• Vince Pruis

Starry Eyed

As we walk, the evening waterfront becomes a carousel spinning behind D, who's still and solid in my vision. It's the marina, the docks, the whole of the sparkling Puget Sound and salt air sky that's moving, not him; he, who's close and steady, perfectly in step. My gaze drifts from his brown eyes, edged in liner, toward the ground--to watch my own step--but catches. There's a smudge on his jaw, a small, missed smear of cookies and cream pie. Without thinking, I reach out--


Earlier


D and I spend that day in June wandering the Woodland Park Zoo. Despite the brace on my right leg--the swollen knee--we amble past every open exhibit. The indoor rainforest enclosures are off-limits per COVID safety regulations, so we don’t see the golden lion tamarins, but we still get to see the orangutans, my second favorite orange primates, flaring in the light. Though they’re not renowned dads like the tamarins, orangutans are phenomenal escape artists, an admirable trait in a year where we all feel so trapped.


Another fun fact about orangutans: young males will only start developing to look like adult males when they are appropriately far from others--meaning they go through puberty at varied times depending on circumstance, and they grow into metaphorical manhood at different paces. Being transmasc, and starting testosterone during pandemic lockdowns, I feel a certain affinity.


D takes a picture of me in front of them. “Pspsps,’ he goes, and I spin around to face him. Click. I’m wearing a black V-neck tee over my binder and dark jeans. The brown leather strap of my bag bisects my chest, flat: I look appropriately androgynous in front of the trees and rope swings and hammocks. Like a young orangutan, I look on the edge of change, as if a year of distance has given me the chance to grow. D looks new, too, with his dark, shoulder-length hair curling around a pale yellow collar. New, and handsome all the same. I’ve always found him handsome.


Later, both of us look longingly at other pairs posing for pictures, couples holding hands. Tears threaten to dampen our masks. We’re surrounded by flamingos and penguins and howling monkeys, but we pass the day cooing over cute children and choking up when we see one parent adjusting another's coat. The people watching is more powerful than anything else, though I do nearly cry again when we see two rhinos leaning against each other, gently.


Our friend-date to the zoo is tinged with envy and with loneliness. Still, I feel such ease, being there, lonely, beside him. We talk for half an hour on a bench off a walkway, out of sight of the animals. The sun warms my forehead and bare arms, and, listening to D, I turn my palms up on my lap, empty hands open to cup the light.


When we leave the zoo, D proposes that he’ll cook me dinner if I provide dessert, so we stop at a pie shop on the way to his apartment, and after dinner I drive us to the waterfront to eat our slices in the late light. The wind whips our curls into disarray, snatches our laughter out into the Sound. Once we’ve scraped our plastic containers clean of pie, we tuck the metal silverware into our pockets, and we stroll along the edge of the marina.


The sights spin around us, I notice a smudge of pie in D’s stubble, and, without thinking, I reach out--


--I jab him in the face. Wipe the crumbs and cream off my index finger onto my jeans. Continue our conversation.


 

What did you expect? Even a thetic moment romanticized in every drama, I can de-romanticize.


Or maybe I expected something.


I watched so many dramas this year (most of them Thai BL dramas), and I read so many queer webcomics, too. In the angsty midst of a second puberty (and a depressive episode), I’d finally found a form of romance that held my interest, that floored me with emotional weight. So maybe a part of me suspected that, as I reached out to wipe that bit of pie from D’s chin, something in our feelings would change, the way it always seems to in shows.


Instead, I jabbed a friend in the face with my own special brand of awkwardness, and nothing changed, except that we slowly drifted apart from each other in the following months,--unrelated, I think, to that moment. It’s a particular sadness, the silence of a friend.


 

With an excess of aimless love, in 2021 I threw myself even deeper into the medias of queer romance. I fawned over my first ever celebrity crush, Tul Pakorn (lead actor in Manner of Death and Together With Me) for months. Back in June, Tul posted about how he wants more asexual representation in the BL industry, and later in the year he won a Thai award for celebrity activism. Him acknowledging ace love stories,--that alone won me over. He’s good looking, too, but, like all my crushes, this celebrity crush had more to do with admiration.


In July, I started watching an episode a week of different shows with T. We watched Trapped (Taiwanese), Manner of Death (Thai), Advance Bravely (Chinese), and A Tale of Thousand Stars (Thai). Now we’re on Bad Buddy (Thai). So every week we get to squeal as characters come closer and closer to holding hands. Occasionally, in all the excitement, T will throw herself off of the couch. She’s also thrown popcorn at my TV; we get amped.


Usually, though, I’m starry eyed, alone. I listened to the MONTERO album over 100 times this year, and my Thai BL OSTs playlist has seen similar action. I also made a playlist titled “yearn, gayby, yearn” with songs by Orville Peck and Keiynan Lonsdale and Kris Kelly. I read Seemingly Dark and Castle Swimmer and Blackout City and a dozen more on Webtoons. Then I read a physical copy of Bloom. I wept over my hardcover of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous twice, and T tattooed the title onto my center, so now it sits with me daily.


After years of shying away from these stories, I’m consumed by the narratives of gay men and genderqueer people. The flood has breached my storm walls completely. Part of my obsession is the question: how does transitioning shape my potential for relationships?


In the spring, I wrote “Your Hand in Mine” about my asexuality and possible aromanticism, but I’m still lingering on that question from the post, “would I be someone’s




boyfriend?”


This question is complicated by the fact that I’m enamored with all of my friends, and they call me a friend, not a boyfriend, and what does that difference even entail? Does it mean there’s a special magic infusing the act of wiping pie off of someone’s face? Because I adore that in the dramas, but it’s hard to envision ever working for myself. And I can’t tell the difference between adoring it and wanting it for myself.


In the absence of an answer, I continue following more and more queer people on social media, finding myself especially drawn to gay artists. Like I am on the waterfront, like I am watching my shows or reading webcomics, when I see their art, I’m starry eyed. It seems natural, then, to choose one of them for my yearly portrait commission. And it seems serendipitous that this artist, who usually draws handsome hunks, agrees to take my commission and then speckles the portrait in gleam--I’m depicted as I was all year,--starry eyed, and encased in art.



2021 Portrait by @hvmbl3d

So what do I want for the next year? To continue my weekly episodes with T, certainly, and to answer those questions, possibly. To love my friends to the best of my ability. To consume even more queer media, and maybe to make some of my own. Mostly, I want all the wondering I did this last year to transform into wonder, a place of awe instead of angst.




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