Thot Journal: Queer people have sex. These are their ruminations. Some of the images in this article may be NSFW.
You lose your sense of time at the Black Party. You do. You’ve checked your phone and are in a warehouse with no windows. Unless you’re wearing a watch, you lose yourself in a wave of mostly-naked flesh clothed in harnesses, jockstraps, and a few cutoff denim shorts bathed in colored lights on the dancefloor; or you’re in the depths of a dark makeshift maze, coupling and uncoupling with faceless beings while others climb in and out of slings around you. Along the way, you undoubtedly lose track of time until you stumble outside to pee in one of the port-a-potties and find yourself exposed to a completely different type of light. But isn’t that a bit of the point?
There are a few time stamps I recall from The Black Party 2019, a 40th year anniversary for the event. First, was the amount of time it took for the shuttle to arrive. (Almost an hour.) We stood outside the Ritz Bar and Lounge in Manhattan for over 45 minutes, looking expectantly at every large vehicle that drove by. No one knew when to expect the transportation to arrive as scheduled times had come and gone. Not even the security from the Ritz knew what the shuttle might look like. So we waited. And our crowd grew, trailing down the sidewalk, clustered in groups wearing leather jackets, large overcoats, bare legs and high top sneakers. There were even a few Caligula-themed golden head wreaths. It wasn’t cold, but it was chilly: a Spring night. And then an old, full-sized yellow school bus squeaked to a stop in front of us. It did not seem a good omen.
In the lead up to the event, longtime producer Stephen Pevner told Out that this could be the final Black Party due to financial burdens. To that effect, he had given it the theme of “Caligula: The Last Party.” And a groaning school bus, seemingly as old as the “father of large circuit events” itself, lumbering up late to the shuttle pick up point before leaving 18 attendees on the curb because it was over capacity, seemed to lean in to that assessment. But an hour later, as we finally walked into the venue, the first space in The Bronx to host the event in Black Party history, things looked encouraging.
The New York Expo Center boasts 90,000 square feet of mostly open warehouse space. It’s in this space, after checking phones under a mandatory no phones or photography guideline and clothes under a cultural guideline that seems just as mandatory, that one loses track of time.
According to friends and attendees of the Black Party, most people there are … on something. That tracks with the Pagan rituals that inspired the event, where men went into the woods and got high on mushrooms to celebrate the coming of Spring. It’s under this self medication, and sometimes hallucinogens, that attendees have what have what some have described as a transformative experience of self-discovery. And while that’s totally fine, my personal journey at the event was a completely sober one. The only thing I bought from the bar were a few bottles of water, consumed with two oranges, an apple, and a cookie, all complimentary party favors. That is to say, I remember it all.
I remember descending from the first level and down into the dancefloor around midnight, already busy as the party had started two hours prior. I remember seeing a guy getting his ass rimmed on a couch while I was on the way down. I remember taking my walk through to explore the entire space after dancing for a bit, finding a small sunken play stage that would later host a fisting scene (amongst other things) featuring performers like Ian Greene and Teddy Bryce. This all occurred behind the much larger stage, where a Caligula-inspired production replete with fake blood, a double crucifix, and more porn stars (as actors) performed through the duration of the event. To one side was a room seemingly for resting (there were benches, a golden tub, and fruit here) and another lower, chillier, red-lit room full of slings. And then there was the maze.
Hearing about Black Party secondhand can leave you a bit disoriented. Some describe it as a bacchanal of gay sex, people fucking and sucking with abandon. Some say it’s more about community and the music. The reality is that it’s all of those things, at varying levels of focus each year. When the AIDS epidemic was at its fever pitch, some found it irresponsible to flout mostly unprotected sex so openly and went to savor the community, avoiding the dark corner. In its last days at Roseland, tales say it was the exact opposite with sex being one of the main draws. This year, the sex was there, from the lower level where I watched an attendee who was dancing naked on a platform (save a cockring) get blown by a 6 foot+ masked guy wearing leather pants with a zip going down the crack, to the sling room where I watched another attendee get fisted. On a trip to one set of port-a-potties inside the venue, I heard sounds of moans as I peed, likely coming from two (or more) people hiding behind my vestibule.
Walking around was sort of like seeing a thirsty Instagram feed come to life: there were the “influencers,” muscle gays, and more than a few porn stars there in various states of dress. Thirst traps incarnate. The bodies were varied all though they skewed in-shape, minimal body hair, and lighter-skinned-to-white. There were certainly many exceptions, but walking up to the second level and looking back down onto the throbbing dance floor made the norm abundantly clear.
At one point I rounded a corner to see Rafael Alencar pounding away at some random, frail twink. At another, Atlas Grant was preparing to wade himself into the dark maze, where organizers had put very little lighting but sectioned it off with a series of cloth and rubber flaps. In varying degrees of darkness (one section, towards the center was completely black while others had darker, red lighting) you could hear the sounds of moans and wet slaps around you. In addition to two slings, there were two massage tables that had been set up — while at one point they were truly being used for massage, as the event wore on, that gave way to more than a few couplings. And only steps away, on the other side of the flimsy partition, others danced as the DJ segued into a disco set, hoisting a mirrored ball above the fray.
Whether the Black Party continues or not is to be determined — though there is a pending lawsuit that could affect the event, longtime attendees say every year that it is to be the last. But for those who seem to believe it’s a relic of another time, of no interest to the younger generation, this week’s attendance, which seemed to be over 3,000 people, spanning a fairly wide age range, says otherwise. Though the term safe space is certainly overused, Black Party does provide a venue for queer men to let go in ways few others can. And while I personally don’t feel like I was transformed or discovered anything about myself that I hadn’t discovered already, dancing, fucking and sucking my way through eight straight hours, without a care in the world while I watched other men do the same, being transported to this untouchable place, oddly way out in The Bronx suspended in time has left an impression on me. It has bred a feeling, whatever that feeling is, that I will forever treasure, and attempt to return to, even if only for one weekend a year.
All photography by Santiago Felipe.