Above: an image from the NYC Black Party (The Saint At Large) 2015. See more here.
I had this really intense dream once and I’ve never forgotten it. I was at a Disney World-style theme park surrounded by kiddie rides and popsicle vendors when a tornado suddenly appeared on the horizon.
Everyone started screaming. Parents were running like mad with their strollers. An alarm sounded.
In the middle of the theme park was a giant castle, like Cinderella’s Castle in Magic Kingdom, only this one looked like it was made of glass. Everyone was running there for safety. I started running. When I looked back, metal pieces of caterpillar rides were being ripped up from their tracks and hurled into the sky. One of the bridges to the castle collapsed and all the minivans plummeted into the gorge.
I barely made it inside. The castle was a luxury hotel and everyone was huddled in the grand ballroom, soaking wet and nursing head wounds and children were running around screaming. The electricity died. I was shaking and terrified and my phone wasn’t working. I overheard some gay guys nearby saying that all the gay men were meeting in the men’s locker room near the pool. I followed the signs and walked down some stairs and found a massive indoor pool. At the far end of the room, I saw two guys disappear into a dark doorway.
The room inside had no lights and I couldn’t see anything. I walked in and heard moans and realized two guys were fucking in the corner. There was a doorway to another room in which some guys were standing around in the dark. Some guys were on their knees giving blowjobs — I saw one guy sucking in the light of a cellphone, his pink lips sliding down the wet shaft, impossibly slick in the bright light. That room led to another room—this one was empty — and then there were stairs.
At the bottom of the stairs was a doorway. Through the doorway, a red lightbulb hung on a black cord from the ceiling. I walked down the stairs into a dim hallway lined with doorways into little rooms. From the little rooms came the sound of groans, the whispered “fuck,” the audible slap of skin against skin. I could hardly see anything.
I group of men were clustered at the end of the hallway, standing together. I got closer and saw that they were huddled around a guy on his knees. I could hear the guy gagging. A muscular guy wearing a leather harness looked over his shoulder at me. Then others noticed me. The muscular guy gestured to his left and I saw there was a sling in the corner. I took off my clothes and climbed in.
That’s where the dream ended. Even as I write it, I’m trembling. The dream went from terrifying to intensely erotic.
When I think about my life, I use the phrase “erotic descent.” I like to frame it as a metaphorical descent into a dark, intense place. “Small town country boy goes to the big city,” “Former believer gets lost in the garden of earthly delights,” “Scholarly writer trades books for bondage.” It’s a great story, if not an overdone one (“Christian gets lost in Vanity Fair”, “The Parable of the Prodigal Son.”)
Lately I’ve been rethinking this narrative.
I’m a boundary-pusher. I hunt for sexual extremes. I’m impulsive and reckless sometimes. I romanticize pre-AIDS gay sex culture and cruise culture.
All that stuff I found in the basement of the castle (sex dungeons, darkrooms, anonymous sex) is beautiful to me. If there is a Heaven for me, that’s it. I suspect that imagery eats a raw hole of desire in many of us, because it’s the opposite of the slut-shamey, family-oriented image we’ve been taught to believe in.
We have bathhouses and XL dildos. Sure, some of us have kids and white fences, but that’s not our history.
When the supreme court ruled in favor of marriage equality this year, it was a long-deserved victory. But if the bigots and homophobes who opposed the ruling peeked behind the curtain into the backroom of the Full Fetish party in San Francisco last September, they would have seen me and hundreds of other homos engaged in a very different image than family and marriage.
I have long felt ill-suited in the world of marriage and tradition. It’s not who I am. I want something violent and darker and more extreme than all that. I want the erotic descent.
Lately I’ve been wondering if these feelings warrant a reconsideration of my life. If I want an “erotic descent,” what places will I descend to? I’m a well-educated person. I’ve always made myself aware of risks and faced the consequences. I have made reckless decisions in the past and certainly will in the future.
Drugs make sex amazing, and all that high-priced leather and fetish gear is really hot. Great sex can be found at expensive circuit parties or at costly trips to Folsom or Palm Springs Leather Pride or any number of costly travel destinations. Drugs and travel and merchandise all make sex something we pursue at a heavy cost. Our health and wallets take hits.
More than my health and my wallet, my sense of self takes a hit. I’m the guy that hates being left out of the party, uninvited or unable to participate. Against my better judgement, I measure myself by how many leather events I attend, how many circuit parties I hit, and how much anonymous sex I can get. If I’m left out of fun places, I feel like I should be there, even if I can’t afford to.
I have to define my boundaries — otherwise I’m going to go to dangerous places. Acknowledging this isn’t giving credence to sex-negativity and slut-shaming; it’s self care. Becasue there’s a difference between sex-positivity and self-destruction.
I don’t think having a crazy sex drive is bad. If anything, I think it’s healthy. My sex drive is one of my favorite things about myself. I don’t believe all drugs are bad. But I have friends with long roads of recovery ahead of them, whose sex drives have been rewired and ruined by meth. My own sex drive has led me to unhealthy places and destroyed some relationships.
I’m writing this because there are many gay men out there like me. We’re wild over mild. We are adventurous in bed and in life. We have career goals and relationship goals and want to make a positive impact in the world. We are in love with the idea of the erotic descent, but we know we must cap it after a certain point when it stops being healthy. Understanding and defining that line will probably be a lifelong struggle for me, as it will be for many guys out there. If you’re one of them, I’m with you, my brother.
I keep hunting for the backroom at every gay bar I go to. But sometimes I wonder if the families up in the castle, huddled against the storm, are warmer.