In Fayetteville, North Carolina, a Grindr Quest Leads to Empowerment
From Issue 4: Journeys
Text by Matthew Karkutt
Photo by Esteban Castillo
In Mean Girls, Ms. Norberry (played by Tina Fey) leads an assembly of women and one gay man in a group therapy session to work through the gal-on-gal demonry masterminded by Regina George. Asking the assembly to close their eyes, Ms. Norberry coaxes the crowd into shared confession by having folks anonymously raise their hands if they’ve ever been the objects of rumor, or started rumors about others themselves. New alliances take shape as a result of the intervention and the results are cathartic.
I’d like to take liberty here to play Dame Tina and address a sizeable elephant in the Grindr room. Many of us think about the patriarch in our gay animal kingdom but don’t necessarily vocalize the gent until the point of climax. See, I want to talk about Daddies.
What makes this Grindr tribe tick? Chasers too? Ancient Greek scholars and semi-retired Freud analysts might ask, what inverted Oedipal rage calls one’s fingers to one’s phone to filter by tribe, seeking out these paragons of imaginary masculinity? Why am I attracted to the jeans-wearing, fanny pack–encircled, New Balance–sporting, Mickey Mouse sweatshirt–wearing, fur-donning doms? Why, when in my hometown’s grocery store, do I turn the corner around the Ragú display and see the man whose dick was in my mouth the night prior—with his wife and kids? Why?
I’m proud of my sex life, like we all should be, but on one particular afternoon in Fayetteville, North Carolina, I’m not my proudest. I’m lonely and looking for an orgasm not made by my own hand and a computer screen, something I’ve deprived myself of for months after quitting my job as a rare-book librarian and moving home to live with my mother. I’m twenty-six, “expired in gay time,” as my friend Josh reminds me daily, and working at a car dealership. Depression can be really pretty.
It’s midday, and I’ve just spent my morning wearing a headset and pretending to be Phyllis, “a chain-smokin’ deviant.” I pray to the tech gods that I’ll find someone who’s also looking for connection. A “discreet” man who claims his name is Mark (love a good Disciple! Catholic and not proud!) and I start to chat.
It’s pretty routine. Photographs are exchanged. First, the highly curated faces. Great Insta filter work. Good angles. Nice dental hygiene. Beautiful gingiva. We’re so happy and fierce in these exchanges. Then the torso. I intervene here in the schedule and show off a dancer’s leg. His torso has avoided manscaping for a bit. Enjoyable.
While most people agree that now is the time for the coveted dick pic (heathens, they are, who will neither escape Judgment nor the Lord’s Wrath), I like to turn at the fork in the wood and ask a gentleman for his astrological sign. I’m a Taurus, Mark is a Scorpio (wink emoji). Now can we exchange images of our monstrously impressive cocks and asses. #halftruth
We reveal that there’s a problem of hosting. Isn’t there always? There’s obviously not room on the couch with Mom and Dad because our Labrador retriever takes up too much space. Mark admits that he has a partner. (I, the Slytherin in the room, will note that this is usually the case with those men who spell discreet, “discrete.” Mathematicians of deception.) We decide to meet at the Local Super8 to fuck our brains out before returning to real life.
I get home from work, shower, spray some lavender essential oils on my bits, tell my folks I’m going downtown, and board the pilot seat of Camy the Camry. Like any self-respecting gay, I take out my reminder of abstinence—Joni Mitchell’s Blue—and replace her with Carly Rae Jepsen’s Emotion. I repeat: I’m months sex-starved and freaking out. The opening saxophone solo calms my nerves, and I make it to the Super8 in record time.
“What’s the room number?” I message to the mask profile picture on Grindr, praying that the twenty-minute delay of the green dot doesn’t fuck this up. “23,” he responds in record gay time. I go to the wrong area, do a three-point turn in the lot, obviously making a scene for the afternoon staff. Anxiety arrives. I Google “arrest + gay + sex + hotel + North Carolina.” There is a Tumblr for this situation, thank Goddess.
“Okay, okay,” I think, “I’m not getting paid to do this. I’m just a hotel guest visiting. I could be anyone. I don’t have cocaine. Does the concierge have a gun? Concierge, Matthew, at a Super8?”
I roll down the window in a panic and say to a staff member, “Hi, could you direct me to Room 23? I’m just visiting my Uncle Mark!” She is not impressed, and I am deranged.
I make it to room 23, slowly get out of the car and begin the lonely walk to the door. In the moments before buzzing the unknown apartment, entering the stall, or showing up at the address and finding parked out front a Honda Odyssey van with a car seat inside, I always have a moment of panic and think, This could be it. This person could totally kill me. I could walk in and Buffalo Bill or the Craigslist Killer could be there, ready to collect my polluted liver and sew a quilt. And then I say, Oh, fuck it. On this North Carolina evening (zoom in on HB2) it would be gorgeously poetic to die. Take me Old North State! You haven’t won!
I knock. The door opens.
A stag film lead appears at the door.
“Hey, boy,” he says.
Inner monologue: Commit to character.
There in the dingy lampshade light is a bottle of merlot, a quarter wheel of cheese, and, yes, a single sleeve of Ritz crackers.
What romantic soul have the Grindr gods provided me with? Was I a golden retriever in a past life, earning infinite karma points to be met in my present melancholia with such sweetness, sincerity, and tender attention? Are the Ritz crackers a little tacky?
Hour one. Body parts are explored. Statements are made. Star Wars is referenced. I begin speaking Elvish, which in my own sex language translates to, Damn, this is good.
Hour two. My ballet training comes in handy. I’m a pretzel in first, fourth, and fifth positions. He’s a cardio genius. We are both Niagara Falls sweat pools, and it’s so nasty it’s right.
Hour three. I’m really tired. When are we going to finish? I want a glass of wine and some cheese. I really can’t stand another minute of Warrior Two anal anymore.
“Daddy, want to cum?”
“Are you sure, boy?”
(Dear God, my mother is going to see my penguin waddle later and know exactly what happened today.)
And here we arrive at the rising action of this gay fable.
He exits from entry, walks over to the picnic and grabs the sleeve of Ritz crackers.
Okay. I’ve done some really fucked up shit in my life, God, but I am not, I repeat, not letting this stranger shove a sleeve of Ritz crackers up my ass….Or am I?
The gentleman opens the sleeve. He looks at me tenderly. Then he puts a Ritz in my mouth. I accept it. I laugh out loud thinking, “Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned.” He offers another. I accept. Another. I accept.
“I love Ritz crackers, Daddy.”
He says, “Now tell Daddy how much you love Ritz crackers.”
I look at him earnestly, fighting back every laugh I’ve ever had and say with heart and truth and utmost Hallmark card sincerity:
“I love Ritz crackers, Daddy.”
Three strokes of the hand and he blows. There’s a lot of moaning, a lot of awkward towel work, and finally the bottle of wine is opened.
I never saw the stag again after our encounter. All the men in my life tend to disappear—“the slow fade,” my seer of a sister says. Cig drag.
However, our stag sex reminds me of a line from Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, which is said in opulence by a somewhat twisted Angel: “The body is the garden of the soul.” In today’s digital moment, I think that means tending to the eggplant emoji and to the peach, even when the news’ messages are divisive and hurtful, an iPhone screen full of knives and bombs and a single pothole.
A Ritz crackers fetish, an atypical desire but a desire nonetheless, was the truth that made this man feel good and real. And somehow along the way he made me feel good and real, too. From a southern state that is consistently redefining its political ghosts and monsters, I continue to find that connecting sexually (or asexually, if that’s your thing) is actually the root—the Ritz—of a sexual political resistance. Writing letters to Senators is resistance; making five phone calls a day is resistance; marching; making the queerest (wittiest) signs; crying; being held; taking care of yourself and making sure to recharge your batteries when the world is cold and you feel without a charger at another gay bar. The outlet that I needed was in a hotel off Interstate 95.
As we navigate this frightening political moment, I hope that we honor our desires while we respect the desires of others. Simply, I hope we say in our most intimate moments, Le melin, which is “I love you” in one dialect of Elvish, or in my case, Le melin, y’all. The more fucked up the conjugation, the closer I tend to get to the truth.
At a bodega in Brooklyn a few nights ago I was surprised to find that Ritz now produces
a 100% whole-wheat cracker. Over a year removed from my last Ritz communion, I snacked through the sleeve on my way to a rally for the trans community. I felt my arteries lighten, even with my blood pressure elevating in rage. A journey, in my experience, always comes full circle. ///