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Nina Here Nor There

By
April 1, 2011

From his memoir, our author finds himself caught between man and woman where tough (and humorous) decisions abound.

ninahere-575.jpgPhotograph via Flickr by Aytuğ Üngör

I passed my final semester of grad school reading and writing, writing and reading, reading and writing, taking breaks only to attend class and report to my job. Whole weeks would go by where I’d barely see my housemates. Winter disappeared and spring showed up, but I was too busy to notice. I did notice that after almost a year and a half, my “temporary” copywriting contract at the bank, long past its expiration, was going to continue indefinitely unless I terminated it. Burnt out from full-time school and mind-numbing, soul-deadening work that consisted of composing variations of “Please select your account from the drop-down menu,” in March I informed my company that I’d be leaving in early May. I planned to live off my recently acquired savings while finishing my thesis over the summer, and although I was nervous about walking away from a well-paid cubicle job, I also believed I was focusing on my passion.

I felt driven by my desire to write, to explain and make sense of my gendered experience, and I sought out connections with other people seeking to understand themselves and the world through words, mostly my writing peers at school. Over the course of the semester, I’d built a classroom-based friendship with Ramona, the sharp girl from my literature class who intrigued me even more in our workshop with her nonfiction stories about breaking into factory farms, staging demonstrations, and bailing other animal rights activists out of jail. I took notice that she referred to the guy she’d been dating when we first met as her “boyfriend at the time,” and that her feedback on my essays about packing, testosterone, and binding was spot-on.

By sharing my personal explorations with Ramona and the others, my classmates had become confidants and friends. Nobody besides them, not my A-gays nor The Boys, knew about “Nick,” the name that had popped into my head as sort of a boy alter ego. His arrival was so uneventful, I couldn’t remember if I was sitting on the toilet or scrubbing my pits in the shower when he showed up. He played no role in my daily life, unlike my other alter ego, “Fun Nina,” whom I’d created to channel the mood of my impending unemployed freedom, and to entertain Ramona by making fun of my former elderly bedtime, “Just Say No” policy to social events, and general fuddy-duddiness.

Ramona reminded me of a big kid with her department store backpack, Chuck Taylor sneakers, and round and youthful, near-angelic face—one you don’t picture screaming “Your Mother Kills Puppies” into a bullhorn. But there was definitely something bad-ass about her, hinted at by the dark eye makeup she slathered on to appear at least her age. My youngest friend by far, she turned twenty-three at the end of the semester and threw a birthday party that served as the coming-out event for “Fun Nina.”

Ramona lived with a crew from college in a futuristic three-story house, the living room like a spaceship with its trapezoidal window cove, modern fireplace, and tubular chimney. None of them could afford the place, so one person lived illegally in the unfinished garage and another had moved into the loft, using a thin shower curtain as a door. Ramona scored the best room, the only one on the main floor, because she was the mature leader of the group, the same role she held in her family as the oldest of three kids.

She told me this at her party, where we sat next to each other on her bed, sipping jungle juice, surrounded by our mutual writer friends. Her fine shoulder-length hair had been tinted auburn for the occasion, a perk of assistant managing a salon, and a long red scratch ran down her upper arm. She’d injured herself getting ready, squeezing into a revealing yellow dress from a store I associated with tweens. I couldn’t make any sense of her fashion or style, what she was going for or whether she succeeded. But when she opened her mouth, damn was she cool.

Whatever the subject—movies, music, current events, books—she had something insightful and progressive to offer. She was the type who sent friends songs from undiscovered bands, the best clips from The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, and the top YouTube videos of the week, who stayed up to all hours surfing the Interwebz, as she called it, tinkering around late at night, getting cool while I slept.

Even if Ramona was different from the other I-want-to-but-I-can’ts, the last thing my nascent gender identity needed was to be the object of some twenty-three-year-old’s lesbian awakening.

She was also independent, leaving her date—a nerdy but nice enough guy she’d met online—in the living room to fend for himself. “We’re not really dating,” she said, scooting a bit closer to me. “I’m just using him for sex.”

I could tell right away that the guy wanted to date her, but she wasn’t going to leave my left side all night if I kept up the entertainment. I told her about the two girls playing musical chairs for the seat on my right side. Both of them had once declared crushes on me and then gone into homopanic mode when I responded with interest. Ramona had little patience or respect for their trepidation, which made me wonder if she was trying to tell me something about her sexuality. It didn’t matter. Girls were always trying to tell me something about their sexuality, only to lose their nerve later.

“Watch her pinky,” Ramona said under her breath. “It’s crawling over to you. Look, she won’t cross that third square. See, see, it’s vibrating.”

Lo and behold, this girl’s pinky was doing the same two-steps-forward, one-step-back dance near my thigh she’d done with me for the past year.

“It’s not worth it,” Ramona said. “If her pinky’s prude, you’re screwed. And I don’t mean that literally.”

“I think you may be funnier than me,” I said.

“What do you mean ’may be’?”

After the party, we continued our comedy competition through daily emails that, although undoubtedly flirtatious, were more of a test of each other’s wit, timing, and creative writing abilities. As part of our exchange, she sent me her online dating profile. Instead of the typical seductive or girl-next-door photo, she’d posted an adorable picture of herself with her hands clawed over an enormous vegan ice cream sundae, ready to pounce.

Mentally checked out of work, I used my last days in my cubicle to complete the quizzes on the dating site. Gender choices were limited to female and male, which I now considered sex assignments at birth, not genders, and the available orientations were straight, gay, and bisexual. Utilizing my SAT prep course training, I chose the “best option available”: “bisexual male.” I explained this to Ramona when I sent her my quiz results along with my critique of the options, the only paragraph in our two-week online exchange in which I felt forced to take a humorless, heavy tone. I was frustrated that a serious explanation was required, and that to anyone other than Ramona, who’d read sixty pages about me in our writing workshop, my choice would’ve made no sense.

To belatedly celebrate Cinco de Mayo, as well as the end of the school semester, one of our classmates threw a Seis de Mayo party. It was one of those rare summery days, blistering hot, even out by the beach, and I camped out on the back deck with a margarita in hand. While chatting away with my fellow writers about all the work we should’ve been doing, I kept catching myself checking the sliding-glass door for Ramona’s arrival. Each time I looked, I reprimanded myself with a lecture that concluded with: Do NOT pursue another straight girl. Even if Ramona was different from the other I-want-to-but-I-can’ts, the last thing my nascent gender identity needed was to be the object of some twenty-three-year-old’s lesbian awakening.

The moment Ramona arrived, I jumped up to greet her, forgetting all about my mandate. I followed her to the kitchen where she handed me one of the zucchini and mango tamales she’d prepared. The food display, which included a whale carved out of a watermelon and filled with fruit, was almost as majestic as the centerpiece in the living room. From a polished silver tray, a bottle of blue agave tequila rose, towering above a dozen shot glasses. We were standing too close when our host opened the bottle. “I don’t do shots,” I said, taking a step back.

“‘Fun Nina’ doesn’t do shots?” Ramona taunted.

I held up my margarita cup to show the inch of liquid still left on the bottom. She held up hers to show the same before tilting it back and downing the rest. The ice cubes clanked against her teeth. “Your turn,” she said.

“Are you trying to get me drunk?” I asked.

“Yes,” she replied without hesitation. Then she laughed self-consciously. “It’s not like you have to work tomorrow.”

“Or this week. Or next week.” I sucked down the rest of my drink and joined her for a shot. Which turned into another. And maybe another. We must’ve stopped once the bottle was empty. By then, the sun had fallen. Ramona’s roommate, Katrina, a party tagalong who’d recently broken up with her boyfriend and required a lot of attention, ushered us from the deck to the living room. A fire was crackling in the fireplace.

“Let’s play a game,” she said, pulling Ramona and me down to the hearth. A petite brunette, Katrina had mischievous, trouble-seeking eyes. I liked her because she reminded me of myself at her age—functional yet out of control with a creative spirit she’d probably harness once she stopped mainlining cheap wine.

Still holding our hands, she leaned forward. With the flames blazing behind her, she looked possessed, like a horny imp. “Who’s the cutest boy here?” she asked.

I paused to give the question serious consideration. “It’s really not the best dude showing,” I finally said.

“You’re just bummed Joshua’s not here,” Ramona teased. I’d made no secret about my narcissistic crush on the stocky, neurotic Jewboy who could’ve been my twin brother.

A piece of wood snapped in the fireplace. We all flinched. They each gripped my hand tighter. Ramona didn’t let go. “Well, I think Nina is the cutest boy here,” she said. Her green eyes turned crystalline in the firelight. I turned to Katrina. Her jaw rested open. I looked down and stroked the frayed end of my cargo cutoffs. The hair on my legs had grown in brown and thick, like that of a boy, like the cutest boy there. Even through my blitzed haze, I felt the colossal power behind Ramona’s words, her validation all the more pronounced because no girl had ever acknowledged me in that way before. She might as well have said, “Open sesame.”

I remember the two of us kissing on the railing of the deck outside and on the long train ride back to her house, and in her bed, where I woke up the next morning. Okay, I do remember more than that, but drunk sex is kind of like drunk driving: you bury it afterward, thankful nobody got hurt, knowing you did things you wouldn’t ordinarily do, and hope it’s never mentioned again. With the sun pounding through the bedroom window and into my skull, I asked Ramona if it would be all right if I left.

“Go,” she said. “I think I’m still drunk.”

I got up and dressed quickly, stuffing my binder into the back pocket of my pants. I pecked her on the lips good-bye.

“Hey,” she called out when my hand was on the doorknob. “Congrats on getting laid.”

“I couldn’t have done it without you,” I replied reflexively. The banter, the intoxicated oopsy-daisy sex, the fleeing, that was all second nature to me. I closed her bedroom door behind me and looked down the long hallway into the living room spaceship. What now? I thought. I tipped my head back against her door. What now?

Later that night, I rationalized myself out of attempting to date Ramona with a laundry list of concerns: she was young, with no real life experience; she wasn’t athletic; she didn’t ride a bicycle; we had little in common besides writing; she lived like she was in college; she was really, really young. Maybe I flowed down my river of reasons to spare myself the pain of starting a relationship that would, in my mind, undoubtedly end, or maybe I was trying to spare myself the anxiety that came with physical intimacy, but I always had my reasons, and all they’d ever left me with was a headache.

And besides, it was a crucial part of our relationship that Ramona saw me as a cute boy, not a dyke, from the get-go.

This time, I did my best to let my brain rest and did what all the kids were doing. I purchased my first text-messaging plan and put my thumbs in charge. When Ramona sent me a text every few hours, I’d simply respond with something witty. By evening, I’d be at a bar with her and Katrina, on her post-breakup bender, and by late night, I’d be in Ramona’s bed. It took two weeks for us to finish an evening closer to my house and end up in my bed.

It was the middle of the night and the glow from the streetlamp seeped through the thin blinds, lending us a dim light. Ramona tucked the corner of the pillow underneath her head, pressing her cheek into the feathers. The yellow cotton of my auto mechanic T-shirt crawled up around her neck. I fought the urge to take in Ramona, in my clothes and in my bed, as if once I did, she’d vanish, drop me for someone that made sense, like an actual dyke, or something uncomplicated, like a walking erection. “Why do you even like me?” I asked, immediately embarrassed by my vulnerability. “Wait, don’t answer that.”

She inched her pillow closer to mine and surprised me by playing along, assuaging my insecurity with a short list of my better traits. “But mostly I like you because we’re from the same tribe,” she said. “You feel familiar, like we’ve known each other for a long time.”

I touched her cheek. Her skin was so smooth, untainted by life, yet there was something old and wise inside. I thought about smell chemistry, previous lives, cosmic ties, all the mysterious reasons people connect, everything that defied the explanations I craved. Despite myself, I liked her.

It was only later, when our mutual writer friends or the few A-gays I still spoke to outside of the larger group asked if Ramona was even a dyke, that I considered her tribe statement profound. I would always reply, “No, she’s vegan.” Sure, I was being a smart ass, but in a way Ramona’s eating habits did seem relevant, as did her upbringing in a born-again Christian cult until she was a teenager. It was part of my tribe theory that she was so used to living on the outside, as other, that her feelings for me didn’t trip up her place in the larger world she’d never really been part of anyway. And besides, it was a crucial part of our relationship that Ramona saw me as a cute boy, not a dyke, from the get-go.

But now that I’d met others like myself, I respected my own physical discomfort, treated it as real and valid, and sleeping with someone who accepted this as a premise for being with me empowered me to make adjustments.

During those first few weeks of sex, Ramona ignored my breasts as if they’d been redacted, and yet they still harassed me. If I wasn’t wearing a binder or a sports bra, every time they moved, I could feel a sense of my own presence slipping away, an awareness of being inside my body fading, my old hookup autopilot trying to take over. But now that I’d met others like myself, I respected my own physical discomfort, treated it as real and valid, and sleeping with someone who accepted this as a premise for being with me empowered me to make adjustments. When disturbed by my breast-hang, I’d mutter my annoyance and pull her on top of me, or sometimes I’d just keep my binder or sports bra on in bed.

As I offered more verbal and physical cues, Ramona began to pick up on, and test ways to touch my chest with an “Is this okay?” I liked it when she ran her palm down the hard center line of my sternum or stroked a flat outstretched hand across my binder. When I shared that I had crazy awesome nipple sensation, but complained that any action there triggered an uncomfortable awareness of my breasts, Ramona reminded me that everyone has nipples. This helped me to close my eyes and hold on to my self-image, visualize my hard, flat chest while she touched me there. We could’ve compiled a rulebook for acceptable positions, but in the end there was only one: enforce my understanding of myself, my internal reality, that I had a dude-like chest.

A super-sexual person, Ramona had humped her bed while reading the Bible as a child, and as I teased her, had probably rode her umbilical cord in the womb. With our increasingly constant sex, I was struggling to maintain the necessary mindset to stay present with the booby traps around every bend in my body. To avoid giving her a complex, I kept the depth of my challenges to myself until one night, when my roommates congratulated me on my one-month anniversary with Ramona. Erin had moved out immediately after her breakup with Bec six months before, and now it was only Jess, Melissa, and me, paying a bit more rent for some extra peace. Jess and Melissa were in the living room, telling me how proud they were of my one-month sex streak, and it set me off.

“I can’t take it anymore,” I exploded on to the two of them. “I feel like I’m having lesbian sex.”

“What the heck does that mean?” Melissa asked.

Remaining in the kitchen, I took a few steps closer to the couch where they sat with their laptops, and let my mounted frustrations spill out. “There’s just so many tits in the bedroom. Four of them. And mine are soooo much bigger,” I whined. “They take up all the space in the room.”

Melissa laughed in her half-amused, half-bemused way. Her breasts were huge, and I waited for her to concur, but only Jess nodded, prodding me to continue.

“It’s like even when I’m in the moment, I’m watching from the outside,” I said. “And all I can see are two people with the same bodies. Women.”

Now they were both nodding. Only Melissa spoke. “Isn’t there any way you could, I don’t know, get out of your head and stop watching?”

“I’m trying,” I complained. “But when I stop thinking, I tend to feel things more.” I told them about a fucked-up word I’d learned in Costa Rica for lesbian. “Tortillera. It means tortilla or something,” I said, mashing my palms together. “And every time my crotch rubs up against her body, it’s like I hear…” I began to smack my hands together. “You. Don’t. Have. A. Dick.” With my outburst came such a release of energy, of shame, that I felt calmer.

“Have you tried packing?” Jess asked.

Despite my initial excitement over my soft-pack experiment during the fall, I eventually found it annoying to have an artificial object in my briefs—don’t even get me started on riding my bike with it. But still, it had transformed my perception of that area of my body. What had once been my orgasm button, useful only to that end, was now something I could relate to if I thought of it as a teeny weeny, a mini-dick. Ramona was well aware of this, but neither of us reinforced it, and I had trouble holding on to my crucial self-understanding when I caught my dick looking like a pussy and rolling around made me feel like a tortilla. Even language failed to anatomically separate us since Ramona used the word beej on the receiving as well as the giving end; as she’d astutely pointed out, there’s no direct object equivalent to a blow job for women.

“I tried my softie once, at the very beginning,” I told Jess. Instead of my typical evasive crotch squirreling, I’d been able to comfortably press my bulge into her. “It was great until she grabbed me there and I panicked. I was all, ’It doesn’t do anything.’ I think I scared her.”

“You need a strap-on,” Jess said.

I sighed deeply and leaned back against the stove. The gas knob nailed me in the tailbone. Awesome, I thought, I’m going to need a goddamn costume change to have sex. What would I say? Excuse me for a sec while I suit up and swap my dick out—my boner is in the other room?

“Don’t look so dejected,” Melissa said. “This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a good thing.”

I was pretty sure everyone—Jess, Melissa, and plenty of lesbians—had strap-on sex. Ramona had even had strap-on sex, with cisgender guys, bendover boyfriends. I considered myself decent with my hands and mouth, but that was like being a hurdler and pole vaulter, good at two events when I wanted to be good at all of them, a decathlete. I was embarrassed to be so inexperienced, too old to be learning new tricks, nearly a thirty-year-old virgin.

I stormed off to my bedroom and returned to the living room, dropping my milk crate of useless toys on to the carpet with a thud. I pulled out each dildo—a marbled pink one, a double-sided blue swirly one, another long and ribbed one—for my roommates to reject with no argument from me. Had I been into sex toys, perhaps I would’ve used one years ago, but wearing a polka-dotted corkscrew would only ever have exacerbated the dickless awareness I tried to avoid. My stash, which was too dormant to bother me before, now taunted me with its ridiculousness. I held up a red and silver glittery harness. “I can’t wear this, right?”

“Not unless you have a cape to go with it,” Jess said.

There was no way I could do it in sparkles. I packed the stiff plastic harness back into the crate and carelessly tossed the dildos on top.

“The key is to find something that suits you, that you can connect with, so it’s yours. You,” Jess said.

Having gone down the soft-pack road, I understood the importance of connection, and once again, Jess agreed to escort me to Good Vibes.

In my room, I stacked my milk crates in opposite order—snowboarding gear on the bottom, biking gear in the middle, and sex gear on top. Across the pile I draped a patterned textile from my travels in Asia, nostalgic for the time when my only concerns for the day were what I would eat and where I would sleep, basic human needs that distracted me from another one—comfort in my body.

On Saturday morning, about to enter Good Vibes with Jess, I received my hourly hello text from Ramona. I texted back my hello and my location, along with, “Any requests?” and headed directly to the far wall with its display of realistic cocks. I passed over the Lone Star, Mustang, and Outlaw, renaming them Stubby, Boomerang, and Hung like a Horse, and picked up the relatively large Bandit. I ran my hand over the cut head, the textured arch of the Nina here nor there shaft, the balls that made the base. At a hundred dollars, it was expensive, but what other choice did I have—unlike most of my clothing, I couldn’t buy one of these used.

My phone vibrated. “No veins, balls, or flesh colors,” the text read.

I replied right away, banging out the letters: “There’s no way I’m getting some iridescent purple dolphin or twitching rabbit foo foo.” I shoved my phone into my pocket, pushing down my fear that Ramona and I were approaching an impasse, the veiny deal breaker.

I moved along the wall and my eyes landed on a black harness with silver buckles. I unclipped the apparatus from the hanger and slipped it on over my jeans. I tightened the waist straps and galloped over to Jess, turning a few times as if on a catwalk.

“I find it remarkable that for as little sex as you have, you’re totally comfortable parading around with a harness,” Jess said.

I was the opposite of comfortable. “Is it even on right?”

Jess nodded yes and explained the features to me. Then, for a few minutes, I obsessed over the pros and cons of this harness before Jess reminded me that it wouldn’t be the only one I ever owned, just my first.

My phone buzzed. Ramona’s text read: “Of course you want a dick that looks real. And I want my fantasy dick. Get what you need and we’ll figure it out. Just make sure it’s big enough :).” With that kind of encouragement, I grabbed a plastic tube with the Bandit, not caring that it only came in the root-beer color. I also purchased the black leather harness, even though it felt like a jerk move to bring a dead cow to bed with a vegan, especially one willing to meet my needs.

I laid the harness on my bed and, afraid that if I took it apart I’d never be able to put it together again, I decided to just loosen the four buckles. I stepped into it like I had in the store, except this time I was pantless and my new cock jutted through the O-ring.

I tightened the buckles and bent over to touch my toes. I readjusted the buckles and did a lunge. I engaged in more harness calisthenics and made a variety of adjustments before giving up on a perfect fit and tucking the four excess strap ends into the waist. I wished sex seemed appealing; I felt like I was going spelunking with a lead pipe attached to my crotch. Then I tried on a pair of boxers, and without the buckles, doohickeys, and straps visible—with only the Bandit, bowed toward my right thigh and raising the plaid cotton—I saw it. Manifest hard-on. Oh, I was in the mood.

The next day in Ramona’s bedroom, even with my jeans on over my boxers, the outline of my erection remained obvious. I’d already showed Ramona my items, shared with her my best stopwatch times for getting the rig on, and released so much angst that she must’ve been relieved when I shut up and kissed her. I was relieved. My worry disappeared the moment our lips touched, and I felt my whole body, one intact entity, drawn to her.

Finally, something in the room took up more space than my breasts. There was just no escape from the boner pushing through my jeans, screaming, “Pay attention to me.” Ramona’s confidence appeared to skyrocket with a place to put her hands, and where I had once done everything and anything to avoid looking at myself, now I couldn’t even blink. I watched as she rubbed the base of her palm along the rise in my denim. As she wrapped her hand around the curve and squeezed, my mind fused the big guy to my mini-man underneath, jolting my groin awake.

Ramona undid the button on my jeans and slid the zipper down. The sound of the teeth unhooking rang in my ears. She reached inside my boxers and tugged the cock up, toward my belly button.

“Shit, you really know what you’re doing,” I said. Ramona laughed. “I may have done this a few times.” On her bed, I lifted myself onto my knees, letting my jeans fall to the crook. Her hand worked inside my boxers, moving up and down. Focused so intently on the action, it took me a few seconds to realize I couldn’t feel more than a gentle knocking against my pelvis. Reaching inside my fly, she pulled out the cock. Holding it in one hand, she ran her tongue over the tip. She wrapped her lips around the end and slid down the shaft.

This was lighthearted fun, but for me it was also more, a safe space to explore boy phases, an opportunity to express the types of guys that lived inside of me.

I kept my eyes on her, trying not to think about what was actually in her mouth and how it tasted—like silicone, plastic, fake, not human. I hoped she wasn’t thinking either. When I got too caught up thinking about what she was thinking, too focused on the root-beer color that wasn’t my own skin, the buzzing stirred inside me, the voice that said: get out, get out now. I pulled back from her and distracted myself by grabbing hold of the dick and stroking it, alternating grips like dudes did in porn.

“That’s hot,” Ramona said. She removed what was left of her clothing and I peeled off my T-shirt. I reached toward the nightstand. “Should I wear a condom?” I asked.

“Why would you do that?” she answered.

I wasn’t sure. “Bacteria?” I tried. “Or, I don’t know, fuzz from my boxers?”

For a moment, her face softened, then her bed-humper eyes took over. “Do not put on a condom!” she demanded.

“I like it when you tell me what to do,” I said with a smirk. I removed only the lube from the drawer and rubbed some on the cock before going down on her, something that usually quieted my mind completely. But now nervous thoughts invaded: I had absolutely no rhythm, couldn’t even clap along to songs, was the worst dancer. What if I was physically incapable of doing this? Ramona hit me on the shoulder. “Fuck me. Now.”

I rose to her face and kissed her before she guided the cock inside of her. I couldn’t feel much down there except the space between us fading away as she pulled me in deeper, opening her mouth in pleasure. Soon, I was sweating, concentrating so hard on thrusting that I couldn’t possibly pay attention to anything else. The base of the cock, the balls, hit against my pubic bone, helping with control but little in the way of feeling.

When her bed started to squeak, we both giggled. I wrapped my hands around the top side of the mattress for leverage. I wished I was bigger and stronger than her, that I had ab muscles and stamina. I was too focused on getting the job done to enjoy myself, and felt only relief that she came before I had a coronary. Afterward, she didn’t want me to move, so I collapsed, resting all of my weight on her. Both of us were coated in sweat, our bodies stuck together around my Frog Bra.

Once we caught our breath, she suggested we try a position where I could see the cock going in and out. She rose to her hands and knees and I set myself up behind her. From this angle, I could see everything. And my eyes nearly bugged out at what I saw.

A dick, my dick, was moving inside of her.

Ramona’s three favorite activities were sleeping, eating, and fucking. This was something she’d say with proud hedonism and her self-conscious belly laugh, as if she knew there were more important things in life, she just didn’t care. Forever a student, she treated the summer like she always had, as vacation. Even without classes, she maintained the same hours at the salon, and while she had independent study coursework, her only goal was to produce first draft material for her thesis, whereas I had to finish mine. For the few hours a day she was at work, I wrote at her house or her local coffee shop, which left us with an enormous amount of time to spend the rest of the summer perfecting her three favorite activities.

Once I embraced my dick, which I decided called for a dorky, Jewish name, like “Isaac,” sex monopolized our time. Ramona could get me to do anything, as long as she enticed me with the comment, “Boys love this.” I always enjoyed her suggestions, but I also appreciated that she included me in the collective of cis boys—a group she was physically attracted to—and wasn’t just calling me a “boy” to placate me. We threw role-playing into the mix, occasionally cowriting detailed scripts with me assuming well-developed characters like a faggy frat boy and a middle school student who gets a special lesson from his math teacher. This was lighthearted fun, but for me it was also more, a safe space to explore boy phases, an opportunity to express the types of guys that lived inside of me.

When we weren’t fucking, we were eating. We shopped at the farmer’s market, and together we’d make stir-fries with tempeh, nut sauces, fruit salads, and baked goods from Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World. We also created a vegan-friendly restaurant circuit. The best was Sunday mornings when Ramona would roll over all sleepy eyed and request brunch at the Pork House for their killer tofu scramble.

To recover from all the eating and sex, we slept a lot, or at least rested, almost always at Ramona’s house because her room had more privacy than mine. We often opened the huge window beside her bed, watched the breeze rustle the leaves on the bougainvillea tree, and pretended we were outside. Sometimes we wrote like this as well, sitting next to each other in our matching writing uniforms—navy-blue hooded sweatshirts—typing away on our laptops with the occasional chuckle to ourselves.

Art parties at her salon, literary events, lazing around the park, vegging out in front of the TV—the activity didn’t matter, the adventure was Ramona. We had constant repartee, gave everything a sexual innuendo, and could discuss books, writing, and the merits of the Michaels—Ondaatje, Chabon, Cunningham, and Lewis—for hours on end.

At the end of the summer, I turned in my thesis, officially finishing graduate school. I rewarded myself by planning a trip to visit my best friend from college in Scotland, with a preliminary stop on the East Coast to visit my parents and my brother. Like gay pride weekend, a week with my parents always seemed like a good idea until it dragged on and on, ended in exhaustion, and left me swearing I’d never participate again, only to forget by the following year. Had I not been leaving Ramona for three weeks, I probably would’ve been more excited about the entire trip. But when you’re in that relationship phase where you sing along to Top 40 love songs on the radio, leaving your girlfriend isn’t the best idea.

Neither was bringing up the possibility of making out with other people while I was gone, which I did, about a week before I left in September. We were on her bed, pretending to be outdoors. She bit her lower lip and stared out the window. “I don’t want to make out with other people,” she said.

“It’s just an option,” I said, even though I had no interest in making out with anyone else either. I rarely, if ever, spoke honestly, or created any space between us, ignoring all my instincts to take time for myself, afraid both of being alone and of hurting her. But something about our approaching separation pushed me forward. As I watched her eyes fill with tears, my mouth moved without instruction. “I think of this as our first adult relationship,” I said. “The first of many.”

“Why do you have to be so negative, pessimistic?” she replied. “It’s like you’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Why can’t you just enjoy this?”

“I am enjoying this,” I said. Ramona fixed my collar, told me I was dreamy, cut my hair, and picked out my cologne; I was enjoying my third adolescence, after the high school one, after the dyke one. I was twenty-nine going on eighteen, with all the hope and happiness of a teenager falling in love for the first time, and all the maturity of someone who knows that first loves don’t last forever. Or at least that this one wouldn’t. “I’m sorry I brought it up,” I said. “I’m so sorry.”

Copyright © 2011 by Nick Krieger

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**Nick Krieger** is the author of the memoir Nina Here Nor There: My Journey Beyond Gender (May 10, 2011). His writing has earned several travel-writing awards and has been published in multiple travel guides. He lives in San Francisco. Visit him online at www.nickkrieger.com.

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