Here are things I have never regretted: Anonymous sex. Anonymous-themed sex. Paid sex. Friend sex. Comfort sex. Breakup sex. Leaving a sexual situation with no consequences.
In 1999, I co-created an anonymous sex party at a commercial warehouse space in San Francisco’s Bayshore District called the Castlebar. It was heated by propane heaters and filled with vinyl-covered wine crates and various other pieces of half-finished furniture. The party was designed invite-only for self-identifying women to have the sexual experiences that they had always fantasized about but safely and with boundaries. The co-creator, Lee, owned the building and the women owned the night; no one could tell us what to do inside.
The night was full of the queer process of the 90s. As a part of planning, we had spent several months discussing safe sex precautions such as gloves at each table and condoms on all toys and dental dams that no one would likely use. This was before HIV antivirals were around, or one-a-day pills, and when AIDS was still a certain death sentence. We were Generation X and we were going to have our 70s bacchanalia with consent and boundaries.
The lines of consent were carefully articulated within the invite. Invitees designated themselves as either a Top or a Bottom. The Bottoms would not know who the night’s designated Tops were, and vice versa. Anonymity was the theme of the party yet the actuality was much more difficult.
That night, Enya played on repeat; the playspace was set up with exam tables and single-person spanking benches on which the Bottoms could lay down. A heavy drape curtain would bisect the bodies so that only the Bottoms’ lower halves were revealed to the Tops. Strings dangled from the top of the curtains with binder note clips attached. Here Bottoms could place signs that specified their body boundaries: “No Anal”, “No Vaginal”, “No Impact” or “No Pinching”.
I went as Bottom and Bottoming hostess. The Bottoms arrived, and quickly I saw that I had already been at a party with many of them. As a Bottoming hostess, my main duty was to demonstrate to the Bottoms where they could find the wet wipes and how to go to the bathroom “anonymously” covered in a sheet—which neither obscured one’s height, weight or shoes. The Bottoms were mostly femmes dressed in leather thrift store finery. At this time, there were only two stores that had fetishwear in San Francisco. More than a couple of femmes were wearing the same contrived, archetypal, rubber nurse outfit. We were the sex radicals coming together to explode into the night.
But there was one last, late Bottom. To greet her, I put on a leather hood from one of the session rooms in a moment of fictional anonymity. I stood by the smoking lounge outside of the playspace and watched the Tops amble into the large, cavernous dungeon where the other Bottoms were waiting bisected behind the curtains. As the hostess, I was to capture the last Bottom, and bring her around the employee-only entrance so that their anonymity would be preserved. As I waited, I watched the Tops nervously compare palm sizes, wondering what holes they could fill that evening. The Top uniform of the night was a Black Gap tee-shirt with 501 jeans and belts from Mr. S Leather. Their crotches mysteriously bulged with oblong shapes, secured inside of cars in the Bayshore parking lot, and outlined with voluptuous thighs and hips. They were all very nervous. I watched the vulnerability begin to shed as the lights in the warehouse were slowly raised. A spectacular view greeted them: A row of Bottoms of all shapes and sizes and melanin levels waiting to be fucked.
The door knocker clung, denoting the late Bottom. I answered her knock and quickly thrust to her waivers of liability for signature. While our intentions were for guests to only experience pleasure of their liking, the reality could also be tears, bruises, and disappointment. She signed and we hurried to the playspace to assume our positions with strings and notes attached.
I placed myself on an old ship door set on big oak legs, as I knew this one was the best for hard fucking. I was a professional paid switch, but tonight, I was hungry to Bottom for pleasure.
I was excited to not have to carry the scene emotionally, nor be responsible for the chitty chat of a play party. The Bottom space held more power in the dynamic at play. Bottoms could always revoke consent, yet the continuity of the scene was the Tops’ responsibility. Here, on this table, if the sensation of a dildo felt off, I could just pull off—no verbal overtures, no niceties—and move away to another table to reenter the party without having to renegotiate the experience.
The only thing truly anonymous about this party was not having to take care of someone else’s feelings. It was more liberating and educational than every child-of-an-alcoholic meeting I’d ever been to. This party crystallized exactly how much my pleasure was a refractory performance as opposed to an embodied sensation.
When everyone was in place, Lee gave the welcome speech, in which the important words of confidentiality were spoken. This was particularly important because, despite our best intentions, as a small community everyone recognized each other’s lower halves. Tattoos and shoes were all well known among queers to be visual markers of identity.
This night was an active rebellion of open vulva, twelve deep. The air was tense as we wondered who would be touched first. Lee, in an act of bravada, decided to take hands in action.
I heard Lee’s voice on the other side of the curtain becoming louder as they neared my Bottom half, perusing their options. I felt their hand land on my toe, and then move languidly up my foot, stop at my ankle, and withdraw. They had seen my identifying ankle tattoo and we had earlier clarified that we would not accidentally anonymously fuck.
The next hand punctuated my reverie with a slap to my inner thigh. I groaned in anticipation. The hand slapped harder. I stayed in place, my wetness creating more signs than the muffled squealing behind the thick black curtains. The hand left, and no sensations followed. I turned on my stomach, hoping for a spanking as I slid a personal soft leather paddle through the curtain. Consent and planning create opportunities. I laid the paddle on my leg to give it visual placement, inviting any Top to grab it. I focused on taking deep breaths through my belly and limbs, both hands flat on the table on either side of me. After my breath had evenly settled within me, I contracted my pelvis for an open placement and hope. I finally felt the paddle lift from my leg, and a hard smack came down. I giggled with masochistic froth, took a deep breath, and squealed a not-so-anonymous thank you. The paddle smacked hard, and I started letting go. The Top’s confidence grew with every stroke, meeting the appreciation of both my oos and ahs. My sounds were not performance, but metacommunication. I cupped my labia and my body twitched easily in my young thirties to orgasm. I laughed, careening in my body’s pleasure. My mind was freed from building the scene, as both a Top and Bottom.
The next hand did not respect my post-coital ragged breathing. Covered with lube and a glove it roughly investigated parts of my labia, not waiting for my groan from behind the curtain to guide it. I felt a pushiness and a forcefulness my tender parts did not enjoy. I slipped off the hand, offering no explanation. Turning to look at the other Bottoms, I was immediately invited to lick someone’s nipple while they were coming to orgasm. These were the things I have never regretted.
Z. Mork is a longtime resident of San Francisco. She has written and performed in the Bay Area focusing on issues of chronic illness and sexuality. She was published most recently in Best Lesbian Erotica of the Year: Volume 2 and on the SF MOMA’s Open Space blog.