This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Gay Voices
Disclaimer: This post may contain NSFW images.
I’m was standing in his living room. I’m was wearing a long-sleeved, tangerine-colored button up shirt and nothing else. We were talking. I’m was standing there. I was exposed. That area between the last button and the bottom of my shirt was split open and my penis was exposed. The shirt did feel somewhat like a security blanket, but I was standing in his living room, having a conversation about the ups and downs of life and my mind kept reminding me that my penis was exposed. It was like an out of body experience (I’m imagining) where I was standing beside myself whispering in my own ear, He can see your penis. Let me tell you how I got there.
For years I’ve been wanting a drawing of a male nude. Anytime I find myself in an art gallery or antique shop that might cater to that style of art I look for something that might pique my interest. One random day my Facebook news feed exposed me to the drawings of an artist friend of mine. I knew that he was an artist, but I just took it for granted and never really thought about it. Drawing is something he does, like writing is something I do. But on this particular day the lightbulb lit up above my head (a Eureka! moment) and I thought to myself, I’ll ask Sean Baumgardner if he’ll draw a male nude for me. I sent him a Facebook message and much to my delight he responded, “I’ve been making male nudes since I hit puberty. Yes.” Then he posed the question, “What type of man would you like shaped on paper?” I didn’t know. I’d always assumed that I would see a finished piece of art in some gallery and know that I couldn’t live without it and that would be that. This was a commission. Should I Google hot nude men? My favorite porn stars? I had no idea. It was during a discussion about this predicament that a friend suggested I be the subject of the male nude. “If you’re commissioning an artist to draw a male nude, why not let the male be you?” That thought had never entered my mind. And it certainly threw me for a loop. Would it be narcissistic to hang a nude of myself in my apartment? Did I really want a nude of myself?
Then I heard Sex and the City’s own Samantha Jones in my head. In season 4, episode 2, Samantha decided to pose nude for a photo shoot so that she could look back one day and say, “Damn, I was hot.” I laughed to myself. That was the moment I genuinely began to entertain the idea of being the subject of the drawing. Sean is in California. I’m in NYC. The opportunity to sit for him was not an option, and I needed something better than a nude selfie from my iPhone. I asked a friend I trust if he would take photos of me. He said he would but suggested that I have a photographer take professional photos of me in a studio with lighting that neither he nor a selfie could reproduce.
Is this getting out of hand? First I wanted a drawing. Then the drawing is going to be of me. Now I’m thinking I’ll book an actual nude photo shoot so that I have a photo from which the artist can draw me. Who am I? What is going on? Immediately I questioned the expense of the photo shoot. Then the notion of me actually being comfortable as the subject of a nude photo shoot crept into my psyche. I don’t often find myself naked in front of someone who isn’t also naked in front of me. Usually there’s kissing, touching, erections, etc. I didn’t know if I could be that vulnerable. And I was damn curious if I might be embarrassed by my assets or by one particular asset’s reaction. A penis can be a delicate and sensitive member. When exposed it can shrivel up like it’s been in the pool or it can stand at attention at the mere thought of being seen.
I needed to be courageous. I needed to access my long laid dormant vulnerability. This could be fun, I thought to myself, if you’ll let it be. I reached out to the gorgeous and generously kind Seth Fornea on Twitter, explaining the situation and asking for recommendations. He responded quickly with the name Kevin Hoover. I was familiar with Kevin Hoover’s work as I follow him on Twitter. He takes beautiful male nude photographs. I was immediately apprehensive as I looked again at the hard, masculine, statuesque bodies in the images on his Twitter page. I gave my own body a disparaging glance in the mirror and thought I didn’t measure up. Then I thought, Fuck it! I emailed him and told him I was interested in a nude photo shoot. Pressing send on that email was the first step in what turned out to be a fantastic experience.
I had a mere 27 days to mentally and physically prepare. I had been working out for years, but time and age and laziness had allowed me to get softer than I wanted to be. I began to train very hard with my personal trainer and completely changed my eating habits. My body became leaner, my muscles more defined. The changes were visible within a week. While initially difficult, the process proved to be a challenge worth taking.
The day finally arrived. I was nervous — justifiably so. I was also excited. I had a somewhat distracted workout prior to heading to Brooklyn for my 2pm appointment. When I arrived at Kevin’s apartment, which comfortably transformed into his studio, I reached out to shake his hand. He gave me a big, good-natured smile and said, “We do hugs here.” I was immediately at ease. Kevin and I talked and laughed for two hours before we even started. I felt like I’d known him for years. He was so gracious that when I finally found myself standing there with my penis exposed in the split at the bottom of my shirt it didn’t really matter. I was aware, but it wasn’t awkward. I didn’t feel ashamed or the need for concealment. I wasn't shrinking from fear or getting erect from exposure. I was just there…vulnerable, seen. As the camera began to click, the posing became more fun, less tense, and the nudity became an afterthought; a state of being that was playful, celebratory, freeing.
Kevin was extremely generous with me. I was his willing victim and he the artist who listened to the ideas of the strongly opinionated man standing naked in front of him. Not every photo can be fabulous, but that’s to be expected. One never knows how many shots are taken to find the one that captures the essence of its subject. Through relaxing conversation and the courage of vulnerability, we created images that turned out to be beautiful, provocative, and fully exposed, while I met a fantastic man for whose camera I’d comfortably get naked again.