When one occupies a female body for over two decades, maleness acquires an exoticism and mystery that is less about eroticism and more about difference; the thickness of a man’s wrist, the distribution of weight at the crest of his hips, the texture of the skin on his face, chest, and groin. Watching a man get dressed, I assume the charisma and focus of the protagonist of a television fragrance ad; my head propped up by a palm on my cheek, and an elbow against the mattress, I feel languid, luxurious, and casually powerful, as I observe Mars rise and prepare himself for the day.
With all the hubbub about the divine feminine, you’d think I’d feel more attached to my breasts, like Apollo to the pallid bosom of his Daphne, or to the monthly bleeding that recalls allusions to moons, taboo, and sisterhood. But my chest, truthfully, has limited glamour, which is not a statement made out of self-deprecation but rather natural feeling: to me, breasts possess only the same rustic, venereal charm as babyish mangoes, or animal meat. And with regards to my menses: there is very little pleasure in lowering panties bought in a Florida Walmart in the early spring air and observing a fat stripe of clotted, phlegmatic russet and rose from seam to seam.
And yet his body, now entering a slow camouflage in torn cargo shorts and a faded fraternity shirt, has all the gracious, unattainable romanticism of a sweet-eyed Old World princess. I feel as though I’ve been transported to a boudoir, both our identities remaining intact as the expectations for our genders reverse, and I marvel lazily at the male vessel: its gradient of color, from warm brown and green to bruised purple and pink, its pleasantly and distinctively rich and sour odor, its gamut of textures extending from throat to gonads.
What I admire most about the body of this frat bro, perhaps, is its effortlessness in retaining and exuding a charm that has eluded me in all but my most labored attempts at beauty. I am familiar with how to play my own figure to its best advantage; for instance, I know to tilt my face slightly for the camera, so the light catches my upturned eyes, and to stand with my arms behind my back and my knees held apart, trembling like a fragile doe. But these aesthetic performances are not natural, and are instead almost purposefully deceitful, relying as they do on the exploitation of archetypes: the readiness of onlookers to buy into the myth of women born in the age of the Internet. Ultra-feminine, but simultaneously alluringly androgynous, filtered through blurred, tonal layers of milk-white and lavender, posed in a foreground of palm trees and gas stations, decorated in chokers, bandannas, and itty bitty Spandex underwear. My practice of female expectation has always been a disavowal of this standard and a form of tacit cooperation, stimulating in me both satisfaction and shame.
But his form, I realize, has no such preoccupations for me. The transformative power of our closeness has elevated him beyond considerations of physical beauty. His smell, shape, weight, height — all those supposed imperatives in the complex equation of human attraction — become wholly immaterial when challenged by the reality of my love. It is only here, in a bedroom shrouded in subtropical trees and thunder, where the pressures of ontology die and are replaced by veneration and pride. Impossibly strange, to have discovered self-love buried in romantic love, to encounter one’s soul in its exchange. Stranger still to say this in words but: it was embracing his body that revealed the ability to understand my own as a composite of muscle, fragrance, scatology, eschatology, flesh, fat, melancholy, pus, and devotion. All of it devoid of human notions of innocence, corruption, virtue, or even femininity and masculinity. (I feel like there was a thesis to this when I started writing? But now it has devolved into a pool of lukewarm, dazed emotion; what can I say? I love him, and his body, like I love me, and my body, and it is an attachment both sexual and asexual, aesthetic and functional.)
My favorite set of lines from “Winter Syntax” by Billy Collins read: “The full moon makes sense. When a cloud crosses it / it becomes as eloquent as a bicycle leaning / outside a drugstore or a dog who sleeps all afternoon / in a corner of the couch.” Like moons, bicycles, and dogs, there is something about sitting together on the couch, both in our bodies, that invites eloquence. A fluency of feeling that is closer to echolocation than speech, a realization of presence that consumes all the senses.