It’s 2:39am and I’m coming from the queer and trans* only BSDM/sex/kink party Submit, my first time, and I feel totally awash with my own desires, nonspecific and pulsating, emanating from me. They are desires without an object, devoid of goals. In that ocean of desire I can honestly say—awkwardly lurching through the various rooms with the uncertain shuffle of an amateur voyeur—that I felt like a jellyfish, albeit a somewhat sexy one, that had been beached on the shore. I trembled, wobbling my wares lopsidedly, asphyxiated, dying, motioning forlornly toward the motherwater, silently pleading—instead of just asking—for a wave to carry me back out to merge with the others, reuniting with my jelly fish family, my kinky jelly school of fish.
More than anything else at Submit that night, I was most flooded with the stimuli of scores of women and trans* folx taking autonomy of their own desires, owning and expressing them together. (I substitute “control” for autonomy here.) Almost everyone in that room felt deliriously sexy to me, fractals of a collective autonomous body of desire and fulfillment that had taken me into its translucent belly to be slowly digested, indifferent to my gaze as its appendages caressed and licked and bit and scratched the world.
And the end of Submit I approached this trans* feminine person called LZ, who was collared and had a tattoo for estrogen on her arm. She told me about how she had been checking me out the whole time, and wished that I had come up to her sooner. I asked her about her evening; she had had a threesome with a partner and a lover who had come to the party with her, and she had wanted to take a shower after but it was BYO towel and she was not really into drying off with paper towels. I thought about my bizarro threesome at Spam, the “Submit + cis dudes” party in the same space the previous week, wherein RB, the person I came with and wanted to have sex with, ended up as voyeur and guardian as I face-fucked a relative stranger who had made a beeline for me during a Superhero fetish reading in the main room.
During a long phone conversation with RB recently, he relayed his former roommate Meg’s definition of kinky: kink can take anything that is not normally sexy and make it sexy. Talking out the garbage—not normally sexy…but could be sexy. I thought of all the unsexy-made-sexy things: getting a root canal #sexy, changing a diaper #sexy, filing a tax return #sexy.
Toward the end of the party, before my interaction with LZ, RD was taking out the garbage, and I thought of this again. RD is the originator of Submit and a kink veteran to say they least. Tonight they were wearing their stuffed briefs and a tight tank top and a servile attitude toward their top. Apparently RD used to top their #1 sub, G, for a very long time, and more recently they had switched. So RD was cleaning up after the party and G was sitting in the social room—in front of the caged room with the black-silk-sheeted bed next to a rack, and behind the maze of fucking and sucking with peepholes and glory holes and all—surveying the scene. They looked like a queen to me, but maybe not a human queen—maybe a termite queen, the most erotic of all insects. So G was sitting and RD was cleaning, perhaps unrelated to their D/s relationship; perhaps not. I didn’t ask, nor did I say much of anything to RD, because both times I encountered RD I merely looked at them and went into subspace. I could barely say a word. My vision blurred and my whole body yielded and opened. I submitted. How strange to feel my body making decisions toward people I don’t know, and how powerful. So when RD was taking out the garbage all I could think was that that was the sexiest garbage removal I had ever seen.
AD was there. She was wearing her hand-drawn sign across her chest, advertising her desires, and not much else. I felt a lot of shame when I saw her, and her response to that was hugging me. I face-fucked her at Spam the week before, and in so doing exposed her to HSV-II, though I am asymptomatic, and I told her, and she shared her feelings with me about it (anger, sadness, disappointment) and I was mortified, and concerned for her and her lovers, and, honestly and selfishly, I really thought that I had just shat on my golden entrance to queer heaven. (Although shit, like garbage, could be sexy too.) How could I redeem myself from such a transgression? And then she hugged me.
Trevor had called me earlier that day; I couldn’t bring myself to talk to him. His herpes had seriously tarnished my sex life and I was only just learning how to polish it back up.
Also that day, on my way to a new writing critique group that my friend JF and I had formed—and at which I would be receiving criticism on a play I’m writing that brings me much joy and also conjures every unresolved insecurity in me—I called Eva. Walking down a leafy green street in Stuyvesant Heights I told her my life is amazing, and radiantly happy lately, and then I cried out of frustration for my asymptomatic HSV-tarnish and what it would mean for my sex life. Eva told me a story about a prom queen mother purchasing an $895 tiara so that her daughter could wear it to the ball, and then, upon advice of the storekeeper, returning it the next day. Eva couldn’t stomach this dishonesty, and the thought of the nonconsensual scalp-related flora transferral for the future tiara owner. I was into the tiara conspiracy, but Eva saw it as part of a mother modeling a life of scamming for her child, and I thought of my own model and the kind of consumer antics my mother would try to get away with. This event was years ago, and just last week Eva was sitting with a gaggle of affluent Queens mothers—old friends of hers, including the tiara-borrower—and just asked them if any of them had done any good for anyone else lately. Three blank faces blinked back at her. I tell Eva that, while I don’t believe in morals, I’m wondering what was her moral-of-the-story, and she said that it’s not about what we achieve in life; its our actions that define us, and the choices we make from moment to moment. I felt a rush in my body telling me that this was true for me. And so I gave and received generous writerly criticism over a lovingly crafted communal potluck, and called an Uber to go to Submit.
I was having lunch with my friend EK the next day, around noon, who was visiting from out of town. EK is a staff writer for Transparent, and has just won a Peabody Award. He is also a deeply self-aware cis-straight/ish-white-male, with an abnorally high level of social consciousness given this subject position, and admittedly so. I feel very proud to be his friend.
We caught up on all the nonsense over salad. I told EK about Submit, and about another art project of mine:
“I’ve started having sex with my friends,” I said.
I got into all of the people I had confessed my desire too that week, and all the different kinds of sex I’d had, and how good it felt to affirm mutual attraction that had gone unsaid and unhandled for years. I got to the part about the sex parties I’d been to, affirming how powerful it had been to be surrounded by so many women and trans* folx embodying and enacting upon their desires together. EK took in all of the details of both parties, rejoicing and despairing with me, and then said, finally,
“It must be amazing to be in a room full of so many embodied people.”
I consider this. Notwithstanding the false assumption that sex always = embodiment, there was some truth about the statement. This semi-fact, though, hadn’t stood out to me as much because I spend so much time in embodying spaces—for dance, healing, energy work, ritual, et al.—and this felt par for the course in a way. We come to the understanding that writing is perhaps not a fully embodied experience for EK, and he spends a lot of time doing it. Some writers who experiment with embodiment flash through my mind: CAConrad; Dorothea Lasky; my ill and vibrant friend Max Ritvo…
A writer said this to me recently: “It’s really interesting, all this stuff about embodiment. It’s so important, and it’s not a part of our culture at all.”
I’d wondered what they meant by “culture,” and also what he meant by “our,” so I said that I think that there are many overlapping, coexisting cultures and that some of them are very focused on embodiment, it’s just that those cultures, or those elements of those cultures, are often not highlighted by the mainstream, dominant culture/s. Probably this was already understood; I just needed to say it out loud, to banish the ghosts of ignorance from my lingering former selves.
Much later I started to recall conversation I’d had with an old classmate, Helen, a poet, in a dining hall at Yale:
Helen: Do you ever notice that some people are all head kind of floating around, with very little body?
Chloé: [looking around the dining hall] I feel like that might be true of almost everybody here.
I had chronic fatigue then; I was overweight, overly toxified, malnourished and sluggish. But I fenced and took art classes and did some theater, so by all accounts I was one of the more embodied folks around. And I was definitely not a part of the dominant culture at that place, though I didn’t exactly know why then. That was before I became the early-20s version of myself now, the self who joined college radio and started dumpster diving and gleaning at local farmers’ markets, co-hosting free music shows in the basement of my big collective house and photographing events at the Yale Sustainable Food Project for extra cash, never fully comprehending the politics of those actions. Before then, as an overweight, overtired, expat Caucasian college sophomore, sitting in one of a dozen dining halls all named for brutal Slave owners or advocates, watching malnourished young flesh suits be dragged around by tired minds, I just knew, very simply, that something was wrong.
Perhaps embodiment was not a part of “our” culture at all.
When I came home from Submit a bill from Planned Parenthood for my abortion and related expenses was waiting for me. My health insurance provider had let me know that I was covered for “one abortion a year” and I had had to put them on the phone with the financial department at Planned Parenthood in order to convince them, because they didn’t understand what a PPO was. It was a classed moment of despair over women’s health, and yet how lucky was I to be able to have comprehensive health insurance through my work and also the ability and the right to get on a subway, walk past three or four protesters at the most and have my reproductive needs met at little to no cost. I thought of Texas, then. Three clinics left…
What a war had been wreaked on my body from Trevor! A pregnancy, an abortion, HSV-II, a rejected IUD, a UTI that spread to my kidneys, and, most recently, head lice, which is a whole other story, involving a delousing business run by an Orthodox Jewish mother of nine and her seventh child, a 26yo man called Yoni, who lovingly deloused my mane for the low low price of $300. How infantilizing that felt, in that delousing salon surrounded by colored markers and kids’ TV shows. Could this be a kink too?
“You don’t work with kids, you don’t have kids, you don’t know any kids? That’s rare for head lice,” said Yoni, expertly running a German-engineered professional delousing comb through my hair, matted down with half a bottle of Pantene Pro V.
“Well, Yoni, my ex had three nieces and a nephew, all under the age of 14, that he was basically a father too. Could that be it? When do you think I got these?”
This is the same month that I had my abortion. “Damn.”
I dreamed that night, next to my mystery abortion bill, of old theater acquaintances from college reuniting with me at their grad school, which was Londonesque and surreally beautiful. There were long walks though and around buildings that you could take, that felt gamelike, and in the dream my acquaintances were happy to see me. They wanted to collaborate with me, wanted me to feel like I was part of the grad school, even though I’m not a student. I turned to them and say, “I haven’t been doing theater really much since you last saw me.” One looked at me, puzzled, perhaps a little disappointed, and said, “Hmmm. I thought that you were doing theater all this time…”