Toronto
3 min

Looking for a blowjob & breakfast

Tricks lie somewhere between anonymous sex & a relationship

Credit: Xtra files

It’s 3am and you’re heading home from the trick that went bust and the sex was worse than bad and the late-night bus is not really where you want to be, and yet the whole thing had a certain, shall we call it grandeur. After all, in how many aspects of life do you get to walk into the heart of a stranger’s life and see all the oddity and eccentricity of a human life laid bare – the overflowing ashtrays, the comic books by the bed, the 17 cologne bottles in the bathroom – and maybe even get laid while you do it?



Much has been written – way too much, actually – about the endearingly odd act of gay marriage, but far too little about that other institutional pillar of the community, the trick.



Many years ago the humourist Fran Lebowitz exhumed the species in a now classic essay called “Notes On Trick.” It was a satire of a much more serious Susan Sontag essay called “Notes On Camp” and it was as funny as the earlier piece was earnest.



Unfortunately, it was also seriously weird. What Lebowitz outlined was less the short-term transaction beloved of millions than a long-term trade agreement available to a select few wherein one party is “Rich and/or Famous” and the other is “Cute and/or Well-Built.” In short she seems to have confused “trick” with “trade.”



It’s an odd mistake to make because of course trade is built on the exploitation of difference whereas trick is grounded in its exploration. Most people, it’s true, walk into tricking hoping for something more than a simple one-night stand. And this usually means meeting someone of similar interests, values and degrees of hunkiness.



What they often find, though, is something quite different. The great advantage of tricking is that it’s unregulated and what goes on here in this lawless frontier land is a great deal of cross-border shopping – guys crossing the borders of age, class and education to check out the free samples on the other side.



The samples may be sour but tasting them is always an adventure, a time stolen from the larger narrative of your life.



A trick is simply a short excursion into foreign territory and the key word here is “short.” The true trick is defined by time. Too long and it’s a relationship, too short and it’s just bedtime with bonzo.



Trick with someone more than once and you’ve lost your trick status: you’re either dating or kidding yourself. Either way, you’re involved and involvement is the antithesis of the tricking ethic.



By the same token, you can’t really trick with somebody in a park, a bath or a sex party. There’s not a big enough investment of time or energy.



The classic trick lasts from late one night to late the following morning and should always include at least the pretence of breakfast. (Always assume you’re going to stay the night. It may be awkward, uncomfortable and just plain anxiety-provoking, but it’s your only chance of transcending the larval moment and emerging into the full grace and light of that blessed state known as the second date. After all, this may be your first and only chance to actually, pardon the word, talk.)



These days the trick’s status as the central institution of gay life is being eroded at both ends, by the fast-food technology of the Internet on the one hand and the creeping monotony of the marriage brigades on the other. The one wants you to treat relationship as an exercise in energy, the other in endurance. But the trick offers something quite different. Precisely because it’s a transitional space, it offers the chance to indulge your curiosity about yourself and others at low relative cost. It might launch a relationship or it might not, but at the very least you’ll have learned something new about the weird and wonderful ways in which people approach sex and sociability.



Many years ago when Donna Summer ruled the charts and idealism was still a plausible political option, activists suggested that sex might be a tool for imaginative growth and self-exploration.



“In the past,” said a character in Edmund White’s 1970s travelogue, States Of Desire, “sex was justified because it led to procreation. Now sex is justified because it strengthens relationships. In the future, I hope, sex will be justified because it encourages individuation through fantasy…. The true function of sex is to discover… all the selves within you.”



A lot of this is hot air, of course. Sometimes you just want to get laid and there are times – not always, but sometimes – when the object of your affections is about as relevant as a blurry, pixillated porn download. All you need is a little stimulation.



But there are other times when sex, or rather the social collision that accompanies sex, can take you in unexpected directions. Across class lines and up against your own soured expectations of what a relationship should be, including its length and endurance.