The bridegroom stripped bare

A gay man discovers that the goings-on at a straight male stag party are kinkier than he could have imagined.

Published September 22, 1998 7:00PM (EDT)

To a gay man, the allure of a stag party is obvious: the covert thrill of
watching straight men humiliating their own, the stink of sexual
frustration disguised as the musk of a great heterosexual American male
ritual, the forced bacchanalian posing. I have never understood the
contempt that so many straight men express at the idea of two men
together; after all, the geography of one man's body is hardly alien to
another man. To hate and fear gay sex seems the most primal kind of

Having attended my first stag party for my partner's brother, I can now
say that I have witnessed the manifestation of sexual tension straight men
possess for each other in all its screwed-up glory, and the danger, dear
reader, was more than a little titillating. It wasn't that I was
particularly looking forward to what I imagined would be the ad-man
equivalent of a frat party, but Phil was family. Duty called.

To say that Phil has a cinematic charm would not be overstating the case.
He has always possessed more than a passing resemblance to a young Jeff
Bridges -- the Jeff Bridges of "Rancho Deluxe" and "The Last American Hero."
In a way, Phil has always been to me the Last American Heterosexual Hero,
a gent, the kindest guy in your gym class, someone easy to fall in love
with and easier, afterward when you knew that was hopeless, to love.

To further summon Phil's physical appeal, I direct you to the
photographs of one Christian, a protégé of photographer Bruce Weber who appeared in Weber's homoerotic nudie book "Bear Pond," published in 1990 and long out of print. A valuable collector's item of gay kitsch now selling
for upward of 300 bucks, and featuring a phony-baloney "poem"
by Reynolds Price, the book has page after page of toney, elegant dick
shots of beautiful blond men posed against the backdrop of what looks like
a summer camp for dissociated models. But in the series of photographs
of Christian, there is one in particular of him standing nude, holding a
lawn chair in front of himself -- wearing an expression that allowed no access or sustenance to the emotionally or erotically stunted -- in which he could almost be Phil's twin.

The rude ringleader of the evening's revels, speaking of emotionally and erotically stunted, was Art, a brawny, mustached cop from Phil's upstate New York hometown. Art possessed toxic levels of aggression that, with the bourbon and beer chasers, brought out both an inherent sadness and hostility, a
Molotov cocktail of lethal volatility. Yet as a nihilistic force of nature, he was also someone you couldn't take your eyes off.

Entering the über-men's den -- Phil's tiny studio apartment -- we were immediately assailed by the testosterone orgy that was currently under way to mark this milestone moment in Phil's life. The hired stripper (one Beverly Hills, from Long
Island) was already an hour late, and Art and his merry band of revelers
were unleashing their aggressions on the kitchen equipment, banging pots
and pans and chanting Iron Man-style. Whatever mild objections Phil had to
the destruction of his kitchen ("Guys, uh, couldja cool that?") were
drowned out by the banging of Teflon and the sound of
silverware flying forth from the sixth-floor window and raining down onto
the courtyard below. Phil, dressed in a T-shirt that read
"Old Milwaukee Light" and a pair of Champion sweat shorts, smiled a pained,
strained smile while Don, Phil's amiable old college chum and present
office buddy, videotaped the proceedings.

When the revelers realized that wreaking violence on the kitchen utensils provided a finite amount of pleasure, they began glomming onto Phil, the star of Don's roving handy-cam, offering mock pieties on his future happiness while planting sloppy wet kisses in all areas of face and head.

"Bitch doesn't get here soon you'll be the fuckin' show, boy," Art said,
doing his best street pimp and dousing Phil's T-shirt with his beer
chaser. "You a mighty purty piece of white chicken meat, too."

Then Art put Phil in a headlock and marched him around the room as the boys took turns slapping and pinching Phil's ass through his sweat shorts. And Phil, though embarrassed, was taking it all with great equanimity. As a keen student of the heterosexual male in his habitat, I found all this mildly interesting if unexciting. And I was observing unnoticed, as no one sniffed the presence of an alien sexual orientation in the room.

Still no sign of Beverly Hills, and the liquor was now having its way with the celebrants. Determined to be entertained at all costs, or at least have someone to abuse until the "whore" arrived, Art began baiting Phil, first verbally with "bitch" this and that, then physically.

"So, our little Philly's gonna walk down the aisle and be all
pussy-whipped -- we should break 'im in," Art said and made lashing
motions with an invisible whip, while a backup act made mewing sounds.

"You don't know what you're gettin' yourself into, bro," Art
said, grabbing onto Phil by his T-shirt. "It's like this." Forcing Phil
down on all fours, Art began riding Phil around like a pack horse,
shouting, "Nag, nag! Nag, nag! She's gonna ride you!"

After a few paces around the room, Art fell off, then grabbed a
fistful of Phil's T-shirt for balance. The thin, many-times-washed shirt tore immediately, and down came, at half-angle, Phil's Champions.
Art whooped. It was like a gay pay-per-view: The beautiful all-American blond boy, too perfect to tolerate and too good to hate, was nevertheless being punished by the brute cop, degraded, reduced to base objectification, to video-camera fodder, clad only in sweat shorts, chest exposed, and dripping with cheap beer.

"Where's that goddamn stripper whore?" Art brayed with a smile on his face, feeling no pain. It was then that it occurred to me: If this stripper didn't show soon, the person who might be providing release, in some form of humiliation or other, would indeed be Phil.

Then, as if on cue, the buzzer sounded. The entertainment had arrived. Art's reign of terror was over, and the atmosphere reverted again to simple stag-party rambunctiousness.

When a very Paula Jones-looking Beverly Hills walked in, in a pink faux-fur coat and spike heels, she was greeted by Art with a less-than-courtly
"Fuck you been, bitch?" In spite of this greeting, however, she stayed
and was the consummate professional, deftly maneuvering the inadequate work space. "When are you moving, Phil?" she asked him, as she
danced around him more heroically than seductively. It was a harried,
perfunctory, whirling-dervish performance. Probably because she was late
(stuck in traffic was her excuse) and certainly because of the human dark
cloud called Art, neither she nor we could wait to leave. But we watched
dutifully as she writhed on top of Phil, as she slapped him around, as she
rolled him over, took out a thin chord from her person and gave him a few
light lashings and a nibble or two on his butt.

The show was over before anyone knew it, and Beverly was already dressed
and in her pink coat with check in hand, in contrast to a bare-chested Phil, the man of the hour, standing in the middle of his own kitchen in nothing but
his BVDs. Beverly took a moment to congratulate Phil with a cursory but sincere good-luck kiss on the mouth. We all watched as Phil returned the hug.

"Have a nice life, Phil," she said.

"You too," Phil replied.

Then, like watching a movie in slow-motion, frame-by-frame, I saw it:
Art's big hamhock cop fist reached out toward Phil and grabbed the cloth
of Phil's BVDs and with one deft stroke tore them off, leaving only the
waistband and nothing else on Phil's bare body. There was the briefest of
silences as we heard Beverly's spikes click down the stairs, then a few
scattered cackles, and Don zoomed in tight, for want of anything else to
do. It was a terminal gesture of vicious triumph on Art's part, but it was Phil who redefined the victory moment, as he, wearing nothing more than an
expression that allowed no access or sustenance to the emotionally or
erotically stunted, simply walked from the hall to the kitchen as if walking
around in a crowd of men with one's member hanging out was the most
natural thing in the world.

As far as I know, this incident was not mentioned again, not at the
wedding nor among Phil and his buddies. And the videotape itself, I
discovered later, was eventually erased at the vehement request of Phil's
new wife.

By Daniel Reitz

Daniel Reitz, a frequent contributor to Salon, is a writer living in New York. His film "Urbania," based on his play, "Urban Folk Tales," will be released in August.

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