I recently wrote a book that is, on the surface, about sex. But it is also a book about travel. My Love Is a Beast: Confessions is an erotic memoir that takes readers on a journey through the places I have lived: Savannah, Atlanta, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York City. But to say that I’ve lived in these places feels disingenuous. Setting up camp in a friend’s spare room, dating someone local, and screwing around for a bit is not the same as living somewhere, at least not to me.
Living implies commitment, an agreement made with a place, a readiness to stay. I’ve not done that, anywhere. The book ends with me in New York City, but New York is not presented as the final stop. It’s not my home. It’s a stop along the way.
I can’t make many arguments for sticking around, but leaving is in my bones. It’s always with me, because it’s easy.
That confession is not in the book, and it breaks my heart because it’s true.
My identity as a queer man was, in many ways, formed by these cities. And my identity feels unfinished. It needs more lessons from more places.
Consider this: What am I to do with the countless great stories about the fetish scene in Berlin and descriptions of how they fuck there? I picture men who state directly what they want without any hesitation. They don’t waste time, I imagine, with courtesies. It’s probably just a fantasy, overtalked from American gay tourists. But now I have to explore it — or at least camp out for a few years — if for no other reason than to learn the language of that directness.
What of Amsterdam? How might it shape my queerness and sex? Or what would the terror of being gay in Turkey do to me? Where I go has the ability to determine how I have sex, and if I am free or persecuted.
Maybe, in middle age, I’ll go quieter, and find myself in a small village an hour or so outside of London. When I get to that village, it will probably be nothing like I picture. But that’s okay — the truth of a place is always better than its mystery. If there’s anything I’m afraid of, it’s standing in a kitchen someday wishing I had done it, whatever it may be. I crave the violent jolt of familiarity unraveling, the haphazard early months in a new place, learning the localisms, being somebody that nobody knows. My queerness can be new again, if I pick a new place for it to flourish and flounce.
This rootlessness has cost me good loves that could have lasted longer and been better had I stayed. I will probably lose my partner, Ber — a good man who loves me and whom I love back — because of this. When I tell him our relationship is temporary (“like all relationships,” I say in deflection) because of Berlin, I watch him break apart quietly, head down, as we step onto the train. He doesn’t cry. He just looks empty, and that familiar pang of being abandoned wells up in his throat.
“You don’t know if you’ll even like it there,” he says. “What if you hate it?”
“I might. But if I don’t go, I will grow bitter and probably resent you for being the thing that kept me here.”
It’s the truth. I wonder why he stays with me when he knows I will leave.
He cannot go to Europe because of his job — a position he has worked years to get. But I can. Promising to leave is cruel, but it would be crueler to promise to stay knowing I will break it. I love him too much to do that.
Nothing about me is uncommon, I would argue. Queer people travel to find their own, and we find them in cities, clustered together. But I am told that at some point I have to stop. I have to choose to love a place. That home is “where you make it.” It’s a nice idea, one I would like to believe. But I don’t, at least not yet.
More than anything, I am most grateful for my perspective. I understand my queerness through the people I’ve run into, strangers across the country who became friends. Their social circles welcomed me, tugged me along, pulled out a chair for me to sit around the fire. Around those fires — one in a friend’s backyard in Savannah, another in the woods of upstate New York — I learned the lexicon. I learned that I am a “pig.” I learned that some people will reduce me to a “circuit queen” because I don’t fit the molds for “bear” or “pup” or “Brooklyn queer.”
I learned from the fires that I am “kinky,” that I can say “she” and “girl” about any gay man, that I can let my wrist go limp and squeal and pout. I learned I’m a “slut.” I am nonmonogamous, which various folks consider “modern” and “progressive,” while others think I’m “shallow” and “immature.” I have collected words in every place. “I’m your circuit mama.” “This is my daddy.” “I love my big bro.” Travel gave me my tongue. Leaving crafted my words. Moving on is my queer.
I have grown comfortable with “queer” even as some do and do not feel I am allowed to use it. My perspective is not just L.A. or New York City but all of them, all the fires and talks, all the little exchanges.
I sit with Berlin burning in my heart every day. Every ride on New York’s subway convinces me that it is the next stop. My talks with Ber have shifted from arguments to simply me saying “Sorry.”
And what after Berlin? I do dream of Amsterdam and its sex dungeons. I don’t even know if there are sex dungeons there, but I believe in them as my parents believe in heaven, a place I’m not allowed to enter. I’m waiting to go there — to Amsterdam, to anywhere — and feel the mysterious tug of belonging. Bells will ring to welcome me home. When they do, I will stay.
This piece originally ran in Out Traveler print magazine. The Winter 2022 issue is now available on newsstands.