Illustration by Marcos Chin
At first, the Black Party feels like a horror movie. I’m ushered into a vast warehouse that’s dark, barring the random shaft of blood-red neon light. Like the transgressive inverse of Catholic school students, the thousands of gay men that crisscross in front of me are mostly wearing the night’s unofficial uniform of leather harnesses, which can be menacing to those not down with the fetish. The music, a perpetual, monotonous unce-unce of bass-heavy electronica, is occasionally streaked with a familiar cinematic sound effect—the kind that usually accompanies a serial killer stabbing a knife. I move in deeper, and I slip through the first of many partitions—vinyl meat-locker strip curtains—which are less ironic in that we fleshy men are being herded in like cattle than they are evocative of scenes from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Yet finally standing amid New York’s biggest, most infamous circuit party isn’t scary. The terror had come months before, when I’d first learned what the Black Party was, and decided, definitively, that there was no way I wasn’t going.
When I heard about the Black Party, from the loving handful of nightlife characters I’d newly befriended, my relationship of seven years was in shambles. I’d been hitting the club scene not only to broaden my world, but to escape my partner. These friends were shocked that I even had to ask what the Black Party was, but I’d spent nearly four years in New York—not to mention most of my 20s—in relatively sheltered monogamy, with little impulse to explore gay clubs, let alone all-night parties where men fuck in dark corners. My default mode, a mode my partner and I shared, was to express dread and disgust at the thought of such a party, as we were above such stereotype-perpetuating, sex-defined bullshit. But then this proud, post-gay millennial ditched his superiority complex.
One of the great things I’ve learned during the year and a half that I’ve been with this magazine is that, today, you can be any type of gay man you want—for instance, a man who helps to pilot a national publication while also occasionally dancing till 4 a.m. on Saturdays. It was growing increasingly clear that my partner and I were no longer interested in being the same type of gay man, and though I was still trying to figure out what type I was, I was hurling myself as far away from his supposed type as possible. The Black Party, which my friends described in deliciously unsettling terms (“You wouldn’t believe the smell,” one said), represented the ultimate, id-driven departure from my norm, which, for countless reasons that had nothing to do with dance floors or drink tickets, felt more alien by the day. I’d go. I’d look the part. I’d take drugs. Maybe I’d let someone touch me. Maybe I’d kiss someone. What I’d certainly do is step into the fray and see how I fared—on my terms. And write about it. If I’m being honest, I think I decided all of this before I knew that, by the time the date of the party came, the relationship would be over.
I take a minute on the main dance floor to inspect what’s on my person. In the pockets of my cutoff denim booty shorts (which I hadn’t worn since I dressed up as Kesha for Halloween years back), I have my ID, my MetroCard, two useless credit cards, cash, lip balm, my apartment keys, and two Molly pills I’d gotten from a friend. I don’t have my phone because it was collected at the door, not far from a massive sign that read, NO UNAUTHORIZED ENTRY. On my feet are old skater sneakers I’ll discard in a few days. On my back is a black tank top that I keep on for about 30 minutes until I feel like the outcast who didn’t get the topless memo. All over my body, and in my hair, is black and silver glitter spray paint (the theme is “Mineshaft”), which will take me two hours to scrub off the next day, and which will still glisten in certain tile crevices in my bathroom for months. It’s the most visible evidence of my go-all-out approach to this night. I’m here. I look the part. I have drugs. And a lot of people are already touching me.
As someone later suggests when I describe my experience, the Black Party—which, this year, relocated from Manhattan to Brooklyn—is a bit like Dante’s Inferno. The further you proceed down its linear stretch of rooms, the more graphic it becomes. Initially, near the front, I only see about three guys fucking, not far from the bar where I buy the first of many overpriced Red Bulls (“the only thing that will be entering me at this party,” I told my friends). But once I reach the back, and approach a room where countless men are getting off, I stick to the plan and push my limits.
I weave in and out of men bent over and men on their knees, and occasionally realize that the hands that brush my legs aren’t hands at all. I move with purpose, so only my peripheral vision catches the twink slamming his face against a glory hole. At first, I’m very conscious of how I carry myself, and it reminds me of something I learned in an acting class—something that’s also party decorum 101: Always have an objective. Even in this voyeur’s mecca, don’t spend too much time gazing at the line of men with their palms on the wall and their asses pushed out, invitingly. And don’t stare too long at their pitching equivalents, either—tops seated side by side on actual park benches, stroking their dicks and waiting for partners as outdoor chess players would wait for opponents.
My objective becomes a sliver of space in the same room, blocked off by tall, black tarps. Behind the tarps, everything is pitch-dark. Passing through them seems like the ultimate test for the Black Party virgin, so of course I breathe and creep inside. Body bumps against body amid a soundtrack of phantom moans, and before long someone’s hand is in my shorts. My moment of hesitation is quickly trumped by a sense of entitlement, and the thought that, as long as I’m safe, I deserve to get off at this party. In seconds, the guy is on his knees and I don’t stop him. When he’s finished, I give him a peck on the cheek and move on. A rite of passage.
My knee-jerk judgment of my faceless pleasurer—which, per my norm, creeps up fast—is genuinely displaced by a certain camaraderie. We’re both here to find release, so let him find his however he likes. I’m eventually shocked by how minimally judgmental I feel, and I don’t think it has anything to do with the Molly, another first that merely makes me a more tireless, dance-hungry extrovert than I already am. I don’t judge the bottoms in waiting or the glory hole twink. I might later tell friends about the batch of bears who claim a small dance floor as their sex bed, and who recall those sea iguanas that pile on top of each other in the Galápagos, but I don’t judge them. And then, just when I’m feeling proud of myself, I get a real eye-opener from a Black Party veteran, who goes by Case and asks me why I’m here. Without thinking, I say it’s because I’m an unlikely candidate. Without missing a beat, he firmly puts me in my place: “There’s really no such thing.”
Case’s words ring truest after I randomly reconnect with John, a beautiful man whom I’d met just once before at a club, and who becomes my trusted dancing, kissing, and exploring buddy throughout the night. On a raised side catwalk where I give poppers a try (yet another first), John and I gaze out across a sea of dancing bodies, none of them easily reduced to being a likely candidate. Admittedly, I briefly wonder how necessary the Black Party is in 2015. Though planned as a spring bacchanal where sex is merely a component, it seems few would argue with the event’s reputation as a gritty orgiastic bash. And considering that the days when gay men had only sex to define themselves—days for which I’ve also gained new respect—are long past, I wonder if the party is gathering glittery dust. But I’m grateful it’s here. I wonder what, exactly, I would have said about someone like me a year ago—someone who mostly threw away caution and sought discovery at something like this. But I’m grateful I don’t have to find out.
At 8 a.m., John invites me to go home with him and I quickly say yes. The morning light now creeping in through windows is making us feel like vampires, but the Black Party doesn’t feel like a horror movie anymore. Not at all. It feels communal, even peaceful. The music sounds the same, but it’s lost its vibe of malice. It’s more like a comforting, metronomic hymn. Arm in arm and barely clothed, John and I are herded back out through the entrance, and I can’t stop smiling. There are about a thousand reasons why, but if I have to choose one, it’s that, while leaving what many would call the dirtiest party of the year, I’m feeling clean.