… and the illusion was shattered.

by Kyle Fournier

     I was chatting on Facebook Messenger with Zim, my only friend in Siem Reap, Cambodia. We were both hanging out in our own apartments, undistracted by anything but each others’ words. It was the type of chat without pauses between messages - at times, we sent our messages simultaneously, even, trampling over each others’ sentiments while going back and responding to things said two, three, or four messages previously. I changed the topic during the first lull that had occurred in twenty minutes or so.

     “In other news, I matched with a super hottie. A few messages later, turns out she’s trans. That didn’t even completely turn me off. Still had a nice chat. 

     She says, ‘Maybe we’ll see each other soon.’ Before I can respond… unmatched. 

     Classic Siem Reap.”

     “Oh snap! Don’t hate on the trans.”

     “Did you ever…?”

     “Why she unmatch?”

     “Who knows”

     “I have not. But it’s a weird topic. I’ve contemplated - like what is it that attracts me to a woman? Post op is one thing and then pre op is the penis, so like can attraction exist until the penis is seen? Assuming that’s not an attractive thing to you. Or what? 

     Most of it is mental I think. Stigma. I guess to really get to know them it also comes down to smells.

     Mannerisms.”
    “I probably agree.”

     “And opposition for them to be who they ‘think’ they are.

     Like is it healthy… etc. etc. 

     I think I’d feel at least some shame if I fucked a trans without knowing… but would get over it.

     Existentially it’s a very superficial thing though

     I personally think natural spiritual state is non binary

     And when biology is more or less obsolete - we’ll fuck or connect based on things that have less to do with gender

     Like once AI and robots take over - unless of course we build them in our image, which we’ll most likely do”

     “Well that’s possible but it’s a bit too outside of my reality at the moment for me to really consider

     But my own experience lacks any real data points. I’ve been to a couple ladyboy bars but my mind wasn’t really open and none of the ones I interacted with were able to trigger any sort of attraction in me whatsoever

     But that dude in Bangkok I’ve mentioned a few times - that dude is super not gay - and he loves ladyboys

     So I don’t know.”

     “Pre op or post op?”

     “Actually he likes to make a joke that probably has a basis in truth. He says, ‘I only want the ones with the dicks cause they gotta let you fuck them in the ass.’”

     “Yeah, I can relate to not being open minded at a certain point, but also not finding any I was attracted to or interested in.

     Haha, holy shit

     Probably not a joke

     I mean it’s an experience. You’re basically fucking a dude though.

     But not quite, because he looks, walks, and quacks like a duck.”

     “That’s where it gets confusing, though, cause I don’t buy the idea that everything gets changed by chopping the dick off.

     I think attraction occurs before that point of even revealing Schrodinger’s Dick. If you’re attracted and then the dick comes out and kills it, then that, in my opinion, is where the mental block lies.”

     “Everything doesn’t change, but a lot can.
    They get tons of surgeries in many cases
    Boobs
    Face
    Hips
    Voice
    Then they take hormones
    Takes commitment, that’s for sure
    Gold star for that.”

     “Haha for sure

     So strange. I think I used to write it off as mental illness or something

     But it’s so widespread now that that doesn’t seem accurate”

     “Yeah.

     I think it’s definitely partially mental

     But many other layers too

     It’s so difficult to go out without drinking

     Like what do people do… talk sober?!?”

     The conversation turned to the topic of our plans for the night. My adventure to Pub Street that night was inevitable; I was hosting a friend of a my stepbrother’s named Max whom I’d never met and it seemed guaranteed from out brief chats that he’d want to grab a drink or two before retiring for the night at my place. Zim was interested in joining us on Pub Street but unconfirmed.

     When Max showed up at my place, I was relieved immediately. Of course, the fear was that he - an unknown guest - might be weird, boring, volatile, or some combination of the three. Instead, Max and I got along famously right away. He was a well-traveled guy three years my senior who worked for a nonprofit organization. We had tons to talk about. After Max settled in to my place and we conversed for an hour or so, we decided to head out. I texted Zim and he was down, too. 

     Siem Reap is a relatively small city. Max and I would get around on foot for the night. From my apartment to the nearest grocery store was a hundred meters. From there to Pub Street was a kilometer, at most. We met Zim at the grocery store as he got out of a tuktuk. In the store, we headed straight for the refrigerated beer. Zim and Max got to know each other while we chose our first drinks for the night. I settled on a tall can of Angkor and Max followed my lead. Zim chose an ABC Extra Stout. We paid and started walking to Pub Street.

     After a month in Siem Reap, crossing the street was second nature - but it had been terrifying at first. You just wait for a small opening in oncoming traffic and start crossing. If you try and wait until it’s all clear, you’re not going to cross at all. Cars, tuktuks, and bikes swerve to avoid you, but as long as you’re not too unlucky, they will avoid you. We crossed the dusty main street and made it to the other side safely. 

     I was happy to let Zim and Max trade travel stories while I walked slightly behind them and sipped my Angkor. Their conversation was far from small talk, but even medium talk had become small talk to me. The more you travel, the more jaded you become to the mundanities of travel. If I had been speaking with Zim or Max one-on-one, I would have gladly listened to their stories of the countries they’d visited and contribute my own input. In a group conversation that didn’t require my participation, however, acting as a silent witness was preferable.

     The closer we got to Pub Street, the more concentrated the foot traffic was, the brighter the lights were, and the louder the music was. Khmer and foreigners crossed one another’s paths comfortably everywhere around us. More and more bars appeared in our field of vision offering various promotions, many of them even giving out free shots in return for nothing more than the chance that drinkers would be enticed to come and spend money after imbibing an ounce and a half of gratuitous liquor.

     Max had been to Pub Street before, but not for over a decade. His last trip to Cambodia had been a short one in the early 2000s, for the purpose of visiting Angkor Wat, of course. The development that had befallen Siem Reap’s concentrated pocket of nightlife astonished him. He found it entirely unrecognizable. We spent our first twenty minutes on Pub Street just walking up and down it, taking in the sights and sounds.

     Most of the noise was coming from two spots situated on opposite sides of the street at the northwest end. Angkor What? Bar and Temple Club were, without exception, the most frequented and most lively establishments on Pub Street, so much so that a party would form on the street outside, in between the two bars. This occurred nearly every night, with people dancing, drinking, and hanging out in the street as it approached those late night, early morning hours. 

     But it was too early for that. Zim, Max, and I decided to continue walking a bit past the closed off section of Pub Street. We decided on XBar, a popular divey bar with a rooftop that offered a great view of the rest of the area. We climbed the steps up to the first bar area on the third floor of the building. The first two floors were vacant and, as I had been told, hadn’t been used for years.

     XBar was just starting to fill up when we walked in to the main bar area, one floor down from the rooftop. Instinctively, Max and I went to the bar to order beers. Zim, trying his best to abstain from alcohol as much as he could, left the bar to buy a water at a convenience store. Max assured me that my beer was on him as a show of gratitude for giving him a place to stay. Since I wasn’t needed at the bar and I intended on having a fun night, I walked over to the first girls I saw and attempted to start a conversation.

     They were two blondes who happened to be Americans, as were Zim, Max, and I. They were sitting at a table. I walked up and said, “Hi. I’m waiting for my friends to buy drinks and didn’t feel like standing there awkwardly by myself.” They allowed me to talk with them but didn’t seem interested. Then Max walked up with our drinks. They seemed interested. 

     Max was basically a better version of me. Taller, better hair, smoother skin, more relaxed, kinder eyes. I knew as soon as I met Max that he did well with girls. The two American girls were hanging on his every word. Watching Max interact with them reinforced a lesson I had forgotten: overall energy and attraction trumps all else. I had learned and practiced speaking very loudly in bars like XBar. If you spoke softly, it was usually unattractive to girls. When Max spoke softly, though, the girls leaned in to hear him. My voice’s increased volume was tryhard and embarrassing compared to Max’s soft-spoken charm.

     Despite the girls’ apparent attraction to Max, the conversation grew arduous after a few minutes, right around the time Zim returned with his 20 cent bottle of water. We said “Bye,” to the girls in favor of heading up to the rooftop.

     XBar’s rooftop is cool. The view is great, but the layout and style is even better. There are several picnic tables placed near the edge of the rooftop. The other side, away from those picnic tables, though, is where XBar really flaunts its X-Games theme. A real, full-size skateboarding halfpipe sits at the back of the rooftop and provides an extra few meters of height to patrons brave enough to climb it. Two ropes hang down both sides of the half-pipe’s edges. People (who are tall enough) can place their drinks on the ledge, climb up the half-pipe using the rope, retrieve their drink, and sit down at more tables on top of the half-pipe. That’s what Zim, Max, and I did.

     It was quiet at the top of the half-pipe, but it was clear in an unspoken way that that was what we all wanted. The music of the loud bar downstairs was faint where we were, faint enough that we could hear the gentle breeze. I sat on one side of the picnic table with my back to the ledge of the rooftop and Zim and Max sat on the other side.

     “So, how were the girls in Thailand?” I asked Max. Max had flown into Siem Reap from Bangkok that day. My stepbrother, Bill, was traveling all across southeast Asia and Max had decided to join him for the Thailand and Cambodia legs of his journey. While Bill and Max were passing through southeast Asia, Zim and I had grown roots in the region. Zim had been living in places like Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia for the better part of two years. I was a little greener than Zim, but had still been in the region for over a year.

     “Incredible, man,” Max said.

     “Yeah? Go ahead, tell us.”

     “Well, last night I went to some bar in a busy part of Bangkok. When I got in there, I realized that the girls were all pros.”

     “Was it called ‘Thermae’?” I asked.

     “No, I don’t think so. I don’t know. But anyway, I ended up talking to a real hottie. Great body, beautiful face, nice attitude. I might have paid her too much, but it was a good time, man.”

     I couldn’t be positive that we were on the same page, but I felt that Zim and I breathed internal sighs of relief simultaneously. There are two main types of guys when it comes to prostitution. The first type of guys could be described as “Holier than thou.” These guys will say things like, “Nah man, I’d never pay for it. That’s pathetic.” Most of us had once been a guy like that.

     After spending some time abroad, though, most guys develop a more open-minded perspective. Yes, prostitution is intertwined with some serious evils. And yes, any man with any sort of competence should be able to get “it” for free. However, when two consenting adults decide to make a transaction in which sex is sold for money, there’s really not much wrong with it and it’s really not that abnormal. And it’s fun to talk about.

     With the prostitution ice broken, the three of us excitedly shared stories. None of us were hardcore whore-mongers, but we all had a handful of stories of various types. Another truth about southeast Asia is that many guys will end up paying for sex on a night that started with no such intention. A great deal of men who have a few prostitution stories in Southeast Asia are not disgusting degenerates; they’re just guys that got drunk, talked to a girl who seemed interested, and learned an important lesson.

     Zim and Max were getting along great, so I went downstairs and ordered another round of Angkors for us. When I returned, the two were still deep in conversation. Zim saw the beer I had for him, though, and protested.

     “Dude, I’m trying not to drink tonight!”

     “Shut up. You already had one. This one’s free.”

      After more girl stories - both pro and amateur - Max’s eyes started wandering. We were the only people on the rooftop.

     “Hey fellas, I’m enjoying this talk, but you mind if we move somewhere where we can at least see what’s going on?” Max asked.

     “Yeah, let’s go,” I said.

     We slid down the half-pipe one by one and headed downstairs together. XBar was pretty dead, so we made the decision to head back through Pub Street. We chugged what was left of our beers and put our empty bottles on the bar. 

     “I’m gonna hit the bathroom first,” Zim said.

     “Yeah, me too,” said Max.

     I took a seat at the vacant table that had once been inhabited by two blonde American girls. At the next table over was a short, slim Khmer girl with adorable buck teeth and long, black hair. She smiled at me and I returned her smile. With nothing better to do, I made the short walk over to her.

     “Hi, I’m Kael,” I said, extending my hand.

     “Hi Kael, I’m Charaya,” she said with a smile. Her buck teeth didn’t detract from her attractiveness in the slightest. Actually, her teeth were straight and bright white. They just stook out a little in the front in a way that made her face easy to remember.

     “How’s your night going?” I asked.

     “It’s good. I was waiting for my friends but they’re taking a while.”

     “Me too. But my friends are just peeing, they shouldn’t take too long.”

     And they didn’t. Before Charaya got any further in our conversation, Zim and Max returned from the bathroom and walked up to us.

     “Charaya, this is Zim and Max.”

     I was impressed by the way Charaya interacted with my friends. She was as polite and charming with them as she had been with me. Without any cues from me, she started asking Zim and Max if they were enjoying Siem Reap and how long they were staying. Her English was fluent.

     Zim turned to me. “Where do you wanna go?”

     “We can just walk down Pub Street.” I turned to Charaya. “Do you wanna come with us?”

     “Sure! Let’s go to Temple!”

     I turned to Zim and Max. Neither had any objection. Charaya grabbed my hand and led the way out of the bar area and down the stairs back out onto the street.  Walking down Pub Street was a lot more fun with a cute local holding my hand. Zim and Max walked just behind us and we arrived at Temple in no time.

     Temple is a club - there’s no way around that. I normally didn’t enjoy such environments, but I made an exception since Charaya seemed to want to be there with me. I figured that if I wasn’t having fun after a few minutes, it would be easy enough to say goodbye to her and do whatever else I wanted to.

     We walked up the small handful of stairs to Temple’s entrance and took turns getting patted down by security. Then, we were inside. The volume of the music and the relative darkness of the large open room were disorienting at first. I needed a second to get my bearings, but Charaya didn’t. Still holding my hand, she led me straight to the bar. I asked her what she wanted. Beer. I ordered four beers. As I reached for my wallet, Max appeared at my side.

     “I got these,” he said.

     “Awesome, thanks man.” I grabbed two of the four beers and gave one to Charaya and extended the other to Zim, whose eyes shot open.

     “Dude, what the fuck?!”

     “Shut up, Max already paid for it.” Zim took the beer and began sipping it as Charaya grabbed my hand and walked me into the heart of the dance floor.

     Sometimes I think I can remember having fun dancing at a club, but it’s a faint feeling more than a memory and probably false, at that. I fucking hate dancing. When I let loose in a bar or a club, I like to have fun conversations and talk to strangers. I derive no pleasure whatsoever from dancing. When a girl wants to dance with me, I’ll do it, but I’m not even happy about that. 

     Even in the best case scenario, I haven’t found dancing with a girl very sexy or arousing since I was 17 years old. Sure, a cute girl rubbing her ass against my crotch is nice - but it’s not always that simple. My rhythm sucks and often theirs does, too. 

     On the dance floor, I immediately started looking for a wall or a support beam, as I always did. I found a nice sturdy pillar and led Charaya to it. Leaning against the pillar lessened my dancing responsibility considerably. I could just post up and let Charaya dance against me without any real need to move or do anything, myself. Charaya was an excellent dancer. She moved her ass against me in perfect time to the music. I looked around to see Zim or Max but couldn’t find them.

     One song faded out and another faded in. Charaya turned around to face me and put her arms around me. She looked me in the eyes and I took her cue. I leaned down and kissed her on the lips. She responded enthusiastically, shoving her tongue into my mouth from the start. We made out like that for a couple songs. I started to reconsider my position on dancing.

     Charaya stood on her tiptoes to speak into my ear and be heard above the loud music. “Do you want to go somewhere?” 

     “Yeah, let’s go.”

     Again, she led me by the hand off of the dance floor where I saw Max, but not Zim. I went up to Max and he raised his eyebrow. I raised mine in response.

     “I gotta see where this goes,” I said.

     “Of course.”

     Outside of Temple, there was no shortage of tuktuk drivers competing for the chance to take Charaya and I whenever we wanted to go. We walked to an intersection where we could get into a tuktuk that was at least facing the right direction. I told the driver, “Straight please. Then left at the light.”

     In the tuktuk, Charaya continued showing her affection for me. She took my hand and placed it in her lap, holding it the whole time, and sidled up against me. Straight for a few hundred meters, left at the light, and straight for another two hundred meters and we were in front of my apartment. We got out and I handed the driver six thousand Riel - $1.50. I led Charaya to the gate, which I unlocked, opened, and then locked behind us. Through the courtyard, up one flight of stairs, and into my room, we went.

     Charaya used my restroom as I hid my money and passport. I laid on my bed as I heard the toilet flush. The door opened and Charaya came straight at me, discarding her shoes before she reached the bed. She jumped onto the bed, straddling me.

     “How long have you stayed here?”

     “About one month. I leave in three days.”

     “Aw,”

     “Yes. Aw.” She leaned down and kissed me with intensity, resuming what we had started. Then, she pulled away and leaned back. 

     “You pay me, yes?” With those words, the energy in the room deflated and left through the cracks in my front door, like air leaving a balloon. 

     “Really?” I asked. “I didn’t see that coming.”

     “Sorry, babe.”

     The pause before I spoke felt far longer than the few seconds it actually lasted. “How much do you want?”

     “How much will you pay?”

     “Fuck, I don’t know. I didn’t think I was paying at all,” I looked at the ceiling and thought. “I’ll give you twenty dollars.”

     “OK.” With that, Charaya leaned down and kept kissing me. Now that I was a paying and entitled customer, I decided to take control and get what I wanted. I gripped her body and rolled her to the side, coming up on top of her with my hips between her legs. I dry-humped her as we continued making out. Then, with a movement that seemed practiced, Charaya pushed my legs to the outside of hers and pulled me up her body so that I was straddling her with my crotch in her face. She undid the button of my shorts, pulled my dick out, and started sucking it like the seasoned professional that I had just found out she was. 

     I was hard and she was doing a great job, but I wanted to fuck. With a movement that was practiced, I rolled us over again so that Charaya was back on top, straddling me again. I gripped her ass with both hands. But her clothes were complicated. It wasn’t a matter of pulling her shorts down or reaching up her skirt. She was wearing a jumpsuit that forbade my hands from touching the bare flesh of her pubic region. I was struggling with it for a minute while kissing her when she finally helped me. She undid a strap and I was able to grip her bare ass. I continued reaching down, expecting to feel wetness when I felt something else.

     Balls.

     My hand touched the unmistakably tight skin of a male scrotum and the illusion was shattered. My dick went limp and whatever energy had built up after Charaya’s request for money left the room again and would not come back. I pulled my hand back up, brushing her ass and back, and my kissing became a lot less convincing.

     I hate to make anyone feel bad. In retrospect, I had no reason to force politeness, but that’s just the kind of guy I am - far too concerned with what others think of me. I tried to think of a way that I could show Charaya that her balls didn’t bother me and get her out of my room without any conflict. 

     Charaya had other plans. She moved down my body and resumed sucking my dick. Somehow, her efforts were less effective than they had been before. I let her try for a couple minutes, but nothing was gonna happen. I took her by the arm and pulled her beside me.

     “Sorry,” I said.

     “Too drunk?”

     “Yeah, that must be it.”

     We laid like that for a minute or so before it was time for the situation to come to its conclusion. Again, in retrospect, it could be argued that I shouldn’t have felt compelled to hold up my end of the bargain. In reality, though, I got up from the bed, went over to my dresser where I had stashed my wallet, and pulled out a twenty dollar bill to give to Charaya. I put my wallet back in the dresser and closed the door.

     “You think I’d steal?” she asked, referencing my carefulness.

     “No. I don’t think so. But… you know.”

     “Yeah.” Charaya took the twenty. “Are you going back out?”

     “No. Do you want me to order you a ride?”

     “Yes. That would be good.”

     “Where are you going?” 

     “I’ll go back to Temple,” she said.

     “OK.” I used my phone to order a tuktuk for Charaya. Within a minute, there was one close to my apartment. “Let’s go,” I said.

     Back outside, down the steps, across the courtyard, through the gate, and out onto the street. The tuktuk was already waiting. I hugged Charaya and said goodbye. When the tuktuk sped off, I didn’t know what I felt, but I knew that it was a lot. Needing someone to talk to, I pulled out my phone and rapidly texted Zim and Max at the same time. 

     “Where are you?” 

     Max replied immediately. “Back at XBar.”

     “Perfect. See you in 5.”

     I grabbed my wallet from inside my apartment while ordering a ride. My tuktuk showed up within a couple minutes and within a couple more I was back at XBar. I bounded up the steps three at a time and found Max talking to a group of three Aussie girls. I pulled him aside.

     “How’d it go?” he asked.

     “Did you know?!?!”

     “Ahhh, yeah. Zim said she might have been a pro.”

     “Yes, but did you know?”

     “What?”

     “She was a dude!”

     Max’s jaw dropped and his eyes seemed even bluer than before. 

     “No fucking way.”

     “Oh my God, I’m so glad. I thought maybe you guys knew.”

     “Not a clue, man. She was hot.”

     “He was hot,” I corrected.