Sex and Silence in D.C.

Within hours of arriving in our nation's capital, I had a naked 19-year-old woman in my hotel room. She seemed so young to have such well-developed exhibitionist tendencies, although she had a hint of shyness as she turned around to reveal two curved cello-S's on her back, an homage to Man Ray. She rolled around on the white sheets, her hair morning-messy, her creamy skin flushed with nervousness and excitement. Out of the bed, we put her in a warm bath. We decided against any bubbles so we could see her body through the water. As she moved the soap between her legs, she arched her neck and tilted her head. "That's perfect!" said the photographer. "Can you move your arm so I can see your pussy?"

Whenever I travel to other cities, I like to squeeze in a little porno to make my trip worthwhile: I set up photo shoots for On Our Backs, the lesbian sex magazine I edit, to showcase the, um, local talent. I hadn't come to Washington, D.C., to corrupt just one woman, but this perky, well-poised, freckled wonder happened to be first on my list. And it was a longlist of events for the weekend—the Gay and Lesbian Press Summit, a national gay and lesbian leather contest, the Equality Rocks Concert, and the controversial Millennium March on Washington (MMOW). With so many queers descending on the home of the world's most famous blow job, I expected there'd be plenty of sex in the city. I was way more off-base than John Rocker at a PFLAG meeting.

As a sex radical and a leatherdyke, I was supposed to be boycotting the MMOW. In fact, so were plenty of gay people, at the urging of critics who charged that MMOW producers excluded people of color, s/m folk, transgendered people, and many others from the organizing process. Antimarchers accused MMOW of being one big marketing event designed to funnel money and database information into the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the richest, most conservative, most powerful, and (among many activists) most despised gay and lesbian organizations in the country.

Instead of protesting by staying home, I decided to protest by showing up.

Just before the MMOW was the Gay and Lesbian Press Summit, a conference for members of the queer press. In my keynote address, I made sure to say the word pussy three times (what other keynoter can claim that?) to remind everyone in the room that I'm not a card-carrying member of the squeaky-clean, nonthreatening, advertiser-friendly gay and lesbian press. Afterward, people applauded me for being so out about my sexuality. One woman commented, "You said pussylike it was the greatest word in the English language." Isn't it?

I followed up my speech by driving out of the city to a women's s/m play party in an affluent, suburban neighborhood home that has been converted to a private dungeon. There I saw dykes piercing, paddling, and panting their way to ecstasy. Now that's more like it.

That sacred, sensual energy was missing from the Millennium March—indeed, all the vitality, diversity, and uniqueness of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community were eclipsed by corporate sponsorship and preppy, white, middle-class gay men in polo shirts sporting the HRC logo. Surrounded by clean-cut cuteness, you might say I stuck out like a sore fist. Likewise, sexual freedom was absent from all the rhetoric, testimonials, speeches, and even the T-shirts. I searched everywhere for the souvenir for my mom that read: "My anal-sex-expert pornographer daughter and her butch dildo-wielding dyke girlfriend went to the Millennium March on Washington and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." No luck.

My moment of redemption came when I strutted past the chanting right-wing March protesters holding signs like "AIDS Cures Gays" and "You Are Perverts." With my fierce girlfriend in a leather cowboy hat on one arm and a tranny boy with a mohawk on a leash on the other, I proudly stood before them—wearing a purple PVC push-up bra, matching skintight pants, and the word PERVERT written across my stomach in lipstick. Memo to antigay zealots: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but you need to get some new names to call us.

Surrounded by too many marketing opportunities at the Millennium Festival and still feeling alienated from our supposed tribe, we decided to leave the March early. Only a 10-minute taxi ride away, we descended a staircase into the dark, low-ceilinged Improv club. At the final segment of the two-day American Brotherhood contest, more than 100 leatherfolk celebrated their sexuality, erotic differences, and visions for the community. All of them boycotted the March. During his speech, one contestant noted that leather groups were approached by March organizers inviting them to join but requesting that they "tone things down" and not wear chaps, leather vests, and other signs of unconventional sexual lives. Such a request outraged most kinky people—as it should have.

Yet, as American Leatherman, Leatherwoman, and Leatherboy were crowned that night, I couldn't help but wish that the winners, the contestants, and the room full of attendees had marched. A sizable leather contingent, we would have sent a clear message to HRC, the "good gays," and the world at large: s/m people are a vital part of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. We will not go away or be pushed back into the closet. We will not be silenced about the erotic component of our identities.

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