At some point this past May, after months of a Stay At Home Order meant to curb the pandemic, I sat alone in my living room and decided to redownload Tinder. My dogs looked on, disinterested, while I set the app to show me “all genders.” I was feeling lonely and wanting human connection, but also sexual engagement and release. What I wanted was something simple, something I had never before received in my life, and Tinder felt like the perfect avenue for acquisition: I wanted a dick pic.
The last time I was in a situation in which it was possible to have received a dick pic, I was 18 and dating a cis boy who I had known since middle school. He is the only cis identified male I have ever dated, and this was before the advent of picture phones, so presumably also before the advent of the “dick pic,” though, to be fair, people have been creating images of the phallus since the dawn of time. I had never been texted a picture of a cis dick, or for that matter a silicone, glass or otherwise, dick. As it was, I hadn’t touched another human since March, and I hadn’t had sex with anyone since before that.
With Tinder downloaded, I quickly accrued a bevy of suitors, and was surprised at the ease with which I was able to strike up casual conversation with complete strangers. After over a decade of lesbianism, I guess I had forgotten about the general availability of this particular sector of society. I toggled back and forth in my messages, exchanging tidbits of conversation with 5 cis-male identified matches. Ultimately, one stood out and kept my attention longest: Mike. Tall, covered in tattoos, and lived walking distance from my house.
The dick pic itself felt like your garden variety taboo. It took nothing at all to ask for one and even less to get one. In fact, I eventually got several from other people that I had collected via Tinder. The real appeal of it was in the visceral nature of it all, the undeniability of it. Floating as I was in a sea of existential dread, I needed something solid to catch my eye. I didn’t need feeling and emotion.
I needed flesh and blood.
What I needed was reprieve from the constant emotional upheaval of relating to my ex-girlfriend. Vast, open ended conversations about pain and heartbreak, and things you can’t ever really know. We were weighing the possibility of starting our relationship again, against a backdrop of scorn and loss and there were so many questions with an inverse proportion of answers. Or maybe there were answers but they just didn’t make sense to me. Was she still fucking the person who had prompted her to end our relationship? Were they still living together and why? And another thing, who hurt who, and when, and how and for how long? Why wasn’t she answering my texts quickly enough? Did she still love me? Was I unraveling and if so, why at such a fast clip? And on and so forth until losing my sense of self and grounding, cast out into the expanse of near misses and unspoken sentiment.
What it felt like when she told me she wanted to end our relationship was complete and utter disorientation. What it felt like when she told me she had decided to move to another city, another state, felt like fire. What it felt like to find out they were living together only three months after our breakup felt like salt. What it felt like to arrive, months later, in a place of missing, longing, reconnection and apology felt like a cool spring shower. But where we had finally gotten to now, entertaining the idea of dating again, felt like a back sliding, something half baked and not fully considered. The pain of losing her was bad enough; the pain of almost having her back but not being able to make the pieces of the puzzle fit was the true feeling of free falling into the abyss.
Everything I thought I knew felt fake and everything that was anything was up for inspection, including my decade of strict adherence and loyalty to lesbianism. Not to mention sustaining the uniquie blow to my femme ego that was my masc partner breaking up with me to shack up with a hetero-married cis woman. I started to wonder whether or not I had been keeping myself from experience, in exchange to care for the egos of others, in exchange for the exclusivity of my queer universe. What was I gaining from not dabbling outside my small world? I felt cheated and depleted, and to completely undermine my staunch queer politics: I wanted something simple. I wanted to turn away from queerness, which at this point felt like it had taken more than it had given to me, and instead I wanted to engage the attention of cis men who felt available and distant enough to not hurt me.
To put a fine point on it: I wanted a picture of an erect penis that was attached to a cis identified dude, bonus points if I could believe that it was erect because of me. Exchanging nude pictures with Mike was a balm, and asked almost nothing of me.
Please, just let me get lost in a forest of flesh and bone. I no longer want the sea salt air.
A few weeks into things with Mike, I passed the afternoon fantasizing about something that only sounds hot during a pandemic. The setting: his yard. We don’t touch, and we watch each other jerk off. I considered the possible risk involved in living this out and decided to text him about it. I was living alone at the time, as was he, I wasn’t spending much time with anyone else, and so at worst, we would only be endangering each other. We could die of covid taking to our graves that we had contracted it by the careless articulation of a tepid fantasy.
Without too much consideration, I had started to move the fantasy from theory into practice, dipping my toes into what it would mean to live out in person something that I had only intended to keep digital. I was interested to see what it would mean to live out the confused pain of betrayal. And once I brought the idea up to him, I knew I wouldn’t back down.
He was interested in my proposition, so we planned it for the next day.
The following afternoon it’s sunny and warm outside. We set a time, he gives me his address, and to ensure my personal safety I look up where he works should I need to blackmail him. I put on a short dress, throw my vibrator in a canvas bag I usually take to the grocery store, and get in my subaru. I drive in case I have to make a fast getaway the entire mile back to my house.
I text him when I park and Mike tells me to come around the side of his house into the backyard. I find him standing in the doorway off his patio wearing nothing but a towel around his waist. “Hey” he says, “how are you?” I look at him and then around the backyard and he says “yeah… it’s rather exposed out here. I am pretty certain the neighbors could look right in and see us.” We make the kind of nervous small talk that you make with someone you might have sex with eventually, but in this case we talk about the potentially lethal virus that is going around, how we’ve been passing the time in isolation, and whether or not his neighbors might get an eyeful of us.
Mike was in the process of renovating his house. All the kitchen appliances were on the back deck, and I could see straight through the back door into the kitchen and out the street facing windows. “You know, since my house is pretty empty, we could take this inside and remain socially distant. The room in the back is 12 by 12 feet, with two windows. With those open I am sure we could have as much air circulation as needed.” “Ok,” I say “show me this room.”
He moves out of the doorway and leads me inside. Through the kitchen, I follow him into the living room, which is devoid of furniture and has a fireplace on the far end. We stand on either side of the front door, careful to keep enough distance, and do what feels like an STI disclosure conversation, but instead of talking about infections you can get through touch, we talk about where we may have recently been exposed to the airborne pathogen. “I saw my family outside about a week ago,” he discloses, I say I had been on a hike with a friend. The conversation moves us towards the room in question.
Just as promised, the back bedroom has two windows and faces the yard. I go to one end and sit on the window ledge. He leaves for a moment and when he comes back he has ditched the towel and instead has opted for a black t-shirt with no pants. His choice to Porky-Pig it is, in retrospect, somewhat baffling, but hardly registers with me as odd in real time. He stays in the opposite corner of the room. A grown man living in a house without a stick of furniture would otherwise seem unsavory, but given the moment in time, it feels safe.
He sits down, completely exposed, and I move myself onto the floor slowly. We get things underway without much todo, and I find myself taking on a familiar role. The role of performing sex for strangers, of performing feminity and desirability for a cis male audience of one. I turn around, get on my knees, lean with one arm against the windowsill and pull my dress up. It is clear he is pleased and enjoying himself, but for me it’s also clear that I am checked out and that this fantasy was much better in my head. I paw around in my bag for my vibrator but upon further inspection I find that the vibrator is out of batteries. I continue to run my hands along my partially clothed body, laying now on my back on a stranger’s recently stripped and sanded floors.
I am not in my body. My heart is still broken.
He finishes. I don’t. The whole experience lasts about ten minutes and the energy in the room shifts from risque to sublunary in mere moments. I get up off the floor, he exits to clean himself up, I pull my dress down, and he leads me back out through the kitchen door. “It was nice to see you in person,” he says to me, and I assure him “likewise,” as I turn to go.
Feeling heartbroken, alone, and scared makes moving away from who you’ve always known yourself to be seem so appealing: self destruction holds a particular romance. But as I drive home, the knowing comes to me; there is no kind of alignment with dogmatic sexuality that will keep me safe from a broken heart. I get home, I cook myself dinner, feed the dogs, and go to bed.