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None of these words are in the Bible
I knew Saint Sebastian, a handsome if dissolute young man. I knew him first from Instagram, where he cultivated a healthy following. We had nothing in common, he ten years younger than me, me working in human rights law and he in PR for the Roman army, and me ten years older than him. But we didn’t need anything in common; I followed him because he prettied up my feed, and he didn’t follow me back. Saint Sebastian maintained a healthy ratio.
If people would say anything about Saint Sebastian, it was how hot he was. How astonishingly hot, how astonishingly, irritatingly, skin-itchingly, mournfully hot. What it was, one couldn’t tell. He wasn’t too much of anything - of average height, neither chiselled nor twinky, not quite. But his face was soft, his eyes bright and dark, his smile breaking into barely perceptible dimples. His photos were sometimes posed, sometimes candid, always exasperating, for we, his viewers, were never in them.
“Oh Saint Sebastian, he fucking loves himself” I would hear his peers say. But if one thing was clear from his photos, it was that Saint Sebastian didn’t love himself. That was confirmed when I finally got to know him, through a younger mutual friend of mine, in the little nook in the gay bar that he attended, I would discover, most Friday nights. As he swirled across the dance floor, folded in to the crowd like butterscotch through vanilla, he hoist his arms into the air above his head and twisted his wrists into the cigarette smoke (you could smoke inside when Saint Sebastian was alive). The disco lights pierced the thick fug and landed on his skin.
The problem with being beautiful (for Saint Sebastian at least) was he only knew how to be looked at. Being looked at was easy, rich, rewarding. But beyond that, he was lost. Scared even. “You can’t do nothing,” I used to say. To do is a verb. The verb. To do nothing is impossible. But Saint Sebastian did nothing. He was a prick tease, everyone knew it. Everyone had seen his ass, in their dm’s, on his close friends, even on his main feed. He knew his angles and he knew his lighting. His ass was impeccable, and many men yearned. But I don’t know a single person who fucked Saint Sebastian. Not a single one.
I had asked him about it, one drunken night shortly before the lights came up and we were cleared from the floor. I shouldn’t have, I know. Many of his friends would call me predatory, I know that. A man ten years older hitting on a 27 year old like that - it’s gross. I could imagine them shooting darting eyes at me. What would a man see in a boy like Saint Sebastian except sex, except the unequal, predatory, unbalanced opportunity for sex? But I genuinely just wanted to know. His very sexlessness seemed like a huge cloud at the centre of his being, through which he couldn’t be seen. “I’m a side” he said. “I just don’t want it. It’s gross.” He seemed to care for nothing. He loved nothing. He didn’t want to be touched.
Was this a problem with Saint Sebastian? No. Who can blame him? The problem with sex is the fluidity of it all. In the ones and zeros of the image, there’s a pleasing lack of fluids. Nothing spills or stains with data. Nothing blooms or breeds on contact. With images, Saint Sebastian had control. He was sexual, in a manner, but without sex. He determined any eye that determined him. And the pleasure — the pleasure was so clean too. Easily manageable chunks of dopamine delivered in the same ones and twos in which he transmitted his body. His desirability was quantifiable as ever expanding reach, but nothing overflowed onto, or into, the body of Saint Sebastian.
What changed? Who knows? What causes in men such sudden reorientations with the worlds in which they live? I think he sickened, plagued by too many images. I think the sight of them, flat and clean and pure, caused him great indigestion. I think he woke from dreams of the parasocial desires that choked him during his days, and found his crisp Egyptian cotton sheets flooded with his own vomit.
He didn’t slowly slip into his fleshy body. He bounded into it. We was flung into himself at speed. There is no zealot like a convert; alive to himself he proselytised this new faith, touching and being touched in every situation. He fell to his knees with joy at what had been revealed to him. He greeted with a kiss; he let his hand slide down your back; he held your arm and lent close to confide a good word: I love my body. It can do amazing things.
The thing is, such images that swamp us are not profane. The thing is, they are too holy. And swamped with holy images of holy bodies, we struggle to recognise their divinity. From then on out, Saint Sebastian cleared away the image and went straight to the divine flesh. And so it was, some time later, that I saw him again at a party. All the anxiety that once marked his face, its twitching micro-movements of jaw and cheeks and brows carefully calibrated to the possibility that someone, somewhere was taking his picture, making his image — all that anxiety was gone. He didn’t fear to be fucked. Wine flowed and the musicians played and sentences were pronounced, and I watched Saint Sebastian get penetrated again and again and again by a whole crew of Roman soldiers. And do you know what amazed even me, a believer? Saint Sebastian survived.
His bestie Irene took him home that night, a little worse for wear. But I’ll never forget the bravery of that boy who rejected the lure of so many anxious images to go straight to the source of joy.
Sadly, Saint Sebastian is dead now. Like so many pretty young gay boys of his generation he had his head chopped off by Diocletian. “Lol”, he said, as the swordsman drew his weapon above his head. “Not this. Not me.” But I was there, I knew Saint Sebastian. Nothing could convince me that he didn’t now love something in this world. Yesterday I visited Saint Sebastian’s chapel. I was struck by the attention to detail. It looked just like him.
‘utopian drivel’ is written by me, Huw Lemmey. If you’re a paid subscriber, thank you so much for your support. Please do forward this to anyone who might enjoy it.