Do you remember the name of the first person you fucked? Because I don’t, and I’m concerned that might say a lot about me.
Typically, this wouldn’t be a thought that keeps me up at night. I tend to move forward through life, rarely looking in the rearview mirror, except to make the most grandiose generalization. I thought of my life as a collection of cocktail anecdotes, pithy and pointed, and there solely to impress some schlub into the sack. This curious lack of detail confounds my lovers sometimes, as I spend a large amount of time brooding. This leads them to think I can hone in on a specific moment of crisis, but they’re saddened to realize that I am more concerned with the why and not the what or who. Whats and whos are forgettable; the whys cut deep.
As a teen, I was fascinated by the list of all the one-night stands that Janeane Garofalo keeps in Reality Bites. I found the idea beautiful: a neat, orderly line of partners, like beading a necklace, an art installation for humanity. Years later, reading The Secret Historian, I wondered why I never had a filing cabinet filled with pubes taped to neat cards, dated and described with the provenance of their penis.
Trouble is, I can’t even keep a journal regularly. My diary has exactly four entries ranging over three decades, thematically united only by my hatred of my double chin. My bookshelves are organized by what “feels right,” genre and author be damned.
At 19, in the doctor’s office for my first HIV test, an earnest nurse asked how many sexual partners I’d had up to that point. My blood flushed with ice water. I had forgotten my homework. I never bought that notebook, nor started the list, nor even asked most of their names. I didn’t want to ask their names. Names lead to feelings — and feelings I wasn’t ready to handle. “Thirty?” I mumbled, but then, as now, I was confused as to what really constituted a dyed-in-the-wool sexual partner. Surely, not all are created equally?
Fifteen years later, in an emergency room triage evaluation, another nurse asked the same question. With three T-cells to my name, I was exhausted enough to admit, “Over a thousand.” She looked horrified, but thankfully, a male orderly behind her started to laugh. “Look,” I said. “I don’t know what you want me to count, but considering the randos, the playrooms, the gyms, the rest stops, the glory holes, the johns, the boyfriends, the adult bookstores, the orgies, the parties, and the National Parks, about 1,000 dicks have wagged in my general direction.” The fucked-up part I didn’t mention was that I thought I was getting much less than my more-popular friends.
I survived that day and many worse days. Last year, I had to face the fact that my meth addiction wasn’t as hidden as I thought, so I checked into rehab and I’m working my way through steps. I’m in the middle of my Fourth Step, and my homework is now due. Traditionally, the Fourth Step requires you to list your resentments, fears, people you have harmed, and most tellingly, your sexual history. It’s an audit from your soul’s Internal Revenue Service, and I can’t find all of my receipts.
I spoke with my sponsor, who has let me know that we are looking at patterns of behavior, and the details that I am struck by don’t matter as much as the overall issues that I need to face. Which is fine, but as someone who never slut-shamed himself before, I’m galled the faces were so easily left behind. Was I as meaningless to them as they were to me? Is that what liberation has brought us? It’s telling that as we move toward acceptance, our sexual expression has broken our individuality down to parts and pieces.
A big cock. A tight asshole. A soul?
I clumped experiences into rough categories that helped organize my thoughts. This gave a cheery, Little League-leaderboard feeling to my kinks: the Glory Holes versus the Homeless Street Trade. Amazingly, major relationships didn’t march themselves immediately to the front. A 10-year relationship found itself on the fourth page, surrounded by Uber Drivers and Truck Stops. I wanted to create a floor plan of my sexual history, a wedding reception where the tattooed ex who punched me in the face sat next to the hairy-chested Junior High teacher I jerked off to. I’m looking forward to the Fifth Step, where I get to spill my soul to my sponsor. I am able now to see the patterns; they show up stark next to my gaslighting.