Swimming in a Sea of Bodies

I've long thrilled to the idea of being surrounded by people of all genders in the throes of passion, being able to appreciate them appreciating one another.

A close up of Tina Horn's book cover, reading Kink in purple letters on a black background

Courtesy of Hachette. 

How to choose a favorite sequence from my treasured copy of Madonna’s 1992 Sex book? Within the silver Mylar wrapping, between the sturdy, spiral-bound aluminum covers, naked Madonna rides a bicycle, eats a slice of pizza, grasps her own ass as she stares out a window. The book features flogging, leather, exhibitionism, rough play, bondage, gender bending, and many more dramatization of pleasure. In these infamous photos, Madonna—who was then at the apex of her powers as an international pop star—plays out a whole lot of kinky fantasies and strikes suggestive sexual poses with a whole lot of different kinds of people: men, women, Vanilla Ice.

If I had to choose one scene that has lived rent-free in my own spank bank for decades, it would be the debaucherous black-and-white images of Madonna swimming in a sea of boys, shot in the Gaiety Male Burlesque Theatre in Times Square. In the early 1990s, when this book was being created, the heart of Manhattan was undergoing a mass gentrification. This process, vividly documented by queer critic Samuel R. Delany in Times Square Red, Times Square Blue, transformed the thriving porn theaters and live sex shows of the 1970s to the Disneyfied tourist trap shopping mall it is now. Delany’s book has also long been fantasy fuel for me, the idea of public commercial spaces where sex could be transactional and friendly, where interclass contact was possible in the psychic geography of a civil landscape. Group sex is very much alive and well today, but it mostly happens in private residences, where you’re likely to encounter people you know and the people they know, as opposed to anyone who might have taken the MTA uptown, downtown, across town to Peepland, The New Mature World, or the Victory Theater to jerk off, give head, or watch a larger- than-life dirty movie in a room full of other hot bodies.

In the Gaiety Theatre scenes of Madonna’s Sex, class unsubtly indicates power, with the tops running the fuck dressed in formal wear, slumming it in this seedy nightclub. Madonna is wearing an opulent shimmering ball gown and bright white opera gloves, very much in her Gentlemen Prefer Blondes mode. The gay German character actor Udo Kier puts his spin on a sinister Cabaret-style emcee in a tuxedo, a cigarette holder hanging from his lips. Another pretty boy in a tux, Madonna’s date presumably, foots the bill for the festivities with stacks of cash stuffed in his lapel. These men, including gay porn star Joey Stefano and actual dancers from the club, are interested in two things: one another and Madonna.

The dancers, of whom there appear to be about a dozen, are all fucking hunks, muscular and sleek. It seems like there’s more of them than are actually there, which I have often found to be the case in group sex: once you have thirteen people, you might as well have a hundred people. A few wear satin g-strings, one of which is being pulled down by Kier, revealing a g-string-shaped tan line, but for the most part, they are butt naked except for leather engineer boots. By butt naked, I mean one is dancing with his back fully arched, asshole and balls pointed right at you. I mean uncut cocks swinging under thick bushes. Kier and the other tuxedoed man ride the boys like ponies in front of a shiny metallic curtain, the tawdry stage contrasting with expensive glamour. This is a play within a play, a show for us about a show for, one expects, Madonna. Because isn’t this all, refreshingly, for her, and aren’t we, the book’s audience, an afterthought?                                           

The hunks make out with one another, performatively, but convincingly: none of them look like this is the first time they’ve kissed another man. One bends all the way back, his armpit hair flashing the camera, as another grinds their bare crotches together, looking like he’s going to take a big vampiric bite out of the Adam’s apple of the bent-back boy. The room, I expect, smells of theater mold and the centrifugal force of all those pheromones. The men dance around Madonna, grab her gloved hand to kiss it and place it on their abs, Magic Mike style. Money is visibly being exchanged. Like Cardi B, Madonna takes demonstrative pleasure in tipping sex workers.                                     

Finally, in the scene’s climax, Madonna climbs on top of her date as the rest of the guys lounge, smoke, and watch. The message I’ve always taken from this photo sequence is: this is how many boys it takes to warm Madonna up.       

I’ve carried this fantasy with me ever since I first laid eyes on the Sex book. I thrilled to the idea of being surrounded by people of all genders in the throes of passion, being able to appreciate them appreciating one another, being appreciated in tandem, not having to pretend this is not exactly what we want. So many bodies that it doesn’t matter whose hand that is on you, whose thigh you’re bracing yourself against, whose hot breath is on your neck. And yeah, it takes this many people to warm me up. Nothing short of a dozen that feels like a hundred will do.

Excerpted from Why Are People Into That? by Tina Horn (Hachette Books). 

Tina Horn hosts and produces the long-running kink podcast Why Are People Into That?!. She is also the creator and writer of the sci-fi sex-rebel comic book series SfSx (Safe Sex). Her reporting on sexual subcultures and politics has appeared in Rolling Stone, Playboy, Hazlitt, Glamour, Jezebel and elsewhere; she is the author of two nonfiction books and has contributed to numerous anthologies including the queer horror collection Theater of Terror and We Too: Essays on Sex Work and Survival, which she also co-edited. Tina has lectured on sex worker politics and queer BDSM identities at universities and community centers all over North America, and works as an on-set consultant for theater and television including the dominatrix scenes of Pose. She is a LAMBDA Literary Fellow, an AVN nominee, the recipient of two Feminist Porn Awards, and holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence. Tina is currently working on her first scripts for film and television. TinaHorn.net