This is what it’s like: I never know what day of the week it is. I get so down I drift through and feel up. We get so high we forget it wears off. The clothes are tight to our skin like tattoos, but they slip off effortlessly. Our wrists have been stamped so many times, there’s a shadow on the skin. Shadows under our eyes. I get so used to seeing people in flashing lights—red, blue, black, white, purple; their eyes all shimmer in rays of amber—that when people aren’t flashing and changing colours, that’s when my eyes have to adjust. They’re almost always seventeen with a fake ID and a huge ego, or eighteen or nineteen. I kiss them with such convincing passion that they have no idea how turned off I am and why I don’t ask them to come back home with me. But it wasn’t always like that.
◊ ◊ ◊
One night, I decided, this was it. I got dressed in tight jeans and a bright red tank top. It was August. The summer was nearly over. I cruised the streets, knowing no one. I wasn’t sure how all of this was supposed to work. The streets were flooded with people, but what was I supposed to do—just go up to someone and say, Hey, do you want to fuck? It was hard to meet people, and I didn’t know how to flirt. I felt desire but didn’t know how to express it. I wandered into a club that I had heard about. On the outside, it looked like a giant old post office, almost Romanesque. Once inside, the man at the coat check gave me a dirty look and took my five dollars. I walked past a doorway that had black leather straps hanging down, and into the club. Inside, I could hardly see. It smelled like chlorine. There was hardcore gay porn playing on the screens and a shirtless, hairy bartender. I wandered around, avoiding the decorative metal chains that hung down all over the place. I would later come to realize that it was early, eleven p.m., and so hardly anyone was there. I looked up into the DJ booth and saw a boy with headphones on and black hair like mine. I wanted my opposite, a blond, but at least he was my age. I walked over to the booth and stood beneath it, smiling. I waved. He waved.
Later that night, when he was done with his DJ set, we went back to his apartment near the Frontenac Metro station, a part of the city I had never been to before, the east end, where Anglophone boys don’t normally go. He was wearing blue jeans and a white button down T-shirt—how boring—though I found him attractive enough. In high school, I’d wanted to fall in love, lose my virginity in some kind of passionate relationship. But at this point, I just wanted to do it. I needed to fuck something. Horniness was seeping from my pores. I couldn’t think about anything else. Losing your virginity in a one-night stand isn’t such a big deal, I decided. It’s sort of a classic homosexual thing to do. Sure, it would have been nice if it was special, but it was better than nothing: it showed you that, well, here it is, this is sex, in its most basic form.
His apartment was nicely furnished, like a wealthy person’s apartment. How could a guy my own age afford all of this? Impossible. We lay down on his bed, which was in the living room.
“Um, I’ve never done this before,” I told him, nervous and excited.
“It’s okay,” he said. “Just do what I say.”
I lay on top of him, making out. Simple enough, I thought. Then he rolled over, unbuttoned my pants, and began to blow me. What I was most curious about, though, was licking his ass. How could you possibly be any closer to another guy other than licking his ass? There is nothing more personal. On one hand, you’re giving pleasure, so it’s active, but on the other hand, it’s an act of worship, so it’s oddly passive. Plus, you’re getting his pheromones all over your face. It is basically spiritual. Rimming is an act of everything coming full circle.
“Um … could I like … lick your butt, dude?” I asked him.
He smiled and rolled over onto his stomach. I went at it. It was everything I thought it would be. I have arrived, I thought. I was shocked at how ass really had no taste for something that always smelled so particular. I gave him what was probably the most amateur rim job he’d ever received, just lapping my tongue up and down on his asshole like a dog. I didn’t care. I was in bliss. But then came the actual sex part. He rolled over with his legs wrapped around me, my chest pressed against his. With his hips, he started to pull me in. The tip of my cock pressed into him before I realized it. I paused and put a condom on, convinced that if I ever had gay sex without a condom I’d get AIDS. Then I did it, the thing I had been waiting so many years to do. I fucked him, thinking it would be a transgressive feeling, but it wasn’t. With lube on, I just bounced in and out of him, switching positions, my chest and stomach smashing into his back. I tried to fuck him like I had seen in porn, but he was even looser than any guy I saw in porn.
I fucked him until he finished, and I watched him cum. And then that was it. I spent the night there and gave him a kiss on the forehead in the morning, my habit of unwarranted affection already developing. Overall, I felt glad. He’d taken a part of me that I’d been trying to get rid of for years. Virginity was gone, and in her place, I imagined, came the muses, the goddesses of inspiration, music, and passion. I just had to dump that bitch virginity into a garbage can first. I walked out of his apartment that morning a brand-new boy, a non-virgin. I stumbled around the east end with a hangover and a headache, occasionally wafting the scent of sex on my fingers in front of my face. That makes me happy, I thought.
Life isn’t so bad after all.
Eventually I found the Metro station and took it home, back to the Plateau. I would fall asleep in the middle of the day when I didn’t have any classes and have wildly lucid dreams. I decided I didn’t care if I ever saw him again—that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to become impure, to finally lose the sense of innocence that I loathed. I got tested the next day, freaking out about the tip, the tip. I’d stuck the tip in. Worried sick about the tip. I got so sick from worrying that I thought the sick feeling was AIDS. I paid eighty dollars for an HIV test, which should have been free, and endured dirty looks from the doctor. The results came back negative. I took a handful of condoms and left the office.
◊ ◊ ◊
I was so clueless when I first moved to Montreal; I knew nothing, no one. The first really beautiful boy I met was Xavier. I met him on the Internet. I was stunned—he seemed remarkably normal, like the guys I’d known on soccer teams. Growing up, I’d spent so much time feeling alienated, partially for being gay, that somehow, subconsciously, I got it in my mind that all gay boys were awkward. This was a caricature that I had come to know from mass culture, which is, of course, run and ruined by heterosexuals. What I started to discover is that that was a myth: We are, largely, just boys and men who want to fuck and love other boys and men. There was no single kind of homosexual. Perhaps there were multiple kinds of homosexualities. I had convinced myself in high school that the youthful masculine ideal I desired was unattainable because gay men were never like that, like the straight boys I lusted after in vain. But I had gone, almost overnight, from a culture where gay people were depicted as awkward, depressed, overweight, or excessively flamboyant, to a place where young gay men were known for their artistic talent and good looks. There was a higher degree of outness in Montreal, outness being a thing that expands the scope of homosexuals.
Xavier took me to bars and clubs. I knew from the start that we had little in common, but that face of his …
“We’ll go to Drugstore first, and then to Parking,” he told me.
“Okay, but why do you need to go to the drugstore?” I asked him.
“No,” he replied, laughing. “I don’t need to go to the drugstore. Drugstore is a bar, kind of a lesbian bar.”
“Oh, okay. And then we’ll find parking after that?”
“Oh god, you’re so cute. No, Parking is the name of a club.”
Xavier took me out and showed me the scene. Or at least, his scene. But I soon realized that Xavier was a prude and possibly a virgin, which just made all the guys go even crazier. All I could think about was how tight his ass must be.
That summer, I caught the first glimpse of the splinters within gay culture, the reactions to liberation. We’d once been excited about being able to fuck freely, and now we were so bored that some of us had retreated into suburban sexuality. Xavier was free to fuck for a long time, so maybe the only thrill for him was to be free to decide who he fucked and when. I was his summer friend, and he was my summer crush. I was usually buzzed if not outright drunk—I had to be in order to handle all of those hundreds of people, the pounding music, the energy. A friend of Xavier’s once looked at me and said, “You just moved here from the States in early July, and you’re eighteen with no job, nothing to do until school starts?” He said it seemed so random, but I didn’t understand that it was strange for someone to move to Montreal from so far away. It’s a big city, sure, but because it was on the other side of the US border, most Americans didn’t consider moving there.
One weekday, Xavier and his friend Chris and I hung out together. I came to realize that was special, because the people I hung out with in Montreal had real friends and “night friends.” We were young and didn’t know how to integrate the two. Normally, during the weekdays, I was quite lost, listless, living in a city where I didn’t speak the language. I’d spend my days wandering around alone. Even though I knew it probably wouldn’t last, I took up Xavier’s initiation at actual, daytime friendship. We drove into the suburb Xavier was from—a suburb I’d later come to think of as the suburb of love—and spent the evening at his house. We walked around, climbed trees, had dinner with his parents. It was weird trying to be normal and hang out with them outside of a club setting. Later on, he took us to a neighbourhood friend’s house, and we watched him jump on their trampoline. So high. Chris and I looked at each other, smiling, both thinking the same thing, sharing this moment of desire. We both wanted him, but no one could have him. Neither of us were there for friendship.
I grew to resent Xavier. The last time we went out together to a club, I drunkenly told him, “I think this is bullshit! This is so fake, all of this. This is not what I’m about. I like rock music.” I left him at the club. I was trying to convince myself that I hadn’t changed at all. I didn’t know exactly what the problem was, but I felt a massive reaction to what I deemed as vapid, shallow gay-club culture. Still, I would always come back, and there would be new boys, new mythologies, and like so many others before him, Xavier was long gone.
◊ ◊ ◊
While I was gradually settling in, I started to go to all sorts of parties and become friends, night friends, with different people. I had never cared much for electronic music before I moved to Montreal, but it started to grow on me. What had once seemed like mindless repetition became a kind of spiritual, syncopated trance, a frequency wave. There were all kinds of parties, but I preferred the more dank, dark, industrial variety.
I was on a search for my twin half. The more colourful, pop-oriented places had beautiful boys, but little substance. The dark, industrial gigs had the characters, the weirdo brethren whom I longed for. The rooms were always purposefully dark, and all I could smell was beer and boy sweat, and I loved it. It smelled like punk rock. Harsh, intense, pounding electro would flow from the speakers. One track in particular would play at every party, the loop encapsulating the night—asexual, trisexual, transsexual, bisexual—repeated over and over again. A lesbian acquaintance introduced me to a pixie fairy boy, very short, much shorter than me, at six-foot-one. He looked young, but I could tell that this, like so much else, was an illusion. He told me that he was twenty-six, and I told him I was eighteen; the age difference seemed too much and was a turn-off to both of us, so we went our separate ways. My search continued: I needed to know the world.
◊ ◊ ◊
It’s Friday night, and I’m at one of the more underground parties. The looming alternative to the gay village, a strange new phenomenon, at least to me and people my age. People tend to talk a lot of shit about the gay village in these circles. Apparently, being free is boring. They want a return to secrecy, to feeling deviant, to a past we can’t experience. It’s a nostalgia for oppression, born out of privilege. What was once liberation has warped into assimilation. Now there is “gay,” and there is “queer.” I think it’s a lot of bullshit, though—we are mostly just gay kids alienated from the larger gay culture, from consumerism, conformity, and a very narrow view of what being gay can include.
Others disagree, giving up on the term gay altogether and adopting, partially due to their own overly academic lives, the queer identity. Queer is the new cool. At the end of the day, we are still mostly just guys fucking other guys, with some gender non-conformity thrown into the mix and an awareness of class and privilege—smart fags—and now you have a new scene, a scene whose nose could still sniff the coke off your key, but then turn right back around and point it high up in the air, scoffing at you … I am ambivalent about the whole thing and sympathize with both sides. On one hand, I did feel that the village was stripped of the punk attitude I long for. I think of boys like Xavier, who probably only feel their oppression in very minute ways, so their desire never really conflicts with their existence. But I also recognize that the village itself—and anything like it—is a result of a radical struggle inherently tied to class and language. But people seem to forget that. They forget that, to young queers who’ve just moved to Montreal, the village is the first place where they can be surrounded by other people like them. I wonder how something so inherently political could be condemned as depoliticized.
Michael, a guy I’ve seen around school a few times, is at the party tonight. We exchange glances. He has an asymmetrical haircut, glasses, tight black jeans with a key ring on one loop, plugs stretching his ears, and a tight black shirt that says LIMP WRIST on it, a band I used to listen to in high school. We chat a little bit about school, and he ends up asking me if he can crash at my place for the night, since he lives so far away, in the southwest part of the city. This is getting to be a common occurrence—people staying with random strangers they’ve just met, even if not explicitly for sexual purposes. Usually it works out, but can sometimes be awkward. Taxis are expensive, and the Metro shuts down after 1:30—that’s our excuse, and we’re sticking to it, but really, we’re probably just lonely. So I let him stay with me. A few weeks later, he tells me that a room has opened up in his house—a communal queer living situation, he calls it—in a working-class neighbourhood.
For only $250 a month, it’s a lot cheaper than my current room, which is $400 a month, so a few weeks later, I move in.
Excerpted from Candyass by Nick Comilla. Published by Arsenal Pulp Press, 2016.
Nick Comilla was born on a military base turned ghost town in Rome, NY, and grew up in rural Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of the creative writing program at Concordia University in Montreal. While there, he was a finalist for the Irving Layton Poetry Prize.
After completing his education in Montreal, Nick moved to New York where he graduated from The New School with his MFA in poetry and fiction. His work has appeared in Lambda Literary, Poetry Is Dead, Assaracus, and elsewhere. Candyass is his first novel.