Illustration by Cachetejack.
We’d been drinking since early, a set of us in Gastown—media types, PR types, writers. We’d been drinking cheap wine and expensive beer and I knew my teeth were stained violet. So when the guy whose name I couldn’t remember took me to a bar and started talking about his open relationship, my mind wandered freely, bouncing off Saran-wrapped torsos and the cork-covered walls of the room.
“Who do you want?” he said at last, realizing it wouldn’t be him. “Who do you want? I’ll be your wingman.”
I scanned the room and settled, finally, on a handsome dwarf. Maybe four feet tall and mumbling into his cocktail, he was clearly jet set, from out of town. He looked Greek, with a thick shock of black hair angrily greased. His custom suit was Dolce & Gabbana. Pretentious but bruised. I wanted him.
Immediately, I questioned this want. Was it handsome first, dwarf second? Or the other way around? I’ve always found physical difference deeply alluring. Whether it’s an over-compensation for my own subconsciously bigoted feelings about that same difference, or just a straight-up fetish, I can’t quite tell. When I was little, I tried to embody these differences myself; my father would yell at me for pulling one arm inside my T-shirt and pretending to be an amputee. I thought others would find me fascinating, suddenly lovable. Dad thought I was making fun.
When I grew older, I envied an Indian boyfriend his ability to speak up on post-colonial issues. I even envied the legal blindness endured by two of my best friends. The poet Anne Carson, in Eros the Bittersweet, shows us how eros always denotes lack, want, desire for that which is absent. By definition, she points out, we can only desire what we do not have. If I couldn’t be physically different myself, at least I could be romantically linked to it.
Being gay, a person is actually robbed of erotic difference. You butt against a mirror image. Dating someone of the same sex has the advantage of doubling your wardrobe, but how dull it is, how static, to pursue physical sameness within the rubric of sexual minority.
So I’ve sought out scarred men and deaf men, knowing all the while that, were I scarred or deaf or otherwise disabled, I’d be mightily pissed off if someone were to blatantly eroticize my difference. How many Chinese, Korean, Filipino and Japanese friends have I heard complain about the creepy white guys—all, somehow, with “Oriental” artwork at home—who obsessively seek out their Asian bodies? Why is my own troubling fetishization any different?
I try to console myself with the idea that my draw to difference, being unspecific, is less suspect: I have dated men who stood a foot taller than me, men who were twice my age and two-thirds my age, men whose bodies were ravaged by disease. But perhaps I’m just letting myself off the hook.
Of course, when I walked up to the man in the bar that night, I hadn’t been critiquing my sexual history. I guess one’s own prejudices are always difficult to notice. I simply told myself, “Wow.” I couldn’t believe this guy wasn’t being swarmed by other men.
He bought me a couple of tequilas and told me his name; I’ll call him Nico. He was born to Greek parents but raised in Berlin. And now, at thirty, Nico was a high-powered fixer, based in Shanghai and flying around the world to save failing companies. He had both a BlackBerry and an iPhone buzzing at all times, and he started calling me “baby” right away.
“This is boring,” he said, tugging my hand and leading me outside.
“Where do you want to go?”
“Hed Kandi is playing at a club on Granville Street,” he explained, walking ahead of me.
“What’s Hed Kandi?”
Nico gave a snort. “Vancouver! All you care about is whales! Squirrels! Oceans!”
When we arrived at the club, he took my hand again and led me past a line of shivering women in miniskirts. With a fist-bump for the giant bouncer, Nico got us both in. I never figured out if this was a little-people-get-in-free thing, or if Nico’s enormous wealth had, earlier that night, secured him special treatment.
He pounded on the bar for service, cutting ahead of average-sized, meathead heterosexuals who instinctively deferred to him. We danced to the DJ until Nico wandered off and started fiddling on one of his phones again.
“What are you doing?” I shouted through the music.
“Stocks,” he shouted back, without looking up.
Then, inevitably, I was in his hotel room. Clothes were everywhere, as though he’d dug through his luggage like an animal. He kicked off his neon runners. And then he took me to bed.
At the time, I thought the blow job he gave me hurt so much because his teeth were closer together than usual, but maybe he was just being thoughtless. I was tired and vaguely disinterested in sex by now. Nico hadn’t stopped buying tequila shots since we met, and all I wanted to do was pass out. But he wouldn’t get off my dick.
I asked him to stop. He wouldn’t. I pushed a little, and he pushed back. I heard myself saying, “No. Stop. Please.” And then I wondered where I’d heard those words before. Oh, right, I said to myself. I’m sort of being raped by this cute, vulnerable dwarf.
Eventually, I decided to try and make him come, if only to earn my rest. I got myself on top of Nico and worked to finish him manually—whereupon he took my free hand and brought it to his throat.
I cannot strangle this dwarf, I told myself, now truly desperate. I cannot be the person who strangles a gay German dwarf in a hotel room. You can never not be that person, once you become that person. So I just rested my hand on his throat with the same pressure you’d use to hold a latte.
But Nico started shouting at me, his Berlin accent now thick from drink: “Harder! Stronger!”
It was unclear to which of my grips he was referring. I was exhausted. I was drunk. I was angry at being forced into this situation and annoyed with myself for falling into one more bucket-list encounter that wouldn’t lead to anything meaningful. I tightened both hands. This did the trick. He finished, with a surprising roar, and I was permitted to sleep for a few restless hours. In the morning I slipped away, dodging his dopey pleading for more time together.
Most of us are unwittingly attracted to difference, whether in the sex-tourism way or just the I’m-a-boy-you’re-a-girl way. Difference reads as an opportunity for growth, for change, for interlocking parts. And stagnancy is about as unsexy as you can get. So I—a white male, able-bodied and lacking any malformations—will always wonder at the one-armed man on the street.
But underneath my interest, there are people—people who don’t necessarily consider their circumstances “sexy.” For two days after our encounter, Nico texted me constantly. Would I have breakfast? Would I have lunch? Would I come by the hotel for a drink? I ignored them all and, finally, he texted me from the airport, distressed about my whereabouts, worried for my health and safety. Surely something had happened to me. Surely I wasn’t so callous as to ignore a lover like that. Surely there was something wrong with me.