One summer when I was home from college and roaming through Times Square, a photographer for a modeling agency approached me. I was surprised since I was a 19-year-old black male of average height, with wild untamed locks and 140 pounds of no muscle tone. He was gruff and chewed gum with his mouth wide open as he informed me of a stock photography shoot the next morning in Dumbo that paid $200 flat. I instantly perked up; I wanted the money and needed the validation.
"What is stock photography?" I asked.
"It means we’re going to use your image on some ads," he said.
"What kind of ads?" "This stuff usually goes to banks or medical stuff, but we’re shooting for a cell phone company. Relax you’ll do fine."
I arrived that next morning to the shoot with a suitcase, a smile and the eagerness of a naive America’s Next Top Model contestant. I imagined being the poster boy for Verizon. As I posed, smiling in my tank top and holding a cell phone to my ear, I couldn’t help but dream of walking down the street shouting, "That’s me," as I pointed to a billboard. Five months later I received a call from a friend.
"I didn’t know you were a gay thug." "What?"
"You’re a gay thug. I saw your picture online, modeling for some porn site."
"I never modeled for anything like that. Are you serious? Send me the link."
When I pulled up the link on an urban gossip blog, there I was, smiling in a tank top with a cell phone to my ear. Across the photo were the words "Localgaythugs.com Straight from Prison."
I was the furthest thing from a thug,but like countless social networking users, my image was no longer mine to control. I had signed the waiver, lost the contract and misplaced the photographer’s contact information. I was powerless.
A week later, I signed into my account on a social networking site. When I opened my inbox, there were 15 new friend requests and messages from guys I’d never met. I came across an email with the subject line: "do gay thugs smile in real life?" I opened it up. "saw your pic on gay thugs. I had 2 find u and let u know that I love your smile. will u b my gay thug?" I read the additional notes from men who all expressed longing to hold, kiss or enter me. I couldn’t have been happier.
Growing up, I never felt attractive and compliments were rare. My younger brother was always called "sexy chocolate." I was nicknamed Pete. The feelings of being undesirable were exacerbated when I came out of the closet and stepped onto the streets of Chelsea. I competed with sexy Blatinos who could seduce in English and Spanish; jocks who could flex a muscle and have sugar daddies salivating; twinks with their delicate feminine beauty and the illicit charm of down-low thugs. As much as I wanted someone other than a lonely, over 55-year-old white man, I never thought I could get one. But now I was desired, and I wanted to explore.
So I responded to that first email, and after a rapidfire back and forth we exchanged numbers. He called around midnight. "Are you smiling for me?" he asked. Geez, how did he know?
"Yes," I said, giggling. "Good. I love that smile of yours. Has anyone ever told you you’re beautiful?" "No. I never really felt attractive to most gay men."
"Really? Well you are. I’m looking at your picture now and it’s like damn…" his voice got huskier.
"What did you say?" He paused, then came back. "Damn baby, you got me so excited." I could hear his breathing jumping, getting heavier and quivering. He kept repeating the word "damn." He asked me what I was wearing and I lied and said nothing instead of a food-stained tank top and SpongeBob SquarePants pajama bottoms I’d received as a birthday gift. When he shouted on the phone like a walrus being skewered on an electric fence, I knew that my picture had been worth a thousand strokes. When he finally caught his breath, he said, "Don’t stop smiling," and abruptly hung up.
I rolled over on my side
with the sound of his “damn” reverberating in my head. Finally, someone in this
superficial queer scene desired me not for my mind or my talent but purely for
my body. For the first time ever, I felt like the most beautiful guy around—and
I went to sleep with a smile.
Check out Souleo’s website here.