Digging into the roots of the JO club phenomenon, I should not be surprised to find myself stepping squarely into the Meat Market of New York, years after its disappearance.
I have been to New York City exactly once, spent a handful of days seeing my husband’s play get its off-off-Broadway debut. That was in the very-late 20th Century when our partnership was still sexually exclusive. I was far too excited about his show to be thinking about the lost fantasies of my youth—visions of urban men cruising and tricking publicly in seedy, seething neighborhoods—so I passed through New York with little more impact than making a connecting flight at LGA.
But today, as I research my book, every tiny detail leads me through the tenuous fragments of our collective history and the intense cultural phenomenon that was the Meat Market. I was a disco twink in the late ‘70s, dropping acid and partying after hours in my Central Illinois enclave of distant homo debauch in college. I read Honcho and Mandate and dreamed of going to where the real action was, where I could dig into the mansex I devoured surreptitiously from the midst of the corn and soybean fields.
At 17 and 18, I was learning not to fall in love from JB, my first crush with the emotionally sadistic side, and at 19, I was making regular trips into Chicago to visit Man’s Country, my first bathhouse. I was, at that point, not interested in “wasting my time” at bars. At 19, I could legally go to a bathhouse but I could not get into a gay bar anyway. I just wanted to start putting my penis everywhere I could and taking every strange cock I could find into my mouth and my ass. In this way, I did experience the echoes of the Meat Market, the actual culture and network of open, anonymous and semi-public sexual adventure exploding among the gay men of that decade.
But I never went to the Gold Coast, Chicago’s venerable leather bar, nor did I ever want to go to the Hellfire Club, the secret society of the City’s leather and SM culture. It didn’t appeal to me, although the artwork of Tom of Finland was incredible and intriguing, I was not into “the rough stuff” so I stuck to Man’s Country and later, The Bistro, Broadway Limited and other discos I could finally play in when I hit 21 in 1981.
But in 1981, the party was in its final act as HIV began to invade our common psyche and AIDS began to kill us. We denied vehemently the pronouncements of “God’s vengeance” laid upon us by the moralizers without and within the disparate gay communities and those who had always condemned us, and we kept partying for a couple of years but it was like the twitching and ejaculating of the hanged man whose body denies its end. The party was over and we simply were not ready to leave.
In New York City, where the revolution really began on the night Judy died and drag queens fought back, the culture was deeper, darker and in many ways, more mature than its emanations across the country and around the world, and from the hardcore world of the Mineshaft, J’s Hideaway and really from the whole belly of the beast, came something different and strangely both wholly new and primordial: groups of masturbating men.
In some ways, it makes perfect sense. This massive buffet of sexual and social experimentation was spread out before us and we had an opportunity to taste everything, or to at least imagine everything, and we naturally began coming back to those experiences that appealed most to each of us, that best fit our taste.
The Jacks were the guys who had a taste for the very casual, very self-possessed and very fraternal experience of mutual masturbation, of sharing the very personal with trusted, if not all that familiar, friends. In many ways, they were the most authentic Jacks that would ever be because they had had ample opportunity to try everything they pleased, but returned by choice to this one section of the buffet to taste over and over that which satisfied them most: sharing masturbation…
More to come. Please feel free to share your own memories, personal experience, comments and photos in the comments section.
I log in to tumblr and go to my blog. In the top right corner, I click “Customize” and on the customize page, I look under the “Appearance” menu and scroll down to select “Show Twitter Headline” and “Show Twitter Sidebar.” It may not be an available option in all themes.
I’m having a hell of a time getting the real story of how the New York Jacks formed—their origin story; their Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider moment—and I will need that piece of modern mythology for my book.
I will get that story, or whatever version exists in the folk memory of the NY Jacks. In the meantime, in case anybody ever wants to know, here is a very truncated version of Rain City Jacks’ origin story…
I’ve fantasized about beating off with other males ever since I can remember learning that masturbation existed. In the 1970s, I read articles in Honcho and Mandate magazines about “JO clubs” where large numbers of men would convene to masturbate themselves and each other. Learning about their existence galvanized my imagination from that point on. I wanted this badly.
From college through my twenties, I continued only to fantasize about mutual JO and instead pursued the more mainstream gay sex repertoire of sucking, fucking and anonymous encounters in dangerous places. These behaviors were the cultural norm for many sexually active gay men like me.
Within days of moving to Chicago in 1990, I had found my first Jack Off club, Chicago Jacks, via a personal ad in the Weekly Reader. After jumping through a few convoluted hoops I found myself walking through a dark street in the just blooming Wicker Park neighborhood toward the home of Chicago Jacks.
My experience there is documented elsewhere but the crucial elements are that I realized my fantasy for the first time and loved it, and the details of that club were etched sharply in my memory. The paper towels, lockers, little cups of lube, the flow of people from playmate to playmate, the newcomer on his knees being chastised by other members for violating the rules… All these aspects etched in my mind. On subsequent visits I began to recognize familiar faces and make friends. I loved that club.
And less than a year later, I met the man who would become my partner. We agreed with mutual enthusiasm to be sexually exclusive, mimicking the “monogamous” model and that was how it went for over nine years.
Shortly before our tenth anniversary, we decided to open our relationship (yes there was a lot more to it than simply making a decision, but I’ll save that for another time). So here I was, now in my early 40s and suddenly free to explore, but not interested in any new romantic relationships. I did not and do not need a replacement for my husband, so dating is out.
Likewise, I had no interest in risking my life or my husbands and part of our agreement was to always play safe and specifically save fucking for each other (all open relationships have their own rules).
So naturally, I found myself looking for a jack off club, precisely the kind of intense sexual play I was looking for, without romantic entanglements and virtually free of risk for STD. It also helped that it was my long-time personal kink, one that I had eschewed a decade before.
But here I was in Seattle, Washington, far from any JO club.
Then one night, while cruising for JO buddies on the net, I encountered a Yahoo group, seattlejackers. I signed up in seconds and began contacting their leader to find out all I could about the group, if they actually did meet or just cammed and chatted and wished they could get up the nerve to do what they fantasized about…
Seattle Jackers was real. Their leader, “Max” (pseudonym) would get a hotel room and invite guys from the Yahoo up to masturbate together. It seemed perfect to me, although I didn’t much like the sneaking around required to convene in a hotel room, and something more disturbing showed up during my second gathering of the Jackers: oral sex…