This is the second part of our new memoir series by Finnegan Shepard. “It’s All About Aly” details a time in Shepard’s life in which he lived in a tiny studio apartment in New York City with a cis man and shared a kind of merged identity with him.
This article contains graphic sexual content. Please use reader discretion.
“Sorry,” Emily said, as we searched for a phone charger that would fit, “I just need enough battery to get an Uber. When I go,” she added, with a little smile.
Her smile was all in the crevice at the right corner of her mouth, a cheeky, lopsided grin that was so much the focal point that it was as though the smile were a lip ring.
Emily was six feet tall, had short brown hair with blonde highlights, a concave sternum, and a square-ish torso. She had come straight from work and claimed she was in a rush because she was meant to meet friends for a drink in Bushwick in half an hour. Her phone battery was at two percent.
My cable was too old, and Aly’s was buried somewhere on his side of the room beneath lavender sheets, size twelve boots, and Hawaiian scarves. Finally I located it.
We plugged her phone in and stood back in silence for a moment, like we were observing a just-quieted infant.
“Want a drink?” I said.
We sat in the front room and drank some gin I’d bought at a tasting off Carol Street the week before. I didn’t know anything about gin.
“It’s super juniper-y,” Emily said.
I looked at the bottle. Juniper was written in all caps at the bottom. “I thought there was always Juniper in gin, though,” I said.
Emily shrugged. “You’re hot,” she said. “I like girl-dudes.”
I didn’t press the subject. “So you work at Apple?” I asked.
Emily laughed. “That sounds way too serious. I work at the Mac store in Grand Central.”
“I fuckin’ love it, but for the weirdest reason. You’ll never guess.”
I raised my eyebrows. I was leaning back, resting my weight on my palms, and I saw that the angle made my shirt fall across my torso in a way that accentuated my breasts and hips, so I sat forward, grabbing opposite elbows in order to make the muscle in my forearms stand out. “What?” I asked.
“The coffee shop. They make you a latte and give you a little pastry on top. For free. I get one every day. It makes it feel like a real commute.”
“How adult of you,” I said.
We finished off the gin and opened a bottle of wine. Aly came home.
“Snookums!” I called out, when I heard the key turn in the lock.
Aly dropped his bags and swept across the room to us. I offered up the bottle of wine. He guzzled. “Thanks, love,” he said.
He stood in front of us in synthetic tracksuit bottoms. The outline of his penis was at eye level.
“Hi,” Emily said.
“Heyyy,” he said effusively. “What’s your deal?”
“I’m Emily. Uh, I really like cats?”
“Beautiful,” he said. He plopped himself down in front of us. “That was fucking wild,” he said. “Within five minutes I’d lit a girl’s afro on fire. On accident, of course!” he added, seeing our looks of dismay. “I was fucking her on this pool table, and there was a candle, and, well. Next thing I knew.”
Emily giggled. I put my hand on her thigh. “Where were you?” she asked.
“Sometimes I do these sex-positive community retreats,” Aly said, maneuvering into a cross-legged position. “I was in Connecticut this weekend.”
“Oh cool,” Emily said. “Why didn’t you go?” she asked, nudging me with her forehead.
“It’s not really my thing,” I said. What I didn’t say was that the fluidity of sex there scared me; I wanted to be having ‘regular’ heterosexual sex, and I didn’t believe—ironically—that I could be perceived accurately in a sexual environment where all bets were off. I was afraid of being seen as queer.
“Did Michel try to fuck you?” I asked, turning the attention back to Aly.
“And did you?”
“Day two, I got roped into this foursome with two other dudes, including Michel. I really gave it a go. Put his dick in my mouth and everything. I just couldn’t get into it, even on ecstasy.”
“Do you wish you were gay or something?” Emily asked him. She had nuzzled into me since Aly arrived.
I was proud of him, like he was the partner I was introducing. I was aware that we made each other more attractive, but I was also possessive towards Emily already. I wanted her to see me more favourably through the kaleidoscope of Aly, and then to choose me definitively.
“I mean, it would be more interesting, wouldn’t it?” Aly said.
Emily and I started kissing. Aly got his camera and took close up pictures. This was around ten thirty or so, long after it became obvious that Emily was either ditching her friends or had fabricated the Bushwick drink as a potential out if she didn’t like me.
She had a large man’s watch on. It knocked against my shoulder while we kissed, her hands on my neck.
I remember us giggling, Aly showing us the pictures, then Emily and Aly kissing. I remember 10% envy and 90% pride; it was a warm kind of pride constructed of the knowledge that Aly and I were a duo, and that Emily kissing Aly was, in a way, Emily kissing me. Emily would inevitably become a story, but Aly and I would continue on, forever, in real time. It felt very male to have this perspective.
After about half an hour of making out, we all got ready for bed together.
In the bathroom, Emily took off her watch and set it on the top of the toilet.
“Can I use your toothbrush?” she asked.
I handed her mine.
“Becca, this is gross,” she said.
There was a line of crusted toothpaste on the hilt. In the mirror, I saw Aly smiling fondly but rolling his eyes at the same time. He handed Emily his. I felt a twinge, minor but suggestive of pain, like a rolled ankle.
“Becca doesn’t notice stuff like that,” he said.
Aly was topless; pruning. He had half a dozen long hairs on his shoulders that grew back every month. He hated these singular hairs, and plucked them incessantly. I watched him inspecting his skin.
“You guys are fun,” Emily said through a mouthful of toothpaste, then spat.
I maneuvered her successfully to my bed while Aly flossed.
We kissed. She moaned prematurely. “I want you inside me,” she said.
I pulled back. “Like, with a strap on?” I asked. I didn’t have the confidence to refer to it as my penis, fearful that claiming the toy as mine, as an extension of my body, would strike a partner as pitiable.
She nodded, biting her lower lip. I heaved myself up, scuttled over to my closet, and unearthed the soft cotton bag containing all my sex toys.
“Whoop whoop!” Aly hollered, getting into his own bed.
“Watch some porn or something,” I called to him over my shoulder.
“Can’t be bothered,” he replied. “I’m knackered. I’ll put my whale sounds on. Night night!”
I faced away from Emily while I got into the harness. She touched my back with the tips of her fingers while she waited. I was embarrassed when I turned around, and tried to hide it by getting inside of her as quickly as possible.
“Is that okay?” I asked.
“Shush,” she said. “Fuck me.”
I performed half a dozen thrusts.
“Oh yeah, baby,” she moaned. “Your dick feels so good.”
No one had called it my dick before. Something went taut in me. I felt like stopping and having a conversation about it, but I forced myself to keep going. Her body shook, arched, and flattened.
“Did you just…?”
“Mmm,” she murmured. “Yeah.”
“You can come from penetration?”
I was paused above her, the non-descript black dildo half-in half-out.
“Oh yeah,” she said. “Not with cis dudes, though.”
I stared at her.
“Come on,” she said, grabbing me by the ass and impatiently pulling me into her, “come in me.”
I was too turned on to come. It was as though the story had so surpassed the physiology that orgasming had been rendered entirely redundant. I faked it, and then we fell asleep.
I woke early and listened to the city yawning open; tires over loose grates, incongruous dove call, then Aly’s melodious alarm, his loud sighs and eventual patter to the shower.
Emily was turned away from me, the blanket bunched around her waist. Her skin was tan, though it had been a long, soggy winter. There were three moles in the shape of an isosceles triangle between her shoulder blades.
I ran the story of our sex over and over in my mind. The shower turned off. I leaned forward and kissed the base of Emily’s neck. “Ughhh,” she groaned. “What time is it?”
“Ten to eight.”
“Fuck fuck fuck I gotta go.”
“Want me to make breakfast?” I asked.
She was up and rushing into her bra, tank top, sweater. “No time,” she said. “I’m late for work already.”
“I’m leaving for work in five,” Aly called from the other side of the room. “Want to walk to the subway together?”
“Sure!” Emily called back. She looked at me. “That was fun,” she said, and gave me a peck. “Text me.”
“Do you want a banana, at least?” I said.
She accepted, and left with Aly.
I dragged my desk chair to the wall and put the empty gin and wine bottles on top, with all the other bottles we had emptied in our time there. Blue, green, and amber light angled down onto the space above Aly’s bed. I took a shower and washed off the dildo.
The thought passed through my mind that perhaps Emily was the love of my life. Mid-afternoon I got a text from Aly: I’m joining Emily’s choir group! 🙂
Finnegan Shepard is a trans writer, classicist, and entrepreneur. He has published fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and translations, most recently in The Mystery Tribune, and forthcoming from Amarillo Bay and Darkhouse Anthology Books. Based out of nowhere in particular, Shepard is currently co-founding a philosophy start up called Invisible, and working on (hopefully) the final draft of a novel. More on writing and philosophy can be found at finneganshepard.com.
This is the second part of Finnegan Shepard’s evocative essay on sex in New York City. Read the first part here. Parts three and four will be published soon.
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Navigating the World as a Trans Man: It’s All About Aly (Part 3)
Patriarchy and gender in the Australian imaginary
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Intersex visibility: Being looked at versus being seen
Trans-masc and menstruation: Blood will tell
Queer birth stories: Diversity in families