It’s Saturday night and you’re headed to a play party. You’re dressed in non-descript clothes, the type of thing you can wear in public, but there’s likely a layer underneath that you’ve prepared to strip down to. Or you have a bag slung over your shoulder with a change of clothes ready to go. You get on the subway, the train, into a taxi, or a car and head out.
And then you arrive…
Standard expectations include a dance floor, a space to fuck, perhaps some specialized equipment. There’s probably a St. Andrews Cross; there might be a swing, and a designated place for safer sex supplies. Atmosphere-wise, low light, maybe some LEDs, perhaps a fog machine. People in little to no clothing. Cruising. Maybe there’s a bar. Often there is a steep staircase to get into the space itself.
At Transgression, a new New York play party, some of these elements were present. However, it was distinctly different from any other play party I’ve been to. For one, it was held at a barre studio in midtown Manhattan. Given the location, it was smaller than what one might expect, but it was accessible by elevator (a rarity at play parties in New York) and had the funny quirk of bathrooms located down the building hallway.
Once inside, the studio was converted with some fabric. Drapes separated the entryway from the play space. There’s a strict no-shoes policy because of its usual function as a dance studio. It’s a small but intimate space. And while there is delineation between sexual and non-sexual spaces, it distinctly does not feel like a club, a dungeon, or a nightlife space.
The first two hours are social. People get to know each other. There are performers: poets, singers, burlesque dancers that everyone sits to watch. It’s an odd blend between a jam night and a sex party, and everyone can feel the heady expectation hanging in the air. The sex is yet to come…
Once the social hours are over, there is a ‘circle up’. Rather than semi-anonymous cruising, our hosts gather everyone in a circle. We all introduce ourselves, our pronouns, and share something we want to do during the night. There were plenty of people who proclaimed they’d be happy just to meet new people, make out, maybe fuck. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there were plenty of people who said they’d be very happy if the night ended in a huge orgy.
While this style of sharing is extremely unusual for play parties, it was fun to hear what people were into and be able to identify who would be perfect to approach. At the second party, someone offered that they wanted a third to spot and fuck hir friend while the two of them did acrobatics. I immediately grabbed them after, like, yes absolutely, sign me the fuck up.
At other parties, I have entered feeling unwelcome because my body did not read the way people wanted it to.
I’ve had to be prepared for sidelong glances, while just trying to be in a space that should include me. This is a really common problem for trans people at sex parties. You arrive knowing that people have set expectations for who will be there, and it’s often the case that you and all your transness were not expected. Because of this, fewer of us go to play parties, or often have mixed feelings about those that we do go to.
Transgression is, and was, one of the first exclusively T4T parties in New York. Trans, gender non-conforming and gender questioning folks were all welcome, cis people were not. There have only been two parties, the third called off by the arrival of Covid-19.
Being trans at sex parties is a loaded task. You have to navigate both boundaries for the night, your expectations and desires, then also guard your defences in case of transphobes or chasers. So a solely T4T party was a needed relief but it also meant we had a lot of first-timers. People were unsure of how to interact with each other, a bit self-conscious. You could feel this in the air on both nights. Luckily, there were also a few of us who were bold and arrived ready to flirt and fuck. While the nights started slow and tentative, throughout the night people lost more clothes – and more inhibitions.
There were groups of three, four and five getting intimate with each other. Because of the small space, all of these pairings bumped into each other. Everyone’s sex, BDSM, or general intimacy bled into everyone else’s. You could look around the room and see a whole host of different kinds of intimacy being shared. Some people chose to watch, some chose to stay in the after-care area to chat and huddle up while getting to know each other.
The atmosphere was incredible. I didn’t have to worry about my body; I was able to simply enjoy myself, my time, and the presence of those around me.
Still, I had friends who felt less uninhibited than I did. There remained a sense of intimidation at the prospect of cruising among a group of strangers. It did seem the uncertainty of the first party was not as strong during the second. Unfortunately, the third one was cut short, so we’ll never know what could’ve been, especially with the new trauma of the pandemic hanging over our heads.
Transgression sparked a question for me though: how do we cultivate spaces that free our bodies and our minds to experience the full spectrum of what sex can be? Sex parties and play parties provide a group experience that is not the same as sex between partners, or even private group sex. The nature of it being a collective experience with friends and strangers alike theoretically allows us to partake in situations we could not have conceived (or even practically achieved) alone.
Aside from the T4T nature of the party, the rogue way the evenings were designed is what interests me. The attention to accessibility, the dedicated hours to no sexual activity, the time given to trans performers in the early hours, are in many ways unique. This party was a huge experiment in expectations. All of the given expectations from a play party I listed at the very start of the article were turned on their heads at Transgression. Some of these new elements were a bit clunky in execution, but they transformed the idea of what a play party can be. Standard evenings give attendees a sense of grounding but we can still create new spaces. We can create events that test our expectations and give us something new – something that lets us dive in and out of who we are, creatively as well as sexually.