By: Mike Rosen
When I arrive at the party -- before I meet the man with Batman pecs and an eyebrow ring, before the dominatrix from Queens starts electrocuting the girl who has flown in from Nebraska, before the sassy bartender in a sequin fairy dress licks my lime and spits it into a cup of seltzer, and before I watch one of my oldest friends get tied up in a bondage scene -- I am really not thinking that a penis will be a healing force in my life.
But what is sex if not a lesson in humility.
Indeed, in the middle of my first kink party I don’t expect a penis to heal me because it is the relationship to my own penis that I’m most trying to heal. I don’t expect a man’s mouth to undo years of self-abandonment because it was a man’s mouth that started it in the first place. Yet here I am, feeling emo-Batman’s hard-on through his grey jeans, and I have never felt more in my body.
Oh, the body. Let’s talk about the body.
* * *
What I remember most about middle school are the vultures. How they circled back then. During those years I couldn’t enter a locker room without being reminded that I was soft. I couldn’t walk down a hallway without being asked when I would hit puberty. I tried to end that later line of torment in 6th grade by telling my friend Dez I had finally had my first orgasm. Sure, it had taken three hours of furious and unskilled masturbation to a 30-second clip I downloaded off LimeWire over the course of several days on my mom’s dial up connection, but it had happened. And I was certain that made me a man. But Dez told Brian, and Brian told everyone. I remember the taunting spreading like a virus across the school bus until it felt like their laughter had choked the air out of the cabin. From that day on, instead of being “pre-pube” I was “pervert.”
Then there was the day after gym class when Jeff walked up to me and said “we all voted, we’ve decided your nipples are fucking weird.” I went home after that, stood in front of the mirror, and tried to figure out what exactly makes a nipple weird. I wanted so badly to change what I saw in that mirror. I wanted my arms to have some kind of shape. I wanted my stomach to look less like a banged up garbage can. I wanted my penis to not be so... penisy. I remember staring at the reflection and wondering what kind of woman will ever choose this boy for a warrior.
The mirror became a private laboratory for me to examine and critique. I pinched my stomach so regularly that sometimes I’d catch myself doing it absentmindedly. Imagine that: a shame so innate it runs on autopilot. I’d look for beautiful, for proof that I wasn’t the ugly these boys said I was. I kept up my search for not-ugly even after I made varsity football, after I was named captain of the lacrosse team, after I could see my abs, after the pretty girls -- the ones who I hoped would “cure” me -- said yes when I called.
Years later, my therapist gave me a name for what I was seeking to cure: body dysmorphia. Body dysmorphia is a preoccupation with perceived flaws in a person’s physical appearance. That word “perceived” is critical. Unlike good ol’ fashioned insecurity, folks with body dysmorphia see flaws that no one else does. They look at their bodies and see ghosts.
The name was helpful. There was a label, a category I fit under, and the more I researched body dysmorphia the more it all made sense. I wasn’t a broken thing, I just had a poor way of thinking about that thing. That realization in and of itself helped me recover. Not in a cliche way -- in a dig down and run my hands through the ashes of life kind of way.
I became a student of the body, and I found tools that helped. Yoga, dance, and martial arts taught me how my body could move. Meditation, breathwork, and psychedelics taught me how my body could feel. I read about what it meant to embrace both my feminine and masculine sides. Still, a person can only take so many pecks from a vulture before they learn to be a scarecrow. I never found a way to completely fill the hole they chewed out of me, so from the time I was 13 to the time I was 29 I carried a lot of ghosts.
* * *
Which is exactly why I am sitting shirtless at a kink party staring into the eyes of the most gorgeous man I will never see again. Around us is not “excess” -- it’s not hedonism or lavishness. But it is plentiful. And it is fucking fantastic. There’s a couple in leather helping newcomers onto a sex swing, and a woman in a power suit pulling a man in his underwear by a leash across the floor. There’s a stunning brunette sitting on the lap of a tall man in a green velvet jacket begging his permission to show herself off to the others. There’s a LOT of moaning coming from the shower. But more than anything there’s conversation, laughter, a sort of communal dropping of the shoulders. It’s all just so casual, and almost entirely sober. Guests are asking questions of other guests, and they’re getting honest answers. It’s not Eyes Wide Shut at all, it’s, well, it’s my people. Or who I want to be my people. It’s folks with full bodies and skinny bodies, with different color skin, and different styles of dress coming together (pun very much intended) to celebrate a side of themselves that they have had to hide for too long. These are the people I want to be associated with: people who live without shame. I have gone most of my life craving a freedom like theirs. I love it. I love how joyful they are to be seen as they are regardless of who’s watching. I love their willingness to celebrate a part of themselves that all of us have, but so few of us actually recognize.
But, if I’m really being honest, I’m not focused on them. I’m focused on Batman.
Tonight, I am curious about men because I am curious to know what it would mean to finally be vulnerable with another man in that specific and holy way the body is when it is praised. Plus, the more I heal my relationship to my body the more I heal my relationship to sex, and the more I realize there is a whole world of sexual experience I know nothing about. I haven’t known how to pursue this queeriosity until now. It’s taken years of recovery work, countless therapy sessions, and the company of my old friend, but when Batman walks across the room to shake my hand I swoon.
He kisses me like the end of a season -- certain and fleeting in the same moment. I feel like the world’s smallest rebellion. I have made incredible male friends over the years. The kind of guys who hug and say “I love you” in broad daylight without having to say “bro” at the end to soften it. Still, my past taught me that what I am experiencing right now with my kinky Batman -- this level of male vulnerability -- is forbidden. I know far too well that boys are not given examples of what it means to connect with our own bodies let alone those of other men. But what is most healing in this moment is that bodies is all that we are, just bodies. Not feelings. Not judgments. Not vultures.
As we make out I know for sure that this man is interested in my body because he tells me so, because he doesn’t know me, because there is no backdoor for my insecurity to say “well, maybe he likes your reputation” or “he’s just doing this because he’s desperate.” He doesn’t know my reputation. He hasn’t heard my sense of humor. There are two dozen other men at this party, and he came up to me. This is 100% about my body. Then it all clicks. Holding him is the first time I understand how others might feel when they hold me: turned on, yes, but mostly just safe. I feel my friend smiling at me from across the room. I feel myself, right here, fully seen by the kind of human who made me want to hide in the first place, and I realize that I never wanted to be beautiful. I just wanted to be the opposite of ugly. And that’s not beautiful. It’s safe.
Mike Rosen, M.S. Ed., is a writer and psychotherapist focused on changing the way we talk about sex, death, and relationships. He has performed spoken word on three continents, and videos of his poetry have been viewed over 1 million times. Subscribe to his newsletter and get in touch at heymikerosen.com or on Instagram Mike Rosen">