Victorian Men, Part 2

Drew Zeiba at Bard College

July 15 – July 23, 2023

He joked that I was a “born-again virgin” because I was so bad at sex that it seemed like I’d never had it. “I’m not hot enough to be this boring in bed,” I said, laughing. Drew actually was, but he didn’t phone it in. He was experienced. He hung out with a group of artists and fashion editors or promoters and DJs who partied at Spectrum during the years when they were so obviously fucking while I was not. Part of this was my arrogance: A friend and I had made a pact where we vowed not to become one of those hot, accomplished Asian men who settle for some white Allbirds gay who works in tech — like, I’d rather just be single and mysterious. Maybe I was Victorian, maybe I was asexual. I was giving schizophrenic with a Christ complex. I was giving the sad black stripe in the rainbow flag. But then, somehow, at age 34, I found someone who’s such a good fuck that — because I don’t claim lovers as my private property — my instinct is to share, except I don’t bring up opening our relationship with him because that’s just gonna come off weird.

Drew was the first person I fucked twice. He was also the first person who stretched out my asshole with his fingers before fucking me (a trick they don’t teach you at XTube Academy). Before him, my sex life in Berlin was drug-fueled enough that I didn’t need to know what I was doing. I was just a hole to be fucked, and I always got blood everywhere. But dating Drew was an education, a corrective. Don’t shave above your dick, shave along the shaft and balls so the hair doesn’t get stuck in his teeth. Use your right hand for hand jobs, not your left — it makes a difference. Once, when he pulled his dick out of my ass, a guttural fart from somewhere deep channeled from my ancestors through my intestines and out my hole. I tried to suppress a giggle, but Drew’s face looked at me unbothered and unfazed — like, what did I think sex was?

He liked to tease that I was a “man-child” not only because I still ate Chef Boyardee and listened to Jewel, but also because everything about sex felt new to me. The world felt new. Oranges tasted sweeter. I finally understood what all these emoticons are for. Sometimes, his happiness startled me: His face glowed, which made me shy, and that, in turn, made him tender. “You’re a pervert, aren’t you?” he said when I drank his piss for the first time. If drugs made me a mind without a body, sex made me a body without a mind. I became an open, permeating throb. I know I just said he wasn’t my private property, but whenever I tensed my legs around his back, I’d think of him as mine: my very own art-world fashion gay, my precum princess, “my boyfriend,” as I once blurted for the first time when introducing him to a friend outside a warehouse party on our way to Nowadays. “So we’re committed,” Drew said when we sat at the tables outside the club. It was Pride weekend, and once we were back to my bedroom just before noon, we made out — fumbling, teeth knocking — and he could barely catch his breath.

Last week, I styled him in gray trousers and a plain white T-shirt before his half-hour performance at “Stage Presence,” a group exhibition at Bard. It was a performative reading from his novel, The Mirror, which begins when an autofictional narrator gets a phone call while he’s on acid with news of his father’s sudden death in a hiking accident. Drew’s readings duet videos of emails the narrator has sent to people either missing or dead, signals sent out with no signal in return. “To assert non-presence one must affirm presence,” an email reads. “Grammar is weak like that.” At one point, he sat on the floor in front of the video, slumped, legs extended like a toy, head tipped down as he let the white light project onto his body, and I immediately understood from his posture that he knew what loneliness was. When the performance ended and the audience clapped in a standing ovation, Drew glanced up, a little lost, too exhausted to smile. It had been a long journey to get here. Then he looked at me, in the front row, and I understood that this was how to make the loneliness stop.