The day before his top surgery online fundraising campaign fails, Ivan wakes up feeling just fine.
He didn’t check his fundraising page, though he had fallen asleep with his smartphone on his chest.
It was Sunday, and he didn’t want to obsess. Instead, he put on another tank top (grey over the white one he had worn to bed) and his Jordans.
He didn’t have to put on pants, because he was already wearing his green basketball shorts, the ones with a pizza sauce stain next to the crotch.
It was only serious, clenching effort that reminded him not to roll over to hold Margot, wrapping his hands around her waist, pressing his chest to her back, putting his mouth on her shoulder.
Margot, he had found out recently, didn’t love him and never really had.
“At least, not in a heteroromantic way,” she had clarified at the coffee shop a few blocks over that employed his ex-boifriend, her ex-girlfriend, and a few of their much-scrutinized but never propositioned potential threesome partners.
The skinny blonde cis boy with a nose piercing had been working on this particular day, though he took no notice of either of their attempts to make eye contact as they signed the receipts.
A few moments later, the skinny blonde cis boy pulled a variety of levers that emitted steam behind the counter while Margot broke his heart.
“I mean, it’s about the journey, isn’t it, Ivan?” she asked, one hand covering the other over her giant mug of organic Mint Mayhem tea.
Ivan tried to look stoic, like he was wearing a fedora instead of a baseball cap with a pink brim sticking up at an angle. The fedora in his mind’s eye was a 50s private investigator’s, not a Reddit atheist’s.
“It’s a journey for both of us. I’m still trying to figure out who I am, and what I need… and well, you’re doing the same thing. Physically… but also emotionally. Changing. But also, not changing.
And this pseudo-monogamous, romantic sexual partnership? Well… it’s not letting us change.”
Ivan had already finished his peppermint mocha with whipped cream, so he didn’t have anything to hold as a distraction. His phone was out of battery. His left Nike tapped the ground to its own caffeinated beat.
“I just think that… you. You have a lot of growing up to do.”
Ivan didn’t have any comeback for that, so he continued to focus on being stoic, holding his phone even though it wouldn’t turn on.
Margot cleared her throat impatiently.
His left Jordan kept tapping
Eventually, Margot finished her tea.
Then she gathered her bag and her notebook and her copy of Freedom and was gone.
Ivan didn’t have anything to say to that, either.
But the coffeeshop was days ago.
Now he was standing up, with both a shirt and shoes on.
His phone had full battery.
He checked the weather app on his phone. 73 degrees.
Ivan surveyed his landscape.
The mattress on the floor, bell hooks and Old Spice posters taped to white walls, empty-ish thai food boxes next to the mattress.
He thought, today is a new day.
Then, hands at his hips in a power pose, he thought, now what.
He didn’t check his fundraising page.
He hit the gym.
Winter was finally over, and he had taken his bike out of his ex-girlfriend’s garage only a few days before: pumped up the tires, oiled the chain, reattached the connector for his gym bag, found the key to his u lock.
Sitting on the seat made him cringe for a split second.
With a bike, and the spring, the 40 minutes walk to the gym with barbells became a 15 minute breeze.
A 15 minute breeze of scowls at daring pedestrians, profanity screamed at drivers through noise proof glass windows, and curt nods to other bikers, watching solemnly for an infraction worthy of an exasperated sigh or experienced smirk.
When he got to the gym he was already sweating, unused to the warmth and humidity of the spring air, and locked his bike to the parking meter by the door.
His guy Marco, was at the front, folding towels and ready to scan his code.
Ivan beamed- hey man, what’s up? How you doin? What’s going on?
Once Marco, off work early, had asked Ivan to spot him, his usual bench press partner stuck at work at the Lenscrafter across town until 7:30.
Ivan obliged with sweaty, earnest enthusiasm, grabbing extra plates just in case and moving constantly back and forth between the foot and head of the bench until Marco censored his incessant hand chalking with a mild – hey man, be cool.
The pride of having the other 6:30-7:30 MWF weight room denizens seeing him spotting Marco far outweighed the crippling blow of not staying “cool.”
But now Ivan tried extra hard to be cool when he saw Marco in hope of a weight room spot reprisal.
What time do you get off work today?- Ivan asked, hoping that his weekly masculine sentence structure vocal exercises disguised his excitement.
-7:30 man, like always, said Marco, still folding.
–Here are your towels. Have a good workout.
Ivan couldn’t decide if his smile went all the way to his eyes or not.
Ivan running the Power 8 routine, a “lethal combination” of the 5×5 program and an 8×8 protocol with a 3 day split. He ran it 4-5 days a week with light cardio and foam rolling on off days.
However, since surgery was imminent (and so was tank top binder season), Ivan was on a mission: eliminate as much chest tissue as possible.
This meant that he stepped up his cardio — HIIT, hill sprints, kettlebell circuits on top of his regular program.
He had read in the April 2012 Men’s Health while waiting at the barber that the idea of overtraining was seriously questioned by many personal fitness professionals, so he wasn’t too worried about it.
He programmed the weekends, particularly Sundays, as light days: legs and abs, isolation exercises, a few sprints, a finisher set of burpees, a quick cool down with some light jump rope and handstand training.
He logged the whole process on his phone’s Hard Gains Tracker app. It was the third app he had tried and the only one he had paid for, with modifiers logged for 150+ exercises.
In the locker room, he took both of his towels and all of his clothes to the shower, leaving one towel outside of the stall hanging on a hook.
He wrapped his clothes in the other towel, shut the shower with the string that threaded through the beige curtain and tied it in a loop on the side of the wall.
Then he turned the shower on, his clothes wrapped in the towel on the soap dispenser, out of the path of the shower stream.
After he turned off the water, he reached his hand over the shower curtain string in order to reach the towel hanging up outside of the shower stall.
He brought the whole towel into the shower and tied the loop back up.
Then he dried himself off, unwrapped his clothes from the towel on the soap dispenser, and put his clean clothes on, starting w his binder, untying the shower curtain, and stepped out of the stall cradling his dirty towels and clothes.
He put his Jordans back on at his locker and combed his hair in the mirror.
He wished he had brought his baseball cap with the pink rim.
He had bought a Maple Flavored ChiaseedSwirl Protein Bar from the coffeeshop the day Margot walked out.
Appropriate nutrition was a critical part of masculinizing one’s facial features and body definition.
The skinny blonde cis barista had come by to bus his table – can I grab these cups? Ivan nodded, continued to look stoic. – can I order something else?
Blondebarista didn’t even look up, trying to wrangle his paper mocha cup and Margot’s ceramic oversized white mug into his arms next to the five other various sized drink containers (and odd plate) –sure, but at the counter.
Ivan walked over, waited for the barista to also make his way over.
Appropriate nutrition is a critical part of masculinizing one’s facial features and body definition, he thought then. –Could I get the Maple flavored ChiaseedSwirl Protein Bar?, he asked.
When he checked his gym bag, Ivan realized he left the Maple flavored ChiaseedSwirl Protein Bar at home, maybe somewhere in his desk.
He stopped to get a quesadilla.
This is a new day, he thought, pulling apart melted cheese and tortilla, his hair still wet from the shower.
It still seemed too early, too obsessive to check his fundraising page.
Ultimately, Ivan had spent much less time designing his fundraising page than he spent looking at his chest.
He had asked his friend Jake a few years before, who had a design and social media contract with a youth outreach consulting firm, what he should put on it.
Ivan and Jake had met after college doing a social media fellowship at a technology company.
Ivan was trans and Jake was gay and from Puerto Rico
The fellowship had the word equity in the title.
Ivan was the growth hacking leadership fellow and Jake was the visionary artistry fellow.
They bonded when they realized that they had no idea what their job titles meant, and because they had no idea what they were supposed to be doing all day besides being present for all photo opportunities.
They spent the rest of the summer getting high on the office’s rooftop patio. Jake went to graduate school for “post-structural design” in the fall and Ivan worked as a contractor until the start up collapsed a year later.
So Jake had actual skills and craft to draw on for this fundraising consultation.
“Triangles, man,” Jake had said, then picked up the blunt. “Triangles fucking everywhere. They’re the pinnacle of design.” Four Tet was playing in the background, which had felt cool at the time even if it felt amateur in memory.
“You should definitely do it, even if you don’t get the actual surgery or whatever. It will be great for your brand.”
“I am getting the surgery,” Ivan said.
“Yeah yeah definitely. And you’ll raise the money: you’re young, you’re hot, you’re cool, you’re white. I mean, you even do social media professionally.”
“I mean… not my own social media.”
Ivan did social media for the last startup’s co-founder’s new startup. This mostly involved coming up with corny hashtags that CEOs could reject in order to justify his own even cornier hashtags.
Ivan didn’t make very much money, compared to the rest of the team, but it was hard to object too much since he didn’t do more than a half hour of work a week, spending the rest of the time at the office scrolling through Instagram as ‘research.’
But he definitely couldn’t cover the surgery co-pay, let alone the time he’d have to spend off work since, as his boss reminded him, this was more of a cosmetic surgery than anything else. Plus he figured he’d end up having to pay for other stuff too, like ice packs or ibuprofen or extra strong weed during recovery. Ivan knew that because everyone he ever dated was always bringing care packages to their ex boyfriends after surgery wirh like Walgreen stuff in them.
As Jake exhaled, he studied Ivan. “Whoa man. Isn’t the whole point of this that you’re trying to look more like a triangle, anyway?”
Ivan considered this design advice carefully for the better part of two years.
“Triangles, man,” he thought when he put on a new binder, then carefully layered a white undershirt, t shirt, and zip up hoodie on top.
“Triangles, man,” he thought, when he shot for a bench max lift PR of 180.
“Triangles, man,” he thought, packing whey shakes, chicken breasts, asparagus, for lunch.
Then one day- the benchmark of 180 pounds achieved, the goal of 10% body fat long surpassed- he accidentally looked at his chest in the mirror sideways, in his favorite grey tank top with his best binder.
He thought “triangles, man,” and shoved his desk so hard that the keyboard drawer slid open.
The drawer, after balancing for a few precarious seconds, fell over, spilling notebooks, receipts, scrap paper, and gum wrappers on to the floor.
Then the top part of the desk fell on the floor too.
It was only then, his desk too broken to rest his laptop on, that Ivan finally took action.
Ivan had recorded the video first, since that was the hardest.
He decided not to play music in the background after he spent 2 hours trying to find the right song.
He smiled into his laptop’s camera, angling the screen upward to hide the zit on his chin and make his face look squarer.
He turned the camera off, then started again, without smiling this time.
“Hi, I’m Ivan,” he said, trying to deepen his voice and catch the monitor light off of the left side of his jaw simultaneously.
“This is a fundraising page for my top surgery.”
Should he have a dance party to raise money? He logged into Soundcloud and began to make a playlist.
3 hours later he returned to his fundraising page.
$40, he decided, would get you a personalized thank you card.
$50, a customized playlist.
$80, consultation on your own personalized workout plan.
$500? Ivan didn’t know if he owned anything worth that much money.
Maybe $500 would get you a playlist, a workout plan, a thank you card, and a personalized t-shirt.
Marco could design the t shirts, and he could use the screen printer at his school to print them off.
$500 and above, he typed.
Then he clicked “Publish.”
“Please like and share!” He posted a screenshot to Instagram, then invited all of his friends to an Facebook event labeled “IVAN NEEDS TOP SURGERY.”
27 people liked the post in the first hour.
117 liked the post by midnight.
Ivan had felt good, and expanded his outreach, clicking the “invite” button next to each one of his facebook friends’ profile pictures, one by one, including the straight ones.
He had invited Marcus to donate. “I gave $50, but you know man, I never would have known otherwise,” Ivan imagined him saying as he scanned his card, for once looking him straight in the eye.
He wondered if Margot would donate.
“Thank you,” he would write in the >$40 thank you card, with black pen. “Thank you for nothing. Sincerely, Ivan.”
Ivan realizes a few days later that he had chosen the “only funded if goal is met” option on his Kickstarter, and then he started to get worried.
The likes on his profile peaked at 123, even with multiple reshares on ftm fashion blogs.
The fundraising marker was starting to seem permanently stuck at ¼ of the red thermometer.
Marcus had never responded to his invite, and Margot had clicked “maybe.”
Even with substantial donations from his mom, and his mom’s friends (IVAN WE LOVE YOU!!!! WE ARE SO PROUD OF YOU FOR BEING HONEST ABOUT YOURSELF!!! REMINDER THAT I LOVE YOU EVERY SINGLE DAY!), he was less than a third of the way to his goal, with only 24 hours to go.
Ivan stopped checking the page as often, sometimes not looking at it for almost a half hour at a time.
He spent a lot of time on Soundcloud, and sometimes, figuring he at least get some inspiration out of his worry, he opened a track on Garage Band.
He would stare at the audio lines blankly for an hour, a New Order remix playing quietly on repeat in the background.
He wondered if his heart rate would correspond to the melody loop he’d installed.
It went a little overboard on synth, so the line went up and down, then back up to the top of the bar, then down again. High, low. High, low.
Every night, by the third time the bass line of Blue Monday started up again, he would shut his laptop screen.
“HOW DOES IT F-“ his tinny speakers boomed, then cut off.
That night he texted Mike.
You wanna smoke?
He waited five minutes, staring at the ceiling.
There weren’t really any cracks in it, or dents of any kind.
There also wasn’t any division between where the paint on the walls began and the paint on the ceiling ended: just bare blank beige.
It was kind of creepy, now that he was looking at it.
He texted Mike again. You wanna fuck ?
The ellipses showing that Mike was typing appeared almost instantaneously.
I’ll be off work in an hour.
Ivan got along with Mike because he was the only person he knew in the scene who had a portable St. Andrew’s Cross, which folded up neatly so he could fit it comfortably into his Kia Ultima.
Ivan liked Mike because he had a huge blonde beard and looked kinda like Thor, a late thirties Dad Bod gamer Thor who wore t-shirts with the leather flag in a heart shape.
Mike liked Ivan because he was twinky (freckles, eyes that never quite opened all the way even when he was sober). He got along with Ivan because Ivan was a good listener, or at least let Mike monologue stream of consciousness without interruption whenever they hooked up.
They met on FetLife when Ivan posted a link to a jerk off video he made on violet.com to the group “FTM 4 Gay Bois,” hoping to make some money.
No one bid on the video. Mike (BigBear2015) messaged him a few days later (“hey – u wanna do that again irl sometime? ;)”)
Mike took the St. Andrew’s Cross out of the box and started to connect the pieces together, sliding one black bar into the connecting piece, then connecting two completed bars together.
Ivan sat on the bed, grinding Mike’s weed then rolling and lighting a blunt.
Mike attached the completed X shape to its base, then looked at Ivan expectantly.
“You’ll never be a service sub, huh? Put out the blunt and climb on.”
Ivan inhaled one more time, ashed the blunt in the paper coffee cup next to his bed, and stood up with his face towards the St. Andrew’s Cross.
He took off his shirt and pants and Nikes, then spread his legs and his arms so they corresponded to the bars of the cross.
Mike pushed him up against the plastic base, pulled out his restraints and tied meticulous, thorough knots around each of Ivan’s limbs.
“Good boy. Maybe if you’re good someday you’ll learn how to be a service sub.”
Ivan made a skeptical face, but his eyebrows and his mouth were pressed into the top meeting point of the X and the effect was lost.
Mike picked up his black leather riding crop and began to hit it against his hand. smack. smack. smack.
“So what am I going to do with you, boy?”
Ivan shrugged, his voice still muffled. “ionno.”
The St. Andrew’s Cross was kind of a cold thing to have your junk pressed up against while naked.
“Do you want me to hit you?”
Ivan sighed, audibly. “yeah.”
This part was not his thing.
“Yeah, I want you to hit me.”
“Then say Daddy, please.”
“Yellow, man, come on.”
“All right, all right. You gotta say please, though.”
Ivan felt his heart rate decrease substantially each time the crop hit his back.
When Mike undid the restraints a few hours later, Ivan felt his whole body slide off the cross.
He pooled onto the floor, feebly pulling on a dirty pair of boxers and rolling into bed.
You wanna smoke? he asked as Mike started to dissemble the cross.
Mike looked at him, disappointed. “Nah man, we just did. You ever try meditating? It’s kind of the same thing.”
Ivan stared at him blankly, inhaled.
Mike stuffed the remaining pieces of the cross into the cardboard box. “ I mean, I might still chill here for a minute before I go back to my guy. It’s nice to get some space.”
Ivan finished inhaling.
I got a song, Mike said, turning up the volume on phone speaker.
“Last night, all alone, at a party…” Ella belted, her whole heart in it.
Ivan tried not to flinch. It wasn’t even a remix.
Mike sat on the floor, his arms around his knees, continues his monologue from before they started the scene.
“Seriously though, this whole meditation cleanse combo I’m doing with Adrian is intense.”
hmm, Ivan said in agreement, his head resting against the wall next to his mattress.
His bare feet and ankles hung off the side of the bed.
You doing okay, man? You seem quiet.
hmm, Ivan said again, more thoughfully.
Yeah, I get that. You’ll get the money though, you really will. And then you’ll be a real boy.
Did you ever think about changed your name to Pinochicco?
This time Mike did laugh at his own joke.
And you can do whatever you want. I’m jealous of your bachelor life.
Albert is so into clean living, sometimes it’s like going home to a monastery.
Next he’s going to make me like, eat a single chia seed per meal, then meditate for six hours as penitence.
Ivan concentrated on not letting his head fall all the way from the bed onto the floor.
He was not 100% clear on what penitence meant.
“and I was almost, almost persuaded…” Ella crooned, the choir kicking in behind her.
In a split second, just long enough to be unable to take it back, Mike stroked the inside of Ivan’s bare ankle- tenderly with the back of his left hand.
Ivan drew his ankles in to sit cross-legged on the bed, then turned to open his laptop on the floor.
“You want to hear a remix of this song?”
Mike stood up. Nah man. It’s cool. I gotta get home. I gotta feed the cat. He stood up and hoisted the cardboard box of St. Andrew’s Cross up to his pecs in a single movement, then crossed to the door.
Peace man. See you around.
The moment Ivan heard Mike shut the apartment door, he relaxed back into his lull.
He stared at his chest, then threw his arms across his pecs to see what it would look like without them.
He hadn’t checked his phone in almost three hours.
He had probably gotten at least another thousand since then.
He didn’t check the fundraiser page, but he did pull out his phone, considered texting Margot.
What’s up he’d say, just like he said to Mike.
He shut his texts app and went to the Candy Crush app instead.
He beat his score before he passed out at 2:33 am, phone dropping onto his chest.
He thought about his high score first thing when he woke up, and picked his phone up off his chest to check. 455.
A new record.
A message from his mom flickered through the top of the screen- “have you checked your website yet today baby? I love you so much!!!!! I’m sure you’ll get what you need I love you so much, boy or girl!! Ellen had a “boy’” like you on today, and he raised $500,000!!!!!!!”
His mom was worried.
Ivan wasn’t worried, even with less than 12 hours to go.
Today’s the last day, he thought. I probably already raised the rest of the money.
He didn’t check his fundraiser page just yet, though, or open any social media his work email.
He didn’t even open his Hard Gains app, even though it was Monday and he had to go to work before he went to the gym. Mondays were a focus on biceps and sprints.
He rolled onto his side and pulled his knees to his chest, scrolling through his apps.
Maybe he could beat last night’s high score
“This is a new day,” Ivan thought as he opened Candy Crush.
And it was.