‘My parents divorced when I was young. My mum remarried a man who was polite but who didn’t care much about me. I missed my dad and wanted to live with him. I got starry-eyed every time I thought about him. When I visited him for the weekend, I used to get all excited and waited for him in the big bay window of my mum’s house. Sometimes he would be hours late, or he wouldn’t show up at all. I eventually came to understand that I wasn’t that important to him.

Although I didn’t know the word, I knew I was gay from a very young age. My family was involved in the Southern Baptist Convention, where we were being taught that gay people go to hell. This was the US in the early nineties: in the media, queer people were continuously being linked to AIDS and violence. I grew up being ashamed and terrified, and never showed my true feelings. I became active in a youth group at church, not only because I was hoping for redemption, but also because I finally wanted to fit in and feel good about myself.

I went to college in the Midwest, where I met Steve. He was into sports, had a great beard and muscles beneath all his chubbiness. He had the keys to the university swimming pool and the two of us would often go there after hours to swim naked together. Nothing else happened there besides the swimming, but it was the most erotic thing ever.

Image: Elvin Boer

When I graduated from college, I was still in the closet and a virgin. I thought I was going crazy. Lust and shame were continually battling each other, I felt like I was going to explode.

One day I met this sweet girl who seemed to be interested in me. I thought I should give it a try – maybe this was my chance to get cured. We dated for two years and practically got engaged. All that time I tried to block my feelings for men, but deep down I knew it wasn’t going to work. Then one night – it was New Year’s Eve, which I spent with my girlfriend and her family – I secretly opened this new app on my phone called Grindr. I started chatting with a man and decided to meet him the next day.

‘He bent forward, slowly touched my face with his full beard and started kissing me on the lips’

He had a dark brown beard and spoke with a sexy British accent. We went to a restaurant. I was so nervous I couldn’t eat and at one point I started crying from stress. I was coming to terms with the fact that I was gay and couldn’t do anything about it. He was very respectful and listened to me when – for the first time in my life – I told someone about my true feelings.

We met again a few days later. We went home together and started cuddling. My heart was racing when he lay down behind me. He bent forward, touched my face with his full beard and started kissing me on the lips. We had sex. It was nothing like the porn I knew. I realised that when something feels so good it cannot be bad. We ended up getting married and moving to Europe together.

He was always around. In the beginning, I thought that was nice; finally there was someone who cared about me. But as the years went by, I learned that it wasn’t care he was after, but control. He started drinking and when things didn’t go his way he would explode. On the street to strangers, at home to me. He knew how to push my buttons: he called me stupid and made fun of my body and the way I ate. He never really hit me, only a push now and then. A few months ago, I finally had the guts to leave him.

Image: Elvin Boer

I moved to Amsterdam, which was exciting and scary at the same time. I had hardly any friends or knowledge of how the gay world works, because my ex was the only man I had ever slept with. One night I went alone to a gay club called Church. I remember how nervous I was: how would people treat me? I had never taken off my T-shirt in public before. That night I took off my shirt, and to my surprise no one made me feel gross or ugly. Really attractive hairy guys came up to me and started kissing me, it was unreal.

‘Beards are the ultimate signifiers of masculinity. Having one makes me feel like one of the guys’

I’ve been growing my beard, which means I get a lot of attention. Men touch it all the time and tell me how much they love its shape and ginger colour. They call me a Viking. To me, a beard is the ultimate signifier of masculinity and with it, I feel like one of the guys.

It’s so good to bond with men, to share male energy. I love going to parties to dance and be part of this community of hot, bare-chested men. It’s not about perfect bodies, it’s about being real and open with each other. I really feel like I belong.

I have a friend who is great at tying people up. The ropes start off loose, before becoming tighter and tighter. The whole process can make you feel very vulnerable, especially when you are naked with your legs open. Sometimes when I go to a club, I get into a sling and get fucked in public. I like the idea of being subordinate and used while other men watch me and touch my hairy chest and are getting off. It’s all about relinquishing control, which really turns me on, but it’s never abusive: when I say I’m done, people respect that.

Sometimes I’m afraid I will get lost in this world of excess and drugs. But at the moment, I feel I need to act out my desires and fantasies. I consider myself blessed to have found a tribe to do this with.’

Image: Elvin Boer