It takes Kant a year to write the one-paragraph mass email, another three weeks to compile the Coming Out mailing list of friends, family, and colleagues, and three bourbons to actually send it. For his entire life he has so grotesquely imagined the consequences of public exposure that he’s only recently, at thirty-one, stopped hedging to himself that he is bi or “flexible.” He pictures his mother saying she never wants to speak to him again; he imagines dying alone in an unheated tenement, though he knows this is unlikely to happen to a video-game asset designer with two degrees. Part of him had believed that as long as his proclivities resided only in his head, and sometimes on his computer, they didn’t “count.” Now everyone will know; his sexuality will exist as an open fact. After sending the email, he turns off his phone and spends the night vomiting from stress.

But the response is unanimously supportive. His friends reply with the visible spectrum of heart emojis. His coworkers politely underreact (“Oh neat! Psyched for you”). Kant’s parents are not thrilled exactly—they wish he’d called them first, though he couldn’t fathom doing this twice—yet they are neither disapproving nor surprised. The recent legalization of gay marriage probably helped; mainly his parents want to know whether he still plans on having kids, and he says yes, just to give them something. 

Perversely he sort of wishes the response had been more dramatic and adverse, to give him something to overcome, forcing growth in the process, though he knows he doesn’t really want that. But having tailored his life to compensate for its lack of relationships, there’s nothing compelling him to act on his new freedom, and instead he’s masturbating more than ever. He will recall this post-coming-out phase of his life as the Year of Damp Feet, spent forever popping into the shower to rinse off his dick and stomach.

Beyond the inertia, the deeper problem is that Kant is a sadist. He has known this even longer than he’s known he is gay; the browser history always speaks true. Growing up noticed by no one except in his public embarrassments, he has developed, by some dark alchemy of childhood bullying, social invisibility, and overlapping cultural taboos, a sexual constipation that finds its only release in the fantasy of boundless, monstrous subjugation and is reified and reinforced by the hyperspecific porn that has been his lifelong solace—the yaoi visual novels, the mpreg, the 100-percent runs of fan-translated Illusion Soft eroge torrented from HongFire, modded to replace the women with men. It all points to a desire to rehouse his own abjection; to render other men pathetic so he can feel powerful and attractive by comparison; make them suffer the punishments that he, deep in the crawl spaces of his mind, fears he deserves. No matter how much he reminds himself that many people enjoy ethical BDSM, he can’t believe that fantasy and reality can be fully partitioned, especially not by him. At any moment, Kant feels, the leash could slip and he’d hurt someone, humiliate himself, and discover that the agony of his loneliness was deserved all along.  

Besides, to even try to act upon his desires, he would have to be an entirely different person. Who would have the patience to be railed, much less subjugated, by a jittery, inexpressive virgin? A dom must be tall, brooding, assured—no one wants a sad-sack sadist, no one longs to be topped by a man shorter than his refrigerator. Kant’s very presence in his own fantasies ruins the fantasy: when he imagines himself having sex, he pictures a Yorkie humping a Great Dane. He is five four with a sandbar-shaped hairline, a drawerful of webcomic T-shirts, and asymmetrical creases on his abdomen from years of slouched computing. 

After a year goes by with his sexuality still theoretical, Kant suspects he must build his résumé. The apps, everyone says, the apps! But the one he tries reminds him of a minuscule butcher shop, an infinite display case of rumps, loins, and wursts. Quickly he acquires a horrid efficiency at rejecting men on the basis of a two-inch photo or two-line bio—for having close-set eyes, or because they kayak, believe in astrology, say they have “man fur.” But what really inhibits him is imagining the men on the other end looking at his own unsmiling, gormless photo and laughing. Every fiftieth profile or so states it bluntly, “no fats femmes asians”—the others are probably just too polite to say it outright.