‘One day, I smuggled a sacred host out of church to study it under a microscope. Even as a kid I wanted to be independent. Nobody could tell me what to do or think.

In the American South, the ideal man is buffed and simple. My male classmates were into football. I didn’t care about sports and had asthma. Thinking there was a strict separation between the mind and the body, I decided to be a mind person. When I hit puberty, bright red hair started to grow on my face, and I studied it with scientific fascination. Back then, beards were not very fashionable, so part of the fun was that it made me stand out and look different from the rest.

After college, I got a job at a tech company in Austin, hiring super smart people from top schools. I felt instantly at home. To my surprise, many of my colleagues were not only intelligent but also athletic and into sports. When the company sponsored a triathlon, I decided to give it a try. As it turned out, I loved it. It was a total game changer. I realised my body could be a conductor of pleasure. I started dating and exploring my sexuality. They were days of ultimate freedom. We felt the world was ours and we were in charge of its making. Then the dot-com bubble burst.

Along with everyone else, I lost my job. Optimism gave way to the fear of being at risk. I found a job at a big law firm and moved to New York. I built a life centered around control. I could not have made a worse move. All my colleagues shared the same privileged background and had just one goal: to establish dominance over each other. It was all about working the most hours, getting the best clients, and making the most money. It was an extremely normative, alpha male saturated scene. The only way to stand out was in the details: I grew a subtle Van Dyke beard and my shirts were brightly coloured. But it wasn’t enough. The toxicity was slowly becoming a part of me.

‘I could no longer ignore the alienation, the loneliness and the frustration’

Therapy saved me. One of my breakthroughs was the insight that I have emotions. Up until then, I thought I was a rational person, unlike others who were constantly acting out. But I could no longer ignore the alienation. I could no longer deny the loneliness and the frustration. Recognising and expressing my emotions felt like a huge step into my manhood, and I never felt so relieved as on the day I quit my job.

As soon as I got out, I started to grow my big red beard. It is a statement that says I am not bound anymore and am free to pursue my desires. I am also having a bit of a laugh with it. Traditionally, beards conjure up stuff that is regarded as masculine, such as authority, or discipline. Put me in a suit and trim me down just a bit and everyone thinks I am part of the establishment. But when people talk to me, they realise I am different.

Image: Elvin Boer

Amsterdam is my home now. I am living my best life: autonomous and connected to the most fascinating people. I have a close circle of friends, with whom I debate, laugh, and have sex. In bed I often like to dominate and take control. But it is all about the consent of the women I am with: it is a vote of confidence in my feminism that they trust me to play out these roles.

‘I am living my best possible life, autonomous and connected’

I mostly date women, but I can be emotionally close with a man too. Why not? I sometimes sleep with my best friend’s girlfriend. There is an element of trust involved that I find incredibly intimate. It is erotic to me when he is in the room and our bodies move together.

Most of my friends are sensitive men and kick-ass women who do not take shit from anyone. They do not fit into a category, they are a bit different, just like me. What moves me most is their independence and their intelligence. After all, the mind is the sexiest thing.’