New York City. A city full of opportunity, heartbreak, hope and debauchery. I lived there for three years in the late 90’s, and when I arrived, I was a naive, eager 24 year old set to attend a performing arts conservatory. That 24 year old suffered from the “Best-Little-Boy-in-the-World” syndrome. I had been a rabidly religious boy, a Sunday School teacher, and looking back, that had been my way of doing battle with my fear of being gay. By the time I hit Manhattan, I had happily dealt with being gay, but there was a whole other hurdle to face – the admission of being a sexual being. I had internalized the idea that it was one thing to be gay, but god forbid I should look for sex and feel good about it. I still had notions that sex was dirty. It didn’t fit with my self-image – a self-image I only later realized was borne out of fear. I feared judgement by others, judgement by God (yes, still! And I’d thought I was over that), and I feared the power of sex.
There was a gay weekly in New York that had ads in the back pages, and some of those ads advertised sex parties. The first time I read them, I didn’t even consider them as an option. Somehow, orgies seemed verboten, while getting drunk at a bar and picking up a stranger seemed acceptable. When my hypocrisy had me laughing in my own face, I looked at those ads for orgies once more.
Nervously, I phoned a number on an ad. This is what I was told: The orgy would take place at such and such hotel in Times Square. Don’t be late, admission will not be granted after 10pm. Do not ask anything of the front desk – this was on the down low. When I knock, the person who answers the door will decide then and there whether I will be allowed entry. There will be a small fee.
That rainy Friday night, I was an excited as if it were my wedding night. I stopped at the bar I worked at for some liquid courage and downed an Orgasm, of all drinks. A short subway ride to Times Square, and I found myself running in a downpour, fearful that I’d be late. I was terrified about being late because I wasn’t sure I’d ever have the courage to try this again. I was also terrified that I wouldn’t pass muster and would be turned away at the door. I entered the hotel lobby and felt like a criminal. I got into the elevator with regular civilians who had no idea that I was on my way to a bacchanalian fest. My heart pounding in my chest, I kept thinking that I could turn back at any time, but my feet took me to the door, on which my hand, by its own volition, knocked. Against all hope, I was allowed in.
I entered a large, dark suite and was led to a small table where I paid the small fee and then was given a garbage bag to put my clothes in, save for my boots and underwear. I sensed men wandering about and so I turned away, and then spun back on my heels and said “ I’m sorry, I’ve never been to anything like this. What do I do?” The host at the table smiled at the obvious neophyte in front of him and said, “Wander about. If a guy reaches out and touches you, you have the choice to play with him, or decline and keep walking. No pressure.”
I thanked the host and wandered down to the main bedroom, only to find it full, with two men making out on the bare mattress and encircled by eight to ten other men watching and jerking off. I walked past them and it was like going down a receiving line. And go down I did. One of the men in the line was absolutely hot, and hard, and smiling at me. I had been there all of two minutes and I took to it like a duck to water. On my knees, I had found nirvana. It was a one night stand magnified by a thousand. Something in me was born that night, wherein my sexuality went from being a nebulous thing to an outright passion. I had found God.
I was comforted to know that other men were as unabashedly as horny as I. I felt less like a freak in this tribe. I needed a space where I could be unapologetically sexual and, strangely, I found that a public sex venue gave me the sense of permission that I didn’t always feel in a one-on-one hook-up. Our dicks were doing the thinking, and yet, there was an air of respect for all. I realized that being horny wasn’t a crime, it wasn’t only a punch line to a joke. It was also the driving force that makes us reach out to others. Was the orgy devoid of personality? Were we being real with each other? I wasn’t sharing my hopes and dreams with these men, but I’ll be damned if I wasn’t being real with them – much more real than most of my human interactions that day. I don’t know about you, but I spend most of my day making politically correct small talk at work for eight hours a day. But that night, we skipped all that and said “touch me”.
What bothers me is that after having had such an intense experience, I had nobody to talk to about it, to analyze it with. I may be underestimating my gay male friends of the time, but I didn’t think I could discuss this with them. When orgies are talked about, it’s couched in jokes, or false bravado, with details left out, details taken to the grave. It’s admitted to with embarrassment, never with pride, and never with a spiritual or emotional examination. Rereading this column, I am bothered by the fact that I felt like a freak for being so horny, that I speak of feeling like a criminal for going to this party. Had I really done something that took away my essential goodness? Or was I a victim of our judeo-christian up-bringing, lacerating myself for enjoying my sexuality, even in a safe, sane and consensual way? Why are our saints sexless? Could I merge my spiritual desires with my physical desires? I was gay, but not a castrated, non-threatening gay guy. I too was a sexual being. Could others handle that? And more to the point, could I?