Jared is a 31-year-old man who lives in Chicago and has had more than 1,000 sexual partners. This is the second of three installments in his story, and it is pretty immediately (and intensely) graphic. Here's Part I and Part III.
So, at this point in your story, you’re 15. You’ve had a hyper-sexual childhood, you’ve been having anonymous sexual encounters in public places, and you’ve just dropped out of high school in North Carolina for mental and physical safety/security reasons.
What happens next?
My mom found some gay youth group in Asheville, and I started hanging out at the independent bookstore there. She took the same sort of tactic that she took all throughout my childhood—lazy parenting, very hands-off, like, “I’m very happy to make a token show of concern, but truly just come home alive and that’s cool.”
So at 15 she’s just dropping me off in this small town, and I find out that the bathroom of the Asheville library is super cruisey. This one guy had a trick—he’d get in the adjacent stall, put a bag on the floor, and then mirrored sunglasses on top of the bag, so he could see who was next to him.
One day I was tapping my foot, cruising this guy. Then he takes me up to the top floor of the library's parking garage and just brutally sodomizes me. He sort of puts me against the rail, and I’m getting fucked with no lube or anything, looking down at this vertiginous spiral of stairs.
That was the first time you’d ever experienced penetration.
Yeah, and it was intense and terrible. I think it caused some lasting physical damage—I’ve got problems with my butt—and of course, some mental things too. I have never been able to enjoy getting fucked, despite the fact that I really want to. I think if my first experience was different it wouldn't have been like that.
Wow. What happened afterwards? You just walked away?
Yeah. We pulled up our pants, and I think I rode the elevator down with him.
What were you feeling?
Shock and dissociation. I don’t really remember the moments after. I remember using the bathroom at the bookstore, seeing blood and semen in the toilet, being super freaked out. I wrote some poem in a journal that I later burned; it was called “Stairwell Cowboy.” He had a cowboy hat, that guy.
Very soon after that, I developed this really terrible attachment to this boy Matt Johnson, who was in the gay youth group with me. Matt Johnson had these beautiful thick hairy legs, and he always wore these mesh basketball shorts, and I just followed him around like a puppy. He'd say “I'll call you,” and I'd wait by the phone listening to these orchestral arrangements of Enya music, and he'd never call. Sometimes he’d sort of have me at his apartment and allow me to fellate him.
And then, one day, he pretty much did exactly what the man in the stairwell did. He put on a condom, or pretended to, and just fucked me brutally. Afterwards, I left, and again I found myself in this bookstore bathroom with blood and semen on the toilet, and I was still pining for Matt Johnson.
How have your thoughts shifted about these experiences as time has passed? You were so young. How aware were you of being taken advantage of? How did you deal with the violence of all of this?
At that age, I was constantly being taken for older than I was. The stairwell cowboy is, for sure, a terrible creep: a Southerner who couldn't deal with his life. He probably has a wife, he’s taking out his self-hatred. There was no tenderness in him whatsoever, and I think the power differential was almost not a part of it at all. To him, I was just another lousy piece of shit that couldn't resist getting off in that way. If I could have punished him or hurt him physically in some way, I think it would have been equally deserved in his mind.
I don't think he set out to hurt me to hurt me. Just that for him, lust was void of tenderness.
How were you doing in terms of mental health at this point? Were you still depressed?
No, I’d had this total shift. I was empowered. I was out and proud. And so with Matt, he was not only the object of my lust; I really loved him. There was this tarot card book I had, with a love spell in one of the appendices, and I wrote it on a piece of paper and tried to cast a spell. I wanted us to fall in love forever. I would listen to Jewel’s “Pieces of You” and think about him. I was Tori Amos, Fiona Apple, the gal who had been through some shit, who embraced suffering. I was ready to stand by my man and take it, whatever the cost.
And then we moved to Albuquerque, where I thought that I would be involved in activism. I thought that I’d grow up to be a real political queer.
And this is before college?
Yeah, I didn’t go to college till I was 25. So in Albuquerque I started dating: the first was the manager of the local Johnny Rockets, a guy named Mario whose head was clearly too big for his body. He was the first guy who ever penetrated me where it felt good, and that was really remarkable.
There were other guys: briefly, I was with this mushroom dealer named Bernard. Once his car broke down in a town where his cousins lived, and they were all born-again Christians so I had to pretend to be straight. I remember being in their house, in this prayer circle, and this little girl shows me her palm and is like, “Talk to the white man because the black man won't listen.” We also once went to Bernard’s black fraternity and we smoked like five blunts between four people and we're watching WWF with these enormous men and I just didn’t know what to do.
I also dated this 27-year-old cruise ship dancer, and this 32-year-old restaurant manager who made out with me and was like, “I can't do this—your mom could have me put away for statutory rape.” And there was this man from Kenya, named Makasha, who told me that all gay love was narcissism, a statement that just blew my mind.
In Albuquerque, were you accessing a sort of gay community that you weren’t able to in Asheville?
Yes, but actually—most of that education came accidentally. There’s no generational transmission of queer culture anymore, it’s really catch-as-catch-can. Gays our age don’t have to really embrace this stuff unless they’re curious about it.
So a lot of my queer education came about through making friends with these dudes who only hung out with me because they wanted to have sex with me, but never actually made a move. Like, I remember one friend in particular—this guy I lived near in Albuquerque, this sad, fat, recovering-alcoholic hairdresser. I’d go to his house every week, we’d watch five episodes of Sex and the City from his box set, and we’d eat too much candy and he’d play bootleg recordings of Barbara Streisand’s first performance at a bar when she was 18. He’d tell me why disco mattered to him, and what Cher meant to him, and we’d talk about all this stuff and never hook up, and over the course of years I got all this crazy intel by being a prick tease without knowing it.
Even after all your experience, you didn’t pick up on the fact that this guy wanted to have sex with you?
It was an attributional error. Having been taken advantage of in those days, attention didn't register to me as sexual unless a guy was creeping on me very obviously. If someone was nice to me, I was like, “How wonderful that we are friends! Maybe you can help advise: should I hook up with this guy that’s super mean to me or this guy that’s super mean to me?”
And at the time I was also discovering glory holes, and adult video store back rooms and arcades, and I got super into them. Too into them, sometimes. Like, one night I was super drunk and sucking dick in this glory hole and stood up and hit my head on the bill acceptor and cut my skull open.
Can you tell me about the logistics here? I am uninitiated.
So this is basically a porn arcade, with rooms you can go into and lock the door. They’re like fitting rooms, except with TV screens playing porn, and you buy time by slipping money into the bill acceptor, and then there are also glory holes.
So I’m in this arcade one night and I’m still operating on this porn-oriented model where quantity is super hot to me. I’m sucking off eight dudes in sequence, I’m 20 and wasted, and I stand up real fast and cut my head open without realizing it. I wave as the clerk as I’m leaving, and he makes a weird face at me and I’m like, “Don’t judge me bitch, try and be a little more sex-positive,” and he’s like, “YOUR FACE IS FUCKING BLEEDING.”
And I put my hand up to the blood and was like, “Oh.” I told my friends and they were like, “That’s not even funny,” and I guess they were right. I was getting into some scrapes. I have really, really intense appetites; I would get this crazy, wild-eyed, quasi-dissociative need for sex and I’d just pursue it.
How does your body keep up with this sort of thing? How do you sustain a physiological state of excitement through that sort of sexual marathon?
I've definitely had sex hangovers, after, where in the morning my jaw would hurt, my throat would hurt. There’s a thing online—a community of guys who just jerk off all day. I don’t have that, but I can relate to the state of mind, this utterly focused, peak presence of arousal that can be maintained for a long, long time.
Can you identify a year in your life where your sexual activity was at its highest point?
Well, all the way up till 20 or so I was trying to put on the brakes. I’d allow myself a trip to the video store rather than just going to it, and I’d feel really ashamed afterward. It wasn’t till my early 20’s when I moved to Portland that my politics and intellect caught up to my sexuality. My first roommate there was 27 to my 22 and he told me, “You can’t really analyze your experience or even have any real experience when your view is so obstructed by shame.” And with his tutelage, and the infinite sexual availability in Portland, the bathhouses, after all that it was like, “Fuck it man: harm none, go nuts, do what you want, the only thing that's gross about this is feeling ashamed.
That has proved to be not totally true, but the only way I could learn was by abolishing shame entirely.
What prompted your move to Portland?
I had a friend with a trust fund who moved from Albuquerque to Seattle, and he was like, “I’m bored here, come live with me and I’ll pay your rent.” So I moved to Seattle, lived there for 9 months, and ended up making friends with all these radical faeries who lived in Portland, which took me there.
What’s a radical faery?
I first encountered this community with a boyfriend I had when I was 21. We were at a movie in Santa Fe, and I was just wiggling my chopstick at my boyfriend—not a euphemism, we were sharing chopsticks, eating something—and after the movie, these two queens came up to me in the bathroom and told me that he was watching us and it was cute.
I was like, “I am a little weirded out by your sunhat, but okay!” This queen was named Clueless Joe and his boyfriend was named Whirlwind. They invited us to “Heart Circle,” which was a bunch of men sitting in a circle and passing a talisman and sharing, and they were all just really excellent. I wanted to experience what they had, and I sort of adopted what I thought their culture was, wholesale.
How would you define radical faery culture?
Just decent and intelligent men, sharing freely with one another. It was about extending connection and love even to people who annoyed you; it was creating a mindset that prioritizes self-love, where it mattered less that I liked someone than that they liked themselves. It was pretty high-minded, but it felt so nice to me, especially after the development I’d had as a gay man. There’s less of a need for these separatist communities today, these places where gay men are just giving each other love triage. Nobody loves you? We love you. You’re a total shit? Great, we love you, we love you.
So I was adopting this radical faery ideology that gay men are special, and that we're also wounded, and that as a result we need to be extra kind and loving. And of course there's a lot of sex that goes with that. I was monogamous when I first encountered faeries, and after a year I broke up with my boyfriend and went to this gathering of in the mountains of eastern Tennessee and just had all kinds of sex and it all really felt in service to that ideal. Like, let's just celebrate one another, and it doesn't matter where we come from or whether or not I even like you. There's a sort of shameless exuberance in the best of radical faery culture, shameless by design.
I found out that I had that in me. In those faery spaces I could really be open and vulnerable and clear about what I wanted. But I still had a lot of shame about wanting things like glory holes, wanting these sleazy situations that are just really on my menu, things that I just really like. I couldn't tell if it was social programming making me feel like it was filthy and wrong, or if I was truly self-harming. Turns out it was a bit of both.
How did you arrive at this conclusion?
Case in point, I contracted HIV in one of these exact situations: a sleazy set-up, in which I was willing the shame I felt to go away so I could just have a good time.
Photo via See-Ming Lee/flickr