Riding the Shortbus
I wrote a column called "The XXX Files" in November 1999, which was a Top 10 list of celebrities I'd like to fuck. Making ones celebrity-sex list is always an amusing exercise in fantasy and obsession. On my list, which included Madonna and Kramer from Seinfeld, was an Off-Broadway sensation named John Cameron Mitchell. He was the writer and star of a musical called Hedwig and the Angry Inch, about the struggles of a German transsexual rock star who had a botched sex change operation, fled East Berlin, and was betrayed by her rock star boyfriend. I saw John's final performance in the title role on New Year's Eve 1998 and I was smitten.
Many years later, I met John at a panel I was moderating for NewFest (the lesbian and gay film festival), where he discussed his new film project, Shortbus. The movie, which he developed through workshops and improvisations with the actors over several years, was about a group of straight, gay, lesbian, and transgender New Yorkers linked together by an underground, pansexual art-cumsex salon called Shortbus. At the time, it was making headlines because John planned to have the actors fucknot Hollywood, soft-lighting/body-doubles fake-fuck, but really fuckon film. Several months after the panel, a producer asked me to help publicize a call for "sextras" (extras to have sex in a few scenes set at the salon). I posted the opening in my newsletter and forwarded it to friends. Eventually, I decided I wanted to be a sextra, so I applied.
Potential sextras first met with John at a loft space in DUMBO called DUMBA; it was a queer living cooperative that hosted mixed-gender sex parties over the years. I went to several of these fetes, called the Lusty Loft, and even wrote about one in this column. That particular evening is etched in my mind forever as pure queer erotic utopia, with people of all genders fucking side by side. When I arrived at the meeting, my first thought was, Cool, we're going to shoot an orgy scene with real sex in a place that actually puts on real orgies. To top it off, the adorable transguy I had sex with at said previous orgy was sitting right next to me and would be the one I planned to have sex with on film. How full circle. I think John made some offhand remark about being a sextra himself, and I thought, well, that never occurred to me when I signed up; this might be my chance to fulfill one of my star-fucking fantasies.
Less than a month later, all the sextras gathered at an empty warehouse space a few doors down from the loft. We did what regular extras do on movie sets: struck up random conversations, hung out, and waited around. No sexual warmup exercises, although some folks negotiated what they might do in the scene and with whom. One attractive, muscled twentysomething guy brought his perky, gorgeous wife and a laptop to watch dirty DVDs. I looked over his shoulder and saw Belladonna from John Stagliano's movie Fashionistas. "You have really good taste in porn," I said. He smiled and thanked me.
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When we were finally called to do the scene, we got naked, then put on robes for the walk up the street. A production person led us into the designated orgy room, where John was waiting. He seemed a little nervous, and tried to make everyone feel as comfortable as possible. He gave a short speech, said some things about warming up, going slowly, getting used to the environment, and not putting pressure on ourselves. I think the first shot was supposed to be a test run. But the minute the cameras started rolling, everyone just started fucking. We were there to fuck and we were ready. No hesitation, no awkward "how does the thing get going" orgy moment, just all-out fuckingloud, magical, sweaty, uninhibited sexin'. Two gay guys were rimming each other near my feet. A tattooed brunette mounted her boyfriend to my right. And in the distance, I spotted the Fashionistas fan, his wife, and another guy getting it on. I was trying to see if she was trying to fit both their dicks in her mouth at once. The cameras kept rolling, and John would chime in periodically with some directions or usher a new character into the scene. Someone I recognized was handing out safer-sex stuff and blondies. I had no sense of time, but my partner said his jaw was killing him and he must have been licking my pussy for two hours. Although this was a made-for-movie orgy, I did not feel like I was on a movie set, porn or otherwise. John did join the action at some point, and even hooked up with a girl ("I performed oral sex on her!"), but alas, that girl was not me.
Shortbus premiered at Cannes, got picked up by distributor THINKFilm, and was released October 6. I was on the West Coast when it came out, so I saw it at a little theater in Pasadena. The audience clapped when the closing credits rolled. It was smart, sex-positive, funny, provocative, and really resonated with my partner and me. My friend from L.A. remarked, "That was such a cool make-believe world set in New York City." Even my fellow New Yorkers have called it a fun fantasy. But I beg to differ: This fantasy was very rooted in reality. I was there. I was there at the orgies at that loft in Brooklyn near the Manhattan Bridge. I was there the day we filmed those orgy scenes, and they were real. Real orgies.
Parties like the salons in the movie may not be happening every night or even on a regular basis, but they have happened and they will again. I hope. Speaking of fantasies, has my crush on the original Hedwig faded? Hell no. John Cameron Mitchell would still make the list, alongside original favorites Pee-wee Herman, Joan Jett, and Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins (together). New additions would be: Eva Longoria, Wentworth Miller, Pink, Taye Diggs, and Project Runway's Tim Gunn. Just in case you were wondering.
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