Losing a Teenage Dream
New York magazine|December 6-19, 2021
Before I came to Hollywood, I was confidently queer. Years of mixed messages in the industry changed that.
Colton Haynes

Squeal for me, piglet,” I said. “Want me to feed you your food?” ¶ The voice on the other end of the phone moaned. ¶ “You want to get fat for your master, little piggy?” I continued. “You like that? Now oink for me. Tell me how much you love your owner.” ¶ It was 2006, and this was my first job in Los Angeles, as a phone-sex operator. It wasn’t how I had planned on making it in Hollywood, but it wasn’t a bad start—to be 18 years old, new in town, and earning enough money to pay my bills. I dipped in and out of dinners, shops, and meetings to take my calls. Standing on Santa Monica Boulevard outside a CVS, I growled into my cell phone to a caller, “You want me to fatten you up like livestock getting ready for slaughter?” I kept it up as passersby eyed me strangely. “Time for your Geritol.”

I could never understand why so many of these guys had a thing for farm play. But I could sell a farm scene: I was from the Midwest, a little town in Kansas called Andale, northwest of Wichita. I thought it was weird that my phone-operator job had nothing to do with the way I looked, since that was the only thing about me that had ever been affirmed—mostly by much older men. My first serious relationship, if you could call it that, at 14, was with a man in his 40s who worked in the area. I began go-go dancing at a gay bar in Wichita that same year—fake ID in hand—after sneaking in one night with a few castmates from my community-theater program. I felt at home there. The thumping of the beat rattled the club, and from up on the box, all the men looked like wild animals. We danced in cowboy hats, low-rise boot-cut jeans, and no underwear, sweat trickling down our abdomens toward our shaved crotches.

By age 15, I got my first modeling agent. I had submitted photos to the top agencies in New York hoping they’d be my ticket out of my provincial hometown. When I got a message on Myspace in 2005 asking if my then-boyfriend, Jay, and I would pose for a gay magazine called XY, I didn’t think twice. As soon as I got there, I knew exactly what to do. I took my shirt off. I changed into a pair of shredded jeans. I began lifting dumbbells. I put a beanie on and stuck my tongue out. I looked up at the camera, trying to fuck it the way I’d seen boys do in other shoots. I crawled on my knees, changed into a pair of pants with a hole in the crotch, and lay on the bed shirtless with my legs spread so you could see my white underwear through the rip in the groin. Everything but the camera fell away. It felt just like dancing at the club.

Jay and I were invited out to Los Angeles to celebrate the release of the issue. During our trip, we wound up at the home of a movie executive who lived in a mansion in the Hollywood Hills. There were lots of other young men there, milling around the cavernous living room. They all looked like me: wide-eyed and full of promise. At dinner, I was seated next to a writer. He was 50ish and had a familiar hunger in his eyes. “So you’re moving out here, right?” he said. “Yes!” I replied. “With Jay, my boyfriend— he’s right over there.” “Ah, young love,” he said. “That’ll end. When it does, give me a call. I can help you if you need anything.”

After I returned home, I received a package from the writer. He had gotten my address from a mutual friend. It contained some calling cards—I had lied and told him I was out of minutes for my cell phone when he’d asked for my number—and an expensive calculator because I’d mentioned I wasn’t doing well in math class. I found his gifts to be encouraging. If all I have to do is bat my eyes and flirt with people to get opportunities in Hollywood, I thought, that’s already what I do all the time. It was the most obvious thing in the world to me.

I MOVED TO L.A. after high-school graduation. After one year of phone-sex work and unanswered submissions to every acting agent or manager I could find online, I was starting to question why I had come. Finally, in 2007, a management company took the bait. “We love your look,” a rep said over email. Later that week, I visited the office for a meeting. There were two teenage boys roughhousing in the lobby. Through a window, I could see a tiny pool in which guys in swim trunks were splashing and laughing. It was disconcerting. I imagined all of them leaving their hometowns to come here and find they would be competing with so many others who looked just like them.

Eventually, I was called upstairs to the office, where one of the owners of the company—let’s call him Brad—was waiting for me with his assistant. He was wearing a skintight muscle tee and had gleaming-white veneers. He was middleaged, and his hairline looked as if it had recently been rejuvenated.

“How did you find out about us?” he asked.

“I found you online,” I said. “You know the actors on the WB? I want a career like that.”

“Why are you using your hands so much when you talk? And your posture is too … loose,” he said. “We’re definitely going to have to change your mannerisms. They’re a little too … theater.” Code for gay. I stood up straighter. “Can you sing?” he asked.

“Sure,” I said. I began singing “Home,” from the Broadway musical Beauty and the Beast. After a few beats, he stopped me.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM NEW YORK MAGAZINEView All

Black Star Meets Again

Can lightning strike twice? How about 24 years later?

5 mins read
New York magazine
May 9-22, 2022

At Patti Ann's, the Kids' Menu Is the Only Menu

Pigs in a blanket and chicken-fried pork chops just like Mom never used to make.

5 mins read
New York magazine
May 23 - June 05, 2022

The Group Portrait: Less Tall, Less Male, Still Young

The Paris Review has a new editor, a new staff, and a new vibe.

2 mins read
New York magazine
May 23 - June 05, 2022

The Money Game: Scott Galloway

Buy Now. Pay (and Pay, and Pay, and Pay) Later. The bill for the finance hack of the pandemic is coming due-for all of us.

6 mins read
New York magazine
May 23 - June 05, 2022

The Best Bagels in the World?

They might be on Long Island.

6 mins read
New York magazine
May 23 - June 05, 2022

Realism Is Not His Deal

Joseph Giovannini turned this Los Angeles loft into an op-art womb. His tenant loves it.

3 mins read
New York magazine
May 23 - June 05, 2022

Park Avenue's Greatest Pipes

Inside the organ at St. Bartholomew's, enveloped in 18th-century surround sound.

3 mins read
New York magazine
May 23 - June 05, 2022

Cruise's Last Stand

Thirty-six years after the original, Top Gun: Maverick eulogizes the actor’s entire career.

6 mins read
New York magazine
May 23 - June 05, 2022

The SAD YOUNG LITERARY MAN Is Now a MIDDLE-AGED DAD

KEITH GESSEN wrote a memoir about family life. His wife, EMILY GOULD, is mostly okay with that.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
May 23 - June 05, 2022

There Has to Be a Backup Plan.

Inside the 2024 soul-searching that's happening in every corner of the Democratic Party-except the White House.

10+ mins read
New York magazine
May 23 - June 05, 2022