Looking at Men

7 Nov

The first time I looked at a man, I was fourteen and in Ocean City, Maryland. It was in an apartment, rented for a week, by the Atlantic.

I’d like to tell you who I was then, but I have this strange feeling that I was not anybody.

I remember that I wore black t-shirts and listened to angry music. I remember that I’d been inspired to let my hair get a little longer in the front, and to write stories. The stories were violent, everything was violent. I liked to fight with my stepfather and my mom. They were taking my sister and I, along with my stepbrother and his friend David, on a vacation.

I wanted to be independent, so I’d walk to the beach and on the boardwalk by myself. That summer, I watched girls and their boyfriends buy clumsy, oversized t-shirts and make out and play volleyball. I felt an envy for those girls, but didn’t understand.
I’d had this nagging feeling, for awhile, that I wanted a brother. I didn’t know what it meant. My stepbrothers couldn’t count: two lived in Ireland, and the one with us was in his twenties and never around, he had his own life. I didn’t know who he was, and there was either nothing to him or I’d never learn.

A brother.
I felt this acutely; someone, some man, to spend my time with. I thought it must be that my Syrian father was too strange to relate to. He went hunting and spoke Arabic but couldn’t read English or help me with my homework. He built houses and yelled at my mother. My stepfather was in a constant state of boredom. He tried to avoid surprises and new experiences. He ate the same thing every night. I thought it must be a lack of men that drove me to this longing for a brother. Someone to laugh with and be adored and teased by.

I’d had sexual experiences with other boys and girls my age at this point – but there was no understanding of the other person’s role. It could have been anyone or even objects, as every morning I’d push myself into my mattress and consider the strange, warm feeling.
Waves up my chest and in my spine, a chill when I’d cum, a peaceful feeling afterward.
These were pieces of a great, weighty understanding. But they were awaiting some sort of permission to come together.

I think what I mean by all of this: Before you look at a man, really look at one, you’re not awake. Imagine a ghost becoming alive – the form is there, but transparent; then it exhales and becomes opaque.

I walked from the apartment my sister, mother, stepfather and I were staying in over to my stepbrother’s and David’s place.
They were always welcoming and they seemed to me to be eternally happy, but they were probably drunk. The refrigerator had beer in it, there was beer on the kitchen counter, there were empty beer bottles in the garbage can, on the couch. It was one o’clock in the afternoon.

Before you think: They fucked me – They didn’t. Nobody touched anyone.
My stepbrother was in the bedroom. David was in his bathing suit. His pecs were thick and quietly covered in sun-lightened brown hairs. He was tall and had a handsome smile, though I hadn’t yet really noticed all of that. No one was gay or straight because those ideas could not yet exist for me.
My stepbrother and David often made crude jokes and I usually understood them. David made one that I didn’t and then told me he was going to take a shower.
I sat on the couch, and after a moment, David called to me from the bathroom.
He’d forgotten to bring a towel, he shouted. They must have left them around the apartment after they’d taken them to the beach.
He called my name. He said, “get me a towel.”

Why didn’t he ask my stepbrother? Why me? And why did I sit there, not moving to leave or to go talk to my stepbrother in the bedroom?
It occurs to me now that maybe I was waiting. A wiser person inside of me, or a person that needed something decided not to leave at that moment, but instead to sit by myself. There would be a sound or an action or a movement that would give me my instructions, and I can identify David’s call as that, because David gave me those instructions.
There was no stirring from my stepbrother in the bedroom.

I picked up a towel, which was still wet. It was heavy in my hand, opposing with the slowness of its weight, my racing heart, which felt as if it were sparking, starting some sort of light.
When I opened the bathroom door, there must have been the sound of the shower and he must have said thank you and I must have put the towel somewhere like on the sink or over the side of the shower door but I can’t remember any of that. All I know is that I saw, through the frosted shower door glass, his form. I looked right at him. He wasn’t distinctly visible, the frosted glass stopped him from appearing, but he was there entirely. I looked at him. I saw his form, the color of his skin, his legs, what must have been his arms, his ass. There were no clear lines, there were shapes and color. I looked at him, and saw what was there. I felt inside of me something entirely new, the coalition of light and sound and this…feeling.
No time had lapsed, but it had seemed to me there wasn’t much to my life before that moment. I walked out and more than I had wanted a brother, more than I had wanted anything, I wanted to be pressed against that frosted glass from the other side and feel his form and weight behind me, under the hot water, and then I’d be kissing him or on my knees sucking his dick. All this and I didn’t want to see him clearly.
There was something about that blurriness.

I have no idea about the rest of the trip.
After that moment, I began to think when I masturbated. Suddenly, the world was full of men, and I’d look at them when I closed my eyes. There was new meaning to everything.
I’d look at them and remember them and they all became brothers, they all loved me. I’d imagine them touching me and make up stories for why. Before then, I’d only had this body which would sometimes evince a different sensation if I touched it in a certain way. But after that moment with David and the frosted shower door glass, the world became different: a world where the memories of men I looked at are seen by the way my body feels.

This is how we know the mind and body are in love. One creates a story, the other feels it.

I still come back to that image, sometimes in a dream or sometimes when I masturbate.
It’s the exact moment I became an adult and woke up into a different, clearer sort of consciousness. But it’s no so exact, because it’s blurry.

If it’s in a dream, it has, like all dreams, its own logic. Why it shows up some nights and not others, I don’t know.

If I’m masturbating when I think of it, the experience can go dim when I cross the threshold of the shower and stand with him. Because that experience is the purest act of looking I’ve ever done, to add to it, to go beyond that blurriness, takes some of its breath. Like the sun, it’s totally complete. A perfect circle that remains perfect because I can’t ever really see it.

25 Responses to “Looking at Men”

  1. leQ November 7, 2010 at 12:48 am #

    nice story. should get published.

  2. Doug November 7, 2010 at 1:01 am #

    Beautiful piece of work. It makes me think back to times in my youth and how they influenced who I have become today. Thank you for sharing a bit of your life with us!

  3. AngloAm November 7, 2010 at 1:48 am #

    Ocean City, Maryland? Huh. :) We’ve that in common (along with millions of others!).

  4. CanadaRod November 7, 2010 at 2:32 am #

    That’s a great story. You described parts of my life and my own gay experiences and feelings as though you were inside my mind. I am surprised to find such interchangable parallels with you. Thank you for sharing this story.

  5. Adrian November 7, 2010 at 7:37 am #

    Nice story! It makes me think back how I discover my own sexuality.

  6. Kevin November 7, 2010 at 8:48 pm #

    I really like this story. I have always wanted an older brother, even to this day. I need to find that someone in my life now because it is still something I want. Those experiences like the one you experience still give me chills when I think about my experiences.

  7. chris jones November 7, 2010 at 9:45 pm #

    very nice. such a sexy, smart bad-ass.
    chris

  8. robm November 8, 2010 at 12:51 am #

    What a beautiful story and so well written. I wish I had a similar memory. Unfortunately my awakening was full of tortured self loathing and angst, but you have allowed me to share your experience vicariously. Thank You.

  9. Brendan November 8, 2010 at 4:01 pm #

    Another great post! Totally relatable AND hot. It’s funny, this weekend I held a reading of Wallace Shawn’s latest play “Grasses of a Thousand Colors” with a bunch of actors and we were talking about these original/formative experiences in sex and love and how it can feel like our whole lives are wrapped up in these little moments that we continuously chase, recreate, tear down, rebuild, savor, control, etc. LOVE how you capture the simplicity but huge expansiveness of these moments. What’s that quote… “How small a thought to fill a whole life” or something? Anyways, this play talks a lot about that from the perspective of an old straight (slightly uptight( guy. It was great to then read your blog post and get me another point of view on a similar theme. Your posts are always enjoyable!
    Since I’ve been doing a bunch of research on Shawn, I came across this essay. Maybe of interest?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/2009/jun/20/wallace-shawn-writing-about-sex

    Keep up the good work!

  10. Barry Muniz November 8, 2010 at 10:33 pm #

    Insightful and well-written. You really should think of putting a book together with some of your short stories. Can’t wait for the next one!

  11. Conner Habib November 9, 2010 at 2:41 am #

    Thanks for the kind words, everyone! These moments are so potent for us – it’s really fascinating to me how long something like this can live in you. Feel free to share your experiences if you have similar ones!

  12. Craig November 16, 2010 at 5:22 am #

    This is beautiful. Why am I not surprised. Most (all?) of us have these images deep in our memories. It takes a special effort to release them. You’ve clearly done that – and very well. What a treat. Thanks.

  13. Kyle Michel Sullivan November 27, 2010 at 4:22 am #

    Very nice story. You have a fine style…but then, you would. I think I hate you now, you’re so…so damned together. Thanks for sharing.

  14. jalen November 28, 2010 at 5:27 am #

    Wow, this was very nice Conner. I really enjoyed it, especially since a very similar thing happened to me. We all go through that phase of not really realizing who we are. I’m glad you talked about it so openly.

  15. Jack McNulty December 11, 2010 at 2:56 pm #

    You Have a Great Gift With Words and a Profound Depth for Truth. I Enjoy Your Mind as Much as Your Physique.
    Thank You.

  16. Clay Stockman December 17, 2010 at 1:28 am #

    I read your blog for the first time tonight. Obviously you are a beautiful man physically. But these stories/essays….wow. Looking at men brought back strong memories from my past. It is such a pure and honest piece. Thank you so much for creating beauty.

  17. William Myers December 18, 2010 at 6:36 am #

    Shame on me! I’m just only now discovering the writer’s side of you. I had no idea that pornographic writing could go beyond the physical (delightsome though that is!) into the metaphysical/spiritual~& what sensitive & skilled writing this, yours, is! I’m eager to read more & more!

    Thank you!

  18. jonito July 27, 2011 at 12:56 am #

    When I was about 4, I knew that I rather play with girls. They had better toys. I was fascinated with doll hair. I wanted to style and cut it. Nothing to do with sexuallity, but I knew I was diffrent. Everybody told me I was. Around 8 years old I would look at boys and think that I wanted to be friends with them just because of the way they looked. Just to be around them made me feel better about my self. That never went away. It wasn’t until I was 13 that I realized that I wanted 2 have sex with men. Like a lot of people, I was sexually molested as a child. I thought that was the reason I liked men. I read somewhere that if you have those feelings for more than a year then you must be gay. I gave myself 2 years. It wasn’t until a good friend said the words I love you to me did it make me except my homosexuality. This gorgeous boy who i’ve had a crush on loves me. We never had sex. He would just hold me in my sleep and I knew this is how I wanted to feel forever.

  19. sachin sha (@sachin69bd) September 21, 2011 at 1:55 am #

    your writting is realy good bro!your on talented guy.love your blog.

  20. nasvn November 17, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

    This reminds me of me! but you told it in the best and sexiest way. I love your writing conner. pretty sincere and lovely, I wish you a life that’s always full of cheerful memories ;)

  21. Michael April 9, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    For some reason, a snippet of Margaret Atwood flew through my mind when I was reading this: “I would like to be the breath that inhabits you for a moment only. I would like to be that unnoticed and that necessary.” For so many years- before AND after I came out, I felt like I didn’t know how to look at men. Would every man think I was coming on to him simply because I was looking his way? And if I did like what I saw, would they be uncomfortable if they knew I desired them? Even more unnerving- what if they wanted me in return? If I never learned how to gaze at a stranger how could I perfect the look of love? So I tried to be unnoticed. The only problem is, after a time, you forget not just how to look, but why you are looking in the first place. Solitude moves from a state of comfort to the only thing you’re aware of. Until you’re walking down the street, or sitting in a cafe, and you glance up at precisely the right time. Or, maybe you just see a picture on the internet, and something starts to form in your mind. A little secret just for you. A little breath of your own. And you maybe smile a little when you exhale, because it’s not really unnoticed.

    • Conner Habib April 10, 2012 at 5:17 am #

      I really like that passage, thank you for sharing it. I understand your feeling, too. I wrote about it a bit in the Gay for Pay essay (not available in its complete form here – but in the first issue of Headmaster Magazine and soon in Best Gay Stories 2012). I was having sex with a straight guy in a bar bathroom stall when his friends walked in and started talking with him through the wall. It was like being invisibly inside their lives and it was totally riveting.

      • Michael April 10, 2012 at 1:54 pm #

        I guess maybe the question I have to ask myself is, “When was the first time you looked at *yourself*?” I don’t know… maybe never? If so, am I invisibly inside my own life? My head hurts thinking about it sometimes… Thanks for being an inspiration. :)

  22. Marc Miller - central Florida August 5, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    Insight from another that makes us reflect on ourselves …………
    A shared journey that opens our consciousness …….

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Guys I Wanted To Fuck in High School, Part 1. (Gym Class.) « Connerhabib's Blog - May 3, 2012

    [...] None of these things fit, so I was “gay” to them. The other kids knew I was off before I did. I knew I was attracted to men, but I wouldn’t have ever identified as gay, and was especially reluctant to when I found out [...]

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