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Questioning

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A year indoors. A year alone. A whole year to himself—to think, to feel, to reflect and create. It was simultaneously a dream come true and the last thing Bo ever wanted.

It was true that he had been craving some quiet time to himself ever since he had started thinking about touring a new live show once again. If he wanted to look at the glass as half-full, he could see this enforced quarantine as a sort of artist retreat, a meditative sanctuary. But as hard as he tried to manipulate his own mind into seeing the positives of the situation, the so-called upside looked more like suffocating grey smog than a silver lining.

Within a few months, he found himself at the uneasy intersection of vague summer purposelessness and ambiguous quarantine uncertainty; already so deep into this new pandemic life, but knowing there was still so much more left. He spent the first few months wondering why he felt so exasperated by the situation even though he was comfortably housed, financially stable, and everyone he knew was luckily remaining physically healthy. He really didn't have much to complain about. So why did he want to complain so damn much?

He was struck with the sense that there was something revealing, significant, and invigorating about this moment in history. He felt as though the sudden, all-consuming chaos of the pandemic had thrown every facet of society into sharp relief, that all the background shit people subconsciously perceived but largely disregarded—systematic oppression, income inequality, and the rest of it—had finally become impossible to ignore. The real question was: what to do about it?

His response was to shut himself in his studio and begin to create. Immediately, it felt artistically fulfilling: no deadlines, no producers breathing down his neck, no one to answer to but his own imagination. But he knew that comedy could only help so much. And in the meantime, it left him feeling dreadfully, dismally lonely.

In reality, he wasn't alone. Or at least, he never needed to be: his girlfriend Lorene was always just a few yards away in her office, working on her own projects. But something about being enclosed for hours on end in that small white room always tricked his mind into thinking he was on another planet. Every time he ducked his head beneath that too-low doorframe it was like entering Narnia or sliding down the rabbit hole. It was his own space away from the world, away from the expectations of others. He was left with only himself, to grapple with his mind and body, to contend with his own personality and flaws, to face his strengths and weaknesses. To take himself for what and who he really was.

Sometimes he imagined that he was locked away in solitary confinement or trapped at the bottom of a shaft in a coal mine. He couldn't help but think he now had a decent idea of what it would be like to be the lone survivor of a zombie apocalypse, a nuclear holocaust, a biblical day of reckoning that judged everyone else but left him in limbo.

He acted differently when he was alone in that room. Separate from society, he was a different person. He began to develop new habits, private rituals, a customized culture, a civilization of one. He could never really escape the world, but for a few hours every day, he could indulge in a damn realistic illusion of escape.

Sometimes he wasn't sure he recognized himself anymore. And he didn't know whether that was a good thing or a bad thing.

Because it was a scorching summer in Los Angeles and his air conditioner was faulty, he spent days on end wearing just his underwear or less. He figured that clothes were a relic of the old society anyway. He had never been much of a nudist before, but in this context, lurking around naked felt natural, organic. With his ever-lengthening hair and beard, he felt like a prehistoric cave-dweller, some kind of primitive Neanderthal, raw, stripped down, and vulnerable.

The first time he jerked off inside the room, he made sure to double and triple-check that all his cameras and recording equipment were definitely off. He felt paranoid that he missed something and was somehow documenting or even broadcasting this intimate moment. It was weird, being horny alone like this. His energy wasn't really directed toward any person or thing or idea, it was just pure libido, instinctual, thrumming through his body. It felt right, so he did it again. And again.

He could have had actual sex if he wanted to. Lorene was never opposed to a midday quickie, after all. Sometimes he did choose to go that route, but when he did, it wasn't the same, it didn't satisfy the same urge or feed the same hunger.

Lorene never bothered or disturbed him in there, not once during the entire year. She left him alone to his process. He was grateful to feel assured of privacy; it freed him to try things he would never try if he were constantly worried about any part of the real world knocking at his door.

Stuck in his room, Bo could do whatever he wanted, he could surrender to any impulse. For the first few months, he tried being naked, but as time went on and the special progressed, he tried dressing up. It started as testing out props: he had bought several outfits for various music videos and filmed himself wearing a janitor's jumpsuit, t-shirts with sassy slogans, various other costumes and accessories. He went from having no idea what his size would be in women's clothes to having a closet full of them. The clothes were comfortable and he generally didn't bother changing out of them once the scene was over. He had ordered a few skirts and dresses that didn't make it into the final edit of the special and he wore them around while doing behind-the-scenes work. Editing footage with a long flowy skirt cascading down his legs, setting up the next shot in a stretchy form-fitting bodycon dress...these clothes always gave him a strange jolt of joy.

The jolt felt oddly familiar. Old memories, seldom revisited, came bubbling to the surface: furtively swiping his sister's clothes, trying them on when no one else was home, whipping them off guiltily when he heard the key in the lock. Heart pounding, afraid of being found out, ashamed of what he was doing and how it made him feel. He couldn't remember who had scared him, who had told him it was wrong to do what he was doing; somehow he just knew it in his bones. Now, fourteen years later, he knew better. But feeling better was going to take some time. Luckily, time was one of quarantine's most apparent side effects.

He also recalled how affirming, how damn validating it felt to be understood by the young women and girls who approached him and said they appreciated his comedy, who bared their own souls to the internet just as he had done and who saw themselves in him. And now, more than ever, he saw them in himself.

The experimentation escalated and transformed. He explored realms where he had never felt compelled to venture before. One scene required him to wrap himself up in nothing but a bedsheet, which was difficult to tie tight enough, so he ended up Googling rope bondage techniques to properly secure it. Being tied up, feeling the pressure, the constriction, the squeeze—he fought against the restraints, and before he fully realized what it was doing to him and how much it was turning him on, he had already cum all over the sheets.

The experience left him panting, astonished, and desperate for more. He learned new more creative ways of immobilizing himself. He choked himself with a belt, only stopping once he realized what a dangerous game he was playing and how much that sublime sensation could cost him. He scrawled degrading slurs across his skin (and actually managed to find a way to incorporate it into the special). He ordered a variety of sizes of clothespins and tried clamping his nipples and genitals, wincing with pain, relishing the ache. Although he had joked about ass play plenty of times on stage before, he had never actually tried it. He dived in, first with trembling fingers and later with a variety of well-recommended devices ordered from the internet. As he worked himself open, he was shocked to discover a whole new erotic world open up in tandem.

Although he made good use of the internet throughout the year in isolation, he neglected one of its primary features by watching barely any porn the entire time. Once in a while he might turn to a video for instruction, but the majority of his exploration was done analog style. It wasn't a principled stance, he just didn't feel compelled to go in that direction; he found that his mind and body alone provided enough of a playground to keep him busy.

He wondered if he was going crazy or if he was waking up; if he was losing his mind or finding himself. He knew that quarantine wouldn't last forever. Would this new way of life last? Or was it temporary, situational, limited to these extraordinary circumstances?

He didn't mention anything about these experiments to Lorene. She was used to seeing tons of packages in the mail as all his props and equipment arrived one by one so she didn't ask questions. Once she did accidentally glimpse a plug; Bo had merely grinned sheepishly and muttered something about an idea for a 50 Shades parody video that he had scrapped.

He wasn't exactly sure why he wasn't telling her. It wasn't for fear of judgment—she had proven herself plenty of times to be open-minded and game to explore things that were kinkier than this. It just felt... personal. Private. It felt like one of those things that is essentially a solo experience, like an epiphany, or an embarrassing moment, or a dream: others may be around, they may help you through it or have empathy, but they can never truly share it.

So much of lockdown had felt this way to Bo. Even when he was with Lorene, or with a few of the friends in their quarantine bubble, or his parents who had eventually insisted on visiting after two weeks of strict isolation—even when he was with people, there was always a slice of the pandemic that was his and his alone. That was a fact that no amount of socially-distanced visits, FaceTime calls, or well-meaning reassurances could change. His experience was only one individual, miniscule speck in the unfathomably huge constellation of this historical global enormity, but that perspective was his unique sliver to experience, to feel, to suffer and survive.

And this sexual reawakening was part of that separateness. He couldn't share it with his partner even if he wanted to. And he didn't want to. The solitary discoveries he was making had a purity and freedom. He was having a second puberty, a raunchy step on the path toward self-actualization. Alone in his room, he could become the parts of himself that would otherwise be suppressed and repressed. Gazing at himself through his own lens, he saw sides of himself that had been waiting patiently to be uncovered.

As winter turned to spring, infection levels dropped, vaccinations rose, and a pinprick of light appeared at the end of the tunnel, Bo found himself facing the same question as he did at the beginning of lockdown: what to do about it? So he'd had these realizations, these epiphanies, these insights...so what? Was this anyone's business but his own? Did he need to tell anyone, decide anything? Did he need to take action?

The very thought terrified him. He fought to quiet these questions echoing in his head as he tried to finally finish up the special, but they kept making their presence loudly known. He knew the answers, but he wasn't quite ready to know them. Not me. Not that. Not yet.

Some of his questions found their way into the special. While reading up on theory for the Socko bit, he found himself scrolling through articles on social constructionist theories of gender. He had never before thought about how much of his identity existed in relation to the outside world: he realized that when he was in the context of society, he was one thing, and when he was alone, that fell away and he was something else entirely. He spent day after day at his laptop studying the stuff, brushing his ever-lengthening hair out of his eyes as he read. He rationalized that he was researching the queer rights movement as part of his social justice self-education; that the sense of wonder he felt when reading the definition of words like femme and androgyne and autosexual was nothing personal, it was just a dawning appreciation of the breadth and beauty of such a wide array of variation in the human experience that he had never known existed.

Other questions remained conspicuously absent from the special. In the original draft of the lyrics, Bo had written several lines in which he referred to himself as a "straight white guy," but as the months passed and the lyrics underwent multiple rounds of revision, he gradually removed every instance of the word "straight." He told himself it was just because the word wasn't necessary and he found better options to fit the song's rhythm. He knew there was more to the story.

His cursor hovered over the word "guy" for a long, long time, but he never found the courage to hit delete.

Maybe next special. Or next pandemic. Whichever came first.