It was love at first ass shot.
Sebastian, played by Ryan Phillippe, rose from the pool after failing to seduce virgin Annette, played by his now ex-wife, Reese Witherspoon, in Cruel Intentions. For the life of me, I could not understand why Annette did not immediately start singing the lyrics of Ginuwine’s “Pony” and proceed to play out the song with him.
He was butt-ass naked and it was a sight to behold. It was such a sight that I don’t remember much else about the movie. Something about obnoxious teenagers and some demure girl whose cherry they wanted turned out? Oh, and two of the girls kissed each other. Good for them.
Whatever the case, for a teenage boy in conflict with his same-sex attractions, Sebastian’s bare cheeks air-drying post-rejection is the only scene that matters.
For the record, I had to wait and see Cruel Intentions on video. I got to see some R-rated movies by way of my cool older sister (Friday, for example), but no one would take me to see movies like Cruel Intentions. It was an early lesson about the role “the haters” will play in one’s life.
It was probably for the best, though. Once I had the movie on VHS (it was a dark time in home entertainment, children born in the 1990s) and got to that scene, I paused the tape and stared at the screen for several minutes. My mouth, open. My eyes, glued to his cheeks. I went on to take the advice T-Boz from TLC shared with me in 1996 about self-pleasure.
I knew I was attracted to boys around the age of six. Will Smith is actually my first celebrity crush, but he was squeaky clean on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air so much of my thoughts were, “Oh, you look nice… in that stupid looking jacket your fictitious private school has you wearing.” An NBC sitcom in the 1990s could never offer the same sort of temptation and titillation many of Phillippe’s movies did.
After that, I tasked myself with finding other movies that included Phillippe’s nudity—notably 54, released a year prior to Cruel Intentions.
The film 54 was my first real glimpse into gay male sex. I tended to stay clear of porn online. Not because I didn’t know how to hide the evidence from a tech-savvy mom—porn just doesn't do a whole lot for me (Tumblr porn is cool, though). No shade to the hard-working adult entertainers of the world.
It’s a shame that so many of the original scenes of the movie were cut in its original theatrical release. I saw bootleg versions of select scenes—including Phillippe kissing co-star Breckin Meyer—but even in the heavily edited version, I got the gist. I had never seen what those attractions looked like when expressed—especially not from someone I couldn’t help but fawn over. As a result, I got a whole lot closer to accepting the gay within.
The older I get, the more I realize how instrumental pop culture has been to my life. How it helped me process feelings I did not know how to grapple with alone. How it introduced me to possibilities I did not think could exist given the more insulated world around me at the time.
And beyond all that seriousness, how so damn fine Ryan Phillippe is. There’s the fear of hell for being an abomination and then there’s Ryan Phillippe’s ass. When you put it that way, who can truly question my “lifestyle choices?” He’s still fine, by the way. Like, legendary bae.
If it is not clear by now, I grew up obsessed with Ryan Phillippe. I even briefly had a crush on Justin Timberlake during his *NSYNC days (when he had curly hair) for no other reason than I thought he looked like a first cousin of Phillippe’s. I let that go because there’s nothing like the real thing. I made the right call. See: How Timberlake did Janet Jackson after the Super Bowl.
I would no longer use the word “obsessed” to describe how I feel about Ryan Phillippe. I would rather he not ever file a restraining order against me. Still, I will watch every single thing he does—particularly if you tell me a nude scene is involved. He's by far my favorite white man and no one will ever top him.
In 2011, I was actually in Phillippe’s presence. I was a plus-one at a CAA All-Star party and I ran right into him. My immediate thought was to basically pledge my lifelong devotion without seeming too creepy. Sadly, I never got to say anything to Ryan because I was in a rush to meet Beyoncé before she left. I did meet Beyoncé and not only did she talk to me, she hugged me–instantly making me fresher than you.
Still, I’ve always felt in my spirit that it's important to publicly thank Ryan Phillippe, his parents (for having him), his trainer (for keeping him that fine), and every casting director he’s ever worked with for having so much impact in my life. Y’all did a conflicted Catholic gay boy good.
Michael Arceneaux is a Houston-bred, Howard University educated writer who wants a show that'll allow him to recite UGK lyrics with Beyoncé. He's working on his first book, I Can't Date Jesus, for Atria Books.