Christopher takes his pants off while my back is turned. We’re in the “war room,” where Christopher stages armies of tiny figurines to play RPGs with. I’m talking to my partner, Evan, or I’m talking to Christina, Christopher’s wife. I’m looking at the camera, and then I’m looking at Christopher naked. No instruction needed.
Christopher is tall and relatively hairless from the waist up. He makes up for it with long hair that he usually has tied into a ponytail, and a goatee. Christopher is a friend of mine. We’ve spent hours sitting around discussing sex and comic books.
Less than a week ago, I sent Christopher an e-mail:
“I have an odd-but-not-really question: Would you ever consider posing nude for a photo session?”
“I wonder what it says about me that I don't consider that an odd question at all...”
I’m putting together a collection of short stories and essays that I’ve written. In the past, I’ve done these as ‘zines: short, hand-folded collections. This time I want it to be a book. I’ve always wanted to include a nude pictorial. I am not a photographer, but I am good at ignoring my limitations. I’m the kind of artist who has more ideas than I’ll ever be able to execute, but it never stops me from trying. My attempts to find models on Craigslist, though, always resulted in responses from guys I didn’t really want to photograph.
I talk it over with Evan. We talk about our friends, and the choice—a guy who’s not only attractive but also willing to take his clothes off—is obvious: Christopher.
Christopher sends me another e-mail:
“I keep my pubic hair pretty well trimmed, but I can easily shave if that's your preference! Just let me know one way or the other!”
This is a good life.
Friday night, we stand in the kitchen while Christina shows me how to use her camera, a DSLR that’s a dozen times better than my own camera. I hand Christopher a model release form. I know he’s up for anything, but I feel the need to reiterate: “I’m going to put pictures of your penis on the Internet.”
He signs on the dotted line.
"Cuffs" by Johnny Merdoc
In the war room, Christopher’s naked. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen him naked but it is the first time he’s gotten naked for me. He’s naked because I asked him to be, so that I can take pictures of him. The only naked person I’ve told what to do for the past eight years has been Evan. It takes some getting used to. I don’t know anything about RPGs, so I ask Christopher to go about setting up a game however he would if he were really playing.
I take 1800 photos. Really, I take 600, but the camera takes every shot three times, capturing the moment at different exposure levels. I take pictures of Christopher playing his RPG, reading books in the library, posing on the bed with a pair of handcuffs. Christina yells out suggestions. “No, hook the cuffs under your penis! There you go. Now do the ‘pillow biter’!”
I have an odd disconnect in these moments, looking through the camera lens at Christopher’s exposed asshole. Christopher unabashedly fulfills every request I make (or Christina makes) but it still feels embarrassingly voyeuristic. Like there’s some rule somewhere about not looking at your friend’s dick through a camera.
UnderwearOn Saturday, St. Louis finds itself covered in snow, only three days after nearly hitting temperatures in the ‘80s. The snow is light and fluffy but collects quickly, and driving in it is like driving in a much worse storm. Still, it’s worth it to have underwear for Christopher to wear, so I trek out to Marshall’s to see what I can find on sale.
Sunday morning we shoot at our house. I hand Christopher the underwear that I bought him. Christopher has been going commando for almost fifteen years. His sole pair of underwear is Mountain Dew boxer shorts. I’ve never seen Christopher drink anything but the Technicolor beverage.
Christina notes the lack of Mountain Dew in our house and decides to run up to 7-11. “Do not take your clothes off...”
“We’re not allowed to start the ‘undergarment’ photography until you get back?” Christopher asks.
“That’s right.” Christina says.
]“If you’re just waiting for the underwear part—we can do the underwear part quickly,” I say.
“I want you to do the underwear part. I can go get Mountain Dew while he’s naked.”
Christina takes our secondary camera to shoot video of Christopher stripping off his jeans. The look on Christina’s face as she checks out Christopher’s new boxer briefs is worth the cost of the underwear, worth the drive into the snowy wastelands of St. Louis.
A Difference of Exposure
Along with the photos, we’re shooting video so that I can make a book trailer. I haven’t tried it before, but I’m fairly certain that videos of hot naked guys can, in fact, help me sell books. I want two trailers: a tame one that I can use on YouTube, and a more explicit one that I can use for my blog. I discuss it with Evan that I’d like to shoot something racier. Not really a masturbation video, per se, but definitely Christopher hard and maybe stroking suggestively.
In all honestly, Evan’s not as comfortable with my plans as I am, or as I want him to be. This would not be the first time I’ve pushed his boundaries. When he recommends that I can probably get some photos of Christopher’s erect penis into my book without upsetting the printer as long as it’s covered by the underwear, though, I assume we’re on the same page. Being vague didn’t help either one of us. In this negotiation, the boundary between safe and too far happened to be as thin as cotton-blend briefs with a Calvin Klein waistband.
Over lunch, I pitch the racier part of the shoot to Christopher. He’s up for it. When the time comes, Christopher is laying in our bed, stroking himself through his underwear. “Go ahead and take your dick out,” I say. I turn to Evan, reaching for the video camera. “I’ll shoot this, because I know you’re not really comfortable with it.” I mean to be reassuring, but it doesn’t come off that way. The video I shoot is framed in such a way that it’s not too explicit. Of course, no one else can see what I’m shooting. For all intents and purposes, Christopher is jerking off while laying in our bed and I’m urging him on.
Evan calls me on it later, after Christopher and Christina have gone home. “I don’t like that you pulled a renegotiation with them in the room. I didn’t feel like I had a say.” It’s only now that I realize that what I thought Evan was okay with and what he was actually okay with were two different things.
"Laying Down" by Johnny Murdoc
In the end, I have mixed feelings. I spent the weekend having a great amount of fun and I found the experience to be at turns intimate, hilarious, erotic and gratifying. Chris-squared, as they’re known to our friends, are a sexy, funny couple and there’s more to either one of them than I can capture in a picture or in this essay. It’s the moments in between pictures—Christina wiggling her ass in the air to tease Christopher or the look on her face the first time he tries on the new boxer briefs— that I wish I could bottle and sell or just keep to myself. It’s these moments where I fall in love a little, at least for the weekend.
To know that I made the mistake of pushing my partner’s boundaries—and doing so in front of our friends—trumps that, though. My emotions run high and low. I accomplished another major goal and the end product is perfect: the book is exactly what I want it to be. Ultimately, everything’s good between Evan and I. After eight years of being together, we’re pretty good at patching up the rough spots. It’s avoiding the rough spots that I still need to work on.