Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Day I Got Naked in Brooklyn (NSFW)

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.

Aging in Gayville

This piece originally appeared on HuffPost Gay Voices

My 44th birthday is approaching. I sense shadows in the distance. They’re looming; ominous. I question what they are. I squint into the rainbow-hued sunlight, my hand perched at my brow to block the sun from my eyes. It’s then that I can fully see them: buzzards. The shadows are buzzards. They’re circling, soaring in a loop, waiting for me. They’re anticipating the death of my relevance and desirability as a gay man. Wait, what? What’s going on here? I won’t star in this scenario. I will not accept this! This is not my story. Yet sometimes when I allow myself to just wallow in the loneliness and depression that inevitably affects all of us from time to time as we get older, those thoughts run through my mind.

We all get older. At least we better hope we get older. The alternative is death. The older I get the wiser I get. I’m still learning, growing, changing. I’m making better decisions these days. It’s become less about right and wrong and more about choices -- making the best ones in the moment with regard to the situation I'm in. As for me personally, I have a great job that I love. I’m saving money. I have a fantastic apartment to myself. I'm eating clean and working out with a personal trainer. Some of my favorite clothes actually fit me again. I've never looked better in my life. My salt 'n pepper beard has just the right amount of salt to look sexy. (I actually like all the white in it.) Why is it then that it frustrates me so much to not turn the head of some random 20 something that I don't even care about? It's a gut punch from karma. Yes, as the saying goes, karma is a bitch, and she’s having her bitchtastic way with me like you wouldn’t believe. 

I turned 26 a mere week after moving to New York City. I felt the freedom to be myself — to be gloriously gay, to drink, to smoke, to live. I felt the city was my oyster and wanted to shuck it in as many ways as I chose as often as I chose. However, I couldn't be bothered to give a second glance to an older man (that would have been a man in his mid 30s early 40s) or return a smile with sincerity for that matter. Now I'm the older man and I'm receiving that very same treatment. Ah the evolution that continues to be the same. 

I already mentioned that I’m wiser now, but in other ways I don’t really feel that much different from my 20 something self who moved to NYC in the late 90s. Sure, there are some aches and pains that weren’t present then. There are some lines that I wish time hadn’t left across my face. But even those elements of aging aren’t bad enough to make me feel old. I still love New York City and the energy that comes with it and that 20 something still lives inside me. There are traces of him in my youthful yet appropriate for my age clothing choices. There are traces of him in the nail polish that I wear on the index finger of my left hand. There are even traces of him in the reflection I see staring back at me in the mirror. I am older though and in a city thriving with youth — a city where young gay men are now even freer to express themselves and live life on their own terms than when I got here — all it takes is a rebuff from one 20 something to make me feel like an aging parent that can’t be carted off to Shady Pines fast enough.

Cue wallowing in loneliness and depression. You see, when things like that happen to me, my brain convinces me that no one wants me, that I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life, that I should stop trying, that my time has past. But on this day, without warning, my iTunes playlist (on shuffle) started to play “Man in Motion” from St. Elmo’s Fire. First I started smiling and then I started to laugh. This was one of those moments where the universe gave me exactly what I needed and I am so thankful I was aware enough to hear it.

My mood shifted. Sure I’m getting older. Thank goodness. That means I’m not dead. I have to deal with aging in Gayville just like every gay man before and after me. As I mentioned above, I don’t even want the 20 something so why does he matter? What matters is that I can’t turn his head anymore. Or the head of any age man who is not interested in me. (#GayManProblems!) OK! So what! Here’s where I have to make a choice and the choice is clear: piquing someone’s interest, while exciting, isn’t really what matters most to me. Sure, I want to be found desirable (don’t we all?), but ultimately my What Matters Most list includes: being happy, being healthy, being financially stable, having good friends, and living my life as contentedly and openly as possible in the greatest city in the world.

In the song “Man in Motion,” John Parr sings, “Just once in his life a man has his time, and my time is now.” I’m here, I’m queer, and really, I’m sexier as a 40 something than I’ve ever been at any other age in my life. He also sings about new horizons, eagles flying high, climbing mountains, and crossing a wild sea. It’s a journey. Life is a journey. Getting older means I’m still on my journey and there’s so much more to it than turning the head of a 20 something. The fire burning in me might not be St. Elmo's, but there is a fire. It's the desire to live my life without regret and without wondering what could have been. There is no what could have been. There is only what was and what is. There's more sunshine to feel, more flowers to smell, more music to hear, more art to collect, more food to eat, more wine to drink, more laughter to laugh, more love to give and accept. And for that matter...more men to see. Maybe if I take a second look those shadows are actually eagles instead of buzzards.