Ryan Lee

Ryan Lee: The pain and politics of ‘popper nostril’

Among the good fortune I’ve experienced, some of the most appreciated was going through puberty without relentless acne. That doesn’t mean I avoided embarrassment from my zits, since even though I averaged less than five a year, they often arose close enough to my nostrils to be mistaken as boogers.

“You’ve got something in your nose — oh, no, sorry, that’s a pimple,” was a courtesy I became familiar with in high school.

A reservoir of insecurity kept me casually worried about adult-onset acne, when, after decades of stealthily plotting and building up strength, the oils beneath my skin would carpet bomb my face and make me wish I had experienced a proper adolescence. However, one of the benefits of being undeniably grown is aging-out of certain concerns, like being picked up for curfew or waking up to a face blighted by zitskrieg.

I have new, adult worries about what people might mistake as boogers: popper nostril.

I’ve been struggling a bit with Single Parent Syndrome the past few weeks; the months I’ve spent as my nephew’s legal guardian have been the most endearing of my life, but they’ve also been the most demanding, and compound my mourning the freedom and flexibility of being a childless, unpartnered man. So when we were at the Atlanta Auto Show with my cousin and her young son, and she asked if my nephew could spend the night at their place so the boys could play video games, I almost cried tears of gratitude.

Before my nephew’s overnight bag was fully packed, I was casting a bat-signal to prepare for my unexpected night of nostalgic indulgence. Perhaps one explanation for my merciful experience with acne was a traffic jam in my waist region that prevented hormones from making it to my face.

The switch from having sex several times a week (the most discrete unit of time I can think of) to now feeling lucky if I get lucky every other month means I wasn’t my usual self during my impromptu hook-up. For instance, I didn’t even remember that I usually don’t enjoy poppers during sex until I was inhaling some Rush and, thanks to my clumsy, unfamiliar motions, felt it splash into my nostrils.

I grabbed my shirt to wipe the liquid off my nose, and braced myself for a week of people saying, “You have something in your n— oh, no, sorry, that’s a chemical burn from sniffing illegal-but-commercially-available amyl nitrites so you can feel lightheaded while being an absentee slut.”

I have no issue with people knowing I am a sexually active man, or even a stereotypically promiscuous gay man, but nothing screams “SKANK!” like the rash and peeling of popper nostril. It’s as tacky as having a Pangaea-sized hickey on one’s neck, but impossible to cover up with a turtleneck.

Normally, my goatee is useful in casting shadows to mute the redness blaring from the rim of my nostrils, but I shaved my mustache while getting ready for the auto show, as I’ve been doing since November in response to Trump’s election victory. I’ve learned that my “look” can be updated as frequently as fashion seasons, and in an attempt to weaponize my ethnic ambiguity, to discomfort Trump supporters and real-world troll them, I’ve been wearing my facial hair so that everyone’s first impression is that I am a Muslim.

“He’s probably a Syrian refugee,” Trump supporters will whisper to each other, now adding, “and Hannity said all members of the Jihadlamist Brotherdom have those red marks on their noses.”

It’s hard to find laughs during these times, but I’ve been tickled watching Trump supporters deal with a sort of political popper nostril. It sure feels euphoric when you take that big whiff of toxic gases, whether emanating from a bottle of Rush or the biggest loudmouth in American history, until you realize your face is on fire and everyone’s about to know you’re an immoral skank.