I was at an erotic fiction reading when I realized I was a fraud.
It wasn’t that I didn’t like the reading. It wasn’t that I couldn’t relate. It was how I related. As I stood in my ironically faux leather women’s jacket and sipped my overpriced wine, my mind’s eye jumped out and turned to see a dilettante searching for the finer points of titillation, among people on the well-lubed edge of redefining sexual identity. My sexual identity is only slightly more complicated than tic-tac-toe. What was I doing? How did I get this far, and how had I not been found out?
In this moment, I decided to figure out how I’d got there and what good it would do for me to stick around, because I very much wanted to stay.
In reflecting on the years prior to actually having sex, I consider myself lucky not to have any obsessions that would have limited my sex life later. My first exposure to the sexualized female form was a Playboy, yet I've never been aroused by an airbrush, and after the initial shock of finding out what women really looked like, I was relieved to find their skin wasn't laminated, and I wasn't going to have my skull crushed between a pair of concrete breasts. Lacking real porn, but having family friends who helped develop the consumer internet, I'm proud to say I'm among the first few hundred people to type the word "smut" into a search engine. Later, in the mid-nineties, long before the internet gave gave us video porn on tap, I discovered erotic fiction, to which I credit my thorough knowledge of the latin terms I needed to look things up in The Joy of Sex, a book which should be burned both for subtextual homophobia and so we can stop the hippies from mating.
My fascination with erotic fiction put me at risk for getting a hard on from seeing five to twenty pages of stapled printer paper, which would have been hell in college, but it geared up an imagination that I could effectively apply to the swimsuit issue, and between februaries, Marvel comics. Considering how long it took me to get my hands on real porn, I'm still surprised I never developed a superhero fetish and spent the rest of my life at comic conventions.
I went to a great college for sex: an isolated liberal arts affair where sex was just what you did on the rare occasions you couldn’t find drugs. You only had to be slightly more confident or good-looking than I was, at that age, to be running from orgy to orgy with dozens of stunning strangers. Sadly, you did have to be slightly better looking or more confident than I was, at that age. Not getting laid at all while listening to most of my peers bang headboards probably contributed to the strangest sexual experience I ever had: losing my sex drive altogether, at seventeen. For about a month I became asexual, and was very confused about it. Even more curious, my lustful gaze switched back on while standing in line at Walmart looking at a picture of Kevin Sorbo on a TV guide cover during the height of his career on Hercules. I did some testing over the next couple of days and found myself turned on by basically everyone, so I concluded that I was either bisexual, or just really needed to get laid.
It turned out to be the latter, and later in life the episode ceased to surprise me. Men, barring the handful of outliers, need to have sex. A woman who wants to have sex but hasn’t for a year is nowhere near as deranged as a man in the same position. The mind of a man undergoes psychotic compensatory readjustments to cope. It’s not an accident that violently homophobic men violently rape one another in prison. Many girls I know cite male friends that haven’t had sex in a while, and they claim they’re not horny all the time. I’ve met these friends, and they’re wound as tightly as anyone I know, increasingly unable to project the calm they need to convince women to sleep with them, and concocting more and more elaborate explanations for their inability to do so. I know this, because I’ve been there, and have no doubt I’ll be there again someday. The driving goal for men is to get laid; if that’s not going to happen the driving goal becomes getting stoned, which is the only known treatment for sexual frustration. So it didn’t surprise me that after creating some asexual delusion in my hypersexual mind, my brain was grasping at any form of sexuality it could find. Kevin Sorbo, I thank you.
A few months after my libido rebooted, I managed to find a nice goth girl. Two years of vanilla but engrossing sex later, I was heart broken and single, and worse, back in small-town Maine, in which there are very few eligible women, with a fixation on goth girls, of which there are five. I had a party with a bunch of old friends and slept with the first girl who seems both stable and willing.
And this is where things started to get weird.
She asked me to hit her. Not lightly. Not a slap. She asked me to punch her in the face, hard. Later she told me her primary fantasy was to be gang raped. I couldn’t bring myself to hit her or organize a gang rape, and the continued requests put such a damper on our sex life that I stopped being able to get it up. This of course ended at another party with her drunkenly telling everyone this little detail, and that was that, but it was a visceral insight into a world that I knew about but didn’t really believe existed.
I didn’t investigate at the time, but the experience made the usual sex talk in mid-state Maine so banal I didn’t even bother contributing. That plus unmotivated social defaulting landed me in the more interesting sexual circles. In every place that wasn’t an isolated art school, that was whatever the local LGBTQBDSMNAACPSMSLOL club was. I was never a member, I just knew everybody. My accidental arrivals to this the scene generally suited me, because elsewhere in Maine, you usually had to beat someone up, shoot an animal, or scream a lot to get laid. None of these things came naturally to me. Watching black and white movies, tentacle porn, and waxing bohemian fugue while blackout drunk did come naturally, so my destination was always clear, if not my purpose.
After college, my pseudo-alternative lifestyle finally landed me in a fetish bar, watching a bearded octogenarian whip Errol Flynn. He wasn’t really Errol Flynn, but I desperately wanted to shout “Do what you will, sheriff, I’ll never talk!”
That was the urge that gave me the first inkling that I was not supposed to be there.
I eventually got into the blood and hot wax and cold water, right around when my gothic wardrobe started to fade into goodwill bins. I love sensation, which is why I switch the water temperature in the shower from Unitarian heat to Calvinist cold and back, and I’m an avid contributer to the book of interesting things to do with chocolate and wine. But for me, it's all icing for the sensory desserts of life that almost make up for its inevitable punch line. Bondage and pain and not-quite-sex-but-probably-related-to-sex as sciences unto themselves are foreign to me.
The chasm between what I know or see and what I do was made apparent when dominatrix friend of mine sent me a list of services she offers. It goes like this: corporal punishment, spanking, paddling, caning, flogging, asphyxiation/smothering/breath play, smoking and human ashtray, boot, shoe, foot and leg worship, sensuous torments, verbal humiliation and abuse, physical domination, smacking, spitting, nipple torture, clamps and weights, roleplay, teasing and denial, trampling, tickling, cross-dressing/sissification, edge play, interrogation/kidnap/blackmail scenarios, medical, face slapping and spitting, nail fetish, torture, waxing play, fire play, electrical play, financial slavery, leather and latex fetish, puppy/pony training, bondage, leather, ropes, bandage, stretch wrap, mummification, abandonment, traditional slave training, couple (d/s) training, group session, and, last but not least, infantilism. I’ve done maybe three, and they’re the ones everybody does. I’ve seen most of them, and know what all of them are.1 I have been a voyeur with no interest in voyeurism, more anthropologist than contributing witness.
Still, I stayed in the scene, getting by on a vague and possibly hallucinatory resemblance to David Bowie, always asking myself, do I belong here? Or am I just Woody Allen with a riding crop?
The problem is I’m a purist. I like my my pizza untopped and my coffee unseasoned. I don’t want to be whipped, suffocated, humiliated, or forced to question my sexual mores. I don’t have any sexual desires you can’t find in between a Girls Gone Wild video and an issue of Cheri. I dread the day a girl asks me for anal, because I find the sensation sub par and the cleanup a hassle. I’m much kinkier than the average Catholic would like, but don’t really push the boundaries. Worse, I can’t really distinguish between the more refined sexual titillation and actual sex. I don’t get much out of watching people have sex, and strip clubs are wasted on me. Some people can take the basics and extrapolate complex sexual play in which not a single protrusion penetrates an orifice. A friend of mine once described spending an afternoon with one of her friends throwing popcorn at a girl and calling her a slut while she tried to get herself off. The same friend told me she was going out of her mind because she hadn’t had sex in a year and a half. For her, this apparently made sense; for me, it was a logical paradox that kept me up, for various reasons, for the rest of the night. On a related, but more orgasmic note, an entirely gay friend of mine slept with two lesbians on the condition that they could fuck him with a strap-on the next day. When I asked him about this, he waved it off and said, “Sex has nothing to do with my sexuality,” which makes me scratch my head even now.
Even worse, I’m not just a little straight. You could hang pictures with my sexual orientation. As a result, I have no homophobia at all; I’ve made out with more guys than most girls I know, to everyone’s frustration. Even that was calculated: if I made out with enough of the guys I could prove my sexual adventurousness, and I’d be allowed to make out with the couch full of lesbians when the party started winding down.
Worse still, I emphatically do not identify with gender queer and I’m sick of people who do. I don’t like groups or identities in general, so I never cared about the old gender roles, but creating new labels to skirt old labels always bothers me. And what really buggers my goat is that the word queer––in an attempt to cover the myriad and totally unrelated sexual preferences that aren’t a man and a woman procreating in the missionary position within sacred matrimony––is often defined as “non-heteronormative,” or better, outside the normal sexual identities, and breaking the rules of sex and gender. I hate being categorized for things I don’t do, and I’m not sure why anybody would cling to a label that took a whole collection of interesting individual identities and lumped them into a negative space defined as not a group of people that are assumed to have no interesting sexual predilections. Using reverse marginalization to polarize the issue, besides leaving curmudgeons like me out in no-mans’s land, is the opposite of nurturing acceptance and tearing down gender assumptions: it gives people who disagree with you a target, and a convenient one, because now they don’t have to try and figure out the difference between the lifestyles they might be willing to accept and the ones that are just too weird for them. It turns people not like you into a necessary enemy with which to define yourself. In my life, I’ve gone from the always-welcome token straight boy to the unenlightened serial monogamist, and now I’ve discovered I’m the anti-enlightening heteronormative element in society. The word “heteronormative” was not just incidentally used in place of “heteronormal” either; “normal” means I’m just white bread on the shelf, “normative” carries the implication that I’m the stock boy throwing out the rye and the sourdough. This persistently offensive dismissal of my thoroughly contemplated personal sexuality tempts me to suggest another definition for queer, namely, “doing things nazis don’t like even when white gentiles do them.” Over abstracted social clubs are the reason we hear politicians denouncing the acts of foes and praising the identical actions of friends in the same breath. When people start from their symbol for something good and work their way down, individual actions are forever severed at the top, and the similarities of thought and deed that might have drawn out a measure of empathy are lost to the fanatic rabble’s need to fight.
I digress. I think you should do what you want and fuck what you want without having to come up with a name for it. For ease of reproduction, certain organs get roughly equal distribution, and for the sake of sports statistics, we have various levels of testosterone and estrogen, and that’s the end of it for me. Convincing people there are scales of gender and preference or that there are poles of open-mindedness that require new terminology seems to me like a waste of time that could be better spent having sex. What if we could backtrack a bit? Imagine what would happen if all across the country, homosexual men stood up and said, “Wait, what’s gay and queer? I don’t know what you’re talking about. I just happen to have a penis and I like fucking men. In fact, my sex life has fifty percent more in common with yours and your spouse’s than they do with each other.” Getting this label-free dialogue into everyday discourse might be the first step in helping the most tragic victims of any ideological war: the people caught on the wrong side when the camps start digging trenches.
Of course I blame the Christian Right for basically everything, but in my principles, I can’t see the justification for counter-attacking idiots, and I think it’s idiotic to validate an argument by codifying it on new terms, regardless of whichever side currently owns the terminology. I constantly want to yell at the progressives for not ignoring the philosophical arguments of the above-mentioned idiots. Then again, pointlessly raised voices are exactly what I’m arguing against. This puts me in the odd position of not knowing whether or not I’m a hypocrite when I’m at parties with women undressing each other, where I just keep my mouth shut and thank God Jesus doesn’t love me.
Despite my self-righteous haranguing of self-righteousness, the fact remains I’m quietly leeching off a culture that’s taking important risks in politics, culture, and pleasure. Since I’m apolitical and pretty much a culture of one, I’m not interested in any of the emotional or intellectual aspects of the scene that aren’t directly related to ejaculation.
For years this protected me from the more common traps that hinder the pursuit of free love. Foremost, I always knew that love isn’t free. Believing it is, at least before thirty, is only a little wiser than believing you can fly. Intimacy is about being vulnerable, and trusting the people to whom you make yourself vulnerable, and you have to be careful about that because everybody has different ideas about what’s safe and acceptable. The whole game is dangerous and complicated and you don’t need to be betrayed to get hurt. Nothing is ever completely on table. I don’t think this is bad. Love shouldn’t be free. Part of love is sacrifice, not because love needs to hurt, but because things are worth more if you sacrifice for them.
I used to use this as an argument for monogamy, and the square community loves this idea. But this is a myopic view of sacrifice and emotional commitment. The most fanatically monogamous people fallaciously marry the concept of commitment and sacrifice to possessiveness. Possessiveness is strongly encouraged in our society, and in most societies, since our media is under the thumb of drama industry bigwigs. But when you think about it, possessiveness has nothing to do with love. You can’t be vulnerable in front of someone you own. The terms of your commitment are a tentative agreement between you and and your beloved, and those terms should be entirely up to the two of you.
The best thing the pursuit of sexual adventure can teach us is how to dissolve the bonds between pleasure, love, possession, and jealousy. People on both ends of the sexual spectrum of experimentation have preached to me that sex with love is the best; I don’t think that’s true. I’ve had plenty of mediocre sex with people I loved, and I’ve had explosive, mind-blowing sex with people I refer to as “mouse girl” and “I think it started with a ‘T’”. Physical pleasure, love, and fidelity are not the same thing. Even if your requirements for intimacy make them inextricable, confusing the them has been the beginning of many dramas, and none of them were necessary.
Went I became not exactly monogamous, a particularly astute friend of mine said I wasn’t really polyamorous. This is true, partly because I don’t want my sex life encoded. I don’t have a unique set of terms to apply to my shenanigans. I also don’t have a backup girl, or fuck buddies, or a BFF. Each relationship with a person in my life is a relationship between me and that person, neither representative of an abstract belief nor fundamentally dependent on a relationship with another person. I’m not waiting for the person I’m going to be monogamous with, nor am I trying to build a harem. I don’t have a name for what I want or what I do. I don’t have a group that defines me, nor do I want to belong to one. I don’t think anybody should. I think the political division of human sexuality is abhorrent, regardless of who started it, but despite all the grumbling and grating edges between gay, straight, queer, intersex, hetero, homo, bi, trans, top, bottom, up, down, strange and charmed, there’s a rhapsody of voices calling for the acceptance and exploration of our kaleidoscopic libido, and it pushes us ever closer to the point where we realize we cannot even pretend to tame or avoid the chaos of sex and love, and where we must accept the individuality and uniqueness of every relationship and each desire. To anyone who would claim that that’s too complicated and hard for people to grasp without neat categories, I say we should start getting used to it, because that’s the way it is, and denying it only creates frustration and misunderstanding.
Sex is a confounding part of human life, which is odd, because it’s all we’re supposed to be doing in the first place. I don’t blame anybody in particular for how we got where we are, but I hope we can, with some trial and error, get to a better place for expressing our desires.
1 Except for a couple, but I just made the same educated guesses you did