Brendan Healy’s postscripts for PIG

Brendan’s head has been living inside the world of Tim Luscombe’s PIG for many months and more. What follows are some of his personal reactions to the process and a collection of thoughts and memories that have occurred to him in the week since the show opened on September 19.


When I was a baby gay back in the early 2000’s, I moved to New York City ostensibly to “find myself”. This basically consisted of seeing as much art as I could and fucking as many people as I could. I was a bit of a late bloomer and had never really hit a rebellious streak until my early 20’s. So, for my NYC days, I had decided that I was going to look like rough trade: I had a red Mohawk, I would wear a tight jean jacket without a shirt and jeans ripped at the crotch – no underwear, obviously. My body was tight. Not as muscular as I am now but very tight. Sure, the costuming was a lie but it was a lie that I was working really hard to make real. And I felt hot.

One Sunday afternoon, I found myself at the infamous club The Manhole over on 14th Street in the Meatpacking District. The Manhole had long been a nexus for BDSM culture in New York. It’s now closed. Of course. I was desperate to check the place out and, when I discovered that there was a monthly a group jerk off party organized by the New York City Jacks occuring there, I jumped on the opportunity to go. A jerk off party seemed less intimidating than their other events.

Meatpacking-District-NYC-Gregoire-Alessandrini-1990s-Vintage-Photos-21The club was located in the basement of a turn-of-the-century building. I checked my clothes at the door and walked in. The space was bigger and had a more intense vibe than the few other sex clubs that I had visited but it was not totally unfamiliar. There seems to be a specific dark, industrial and labyrinthine quality to all sex clubs and this club certainly fit the standard. Although this was supposed to be a jack off party, the first thing I saw was a guy getting fisted in a sling right next to the entrance. He was making sounds like I had never heard before and I can still remember a skinny old queen in sunglasses shouting in a thick Bronx accent: “Girl is having a baby! She’s having a baby!” over his moans.

I found my way over to the bar to get my bearings and the bartender took a liking to me. He was a big guy – much bigger than me– and he had a kind over-the-top hyper-masculine swagger about him. He was in his mid-30s. Rugged. He was missing a front tooth. He embodied what the French call the “joli-laid”: beautifully ugly. I thought he was perfect.

He bought me my beer and offered to take me on a private tour of the club. I followed him through the maze, weaving our way through bodies and cocks, occasionally stopping to be groped or sucked or kissed. As we proceeded on his tour, I could feel that he was leading me to somewhere specific. I could tell that there was a plan afoot, but I was okay with it. I thought: “this will be the story of the time I fucked a bartender at The Manhole.

At times, it felt like we were going downstairs but I really couldn’t tell. These clubs are so good at screwing with your sense of space; quite quickly you feel like you are nowhere. And you are grateful for that feeling. Somehow, the confusion around where you are in space makes the sex feel more special. We eventually ended up in an empty dim room. He closed the metal door. The floor was made up of dirt, the walls were bare brick. There was nothing else besides the two of us and a single light bulb hanging from the ceiling. The bartender looked at me in the eye. He said: “this is our fight club”. And, in one of those glorious moments of hyperreality, the room that felt so confusing and strange suddenly looked exactly like something out of Fight Club. The movie reference made me feel a little safer. Something that looked like a blood stain emerged from the dirty floor. The bartender removed his jock – his cock was appropriately magnificent – and he asked me to punch him in the face.

When I share my Manhole story, this is usually where it ends. I laugh and smile in that “isn’t New York just CRAZY” kind of way, implying that I came to my senses and returned to the normal world, relieved to have found myself back in the light after such a dark encounter. The story that I rarely tell people is that I did, in fact, hit him. A few times actually. The story that I rarely tell myself is that I let him hit me.
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Freud theorized that there is a duality to human nature that emerges from two basic instincts: Eros and Thanatos. He saw in Eros the instinct for life, love and sexuality. In Thanatos, he saw the instinct for death, aggression and violence. Eros is the drive toward attraction, creation and reproduction; Thanatos toward repulsion, destruction and death. The light. The dark. The interesting thing about these impulses, Freud suggests, is that they cannot exist in isolation from one another. In fact, Eros and Thanatos are intimate bedfellows that feed and encourage one another. Inside every erotic impulse, there is a destructive force. Inside every destructive impulse, there is an erotic force. This is the paradox of human nature.
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Faggot-Til-i-DieOver the course of my life as a gay man, I have embodied various attitudes and positions in relationship to sex. I have been the guy in the monogamous relationship trying to live a normative/romantic relationship, caught in cycles of shame around my sexual desires outside of the couple. I have been the sexually-liberated/sex-positive slut who has proudly flaunted his overt sexuality. I have engaged in safer sex, risky sex, porn sex, romantic sex, group sex, anonymous sex, public sex, online sex, phone sex, rough sex, vanilla sex, taboo sex – you get the idea. I’ve gone to various extremes and nothing has quite fit me. My sexuality has remained mysterious, bottomless, chaotic and essentially unknown to me. Often, my sexuality has brought me excitement and joy. And, sometimes, it has frightened me.

In an earlier blog post here, Sky Gilbert beautifully articulated a case for sexual liberation based on a pursuit of pleasure. He reminds us of an “important radical hippie idea” which was “the notion that pleasure is always a good thing — and physical pleasure (especially) is a positive value to be pursued for its own sake.” I was raised with this ethos. As my father reassuringly told me when he realized that I had discovered how to masturbate: “If it feels good, then do it.”

The politic behind this position is that good things will come from this welcoming of pleasure in our lives. These good things will include compassion for others, egalitarianism, self-love, respect and tolerance. The evil in the world, according to this politic, is the result of autocratic and hegemonic cultural and political forces that seek to control us by pushing us away from our authentic pleasure centres and replacing them with shame, envy and hatred. Society perverts our nature, says the hippy, by taking us away from our pleasure.

I would like to believe that this is true – that one of the ways to create a more just society is to allow for the unfettered pursuit of consensual pleasure. And yet, I believe that my nature is not entirely life positive. In fact, I know that my nature is also to be destructive. I take pleasure in being destructive as much as I take pleasure in being creative. My work as a human being is to somehow negotiate and survive these opposing forces as long as I can.
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We live in a culture obsessed with health. Physical health. Mental health. Emotional health. Health is a moral value. Your unhealth is a sign of some kind of personal moral failure: you did not take care of yourself, you did not eat the right things, you did not think the right things, you did not do the right things, you did not surround yourself with the right things. A few years ago, I lived through testicular cancer. You can’t imagine the shit that I had to listen to from people trying to attribute my cancer to some kind of failure – I didn’t eat organic food because I didn’t care about myself enough, I kept my phone too close to my balls because I was too careless about warnings around radiation, I bottled up my emotions because I never learned how to properly assert myself, etc.  – whereas the truth is that doctors suspected that I got the tumor from being an avid cyclist. The repeated friction of the bike seat on my left nut being the real culprit.

Gay male culture is particularly prone to this social obsession with health. We work out to look healthy. We must prove to society that our relationships are healthy. We need to fuck in a healthy way. We need to have healthy self-esteem and love ourselves and always be proud.

But I am not always healthy. I don’t always feel healthy. I don’t always think healthy. I don’t always behave healthy. I resent the pressure to be healthy. I feel controlled by the pressure to be healthy. I can’t conform to the social and moral value of “healthy”. My body and my nature simply won’t let me. I get cancer. I hit and get hit in the basements of sex clubs. I make choices and choices get made for me that are quote unquote unhealthy.
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As the artistic director of a queer theatre, I often struggle with the question of representation. By this I mean that I feel a tremendous responsibility (and pressure) to represent queer culture in a light that furthers our position in society. This often means celebrating the positive aspects of our culture – our joy, our resilience, our diversity, our strength, our tenacity, our creativity, our positivity. These are aspects of our community that I love. These are aspects of my personality that I like to think I possess. However, as a human being, I also struggle with darkness, sadness, violence, anger, aloneness and fear. These emotions often are at odds with the light that I feel I need to bring to the world. I sometimes wish to destroy things. To ruin things. To upset things. To fail massively. To fuck up royally. To be bad. To be hated. Because that’s what I deserve. Where can I put those emotions? As a leader in the queer community, where do those feelings belong? Can a leader also be a masochist?
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Emblem-Bondage“Synchronicity at work: this last week I was talking with some of my guys about sex and queer identity, how refraction is at play in our making of ourselves.  Pony and I spent some time photographing a local whore.  At one point I said to Pony “Go ahead” and, knowing exactly what I meant, Pony put his hand around the whore’s throat and squeezed.  I said “Tighter” and Pony’s hand tightened.

I was in between the whore’s legs and my cock was getting hard—as was Pony’s. I said to the whore “I don’t think we’re going to kill you,” and he said “That’s ok.”

Later I talked with the guy and asked him to define himself in one word.  “Pleaser.” Pony and I talked about him, mulling over the connection between thanatos and eros, the horrible pleasure of having a man willingly place his life in your hands. When I checked my email there was a note from a fellow in Toronto sending me a link to the production of PIG. “

– Paul Morris, pornographer and producer at Treasure Island Media, the largest bareback porn studio in the US

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I wonder what PIG says about our community. I wonder what PIG says about being alive now. I wonder what PIG says about our future. But mostly, I wonder what PIG says about me.


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The lead image of Brendan Healy was taken by Nina Arsenault, the rest of the images come from tumblr.


Brendan Healy

Brendan Healy is the former Artistic Director of Buddies in Bad Times Theatre. Follow him on twitter @Brendan_Healy

Read all posts by Brendan Healy

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