Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer

My Life Again in New York, continued

Filed By Steven Cheslik-DeMeyer | October 03, 2010 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality
Tags: barebacking, Folsom Street Fair, IML, Samuel Steward, Secret Historian, sex parties, Treasure Island Media

Last Wednesday I met a friend at the public library for ansamuel steward.jpg author talk with Justin Spring, whose book Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist, and Sexual Renegade just came out. Spring gave a short slide presentation sketching Steward's life and career and then sat with Honor Moore to talk about the book and answer audience questions.

Afterwards, I was less interested in the book than I was before. Spring's discomfort, his negative attitude toward aspects of Steward's sex life -- in particular his s/m experiences and his affairs with teenage hustlers -- made me reluctant to trust him as a biographer.

Still, I'll probably pick up the book. I've been fascinated by Steward since the 80s when I was discovering both s/m subculture and body modification. It was obvious that many in the audience at the library Wednesday, as I do, consider Steward a pioneer, a revolutionary, a hero for his promiscuous exploration of sex with men in the 40s and 50s, the variety and numbers of men as well as sexual practices. He was the avant garde.

My friend T reminded me last week of a post on JoeMyGod linking to an article in Men's Health which ranked U.S. cities according to how much sex people are having. I couldn't find the original article, but the ranking was based on such things as condom sales and rates of STD infection, which makes me question its claims. I had lots of sex when I lived in San Francisco (which was not even in the top 10) and I never caught anything, whereas when I lived in Austin (which was ranked #1), I got to know the folks at the clinic better than I would have preferred. I doubt San Franciscans are having less sex; I think they're more savvy regarding sexual health and hygiene. Not that Austin isn't sexy. Not that I didn't have a lot of sex in Austin.

New York is another story. It's a weird place, with, on one hand, its deserved reputation for permissiveness, and on the other its Puritanical vice laws which force sex clubs into a ridiculous dance of secrecy with the police. I mean, for god's sake, tattooing was illegal in New York City until some time in the 90s.

I went to a sex party last week. I found out about it on one of the hookup web sites, sent an email for info, the guy seemed friendly, and it was pay-what-you-want if you arrived early, so I thought I'd give it a try. It was in some guy's tiny studio apartment in the West Village. I don't know what he did with his furniture and stuff, but there wasn't much there besides a mattress on the floor and a sling.

I arrived at the party at the same time as a young man probably in his early twenties, handsome, polite, big smile, Indian accent. We chatted as we waited for the bathroom; he introduced himself and said, "Pleased to meet you." It was his second time. He was nervous, open and eager for the experience, like a kid in line for a roller coaster. He let me use the bathroom before him because he had to "change and clean up a bit. By the time I left, about two hours later, I had seen him get fucked by at least five men and two or three of them came in and on his ass. The pleasure this brought him was palpable all around him. His dark eyes positively danced and seldom did he stop smiling.

Did he know the HIV status of any of these men? He didn't know mine. Did they know his? Did risk assessment play a part in any of these encounters, for him and for the men who fucked him? I have so many questions.

Is anyone's safety but mine any of my business? Isn't castigating someone who fucks without a condom the same as telling me I have to wear a helmet when I ride my bike, or reprimanding a pregnant woman enjoying a glass of wine? Or telling a woman she can't have an abortion? What right does anyone have to tell me how to have sex? To tell us how intimate we can be with each other?

Many of us have come up with our own set of unwritten rules, based on acceptable risk, to guide us in sexual encounters, but who are we to impose our own rules on others? It made sense in, say, 1990, for us as a community of men who have sex with each other to agree: a condom every time. We didn't consider the profundity of the sacrifice of intimacy; we wanted to stop killing each other. But how long could we be expected to abstain? Apparently not long enough to stem an epidemic.

Something I think most men who have sex with men know but rarely talk about is that barrier-free anal sex is happening everywhere now, in many men's lives frequently and as a matter of course. Men of my age remember a time when you didn't have to ask him to put on a condom, he just did; but that's no longer the rule. They call it "condom fatigue." I call it desire. We can talk about deviance, and that's another conversation, but the compulsion to inject semen into another person's body has a few thousand years of natural selection on its side.

Anal sex, buttfucking, sodomy is the sine qua non experience of being a homosexual male. It is the central act that we fought hard to liberate, and, with Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, succeeded, at least as a matter of law.

As the GLBT rights movement has transformed itself from a fight to liberate desire to a campaign for inclusion in conservative, repressive institutions, I find my own sympathies more and more aligned with people and ideas I would have found scary and repulsive 20 years ago.

Paul Morris of the notorious porn company Treasure Island Media speaks of the sexual acts which his videos document as necessary and essential:

Irresponsibility to the everyday persona and to the general culture is necessary for allegiance to the sexual subculture, and this allegiance takes the gay male directly to the hot and central point where what is at stake isn't the survival of the individual, but the survival of the practices and patterns which are the discoveries and properties of the subculture. In this context, danger is allegiance to hard-won knowledge.

This is a nexus, a heart of our problem: the subculture and the virus require the same processes for transmission. In such a situation, how does one balance the struggle between the needs of the survival of the body and the needs within the body for the survival of traditions, truths and practices?

I see Paul Morris (and, for that matter, Dawson of Dawson's 50 Load Weekend) as the same kind of pioneer and revolutionary, the same kind of hero as Samuel Steward.

One more idea to chew on: Treasure Island Media is often banned from gay events, such as International Mister Leather and the Folsom Street Fair. It seems to me that the shunning of bareback porn by the gay establishment is, in an interesting sense, no different than the so-called marriage equality movement. They both exist to tell us what kind of sexual relationships we are allowed to have.

Recent Entries Filed under Living:

Leave a comment

We want to know your opinion on this issue! While arguing about an opinion or idea is encouraged, personal attacks will not be tolerated. Please be respectful of others.

The editorial team will delete a comment that is off-topic, abusive, exceptionally incoherent, includes a slur or is soliciting and/or advertising. Repeated violations of the policy will result in revocation of your user account. Please keep in mind that this is our online home; ill-mannered house guests will be shown the door.

Some people never learn.

I hope you will read this book. It's excellent and not at all judgmental, as you seem to fear it might be. The author is careful not to generalize from Steward's experience to that of all homosexuals, but obviously Steward's life does reflect the times and mores he lived in.

Perhaps the author is not used to public speaking and fears that he might be identified with his subject. At any rate, don't miss the book, it gives the flavor of pre-Stonewall gay history better than any other book I've read.

Your position on promiscuous sex in the age of AIDS is stupid and frightening. You argue pseudo-liberterian positions, such as on the helmet laws. Well, all the brian-injured people end up in emergency rooms at public expense. I have never heard of the anti-helmet folks carrying cards in their wallets that say "in case of injury, throw me away and do not spend public funds on me". Likewise, the pro-barebacking, pro-anonymous sex partiers like you expect the public to pay for your AIDS drugs, pay for your Social Security disability, give you a free ride for all your irresponsibility. By no means am I say that everyone who gets HIV is like this. I am only respionding to this post.

These ideas are nothing short of sick and dangerous. In my field, I often hear alcoholics and drug addicts ranting about their right to continue drinking or using if they want to. Of course they may. They say this as their furniture gets put into the street during evictions, as their families disown them after years of trying to work with them, as their health goes down the drain, as they loose their jobs. It's their right. So long as they do not drive or have a gun, they usually are only hurting themselves. In your case, you are celebrating everyone's right to get infected, and to spread their infections. The public health, of which you care so little about, is not a consideration. Your right to not use a condom is all that is important. How selfish. The same public, as in public health, is then to be paying for your mistakes, whether in actual funding for the treatments, or paying by means of the contaminated blood supplies, infected babies, etc. Again, how selfish. I have read that in New York your attitude is common in some segments of the gay community, and was spoken about at public meetings fighting safer sex programs. The anonymous sex party ads often use terms such as "cum pigs", sleaze, toilet boys, and trash in their promotion.
We gays have to be willing to call sick attitudes exactly what they are , sick, regardless of whether they come from our regular opponents, such as National Organization of Marriage, Republicans, or fundamentalist wackos, or from within our own community. Now, the opponents of the welfare of the most number of gays are to be found even in our own midst. This is like domestic terrorism. You guys have internalized all the hatred and homophobia that society has dished out, and now you are turning it on your own fellow gays. Sad. Your arguments about Lawrence v. Texas are off the wall. the Supreme COurt has not given you and your anonymous pals the right to infect.

The point is that no amount of moralistic scolding is going to stop men from feeling compelled to exchange their fluids in acts of lust. Ask Larry Kramer, it just doesn't work, not for long. Many men don't want to or can't forego that kind of intimacy.

I don't know what the answer is. I know it is NOT to just bleat at us about how we're driving up insurance rates and using more than our fair share of public health dollars.

Stop and think about the message you're giving: the desire for barrier-free sex, perhaps the most intimate act two men can share, is the result of internalized homophobia.

I agree with Steven. And studies show that women who have anal sex with men are much less likely to use condoms than men who have the same with men.

I don't see them being blamed for the rise in HIV infections with quite the same amount of hysteria.

For that matter, there's growing evidence that straight people don't use condoms as often as they "should," - the desire for barrier-free sex is a universal one, it's fair to say. Moralising and treating people like pariahs has never and will never work.

... the compulsion to inject semen into another person's body has a few thousand years of natural selection on its side.

Males injecting semen into females pre-dates the earliest reptiles, so we are talking about 300 million years or more. (And I am assuming that the phrase "another person" is not meant to mean a human specifically but is tantamount to the more general phrase "your chosen mate" regardless of species.)

But that's OK, Steven --- Paleontology 101 is not a required course.

Anal sex, buttfucking, sodomy is the sine qua non experience of being a homosexual male. It is the central act that we fought hard to liberate, and, with Lawrence v. Texas in 2003, succeeded, at least as a matter of law.

Wrong, wrong, and wrong:

(1) There is a significant percentage of gay men who do not engage in anal intercourse (usually because they just don't like it), and

(2) Anal intercourse is practiced by straight couples quite commonly, and

(3) If I remember correctly, by 2003 there were still some states (Georgia was one, I think) that criminalized anal intercourse between unmarried heterosexuals --- so Lawrence v. Texas liberated "them" just as it did "us".

Thus, anal intercourse is not unique to either homosexuals or to males. And for bloggers who dare to write about sexual matters, Human Sexuality 101 is a required course.

Forgive me if I seem to be nit-picking, or picking on you personally, Steven (I assure I am not and I have nothing against you!), but I have never liked the notion that the sexuality of the entire GLBT world, or even just the G world, can be characterized in a particular sexual activity --- to do so is to replace the tyranny of the heteronormatives with the tyranny of the buttfuckers. 300 million years of evolution or not, some of us like to jack off, some of us like to suck and get sucked, and some of us like to rim or get rimmed (none of which, generally speaking, requires a condom to prevent HIV transmission, by the way!) --- but according to the buttfuckers among us, it is perfectly OK to treat the rest of us as if we don't exist.

Re my use of the word "heteronormative": Thank you, Alex! --- I've finally learned to like that word!

Thanks for the clarification on the fossil record. I always did have a hard time with geological time. :)

Regarding anal intercourse, I didn't mean to disparage your enjoyment of oral sex or masturbation or anything else or to imply that you have to practice anal intercourse in order to be fully homosexual. I was speaking more broadly, and I do think there's a case to be made that buttfucking has a unique importance for homosexual men. It is the most intimate thing we share. Unlike the mouth, the anus is private and hidden, even on the naked body, and it is never a point of entry, only exit. There's also something interesting about the fact that it mimics the procreative act of vaginal intercourse. (I hesitate to do too much theorizing -- I'm just throwing around some ideas.) And, also, it is the act that is the object of most attention from those who condemn homosexuality. The Catholic church has been obsessed with it for centuries, the sin worse than any other. Yeah, straight people do it, too, but don't tell me that Lawrence v. Texas wasn't all about the queers.

Forgive me if I misread your intent. You used the phrase sine qua non and that means "something that is essential or always present" (that's my paraphrase, here's what [_Wiktionary_] says).

I gather your meaning was more that anal intercourse is effectively a cultural icon that represents male homosexuality in general, for both gay men themselves and straights more generally. And I can see the validity of that.

LOL, I was going to mention the fact that we were talking at least hundreds of millions of years, not thousands, too.

Anyway, lots of good points, and I've thought similar things about condoms. It really gets my goat that the usual explanation for rising HIV infection rates is something like "Young gay men who listen to too much Britney and only think about glitter just don't know how terrible HIV is so they don't use condoms." That ignores the fact that HIV is spreading faster among white gay men 40-49 than it is among white gay men 13-29 (and there are presumably more people in the younger category) according to CDC data from 2006. It also ignores recent IU data that shows that young men (gay and straight) use condoms much more often than older men. It also doesn't ring true with my experience in the US - it was always the older guys who had to be told (often repeatedly) to use a condom.

They're an unnatural but necessary part of life, and I agree that scolding people isn't going to do much to change anything. Educating will go a long way, as well as understanding that living without barebacking is a thought some people can't bear.

This is a reply to both Steve and to Yasmin.

I am saying that the conduct that you (Steve) described in your post, i.e., anonymous sex parties, obviously unsafe anal intercourse, your description of the Indian boy with glowing eyes, describes sexual addiction. Steve, you keep giving excuses to justify activity which can ultimately lead to death for one or more of the participants. Supposedly, they all know this.This is why I used the comparison to drug addicts and to alcoholics. You are providing exactly the same type of excuses. Yasmin, there is absolutely no moralizing here. I believe in the so-called "medical model" of addiction. I believe that there should be treatment for the sex addicts, and this treatment involves calling a spade a spade. Dangerous activity, activity that robs the public of medical funds, activity that can rob the participants of their lives.
Steve, why do I say that many of the gay sex addicts who engage in this behavior are driven by internalized homophobia? Because they have absorbed society's low opionion of gays and gay sex, and at an impressionable age, they decided that they were not worth sex with good health. They also have disccounted their worth for non-anonymous intimacy in many instances. this is why they go to anonymous sex events as you described. They do not care about risks. Just like a drug addict who does not want to be arrested for buying or using, he does it anyway, looking at arrests, disease, financial problems as mere bumps on the road to getting the drugs. Sexual addiction is a big problem in gay culture. It is one of the reasons that CDC is now reporting that 20% of gays in urban areas are HIV positive. This is after almost 20 years of safer sex information and after every gay surely knows how HIV is transmitted.

"Sexual addiction" is a term coined by "sex therapists" and talk show hosts to create a "problem" where none exists, and to (in)effectively regulate and discipline forms of sexual desire. The fact that morning shows and Oprah keep validating the existence of "sex addiction" and presenting it as a problem does not make it any more real.

I would disagree about "every gay" knowing how HIV is transmitted - as much as you have mocked and vilified urban gay queers in NYC, you're also buying into the stereotype that gays somehow absorb safe sex education through osmosis through some urban/urbane social network. The fact is that education around HIV and AIDS - carried out without presenting it as the result of shameful and dangerous practices, a counterproductive method at best - is at an abysmal low, and what are considered gay sex practices - like anal sex - are not even considered legitimate topics for sex education only makes the crisis worse.

I live and work in a major metropolis, Chicago, and part of our struggle in CPS has been to get them to even acknowledge that gay sex exists and that it needs to be part of the sex ed curriculum. And that's on the "third coast." As Alex pointed out in another comment thread, even gay teachers have a tendency to internalise societal homophobia by defensively insisting they would never talk about sex. Is it any wonder queer children and youth grown up with little to no understanding of the "sex" in "sexuality?"

That being said, Steven's post raises important questions about the imaginary of gay sex, and how gay men negotiate their entrance into it. I don't discount that yes, some people engage in some kinds of behaviour because of some powerful feeelings of inadequacy, but a lot of them do so because, in fact, it makes them feel the opposite. Again, there's plenty of evidence of gay men are not the only ones engaging in some kinds of sex acts without barriers - a fact you keep ignoring.

No one's providing excuses or the opposite - but the desire for sex without barriers and,yes, anonymous sex, is a powerful aphrodisiac and a powerful physical need. Shaming and criminalising people and resorting to fictitious terms like "sex addiction" (we used to call that a sex drive) has never worked, and it never will.

And, begging your pardon, but a lot of what you write reads an awful lot like proselytizing by someone whose revulsion for what he/she writes about sits awfully close at home. This has the same tone that comes with closeted preachers demonising gays for their offensive and abnormal lifestyles. I'd give that some thought.

The IU study I cited above mentioned that gay and bi men were more likely than straight people to use condoms. It's important that we remember that we're already doing more than others are, even if what we're doing isn't enough.

I don't see how you could possibly know as much as you claim to know about the motivation, not to mention the psychological health and HIV status, of every man who has anal sex without a condom.

The desire for sexual intimacy has nothing to do with homophobia. Telling people that their desire is shameful, unnatural, despicable, and disgusting has everything to do with homophobia.

My guess is that the reason it's so hard for men to talk about this honestly is that we are met with shrill, closed-minded attitudes like yours.

It sounds like Yasmin Nair does not believe in psychiatry or psychology. There are DRG's (diagnosis-related group) criteria assigned for various forms of sex addiction, as well as substance addictions, by respected professional associations as well as the insurance companies. Of course, if you do not believe psychotherapy, or that many people are helped by it, then that is another subject. Over the years, I have seen many ads for self-help sexual addiction groups appearing in gay media. Comments above have justified forms of gay sex practices as not being addiction because straights do it to. Since you mention opera, once when I was waiting in a dentist office, the TV in the waiting room had three couples who went to "swingers" events who all quit because they decided that they were sex addicts. Evidently straights are sex addicts too. I think that lots of gays would love a return to times when barrier-free sex was an intellegent option. However, people understand the risks and those who want to remain healthy modify habits. The addict will ignore a risk, or call it something else, an uncontrollable drive or urge, or just plain fun.

"Comments above have justified forms of gay sex practices as not being addiction because straights do it too."

No. That's not what I said. Read my comment again. You'll note that I use "sex therapists" in quotes - that doesn't mean all therapists, just those who pretend to use psychiatry to cure an ailment that doesn't exist except to line their coffers. As for the "sex addiction" diagnosis, hey, don't take my word for it - Dr. Leonore Tiefer and other highly respected sexologists and experts have taken it on.

So far, most of what you've said depends on ... ads for self-help in gay media? And a tv show you watched in a dentist's office? Sex addiction as a diagnosis has been disputed by professionals. Here's Dr. Mantell, a clinical and corporate psychologist on the subject:

"Make no mistake about this: there is not a health insurance company in America I know of that will pay a healthcare provider for treating someone with a diagnosis of “sex addiction.” Why? Because there is no such diagnosis in the current psychiatric diagnostic manual. Starting to get the picture?

Given the fact that the current psychiatric diagnostic manual was published in 1994 (DSM-IV), more than 10 years after ex-prison psychologist Patrick Carnes first published his description of “sex addiction,” it would appear that the label was not seriously considered a real diagnosis except by soft science media “experts” in the ’80s and now, 30 years later."

And so on. His article is quite exhaustive and takes on the definition of an addiction quite thoroughly; it's worth the read. A second link here would put my comment in line to be looked at to make sure it's not spam, but just google "Dr. Michael Mantell San Diego Magazine," and you should be able to find the article.

I think this amply disputes the point about "respected professional associations as well as insurance companies."

My position on "sex addiction" is in-between. There is such a thing as sexual sanity, and such a thing as sexual insanity.

The Lewinski scandal probably showed that Bill Clinton is or was a sex addict, IMHO, because no sane adult would think that a blowjob, even a blowjob in the White House, might be worth the risk of scandal that might ensue --- let's keep in mind that Clinton almost lost the Presidency over this and the chichanery that it precipitated. More generally, if someone repeatedly ignores enormous risk just to get sex, then there is possibly if not probably an addictive element at work.

So I do think there is such a thing as sex addiction. But I do not go along with all the sex behavior requirements that sex therapists require for "recovery". Some seem to assert that if a person cannot maintain a monogamous longterm relationship, then that person is a sex addict. That is B.S. to me because I do not buy it that promiscuity and/or an appetite for multiple partners is solely enough to indicate sex addiction.

But although I think sex addiction does exist, I also believe it is a very amorphous thing that is difficult to pin down. I do think sex addiction has to be considered if a person is using sex as a habitual divertion from facing more difficult problems in the person's life, such as career or relationship or financial issues, or even issues regarding aging.

An unreasonably impulsive and chaotic sex life might also suggest sex addiction. But I think we need to be careful that the term "sex addiction" is not a new medical name for imposing and enforcing the same old traditional sexual prescriptions (hetero marriage and family) and prohibitions (everything else).

I appreciate the nuanced response to my comment.

But as for Bill Clinton: I don't think his behaviour was any indication of sex addiction/insanity - given what we know of him, it's probably more likely that the man is simply an egomaniac. I doubt that he actually thought that he would actually be found out, and even if so, I doubt he thought that he stood to lose the Presidency. I also think that his behaviour is greatly exacerbated by the fact that his marriage is clearly a case of two sane adults who have agreed to make certain concessions to each other in the relentless pursuit of power (she gave up a hugely promising career; he now agrees to stand - as well as he can - in the sidelines).

That's not blaming Hillary Clinton for his issues - it's simply pointing out that the man has a sexual history that is well documented; it's no secret that his "escapades" have gone on for a long time. What enraged his family is less that he committed infidelity but that he let it be discovered.

Lots of sexual behaviour that we could consider insane - like the sexual abuse of one's children as in cases of incest - are about exercising one's power to do so (I'm not by any means calling Lewinskly vulnerable, btw, just to be clear - that's an entirely separate case of, again, someone who sought a certain kind of power for boffing the Prez). Sex in public spaces is similar, even if it's not about exploiting someone's relative powerlessness, as in incest. With public sex, there is a threat of being found out, and we could call that insane, but it's the possibility of being found out that fuels the drive to find more public sex.

That doesn't mean we excuse the abuse of children - but it does point out that we're not going to be able do anything about such abuse if we simply assume that abusers are insane. And I think interrogating these issues in terms of power would go a long way in making sure that we're not "enforcing the same old traditional sexual prescriptions (hetero marriage and family) and prohibitions (everything else)." Our mindless devotion to these ideals and insistence that only these are "normal" can create conditions that make it hard for the abused to leave.

In other words, instances like this speak less about addiction than about power or one's relationship to power - and I think that's a crucial element about sex that we miss in these discussions about "addiction" as some singular blinding force: that sex and its manifestations, including blowjobs in the Oval Office, are also about the display of power. Both Clinton and Lewinksky literally got off on the sheer power that both thought they enjoyed (in obviously different ways).

And sex is always about getting off, isn't it? You might get off on the process of getting into bed with your lover, or you might get off on the prospect that the ambassador of a certain country might figure out that you're getting a blowjob while you're on the phone with him in the Oval Office. It's not addictive or insane because you choose the latter over the former.