The Eros of Erasure
A Personal History of 848 as a Sex Space

Scanning my memories of being at 848, I can't readily recall which events were "sex" events and which were "art," which were "performances" and which were "private parties." The greatest thing about 848 Community Space is its soulful construction as a ritual space in which several concentric circles of citizens can regularly (if temporarily) experience the erasure of these boundaries around experience. Sex + art + public + private = community? And it must be said that such freedom does not automatically equal total joy.

For some reason, the first thing that popped in my head when I thought about writing this was Med-O's birthday party a couple of years ago (1992? 1993?), for which he had commissioned performances from many of the home crew. I remember Ann Rosencranz reading a story about putting on rubber gloves to massage an older man's butt at Joe Kramer and Annie Sprinkle's Cosmic Orgasm Awareness Week, juxtaposed with the image of putting on rubber gloves to massage a man with KS at the Zen hospice. I remember weeping uncontrollably at these stories, sitting behind Keith Hennessy at the sound board. I remember Jess Curtis and Stephanie Maher performing naked and pulling on each other's nipple rings really hard until they screamed. I remember standing in the kitchen before the show watching Remy Charlip give succinct bodywork sessions to several dancers in the show. I remember Remy and John Ingle taking turns on the massage table as their part of the show and talking about their relationship in honest, ambivalent anecdotes. I remember after the show several women massaging the front of Med-O's naked body and whipping him with their hair. I remember joining John and some other men massaging Med-O's back. I remember Med-O suddenly announcing that he would like Keith to pierce his nipple. After Keith did so -- removing the jewelry from his own nipple, while Jules Beckman provided excellent musical accompaniment -- Med-O declared that he wanted the other nipple pierced as well, et voila!

One of the first times I ever stayed at 848, as an out-of-town guest of Keith's, there was a clothing-optional reception for the opening of a naked art show, where half the audience was butt-naked and half not. Later that week was the Sex Art Salon, an evening of performances organized by Mark Chester. I noticed a small Japanese man fully trussed up in leather bondage and hood sitting in the back row; later, when he left after cordially bowing to Mark, I realized that he was a client of Mark's having a session during the show. The climax of that show was definitely Carol Queen getting fucked by her boyfriend with an open switchblade. A man read a series of reminiscences about his S/M relationship with his younger lover, who had very recently died of AIDS. He seemed somewhat emotionally out of control when he began to read, yet he also seemed quite distant from the stories he told, in which tales of fitting his lover for a dog collar and making him eat off the floor intermingled with reports of changing DDI dosages and projectile vomiting. Increasingly disturbed by both the stories and the author's lack of affect, I fled to Keith's bedroom, where Keith was lying on his futon staring at the ceiling. "Images are dangerous," he said.

I remember having an intense, hot, satisfying love session with Keith where I fucked him in the ass, and I remember going to a work-in-progress showing of his performance Heat in which he described that encounter in minute detail. I remember feeling inordinately proud of having this encounter documented in art, because it was the first and maybe only time I ever fucked Keith and I knew how much he liked to be fucked. Keeping track of who-fucked-whom-how-many-times is one way gay men acknowledge and monitor power imbalance in relationships.

(I'm sweating like crazy writing these sentences which erase the lines between sex and art and public and private.)

I remember lying on Keith's bed making out like crazy with Steph and Jeff Mooney. Actually, Steph was kissing me, and she was kissing Jeff, but Jeff and I were not kissing each other -- not with tongues, anyway, cuz I guess he's just not that kinda guy, although he does accurately describe himself as "a long, lean, loving machine."

I remember picking up Kim-Jack once, even though she's larger than me in every way, and I remember her sitting on my lap with her arms around my neck. She said no one had picked her up like that since she was a little girl.

The only real "sex event" I can remember attending at 848 was one of Matthew Simmons' "Passion Dancing Naked" events. I remember dancing a lot and having fun and being horny and really wanting to get it on with various guys, but mostly it was a very loving and sensual rather than sexual occasion. That was on a Saturday night. The next morning I went to church at Glide with Med-O and saw two guys I'd met at "Passion Dancing Naked" singing in the choir. Still another guy I met was in the congregation, and he and his friend went to breakfast at a lesbian eatery in the Mission with me and Med-O. During the whole meal we carried on like total queens, and I enjoyed witnessing Med-O once again revel in being mistaken for a gay man.

I remember getting invitations from Jack Davis to submit artwork for various shows he did at 848 -- one was about dicks, and I wrote a text about my relationship with my German friend Werner underneath a great picture of him with an erection, and another was about fag sex/death/orgasm, in which Jack invited people to send pieces of string on which they'd collected bodily fluids from themselves and their lovers. I enjoyed collecting those bodily fluids.

There is no one in New York City that I know of doing this kind of joyful, public, artful, soulful, sexful, spiritful border-erasure work. I consider 848 to be a temple for practice rather than a sexual utopia -- a holy way station for refueling and satsang. Others have surely done this kind of experimentation in different times and cultures, from the Eleusinian Mysteries to Osho's ashram. We don't know what results they got from their experiments -- perhaps because the information was suppressed, perhaps because it isn't meant to be known beyond the immediate circle of participants. Sometimes maybe we are reinventing the wheel. Maybe we are children in sex kindergarten. And maybe we are fellow travellers struggling for body freedom and gender justice in our lifetime, here and now.

Published in More Out Than In: notes on sex, art & community, edited by Rachel Kaplan and Keith Hennessy, Abundant Fuck Publications, 1995.

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