When I was another boy, I was the boy next door. He was Jase, short for Jason: generic, but with a nickname just off enough to seem real. My lover—I call him Famous, which he is to me—became Jase’s best friend, Chris, a name that needs no explanation. Jase and Chris weren’t quite boyfriends, not like we were in real life, in which we worked very hard to be boyfriends. In real life, we had to stay below the radar of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. We had to figure out what domestic meant, as in home and as in argument. We were known to many for being adorable and codependent. IRL, we were gay. Because the way we were identified became an identity. Maybe that’s how it works, for me anyway: I don’t seek out identity but consider my position and articulate it like a mime feels their box.
Online, I could shake it off altogether.
Jase was just a body organized around his lickable ass, thick and juicy. If you could smell over the internet, you’d get high off the fumes. He did not have mammoth pores on his nose, like real me, or baroque ingrown hairs. He did not lose his erections. He was either unavailable or rock hard.
I claimed I was nineteen and that Chris had just turned eighteen. We were maybe six years older, and mid-twenties is a long haul from teens. We did not live in San Francisco—too fruity. I said somewhere near Santa Cruz. Lying close to the truth helped me feel convincing.
I was catfishing the catfishers—these two low-rent pornographers from San Diego County. I imagined them living in a condo. They knew how to build a website. It was called SaggerBoyz. It promised skaters, surfers, swimmers, and plenty of sagging, all in the typeface of a beach café. The homepage was Tw!nk of the Day, a big new image with the archive below, and the rest of the site was divided into scrollable grids of clickable thumbnails in the categories of skater, surfer, swimmer, sagger. The images ranged from sneaky shots of brunette dolphins in Speedos taken by some craven attendee at a high school swim meet to full frontals of sun-bleached blonds looking with shock at their newly arrived erections.
The experience was one of anticipation. The photos took forever to load via dial-up onto our iMac, so it was a bummer if, for instance, you thought you were getting a detailed hairy crack but it was just shadow. The images appeared bit by bit, some sections thin glimmers, then suddenly a chunk, a nice bit of clavicle. We ate snacks, smoked cigarettes, and listened to the Moldy Peaches during the interminable wait.
I’m not sure exactly what we wanted when we submitted our photos. To be objects rather than subjects. To be worthy of the grid. To be legitimate. As a couple, we were illegitimate. Famous only had a British passport and had overstayed his allotted time in the States in order to be with me. He could not leave for fear they wouldn’t let him back in.
As an individual, I felt illegitimate. In high school, my mixed-race friends and I referred to one another as “half.” But half-what, which half did that mean? I was half-everything that gay men forbade on their Craigslist personal ads: fat, femme, Asian.
Online, using far fewer words than I did in live conversation, I could be an easier person to like. I could emerge, as someone else, from shame. I cropped out half my big forehead—“an eight-head,” as the dig goes in Do the Right Thing— and half my brain. Offering myself up through a limited selection of angles, I could expect to be told what I was: a good looking boy, so fuckable. You look like fun.
Jase and Chris did not need to pass, they just were so boyish they blended in. Jase and Chris should be imagined skating away, and not just for the ass, but the departure, sailing towards their own horizon, not paying attention, turning their backs. The currency of Jase and Chris was in their elusiveness. Their allure was how they presented a challenge. But of course their corruptibility. And complicity. After all, they supplied these two men with a selection of graphic images.
These uploaded in horizontal bars, a too-slow striptease until finally there it all was, laid out for the two webmasters to behold—shaft and sack and, underneath, enough fuzz to make a man purr. My thick buns. Chris’s cakes. My furry legs. Twenty toes. The canine faces. Two puppies. Noses like snouts. Hoodies unzipped, falling open. Two trails to adventure. Mouths agape. What pervert wouldn’t want to wipe his ugly, impertinent cock all over Jase and Chris until they reeked, then send them out onto the streets. The world shall know they are objects.
Our emails were taciturn and confident. We’re buddies. Always together! Thought you might like these pix we took. They witnessed us shoot our wads onto the deck of my board, anointing the grip tape. Jase and Chris did not know every word to all of 69 Love Songs. They had never heard of Pierre et Gilles or Jean Genet. It wasn’t exactly catfishing, because it was our actual faces and bodies, and if it was deceitful, it was a gift. We were naked before them. They could believe what they wanted from those pictures. I hadn’t really considered they could do what they wanted with them.
The first known publication of the word fun, as a noun, was in 1699, in the first edition of A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew, credited to the author B. E. Gentleman. The word fun was defined as “a Cheat or slippery Trick,” as used by disreputable types who speak in cant, or coded jargon used within a socially marginal group. The full title of the glossary was: A New Dictionary of the Terms Ancient and Modern of the Canting Crew in its Several Tribes of Gypsies, Beggers, Thieves, Cheats, et cetera: Useful for all sorts of People (especially Foreigners) to secure their Money and preserve their Lives; besides very Diverting and Entertaining being wholly New.
Prior to this, the word made its way into print as a verb—also meaning to cheat, cajole, trick, or deceive—in the sheet music for the ballad “Poor Tom the Taylor”: “For she had fun’d him of his Coin; oh then he could have kill’d her.”
The Oxford English Dictionary traces the evolution of fun within a couple of decades, though still classified as a “low cant word,” to mean “light-hearted pleasure, enjoyment, or amusement; boisterous joviality or merrymaking; entertainment.” By the time of my youth, this was the most widely used sense of the word, perhaps carrying over a residual slumming-it connotation, as in “Girls Just Want to Have …”
As fun came to be used as a synonym for sex, it retained a seedy, debauched quality. Are you looking for a little fun? says the television streetwalker into the blackness of the idling car. Eventually some gays on apps would separate themselves from hardcore cruising: not looking for fun—an amusing way of managing expectations.
We were unpaid sex workers. We were gaining something, I guess, by giving it away: a feeling of desirability, and the exchange of a particular type of desire, as if speaking in our own slang.
I had to think like the webmasters, which was actually pretty close to thinking as myself. I should look like a boy who might have bullied the webmasters when they were younger yet turned out to be gentle and amenable. Jase, a little tough. Chris, a little untouchable. Yet the men had access, even power. They could shoot a load onto the screen.
I think Famous was just indulging an exhibitionist streak, while for me it may have been a little more complicated, hence all the subterfuge around our identities. Unsure who I was, I could become a sex toy, a means to gratification. Exhibitionism was a way to disappear.
I figured my own self-vanishing was theirs, too. Jase would not remind these guys of struggle, oppression, self-hate, and AIDS. I did not think I could make contact with them as a self-possessed young gay man with ideas and opinions. That wouldn’t be sexy, I thought, not their sexy, which was not about a queer utopia, but the frisson within repression. Their sexy must stay in high school, continuing to seek the contact they never made.
In 1972, The International Journal of Psychoanalysis published an article titled “Homeovestism: Perverse Form of Behaviour Involving Wearing Clothes of the Same Sex” by G. Zavitzianos. If I’ve matched his identity correctly with a Washington Post obituary, this Zavitzianos was born in Corfu, Greece, studied in Paris, then taught at places including Georgetown University while maintaining a private medical practice and writing poetry.
His “homeovestism” article is composed of just two case studies: both twenty years old, one female and one male, both apparently a little too aroused by wearing clothes that adhere to gender conventions. The approach and vocabulary of the article are obviously pathologizing. The shrink sees them as, I don’t know, criss-cross-dressers. “In both patients,” he surmises, “homeovestism stabilized a precarious body image, relieved castration and separation anxiety and maintained regressive object relationships.”
The boy was “probably an unwanted child,” Zavitzianos says. His mother couldn’t deal, and he was raised by his sister and in fear of his older brother. At the age of three, he began to wear his mother’s and sister’s dresses. His sister encouraged this, and by the age of six or seven it was a regular thing. He preferred the company of girls, in which “he had the tendency, because of the persistence of primary identification, to become like them, to think the way they did, to imitate their gestures, manners, etc. He could no longer feel that he was a boy. When he was in the company of men, it was different. They inhibited him because he was afraid of them, but when he had a homosexual relationship, he felt at ease, because his feelings of inferiority and of dissatisfaction with his self-image disappeared.”
He had an intense relationship with his dad, “who was attached to him narcissistically, spoiled him continually, and promised him a marvelous future if he would love and listen to him.” The boy, dependent and ambivalent, often hated him. As he hit puberty and hit the showers, he saw two athletic types wearing jock-straps and “got the impression that the jock-straps covered very large penises.” His own, he felt, was not. He tried to masturbate wearing one in front of the mirror. This made it easier to get hard—his covered dick he could imagine being bigger—but he had trouble reaching orgasm. “Since puberty, he had always worn underdrawers similar to those that his father and older brother wore, which was an indication of his admiration for them and his desire to be like them. Here, then, we have a case of male homeovestism since the patient is using clothing of the same sex for his perverse behaviour. When he looks at himself in the mirror wearing this apparel, he reacts with an erection.” The mirror, in Dr. Z’s analysis, facilitates a simulated homosexual incestuous relationship in which, wearing his athletic-supporter, the boy becomes his own omnipotent father.
When having sex with a girl, the boy kept looking at her feet. But they were too small, apparently, for him to “overcome his castration anxiety,” so he gazed at his own (“and not at his penis.”) He wanted another dick to grasp and grind against. When he engaged in homosex, he could look at another penis. And:
When he sees handsome men, he stares at them as if he wanted to ‘take in’ their beauty and power. His glance finally falls to the genital area as if he wanted to ‘absorb’ the penis. At times he feels as if he wanted to steal it. He is dissatisfied with his own face and body and feels that if only he could get a good penis everything would change in him like magic. Sometimes he buys clothes, usually shirts, like those of the men he admires, so that he can feel a little like them.
He may have had a strong exhibitionist tendency—a component of homeovestism, the doctor tells us—but this was mostly repressed: “He compromises by a hippie appearance.”
In The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again, published three years later, Warhol writes: “So today if you see a person who looks like your teenage fantasy walking down the street, it’s probably not your fantasy but someone who had the same fantasy as you and decided instead of getting it or being it, to look like it, and so he went and bought that look you both like. So forget it. Just think of all the James Deans and what it means.”
What does it mean? I know gay men in this model became known as clones, a term that Wayne Koestenbaum has pointed out “subtly derides a gay male’s nonreproductive sexuality: it defines homosexuality as replication of the same.”
The undies that I purloined from my dad, when I was maybe fifteen, were see-through white bikini briefs that he’d been forced to purchase on a trip to Paris because he’d found himself short on clean underwear and they were “fast-drying.” Everyone in my family agreed they were funny. The bunchy elasticated waistband was annoying. But they were as sexy as I could get.
When I was maybe thirteen, I had tried to shoplift a set of tiny briefs—with a torso-to-thigh photo on the box—from JCPenney. The security guard had no time for my excuse, which was that I nabbed them for my father who was in great need. When my dad showed up, looking not needy, the head of security knew I was a liar, but did he really have to go through with all the paperwork? It seemed prejudiced considering the loot had a retail value of seven dollars or something.
My dad and I were forced to go to an antishoplifting workshop, like traffic school, because the law was: If you could afford to pay the fee, and had the time to attend the session, the incident would be wiped from your record when you turned eighteen.
“Permanent record.” We heard this warning all the time when I was a kid. I never imagined anything good could possibly go on my permanent record.
I wish upon all adolescent homeovestites your success in shoplifting underpants more skimpy than any you’d be willing to purchase openly, so you won’t have to resort to pilfering your dad’s French fast-driers. Which I was wearing in spite, not because, of the fact that they belonged to my father. They were so skimpy, I figured, he was unlikely to notice their disappearance. They were the kind of item destined to slip down the back of a chest of drawers or washing machine.
The fabric was silky. My nub bent over like a defensive slug. I wore them under my shorts on a walk behind our property, through the former orchard, past the Boo Radley house, into the construction zone. There were already gently winding streets, looking like a new track for go-kart racing. The incipient houses lined up like naked adolescent androids: boxy, two-story frames. The name of the development was meant to sound French, like a type of wine. The homes were already selling, and progress seemed to be going apace, although weirdly there never seemed to be many construction workers around. The sounds the few guys emitted fell into a mellow rhythm, not obstreperous like the pneumatic drill from some movie about a dynamic metropolis.
The reverberation from a single hammer bounced off the hills. As if it belonged to the last of the gold-rush prospectors, still loony for gold. But really, I imagined at the end of the hammer there’d be a burnished, hairy arm and at the end of that arm a tawny laborer just into his twenties with vocational muscle and a willingness to molest me just to shake the routine.
I’d wait until the men broke for baloney sandwiches, which they chomped over legs akimbo, then slink by soliciting a wolf whistle but earning nary a glance. On other occasions I wore nothing beneath my shorts but a condom hanging loosely off my dick. I struggled to keep it affixed while walking. I pictured the drooping cap of Dopey, the seventh dwarf, squirming down there. I thought, If they are not elves or gnomes, just tiny miners off to work, why are they adorned in those baggy hats that seem to allude to arcane powers, like some Deadhead wizard beanie? Anyway, I felt positive that with my sheathed dick I emanated desirability and the builders could tell that underneath my clothes I was dissolute and free. Why no catcalls, then, no following?
I sat upstairs in my choice of the unfinished houses. The builders were on another site uphill so I could climb this one’s exposed stairway unobserved and claim my concrete corner. To amble through the shell of this typical two-story was like feeling one’s way through a floor plan in 3D. In just a few months, the walls would be plastered, insulated, and wallpapered, and eventually there’d be a piano upon which would sit frames, and in the frames would be photos of the people who called the place home. The first family to live in this boring house in the bend of the road. Each member of the family would be represented atop the baby grand, some appearing more often than others (only one of the dad).
The photographers will have been hired by church or school. Each will have been selected as the best of the options provided, though the person in the photograph will have liked none of them very much at all. The mother and daughters would say, I hate that picture of myself.
Then the daughter would get the one-time treat of a portrait taken in a proper studio in the shopping mall, with additional fussing reflected in the price. This photographer takes the teenage girl by the chin and points her face at three-quarters toward the future, like a mermaid figurehead on a great American ship.
As a result of this posing and titivating, with not a hair askew, plus the subsequent retouching, in which the edges are blurred like the start of a dream sequence, the sitter would be sure to look frosty and beautiful. Another effect was to depict the sitter in double, facing forward and hovering behind herself in silhouette. Despite how it sounds, this will make the girl look not crazy, but important.
Even my family, disinclined to bells and whistles, eventually capitulated, but the double-portrait commission was literally two of us: my sister’s face in the foreground and mine sideways behind. I never saw anyone else do it this way, and I suspected it was a little cheap of my parents, and also seemed to miss the point, which surely was narcissism.
The quality of production in the most elite cases was indicated by a gold signature in the corner: at a tilt with flourish, both reliable and Hollywoody. I was under the impression that the actual Alain F. Milner shot each of these photographs personally until some sagacious acquaintance explained that it didn’t matter who took the picture, Alain F. Milner was the name of the chain.
In the unfinished house, the decoration would be brand new and deliberated over by wives who would go through catalogs saying that one. The interior would involve a lot of white. You were obviously a more refined person if you were able to maintain a domicile vulnerable to the ravages of a spill. There would be no stains. The kitchen would be spotless and shiny, and the enormous, gently humming refrigerator would be stocked full of victuals for famished teenagers to heartily consume after school, before they did or did not play the piano upon which were displayed their photographs in frames.
I took pleasure in knowing that the family moving here was unaware I occupied the spot where they planned to put a wing-backed chair. My toes explored the boundaries of rooms whose measurements the husband and wife knew by heart. But I knew the actual space more intimately than them. I made contact first, and it was with the concrete skeleton under the thick carpets that would lie servile beneath their feet. I was touching the bones. Imagine their faces if they knew I sat there smoking cigarettes in the stairwell, dangling my scrappy legs over the edge, where an external wall would be. I could look out through the whole of it, when they’d suffer the limitations of viewing only through window frames.
I decided to leave behind the condom for the construction workers to find as an invitation or clue. I pried the thing from my crotch and tossed it to the floor, where it splat despondently. The texture was powdery. I pushed myself up, swanning around in a proprietorial manner then juddering forward on the balls of my feet with a sense of jazzy superiority. My fly remained open. For the present it was I who lived in this house. I knew it prenatally. I was more at one with it than they would ever be, because I knew it not as something foreclosed, but a potentiality.
I was insatiable for the sound of the hammer to stop, for the worker to lay down tools and wander bow-legged to this site on the bend, first enraged by my presence, engorged and veiny. I had never really shot a load. The cum just leaked out, usually when I was lying prone and picturing the one from Wham! who wasn’t George Michael. He’d be wearing his white tennis shorts. I had a sticker of Wham! on my bedroom door, the outside edge of which had lately found itself at the mercy of my groin, rocked back and forth on a hinge that creaked its disapproval. I was only vaguely aware of the possibility of really gushing, whether through atavism or word of mouth. It was like there was an orchestra forever tuning in my testes.
I pictured the sheet music on the piano. I needed something prescriptive like that. I imagined being forced by the hammerer. Did that mean I was thinking about being raped? Is that what it would take to relieve this immense pressure? I did not know what it is to surrender. In the meantime, if I could be an unwilling participant, maybe I wouldn’t feel ashamed.
When would I be ready to spew forth, viscid and sticky? Splatter all over this rudimentary floor. Something held me back. If only I could contribute my semen to the agglutinant that would keep the plush carpets in place. Or better still, me alongside the tanned hammerer . . . tomorrow or the day after—for he certainly does not seem to be coming over today. Only we would know the extra ingredient in the adhesive. A part of us would be a part of what glued the house together.
Years later, I found my glue. Famous and I made glue all the time. Why did we want other men’s eyes on us? Because we were gluey, we did not just stick together, other things stuck to us, too. The literary scholar Steven Connor has written of how childhood is like the sticky side of tape, whereas adulthood is akin to the gloss on the reverse. When we’re kids, we’ve got our last two meals on our face and bits of sandcastle in our hair and who-knows-what beneath our fingernails. Adults don’t like this. It’s a faux pas just to have a bit of oat milk foam on your lip. We were not ready to gloss over, to turn away from the world.
So we sent the photos. In the ones of Chris, he could be thirteen years old, looking at his photogenic penis as if he’s been given a trophy. As if it was his essence, somehow, his identity. Mine, delicious, but photographed sinewy, like beef jerky.
I figured if they were going to put the photos up on their site, there’d be some discussion, maybe compensation, certainly an ID check. What would we do? There was no Jase—just a Jeremy, older, with an Asian last name. Chris was actually an English scofflaw with no work visa who couldn’t give his real name.
Turns out we didn’t have to worry. They just threw the photos up. Jase, broody, his thick head and soft belly. Chris, looking inappropriately young. The other boys were off-guard, horsing around or showboating. We looked maybe a little too sensual and artistic. Still, we passed, blended into the grid. I wondered how many people were slowly loading the photos, if they waited for the complete image, left it open while they masturbated. Anyway, we’d gone public, if not exactly with consent. After too much coffee, I began to fret about my permanent record.
When I had to be at work at the video store (quite Jase) or the community college French class (not Jase at all), I burned to get home and take more Polaroids, send them to the two guys. It was just me who wrote the emails and just one of them, Paul, who responded. He’d refer to the other guy, Danny, as if he was in charge. I’d created a separate Hotmail account with an address that used the word woodpusher. Paul mentioned in an email we should visit them in San Diego County, they’d fly us down, we could sit in the hot tub with them.
IRL, we were becoming more like Jase and Chris. I took to wearing a striped polo over a long-sleeve T-shirt, puka shells around my neck, a FUCT Skateboards cap. All very Jase, meaning an attempt at Josh Hartnett. It felt fake but real, and it felt good, and hot, but also kind of half-assed, like how Dr. Z’s young man compromised with “a hippie appearance.” We still had to look indie enough to stay credible with friends. We couldn’t go the way of Abercrombie & Fitch. Famous had not long ago experimented with Rocky Horror–ish weirdo femme looks, painting his nails and eyes and lips and hair, wearing mesh and making video self-portraits smoking sad cigarettes. But somehow as Chris he was perfect. The ten pounds the camera puts on remade him into everybody’s all-American just-eighteen dream.
I had no idea at the time about Dr. Z’s diagnosis, thankfully. It would have fucked me up. Or rather taken away the feeling that I had the right to be fucked up in my own way. I had started considering my gender in variations like a snake eating its own tail: Was I, for instance, a femme boy’s mind trapped in a woman’s soul trapped in a butch boy’s body? This went nowhere, but that was totally cool, because the permissive culture of San Francisco allowed me to send some ripples through my gender, and to laugh at my reflection.
So why was it that what was turning me on was the imagined condo, the hot tub invitation? Suburbia had become my fetish. How could I be a truly hip San Franciscan if my fantasy life wasn’t Radical Faeries or fisting, but SoCal surf camps and stolen fumbles between the two-car garage and the kidney-shaped pool?
A lot of us spend the first part of our lives with our heads down. As we surmised that we were unable to be fully dimensional beings, we acquired another layer, some kind of fakery. When I was Jase, even as I leaned in, I chafed against that layer. With time, I came to respect it, live alongside it, a part of me.
Around the time I conjured Jase, I had mostly abandoned contemporary fiction. I found new novels too often rang false. I liked old novels because I didn’t have to decipher their authenticity—they were too far removed from my own experience.
Contemporary porn, on the other hand, I admired very much. We watched Dink Flamingo’s Active Duty series, in which military boys, or those pretending to be, tug on their cocks boastfully, and gradually succumb to each other’s curiosity. Were the dog tags authentic, or provided by Dink? Did it matter? There was an insatiable anticipation to the parts of these videos where the pair (or trio) sits on the couch or bed together, becoming increasingly horned up from their own and the other’s hesitation.
My other favorite studio was Defiant Productions. It delivered straight skaters. They looked stinky. The armpit bushes and greasy hair were throwbacks to a raunchier homosexuality, yet made safe by the fact that the dirty boys were supposedly not gay. If gay men had become epilated and wholesome, and gay bars ice cold and all of it telegraphing disease-free, the skaters made it possible to indulge the grungy, bruised, and scraped, the ripe, foul, and filthy. As if straight guys didn’t already have enough privilege, they were now the ones entitled to be unclean, too. At some point, Defiant adopted the slogan “the best in horny, all amateur, skater boy action, proving that you don’t have to be gay to have hot man on man sex!”
One morning, I brought up the SaggerBoyz site as usual, and there was Chris, his familiar blue hoodie and checked shirt falling open, his pale penis hogging the foreground. His dick was chewing up the scenery. He was Tw!nk of the Day. I went hot in the soles of my feet and my cheeks, which is my first reaction when someone has undermined or offended me. I was envious. Jase may have been on a clickable grid—skater section—but Chris was the homepage.
Yo Paul, I emailed later. Saw Tw!nk of the Day, so cool. –Jase
Hey Jase! Yeah! he responded. Don’t forget to log on tomorrow. It’s going to be YOU.
Aw, man—but Chris is better. So hot! –Jase.
Yeah, Danny thinks he’s great. Gets him off! But I like you. Very handsome! –Paul
I checked SaggerBoyz the next day, and again, for maybe a week or two. Jase was never Tw!nk of the Day.
Why the empty promise—was I being strung along, unaware I was only a pimp for the truly marketable Chris?
Soon enough, Famous insisted we go camping. We needed to get away from screens. And out there we breathed in redwoods and heard brooks babble. We drove home smelling of campfire. We listened to Cat Power. We noticed boys on the freeway, drivers and passengers, that looked like real saggers, with a girlfriend or a group of other dudes or their families. An arm steering the wheel, or leaning against the window, headed towards front lawns, towards condos and hot tubs, their heteronormative lives, our homosexual fantasy.
I stopped checking SaggerBoyz, and the Hotmail account. We left behind the names Jase and Chris. But we had taken in their beauty and power, absorbed them, like a happy version of homeovestism. Not long after that we began having group sex with other fags, who had also taken in and absorbed the essence of handsome males they have seen. Like Dr. Z’s case study, they bought similar shirts to the men they admired. We took those shirts off. We learned a different form of surrender. It felt real, and enough, and we had fun.
From SLUTS: An Anthology, edited by Michelle Tea, to be published by Dopamine x Semiotext(e) this April.
Jeremy Atherton Lin is the author of Gay Bar, which received the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography, and the forthcoming Deep House.