My Boyfriend Likes Her Pictures

There is something to be said about trust in the digital age.

Trust is a small, glittering fish that slips through your grip if you are careless. I have watched my own little fish dart from me, no matter whose hand was held in mine. I have even fantasized about crushing my little fish with a rock—an expulsion of scales and guts and the last of my ability to be truly vulnerable.

Relationships are tricky. Especially in a current climate where social media rubs its dark hands over our heads. Images are piled in front of us every day, bright and terrible in their consistency. Instagram is like a bazaar in some fantastical kingdom: here there be girls, a menagerie of babes with skin as lustrous as candy shells! If you type “my boyfriend follows models on Instagram” into Google, you’ll find pages and pages of results. It would appear the girls are worrying about the girls. Love has a razor-sharp smart phone at its throat.

I doggedly check my boyfriend’s Instagram. I heave myself through his followers, through who he is following. It’s an exhausting exercise in compulsion and fear. There are hundreds of babes. Beautiful blondes with savage teeth, their backs arched like greyhounds. He likes the photos of the babes. He paints the Insta hearts red. He used to leave stray comments, bits of acknowledgement like flower petals over a body. There was a hot babe in glasses, so he left the smiley face with glasses emoji. A babe in a hat was smiling holding a bee, and he commented “that hat!”

He doesn’t know these babes. They don’t follow him back. I would screenshot these moments and send them to girlfriends, is this ok? No, they would wail, this is despicable! I scrolled some more. Eventually my little trust fish nosed itself out of my hands and slimed through my fingers. I lost it. I imagined his direct messages, the invented strings of communication he must be having with these women—is that normal now? Have our expectations become so thin and starved that they huddle together instead of rallying against social media’s onslaught of instant gratification?

There is a hell of a lot of choice nowadays, or at least it sure looks like it. Twenty years ago we had to be visually satisfied with whatever we saw in the flesh, or whatever looked good on cable. Today, we carry the Kingdom of Lost Babes around in our hands. I wonder sometimes, if it’s good for the brain, all these curves, these bottom cheeks bruised against the camera lens—so that you aren’t sure if you’re indeed looking at an ass or a squashed ball of mozzarella. Is the accessibility to the Insta babes too tantalizing to ignore? With one tap you are instantly connected; it’s as delicious as sorcery.

I asked him, why do you follow the babes?

Wouldn’t you prefer I fantasize over an attractive girl on Instagram instead of porn?

No. Social media has become a safe tower for the voyeur.

I would rather he salivate over deliberate babes, the girls with the rabid loins, the ones who purposefully swallow cocks and splay their bodies to the eye of the camera. The girls with brave brown limbs, ridden as prize racehorses, skin shiny with fluids. They are there to be seen and to be enjoyed. The Insta babes have no courage in their crotches, they just want little red hearts and the most they will give in return is a sly peak of areola.

He protests as if it’s something he has to do, something undeniable that comes from being male, something that I just have to learn to accept or to turn my attention from. But it’s feels like watching your boyfriend blow a kiss to a girl on the street. It’s something that makes your guts burn.

Inevitably, I compare myself to the babes. I stand in the bathroom in my underwear, my skin silver and uncorrupted from any filters. I wonder if he too compares me to the babes. If when his zombie eyes pass over their haunches, he remembers the everyday weight of my own limbs. I pinch the screen and zoom in on their pretty faces. I have a lot of friends. I love girls. I think, you would like me more than him, we could be friends! But he has hunted you, trapped you in his phone and now you are his idea to drool over.

At wild, terrible moments, I fantasize about messaging a babe and asking her if she and he communicate, of liking one of her photos, of showing him that I too can play the game.

I went for a beer with a friend of mine the other night. He blithely tossed me his phone and asked me to look something up. I held it in my hands, horrified, as if it were a disembowelled animal.

You’re giving me your phone?

He laughed at my incredulity. He pulled at his mustache and wiped the beer scum from his chin.

You’re better at writing than me anyway, reply to that message would you?

He doesn’t have Instagram or Snapchat. He says he doesn’t have time. I thought of my boyfriend, who holds his phone close as if it were his last secret left. He has told me he would never show me its contents as that is breaking a boundary. My brain heard there are truths in there that would break your heart. My little fish was a sliver of tarnished gold.

Am I insecure? Do I have trust issues? In reality, I am happy with my body, my face, my mind. I am not threatened by connectivity, and I love meeting new people, especially babes; they have great clothes you can borrow. Another male friend assured me that not all men do this, some men tie themselves to the mast and avoid the sirens’ howling. Some men do not succumb to base temptation. A girlfriend declared following pretty girls that you don’t know when you’re in a relationship is tacky, like having a Porn mag from 1980 under your bed.

If anything, watching your boyfriend rack up the number of babes on his Instagram followers list has been a lesson in self-control. I peruse a new babe, scroll through her photos to check which ones he’s liked. I follow his actions, I nose after him, blood on my lips—the little fish is torn to pieces at my feet.

I wonder if it will ever stop, if this is a compulsion he will enjoy for the rest of his life. And the babes will remain timeless, trapped in plastic like insects in amber, flawless wings and thin as whispers. I will age, and hopefully be past the want or need to validate myself online. It’s already becoming dull. It’s already beginning to hurt.


I Didn’t Feel Like A Girl

When I was a child I wanted to be a boy.

I didn’t want to be a girl who played sports. I wore blue instead of pink. I wanted my body to morph. I wanted a shocking metamorphosis. My mother let me keep my hair short, and I only wore boys clothing. One morning before school I stuffed a roll of socks down my pants and arranged it so it sat over my pubic bone. I felt invulnerable like I carried a pistol between my legs.

The girls in my class were hysterical. Why couldn’t they see I was a boy? They figured since they had known me since kindergarten they knew I was a girl. I just hid it well, I replied as they laughed at me, shrieking as they pushed me into the boys’ bathroom. What’s your name? They would leer, each day, just to check if things had changed. Jake, I would say, my name is Jake. 

I would sign all my classwork as Jake. My teachers said nothing. My parents said nothing. I was left with the quiet and gentle freedom of self-discovery unencumbered by time. 

I drew a lot; scribbled wolves, sharks, things with teeth. Everything I wanted to be was fanged. I was horrified by motherhood. Pop culture showed mothers to be women, once unbound to anything, then when they became pregnant, heavier and precious.  I imagined mothers to be always pink and slow moving, like beautiful and alien sea creatures who only knew fluidity and ate great chunks of love like it were watermelon.

I, on the other hand, wanted to tear at the world and crash into life like I was born in armor. Only boys and men were allowed to straddle a horse as if it were a woman. I did not want to be limited by what my body supposedly permitted. If women were perceived as the weaker sex I wanted to rally against pretty, against soft, against nice. I couldn’t understand why boys could be boys and I had to be better. So I played a boy and hacked at my hair and bared my teeth at anyone who said what a pretty girl.

Being in my body felt more than wrong, it felt accidental. As if I had tripped into the wrong wormhole and found myself in a parallel universe where everything was warped. By the age of nine, I thought if I willed hard enough I would stop the atoms inside me from hurtling me into puberty, into the dangerous kingdom that divided the sexes. It felt like an assault when my breasts began to grow. I would lie on the floor and push myself flat, imagining my breasts popping as if they were sores that needed to be lanced. I didn’t imagine a future — I waded through the present, watching carefully the way in which boys moved, the slight bow to their legs as they swaggered. I tried to remember to walk with ferocity.

My only friends were boys. I never played with dolls or Barbies. I intentionally fell out of trees so my body would bleed and tighten back up to reveal scars; reminders that I was brave enough to battle. When my friend told me that he ‘like liked’ me, I knocked him to the ground. I sat on his chest and watched as blood dribbled from his mouth and shook him until he took it back. 

I whimpered through the long years of change. Gradually, as I grew older my desires met each other at a crossroads. I suddenly woke up one morning and felt like the panic had waned. I told my mother that I was alright with being a girl. She shrugged and wrote the date down in her diary. Everything was alright, had been alright, and would be alright.

I cautiously allowed my hair to grow and marveled at the weight of it against my neck, the strange dip of density as I moved my head back and forth. I approached girls shyly and asked to be their friend. The language of girl was exotic; the way they worked their bodies with such sanctioned familiarity as if they had never once doubted the velvet of their figures or felt the lack of something. The slyness of females in a group was like being in a den of foxes. I thought of Daniel and his lions. But so long had I been half in the world of boy that I had no idea how to accept myself. Or how to forget Jake. 

By the time I was in middle school I had fully accepted my sex. It was the 1990s and girls’ clothing was shiny, tight, and plastic. I wore chunky heeled shoes and tight dresses and hollowed my eyes with silver eyeshadow. It was clumsy. I was transitioning. I was growing.

Some boys liked me and I let them kiss me. I was terrified and fascinated. By the time I was a teenager I had embraced my femininity because it gave me a power I hadn’t experienced before: I was watched. Boys and girls paid attention to me, the way I moved my body through the world. I learned how to arch an eyebrow and drop my jaw like a leopard at the waterhole. Female had a startling power to it I hadn’t expected. This too is a weapon.

I am unsure of labels. I am skittish of defining words for myself that have been invented by others. Had I been born later and to different parents maybe I would have been given hormone-altering drugs. I might have started a course of treatments that would have violently torn Jake out from inside the recess of me. 

I still balk when someone refers to me as ‘she’. In the truest, oldest part of myself, I feel male. My soul is sexless but my mind is not. I allow my body to present itself as a young woman. I am in a relationship with a man. I keep quiet during a time when words like transgender, cisgender, non-binary, are loud. Sometimes I want to raise my hand and tell them, I’m Jake, he’s in here somewhere, but he is quiet and guides me in all things like a traveling warlock under a spell; this woman’s form is just a glamour. 

I don’t know if there are others who feel as I do if their secret selves do not mirror their physical shells. But I wonder and worry at the urgency in which we expect each other to decide. An absence of judgment allowed me to zigzag along the path until my limbs felt as if they were carrying a body not completely estranged from my mind. 

Sometimes I think apocalyptic, of who would I be if the world burned and afterward all that was left were me. Would it matter how I presented myself to ash and the ruined sky? Would I even bother with mirrors to monitor how I was looking? If there were no external expectation, and I never again saw my own face, who and what would I be? Would it even matter? Or would I just be the name I had given myself, with genitals I was born without a care to remember the name of any more or what they meant because nothing would matter except clean water and food? And adventure.