To celebrate Jade’s birthday last weekend, my pod went to the beach.
At roughly five months after NYC’s coronavirus lockdown, I’m in a pod with my girlfriend, who’s in a pod with her roommate/best friend, who’s in a pod with her girlfriend, which means we are all in a pod together. I’ve seen a few other local friends in person since March, but always masked and outdoors, always a few steps away.
We drove a few hours, then took a boat to a narrow island, bookended by a beach that dropped four sudden feet down to the waterline. At the edge, a tiny dog waited for a muscled gay man in swim briefs to pick it up and ferry it down onto the hard-packed sand that bled maroon into the surf.
We spent the day sunning and playing in the water and gossiping. It amazes me that even now there’s still bicoastal dyke drama, almost more than can be recounted to each other in our digital and literal groupchats. There’s the white dyke who ignored multiple call-ins for telling racist jokes; the leatherdyke who knowingly moved in with the leatherdyke known to be an abuser; the microfamous writer babe that all the NYC dykes wish would defect from heterosexuality. In the sunlight we compared reports, swapped receipts, and examined faces that looked up at us from Instagram accounts we don’t even follow.
Perhaps other queers on other beaches were dissecting our pod as we dissected theirs; it’s impossible to gossip without also considering, to no small amount of titillation, how one and one’s behavior are seen and speculated about. “People probably think we’re all fucking,” K said, and I agreed. People always think people are fucking more than they really are.
“Do you fuck your friends?” D asked me.
I’ve gotten to know D a lot better over the course of quarantine, but I still know Jade much better than I know D and K.
These days, it’s a hard question to answer, because it leaves space for regrets that didn’t exist before COVID: If I don’t fuck my friends, well, why didn’t I, when I had the chance? I have a hard time touching most people, and so I did not feel particularly upset by the limitations that quarantine imposed back when it was new. Lucky enough to have Jade, with whom things started getting serious not long before lockdown, my touching needs, such as they are, are more than met. But I still miss people, still have the itch, sometimes, to go out and get laid, or at least some attention.
I am attuned to my fear. I am attuned to my anger, my anxiety, my panic. I have a harder time accessing sadness. It was not until the past few weeks that I really thought about what it meant to not be able to physically touch some of the people I love most for the foreseeable future. The grief of what all of this will mean has been delayed for me, as it has been for many of us, I’m sure. Perhaps you haven’t even felt it yet. I’m not even sure I have, not entirely.
The friend-fucking question is common among queer people. For one thing, the fucking and dating pool is smaller, especially if you don’t live in a metropolitan area. With plenty of exceptions and compromises, the sex, love, and relationship norms of our communities live in opposition to heteronormativity: non-monogamy, non-nuclear family, non-marital romantic relationships. We know all our platonic friends from former relationships, former partners, and defunct dating apps. We find each other unconventionally and we stay together unconventionally—u-hauling, first-date trauma dumps, the (imo, irritating and somewhat reductive) queer invocation to “normalize kissing your friends.” “Do you fuck your friends?” is the queer equivalent of the perennial straight conundrum, “Can men and women be friends?” not because there is a definitive answer, but because one’s response at least partially reveals one’s values, habits, and beliefs.
Instead of giving D a direct answer, I talked around her question. There was a time when I fucked my friends, or was open to fucking my friends, but since I started working on my codependency, I’ve mostly stopped doing that. Other than Jade, who is very much my friend (whose friendship, in fact, had to be established before our romantic relationship could start to deepen), I feel that my friends are too close for fucking, a pleasurable but fraught and sometimes very dangerous activity.
But what is fucking anyway? And where is the line between fucking and SM, an activity I, conversely, do with most of my closest friends? Jade and I recently rewatched Interview with a Vampire, a reminder that the contemporary conception of vampiric eroticism imagines three interactive modes, not two: sex, not sex, and blood-drinking. Vampires and people fuck, don’t fuck, and share blood, at least two of which activities are imbued with the eroticism straight life would see as purely sexual.
I’ve been thinking about vampires as a lens for understanding SM, a thing that is both fucking and not (and by that I mean if I am shirtless and my partner is fully clothed in spandex or leisurewear and she is whipping my back and I am crying and shaking, that is fucking, but also not. If I am fully clothed and my partner is fully clothed except for her feet and the only penetration that happens is her toes going into my mouth and no one masturbates or has an orgasm, that is fucking, but also not). SM is the figurative as well as literal modality of the blood drinkers, an exchange of power, energy, sensation, pain, and ecstasy that is erotic, sensual, horny, even, but not exactly sex, even when intercourse is included in the scene in a way that is legibly “conventional” or “traditional.”
Do I fuck my friends? One of my beloved sadists, a femme daddy whose violent intrusive thoughts and compulsions are the perfect complements of mine, told me about a femdom she knows who has had her male partner in chastity for decades. They have never fucked. What a terribly romantic story—and so how is that chastity not fucking? Have I fucked the friends who slice me open? Have I fucked the friends who beat me into unsittable purple?
Do I fuck my friends? How do I answer the question when I’m 32 and still not even sure what constitutes fucking? Do the people who have paid me for sex qualify? Do the gay hookups that never culminated in “normal” penetration qualify? What about the straight men who paid me to do things while we were both fully clothed? What about the men who were naked that I never touched with my hands? What about strippers and cammers? What about people who do FSSW and, for obvious reasons, don’t consider the people they have sex with at work to be included in their “body count?” Who “counts?” Whose bodies?
As we discussed these nuances, D and I talked about how we relate to the people we play with (D, a dominant sadist top, is also a lifestyle player). “I don’t have to want to fuck them but I do have to have a connection with them,” D said. “It’s not always sexy but it’s always erotic.” That’s how I feel, too. There is fucking and there is not fucking and then there’s SM.
Do I fuck my friends? I have fucked most of them, or have fucked alongside them, or watched them fuck other people, or been watched by them as I fuck other people. We have shared pictures and videos of our fucking. I’ve watched friends get gang-banged by lovers and friends for their birthday and so-called vanilla friends have watched me get tortured with cheeky smiles in their faces. We all support each other’s porn and art and art porn. My friends and I have talked about possibly fucking and then decided not to. We have talked about possibly fucking and cuddled to sleep instead. We have done things more intimate than fuck could ever encompass, as it’s understood by straight people. When I was still a distance runner, people would ask me if I’d ever run a marathon. No, but I have run farther than a marathon, I would say, recalling a 32-miler I did as a teenager at a running camp in Oregon.
D’s question was not a thoughtless one; I trust her, like I trust her girlfriend and mine, to understand these nuances enough to discuss them with them. I think she would agree with me that the question could be a master’s thesis, but that it can also be taken at face value, too. Do I fuck my friends? And still I don’t know exactly how to answer her.
This weekend, Jade and I drove upstate to visit friends who are staying in a farmhouse for the month. We spent the say sunning and playing in a pond and gossiping, and then we returned to the farmhouse where my friend, S, pierced me with the first needles I’ve had in my skin for almost nine months. Scenes with S are always social—this time, both of our girlfriends hung out with us—lighthearted, and usually come with a drink or two. There is no roleplay or costumery (other than our COVID masks) or ritual, other than a brief check-in beforehand about how we’re feeling and what we want to do (number and size of needles, location on my body, what music should we listen to?). There is some lighthearted homophobic ribbing, because S and I recognize the eroticism of bloodletting, the sexual framework of power exchange, and the risk of getting turned on, a taboo that is exciting to tempt as people who are not only platonic friends, but playfully, campily hypermasculine in the way we relate to each other.
We decided to take it slow—it had been a long time, after all. After warming me up with some impact, S put in about 20 needles, in a variety of sizes. She didn’t twist or drag or fuck my skin with them, which can really hurt if the top wants it to. When they were all in, Jade and our other friend R donned gloves and stroked the delicate metal tubes embedded along my spine. I had been nervous of what would happen after such a long break from playing, but the scene felt warm and easy, like bathwater; the high was gentle but strong. I watched the familiar look of stoney calm cross R’s face as she stroked each needle in sequence, like she was slowly doing scales on a piano. “It’s gaySMR,” I said.
My favorite part about removing needles is the feeling of my blood running down my skin. The blood moves quick and warm. It’s a manifestation of the adrenaline inside you, throbbing in waves, in sync with your heartbeats. Unless we’re going on to other activities, at that point in the scene my performance anxiety and physical suffering has evaporated, and everyone in the room is giggly, silly, relaxed. Those who are fluid-bonded play in my blood, or drink it. Sometimes, when Dahlia draws my blood, she puts it on saran wrap and holds it over my face, immersing me in the warm, soupy heat of my own stopped breath.
Do I fuck my friends? Not long after our scene ended, I fucked Jade in the dark in a soft bed, and then she picked flakes of blood from my shoulders with her fingernails.
David tweets at @k8bushofficial.