I descended the staircase at the end of the hall, where a long-haired man greeted me. He was sitting behind a counter, and looked like he’d fit right in on Sons of Anarchy. He asked me if I had RSVP’d to the party. “No,” I said, suddenly worried. “Was I supposed to?” The underwear party was listed on Paddles’ website, so I assumed it was a public event, but biker-concierge told me it was a semi-private door. How clandestine, I thought. Apparently, you had to send your stats and picture to the organizers beforehand and, if admitted, you’d be given an entry confirmation code. I had heard about these types of curated parties in New York, but this was the first time I encountered one.
Biker-concierge called the promoter over. He gave me a once over, then smiled. “We’ll let you in this time,” he said as I walked in. “Next time you have to email.” He greeted me properly now and told me how handsome he thought I was. I was handed a free pass for a future visit, and a hanger and plastic bag for my things. “You can be in your underwear, or less,” he said with a grin.
I stripped down to my underwear and shoes, and crammed my belongings into the bag. The promoter came up to me again told me how handsome he thought I was, as though he’d forgotten he met me just a minute ago. “Oh, and take one of these,” he said, handing me yet another free pass. Perhaps he didn’t recognize me without my clothes on. Maybe down in the underground, hidden from the city surface, I became a different person — it was a strange duality to even think about. I stuffed the pass into my sock.
Paddles was a 460 square-metre dungeon space, several storeys beneath the city surface. It was, in a word, subterranean: dank and dimly lit with exposed brick walls, featuring a sling, chains, bondage tables, racks, crosses and cages. I soon found myself in a large play area with a mass of men sucking, jerking and fucking. Although it was a fetish club, the underwear party was tamer than I expected. But it seemed like the sort of place where, by the end of the night, everyone would likely have had sex with everyone else one way or another.
After a few minutes, one guy emerged from the mass of men and began wiping his ass in long strides, cleaning himself out. He had just been gangbanged. When he was satisfied with his hygiene, he walked over to a small side room with a sling. He got into it, chains rattling, and rested his ankles way up, waiting for round two. He looked so peaceful in there with his head resting back, knowing that soon enough someone would be someone inside of him. I admired him right then — he was comfortable with himself and his desires.
I wandered to the other end of the club and ventured up a set of stairs, leading to a mezzanine where I found two men worshipping a third man’s cock. They were going at it like it was all that mattered in life — and for them in that moment, it probably was. A daddy sat on a leather sofa opposite them, slowly jerking his semi-erect cock.
I’ve heard some gay guys say that parties, and people, like these give all gay men a bad name. What rubbish. Being open about and embracing our sexuality is an important facet of gay culture, and there’s a danger in writing it off with such dismissive remarks. If you’re gay and want to get married, great. But don’t forget that you have those rights because of the protests that happened in bathhouses and gay bars, places that existed (and still do) because of our sexual desires.
As New York continues to be “cleaned up,” there are fewer and fewer places to have sex. Sure, there’s a growing popularity for curated sex parties that are organized online, taking place in private residencies all over the city — some are bareback, some are safe and some welcome both — but that just proves you can’t stop gay men from having kinky or sleazy sex.
After a few hours of partaking in what Paddles had to offer, I finally resurfaced to the New York city streets. As I squinted into the sun, I couldn’t help but wonder: How long will it be before our sex culture is completely hidden away again, and we’re forced to pretend to be something we’re not?
That’s why we have to cultivate places like Paddles while we still can — otherwise they’ll be gone forever.