MALT SCHLITZMAN WELCOMES TO TO COMFORTING MASCULINE GENDER AFFIRMATION. Dedicated to that one portion of Daniel Mallory Lavery's new book

No, I don't know what's going on. I have no answers.No, I don't know what's going on. I have no answers.

Hello, friends and cis friends. I am Malt Schlitzmann, patently ridiculous, perpetually nonbinary. My mustache and facial hair would befit a lesser known Civil War general, the kind no one makes statues for. I have a spouse and my they have trained a seething mass of beetles to act as a child, and my estates are a teeming riot of native flowers and endangered butterflies. Hello! A most welcoming hello.

It is no boast to say I could, at any moment, afflict myself with a photogenic flower beard, but so great is my love of nature that I refuse to deny even a single flower to my flying friends. My beetle-child hungers with a thousand mouths. I am profoundly shirtless, even while wearing a suit, and I have come to welcome you, gently, at your own speed, into the churning waters of Masculinity.

Unclench your jaw. Relax your shoulders, roll your head from side to side. Imagine your skull is empty but for a single, oddly shaped basketball, which dribbles itself around your insides. Bend your head back so far that the rim of your flatcap touches the name tattooed between your shoulderblades. Resolve not to email that ex, in fact, resolve to never contact any of your exes ever again.

Put the thought of exes, nay the sum totality of dating, aside for now. Imagine it as an above ground hot tub whose controls have long since been locked on "Maximum." You cannot control it, but you can control getting into it. You can choose not to boil your nards in the hot tub of Emailing Your Exes. Bro, you got this. Don't boil your nards, bro.

Know that masculinity means that there is a part of you the slings and arrows of Fortune shall never reach. You are forever a Summer Lad, now. Sitting on an infinitely lush lawn, in a suburb which has never known the police. There are no houses, only mountains of bushy rhododendrons and fences begging to be peeked over.

The Crew rolls up on bikes. Your town has plenty of nominal youth groups, Tom's Troublemakers, Benny and the Jetsetters, The Full Nelsons, but only yours is affable and well-intentioned enough to be simply, The Crew. There are collectible cards of every imaginable sort flapping against a veritable forest of spokes.

You smile. Duane smiles. Other Duane smiles. Graduation by Vitamin C plays from nowhere. They are all named Duane, The Crew. This was decided the summer before you moved to town, when the Original Duane was getting hassled by the mean nerds from behind the comic shop. They are all wearing athletic shorts. It is not required that you become Duane to chill with the Duanes, but you know that if you asked, they would receive you. You would be made a resident of the land of Duane with lopsided grins and much back patting. The rites of passage for the truly blessed.

Would they allow you to join them in the pocketless comfort of athletic shorts? It is almost too much to dream.

You have a car. It was purchased through funds you have in abundance. It is economically impractical but stylish, not ostentatiously so, it bespeaks the unified intention which guides your life like the handstrap on a ski-lift. You and the Duanes love skiing. You love snow, and the thickness of winter, and the taste of cocoa sipped while gazing into a fire. Duane and Duane are bickering over who gets to hold the Designated Poking Stick. Everyone laughs when Duane, ever the fool, burns his last marshmallow! Oh Duane!

The Duanes are shaking you back to yourself. You buy penny candy at the flea market. You throw rocks at a disused rail bridge. The Least Duane's heart is broken so loud all anyone can say is a hugely silent we love you.

As the sun sets over the broken dam, The Least Duane becomes the nucleus for an atomic Bro Grab. Duane hugs Duane who hugs Duane and they all thrum with calming affirmations. They glow so bright the pain is purged from them all, shedding off like medical tape in the Love Sauna.

The light overwhelms, you stumble backwards. A love beyond depth, a depth beyond measure, the more masculine you become the greater its mysteries become. The ridge of a mountain seems but the fingertips of a sleeping giant, so vast are your known unknowns.

Then the giant farts. Duane farts. Everyone farts so bad the air develops a gradient. Duane is reeling. Plant life withers, as the gas extends its noxious tendrils. You grow disgusted with them. Duane is disgusting! All men are! You are reminded of the profound gulf between you and the Brotherhood of Duanes, mistaking their chaos for a coded dance you will never be invited to.

Then you fart. To show them who's boss, how unremarkable a talent it is. They redouble their laughter, and the gulf closes. You laugh despite yourself, to spite yourself. Duane laughs. Other Duane laughs. The Least Duane has been reduced to an ingot, glowing molten hot. You see much of yourself in this Incandescent Duane, despite the vast differences in the fires that forged you. You wonder what color you would glow, if you allowed the Duanes to love all the hurt out of you.

You reach for the dime in your denim jacket pocket and roll it between your fingers. How small would you be, with all the empty spaceloved out of you?

You are eating hot dogs on a pier. The pier is infinitely long, the ocean infinitely blue. You drop the corn dog on your sweaty, unfashionably slim-fit jeans. They are befouled, cursed with ketchup and granulated sugar. "I want to be a Duane." You hear yourself shout. The Duanes are already smiling. Duane takes off his outer shield of athletic shorts, revealing a protective sub-layer beneath.

"Never go anywhere without backup shorts." Duane says.

"Never know where there will be a Duane in need." Duane says.

"A Duane in need-" One starts.

"-is a Duane indeed." Another finishes.

You smile. Duane smiles. Duane says "Duane" and you nod.

"Duane." You say. And it's true. You are happy, and your pants?

So athleisurely.

– Phiz Kalifa (@maltschlitzmann)

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