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Queer Coronasutra, or, How to have promiscuity in a Pandemic

By Eng-Beng Lim for Bunker Bloggers

“We are able to invent safe sex because we have always known that sex is not, in an epidemic or not, limited to penetrative sex. Our promiscuity taught us many things, not only about the pleasures of sex, but also the great multiplicity of those pleasures.” — Douglas Crimp, “How to have promiscuity in an epidemic.”

“I want you, I don’t want anybody else, I want to think about you, I touch myself, oh, oh oh…” — Divinyls, “I Touch Myself” 

Hear ye, hear ye! The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has spoken about sex, and specifically how to have safe sex in the plague aka the sexpocalypse. The list though is incomplete so coronaqueers have to get to werk. Basically, the coprophiliac community is screwed as ass-eating is now an official prohibition – the “virus in feces may enter your mouth,” the tip sheet helpfully notes. “You are your safest sex partner,” it continues, have sex with “a small circle of people” near you, and consider other mediated connections, such as “video dates, sexting or chat rooms. Who would have thought that the classic female masturbation song “I Touch Myself” by Divinyls would become the NYC Health anthem thirty years later!

Hear ye, hear ye! The NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene has spoken about sex, and specifically how to have safe sex in the plague aka the sexpocalypse. The list though is incomplete so coronaqueers have to get to werk. Basically, the coprophiliac community is screwed as ass-eating is now an official prohibition – the “virus in feces may enter your mouth,” the tip sheet helpfully notes. “You are your safest sex partner,” it continues, have sex with “a small circle of people” near you, and consider other mediated connections, such as “video dates, sexting or chat rooms. Who would have thought that the classic female masturbation love song, “I Touch Myself” by Divinyls would become NYC Health’s anthem thirty years later. 

The impending sexpocalypse in an age of contagion has also produced a line of hetero-coronasutra that is all abuzz on social media; its only risk, initiads swear, is mixing hand sanitizer for KY jelly (ouch!) Queer corononasutra, in contrast, serves some crucial alternatives like the “autos chocadores” featuring bump to bump scissoring (with or without dildo) that transplants lesbian intimacies into everyday use, affirming once again the universal “Quarantine Pro Tip: Get Yourself A Lesbian.”

If these do not go far enough in their inadvertent reinstation of the boring couple form, and by extension the private nuclear family unit that Sophie Lewis has so eloquently critiqued as the questionable base for our national “sheltering in place”, we must push further to think in terms of the queer promiscuities that Douglas Crimp proffered in his influential essay, “How to have promiscuity in an epidemic.” The rousing critique Crimp levels against the gay virtue-signaling heroism of Larry Kramer and Randy Shilts is a turn away from their moral binaries and bourgeois self-genuflection that are arguably precursors to today’s idealized homonormative values. Rather, he points toward the explicit pleasures of being with and being in alloerotic communities that are protective of each other and “our promiscuous love of sex” in no fixed form. Like Crimp, I believe that aesthetics makes all the difference in the way that collective promiscuities may spread and flow in the queer body politic beyond institutionalized frames. 

Queer artists can teach us so much about survival with durational intimacies, critical infidelities, and relational transience. It behooves us to be in their bad company of care rather than to stay in the purportedly good places that could care less about queers of color. The crowd favorites in my circle of friends include Pearl Harbor-Wo Chan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, Tommy Pico, My Barbarian, Dynasty Handbag-Jibz Cameron, Laura Aguilar, Nao Bustamante, Alex Chee, Rashad Newsome, Brontex Purnell, Maurice Harris, Jeremy O.Harris, Xandra Ibarra, Viet Le, Ming Wong, Vaginal Davis, Jacolby Satterwhite, Justin Vivian Bond, Justin Chin, Mark Aguhar, Jesus Valles, Victor I Cares, Jorge Cortiñas, Jeffrey Gibson, Stacyann Chin, Carmelita Tropicana, Rahne Alexander, Dorian Katz, CA Conrad, Patty Chang, Tina Takemoto, Young Joon Kwak, Chris Vargas, Annie Sprinkle, Alok Vaid-Menon, Janelle Monae, and Mykki Blanco.

Let’s get screwed!

I, for one, would like to linger longer in their worlds to cruise utopia with like-minded strangers, and “fight for someone you don’t know.” Meanwhile, as jarring as it is to have to return to my Brooklyn shelter-in-place, let us take a closer look at NYC Health’s sex tip sheet for its horny, stir crazy denizens, particularly the dicta to basically fuck yourself, fuck your roommate, and fuck in “a small circle.”

If it seems like that the planetary logics of Grindr, the euphemistically named “gay dating app,” have taken a hold on the gentle bureaucratic pronouncement to touch yourself after washing and “have sex with people close to you,” “someone you live with,” coronaqueers need to sound the alarm with petrified jazz hands (a theatrical gesture to signal faux catharsis). Grindr’s inclusive racism and sissyphobia are notorious as its users routinely use preference as a cover for normalizing macho white desire. The app is “inclusive” insofar as everyone is welcome until the bigot’s private preference (or fear) is privileged as a choice. Surely we are not going to promote the douchebagsofgrindr.com as exemplary behavior for all regardless of the times. The tasteless progression from “masc4masc” to “mask4mask,” and “not into blk, asian or fem guys” to “coronaNeg4coronaNeg” is proof that sex itself won’t be the great leveler that was once imagined in the mythos of gay liberation. Certainly not if Grindr has its way.

Suppose we take the queer temporality of Grindr and its factory of desire as usable virtues. As we all know, the app is infamous for GPS distance tracking of potential tricks, which can include someone as close as O feet away (yourself, and that’s now very relevant) for instant gratification. P.S. Go fuck yourself, Grindr, xoxo. So apart from the self, who or what can possibly be the next best thing near you? For more than half of New York City’s population who are singles, this can plausibly be your roommate, pet, plant or that throuple you’ve coveted for months living next door. Hell, singles or otherwise, why not things in the kitchen, snack bar, and fridge? And just how many times have you heard from that guy on Grindr who wants to get it on with you and your imaginary roommate? These are now all fair game in the city department’s call for sex proximate opportunism, hazmat suit optional. Besides, how can one not be horny from the tip sheet’s perversely disciplinary and yet permissive, queer-blind do-goodness?  It goes without saying the inevitable “queering of the quarantine” will do best for anyone and anything ready for horny sexperiments as long as they are, as per the guideline, kept within “the small circle,” giving new meaning to familiar or familial circle jerk. 

The integration of Grindr and NYC Health, however facetious, is more of an administrative match than an oddity. A cold logic undergirds their sexual efficiencies and shorthands. The world I want to imagine otherwise goes beyond their reach and grasp. Call it queer coronasutra, call it what you will, it will never settle as a thing. It changes, re-positions and proliferates.

Unnatural fantasy, promiscuous relationality and grassroots organizing through sexual expression are just some of the ways in which queer coronasutra comes to play as a set of productive, perverse positionalities, and as safe, improvisatory pipe dreams for dismantling colonial and capitalist toxicities in the pandemic. Importantly, for the autoerotic, voyeur, crurophiliac, chaturbatory, and asexual communities, there is never a better time to come out from the shadow of couple penetrative hegemony. It’s your time to shine, to tell the world about the myriad arousals available for orgasmic and non-orgasmic ends in all manner of sexual pleasures. As the talisqueer of titillation, your practice will now save lives! And if it takes a global pandemic to bring down compulsory heterosexuality and heinous homonormativity, all is not lost quite yet. Who says queers are useless in the pandemic? Coronaqueering, activate!

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