Coming Out and of Age in China — By Massoud Hayoun


He would have been my first, I suppose—a Korean student at some other school in Beijing’s Wudaokou university district.

I’d met him on a website. You’re the first and only person I’ve ever admitted that to, handsome reader. I suppose I want to feel closer to you.

I was 19, Arab-American, studying Mandarin and poli sci at a Chinese university. I was exceptionally awkward, and still under the impression that no one knew I was gay. They all knew and indulged me my illusions of illusiveness.

He was in his mid-20s. School was hard for him, he said, in our brief chat on a website for gay men in Asia.

I’d heard of a class of Korean students like him—unsuccessful and blowing their family’s money away learning Mandarin, while China busily worked itself into the world’s second-largest economy. Their parents wouldn’t let them come home until they obtained a certificate of completion, and the Chinese universities appeared keen to keep accepting international student tuition fees, even if they were from the same students, year-in, year-out.

He was foreign—not just in the sense that we were of two different nationalities, living in China. He was a bad student, a rich kid, a magnificently athletic loser with a Rocky-like neanderthal chin and tall nose, the kind of man who is called, in Chinese, a baijiazi, a son who spoils his family’s wealth. Fresh, preppy. He wore clothes my Chinese friends paid twice as much for at the bazaars: Korean fashion. His man-bag was made of real leather. He was a petit bourgeois; every lock of hair had been calculated and every pore tightened, perhaps surgically, because he had the time, money and inclination. He turned me on.

I went to meet him by the eastern gate of campus. It was after midnight—I passed my dorm’s night staff without making eye-contact. I’d known a few men by then. Some had spent the night at my dorm room. The front desk staff and security guards had already started to talk. I never heard what they were saying, probably because I knew I couldn’t handle it at the time. Now, I enjoy that I gave them a way to pass what can be the unbearable boredom of watching other people live, since that’s what I’ve chosen to do as a journalist.

I walked quickly on the asphalt paved avenues of campus, some lit only by the moonlight, hurrying past patches of verdure, still glistening from their nighttime watering. Winter was dying; the dry chill of the Gobi Desert—which I always planned to walk to from our university one oppressively class-filled day, but still never did—had subsided. I walked with purpose, because I thought I would, as I had before, suddenly realize I was ashamed of myself and turn back.

He saw and passed me, at first, continuing into the cavernous depths of my campus. Upon reflection, he turned around. I had shaggy hair—a real mop, with a side-swept surfer fringe, incomprehensible anywhere but in my native Los Angeles in the early 2000s. And I was wearing an oppressively busy baby-blue zip-up sweatshirt with skulls and crossbones. And rockets and stars. And Batman words like POW. Cargo shorts. Some colorful felt sneakers, smeared with soot from the academic asphalt. I was a vision. An American dream, you might say.

We walked toward my dorm for a few minutes. I occasionally looked to his expressionless face for some sign of life that could extinguish the flames of self-awareness rising in my throat.

It’s just for one night, he said, without so much as a glance, in his irksomely moan-y Mandarin. That was all he said. I didn’t respond. I felt slighted. How could he not want to spend an eternity with me? Only a few years later, after having had a lot of sex—perhaps to prove to myself that I was, indeed, desirable—I would have been overcome with relief.
“It’s just for one night.”


Does the patriarchy hire men like this to make us so self-loathing and insecure that we inevitably end by offering rabid coitus to anyone with testosterone? Is it that diabolical a set-up? Possibly.

Back in my room, I unceremoniously turned off the light and lay on my back. Still resentful, I decided he’d do all the work. He took off my pants, my knock-off Calvin Klein underwear. My socks, he slowly rolled down, like a scene from the Lolita remake with Melanie Griffith I’d fantasized about as a child—I’d only seen the trailer on TV.

He was wearing no underwear that I can recall. He was muscular, beautiful. He smelled of cosmetic powder. His penis was a good 6.5 inches long, thick, uncut but not oppressively so.

I was suddenly overcome by a feeling that I wanted him to love me. I wanted him to have loved me before he used me in what I then thought was an ungodly way.

I didn’t care that I couldn’t respect him back; I wanted to have spent time being respected. It was too late, I’d have to pretend. That’s what I did for a few years, while being loved and respected were erotic, I’d have to pretend.

He put on a condom he’d brought, after some ritual fumbling—visibly flexing his biceps as he tore the plastic packaging. He was his own sexual act. I had been invited to be a passive voyeur, apparently because otherwise he’d be a tree falling in the forest, making no sounds. I was not unhappy.

He laid himself down on me. He didn’t kiss me. Not anywhere. He bit my neck with his dull, stubby teeth, glistening from the moonlight that crept through the window above our heads and shoved what I’m gonna say was half of his 6.5 inches into my ass, before I saw the heavens open up above us in whirling fury and swallow, into the all-penetrating darkness of that dorm room, every last bit of serotonin left in my erratic brain.

The only art in his penetration was that, with his bit of flesh, he’d suddenly transformed me and my anus into something terrible—something intensely offensive to most of the world’s fascists and institutionalists. Religious conservatives of virtually every doctrine spend countless dollars making sure I don’t do what I did with my anus and don’t teach their children to do the same. Until just a few years before, what I was doing was classified as a mental illness in the People’s Republic of China, where I was doing it. In Africa, I would have been killed, along with modern-day witches. In the Middle East, in my family’s home countries, I was a good candidate for testosterone injections and three years’ imprisonment. In the U.S., I’d prepped myself for years of being called a faggot, on the street and even on the job. Three point two-five inches of pure magic.

Still, I told him to go home. I’m not ready, I said. I offered no further explanation. I may not have been a fashion guru, but I realized, suddenly, that I had the immense power of being able to leave him hanging, quite literally. All 6.5 inches. Another instance of magic, in what had been an evening of Fantasia-esque proportions.

Of course, he lingered there for a few minutes, like I’d change my mind and let him cum—like I was foolish not to. Perhaps he’d say something else that would cut me deeply, about my clothes or my ass. Or perhaps if I stood there smiling at my newfound powers, he’d have to leave, if only for fear of being in an odd, smirking stranger’s room late at night. And so it was.

Bu limao, he said repeatedly in his caveman Chinese, as he dressed himself and left. Impolite. Today, after realizing I’m a top and not much else, I marvel at how impolite I was for having only taken what was probably half of his neanderthal dick. I suppose I’ve never learned my manners. Since then, I’ve almost only had sex because I’ve wanted to.

But back then, I remember crying—a largely dry weep, in frustration. I was only worth one kind of sex, I thought. The one kind I’d ever had, to be practical—one without any tenderness. Nothing cinematic. Of course, the perhaps thousands of men I’ve slept with subsequently have disproven that, kinda sorta. There are very many kinds of sex. And as a porn star-philosopher told me for an article I recently wrote, there’s no better way to understand humanity—the very formulaic range of potential caprices and mannerisms—than having fucked a lot. I am a fucking sage-femme, assholes. Bow to me.

I still don’t count the bad student as my first, although, by all definitions, he was.

In the gay world, not being perfectly symmetrical, perfectly dressed, muscled, young-looking or moneyed is a mortal sin. If you miss a step somehow, you fade into the walls of a gay bar, what is decidedly our LGBT agora—or what’s worse, you fade into some niche subset of the gay community. The bears. The otters. The zoo. I felt, back then, that I belonged in a cage.

For a good two minutes before the next man who wanted me, whoever he was—I’ve forgotten—released me. Not from my virginity, but a plague of my own imperfections imperfections, some of which returned and will follow me to the grave. He had that power.

Massoud Hayoun is a 29-year-old Arab-American journalist based in New York City who has worked/struggled/copulated in China, the MENA region and France. He has had sex with thousands of men, and has realized that on his deathbed, he will be no more than a sum of his life experiences.

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