Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

Anything was possible

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | June 17, 2008 11:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: 1993 March on Washington, assimilation, bareback, bareback porn, Dupont Circle, Georgetown University, HIV/AIDS, incest, kiss of mint, queer youth, relationships, RuPaul, safe sex, supermodel

Sometimes you have a dream and that dream infuses everything, your relationships are part of that dream and the dream is part of your relationships and everything is hard but it's the dream that means you'll be okay. And then that dream is over, or no the dream is the same or maybe not the same but similar it's the relationships that are over. Or not all of the relationships, but some of them. Maybe it's harder to dream, or maybe it's just harder. Or maybe some things are easier but not dreaming. Or you're definitely not okay, but you're okay with dreaming. Or you're just not okay, is that okay?

Maybe the dream is love, love which is a commitment. Or maybe the dream is commitment, commitment which is love. Like running into the traffic islands near Dupont Circle and RuPaul's Supermodel is playing, you better work, this is the height of Supermodel, turn to the right, I mean when RuPaul became a pop celebrity and you know it's cheesy but you're doing runway anyway, runway in the town where you grew up but you couldn't dream. They wouldn't let you. Now you've gathered with a million queers or mostly gays and lesbians, gays and lesbians whose dreams are so limited you feel further away than ever but you're dreaming.

I met him at an ACT UP protest, I remember he came right up to me in the sun with such a sweetness we were both 19 I liked the tiny little silver dot in his nose the way his eyes sparkled even his braces I thought they looked cute. We got arrested together and we did runway to RuPaul and then we got bashed together, we were kissing and these guys said what are you doing? I said kissing and we went back to it then pepper spray directly into my eyes so red I thought it was spray paint, right next to the 24 hour restaurant I used to go to in high school. I ended up in the hospital getting saline pumped into my eyes filled with pain they said it was lucky I came quickly because otherwise I might have lost my vision. All of this was big, these were big things, but then I went back to San Francisco and he went back to Michigan and we wrote letters, beautiful elaborate letters that's what people did in the early '90s.

If he was my first boyfriend, the first person to hold me when I was having incest flashbacks, we broke down a lot then broke up and broke down and everything was difficult but we knew we were building something in the ruins, that was us the ruins. We wanted to create a world we could live with. A lot of the people I believed in then I no longer believe in now, of course we've all changed and some of us have different dreams. So it's not unique that my first boyfriend and I don't talk anymore, don't talk because I stopped believing in his promises, his promises that we were family not just ruins it took me almost 10 years. I mean 10 years to let him go, not as a boyfriend I mean that lasted a year but as something more: hope. Now I'm okay with running into him from time to time, but there are no more dreams.

Today I heard something that I'm still trying to process. I mean it makes me sad and I don't know what else to think. Maybe I feel conflicted, conflicted because it makes me so sad and then I think it shouldn't make me so sad, why this investment in his life choices? In this case, it's a barebacking video.

I want to back up for a moment and say that when we went out, we were absolutely meticulous about safe sex. Soon it would be called safer, and that made more sense, but at the time we even used Kiss of Mint condoms for sucking cock. Looking back, I wonder if our dedication to the rules could only exist in such a pure form because we came of age almost certain that we'd die of AIDS, isn't that what happened to everyone like us? Still we wanted to beat the odds, and we wanted to dream, remember dreaming? This wasn't monogamy or anything silly like that, we didn't believe in such ownership spectacles, we were sluts and sure, soon enough our ideas of sexual safety would change too, but not our ethics, I mean I didn't believe our ethics had changed until now.

As far as I'm concerned, barebacking videos participate in a culture of nihilism and selfishness that is one of the grossest manifestations of a gay sexual culture that has given up on any vision of communal care. I won't pretend that barebacking videos don't turn me on -- lots of things that disgust me turn me on. What frightens me is the way in which they actively promote loyalty to condomless sex as the One True Vision of sexual satisfaction. And not condomless sex as part of a safer sex regimen, but the type where come must be unloaded deep within stretched anal orifices, as the camera waits for it all to squirt back into our vision. A negotiated decision to have sex without condoms is a different story, a story never portrayed in the unquestioning, masculinity-drenched fantasies of bareback porn.

I can't help thinking that bareback videos are about giving up, even if I watch them and I don't give up. I mean I'm still committed to safer visions of sexual splendor. I'm struck by the thought that nothing was missing from the sex I had with that first boyfriend. Because anything was possible.

Mattilda also blogs at

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Sex is about so much more than sex without condoms, I guess, but I like your point about communal care. The best defense of that sort of porn is that "people buy it," but that's the exact same bankrupt morality rhetoric that gives us problems in so many other areas.

Bless you, Mattilda. And I don't mean bless in a religious way, just bless you. Do you ever get tired of shouting about it? About pointing out how ridiculous it is to think you'll live forever when all around you people keep dying and it's because they weren't in control of sex they were having? Sometimes, I want to cry. And sometimes, I want to yell louder. Thanks for keeping the message alive.


Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | June 17, 2008 11:52 PM

Mattilda, you elegantly describe what we all desire as the ideal of perfection in relationship(s). The ability to let go and enjoy without the things we may not want.

I never attended my college BA or grad school graduation ceremonies, because I would not allow myself to be disappointed (again) by my father who would not be able to be there. After the first time a behavior or situation hurts, it is all the harder to pick yourself up and push through. I realize that the comparison is of something different, but the disappointment is all the same.

I can no longer watch bareback porn as it makes a statement to me that it's participants have given up on living and life which is the most non erotic feeling imaginable.

Alex -- problems in so many other areas, indeed!

Porscha, yes for crying and yelling and crying and yelling...

Robert, well thank you! As for bareback porn, what I find depressing is not that participants have given up on life, because many of them may actually be making informed decisions about their own health -- where I become depressed is more when thinking about what it means for communal standards of care (or their dramatic lack) -- caring for everyone, or at least making the attempt...