The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.—Elizabeth Bishop
Taking a leaf from a former student, I’ll venture into the confessional, though I am only Catholic by inheritance. My father was one. Does that count? This summer will mark four years since I was kimwili. Some of this is about proximity: my favorite sex shop in Champaign was a few blocks from where I lived in 2005—and then I moved to Amherst and when I returned to Illinois, I moved elsewhere. It became a bus ride away. I am lazy about such things. Taking a bus for sex? Too much work. Early on, probably in the early 2000s, I lost the habit—or never acquired the habit—of inviting sex partners to my house. And I also lost the habit of going over to other people’s houses. I preferred not to learn about décor and reading habits and cleaning habits and the color of bedsheets and towels. Also, alas, my desire is so very idiosyncratically tied to accent that I prefer spaces where I don’t have to listen to speech in any form. I must also confess that I find it very difficult to listen to music—I’m getting better about this, but I require a lot of silence to think. I have re-introduced music into my environment to manage thinking and to un-think. Sometimes it works.
My desire has always come in waves—much stronger in the spring and summer, diminished in the fall and winter. In that sense, I am primitive. Or like a flower. Or a bee. (I don’t like flowers). I do not have the habit of monogamy—nor the desire for it. Nor do I have the habit of attachment. When I was younger, I fantasized that a fuckbuddy would be the “perfect” solution, but I found multiple sex encounters with the same person impossible to sustain, even when the sex was very good. And it was very good—3 figures come to mind, one from Pittsburgh, another from Champaign, a third from Portland. Of the three, I don’t recall any names, and I’m pretty sure none were exchanged. Oh, and there was Phil—a married, church-going deacon or something. Phil was fun! But the religion was simply impossible.
The deal has always been that I will return to kimwili practices once the book is done: that’s the reward. Or threat. That I am in no rush to complete the book might suggest something of my ambivalence. An ambivalence that I continue to think is based on location, though that might be its own convenient fiction. Desire felt different in Nairobi. It felt possible. I could suspend the obstacle course that sex in the States has always posed for me, an obstacle course considerably diminished by spaces set up for sex. Sex spaces lubricate something that non-sex spaces cannot. And perhaps should not. After six months in Nairobi, I am more aware of how much work it takes to be in the States. One would imagine the labor would have become less conscious after fifteen years-sixteen this August—but it feels even more laborious. That’s another post.
And it’s not clear what I’m looking for in sex at this stage in my life. In my early twenties, I wanted experiences: my first threesome, second, and third—by and large, I find threesomes less interesting than advertised; my first orgy, second, and third—I suspect these might have been more interesting had I acquired a drug habit. I remember the very first blowjob I received—I spent most of it cataloguing sensations and wondering why I was not “lost on a sea of passion” as described in the romance books I read. Alas, women romance authors, you vastly overestimate the appeal and power of the blowjob. I wanted the thrill of public sex. But I checked that box. I wanted an encounter with someone hyper-muscular. Box checked. Fucker’s hard muscles bruised me. I wanted an encounter with someone twinkishly attractive. Box checked. And it was only interesting because he worked as a hustler on the side. Straight married men. Box checked. Attached gay men. Box checked. College students. Box checked—and that was incredibly boring. College professor when I was a student. Box checked. Never again. Blue collar fantasy. Box checked. Several times. Many other boxes checked. The more boxes I checked, the more I felt like Linda Lovelace’s character in Deep Throat: I felt tingles, even climaxed (why not use the language of romance?), and felt incredibly bored. Three minutes into most encounters, I was incredibly bored. Were I a certain kind of literary character, I would be reading a novel as some person had sex with me. (I am too much of a prude to disclose what I actually do when I have sex, but it’s probably not what most people assume.)
Because I am so terribly conventional, I have started using words from women’s romance novels to describe my expectations: I want to be surprised and overwhelmed. Like all those secretaries seduced by their bosses, nurses seduced by doctors, working-class women rescued by tycoons. Maybe not that last. But this, I find, is not very far from queer fantasies—self-shattering, after all, is simply about being surprised and overwhelmed, no matter how fancy the theory gets. Even as I remain fascinated by the calculation in the Marquis de Sade and the anonymous author of My Secret Life. I am fascinated by the ritual of the sex diary, but that might be more academic than libidinal.
So, what’s the payoff? What has celibacy taught or offered? Unsurprisingly, the answer is nothing. I have not written more than I would have had I been having a more robust sex life. I haven’t learned to turn on and off desire—I’m yet to find the right spigot. I haven’t really learned anything about appetite and control. I’m not a “better” person by any stretch of the imagination. And, yes, I have had more sex partners than the national average for heterosexual men—and I’m probably about average for gay men in my age-range, or slightly higher than average. In Samuel Delany’s words, I have had a “statistically significant” number of partners.
I have no clue what will happen in summer 2013, when the book is done. Perhaps I will be surprised and overwhelmed and like a good Barbara Cartland heroine, I will stutter something or other about love and forever to some unimaginable hero. But seeing as I haven’t come across anyone the least bit interesting over the past four years, I find that scenario highly unlikely.
I suspect I’ll get a cat and start knitting sweaters.