I did not plan to be in Palm Springs for the White Party. Every spring my best friend Kat and I have spent a long weekend in the desert at her mother’s vacation home. I didn’t even realize until we arrived to hordes of brawny men in teeny-tiny shorts sashaying down Palm Canyon Drive that the city seemed gayer than usual, which was saying something. Then it dawned on me.
“This might be an opportunity,” I said to Kat.
I was newly single, a month out of a long-term relationship, and my heartache was like a constant, ambient noise only I could hear. I wasn’t even in rebound mode yet — I was still licking my wounds. But if ever there was a time and place to cut loose, I thought, it would be on the occasion of thousands of handsome gay dudes descending on this kitschy sun-scrubbed desert oasis.
Never mind that I was the furthest thing from a circuit-party type — I didn’t have the abs for it, I wasn’t that sexually adventurous, and I was seven years sober, a hard-won second act after a string of wild teenage years. My idea of an indulgent good time extended as far as Häagen-Dazs and Netflix. But surely, for just a weekend, I could find a guy who would forgive all of that.
Instead I found two.
They were at a bar on Arenas Road the night we arrived in the desert, me sipping a soda water and eyeing the crowd, Kat as my wingman. I noticed Steven first (rangy, John Slattery–adjacent, handsome), and then Phillip, who was more of an Andy Cohen type (voluble, quippy). They were silver foxes. They were dad goals. We made eyes at each other until I finally made my move.
They were married and visiting from Chicago, salt-of-the-earth Midwestern boys who had grown into strapping men. Now they were celebrating Phillip’s 45th birthday. They were warm in that familiar, avuncular way older men could sometimes be with me, but not overly solicitous — just curious. Steven’s demeanor was sturdy, while Phillip had a flintier edge.
They invited me to an underwear party the following night.
“What do I wear?” I asked. Phillip looked at me like I was an alien. “Underwear,” he said.
I debated whether to go or not, but my curiosity got the best of me. The next night, wearing a mesh tank top and briefs under my clothes, I drove to the hotel where the party was, pounding a Red Bull along the way. I checked my clothes at the door. Inside was a mass of bodies and pummeling EDM music. I felt like an impersonator, like it was written all over my face that I didn’t belong. I circled, averting my eyes from the guys who cruised me, until I found Steven and Phillip across the dance floor.
“You came!” Phillip said, pulling me into a sweaty hug.
I bopped awkwardly along to the music until I found the beat, and suddenly it felt like the song was inside me, shifting my hips, and I was dancing like everyone else. Sandwiched between the two of them, feeling their weight, I was temporarily freed from my self-consciousness. I was sexual, even if I never felt that way, as sober and serious-minded as I was. The only thing keeping me inhibited was me. And so, I gave in to the lusty thrill of it all, kissing both of them, luxuriating in the experience of being desired. Until finally, at 3 a.m., I followed them back to their hotel room.
After it was over, they dozed off. Lying between them in that familiar daze, I could see the sun coming up over the mountains. I hadn’t been up for a sunrise in years, and seeing it reminded me of dry-mouthed tweaker nights that bled into twitchy amber mornings, back when I was young enough to get away with it. Now I could only get halfway there. Everyone else would be waking up the following afternoon with hangovers, serotonin-bereft, paying the price for the previous evening’s euphoria. Not me. But for the night, it didn’t matter that I was sober, or that I didn’t like my body, or that my heart was broken. For a night, in the most unexpected place, I felt like I belonged.
I stood up and pulled my pants back on. After being so exposed, my clothes felt like a costume — a suit of armor. I registered a flicker of postcoital melancholy. The unpleasant sting of reality coming back to me.
Actually, something really was stinging me. I felt something sharp in my pocket, digging into my thigh. I reached down to see what it was. Retrieving it, I laughed quietly to myself. I’d forgotten that the day before, after meeting Phillip and Steven, I’d found an embossed pin that read “#1 Dad” in a gift shop. I had bought two, on the off chance things went well with them.
So, I left one on each of their nightstands and slipped gratefully into the dawn.