Last year, before we broke up, my boyfriend and I would sometimes go to the gay nude beach together. I always felt like him and I had very different experiences there. Him: happy to be naked, carefree — cartwheels and sunshine. Me: anxious, unsure of where to put my eyes, overwhelmed by stimuli and the thought of all the eyeballs (potentially) on me. I was jealous. The pressure of the situation could push me into myself, resulting in a kind of meditation or, more accurately, an anxiety-induced trance state occasionally yielding some small benefit.
What I’m trying to say is that I have a hard time just chilling.
I suspect, however, that there’s a healing power that comes from being a gay dude naked around other dudes. There’s a hope that if you practiced acknowledging the dicks, letting the dicks go shamelessly, and moving on to thinking about the warm sand or the melody of the seagulls then maybe you’d eventually reach that aforementioned cartwheel-and-chill state of mind.
That was my goal the other day, the first day in San Francisco where it was warm enough to conceivably have a good time at a nude beach. The question I had to ask myself beforehand was whether I was going to relax in earnest or to check out dudes. I will admit that there have been times in my life where the split between these two extremes would swing more towards the penises, and that was something I had to look at and think about. But no — on this day the weather was gorgeous, the view was clear, and the dicks had more than enough competition from Mother Nature.
There are many different kinds of people who go to the gay nude beach in San Francisco, and the beach is typically large enough to give each demographic its own section. Quiet sunbathers, rugged paleo-dieting types, picnic twinks, the people who like to go jerk off behind the boulder, etc. At this moment, however, the tide was so high that there wasn’t enough beach to afford the luxury of these kingdoms. Worlds collided. I found a tiny little patch way out in the front where the water came up to my toes and there was only sand and ocean in my periphery. There I could pretend to be alone.
The beach is situated amongst other, less queer beaches in such a way that a tourist could conceivably become lost and stumble in. You can usually identify these people very easily by the way they walk fast, keep their heads down, and have clothes on. There was one guy who walked in front of me fully-dressed with a hiker’s backpack and a baseball cap that I was certain had to be in this category. He also happened to be, without hyperbole, the most beautiful man I have ever seen.
I gave it a solid “Hmm” and then for an hour just laid there in a thoughtless moment of peace. Goal achieved.
As I was getting ready to leave, I noticed that the backpacker from earlier had returned and set up shop a few yards away from me. He’d taken off his shirt revealing a kind of perfection that words couldn’t do justice and stepped out into the ocean, directly in my line of sight. He took off his baseball cap and shook his long, well-moisturized auburn hair provocatively so it gleamed in the setting sun. Then he walked back to his spot. I tingled.
I am very conscious of the fact that a certain kind of attention in such a scenario could make someone very uncomfortable, and for the next 15 minutes I tried to ride the line of not wanting to look but REALLY wanting to look. It was a battle. I decided that sometimes it feels like the opposite of creepy is earnest and direct, and so I approached the unicorn man — naked.
“Hi. Um. Excuse me.”
He was lying down, cheeks up, and turned to looked at me like I was about to sell him Jesus.
“So like, I don’t know if you ever have moments of self-doubt — but I just want you to know that you are probably one of the most gorgeous guys I’ve ever seen. And if you ever have a dark night of the soul, if you ever wonder like — ‘Am I enough?’ I want you to remember that you were so hot a stranger felt compelled to awkwardly tell you, yes, you are. Or you know let’s explore the other option, that you’re a narcissist who already knows all this and it’s just going to go straight to your head. I imagine that’s a very real possibility but I felt like it was important to take the chance.”
At some point in this delivery I realized I was adding on additional words to postpone his response, and so I mustered up the courage to stop. He replied, “Well, first of all — thank you, you are so brave. Please, tell me about your tattoo. I love Costco.” And so I launched into another monologue: the origin story of my Kirkland Signature tattoo, that he would (thankfully) occasionally interrupt to inject his own Costco memories. Towards the end, he said “Hold on, I think my butt is burning” and he turned over — revealing the best possible scenario while I prattled on, noticeably stumbling. In response, he took the demeanor of a celebrity standing behind an autograph table, gently comforting and encouraging the eager and nervous fan.
A few feet in front of us a young couple was loudly having sex. They moaned. The unicorn looked at them, rolled his eyes and smiled, “Oh, those guys!” and we just kept talking. I learned that he was 25, spoke Spanish, lived nearby and would walk along the beach every day. He liked to do it barefoot because he enjoyed the way his feet felt to the touch afterwards — soft, exfoliated. Occasionally he’d get a puncture wound but it was worth it, he felt, to have the increased “monkey musculature.” I asked for clarification and he explained that the remote at his house would often fall on the ground and he liked to pick it up and fling it into his hand with his feet. I was impressed.
At one point, someone near us interrupted. “Hey! I love Costco too! You know, the Kirkland Signature Vodka is secretly Grey Goose!” And I was like “Yeah! That’s what they say!” And he was like “No really! It is!”
Behind us was a guy who looked like he might’ve been on a season of Survivor, hiding behind a fortress made of driftwood. “I was here the other day” the unicorn said, “And I don’t think that driftwood was there.” The unicorn approached the weathered old man. “Hey! Cool fort! What’s the story?”
The unicorn spoke with the gruff old man for a while and learned about the fort. When he came back to report, a small dog wandered by and started nuzzling up against him. I told him I thought the dog had good taste, to which he responded “Oh, you flirt, you flirt.”
The dog’s owner, another older man who presented himself in such a way that might make one a little fearful, came up to us. The unicorn and the old man started chatting about the dog’s origins and most endearing attributes. By the end of it, I felt like we were all friends.
This scene reminded me of this time I was standing next to one of those cheese sampler plates at Whole Foods with an ex I’m fond of. He was exchanging cheese and spread pairing tips with a middle-aged woman, also getting her lunch from the sample station, and it was very cute. This ex has a kind of endearing obliviousness that I think gets him in trouble but also enables lots of unexpectedly warm interactions with strangers. When we were together, it was like he was letting me into his little fortress of safety and we’d often do this talk-to-strangers shtick together, revealing a new layer of magic in the world. The unicorn felt familiar in this way.
There were many moments in which I consciously attempted to give the unicorn a smooth exit in case he wanted that. Each time he would respond by quickly attempting another question aimed at me. Eventually, he pointed out that I was looking REALLY red and I agreed. He attempted a wrap up: “Well, I think you should feel really proud of what you did today. That was really cool. You have some real balls, I wouldn’t have dared to do that.” And I was like, “But your balls are so nice.”
As I was leaving to put my clothes back on I remembered my business card. It read “BE BOLD” — the tagline of my employer. Holding it in my hand, it was like the card was egging me on. So I walked back to him and handed it over, telling him he could text if he wanted to hang out or something. He took a look at it and said: “Max, it was a pleasure to meet you.” And then I could leave, feeling like something inside had changed for the better.