"Living in the South is strange," Tristan was saying, "but New Orleans is even stranger. It's like being on another planet."
I'd come to New Orleans to visit Tristan and John in their newly adopted
Sin City. Tristan whisked me away to the French Quarter almost immediately, where we now sat in Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop, the oldest tavern in the United States -- wood plank floors, flickering candles and tourists, tourists, tourists. Where was this seedy sexual underbelly I'd heard so much about? "I do feel like I'm in Disney World," I said. Among all the kitschy bars selling Jello-shots to go and the tinny fake piano music emanating from nowhere, being in the French Quarter was like "New OrleansLand." "So what are the men like here in New Orleans?"
"If you like frat boys or gay men, you'll do all right. Men are all the same anywhere you go." Tristan had moved here from San Francisco three months ago with his boyfriend, John, and was still going through the highs and lows of living in a foreign land with no friends or support system. "Listen to this. Last night at work, I'm talking to this dishwasher. He says in this Cajun drawl -- I can barely understand the man -- 'I wish I was a girl. 'Cause den I'd put dem through the same hell dey put me through.' He goes on to say that his girlfriend of two days told him that she loved him. 'And I ain't even put da wood on her yet,' he says. Then he says that she wants him to move in with her and her sister. 'How can I do dat?' he asks me. ''Cause den I'd be wanting to do the sistah.'" Tristan shook his head.
"Jesus, even the dishwashers here are characters out of 'Streetcar Named Desire,'" I said. I fished the olives out of my bloody mary and ate them. "Hey, why don't you take me to a place tonight that you would go?" We'd been to a rather tepid strip club on Bourbon Street the previous night, the highlight of which seemed to be strippers doing splits and lunges and wrapping their legs around their head. "I felt like I was at the circus last night," I said.
"I like those contortionist women. Did you see how much money those guys were throwing at her to do the splits in front of their faces? I was just waiting for the lion tamer to pop out from behind a curtain." He stood up. "OK, let's go."
Ten minutes later, we were standing with John in front of a bar with covered windows in a quiet, dark section of the Quarter. Apart from the pumping bass you could feel down to your bowels, the bar seemed closed. A bunch of helium balloons was tied to the door, but there were no signs.
Tristan opened the door with a flourish and I followed him in. Inside, once my eyes adjusted to the darkness, I could make out groups of men standing singly and together, beer in their hands, watching a pool game in the center of the room. We went to the bar and ordered drinks, and I looked around. There was a back room where many people seemed to be standing in the dark, and some clusters of others sitting at the bar. "Tristan, am I going to be thrown out?" I realized with a start that I was the only female in the entire place.
"Oh, no," he said pleasantly, "sometimes I see a woman here."
I'd never been to a gay sex club before -- well, why would I? I found it
curious that this was a bar and not a club; sex in the back room was included in the price of drinks, apparently.
"Look at that," I said, gesturing to the porno video being shown from several monitors around the room. "The money shot. He certainly is big. Even my friend Maureen might be daunted by that."
"Something's going on back in the room," John suddenly said. "You can tell because all of a sudden everyone's looking in the same direction. That's the thing here," he said to me. "Everyone comes here waiting for someone to start doing something -- giving a hand job, a blow job, kissing, whatever. Then the watching begins. If Tristan and I went in the back and started kissing, there'd be a feeding frenzy."
There did seem to be an air of anticipation about the place, with men looking around hopefully. Nobody was dancing, despite the pounding wails of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Tristan went to the back room and returned within a minute. "There's a mini-orgy in the bathroom," he said matter-of-factly. "About six guys. But it's kind of dead here tonight. Usually there are groups of several guys going at it. My shirt got ruined the last time we were here. Flying jism."
"Wow," I said, "no condoms around?" Tristan and John shook their heads. We downed our beers and watched the pool game. I walked in the back and looked around; no one paid any attention to me. In the almost pitch-black space, there was another pool table in the center covered with a sheet of plywood, and large windows that had been painted black. Men looked up eagerly as each new person entered the room. After about 10 minutes, we grew bored and left.
I wondered if I'd become a jaded San Franciscan -- how much would it take to shock me nowadays. I had to admit, however, that it all seemed enviably up-front here -- much more than back home. No one pretended they were at that bar for any reason other than sex or voyeurism.
Outside, in the fresh, moist air, John turned to me. "I'm sorry you didn't get to see the full experience," he said. "Do they have bars like that for straight people?"
I thought for a moment. "No, they don't," I said. "There isn't a bar or a club where everyone comes wanting the same thing. The straight version would be the strip club, where the women know what the men want and they make them pay for it." I tried to imagine a situation where straight women would go to get anonymous oral sex, or a hand job, but I just couldn't picture it. "I mean, there's sex clubs and the like, but only a very small percentage of women go to those places. I don't know why. It doesn't have the mass appeal the way it does for guys. Truly anonymous sex just doesn't seem that appealing to most women."
I thought some more and continued. "And another thing. With straight people, the commerce aspect seems to come into play when you talk about anonymous sex."
"You straight women!" Tristan said. "So capitalistic!" We walked past the tightly shuttered doors of the antebellum cottages and flickering gas lamps on each corner. "At least us boys are share and share alike. Communist sex. Much more equal."
I considered that. Men did seem to agree on that point. Communism might be dead, but it seemed to me that when it came to hetero sex, it had never existed in the first place.