through my head, fag, fag, fag.
I ran across the street and plunged into the shade, into the grass and loam under the trees.
The night was velvety and warm. I slowed, my pace dropping, and my hand floated out and found one of the trees next to me, running over the rough, snarled bark. Fag.
So someone knew. Someone knew now, they’d found out. All those years of keeping my secret, of treasuring it, and I’d slipped — I’d fucked up. And now they knew.
It was all over. It felt like it was all over. This was — this was the worst case, the thing I’d always told myself could never happen, the thing I always had to cover up, to keep hidden, at all costs keep anyone from finding out.
And he knew.
How many other people did?
I stopped under the trees and the panic floated up my throat. He figured out so effortlessly, so fast. Just from that one touch and — how many other people had guessed. How many other people figured out and just hadn’t — hadn’t said It out loud? Was it not a secret at all?
It felt like my whole chest was pounding- like my whole body, my whole torso, had taken over for my heart and was beating, throbbing in place. I was going to be sick.
I staggered forward, started walking again. I needed to make it out from these trees.
I saw the edge of the grove and I swung towards it, half walking, half jogging now. I broke out into the open air.
The river lay in front of me, lazily sparkling in the night, the low rushing sound of it floating through the air, quiet and steady. I could distantly hear frogs.
Was that — ? No, that wasn’t another word for gay men. That was the French.
The absurdity of it struck me and I almost laughed. Almost, but then the moment faded.
Everything was still the same.
I walked across the park and clambered onto the wall that ran along by the path, the movement almost automatic now, a handhold here, a foot stuffed into a crack there, and I was up, sitting on the broad expanse of cobbled stone.
The I-10 bridge stretched over one of the lakes a few miles away, an intricate mesh of orderly girders lit up from the streetlights, a parade of pinprick headlights and brakelights flowing across it, sparkling in the river below.
This was a really beautiful night. There was a breeze, a soft one. A gentle… susurration, that was the word, breathy and light.
And my stomach loosened a little.
I watched the river — for a second — and then the second stretched on, and I was watching the river for a while.
I heard footsteps behind me and I turned, and Taylor walked down out of the grove and climbed up on the wall next to me.
He was quiet. Huddled and stiff, watching the grass in front of us, the breeze barely moving it.
I didn’t really know what to feel, not now. So I didn’t.
“I thought you might’ve gone back to the car at first.” He said. He wasn’t looking at me, fingers scratching along the edge of his jaw, rasping against the stubble. “But then I realized, you would have gone here instead.”
I pulled my knee up on top of the wall, hugged it to my chest, tried to squeeze out the anxiety jangling there, the angry, fearful buzzing in the back of my knees.
Taylor looked back down at his hands, his shoulders hunched.
The river flowed on past us.
“I’m really sorry.” His voice was quiet.
I’d never felt so dirty. I couldn’t stop clenching my jaw, couldn’t push down the feeling of being disgusting, the creeping paranoia that my fingernails were filthy, caked with dirt and ragged. How could I possibly think that? But it was there, it was so vivid, it was so real. I could see them in my head, but when I looked down there they were, maybe a little long, but clean.
“I never meant to…” He trailed off, realized.
“To say it?” I said quietly.
There was silence.
The grass was rippling gently in the breeze, just a little, a couple quivering blades.
My hand ran down my calf, tugged at the edge of my pant cuffs. Scribbled away at a little bit of crusted mud. Now my fingernails were dirty. “It was true” I said quietly.
Taylor didn’t say anything. I pinched up another section of my pant cuffs, didn’t look at him, picked at another little scab of dried up mud.
“How did you know that guy?” His voice was quiet.
I glanced over. He wasn’t looking at me, one hand in a tight fist, his face slack.
“You mean did I fuck him?” He flinched.
He looked down, fiddled with the strap of his watch. He dropped it and looked up. “Yeah.”
I scraped away the last patch of mud. Clean and sparkling cuffs. You could still see where the mud had been, little semi-circles of dirt. “No.”
I looked up at the river. Taylor was looking too. A moment flowed by.
“He was, on an app. I got — I downloaded grindr to my phone and he was one of the guys on there and, it wasn’t sex, but. I sent him pictures. He sent some to me.”
I couldn’t look at the river anymore. I dropped my head, ran a finger along the grout at the top of the wall, picked at a pebble, sticking out of the top.
“He told me how cute I was, said I was sexy, that he wanted — ”
My throat closed up with phlegm. I coughed, Taylor didn’t move. I picked at the pebble, at the grout. “And I liked it.”
This pebble was not going to come free. I scrapped the concrete around it, trying to dig a groove. “I liked it a lot.”
Taylor was looking at me now. I could see it in the turn of his body, but I couldn’t see his face.
I looked up at the river, desperate not to look to my right, desperate not to turn my head, the water sparkling on by.
“It made me feel… seen, and, and out and powerful. And, naked in a good way” The words rushed out of me. “Like people could really see me, all of me, all the way through and they goddamn liked what they saw. I was popular, and hip, and desirable, and — “ The words dried up. “And I really liked it.”
I could hear him, picking at the grout too. “Were there other guys?”
He didn’t have to say it. I swallowed, eyes down. Eyes closed. My chest felt so tight. It was clenched, like a fist, I hadn’t even known it could do that. “Yes.” Barely a whisper. “A lot.”
Fag, fag, fag, FAG FAG FAG
“Did anything ever…” Here it was coming. “happen?”
Why did he keep asking these questions? Why did he have to keep asking? Why did it have to be these questions?
I could feel my heart beating wildly in my chest, the way up to my throat. “I wanted it to.” Fag. Technically true. Fag. Still just a whisper.
“And did it?” His voice was quiet, but still somehow insistent, grinding down.
I scraped and felt the pebble bite into my thumbnail, splitting the edge. “Yeah.” The word was squeezed out of me, like toothpaste, all the way up from the bottom. “Something did.”
He was waiting.
The river looked so wide from here. Like an empty highway, stretching off ahead of us and winding around to either side, lanes and crosswalks sunk beneath the water, somewhere under the surface.
“There was a guy and, he messaged me.” I ducked my head. “I messaged him first.” I, gently, thumped my thumbnail against the pebble, whacking it into the slot— the split— it had left in my fingernail. “He — his picture was wearing this tight shirt and I liked his arms, and his smile was” I reached up, popping my tongue and twisting my thumb at the corner of my mouth. I was trying to make a joke, it felt like something had shattered in me.
There was a silence.
“So that’s your type, huh?” He grinned at me, smile completely level. “Hot arms and a crooked grin?”
I forced a laugh, and I felt a sudden rush of gratitude, saw the way he was sitting on the wall, how gingerly he was crouched over, arms clenched over his chest, like he was trying to keep still, trying to keep from startling away a deer or a little bird.
I took my thumb off the pebble. “Yeah I guess so.” The words echoed, rolled around in my head. “My type.”
And another silence. I looked back at the river. It felt like a gulf had opened, like I’d hit a blank space, like all my lines in my script had been erased, and I just had to wait, for someone to fill them back in again.
“He was really close by. And I thought, hey, that’s sexy. Sexy like his arms and that grin. And I thought, that’s what I’d be looking for, if.” I felt the bitter feeling rise in my chest, that memory. “’If’. It was just this, fun little fantasy. So I hit him up. I sent him a message, just ‘hey’” I looked back down. I was picking at the pebble again, at the split in my thumbnail. It was getting bigger.
“And we talked. He sent me a message, I sent him another. And he was funny. Not like, a comedian or anything.” I forced a grin. “Not like me, but, it was cute. It was ‘fun’. And he sent me a picture. And then he wanted to see one of mine.” It was right up at the edge of the — of the white part of my thumbnail. Just before the quick. “So he sent me another. And then I sent him one too.” I laughed. “I’d been working out. So he was pretty pleased.” And — there, it snapped through, bit into red, stinging flesh.
“What kind of pictures were they?”
I looked up. “Do you really want to know?” It stung like a motherfucker.
And he met my gaze. He was still there, still huddled, but he wasn’t timid anymore. He looked at me. “Do you want me to know?”
I stared at him.
“It was him in the shower. That was the one he sent me, to try and get me to send something to him.” My thumb was throbbing, a steady on-off beat. I forced a shrug. “It, I guess it worked.” I looked down. I was bleeding. I picked up my thumb, cradled it in my other hand. “I got down on my knees,” FAG“and, I took a picture from above, I held my phone over my head. Said something like, ‘is this the view you’re looking for?’” I felt the shame, the vomit, the gorge, FAG, rise in my throat. “And he liked it.” Mmm, I do really like that view, you look so tempting. “So he asked me for another one. Told me, ‘He wanted to see that handsome face.’ Which was a bit presumptuous.”
He didn’t laugh.
That almost made me laugh, just him sitting there, me desperately firing blanks, but it was swallowed up in the night. It was starting to get cold.
“I didn’t — I hadn’t put my face in any of the other pictures. I was really careful about that. I would crop it,” I held up my hand, ran scissors across my chin. “Right here, so that all you could see was my mouth.” I stopped, thinking back through all the pictures, all the snaps, all the time I’d spent in the bathroom, in my bed, in front of the mirror with my phone, carefully perfecting it, my own crooked grin: licking my teeth, biting my lips, smiling, innocent, cocksure, tempting, gleeful. Hungry, lustful. Desperate. “My fucking smile.”
He was so quiet. I had no idea what he was thinking. I couldn’t see his face and I couldn’t — wasn’t going to turn, to look.
“He kept trying to persuade me and,” The breath went out of me in a rush, my lungs collapsing. “I really wanted to be persuaded. So he sent me another picture, his face. He didn’t wait for me to agree to send mine, and, and I liked it. I felt, wanted, I felt craved. Desirable.” You fag. “And I felt like I owed him. I wanted to feel like I owed him.” I ran my thumb across my palm, felt that little smear of blood trace across my hand. “So I leaned back against the wall and — “ I laughed suddenly. “I put on my glasses, so he wouldn’t recognize me, if he saw me out in the real world. Like I’m fucking Clark Kent.” I looked down. “And I took the picture.” I opened my hand. There wasn’t that much blood. I thought there’d been more.
It was like I was there again, for a second, sitting in my sun-drenched room as the cars rushed by completely unheeded on the bridge outside, my skin flushed, my dick hard, my heart beating wildly. My phone felt so heavy. Still so unnatural, still new, my thumb hovering over the button, my picture tucked down in the corner of the screen. Highlighted in a little golden box, highlighted with a little golden checkmark.
“And he seemed so relieved.” I laughed. I was kind of worried haha, but you’re pretty fucking cute ;) Why was I the only one laughing? “And I told myself that was going to be the end of it, I tried to feel guilty, to remind myself that I was being crazy, that this was nuts. But,”
Trying to will myself to push the button, trying desperately not to, and knowing, knowing, that I was going to hit it. And knowing too, down deep in a little pocket inside of me, that that wasn’t going to be the end of it.
“But I knew what I wanted to do.” The river just kept on going, and for a second that seemed ridiculous. That was so much water, just sloshing along, where was it coming from? How could there possibly be that much of it? “So I put on my shoes, and I fussed with my hair, and I changed my shirt and the whole time — “ My breath caught in my throat. Trying to lose myself in making myself sexy, to forget what I was going to do and what I was throwing away, my heart thudding duly in my chest, my body feeling like it was hollow, filled with helium and floating along. “I was trying to look, kind of gay.” And unbelievingly, surprisingly, a smile twitched at the corner of my mouth. “I’d never done that before. It was a weird reversal.”
And then the sound of my door smacking shut behind me. My feet taking me down the hallway with a hard-on and me, noticing and repeating to myself like a mantra “I’m so hard, I’ve never been this hard.” It wasn’t even true. I had worked myself up, worked hard, trying desperately to believe I was consumed by lust, that I was insatiable, that I wasn’t making a decision with every fucking step.
“And I went down to his car. He told me he was parked in a green ford Fiesta. I had to google what that was, but hey, power of the internet.” He’d been looking the wrong way. All I could see was the back of his head through the glass. “And I tapped on the window, and he turned around.” My hands dug into the wall, grating into the rough concrete, my thumb splitting, every little pebble impressed on my skin. “I was hoping so bad, I was saying it over and over in my head, ‘just be ugly, just be ugly.’” I felt the same gorge, the same desperate, terrifying anxiety rising in me again. “I was praying” And suddenly I felt it open, like a crack, and Him come trickling in. All of a sudden He was there, and I felt the guilt come bubbling up in a boil, thick and clogging, and I felt a sharp stab of anger, a flare of sudden guilty rage. “Just be ugly. That was all I would have needed.” And I felt the doubt in the words as I said them. “But when he turned around,” I gestured, my hands flopping helplessly, the thick, glossy waves of his hair, the dark, dramatic stripes of his eyebrows and sharp cut of his jaw. The way his eyes glinted, surprised, in the fucking lit-gold of the summer twilight. “He looked just like he said he would.” And then that grin. “And I loved it.” You FAG.
Taylor hadn’t said anything, hadn’t moved, hadn’t even turned his head. He was just looking at the river, his face blank, his jaw set. His hands were loose on the wall, one thumb rubbing, up and down.
I took a deep breath, felt it shudder through me. “So I got in his car, and we drove, behind this, abandoned building. And we parked.” My heart started beating wildly, painfully, even now, the concrete digging into my hands. The way he’d turned, knowingly, reached up and grabbed my chin, firmly, confidently, me desperately mirroring him, reflecting him on autopilot, trying so hard to match his confidence, desperate to look confident and worldly, not to look like I was nervous, like I was freaking out, like I was about to shit myself. Desperate to look like I did this all the time. Why had that mattered so much? Why the fuck had that mattered? “And he kissed me.”
And the guilt felt so thick within me. It was like concrete, churning up and slowly setting, slowly becoming permanent. I had my arms wrapped around my knees, pulled up to my chest. When had that even happened?
“So how was it?”
I felt like someone had slapped me in the face. I felt my face lurch, my arms clench, all these words gushing up, the way his tongue slipped and hooked around mine, the way his hand snuck into my back pocket and groped my ass, the way my cock jumped like a cocker spaniel.
But instead of saying anything I just turned, and he was just watching me. Just sitting there looking at me.
And He was too. Somewhere up above, small and waiting. Watching me.
And it all crumbled inside of me. My arms going slack, my legs limp. I hadn’t even noticed I had been clenching them, but now they were shaking, sore, stiff.
Taylor looked me in the eye, his face still, serene. He never looked like this.
“It was everything I wanted it to be.” It drifted out of me like smoke, barely a whisper. It felt like I’d been punched in the chest. Everything I’d wanted it to be.
Taylor waited, and I did too, the water sailing by, and that — Him, slowly bearing down from above, waiting too.
“It felt — I felt, electric. I felt alive, I felt so real. Like”, I fumbled, feeling my heart starting to rise, beating in my chest, the anxiety of that moment, the thrill, the way he’d reached over to me, leaned in.
“Like every part of me was being used, finally.” And I couldn’t keep the relief out of my voice, “All these pieces that had been covered in dust, suddenly flung into motion,” the way my lip had scraped against his jaw, his firm thumbs dragging down my ribs. “Finally out in the sun,” the way the heel of my hand fit so satisfyingly in the hollow between his pecs. “finally let loose and told to just go, it was like — ”
And then my chest collapsed within me. The way my stomach had suddenly jerked as his hand ran through my hair. The way I felt so tinglingly aware of my body, the way a million thoughts had flashed through my brain, aware of everything all at once. “Like this was what I was made for.”
And I heard my voice crack.
My hands were back on the wall, fingers curled over the rough concrete, my thumb aching.
And He was still there. Waiting.
Suddenly I felt the rage boil through me. “Why the fuck would he do this to me?!” It came out louder than I meant, and suddenly all the words were spilling out of me. “Why? Why would He do this, why would He fuck me up like this? Why did he do this to me? Why did He make me like this?”
Taylor didn’t say anything.
I shoved down off the wall and wheeled around towards him, landing awkwardly, slipping in the tangle of weeds. “Fucking say something Taylor! Fucking say something!”
Taylor looked down, at his two hands cupped in his lap.
He looked up. “How did it end?”
I stared at him, shoved off kilter for one second. He was still talking about it. All — that whole eruption, every question I’d had, every doubt and fear and accusation, and — “That’s it?”
He bit the inside of his lip, watching me, but he didn’t look uncertain. And he didn’t look apologetic. He shrugged, and then nodded.
And then all of a sudden I felt small. Now, and then too. That glint of anger that had been in his eye when I'd asked, that moment of seeing him weigh it, and for one second, wondering what would happen if he ignored me, if he said no.
I looked down, the scuffed weeds at my feet. “I said I wanted to take it slow.” And the way he’d pulled back, the glaze that had settled over him, the sudden gulf between us and the mask that slipped into place. The way I’d started to feel fat, and clumsy, and I started to feel it, the other side of that nakedness. De-shelled, and exposed, instead of free.
He whispered. “And did you really want to?”
I turned. He was looking out, watching the cars go by on the bridge, his hands fists stuffed in his pockets. He turned and looked at me, eyes drilling down into me.
That electric feeling. His hands, my lips, that life, that spring. And then getting out of the car. Hearing the engine rev to life and watching it back up, turn, carry him away. “No.”
And I felt a little flutter rise up in me. Of something — of hope.
I pushed away from the wall, took a step, down the hill, towards the water. “I wanted that to be the end.” I stopped. “I wanted the whole thing to end. I want all of it to end.”
I felt my stomach churn. “But — I don’t know.” What to do, I wanted to finish, how to make that happen, how to be sure. But, that wasn’t it. That wasn’t all. I don’t know.
Taylor leaned forward, watching the river. I waited, and then fell back against the wall, leaning into it, shoving my hands into my pockets.
Damn I wanted a cigarette. I haven’t smoked a day in my life. But if there was ever a time to start.
And then I turned, and I watched the river too.
And He was still there.
And for the first time, in a while, I reached out, extended a reluctant tendril of thought, a prayer.
And He was still there then too.