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Do You Believe in What You See?

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Three snapshots. Huck takes them in his head using a long exposure and keeps the contact strips in a pocket above his left nipple, the paper cold and stiff under his skin. When his boyfriend kisses him there, sucks the nipple into his mouth to make it hard, Huck expects him to sit up, stare at him, pull out the memories with a little snick of skin and ask, what the fuck is this? He wouldn't, of course. Stephen knows all of Huck's dirty secrets, forgives him with Latinate patience ('patience', from the Latin patior, I suffer -- beautifully and endlessly and with a superhuman ability to seem more like a reasonable adult than Huck can ever muster) and hugs him at night, in their bed with perfect forgiveness. Stephen already knows all the lies Huck's body needs to tell itself. The pictures wouldn't shock him, if he could see them. Huck suspects that he can see them -- grainy black and white over Huck's skin, unfixed and unfocussed, and if passed into the light and apt to fade and disappear, like the crazy notions they are, were.

*

First, as he ever is, Huck's father. This is a photograph of a photograph: Toby Ziegler as a young man; so young that the beard and the blank of his bald head (already fuzzy and pale with the loss of curls at thirty) seem disturbing. There are no lines on his face to counterbalance these age marks, and his eyes are bright and wet; they are eyes that know themselves, or think they do. He is wearing a suit. Black, with fine pinstripes. Why on earth he is doing such a thing, Huck could never get anyone to tell him. Therefore he always assumed a banal event: someone's wedding, or a particularly important job interview, or speech-giving. It doesn't matter. The suit is the thing. The jacket pushes out his shoulders, rounds their sharpness, makes him a straight line. But Huck has always been quietly happy that you couldn't balance a spirit level on that line: his father has one hand in his pockets and the other shoulder is occupying the second before he contracts into a hunch or a shrug, hoping to outwit the photographer and failing. When he was a boy (when he was sort of a boy), Huck used to like to stroke the incipient hunch out of him, altering the photograph with a sheer effort of will, and making him straight.

It is not his smile (he is smiling, and when he was about eleven Huck had, based on this fact, a brief terror that this photograph did not depict his own father but someone else's, someone who smiled in photographs; he did not understand until later exactly why this paranoia was both terrifying and exciting), nor is it the suit or the shoulders inside them which are dazzling. It is only the simple, unassailable, nature of his father's masculinity. He is doing nothing to exaggerate it (despite the suit, despite the beard, despite the pale bald head): it just is. He only inhabits it, curls the air around it, bends light to reflect it, does all this unconsciously: just is. And part of Huck loves him for this, and part flags him up 'enemy', and can never forgive his father. Because it will never be that simple for him.

*

The second is a negative: Huck himself at seventeen. Described by opposites. In drag in a school portrait. A portrait of a young transsexual.

The day had come when the yearbook pictures were to be taken. His sister sulked too, because she knew, and knew she would not be able to bear, the other girls -- the femme girls, with their tortured hair and shimmering lips and sharp nails. Molly wore a dress that day because their mother insisted, because it was high summer and the dress was thin cotton, because the dress was new and pretty, because their mother knew that asking Huck to wear something similar was a waste of breath. It's nice to have at least one unambiguous daughter, sometimes.

The picture is horribly in focus. It shows every zit as clearly as it shows Huck's long black eyelashes and the hair on his upper lip that gives him away as a girl even as it prevents him, seemingly, from being considered a fully paid-up member of that sub-category of the human race. He had shaved his head two weeks before, using the clippers his father used to keep his beard under control. As a consequence his hair looked patchy, growing in uneven rows; more fallow than grain. His mother had yelled the first time she saw this new 'haircut', but without any cogent thesis -- Huck hasn't allowed his hair to be longer than a crewcut in need of a trim since he was ten years old. She stopped soon enough. Huck thinks his father had been trying not to laugh. What's the big deal anyway, Andy? in his eyes. Kid needs to rebel. Huck had thought maybe he'd have had a different reaction to try to hide if he'd kown the real cause of the rebellion.

It was the same day (night) that Huck bound his chest and stuffed his underwear and went out and let the parts of him that he spent the day hiding do some damn work on his behalf. Just a small club (not much going on in their part of Maryland) and technically the guy at the door should have taken one look at him, all five foot five inches of peach fuzz masquerader, and sent him home to his mommy, but the guy didn't and Huck spent the rest of the night making out with men who liked his play at femme, who liked the way he looked at them from underneath his eyelashes. Big guys in muscle shirts, their heads shaved so clean that Huck couldn't stop touching the skin, even as he was shoved up against a wall hard enough for all the breath to disappear from his lungs. It's all about context, he tells himself, when he's on his knees in the club's back bathroom sucking some guy's cock through the hole in the partition wall, being called a whore and a bitch, with the two balled-up socks he shoved into his tightest pair of boxers downright throbbing against what he calls, in the private stock-taking of his own needs, his dick. The guy comes into Huck's mouth and spatters a little on his face.

It's an odd kind of proving but proof it still is: he sucks cock like a man, like a man who loves to suck cock, like the little proto-cocksucker he really is. When he swallows he hopes that seals it, somehow. A taking-into-himself that, by some kind of masculinity voodoo, will lead to greater things, to the transformation.

He knew that his father would worry. Would worry that all this stuff goes back to something he did or something he didn't do: some lack for which he is responsible, through design, or carelessness, or biological determinism. He would have worried, because that's how Huck's father's guilt worked him over. And he would have thought at all this -- the sex, the chaos, the spiralling self-loathing -- are things that Huck is either doing or experiencing in order to compensate for his lack of the one thing that will always give Toby Ziegler's masculinity more heft than his son's. Just one invisible cock between them, father and son. And, if this had happened, if Huck's father had known about any of this before he died, Huck would have sighed and left the room and tried not to cry, because boys don't cry, even when their fathers don't love them anymore.

He burned the yearbook photograph. He burned the yearbook. Molly has another one just like it, but he never wants to look inside it again.

*

The third picture, or set of pictures, really, are the ones Huck hopes Stephen can't see, though he knows of their existence. When Huck had a lover as well as a boyfriend, and before that lover went away, they took a lot of pictures like these. Huck keeps them lowermost, closer to heart than to air.

Sam is -- was -- beautiful. Huck is -- was, and ever shall be -- ugly. He knows his own monstrosity as perfectly as Sam is oblivious to his own grace. They sit on opposites of the mirror, looking at each other. Sam doesn't see it that way: Sam sees someone else in Huck's face.

He grows the beard because Sam asks him. (Because he likes how Sam strokes it, carefully, as though Sam is expecting he will be struck, when they share a bed. Because he likes how a beard swallows his whole face. There being something to be said for clearly marked masculinity.)

He wears the jacket and tie combinations because Sam asks him. (Because he has stood beside Sam's bed and dressed himself in a slimfit suit and smoothed the pants legs over his thighs and taken five minutes longer than he needed to tie his necktie and said to Sam, cufflinks? and heard Sam clear his throat and get up from the bed and shove him against the nearest wall and undo all his good work with the iron and all his research with the menswear catalogues. Sam, in pyjama pants and a white tee, holding his hands over Huck's chest, his eyes drunk on straight lines.)

He rolls up his sleeves and drinks beer and lets Sam stare at the distribution of thick, black hair over his wrists, lets Sam stroke this hair, lets Sam lick the tender insides of his hairy wrists, because Sam asks him. (Because the validation is immediate and profound; because it proves that he has become, because in Sam's place he would be doing the same thing, and be besides quite unable to say why the sharp dividing line of muscle and bone that runs up this forearm, why the tenderness of the angles of this wrist, make him want to weep, and to swallow it all down, make it all his own.)

He yells the kind of things he remembers his father yelling at the Yankees players when he and Sam go to a game together, even though he is pretty hazy on baseball and Sam is distracted by something else, some ghost jogging across the infield of his memory. Because Sam asked him. (Because he gets a weird kick out of wearing a baseball jersey and observing how the cotton falls over his flat, slightly muscled chest, and kissing his lover in the stands. He feels like maybe it should be a muscle shirt instead of a jersey, but fuck it.)

He fucks Sam over his desk, in his big corner office at his big Manhattan law firm, ripping a big tear in the seat of Sam's pants and getting impatient with his expensive, rip-resistant boxers, fucking him without quite enough preparation and with a careless kind of violence, grunting, oblivious, pushing Sam's head down into the desk and telling him to shut up, because Sam does everything but ask, but Huck knows what has been missing all this time. And later, after Sam has come and Huck has silently handed him the spare pair of good blue jeans he packed in his rucksack for just such an eventuality, they sit on Sam's couch and fail to have a conversation. Huck has his arm around Sam's shoulders because Sam is crying and trying to hide it, like a boy might. Sam's shoulders are broad and sharp and the deeper colours of his skin show through the plain white of his shirt, and make Huck want to kiss that skin and find and add to its warmth with his own mouth. Huck's arm is shorter and rounder, but with muscle, and his hand with hard swollen knuckles and prominent veins. Sam's hand is holding on to Huck's fingers where they fall off the edge of his shoulder, gripping them tight. And this feels good to Huck; this feels powerful. Sam's hands are small, with perfectly manicured nails. It helps to know this. It helps that Sam cannot seem to stop crying. Huck holds him, hugs him, kisses his hair. The protector inside him stands up and stretches, and then curls himself around Sam's need. He murmurs, it's okay, it's okay. (Because it feels good to fuck a man as if that man were a woman, to fuck as once he was fucked, to be as simple as any other guy's cock. Because holding someone in his arms is the act of masculinity he most craves to perform. Because he likes the smell of Sam's cologne.)

He was twisted into this shape because Sam asked, perhaps. Perhaps this shape was just what was underneath all the others: more true. Half-monster, half-man. But the monstrosity is understood, accepted, and desired. Until it doesn't feel so much like being locked up in a labyrinth anymore.

By the time Sam leaves him, or he leaves Sam -- it doesn't seem to matter much which way round it happened -- it is different. Faking it has made it. He hugs Sam goodbye outside the door of his apartment and he wants to say, thank you, thank you for seeing who I was, who I needed to become. But he doesn't say anything, just lets Sam ruffle his hair and then disappear, after one wave, down the hallway.

*

Now. Huck is refusing to take pictures: he has his eyes closed. Stephen is on his knees with Huck's cock in his mouth and Huck's belt buckle snarling against his cheek. Huck is dressed -- plaid shirt and tight jeans and his cock poking out of them, slapping against Stephen's face. The cock has no nerve endings, but Huck can feel it. Somewhere between his skin and the silicone atoms are charging, mixing, changing their nature. If he concentrates he can knit the two existences together, if he listens to the little choking noises Stephen is making, if he feels the weight behind the thrust into Steve's mouth. If he runs his hands over his perfectly flat chest and his five o'clock shadow. If he remembers his own name.

"Suck my cock," he says, more to himself than to Stephen. The words shouldn't have this kind of power, but they do.

Stephen moans and grabs hold of Huck's hips, shoves his face into Huck's belly, his nose into the hair there. Huck brushes the hair off Stephen's forehead without opening his eyes, even though he knows the whole point is to open his eyes; the whole point is to replace the other pictures, in which this was not possible.

"Look at me," Stephen says, with his hands wrapped around Huck's dick. Huck's hips jerk against Stephen's shoulders. "Look at me, Huck."

Opening his eyes after this kind of pause is a little like the times he has fallen asleep in the sun and waking up to find everything a shade of disquieting shade of petrol blue, but he does it. Steve is smiling, nuzzling Huck's cock, his arms tight around Huck's hips.

"You're a fucking weird boy, you know that?" Stephen says.

Huck smiles. "I know it. This and other strange favours from the organisers of the genetic lottery."

"Sentences like that one proving my point pretty well."

"Take me to bed," Huck says, after a pause. He is tired. Tired enough that he doesn't know how much longer he can deal with standing up.

Stephen smiles again. "Sure thing." He stands up, begins tucking Huck back into his pants. "It's not like I wanted a blowjob myself anyway."

Huck kisses him, smudging his protests. "C'mon. See if you get lucky."

Time passes amiably.

A day ends as it started. They fall asleep in their bed, curled around each other, like puppies or little boys. The end of dissembling.