I knew the truth — why did I go out with him?
My high-school boyfriend, Gustav, recently confessed to me: "I was so horny as a teenager, I would have had sex with a vacuum cleaner. But when we were having sex, I was thinking about… dicks."
This was last summer. I was in his Times Square hotel room, on the bed. Gustav was ironing a fluorescent green shirt, the least flamboyant article of clothing he had in his suitcase. "I should have told you I was gay. Sorry."
I don't know why he apologized. I had always known he was gay, even when he had insisted he was straight. But then I wondered: if seventeen-year-old me had always known Gustav had dick on his mind, then why did I pursue him? Make out with him? Have sex with him? Become boyfriend-girlfriend with him?
There's a whole mythology around the undying platonic love between a straight woman and gay-and-fabulous man. A few months ago, the Sundance Channel wrapped of the first season of a show Girls Who Like Boys Who Like Boys. The title more or less sums up the new, post-Bravo-channel zeitgeist, where the BFF relationship is a cuddly, cinematic PG-13. They meet in the bloom of youth, perhaps in the drama club or while working retail at Hot Topic. On a starlit night, he comes out of the closet, to her. They embrace. And now she never has to worry that he will hug her and get an erection. The ultimate Prince Charming is the gay BFF. Another man (but a safe, nurturing man) to hide behind.
When I think about dating Gustav as a teenager, I think, of all people, of Paris Hilton, who once said, "I am sexy but not sexual." Is that me?
A decade before teen magazines started to refer to gay BFFs as the ultimate prom accessory, I was just another girl in suburbia. The first time I saw Gustav, he was a Finnish exchange student registering at my high school. I couldn't see his face, but as I watched his willowy figure slink away, my teenage ennui was replaced by the pulsating beat of L-O-V-E. He was wearing a backwards newsboy cap, suede kicks, and a t-shirt that clung to his angular shoulders. In the late '90s, when flannel still refused to die and a popular song gave shout-outs to girls in Abercrombie & Fitch, this boy was exotic.
When I came into school the next morning, I walked up to him, hooked my arm through his and said, "We're going to be best friends." And instead of backing away from the pink-haired Asian girl with the safety pins in her ears, Gustav laughed aloud and squeezed my hand.
In retrospect, some part of me must have known. I would never have been so flirtatious with a straight boy. Are you kidding? Back then, a straight boy with movie-star looks would have looked at my blue nail-polish and the weapon-grade chain jingling from my wallet to my belt, and turned to stone.
Or at least that was, I think, my fear as I stared with awe at the other girls in the high school, the ones who knew how to effortlessly perfume the air with fuck-mes. These girls sauntered past me, their hips and asses and long hair swinging like rope over a secret summer watering hole. The boys were mesmerized, limping after these goddesses. I felt invisible. I felt safe. I felt alone.
Within a whirlwind week, Gustav and I traded notes that pledged eternal romantic love to one another (my note included a stick figure with long-ass arms: "I love you THIIIIIS much!")
The next day, his host family's minivan dropped him off at my house. Gustav was enthusiastically oral and hard as a rock. But, even after he had come in three condoms, something led me to question him.
I asked him about his previous girlfriend. He told me, "She put yogurt on her pussy and I licked it off." Very cool.
I asked him about other boys. "You know what would be hot, Gustav? You fucking Paul." Paul was another European exchange student who wore a black suit everyday to school, and I was in lust with his corporate-emo-glam style. Oh, and of course Paul was gay as well.
Gustav giggled, "No, I don't think so. That would be weird."
I know Gustav doesn't remember the last time we fucked, which was more than a decade ago — he chugged a large bottle of mint vodka and then promptly fell into "drunken sexual amnesia." (He gets wasted and then ends up sticking his dick in the nearest warm body.)
Now, when I ask him if he will ever sleep with a woman again, he says, "Maybe. Every three or four years. If I'm really drunk."
I've never told Gustav that, during college, I often had to drink to semi-oblivion before having sex. A typical story: during a party, I met a hot Vietnamese boy named Bao. And because I had ditched the wallet chain for high heels and cleavage, Bao was totally into me. Sure, he seemed a wee bit taken back when I started downing vodka shot after vodka shot — but the expectation of hooking up with him made me anxious. What if he thought I was too weird to even kiss? When several guys told me I needed to smile more, I trained myself to look friendly. I was going to be bubbly and cute, even if I had to drink half a bottle of vodka by myself.
I liked feeling disconnected, like I was some floating alien looking down at these curiously humping humans. And to be honest, it's not like I've evolved that much since my early twenties. Even when I was trying to seduce my now-boyfriend, John, I would drink a bottle of soju during dinner dates. "Why did you drink so much when we were first going out?" John asked recently. "That turned me off."
It took me some time to answer honestly. "I was conflicted. It's okay to tease and suggest sex. But when it gets real, then it's not a game anymore. I'm not a little girl playing grown-up — I actually have to be an adult." In a room of gay guys, I never felt such pressure.
It was only when I went to Tokyo and saw yaoi, also known as Boys' Love — sexually explicit homoerotic comics marketed to teen girls — that I realized that I wasn't the only young woman who felt safer exploring her sexuality by totally going outside her own body, and maybe even her own gender. I still prefer to watch gay porn. The carnal gaze of the camera on these young, beautiful men, is safe. No one will reach from inside the screen and drag me inside.
Maybe a dude blowing another dude is my way of avoiding all of this adult business of fucking. Or maybe I'm just part of that cheesy Will and Grace cliche that I desperately would like to avoid.
Gustav spent the spring semester at my high school before he had to go back to Finland. Right before he boarded his plane, I thought he laughed aloud. Actually, it was a sob coming from deep within his diaphragm. He was heartbroken. And so was I. (My mother took so much pity on my suffering that she helped me buy a Christmas plane ticket to Finland that year.)
Fast forward to a few months ago.
"This is my ex-girlfriend." Gustav introduces me to his circle. This always surprises me. Perhaps I'd figured that when a gay man comes out of the closet, his previous hetero dalliances are erased, like a criminal record that's expunged when you turn eighteen. We're gay-bar-hopping, and despite only coming into New York on business every couple of months, Gustav seems to fulfill all the stereotypes about the well-connected, party-animal homo.
"Maybe my old girlfriends are on Facebook," says an older man with a glorious mane of thick, steel silver. He's incredibly handsome, with a young Adonis on his arm. I tell the silver fox that Gustav and I had lost touch once he moved back to Finland. For more than a decade, from ages eighteen to twenty-nine, there was radio silence. Little did I know that Gustav had started looking for me during the days of Friendster.
The silver fox looks nostalgic. "There was one girlfriend I really loved. I almost married her." It sounds epic.
Later that night, we take a cab to go to the gay club Splash. "If I were straight, I would definitely marry you. My friend thinks we are soul mates," Gustav tells me. Within two hours, he and a studly Puerto Rican are back at his hotel room. I am by myself, on the dance-floor of a gay club, drunk off my ass and making out with an equally studly Cuban. And the world feels right, in a topsy-turvy way.