Heaven in Hell: How a Sex Party Gave Me Autonomy

On finding my body and soul at an orgy.

I’m the exhausted baby in the bottom right hand corner.

A little bit of party fog and the smell of sweat and bodily fluids filled the air, and I slid between two guys making out to grab a cup of water. I sipped and looked upon the crowd of men, in jockstraps or underwear or naked, and did not feel uncomfortable. And then I noticed a speck of semen on my shoes. And everything was fine. I was what felt like a decade late in realizing that going to a private school for six years run by Evangelical Christians fucked. Me. Up. Other people recognized it in me, in the way that other people recognize when you should probably go to rehab or something, but Roadside Academy, strangely, did not seem to, explicitly or otherwise, endorse any kind of self-awareness.

“Wait, really? You really don’t believe in sex before marriage?” my art teacher would ask me at the lunch table, in front of an audience of a dozen people, a reporter, and the spokesperson for GLAAD. This was sophomore year of high school, and I would steadfastly argue for celibacy, in my life, and straightness, also in my life. As the faces around me began to contort with deep bemusement, I would elaborate that I did not believe you should kiss in a relationship until you had been dating for three weeks. “A kiss is a promise,” I would say, having memorized the phrase from Dove chocolate wrapper.

Roadside and its headmasters were careful to espouse messages of purity in relatively subtle ways, like gathering the entire student body (about 52 kids) in front of the building every morning to say the Pledge of Allegiance, sing patriotic song, and then listen to what amounted to a sermon about goodness. And every so often, these sermons would be peppered with ideas of the body and soul and cleanliness and whether Clorox was worth the price at Walmart, because you can’t shop at Target because they supported the gays.

Bedecked in a business casual uniform that made all of the students look like kids going to Catholic school, but with less Latin, all of this felt very implicit. Sex wasn’t a thing that was talked about, unless it was after class in the requisite pre-pubescent way. And even then, it felt, looking back, a lot more unnecessarily taboo than it would have been in other social environments. Were it not for the fact that I was reared on To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar, Hello, Dolly! and summers in Provincetown, my only impression of queer people would have been as people I should probably avoid, which meant I should not look in the mirror. There were pamphlets speaking out against a marriage quality ruling in Connecticut. And these various forms of homophobia were all kind of funny because I know that at least 65% of my peers thought I was queer. (I think my desire to become an actor, writer, and scholar on The Devil Wears Prada gave it away.)


I would remain prudish as fuck through high school. I would remain anxious about how to navigate sex and sexuality until mid-college. Having a hand full of sex doesn’t mean you necessarily like it, or feel comfortable doing it. It’s kind of bland and irritating to fall into the cliché of wanting to adhere to a particular narrative of “coming of age” or “coming of self” or whatever. You come out, or you don’t, you have some sex, or you don’t, but what’s clear in any case is some sort of attempt to grasp control of your own narrative. And, as I once wrote about, I started doing stuff to write about it. Calculated though it may seem, there’s at least an illusory quality to having a bit of control in the construction of my public identity.

Cruising, as it were, the sexual waters of queerness, I was like a weird floaty in the shape of a duck wearing sunglasses. Cute, pretending to be cool, small, not actually sustainable to last a long time, yellow. And, like being in water, I never really enjoyed sex. It turned into something sort of obligatory. I was easily bored and uncomfortable with the act, save for a select few times. The tricky thing was trying to get a sense of my own autonomy in these situations. I couldn’t tell you why I was bored, left usually wondering what movie I should watch when I kicked them out.

A part of me suspects that years believing that sex was a magical, special thing meant only for monogamous couples with (plans for) bratty children and 401k plans crawled under my skin. I’ve never had sex with someone I was in love with or someone I was in any kind of serious relationship with. But I did once have sex with someone I was sort of in love with six months previously, and let me tell you, it was not great. So, after everyone was finished (and by “everyone”, I mean usually the top), I’d nod my head and move on and tell them I never wanted to see them again because they said Joan Didion was overrated. It was going through the motions, but with more name dropping.

I have enjoyed sex a few times, for the record, at least before this summer. It fluctuates. But I had an ongoing friends with benefits situation for a while with a slim, attractive Ecuadorian guy whom I once made watch Spring Breakers. The difference between him and every other hookup was the attentiveness during sex. In spite of the transient nature of our dynamic, we were both aware of what the other person liked and wanted and were willing to learn more to make the experience as least like a phone conversation with Comcast Customer Service as possible. Chemistry is key, then.

It’s funny how damaging the private school was in spite of the fact that there was no explicit or blatant sex shaming, at least so far as I can recall. The anxiety I feel navigating sexual spaces, especially public ones, has been exacerbated by the bizarre relationship with sex, gender, body, and race that predominantly gay men have. I stand in the corner, trying to breathe. I don’t particularly want to be wanted because I’m Asian and I fulfill someone’s fantasy of submissive coquettishness, nor of a kind of boyishness that raises some eyebrows. I would like to be found attractive on the grounds that I am good at writing about James Bond and I have a nice book collection.

That’s not entirely true. What does it mean to be found attractive anyways? That’s the problem I’ve encountered. To be found attractive, unfortunately, you don’t have control over why someone finds you attractive. Though I would be loved to be found hot not because I’m really boyish, or whatever, I know that that will always be, to some degree, part of my appeal. I am, as anyone else is, the object of another’s gaze. The only way to make myself the subject is to write about it.


The first summer in Provincetown was not a great in that context. Returning to Provincetown after a bit of a hiatus was overwhelming. And despite the fact that I would, indeed, write about my experiences, it would come at a much later date. My actions were hyperconscious, and my inhibitions were almost always in the way, unless it for the sake of narrativising my experiences.

My return to Provincetown the second summer was marked by the ongoing humorous theme from my coworkers that I was a slut. I had more sex in the summer of 2016 than my previous couple of years of being sexually active. Now better aware and settled in my environment, now vaguely comfortable, my boss remarked, “You seem more confident this year.” I shrugged, nodded.

The thing that changed isn’t necessarily that I enjoyed sex more, or that I wasn’t, to some degree, still going through the motions, but now I knew how to use it as a tool. I knew how to make it, for lack of a better word, satisfying. I knew how to get mine, even if it meant kicking someone out of my room for dissing The New Yorker.

The next logical step to my sexual evolution? An orgy, of course.


A friend asked me what I was up to last week, to which I replied, “Debating on whether I want to go see Arrival or get Chinese food or go to an orgy.” He retorted, “You’re settling into New York just fine, I see.”

Another friend mentioned that, yes, Virginia, sex parties did exist, and in New York of all places. The opportunity to go to an orgy was probably present in Provincetown, but I was either unaware or uninvited, and I was fine with that. I always imagined myself at a sex party in the position of handing out condoms or pistachios, overcome with anxiety and self-consciousness. It would be at a very nice apartment on the Upper West Side, and people would be fucking in the library, and there I would be trying to check out the apartment-owner’s copy of Justine, only to be blocked by someone reenacting Atonement.

So I would bring some books for backup: A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments by Roland Barthes and A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, because I am low key and subtle. The anxiety of future possible anxiety nonetheless persisted, and, as is my tendency, my primary motivation was, “At least it will make a good cocktail party story.” It would be another tale to add to my rolodex of debauchery, another element that would add to the seemingly paradoxical character of the Dweeby Professorial Queer and the Actually Kind of Strumpetish Queer. I would like the two to coexist.

Exploration of the body and soul seemed to be reserved for those that such a journey was only reserved for the pure of both. Ambivalence that I did not qualify only occurred later in life; at the time, it was a shrug, and a mental note for personal armor, which would color my approach to my own personal explorations: desperate to know bodies, mine and others, and through that, what “soul” meant to me. From then on, by day, I was a furious pursuer of a girlfriend, and by night, a furious masturbator and consistently in-denial queer, unable to reconcile the nuances of both.


Navigating queer male spaces has always been weird and anxiety inducing. But this orgy was, for the most part, not. It was quite pleasant, except for the fact that they did not have non-alcoholic drinks other than water and piss. The fact that there was a maze in the party space was nothing if not a lovely metaphor for navigating queerness in general: walking around dumbly, looking for something or someone, or asking someone to find that in yourself. Dark and dank, messy, adventurous, and sexy.

It was in a quasi-apartment complex not far from where I live, and I was led downstairs to a coat check area, which meant that any excuse I had to not socialize, be it reading an 800 page novel or tweeting about my prudishness, would be revoked. I wore the closest thing to sexy underwear I had; a dark blue pair of Diesel boxer briefs that I had originally bought for a short film I directed, and for no other purpose whatsoever, of course. Then, the main space, which looked like about 20 square feet, and had a DJ playing requisite club music that was as anonymous as the guys that would soon be rimming one another.

And then the maze. The maze had little spaces reserved for fucking, and in the walls, holes and sections for watching. There was a chain link fence, and each fucking space, some the size of a phone booth and others the size of an apartment bedroom in Chelsea, had condom and lube dispensers. In the back were tubs, sex swings, and a jail cell.

As more people came as the evening wore on, I began to appreciate how much of a social event it was. It became, quite ironically, a good place to network. I met other writers, bumped into friends, and valued the relaxed vibe. If this was the kind of place where I could have a 20 minute conversation about Pedro Almodóvar, fuck for 10 minutes, and then have a 40 minute conversation about liberal Zionism, then maybe I had found home. Obviously, not at the orgy, per se, but in a New York queer space. (But also where there was free Coca Cola.)

There were bodies of all types to want and be wanted: cis, trans, bodies of color, disabled, fat, etc. We could all play with others’ gazes.

And it was a space where I did not feel rejected or othered completely, nor totally fetishized. I blew a slightly older guy, with short brown hair. His method of kissing was to ram his tongue into my mouth which, though unpleasant, allowed me to flex my more dominant muscles. It was fascinating and electrifying to then wield power over this guy, someone who must have been at least twice my age. His objective was to get me off. His pleasure was my pleasure. I stood on a bench and looked over at the sea of heads (which were, surprisingly, mostly shaved and not Macklemore-clones) as he buried his face in my ass like he was looking for lost treasure and smiled to myself.

There was, at times, a kind of Eyes Wide Shut-vibe to it, but significantly less formal. You’d walk into an area and either have to squeeze through people making out or blowing each other to get by, or step over someone who was riding someone, and you’d pass another half dozen people either jerking off, fucking, or watching others jerk off and fuck. There’s an undeniably arousing thing about voyeurism. Watching something that is operates in flux of public and private happen before you without puritanism’s veil. Maybe it’s even a little more fun than doing it myself.

The sex party, though, was a curious affair. It felt somewhat like something that was marginally old fashioned or retro trying to be contemporary. The music was contemporary. But, the performances there were classical, in a sense. Certainly, there were people who were direct, and directness is timeless. But a glance, a brief touch, a nod; those things come from a particular time. Cruising still exists, but its language remains mostly the same. And though it was borne out of secrecy, cruising’s vocabulary nonetheless allows wordlessness to give way to communication via instinct and body language. It’s carnality as its own lexicon.

The irony of wading through queer bodies — literally and figuratively, your own and other people’s — is that we’re told it must be done in the dark and out of sight. However, though these moments are without the light that others get the benefit of, we grow accustomed to the dark and find our own sources of illumination. That one can get closer to grasping what it means to be in your own body, to learn what it feels like to have power over yourself and your narrative and identity for no one else’s benefit, in a space that is generally considered taboo is actually wonderful. You don’t have to answer to anyone. It’s your own map. I came twice that night, and I don’t think it’d be far from the truth if I said that my first orgy was a religious experience.

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