After a few months, I was single, broke, and very sad. This was Los Angeles.
To cope with the fallout of my recent breakup, I started shopping. When I arrived in the city, all my clothes were wrong. I brought dress shirts and coats. On my first day of work, I wore a blazer and looked like a Baptist youth pastor. “You never have to wear a collar here,” my boss said.
Everyone was beautiful. Wealthy people with Ferraris wore flip-flops at the Beverly Wilshire. L.A. streetwear seemed to embrace the feminine, the queer, and I started experimenting. But when I tried on feminine clothes, I felt uncomfortable. A draping black cardigan, an industrial black skirt. I didn’t belong in these clothes. This was not my body. I was masculine, I wanted to be masculine, but I wanted to play.
Masculinity has never left me. First, it was the guys on my high school football team in a small town in Georgia. Then it was leather, Tom of Finland erotic cartoons I found in college. Then it became this gay ideal, an unattainable legend, the blond man in town who everyone wanted, who had a big dick and deep Southern drawl, who drank beer at drag shows and wore polo shirts on the dance floor. We all wanted him because he was masculine. Years later, when he fucked me — poorly, he came too quickly — I realized I must have this special thing. I felt validated. I knew I was generally perceived as masculine but with his cum inside me, I had been awarded with it, marked as one of an elite group of homosexuals who sit at the top and can choose who they will take.
Then I tried on rings. Then necklaces, earrings, bracelets. They felt right, but they weren’t masculine. But what was masculine? Was it a man or a concept, a dream or an objective? Was it everything I wanted or everything I was?
When I was about fifteen, I wore three rings on one hand to a restaurant with my family. My father saw them and told me take them off and give them to him. I never saw them again. He pointed at the young medical student who was eating with us, a woman in her thirties with red curly hair, and said, “Look, she’s not saying anything because she knows it’s wrong.” His face was red. The woman looked down at her plate. I wanted her to like me so I took off the rings and gave them to him. I wonder now if she saw him as a monster. Did she want to defend me? Did she know what I was?
I have been drawing monsters ever since. In each growl, each claw, my father’s face is tainted his rage, his talons clutching the prized rings (probably bought from 25-cent toy machines) like a glittering cache.
I found new rings in Los Angeles. I got my ears pierced and bought necklaces on Venice Beach. Coworkers complimented my jewelry. I pierced my septum with a gold ring near the end of my time in the city. I got my first genital piercing. I got barbells through my nipples. I realized that I actually didn’t like rings — they made it hard to type on a computer — but loved earrings. And I occasionally liked wearing something feminine. And I liked the flowing black cardigan. I liked them as I liked flowers and bookstores and tea with milk. I liked women’s shoes and lingerie because these things were objectively beautiful. When I tried them on, I felt a little sexy, like I wanted to be fucked, but differently. I was morphing into something else. My default mode was masculine but I could play with it. It was malleable. More to the point, it became a construct and dissipated overnight. Once I could disbelieve in it, it vanished. It was a construct like everything is a construct, like my father is a construct, like death and family are constructs. Deconstructed, the world became clearer: taste, color, music. Tongue and bone.
Slowly I understood the discussions of gender raging around me. We were debating fictions. Underneath these stories, we were animals, naked and unnamed as our first eon under the sun.
Eventually, I had to leave L.A. It was a dream and I always knew it was temporary. The city saw the start of my writing career and the beginning of my heavier drug use. It taught me about work and cruelty, sex and networking. I learned how to eat better and talk about my feelings more openly. I now thank the city and the stores and the dizzying clothes in windows down Melrose for being my lesson in concepts that agitate the world. I came home queer.
Above: Duncan Roy is a Los Angeles-based photographer who runs a blog that captures the best and worst of LA. Sadly, I think he has chosen to stop posting.