3 min

Thirsty butts & other perils

When did pleasure get so complicated?

Credit: Xtra files

I knew my days in the gay village were numbered the day I learned a dry butt could be the kiss of death.

The commercial gay enclave has its pleasures but the price of admission grows prohibitive. Not so much the actual cash (though that’s no small part if it) as the arcane rituals one is required to master.

My epiphany arose during a reading of the Unity Toronto brochure, a glossy 48-page tribute to people who use the word “party” as a verb. Buried amidst the booze ads and mini bios of aging porn stars was a page of truly comprehensive drug advice. It was couched in an oddball mix of hipster lingo and technocratic detail, and at first I thought it was the fevered ravings of a club kid drunk on his own street cred.

Whoops, my mistake. It was actually the advice of the AIDS Committee Of Toronto. Le dernier cri in party protocol – what to take, what not, and all the other permutations and provisos of illusion enhancement.

Now such information is all very useful, I suppose. Even, dare we say it, a good, solid public service. If you’re going to do drugs, it pays to know that “some drug combinations… can be fatal.” That way you can at least plan your weekend. Wake up on Friday, go to the wake on Monday.

But gosh, the things you have to remember these days. “Your HIV risk increases if your ass and dick are dehydrated and you fuck without a condom.”

Who’d have thought the old butt hole could get thirsty?

Once upon a time, the only thing you had to remember about fluids was their double meaning. “Do you want to go for coffee?” meant “Your place or mine?”

Now such simple animal urges seem largely subsumed to pleasures more complicated and more prone to breakdown than a Bill Gates’s operating system.

“Don’t mix Viagra and poppers. If you mix Viagra and E, take half of each.” With side effects more appropriate to an especially elaborate Mechano set. “If you get an erection that lasts longer than four hours, go to an emergency department immediately.”

If memory serves, most of these chemical mind-melts (E, K, G) once had far more expansive names, a veritable alphabet stew of letters, but in deference to teenspeak, where less is definitely hipper (“whatev”), they’ve been shortened to something as sly and brief as the @ sign in e-mail.

The street terms, however, are just about the only thing that have grown simpler. The procedures needed to coax pleasure from this fanciful pharmacopoeia are worthy of a medieval alchemist.

“It’s easier to overdose on G…. Don’t mix G with alcohol or other downers. Don’t mix E with antidepressants (esp MAOI’s like Parnate, Aurorix).”

Once it was enough to have a tub of Crisco beside the bed. Not any more. AIDS has accustomed gay men to calculation and complication in the most intimate regions of our life. Every social encounter is a form of risk evaluation.

Should I sleep with him? Is he worth it? Every trip to the doctor is an encounter with technocracy at its weirdest, where health is measured not in action or appearance, but in reams of abstract numbers – viral loads, CD4 counts and drugs known by numbered codes. Accustomed to living by the numbers, it’s no wonder we concoct complicated recipes for pleasure. From drug cocktails, it’s but a short step to, well, drug cocktails.

Gay pleasures have always been complicated, at least on the obsessive fringes of the culture, where arcane activities seem to wax as traditional responsibilities wane. I’ve never forgotten an 1980 essay by Seymour Kleinburg about the fisting rituals of a New York gay couple. Their weekend-long drug and douching rituals were more complicated than a Papal induction.

But something has changed, both in gay culture and the culture at large. Mirror balls have morphed into light shows, pop concerts into Las Vegas floor shows, martinis into gas-blue beakers of Frankenstein proportions. If it ain’t got gizmos, it ain’t worth consuming. In a culture obsessed with media, money and technology, complexity is a form of validation, a sign that something’s worth doing.

“Simplify, simplify,” said the philosopher Thoreau, way back in the mid 19th century. But what did he know? He was livin’ la vida cheapo out in the Massachusetts woods.

Complicated pleasures address complicated needs – for status, belonging, connection. A blowjob in the park might be more fun, but a drug-assisted grope on a circuit-party dancefloor establishes your place in the pecking order. You need a certain sort of drug, body, cash and clothes to fit in and your colleagues on the dancefloor know it. Of course, these pleasures don’t come cheap. That’s the point.

Like unprocessed food, simple fun may be good for you but it’s not going to make anyone a profit. Complicate your life. Get in touch with your inner cash.