Probottom Book Club—
“And I'm right on time
And the birds keep singing
And you're right on line
One day they'll be a place for us”—PJ Harvey, A Place Called Home
“We’ll adapt to and accept such measures, much as we’ve adapted to increasingly stringent airport security screenings in the wake of terrorist attacks. The intrusive surveillance will be considered a small price to pay for the basic freedom to be with other people.” —Gideon Lichfield, We’re not going back to normal
“You are a revolting little worm, aren't you?” —Gerri, Succession (S2E4: Safe Room)
Libido varies. It comes and goes and sparks and flickers, in as infinitely different patterns as we have personalities. And even if we learn our own patterns, they tend to break right before our eyes. Some of us get horny in a crisis, and some of us feel distinctly dehorned. Some of us learn what a crisis truly means by how our bodies react to them. There can be a delay.
Sometimes my despair is an erogenous zone. Lately it has not been.
I’m fortunate to have an intimate partner who understands all of this. A few months ago, we started to get frisky, but I had trouble getting aroused. I closed my eyes and focused on whatever depraved thoughts could get me in the right headspace, replaying favorite porn scenes and personal fantasies. It means dissociating a little from the sensations of the moment, which makes me feel a little guilty, but it’s better than overthinking the moment and blowing a fuse.
Once I get there, to that hormonal altitude where I am level and cruising through the air, I open my eyes and re-integrate into the present. After we’d eventually gotten things up and cumming, I mumble-stuttered an embarrassed apology. He told me, “Our sex life is a journey we’re on together. I don’t expect things to be the same every time.” He’s a better bottom than me.
Even though I don’t always want to have sex, I crave his touch a lot. It’s natural to crave human touch. To be transparent, I get a rather big share of it. I’m fortunate or privileged, depending on how you want to look at it. But the instinctive pleasure of human touch is augmented when it’s paired with intimacy and trust. I love strangers, but I can’t deny that boyfriend touch hits different. That’s all changed, though. We don’t live together, so we can’t quarantine together.
The advisories about COVID-19 coalesce around an ideal practice of quarantine and self-isolation: a family unit encased in their home, having preparedly bought weeks worth of groceries and other necessities, and without physical contact from friends or anyone else. There’s some acknowledgement that that’s not realistic for most people, especially in New York City. Shelter in place orders make exceptions for grocery shopping, laundromats, and visiting family members who do not live with you. They don’t make exceptions for other kinds of loved ones.
I’m a faggot hooker in New York City. My family is my closest friends. My boyfriend is somebody with whom I’ve been committed, but not cohabitating. We each value our own homes and personal space as much as we also value being with each other, but that’s always been on the condition that we could move freely between these states. It feels like my relationships, regardless of how functional and fulfilling, are unintelligible to the current moment.
Unlike plenty of New Yorkers, I have roommates that I like and can spend time with. However, they also have their own networks of care, and as this situation drags on, those networks will become increasingly necessary for each of us to see, to talk to, but most of all, to touch. I don’t mean to sound like a brat. I know people are dying. But without the right infrastructure to resolve this— and we don’t have it— I am weary of theatrical appeals to public safety and individual duty, especially when that duty also submits us to authoritarian control.
As the days pass, I need a harm reduction model for living like this, a more realistic response than the abstinence-only paradigm of “stay home, period.” I need an evidence-based scale of risk, rather than a singular prohibition. No matter how correct this is, it doesn’t work, especially when most Americans remain fairly distant from the death that COVID-19 has wrought thus far. This paradigm of “don’t do it” has never worked for other public health crises, whether it be AIDS or opioid addiction. We have to anticipate slippages and denial, and recommend less effective, but still impactful measures to accommodate them.
Before we locked down, it took some time for the dread to subside long enough to fuck my boyfriend. There was one day when everything shifted from dry hands and SNL sketches to the leaden, intuitive sense that life as we know it is imploding. For all my experience delivering improbable porn dialogue, I didn’t have the heart to segue our corona anxieties into an apocalyptic hook-up. The doom overwhelmed me. It still does.
Eventually, I became intentional about it. I closed the bedroom door. I put on music. I elaborated my kisses and slid my hands underneath his clothes. We are good at loving each other, but we took our time, pausing a lot. Bathroom breaks, an urgent phone call. I lost focus in these gaps, wondering bleakly about the future, before I found my way back to the present by a hidden route around his hips and against his neck. I feel fortunate, and I feel scared. I fuck these feelings into a few moments of grace. Libido varies, even in the space of an hour.
Since we live separately and out of concern for our roommates, we decided to try quarantining in our own respective homes. I’m not sure how long that’ll last, but since I travel for work, we’ve spent weeks apart before. Albeit in less stressful circumstances. It’s unlikely this is a matter of weeks, though. As I’ve had to tell myself constantly over the past week, we’ll see.
Thank you for your patience as I took a hiatus from the newsletter over the winter. I have been working hard on a column for MEL Magazine titled “This Could Be Us,” and trying to develop a balanced workflow. As we descend further into a likely breakdown of American life and economy, I finally have an excess of writing to share with all of you as we cope with upheaval both apart and together.
Welcome to Season Two of my Probottom Book Club.