It’s Saturday morning, and our usual routine – we wake up late, cuddle, explore each other, have sex. We make breakfast together, omelets because they’re your favorite, coffee because it’s mine, and start to feel productive. You decide to wash your car, I want to make tweaks to the website I’m building. I need to make headers, preferably with icons, and you offer up your laptop – it is has Photoshop, you say. Use that.
For a moment, I feel great pride at who we are as a couple. Sharing technology is the modern equivalent to moving in, exchanging keys, baring your soul.
You head outside, and I poke around Photoshop and deciding to find a practice picture that will fit with the site theme. I open a browser window, and begin to type out “Flickr” because I know they have open-source photos. Inadvertently, I also begin to type out the end to this great day.
Three letters in, F-l-i-, the drop-down menu shows up, listing suggestions. I glance down, smirking that the first on the list is “Flirtomatic.” So many people looking for love.
My face changes, though, as I glance down the list, and notice that it is not made entirely of suggestions. The bottom half includes a series of previously visited web pages, and my eyes move down before I can yank them to safety. I see that where you have been is a series of Craigslist ads, Backpage sites, and a few others I don’t recognize but that contain our city’s name. It’s an odd moment, and far away in my head, I’m laughing because Explorer has pulled a fast one. None of these pages begin with “Fli.” What am I doing here?
The game isn’t over, though, and I notice that there are phrases repeated in the end of each URL: t4m. t4m. I know that code. I’ve written articles about the history of dating on and offline online. M4m, f4m, m4f. It’s for classifieds. But what is “t”? My mind scrambles to hit delete, CTRL Z, whatever takes these things back, but it’s too late. T is transsexual. T4M. You are the M, looking for a T.
What am I doing here?
A little over a year ago, we started building an Android app together. Since I have a Mac, we used your desktop computer, and (however inefficient) bounced files back and forth through email. One day I went to pull up the most recent files from your Downloads folder, and found that among the spreadsheets and databases, the folder contained other… things. Mostly, they appeared to be videos. Porn videos. Lots and lots of porn videos. I wasn’t particularly shocked, you’re a man after all, but I noticed that not all the titles were about cheerleaders and blowjobs from blondes. Some contained phrases I couldn’t quite place – T-girl? Shemale? I clicked a file, my curiosity officially piqued, and there it was. Two people with the parts of men but the appearance of women, having anal sex and performing fellatio and all the things I’d seen before except… these were… men? I quickly scrolled across the 40 minutes of scenes before closing the frame. I thought I’d seen it all, but this was different. My otherwise straight, 25-year-old boyfriend was watching… “trannies”?
I asked you about it when you got home from the lab, and you blushed but quickly recovered – “Oh, those were part of prank,” you said, “We put those on Nick’s USB.”
I mentioned that the download history spanned over the course of weeks, and these videos were not in a block, but intermittent. You got defensive. “If you don’t believe me, call Nick!” you said. I backed off. I didn’t want to call Nick.
Over the course of the next few months, I wondered briefly about those videos. You seemed really interested in anal sex (something I’d never done, and wasn’t ready to do), and had a “thing” for extremely muscular women. The pictures you found titillating I found bizarre. The women did not look like women. They had muscles and figures that mirrored, quite frankly, men.
I tried to bring it up a few more times, but you shut down. I was being ridiculous, you said, and I believed you. My subconscious wasn’t so easily fooled, though, and intermittently left reminders that you were hiding a part of yourself. Maybe you should stop watching so much porn, I suggested lightly, trying a more indirect route. I hear it’s not good for relationships. You agree, and say you’ll stop. No more porn, you promise, for us. For our sake.
Six months ago, we were planning a trip to my parents house, you opened your computer while sitting beside me on the couch. There was porn, playing out in graphic detail. This time, my subconscious wasn’t whispering. It was berating me with screams. Our sex was frequent, inventive, and I did everything in my power to keep you happy in that regard. When did you even have time for pornography?
I asked you how often you watched it, you said a few times a week, which was more discouraging than I let on. I did the math in silence: We were apart, at the most, three times a week. When together, we usually had sex twice a day, morning and night, and occasionally in the afternoon or even all day on weekends. Was it me? Was it you? How did this add up to some insatiable need for external stimuli?
Again, you said you’d stop, but it wasn’t until a few months later that you called to announce it was for real. You came across a webpage on porn addiction, and I guess something about it resonated, because you swore you’d really quit this time — for yourself, for me, for our relationship.
That was three months ago, but here I am, in your kitchen, opening a webpage on this sunny Saturday to find a series of personal ads, descriptions of people on the market for various forms of sex. I scrambled to find some Hail Mary hope while simultaneously bracing myself for the next blow. Maybe it was a fluke; maybe somehow these sites were coming up for no reason. I glanced over the page to find some sort of out, an explanation that would make this a humorous event, one we would laugh over. What I found was a deep sense of panic — many of the links were a different color, purple instead of blue. They’d been clicked. You’d been here. These pages were part of your history, and now, part of mine.
I called you in from the garage that day, asked you to explain. My hands and my voice were shaking, but I didn’t really crack until I saw your face fall. You turned red, began saying my name over and over, swearing you were just looking at the pictures because you’d given up videos, given up “porn.”
A word keeps repeating itself in my head, one that appeared on the title of so many of those purple links: Escortsescortsescorts. They were in our city. They were online. You were online, looking at their services. These… escorts.
The way you say it, these sites should make me feel better. No more videos, that’s why we’re here. That’s your explanation. But, the words again: escorts. Escorts.escorts.
Videos or escorts, which did I prefer? I didn’t want to choose. I didn’t want either. I didn’t want to be here. I just wanted you.
I grabbed my things and left your place, driving home without the radio, without calling anyone, just driving. I thought this would never be us, because you were my best friend. We talked about everything, sometimes rings, living together, how many kids we want. In comparison it seemed so minor, two years of togetherness versus five minutes finding those history pages, but I couldn’t push it away. The escorts. The dates on the listings in early June, the week I’d gone home to be with family. I was out of town, and you were looking at escorts.
You call a dozen times that night, then show up unannounced the next day. Your explanation is that this fetish — transsexual men — is a result from years of watching porn as a teen and an adult. You say you love me, that this is it, it’s done, and will never be a problem again. But I’ve heard the same speech before, at 6 months ago, 3 months, last year. What you won’t say is that it’s like an addiction, that you obviously can’t stop, and I’m sad because I understand addiction far too well.
Regardless, for both of us it will do no good to look back or to blame – there’s no way to save our past selves, to take on the porn industry or whatever vices we might choose. We live in a society where bad things are easily available, to youth and to everyone, things that pick us up, drop us down, and leave us to deal with the consequences. The most we can do is fix our current selves, and perhaps warn others. We are the adults now. We are not the victims.
So, even while you beg me to scream at you, so say I hate you and that you are disgusting, I don’t hate you, or find you disgusting. I just feel hurt, and I miss you, and I want this to go away. I contemplate pretending it’s nothing, that we can move on, but I know that this is the end of us. I’m saddened that you only swear to stop because you got “caught.” I wonder if you had leveled with me about your intrigue with these men who look like women, or women with the parts of men, I wouldn’t be so scared. Scared of not knowing you, of life as the fool who blindly trusts while you meet escorts, the partner who will never understand you or your fascination with what I cruelly call “things.”
I will never feel peace knowing that there is a side of you wanting something beyond what I can provide, and that you are willing to hide it from me while exploring it on your own. If we are here now, 2 years in, where will we be in 5 years? Or 10? Does this sort of thing ever go away, or does it just escalate? I suspect the answer is “escalate,” and I don’t want to spend the rest of my life wondering if that week I’m out of town, your urges are more powerful than our bond.
I wish you the best of luck in finding yourself, and figuring this out. If I hate anything, it’s that pornography and personal ads tore us apart, and that you let it happen. I genuinely didn’t see that one coming, and even now, it just doesn’t seem worth it. It really just doesn’t seem worth it.