Gay Life Is So Pedestrian Now That You Can't Even Film A Porn At A Sex Party

Rawhide, a leather bar on Eighth Avenue that’s as old as I am, closed this weekend. It’s been open since 1979, and its exit seemed like the latest in a parade of gay ghosts. They’re building condos at St. Vincent’s hospital these days. Gay newspapers and magazines have withered and folded until almost all that’s left is a party picture of Michael Musto and a flyer about go-go boys. There aren’t any gay bookstores in Manhattan anymore (for now?). Now that it’s all gone, the city is primed for a nostalgic luxuriation in old-school Castro District gayness, which is why a plan recently proposed to me seemed so appealing. It was basically gay turducken: going to the largest gay dance party of the year, in the company of two porn actors—and their director, whose intention was to film a porn on-site with both the actors and strangers.

It started a few weeks ago, when I texted someone if they’d be free that weekend and he wrote back that he’d be busy “at the blk party.” Here’s how little I knew about the Black Party: I figured he was talking about either a block party, or a party on Bleecker Street, and I had known but forgotten what he was talking about. When I showed the text to a gay friend, he said it probably meant the Black Party. I nodded like that clarified. I had to Google it. When I lived off Bleecker, gays lost at Father Demo Square would always ask me if I knew where “Mister Black” was, and I found out that it was a nearby party I attended once with a friend from my hometown. But if that doesn’t convey how little I knew about the Black Party, it was maybe a few hours before the big event and I was having a drink in TriBeCa when I realized, that, Oh. Probably everyone is expected to wear black. I was wearing gray and white and periwinkle. “Do people wear black to the Black Party? Is that a rule?” I texted. The reply I got was: “it’s 4000 hot guys dancing and fking in leather or less.” So… yes on wearing black? I am certain I was the only person in attendance wearing a black dress shirt, black slacks and black dress shoes.

But, the whole turducken-y plan intrigued me immensely.

There are many things people don’t tell you about being gay, but one of the more frustrating is that if you’re straight and a virgin, people think you’re just a virgin; but if you’re gay and virgin, people think you’re probably confused. How do you know unless you’ve tried it? Gays are always telling other gays, “What’s the thing you’ve never done sexually but always wanted to try?” The recipients of that question always confess and then do that whatever-it-is right then and there. Sometimes a gay man will suggest something distasteful to me and I’ll demur. Then he’ll often come back with “Don’t be so close-minded,” which I would love a waiter to tell me the next time I ask him to, y’know, hold the anchovies or put the dressing on the side or whatever. In gay life, there is an obligation to no-strings-attached experience, to leaping before you look.

So finally we were in a cab from Williamsburg to the Roseland Ballroom, me and Dale Cooper and Colby Keller. (Those links are pretty safe for work?) The only thing I had on me that wasn’t black was my long white-and-blue notepad that read “NEWS” across the front.

Cooper was wearing what appeared to be an ancient Roman chainmail tunic but was actually a sheer Zara T-shirt; he was going as a retiarius, a net-fighter who was “the most feminine of the gladiators,” he said. The three of us had a thoughtful and fun talk about identity and performance as it relates to film; I never attended Wesleyan, but the cab ride felt like a good equivalent.

When we got there, there was a line around the block, which I truly briefly thought was for “Jersey Boys,” playing next door. But the crowd made my mistake obvious. A century ago, Roseland was a whites-only self-styled “home of refined dancing.” Now people in chaps were paying as much as $160 at the door for entrance. Still pretty much whites-only, though.

Inside, we met the ringmaster of our own private circus, Victor G. Jeffreys II, a local artist whose recent gallery show featured T-shirts in silk-screened tessellations of an image of himself masturbating. A handful of the shirts were stained with his ejaculate. At Roseland, he was wearing a thin leather harness but toting several bags of film shoot gear and props. He was also shooting photographs of the event for Gawker, which discovered him when he was outed as a “fameball-tastic” Brooklyn character named “Chimneyhead.”

Of all of us—Cooper, Jeffreys, Gawker’s Rich Juzwiak (who was writing his own piece about the night), Keller and I—only Jeffreys had attended the Black Party in previous years. This was his fourth.

Earlier, I had asked Jeffreys what exactly he planned, or would this be more… whimsical? He had set up three encounters, but wanted four. When I asked him what the three were, he texted: “Hung like a horse blow job. The other two are not clear. Fucking.”

The first encounter was almost right after we got there, around 2 a.m., and it went off as planned. Cooper performed fellatio on a friend of Jeffreys’. This friend wore a rubber horse mask. To say things derailed after that would not only be an understatement, it would also be unfair. I’d say more that the shoot came to terms with the night. People weren’t getting on board.

“It’s one thing to convince people to do anything you want,” said Jeffreys later. “It’s another thing to get them to do it in public and also sign a waiver that’s covered in lube because it’s in my shoe.”

The anticlimax built. Keller got tired and then Keller left.

Jeffreys took some photographs of what Cooper described as the “burlesque-esque” performers working the night’s Coney Island theme. “There isn’t much flesh work for people who don’t do porn,” Cooper said later. To catch a porn star transfixed by a burlesque performance artist is weirdly calming, a kind of validation of subtlety. Porn is so often boring. My turn, your turn, me, you, me, boom, boom boom pow, next! It’s the stuff of Michael Bay, not Stanley Kubrick. It casts itself as drama but without mystery or tension. I’ve had breezes upon the back of my neck that were more erotic.

Jeffreys stumbled upon Rafael Alencar (that’s Not Safe For Work), another porn actor, and managed to shoot another fellatio scene with him.

When Cooper left at 4:30 or 5 a.m., Jeffreys was forced to give up and give in to his own experience of the night. The third scene had been scheduled for near 6 a.m.

“I think what Victor really wanted,” said Cooper in the cab ride back to Brooklyn, “was to clone himself, so he could be director and performer.”

It was stunning in its own weird way. Here were the easiest of fish in the easiest of barrels. How could porn fail at a party predicated on public debauchery? If the carnal hormones didn’t grease the wheels enough, wouldn’t the widespread drug use? Surely there were eager twentysomethings open to a Spring Break “Guys Gone Wild” story to tell their friends. Or older men keen to vampire-ravage the youth out of these actors? Isn’t half the appeal of a leather fetish a sense of domination and control, of being told what to do and when and where and how to do it? How was this crumbling so quickly?

But there’s a difference between debauchery and the appearance of debauchery. “It’s not a sex party,” said Vance Garrett, a frequent creative director of the whole production. He was in the DJ booth behind the wooden Tillie, whose eyes shot sheets of lasers onto the dance floor. “It’s a costume party.”

And the costume of the night was pretty standardized. “Take the same white guy to the same gym and give him the same outfit, then clone him a thousands times and, there ya go: Black Party,” said Cooper. Still, some people were taking their leather and chains very seriously. I pictured them in the leather shops on Christopher Street saying to their boyfriend, “Yeah, but feel this one. It’s more fitted, right?” Some people were dressed like a kind of male Catwoman, or like Quentin Tarantino’s idea of a shirtless ninja biker. Some had very serious chains lacing their pecs but others seemed to have gone to Home Depot and thrown any old chain over their shoulder. Most of the men, dressed confidently, nevertheless shuffled awkwardly, like teens in traffic court wearing a suit for the first time. Or the kind of half-assed showmanship with which people wear spring-loaded shamrock headbands on St. Patrick’s Day. For all the asses on display, they were mostly half-assed. There was not even commitment to the costuming: lots of “Hey, girl! Cute harness!”

When we were checking our coats upon entrance, Juzwiak kept some cash in a Ziploc bag. “I feel like I’m at a water park,” he said. That seemed right. In the game of Want Settle Get, I had wanted Dancer From The Dance, but would’ve settled for Shortbus. I got A Night at the Roxbury, the oontz-oontz Ibiza zombies, the obligation of it all.

“It’s huge, but after 40 hours it’s just walking in circles,” said Jeffreys. “I kept wanting something to happen. I like capturing those surprises. I like documenting what’s real and honest.”

The most honest encounter I had was with an older man with a jaunty forty-niner vibe. He was off to the side of one of the bars that sold $8 bottles of Vitaminwater. He had a shoeshine stand. “Isn’t it hard for people to tell they’ve had a good shoeshine in this dark space?” I asked. He laughed. “Oh, you think they come to me so I can shine their shoes?” he asked. “Sure, I shine their shoes. But I don’t just give a shoeshine. I give attention. That’s all anyone here wants. That’s half the reason the bartenders are so popular; they give everyone attention.”

I nodded but it must’ve been one of those lobotomized nods people give during conversations at loud house music dance parties, because he reached into his shoeshine kit and pulled out a small baggie of two earplugs for me. “It’s not so important to hear it,” he said. “It’s more for your eyes.”

But muting one sense made me want to mute them all. I have spared you from any description of the smell.

I ended up not going to Rawhide for its final night because the only reason for going I could think up was that I’d be able to say that I went. Recently, I’ve started walking down Sixth Avenue to get to Christopher Street. You don’t see or hear the construction at St. Vincent’s that way.




Richard Morgan previously wrote for The Awl about not being American. He misses block parties. Photo by Jeff Bonner.