Between the drinking and the acting out sexually I was dually addicted. I felt I didn’t have control over either. I would be in my car coming from someplace and my car literally headed for the Bijou Theater for instance. I honestly couldn’t decide not to go. I could be dead tired or not feeling well; it didn’t matter. I was driven to have sex or to drink.
I really felt I had no choice in the matter, not even what direction my car went.
I could have sex without any alcohol in my system, but I rarely drank without searching out sex. I was was not master of my fate. I had abdicated control to these two monsters. I got inadequate sleep for many years, often only a few hours, on weekends especially. I became less dependable, even for family functions which I enjoyed attending.
I experienced an attraction to the activities that went on in these “dens of iniquity” (my Catholic conscience coming through). I was not repulsed. At some point a version of me had developed that was non-judgmental and okay with random anonymous sex. It became a norm: the rush of adrenaline upon entering such places, the engine that kept going most of the night, the search for even more exciting sexual encounters with even more men, often small groups.
There were moments when I felt something for someone I was playing with. We might actually kiss, and touching felt more like intimate caresses. I remember one man in this situation who picked up on my depression, on the place far away that a part of me withdrew to. I was somewhere thinking about what I didn’t get during such encounters when he asked, “Are you okay?” I even tried dating a few men I had met at these places but that never worked out. The life lived there was a dead end.
One school night I went to the city drinking and whoring around. I often ran out of cash. I was coming back from the city on the tollway and realized I didn’t even have forty cents. I panicked because I didn’t want the booth attendant to know how drunk I was, and I didn’t want to ask what to do if I couldn’t pay, so I pulled my car to the side of the road, locked it, and began walking home.
It was several miles and I was exhausted, running on pure adrenaline. It took so long that the sun was coming up. I finally reached home and immediately called in sick. It was later than I was supposed to call in, and I scrambled to get some kind of lesson plans together. After sleeping for a while, I called a taxi to go pick up my car.
I thought I knew where I had left it but I didn’t. The driver negotiated different ramps and roadways but my car was nowhere to be seen. I began to assume it had been towed. We kept driving around until I finally spotted it. I was embarrassed but not enough to stop drinking.
During this time I explored a gay subculture by going to leather bars. There was one notorious such bar called The Gold Coast after the neighborhood in which it resided. Almost all leather bars have a back bar or a downstairs bar where sexual activity takes place. These bars, like most bars in Chicago, stayed open until four in the morning, five on Saturday night.
The Gold Coast was internationally known. The downstairs there was not for the squeamish. Such places were intoxicating to me. I became aroused just entering the dark bar; the smells were especially erotic, including that of poppers. And the anonymity of men doing such extremely intimate activities without knowing the people was exciting as well. There was an enforced dress code. You could not go downstairs unless you were wearing some leather. Serious leather. Not just a leather cap or armband.
One warm spring Saturday night I went downstairs to explore. I really didn’t do all that much. Just watching and being there was extremely arousing. It was dark and hot and I could hear the groans of sex and the words of a rough top: “Take it like a man, boy.”
In one corner was a bootblack stand with a burly, bearded man sitting in the throne-like chair smoking a big cigar. Sitting much lower and facing him was the bootblack surrounded by the tools of his trade meticulously laid out. He was shining the man’s heavy, leather boots. There was no conversation, just the unspoken arousal of a man being serviced.
Men were lined up along the walls getting and giving blowjobs. In a couple of slings, bottoms were taking on multiple comers. One of them had on leather restraints, as the top didn’t want him touching himself and giving himself pleasure. It had to be all about the aggressor. A man held up poppers to the bottom’s nose since he couldn’t use his hands.
“You call that sucking cock,” a man said somewhere in the darkness.
In another small room a man straddled a bondage horse. He had a ball gag in his mouth and wore a studded leather collar with chains leading to nipple clamps.
The bathroom had an old-school tin trough where men could check out the equipment easily and where a man into piss play knelt beside it. In one of the stalls a man was holding onto the toilet as he got fucked.
Smoke was thick in the air. I let a man go down on me who was very good at it.
“Swallow that cum, bitch,” a man not far away blurted out.
I wasn’t really a part of the leather community or into BDSM or other kinks, but it was exciting and appealing nonetheless. My sexual activity at such places was oral only. The AIDS epidemic was devastating the gay community. I saw the men wasting away on the streets, the sores from Kaposi’s Sarcoma, the portable oxygen, the hollowed out cheeks.
Other than having sex with men, what was there to being gay?
I was confused about what it meant to be gay. I knew only the world of gay sex. I had no gay friends really. Unsurprisingly, my few attempts at gay relationships had not led anywhere. I had absolutely no sense that a gay community existed, one that had united in many ways to help those suffering from AIDS, activists who educated about the risks of contracting it.
Men like myself made the circuit of a few bars in the Gold Coast area, hanging out until dawn. There was a popular hot dog and burger stand across from the Gold Coast. I ate there many nights when taking a break from drinking and having sex. There were rare moments when my public and private life met. I was really surprised when a father of one of my students recognized me at a school function and said he knew me from his burger stand in the city. He seemed totally cool, obviously knowing I was among the hordes of leather men who wandered over from the bar for a burger.
In this neighborhood of leather bars there was also a hustler bar where men knew they could pick up a hot young guy for a price. I only went there a few times as I didn’t pay for sex. I would almost always go to more than one place when I went out, usually ending up at the Bijou.
There were sunny days when I was inside a porn theater’s dark, air-conditioned interior that felt like a womb to me. It was comforting. A part of me wanted to be enjoying the weather, the sun, but my addiction overruled that part. The Image Theater was in the Gold Coast neighborhood: a full-sized theater showing gay porn. It was a different experience than the Bijou Theater in some ways.
It was not uncommon to see a man get fucked by sitting on someone in a theater seat. One of its main attractions for many men was the open area behind the last row of seats where men bent over and were entered by other men, sometimes not seeing who was having sex with them.
There was also a large, gay adult bookstore with a back room on Halsted Street. It cost extra to go back there like most of these places. I remember hanging out on the street in front of it one night, probably around two a.m., with an older man who frequented most of the same places I did. He was panhandling for money to get into the bookstore. I let him know that I was short also. After awhile, he had enough for entrance and he gave me the additional amount I needed to enter. This should have been a bottom for me in terms of sex addiction but it wasn’t. Had I lost all self-respect?
Marc Frazier has widely published poetry in journals including The Spoon River Poetry Review, ACM, Good Men Project, f(r)iction, Slant, Permafrost, Plainsongs, Poet Lore, Rhino, and Connotation Press. He has had memoir published in Gravel, decomP, The Good Men Project and forthcoming in Evening Street Review and Cobalt. He is the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Award for poetry and has been featured on Verse Daily. His book The Way Here and his chapbooks The Gods of the Grand Resort and After are available on Amazon as well as his second full-length collection titled Each Thing Touches from Glass Lyre Press. He has done readings and led workshops in the Chicago area for many years. His website is www.marcfrazier.org