by Joel Czarlinksy
Sex. It’s called the guilty pleasure. All too often - if it’s gay sex - it’s considered a shameful pleasure.
10 years ago my lover of twenty two years and I recognized a social need. There was no safe secure club in New York City where men could engage in sex that wasn’t clothed in darkness or a subliminal negativity. So we opened a private men’s sex club whose purpose was to provide an environment where sex could be talked about and engaged in with a positive attitude. We felt that a safe, positive and comfortable setting such as ours would give people the freedom and security to develop healthy practices. We knew that the implicit shame in “underground, closeted” sex only fostered unsafe practices. In fact, we watched over the years as condom use increased and conversations between positive and negative men, about sex and risk, became more commonplace.
After seven years in operation we received a letter from Mayor Bloomberg’s Midtown Task Force, stating their intention to close us down. Our letter of response reminded them of our work and openness with the state and city representatives and invited them to meet with us about our business. That meeting was declined.
Then on November 16, 2006 a task force of Mayor Bloomberg’s came just as the staff had opened and rushed them out of the club, with just enough time to gather their things, and padlocked the door. In spite of our organization as a private membership club, in spite of our involvement with the city and state for three years on the Commercial Sex Venue Working Group (CSVWG) forum, we were forced to close. At the time the Gay City News reported that the summons filed by the city detailed a list of sexual acts. The majority – up to of 80% of those cited in the summons - were cited as safe sex acts.
EL MIRAGE - that was the name of the club - strived to be a good business citizen. We paid taxes, had unemployment insurance and workman’s compensation, provided CPR training/ certification for our employees. We supported groups like The Anti-Violence Project and Ryan-Nena Community Health Center. We had HIV testing and STD counseling on a regular basis. We worked with the CSVWG.
We operated strictly as a private membership club. We knew that a state health law – written in the late eighties to justify the closure of gay bathhouses - forbade public establishments from providing facilities for sex. In CSVWG meetings with health department representatives, we were even told that the officials would honor this interpretation of the law and not pursue enforcement.
Why close El Mirage? What could be the compelling reason? NO SHAME. Operating illegally, underground with no community awareness is tolerated because those in power don’t look like they are condoning gay sex.
Ted Haggard’s shame would only allow him to admit to having massages by a male while using crystal meth, asking for forgiveness for the part of his life “that is so repulsive and dark.” James McGreevy came out to divert attention from his breaking corruption scandal to gain sympathy for the “suffering and anguish” of his homosexual lifestyle. Andrew Sullivan has said he wants gays and lesbians to be considered “normal.”
Now, what is normal? Shame? Shame defined in Wikipedia is “the consciousness or awareness of dishonor, disgrace, or condemnation.
The question may be: whose consciousness or awareness shall lead us? Certainly not Haggard’s, McGreevy’s, Sullivan’s or a mayor of New York City. Any kind of consensual sex by persons of the same, or appropriate ages, should carry no shame. The dishonor, disgrace and self-condemnation are tools of the closet. As long as we are neutered, we are tolerated. But the idea that two men or two women have actual intimate physical contact brings our rights into question.
One of the philosophies from the sixties that was transformed, yet kept alive in the seventies by the gay and lesbian movement, was that of embracing our physical being as something spiritual and enlightening. Gay men developed this philosophy with more sexually expressive freedoms. Lesbians in turn developed a women’s health movement and a collective identity so beautifully proclaimed in “Our Bodies, Our Selves.”
This openness scared many people, straight and gay alike. A resurgence of shame for sexuality was re-established throughout society. And this fear of ourselves, or should I say shame of ourselves, has brought us back to the oppression we see tolerated today. This shame prevents open and educated communication concerning sex, disease, and alternative lifestyles.
Who we are physically intimate with is one facet that makes us different from others - joyfully so. It gives us a novel -even revolutionary- perspective on the world around us.
Shame is a terrible demon. After all, your shame could be considered my “normalness.” And it has no place being anywhere near sex, which is a glorious gift from the Universe.
To read more blogs by Joel, go to: http://www.tumblr.com/search/joel+czarlinsky