Here is a good news story about gay sex in London. Haven’t heard one of those for a while hey? This is not a story of drug casualties, objectification and abuse, for once. This is a story of promise and hope.
25 years ago when I settled in London Elephant and Castle was not an area I felt comfortable passing through. The air was tense and homophobic attack always a threat. How times have changed when last Saturday night hundreds of gay men were standing in a long long line outside the Coronet to gain entry to the Recon Full Fetish party, the climax of London’s Gay Fetish Week. Calmly we queued, many in leather, others in sports clothing that can easily be slipped off into bags once inside revealing our fetish outfits beneath. The good folk of the borough passed by taking in the sight, curious or astounded. A few comments were thrown, I heard nothing aggressive. One voice asked what we were queueing up to see… ‘each other’s arses’ seemed the most accurate response. Who needs performers? We are each other’s entertainment.
Congratulations to the organisers of Fetish Week: I went to three events and believe I witnessed a sea-change in our gay public sex scene. The spaces on offer facilitated that well, the range of fetish events spread over the week was broad and the atmosphere welcoming. Fetish seemed so out of fashion a few years ago as attendance at long established leather clubs dwindled and naked grab-as-much-cock-as-u-can, quantity over quality, free for all orgies became very popular. Perhaps the pendulum is swinging the other way: fetish provides the perfect vehicle for creating real connection in a sexual scenario, and for shifting awareness into altered states in order to enjoy that connection deeply – fetish could even prove to be MORE FUN THAN DRUGS – if ever gay men work out that being fully present in a sexual encounter can lead to a better experience than being drug-fucked.
In the 1980s and 90s public sex in London was limited to very select venues, which took great risks with their license by permitting it – after all sex between more than two men and not in private was still totally illegal. During the Labour government years things became more relaxed. Big saunas opened across London and more sex venues opened, some intimate like the PlayPit in Kings Cross, others larger. Fist, the hottest sex ticket in London for years, run for the boys by dyke Suzie Kruger, mutated into Hard On and continues to this day as London’s top dance and fuck party. Other than that London has not had a great reputation for fetish extravaganzas. British men used to have to go to Amsterdam, Belgium or Berlin to find their extreme filth. But after a few years building up a following, London Fetish Week seems to have truly arrived on the international map, with fetish freaks pouring into the city from across the continent. This helps. Their gay cultures have been more liberated about sexuality for longer than we have enjoyed in Britain. Cultural taboos and british repression around sex are taking some time to shift. Sometimes our sex venues seem so riddled with fear, shame… and judgemental attitudes….. a full on brotherly celebration of the miraculous joy our sexuality brings to us is not exactly easy to find.
I wonder what the long term effect of all this liberated sexual expression has on a segment of society? What happens to gay men over the coming years will be watched closely by the rest of the populace. Will our sexual libertarianism bring us joy? Or disease and despair? We have already lived through aids, which brought the lesson that we have to exercise due care and attention around the powerful, life-giving or life-destroying, energies of sex, or literally risk annihilation. What will happen next?
Sometimes it seems as if gay life is descending fast into drug hell. The search for ultimate satisfaction drives us down some crazy routes and we can find ourselves caught in addictive behaviours from which it is hard to escape. But maybe the message is getting out. We can not achieve satisfaction that way. We need something more. We need connection – that comes from attraction that is based on more than the physical looks of a person. We need to meet soul to soul.
In our dark sex spaces we know there is more to a man than his looks. We see him in the shadows, but we also sense the energy he is giving out. Does it pull us in or repel us? Is it inviting us or ignoring us? We know the answers. In the semi darkness, ancient primeval, animalistic, senses switch on in us. We can spend a whole night without uttering a word, just letting our senses lead us into ecstatic moments. We find the beings in the crowd who spark our erotic fervour, play out our fantasies, let go of who we are in the outside world and becoming simply sex, sweat, passion, grunts, groans, panting PRESENCE with each other.
Thousands of men made it to the Full Fetish party. The Full Moon in Capricorn gave the perfect night for it. Sun in Cancer was making us all want to feel safe and comfortable, and inclining us to share feelings easily – Moon in Capricorn brought in earthy, rutting, Pan energy: and rut we did. The night was upbeat – an extremely diverse crowd of men sporting all kinds of looks and gear gathered and GAVE EACH OTHER RESPECT. In this situation the classic body beautiful becomes just one version of manhood – and it felt like we were able to celebrate all kinds of bodies, and find the ones that particularly rocked our individual boats.
During the first few hours it was fun to spot the eyes in the crowd of a man who sparked your interest. There was much flirting and excitement, and we could afford to be a bit ‘picky’, finding something special. Later there seemed less of this around – by then we had all become the one heaving sweating mass of celebration and were lost in the moment, sharing the passion that linked us all. The energies of our Man Temple, our Pan Temple, was high on sexual connection. Yes some were on drugs too no doubt, but here too there seems to be a change. Some years ago Hard On seemed to be filled with beautiful men wasted (and sexually helpless) on too many drugs. At Full Fetish there seemed to be little drug use in evidence – the few who were obviously high stood out, and not really in a pretty way.
Bizarrely, at the door the bouncers were confiscating bottles of poppers they found on people entering the club, even sealed ones. I said something and the charming fit bloke checking my bag asked me what are poppers? He had no idea. Clearly the security did not receive adequate training on handling a gay crowd!
London Fetish Week was blessed by the pagan gods. The week started with the Moon in Scorpio, sign of all things dark, sexual and mysterious: Tuesday night bondage party at the Eagle in Vauxhall was packed out, with rope play happening all over the venue. Bondage scenes took place on stage all night – and were so much more exciting than your average porn stars having a fuck acts that take place at so many big sex parties. The scenes were slow, intimate and erotic. They showed connection being built up and demonstrated the pleasure in pain and restraint. Something many gay men can learn a lot from. The large numbers watching suggest we want to.
Capricorn Full Moon peak gave the perfect weekend for a fetish celebration, and on the final day Sunday the Moon reached freedom loving sign Aquarius, giving a social energy to round off a week of uninhibited indulgence. I popped along to the rubber night at Union and sure enough found that all the black clad beauties were there to chat and laugh rather than get wet and dirty. Those men that were out alone looking for some action were not smiling much – there was very little sexual energy left to go round…. aquarius was pulling us out of our loins and up into the mind… into bigger pictures and a greater sense of who we are. Sex is one of the ways we find that out, explore and expand that.
Never before in human history have so many gay men been able to find each other and be so openly erotic and affectionate with each other. We travel around the world seeking pleasure and connection, finding our tribe, and finding out who we are.