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Sex: The Multiplicity of Desire


All-night milonga, midtown.  

Surrounded by couples (lesbians and gays getting married and having children, imitating, ironically, all these years later, their straight brethren), she is mostly comfortable still reveling in the chase. Although, in this case, it was Kelly—beautiful, strong but feminine—who was the pursuer. One day after work, three drinks in, on the dance floor during karaoke at the bar Hope & Anchor, she was suddenly all over Nutty. She’s ten years younger, and straight, while Nutty is “butch, basically,” though she chafes against the rigidity of the traditional butchness in which one’s vagina goes not only unpenetrated but unacknowledged (a rigidity that’s only hardened recently, she says, with young lesbians in New York frequently undergoing surgery to remove their breasts). And so, driving her back that following morning—after Nutty had agreed to take her home and fucked her again and again with a dildo—Nutty was playful but intent: Her love of the “power of dick” and of “packing” notwithstanding, she wishes to be fucked. Six weeks later, ideas and roles have blurred into … into whatever this is, which, sitting there with her friends, she takes pains not to put too fine a point on.

At the dinner, they eat Brussels-sprout salad and risotto and a chocolate cake drizzled with a sauce a friend makes impromptu out of oranges. They uncork the eighth bottle of wine. When Nutty saw Kelly last, a week earlier, in the street after dancing at a bar in Prospect Heights, she’d seemed agitated; she said she’d had a lot going on at work; she said, “I don’t think I can go home with you tonight.” She was worried Nutty would be upset. Nutty insisted she was not; they were, essentially, “friends with benefits.” Nutty takes her phone out of her pocket and checks one last time.

Though the plan had been to head late-night to Hope & Anchor—it’d been Nutty’s intention to hook up, with Kelly or without—instead she and her friends head down onto a long pier and, overlooking the blinking buoys and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, smoke pot, watch old rap videos on their phones, and, with their arms wrapped around one another, sing the theme song from Flashdance. Back at her apartment, it is very late. She leaves the dishes dirty, brushes her teeth, drops her clothes onto the bathroom floor, grabs her favorite cock (the one with the upturned curve), and, facedown on her bed in the dark, closes her eyes, focusing only on what she’s feeling, which is, soon enough, ecstasy.

Playing, Sharing, Trading, and Teasing
A communal affair at a Chelsea hotel.

There is a process attached to gaining access to the One Leg Up “erotic event” (OLU’s “Yummy President” Palagia finds the terminology “sex party” reductive and degrading, seeing herself as conduit to “the sensual movement”). An application form and photos must be submitted. Those accepted pay a monthly membership, in addition to up to $350 for attendance to events, which vary in sensuality (from “à la carte” to “takeout” to “eat-in”), held once or twice a month in secret locations. I receive an e-mail instructing me to report to a suite at a hotel in Chelsea beginning at 10:30 p.m. and no later than midnight, when the door for tonight’s eat-in soirée would be closed. In keeping with the theme of “Mystery Night”—those not dressed in costume would be made to strip at the door—my date and I (men cannot show up stag) both wear fedoras and scarves.

There are red candles, red rose petals, red lightbulbs, red sheets on a king-size bed in the bedroom, red cloth draped on the old couches in the living room. In the small kitchen, a table has been set up, and the bottles of alcohol we’ve all brought with us are being poured for us by a young blonde bartender in a teddy with a giant quill tattooed on her forearm. There are about twelve couples mingling. Several seem to know each other. Upon entering, each of us has been given a playing card, and now we are to find the stranger of the opposite sex with the one that matches.

There has been an error, and my date and I end up with matching cards. We nevertheless are soon approached by a couple. The man is in his late fifties or early sixties, tall and thin, with short gray hair. His wife wears a variation of the same outfit every woman is wearing (a short, tight black dress with some bit of sequins) and looks about a decade younger. She talks to me, the man to my date. I ask many questions. They are both professors from the South. They flew to New York specifically for this event, as they do several times a year. They have been married for about a decade, they have been OLU members for about half that. She is a laboratory psychiatrist studying the efficacy of various medications. Nervous, and gulping tequila, I ask about antidepressants, whether it’s true they’re no more efficacious than vigorous daily exercise (in most cases, she says, they are not). She seems to grow quickly uninterested, if not outright uncomfortable. She asks about me and my—wife? Girlfriend? I answer obliquely: This is our first time, we are here mostly to “feel things out.” Within a minute or two, I am leaning against the wall, alone.


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