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Just by Looking at Him

A Novel



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About The Book

From the star of Peacock’s Queer as Folk and the Netflix series Special comes a “funny, tender, and beautiful” (Gary Janetti, New York Times bestselling author) novel following a gay TV writer with cerebral palsy as he fights addiction and searches for acceptance in an overwhelmingly ableist world.

Elliott appears to be living the dream as a successful TV writer with a doting boyfriend. But behind his Instagram filter of a life, he’s grappling with an intensifying alcohol addiction, he can’t seem to stop cheating on his boyfriend with various sex workers, and his cerebral palsy is making him feel like gay Shrek.

After falling down a rabbit hole of sex, drinking, and Hollywood backstabbing, Elliott decides to limp his way towards redemption. But facing your demons is easier said than done.

“With his singular voice and unforgettable wit” (Steven Rowley, author of The Guncle), Ryan O’Connell presents a candid, biting, and refreshingly real commentary on gay life, laugh-out-loud exploration of self, and a rare insight into life as a person with disabilities.


Chapter 1 CHAPTER 1
My boyfriend Gus has a beautiful penis. It’s big and thick without being too big or too thick. It has the right number of pulsating veins when hard (the correct number is two). It’s not crooked or bent. It’s not purple or pink. It’s sun-dappled olive.

The rest of him is great too. High cheekbones, bee-stung lips, wavy brown hair, gentle eyes. Dressed neatly in cardigans and loafers like a true hot gay nerd. But if I’m being honest, his dick is the star. I loved it from the moment I saw it. Not like I was surprised. My best friend Augie dated Gus before me. “Elliott, if God is real, he’s a fag,” he told me. “A straight God would never make a penis this detailed and expressive. It’s like the ‘Beach House’ episode of Girls. A work of art.” I made a mental note. At the time I was dating someone else, someone whose penis I can no longer remember. His name was Hudson, which can you imagine? Yikes.

Anyway, we dated for three months and Augie dated Gus for four, which was generous of him really. He was doing the prep work, getting him ready for me. And when I broke up with Hudson, there Gus was. My brain, which previously had been an unsafe neighborhood to walk around in at night, had carved out a nice space for him when I wasn’t looking. It allowed me to have a nice patch of grass and sunshine, a Whole Foods even. And for five years, we were together, and everything was perfect. I don’t even know how to write about this without slipping into platitudes, so I won’t. I will say, however, that even with the best love, you could still wake up one day next to a beautiful man with a beautiful penis and be bored. You could start wishing for a smaller penis, an uglier one, with tons of veins and the color of sickness.

Everything gets boring after a while. The sun eventually goes down, the Whole Foods closes, and suddenly you’re in a scary alleyway.

For the record: my penis is average.

About The Author

Photograph by Aaron Jay Young.

Ryan O’Connell is the Emmy-nominated creator, writer, and star of Netflix’s Special, which is based on his memoir, I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves. He’s also written for other TV shows like Will & GraceAwkward, and Peacock’s Queer as Folk revival, which he also stars in. He lives, laughs, and loves in Los Angeles with his partner, Jonathan Parks-Ramage. 

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (June 6, 2023)
  • Length: 304 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982178598

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Raves and Reviews

“With his singular voice and unforgettable wit, O’Connell movingly explores how our messiest moments can lead to radical self-acceptance. Elliott’s journey may be his own, but what he discovers about the absurdity of the human condition is universal.” —Steven Rowley, author of The Guncle and Lily and The Octopus

“I've loved Ryan O’Connell’s voice in every iteration, but his turn to fiction is my favorite Ryan yet: sharp, bawdy, yet still deeply touching. It's shockingly elegant, and elegantly shocking.” —Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s Girls and #1 New York Times bestselling author of Not That Kind of Girl

"Ryan O'Connell's new book is at once very funny, tender, and beautiful. I couldn't put it down. Really. By the end I felt like I'd made a new friend." —Gary Janetti, New York Times bestselling author of Do You Mind if I Cancel? and Start Without Me

"O’Connell leaves nothing on the table, and the result reads like a zippy, traffic-dodging trip up the 101 on a blinding afternoon." Publishers Weekly

“…a very funny novel about falling for a fantasy and finding love for one’s own self….Ryan O’Connell explores the lessons that the vulnerable human body has to teach us, and he does so with humor, heart, and heat.” —Melissa Broder, acclaimed author of Milk Fed and The Pisces

"In his breezy, effortless way, O'Connell has written a book of great wisdom and intimacy. A story that is frank, searching, and deliriously sexy. I didn't want it to end. Neither will you."

—Sam Lansky, author of Broken People

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