Welcome to It’s Complicated, a week of stories on the sometimes frustrating, sometimes confusing, always engrossing subject of modern relationships.
It’s a night in April 2013, and I am about to enter a man’s West Hollywood bedroom after our second date. This man’s bedroom is a basement, and, walking down the gray carpeted stairs I think of the pivotal line from the 2007 movie Zodiac: “Not many people have basements in California.” I’m not sure what kind of person would choose to hole up in a basement, but when I enter this man’s, I see a slew of weapons: a cane sword, several daggers, a Freddy Krueger glove.
This man’s basement room is just littered with weapons. Instead of turning around and walking away like many people would when faced with a bunch of privately owned weapons, I go, “Is that a Klingon Bat’leth?” Because this is me now. I have accepted my fate as Hana Michels: Woman Who Fucks All the Sword Guys. (As far as I can tell, a Sword Guy is a man who collects swords, values swords, or has ever used the phrase “respect the blade.”) I spent three years of my life with a man who owns a Klingon Bat’leth. And a cane sword. And a Freddy Glove. And several daggers. In fact, if you encounter a sword guy in a big coastal city, you should know that I have had sex with him.
I genuinely think there’s no better demonstration of sexism in our society than the fact that we talk about cat ladies but not sword guys (and I do not mean to disparage either). This is despite the fact that the transition into the sword-guy lifestyle is swifter: A woman has to have, let’s say, more than three cats before her cat ownership becomes a lifestyle statement and people deem her a “cat lady.” But if a guy just mounts a single katana on his wall he is saying, “That’s it, this is me now.” Yet we never talk about sword guys?
I used to think this was because sword guys only exist on the Coasts, and in Middle America “sword guys” are “gun guys.” But my sword-guy stand-up material went over really well in Arizona this year, and many of the sword guys I’ve hooked up with have been transplants who took their swords with them on their journey to either Coast. Plus, sword-demo YouTube videos seem to be filmed all over the country and the sword subreddit seems popular throughout the globe. Sword guys are a real class of people — we just aren’t talking about them. We believe cat ladies have “given up,” but a guy whose bedroom is littered with weapons is still super-inviting. Trust me, because I apparently find them super-inviting.
You can’t just spot a sword guy on the street (unless you’re me), because sword guys don’t have that many unifying characteristics. Unlike “gun guys,” sword guys don’t seem to have any political beliefs in common, unless “swords are cool and I like slicing through plastic bottles” is a political belief. You might assume all sword guys are nerds, but this isn’t true. They might be nerds, they might be jocks, they may even be a hybrid of the two.
Sword guys aren’t necessarily social outcasts, either. They just have friends who are cool with hanging out around a bunch of swords. Often, they’re white guys obsessed with Japanese culture, but this isn’t a rule: My ex with the Bat’leth was not (though he was totally a white guy with black framed glasses, because the most popular uniform of the sword guy is exactly the same as the uniform of the Zodiac Killer). In fact, the only thing I can say sword guys have in common is not caring whether the dates they bring home think they’re a serial killer. Also, they like swords I guess.
Unlike you, I can detect sword guys without ever having seen their swords. Recently I hooked up with someone who’d heard my sword-guy jokes and said, “Don’t worry, I have no swords. BY THE WAY HERE IS A PIECE OF SHARON TATE’S FIREPLACE I JUST HAPPEN TO HAVE.” You know Sharon Tate! From CHARLES MANSON MURDERING HER! God, please let me go back to sword guys.
If you’re going to fuck a bunch of sword guys it’s important to know which sword guys are actually worth fucking. I’ve determined a hierarchy of sword guys and it goes as follows:
Guy with replica swords from pop-culture things he likes. This guy is just objectively cool. He might even make these swords from scratch for cosplay purposes, which is a real skill. I’ll take a Star Trek Bat’leth over a QVC katana any day. This guy knows what he loves and he’s not afraid to show it. Fuck yeah.
Guy with regular swords. Every guy with a regular sword starts out with the same “limited edition” (note: “limited edition” means nothing) QVC/eBay katana. Katanas are the Bulbasaur of sword catching, and this guy wants to be a real sword master. He may or may not make YouTube demonstration videos in his Karate Gi while playing obscure metal music.
Guy who keeps a dagger under his pillow for “protection.” RUN, RUN, RUN, RUN FROM THIS GUY. Also if these guys care about protection so much WHY DO THEY NEVER HAVE CONDOMS?
After hooking up with a bunch of sword guys I decided I’d better start exploring sword-guy culture. A good place to start learning about sword guys is to type “my katana sword” in the YouTube search bar. You will find everything from sword unboxing, weapon-collection overviews, to my favorite: guys slicing things in their backyards, again, often over metal music. There’s no shortage of white guys in Karate Gis here. Some of these videos show people testing and hammering their swords to let consumers know if they’re a worthwhile purchase. Although I’ve never seen a sword guy actually use his sword for anything but decoration, THEY ARE ALL PREPARED TO. And they will tell you as such. Right before making out.
You will see the occasional sword girl in your sword-guy video search. Do not read her comments. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about sword culture, it’s that sword girls deserve better than the YouTube comments they get (and that white people are obsessed with Japanese weaponry). Another way to learn about sword-guy culture is to watch an inordinate amount of QVC. I recommend doing this from a hospital bed, so you don’t feel bad about watching an inordinate amount of QVC. Please note that, as any good sword guy will tell you, a lot of the swords on QVC are overhyped. But that’s the nature of QVC and that’s what makes it so fun to watch from your hospital bed and/or California basement bedroom full of weapons.
The more I delved into an internet sword-guy rabbit hole, the more I realized the world of sword people is too varied and I have no hope of unifying and understanding it, no matter how many sword guys I meet. Every sword guy is different. While some definitely have fantasies of saving damsels in distress and you should definitely stay away from those ones, others just think their swords look cool, or are really into Game of Thrones. Some swords are holdovers from childhood, others are lifelong collections.
I’ve been doing a series of sword-guy jokes in my stand-up act for over a year now and more often than not some dude comes up to me after the show and says “that’s me!” or DMs me a photo of his sword. These dudes are so excited to realize they aren’t alone. And they aren’t. The world of sword guys is diverse, but every sword guy shares a common history. Because they’ve all had sex with me.