by Eric Mueller
I love Dick. It’s more than just looking at Dick on others. With Dick wrapped around me, I feel complete. Dick is what I call any piece of clothing I’ve ever worn, owned, or coveted. It’s my materialism, because a love so deep deserves a name. I didn’t know I liked Dick until Ian, an actual person, entered the picture.
Ian once told me that when I wore one light blue shoe and one highlighter yellow shoe for the first time we went hiking together, it made me seem super cute and made up for my terrible performance as a hiker. We spent so much time together that he asked me to move in with him, and I brought Dick with me. He said that I had too much Dick and our studio was too small to fit it all. I told him I thought that was nonsense, that we just needed to work on hanging and folding everything, and not fall behind on laundry. We were both the same gender, same size, so I told him it was like he was getting a ton of free clothes to wear. In a gesture I thought was big, I filled up a small tote with clothes I didn’t need anymore. It wasn’t enough.
Not only was I so into Dick that everywhere we went in the San Francisco studio there was Dick on the floor, Dick sticking out of unclosed drawers, piles of laundry Dick, but I also didn’t see anything wrong with Dick in the first place. I thought I had a normal amount of clothes and that I needed to have that many clothes. I thought everyone needed that much Dick in their lives. After some months of Ian shaming me, another bag or two to Goodwill, he changed his approach a bit. We watched a documentary called “The True Cost,” which unpacks the idea of the “fast fashion” time we live in, and the demand for cheap labor in making garments. The documentary then visualizes sweatshops in India, where workers are attempting to unionize to make about two North American dollars a month.
Around this time, when getting my fifth tattoo, I asked the artist about the nautical scene on his arm while he engraved a monster on my skin. He told me that it was unfinished. The artist he was working with kept taking the tattoo into a different direction, because it was his aesthetic. He “didn’t like the energy going into the piece,” and did not know when he would be finishing it. His words played in my head everywhere I went. Energy going into anything intrigued me, and also made me feel a little sick, wrapped in Dick made in places like Taiwan, Bangladesh, and Thailand by people born after 2005.
Ian suggested I start getting my clothes at American Apparel, where most of the workers at least had health insurance. I went on their website and all of their outfits looked like how to dress like people who would be mean to me.
When I try to think about my relationship with Dick, I have to start with now and work back. It’d be really easy to pin my abusive relationship with Dick on the retail job I worked right after I finished my undergrad degree. The store was for a major sports brand, a factory outlet. All of the prices were marked down to begin with. Not only were there sales on those markdowns but there was also an employee discount. I bought so much Dick that I couldn’t fit it into my drawers at home. What I ended up doing to make all of my t-shirts fit was fold them into stacks of twelve and put them in piles, separated by color, on a desk I never used. Shoes, something I never cared about before, I had to tell people how great they were every day. I had to convince people to add to their growing Dick. I believed in what I was saying, and purchased twenty-four pairs of sneakers for myself.
While working at that retail store, I was also coaching football and going to the gym. I was an object in motion, staying in motion, recovering from a knee injury that kept me out of commission for a while. Working out made me feel great, and I was doing it at a frequency that made me go through a lot of old clothes that were getting bigger and bigger on me. I started to feel more comfortable in my skin, so much so that I liked how I looked in this color, that color, every color. It was only going to be until I moved to San Francisco, then I’d stop is what I told myself. I did do that, but not until Ian.
At my parents’ home in Connecticut, there are three large plastic totes stacked in my bedroom. In those totes are Dick I can’t get rid of. There’s the gray shirt, size large with a red air freshener that says: the fresh scent of heartache: Falloutboy; the Guilford football 2003-2007 t-shirts; the Allegheny College Springfest 2010; CBGB; the Hurley shirt with the sleeves cut off that I wore when my father died; the fire extinguisher that says, “I put out”; and more. A few of them still have tags on them, because they never fit me and I thought they would soon. Those I kept around as motivators, like that itsy bikini. The ones that are old, I can’t seem to get rid of. Each reminded me of something I didn’t want to forget, even the ones I hadn’t worn and still don’t fit into.
I wouldn’t have started to cut down on my Dick until Ian. Whenever he said I had too many clothes, too much Dick, I took it personally. When I was bigger, I was also in the closet, and it was a very lonely place. As I started to accept who I was and recover from that knee injury, it felt like all I had was Dick. I couldn’t initially get rid of Dick because I felt like it helped me get through hard times.
I’ve seen this idea floating around in fitness memes and tweets: lose weight to look good in clothes, get fit to look good naked. I was in such a transitional period, that fully clothed and looking better was the best version of myself I could see.
When I opened one of the plastic boxes in my bedroom to discover that the black Story of the Year t-shirt with a snake on it that I got for my fourteenth birthday fit me again, I was ecstatic. The feeling is so great that it can make you forget about whoever made it, what their working conditions were like, what they were paid.
At some point last year, some point between the Pulse nightclub shooting and the election of Trump, I became interested in how to present one’s queerness. There was the only-right-ear-pierced thing, until that became played out. There’s the hanky thing—a different color hanky for a different fetish in one’s back pocket, and a different pocket placement depending on what role you hope to play—but I usually like what I’m into to be more conversation based, rather than written on my butt. Plus wearing a hanky usually means you’re looking to do said fetish relatively soon; I already have someone to do all that with me. I brought home two leather cuffs and wore them on my right arm and Ian flipped out.
How could I bring Dick in like this? This was just the beginning of more and more Dick coming back into the house. I asked him what he thought queer looked like.
In the past he had ranted on how him and me being fat was kind of like being trans in that there was no closet we could go into to hide our fatness, similar to a trans person’s coming out being more of a visible one. In this instance, however, Ian said that queerness is best expressed through a lack of clothing. His idea is almost beautiful.
Often, when Ian and I go on dates, single women will come up to us thinking that we’re two single straight white men. In a world that’s filled with Trump supporters, I don’t want people to think I’m the type of person that voted against the safety and prosperity of so many people. Bankrupt American Apparel will likely have to close all of their retail stores in a few months. People are calling it karma while polyester handsewn in a factory overseas presses against their private parts.
To be queer is to stick out, to be strange. Sometimes Dick helps me convey that. What’s different now is that I’m much more in control of my Dick. Dick for quality, not quantity, because the way things are looking, we need all the help we can get.
Eric Mueller was born on the 46th anniversary of the Invasion of Normandy. He currently lives in San Francisco and is working on a collection of essays. Follow him @realericmueller.