There’s evidence that D.H. Lawrence enjoyed an erotic power exchange relationship with his wife, that James Joyce was into scat (among other things), and that Oscar Wilde—well, most of us know what Oscar Wilde liked. These literary geniuses explored radical sexual agency and desire in their work and in their relationships, but little beyond rumors and personal letters exist to tell us what they themselves thought of their turn-ons and the ways in which those dovetailed with their writing. Even if space for such a discourse and community had existed back then, Lawrence, Joyce and Wilde couldn’t freely discuss their sexuality. As it was, they faced censorship and generated scandal wherever they went, and of course Wilde went to prison for his sexual behavior.
Although our world is still intolerant of sexual difference, I want to believe we’re at a point where people can speak openly about the consensual ways we express our erotic selves. And I’m interested in the connections between those private expressions and the larger, more public work we do in the world. This series is meant as a forging of community; a validation of that which gets called sexual deviance; and a proud celebration of the complex, fascinating ways that humans experience desire.
In this ongoing series of short personal essays, writers in all genres—novelists, poets, journalists, and more—explore the intersection between our literary lives and practices and our BDSM and fetishistic lives and practices. In other words, these essays aren’t about writing about non-normative sex: rather, it’s a series about how looking at the world through the lens of an alternative sexual orientation influences the modes and strategies with which one approaches one’s creative work.
If you have questions or comments, or if you’re a writer who would like to contribute, please contact me at [email protected].
–Arielle Greenberg, Series Editor
A Project of Written Persuasion
I’m an unreconstructed gay slut, a dominant with a mean streak. Hello. I’m still jamming at fifty; I pursue pretty young men like a predator at the top of the food chain, and gnaw on their soft parts until I’m sated. Apparently I’ve entered the daddy phase, and can still pull, in case you were worried. In fact, I’m enjoying a bit of a popularity spike with twenty-somethings. I’m frequently impressed with the self-possession of these young men. I think about how confused I was in my twenties, sexually and otherwise. My targeted young man knows exactly what he wants: a rock-hard super hung ass master to grab him around the neck and bang him into submission. I can be that man, at least for an hour. Then I need a nap.
I don’t especially like being called daddy, but as long as he’s still calling me at all, it’s a blessing. I feel more like an ornery bull stud to his skittish colt than a father to son, but that name really seems to work for him. I’m an ethical slut, so I treat him like a campsite, aspiring to leave him in better condition than when I found him. There’s that saying: take only photos, leave only footprints (or handprints, as the case may be). I’m pretty fearless, but I can’t help you with your fears, sorry.
Being a New Yorker, I used to cruise Central Park’s Rambles, filthy underground booth stores, Fire Island’s Meat Rack, and this particular NYU bathroom, the notorious one on the sixth floor of Silver Hall. That last spot was a college boy orgy every time I walked through the door. These were my training grounds, but now there are newer territories. It used to be that we staked claims on marginal spaces for cruising and sexual encounters. Most of these cruising spaces have long since been disrupted by disease panic, moralists, and policing.
Since the 90s, most of my encounters have been mediated online. It began with America Online chat rooms. AOL sent out millions of CDs to early adopters who, like me, accessed the Internet for the first time with a Mac Classic and a dial-up connection. We gay early adopters promptly created “M4M” chat rooms in cities across the nation. There was even a “M4MDungeon” room. Our very first use of the miraculous information system of interlinked hypertext documents known as the World Wide Web was to hook up. I found this glorious. Much of my time online was spent writing–chatting, responding to emails, updating my profile. A clipped, coded lingua franca developed to speed these interactions:
‘Hey hot man! great prof! pics? X? R U very dom? In midtown hotel here on biz, avail?’
Later I used Craigslist’s personals. In such ad-based forums, your headline competes for the attention of distracted scrollers, encouraging a certain concise poetry. My ads were tight! They were erotic haikus, threading desire with logistics. “Packin’ Dom” and “Hung 4 younger” were a couple of titles that worked for me in this context.
The act of cruising, which was once a face-to-face encounter—in the park, a bar, or toilet stall—had become a project of written persuasion. To be sure, cruising lost its carnal immediacy—the chance of catching a whiff of pheromones doesn’t exist online—but it gained some literacy. My progress as a dom in a text-based context has shaped the way I use language, and vice versa. My career as a writer developed concurrently with this paradigm shift: my seminal writing project was a diary of sexual encounters I kept in the early Naughts, a text which became the basis of live readings and launched my writing path.
Now we have apps on our smart phones: Grindr, Scruff. They are backstage (backdoor?) passes to a technological miracle: the array of twenty-four communications satellites in medium-Earth orbit comprising the Geographic Positioning System. Created by the US government, the GPS satellite array now transmits the locations of tricks right into my hot pocket. I toggle between these two apps. Scruff is more sociable and kindly, while Grindr is more ruthless. Both apps provide a user’s relative distance, along with some personal details and a photo. Users can chat with each other to establish ground rules and work through logistics. It’s an efficient, globalized, government-funded ecosystem of desire. It grants us superpowers: we see each other through brick walls; we detect prospects with these prosthetic antennae. I can claim the whole wired world as my cruising territory. I can send messages through mass and space, right into your hand (-held device).
With the ubiquity of GPS-enabled smartphone apps, a new iteration of cruising lingo has emerged. There’s an urgency to it, like we have to chase the signals into medium earth orbit and back. It’s an intimate act to write one another; the words dwell in my mind and his mind only. Yet our intimacies are conveyed in a ping from space, over waves that burn through the air, melting time. Our communiqués run hot and cold, and there’s lots of code switching. One chat bubble might recall the rich history of literary correspondence, while the next is in pure fuckbud mode. I convey my longing to dominate within this urgent context: “I want you on yr knees.” “Battery’s dying.” “Skull-fuck U ’til tears run down yr face.” “Bad reception” “I’ll put U on yr back n bang U into 2morrow.”
My development as a writer is enmeshed with my sexual progress chasing that pretty young man across the datasphere. In the twilight, I write to persuade him, and only have a few lines to close the deal. I don’t presume to hit him up, but once he approaches, I go right for the taproot. What will unlock his desire to submit to me? I keep to what’s between us, and to what is true. I steer him away from trite porn formula, instead teasing out the power dynamic between us. I want us to develop our own script; it’s much hotter that way. As in my literary process, the text advances without a predetermined sense of where it’s going. The plot emerges from the material.
A tone of persuasive urgency carries over into the writing I do for public consumption. Though I started my writing career in nonfiction, I’ve recently migrated into fiction; it provides good cover for my life stories. As in my literary writing, I keep my online cruising chat concise, and steer clear of hyperbole, since that invites disappointment. I favor synecdoche, letting a part stand in for the whole. Synecdoche is well suited to dominant dirty talk: “Your ass is mine.”
There’s a connection between the longings of the characters I develop in my fiction and my urge to dominate. I don’t dominate anyone, really: I act out a shadow play of a naked and fearless man confronting the reign of solitude for an audience of one. My audience wants to see it conquered, and I want a warm new hostage. He needs to see with his eyes, lowered until they lock with mine in a deep stare that contains the vastness of the night sky. He will feel it in his soft, vulnerable places, and I will detect his silent pulsing above traffic and sirens. He will inhale the scent of conquest flowing from my glands, as I lay claim to more dark territory.
I suppose part of the reason my young man is attracted to me is because I carry a roadmap of pre-digital encounters, a sense of unmediated intimacy he may not possess. Though he may call me daddy, it’s generational rather than familial. It springs from his urge to connect across time. Though he may call me master, I’m just the man before him who appears to have mastered his longings, and the satellites. Though he calls me sir, it doesn’t convey rank, status, or honor; he appropriates this title to signal the breach in the social order our twilight connection represents. In the project of written persuasion, a tender tone precedes a resounding smack, ringing through the cloud of incessant chatter. I’ll break through it, and the constraints of time, distance and order, to get through to him—and to you, reader.
Rumpus original logo and art by Liam Golden.