One Of Us

[An online conversation between assorted Forge employees.]

Robert (the newest Forgeling): “A customer claiming to be the last surviving heir to the Heldenfels fortune is flirting with me. The stories he’s telling are mind-boggling.”

Nuke: “How methy does he look?”

Me: “Southern queen? Kinda tooth-deficient?”

Nuke: “Does he have a cane and white hair pulled back in a ponytail?”

Rok: “Has he made costumes for Cher?”

Robert: “…”

I feel a little bad that Robert’s report of the weirdest customer ever was met with a jaded “Which one?” But on the upside, he a) successfully navigated the transaction, and b) did not run screaming from the building afterwards. I mean, he still needs to survive the oily drunk who tries to spank everyone, the sweaty hippie who always wants hugs, and the tall, bearish dude who doesn’t understand personal space and who also strikes me as someone neighbors would describe as “quiet, kept to himself” while police excavate bodies from beneath his porch, but barring those particular tests of fortitude, I do believe our Robert is going to work out just fine.

Songs in the Key of Kween

Instead of recapping last night’s show, I’ve decided to share a tweet from the indelible Orin Slade:

If you’re not listening to @mjforgeries on Facets of Leather right now, here’s some of what you’ve missed so far!


Eerily accurate.

Robert picked all the music this time around, and to commemorate my return from IML, he thoughtfully chose tracks (including the following) that relate to beauty pageants. Rub some Vaseline on those dry teeth and enjoy.


Me: [answering the phone at my day job] “Good morning, thank you for calling [redacted].”

Homeowner: “Hello. I have a document that I’m supposed to get notarized and return to my community’s manager, and I’ve heard…” [she lowers her voice] “… I’ve heard that your company has a notary onsite.”

Me: “We do. In fact… I am that notary.”

Homeowner: *gasp*

I have no clue why this call devolved into melodrama so quickly, but nonetheless, I feel downright beguiling, you guys.

Open for Repairs

[The door to the Forge’s bar store is basically a large, wooden panel on gliders that locks from the outside. As it is the end of my shift, I have shut everything down and am counting my drawer, when the door suddenly slides open, and a customer pokes his head in.]

Customer: “Are you closed?”

Me: “Yes, we are.”

Customer: “What time do you close?”

Me: “We close at 11.”

Customer: [glancing at his watch] “Oh. Well, can I come in and look around a little?”

Me: “No, I’m sorry. We’re closed.”

Customer: [walking into the store and looking around] “Do you carry cock rings?”

Me: “We do, but–”

Customer: “I’m trying to find a black one. Like, stretchy… what do you call it… that stuff scuba suits are made out of.”

Me: “Neoprene.”

Customer: “Yeah, that’s it! Do you carry those?”

Me: “No.”

Customer: “Do you carry big, metal cock rings?”

Me: “Yes, but we–”

Customer: “Oh, hey! Here they are! I’m going to get one.”

Me: [glaring balefully]

Customer: “Except… you’re… closed.”

Me: “You noticed.”

While I’m proud of myself for standing my ground in the face of an invasive customer with boundary issues, I am also totally buying a metal cock ring tonight to assuage my guilt over missing a decent sale. This is called reclaiming my neuroses.

Achievement Unlocked

In honor of both Queer Liberation and the traditional passive aggression that is my heritage, I replaced the utilitarian fob on the office restroom key with a Trans Pride Flag:


Granted, no one in my office even knows that there is a Trans Pride Flag, but the fact that it’s currently allowing everyone access to the powder room makes me very happy on a deeply subversive level. And if somebody in one of the suites around ours notices and freaks out, I’ll organize a kiss-in and set my phaser lawyer to “vaporize.” It really doesn’t get much more win/win than that.

I mean, I always assumed I’d end up on a True Crime show, but this is not how I pictured it.

Me: “Hello! How’re you?”

Customer: [incoherent mumbling]

Me: “Ah. Well, let me know if I can help with anything.”

Customer: [incoherent] “Sex…” [incoherent]

Me: “Pardon me?”

Customer: [incoherent] “… have sex with…” [incoherent]

Me: “I… didn’t quite catch that.”

Customer: “Tonight…” [incoherent] “… sex.”

Me: “… Oh. Right, then.”

Customer: “Yes.”

Me: “Yes?”

Customer: [creepy grin]

In conclusion, I may or may not have just unwittingly signed off on my own unfortunate demise. Somebody please start flipping through my Facebook profile pics and decide which one would be the most flattering on the side of a milk carton, and in return, I’ll leave you something pawnable in my will.

Spawned with a Leather Spoon on My Arm

The IML weekend festivities climax (so to speak) with the Black and Blue Ball, which takes place on the evening of Memorial Day. Everything I’d heard about this particular to-do made it sound like a bacchanalia of mythic proportions, and I’d been looking forward to it for well over a year, especially since IML contestants receive free tickets. I mean, debaucherous and patriotic and budget-friendly? Bring on the dancing boys! Literally!

I woke up that Monday at a decent hour, ate a hearty breakfast, bummed around the hotel, cruised through the Leather Market, and generally took it easy, wanting to conserve energy for the big night ahead of me. Later in the afternoon, one of my IML brothers sent out a message announcing a show tune sing-along at a video bar in Boystown, which sounded like a lot of fun on paper, although something in the back of my brain started twinging at the thought of it. Regardless, I hopped in an Uber with a group of friends and headed to the venue.

Once there, I understood that I’d made a calculated error. Running around Chicago in combat boots for four days had taken a toll on my sciatica, and I had some trouble navigating the stairs up to the rooftop lounge where all of the IML people had gathered. Additionally, the place was crowded as all get-out, and the dense horde of raucous strangers was murder on my panic disorder. Being determined, I socialized to the best of my ability, then hobbled back to the first floor and found an out-of-the-way corner booth in which to try to relax and stretch out my lower back, but I finally had to admit defeat. Everyone else was planning on going straight to Black and Blue, so I let a couple of the guys know that I’d be there in an hour or so and caught a cab back to the hotel. I crawled up the stairs to my floor, let myself into my room, collapsed on the bed, and, as anxious waves started crashing against the eroded shore of my psyche, realized I was not going the fuck anywhere.

Are you familiar with Spoon Theory? If not, it’s basically a method of quantifying physical and psychological resources. Any given task to be completed requires the sacrifice of a metaphorical spoon: Most people have drawers and dishwashers full of spoons, but those of us who deal with chronic illness and/or “neurodiversity” (as the kids call it these days) are limited in the number of spoons we’re allotted. I was running low on spoons by the time I got to the sing-along, cashed in way too many of them trying to act normal while I was there, then used up my last two returning to the hotel and making it all the way to my room. As badly as I wanted to go to the Black and Blue Ball, I was just… spoonless.

I messaged the guys to let them know I wasn’t going to attend, and they were all completely sympathetic, which honestly made me feel worse. Logically, I knew that they were glad I was taking care of myself and doing what I needed to do to preserve my well-being, but in my head this translated to admitting, “I’m a differently-sane wussy,” and my brothers averring, “Yes. Yes, in fact you are.” And yeah, that’s a skewed perspective on the situation, but it’s hard to see things realistically when the goop in my skull that exists specifically to help me discern truth from fiction starts fibbing.

I lay on my bed and watched Cartoon Network until the anxiety died down and the sense of failure faded (so, y’know, time passed), and as I slowly began to feel human again, an even more differently-sane idea coalesced. I grabbed a Sharpie and some paper and started doodling, and the next day, with a design firmly set, I wandered around until I found a tattoo parlor.

An hour and a half later, I walked out with three alchemical symbols etched on the inside of my forearm.

The first is the symbol for blood, to represent family — specifically chosen family, like my 70 new brothers, who were nothing but supportive during my lapse in invulnerability, even if I wasn’t able to process it at the time. The second symbol is a crescent moon, to remind me that I have spiritual resources to fall back on during moments of anxiety or depression. (The Moon is also associated with the number 9, which was my number during the competition.) And the third, a continuous line of zig-zags and curly-ques, is the symbol for half an ounce; in other words, a tablespoon.

From here on out, no matter what stunts my broken brain tries to pull, I will always have one spoon left.

Alchemy, whether material or metaphysical, is all about change for the better. Having a few archaic squiggles inked into my skin is not by any means the solution to my mental health issues, but it is an outward sign that I’m going to keep working until I’m better, too. And it’s a handy note-to-self that no matter what my mind is trying to make me believe, the truth is that I’m a lot more okay than I think I am.

So here it is, in all its overthought glory: Oddly placed, hard to explain, imperfect, and still healing. Just like me.

And that’s exactly how we’re supposed to be.


Prompt Service

Customer: “Could I get a bottle of video head cleaner, please?”

Me: “Sure, coming right up.”

Customer: “Gotta keep those video heads clean, right?”

Me. “Ha! Indeed.”

Customer: “Because you don’t want the video to… get stuck…”

Me: “…”

Customer: “So… you need the head cleaner to… to… uh…”

Me: “You’ve got this.”

Customer: “… to make sure… um… the video… can…”

Me: “Keep going.”

Customer: “… to make sure the video can… uh… be… inserted…”

Me: “I’m right here with you.”

Customer: “… to make sure the video can be inserted and removed repeatedly without damaging the VCR.

Me: “Bam. Good job! That’s be $17.31.”

Customer: [beams with pride]

When I was younger, my parents desperately wanted me to become a teacher. I was always resistant to the idea, but at least now I know that if worse came to worse and I had to switch careers, I could definitely shepherd a kindergartner or two through their first school play.

It’s Like the Hero’s Journey with an Added Extortion Component

In Chicago, 71 gay men — flung mercilessly into the spotlight and pitted against one another in the High Cow Hunger Games — locked arms, banded together, and declared themselves brothers.

Meanwhile, in Houston, two of my straight co-workers just got into a knock-down, drag-out screaming match over a salad.

This whole “Return to the Real World” is a lot more grating than I thought it would be. Fortunately, I’m the only one in the office with keys to the restrooms, so everyone else can either simmer the hell down or invest in Depends. I’ll leave it for them to decide.

I Competed at IML and All I Got Was a Renewed Sense of Self-Worth and a Kick-Ass Tattoo*

I’m not going to tell you about getting spanked with a Bible (King James Version). I’m not going to tell you about the extemporaneous Dreamgirls performance in the dressing room, or getting all choked up onstage when the guy to my left leaned over and whispered, “You know we’re in the end of the Tom of Finland movie right now, right?” And I’m not going to tell you why I gave that guy the nickname Olympia.

I’m not going to tell you why anyone yelling, “GET IN THE FUCKING UBER, JONATHAN,” will forever cause me to crack helplessly the fuck up. I’m not going to tell you about the Incident in the Stairwell, or the late-night recovery meeting that went gloriously south, or randomly bumping into the model from my favorite animated GIF**. Instead, I’m going to tell you about a text conversation I just had with my IML brother Travis.

Travis: “How are you?”

Me: “I am hanging in there. Heading back to the day job this morning, with event-drop kicking in. Hopefully I won’t have too big of a meltdown in front of the vanilla co-workers.”

Travis: “You’ll be fine. And if you do have a meltdown, just tell them your dog passed away. His name was Billingsworth, and you had him for 12 years. He was a poodle.”

Me: “Billingsworth once pulled me out of a lake to save me from drowning and jumped on my chest until I started breathing again. I miss him.”

Travis: “But he humped all the houseplants.”

Me: “Hey, everyone deserves love. #NoLabels.”

I’m sharing this particular interchange, because even after the fact, it sums up my IML experience perfectly. I was terrified of Travis when I met him, just like I was terrified of Ben, and Brian, and Magnus, and Mark, and Scott, and Scotty, and Taliesin, and all of the other beautiful men with twisted senses of humor who just… got me, and who became my closest friends and emotional support during the competition.

Maybe I’ll get around to telling those other stories once I’ve readjusted and settled back into normalcy (except for the stairwell thing; that shit is under lock and key). For now, though, I will tell you that I placed 25th out of 71 contestants, and I am ecstatic — not because of the score itself, but because I was a part of the IML Class of 2018; because even if I’d come in 72nd, I would’ve done so as myself.

I (literally) bared it all in Chicago, and the people around me cheered — not because I was the most handsome or the best built or the smartest or the wittiest, but because I was me.

And I am so fucking proud of me for that.

*Photo and explanation of the tattoo to be posted as soon as it finishes healing. It’s currently in the gory, scabby phase but will be ready for its closeup in a couple of days or so.

**See? He’s not CGI after all. And probably not a hologram.ManagerNP