A new column about sex in the Mission.
As I left a house party with my friend Antoño and we walked to his bike, he announced: “I have the perfect present for you.” It was “SoMa,” by Kemble Scott — a great read about the demimonde of the neighborhood south of Market Street. It was also a great motivator for finding what the Mission has to offer.
I was expecting to find an intriguing way of experiencing sex in a culture very different from my own. I was drawn by talk of openness and a willingness to explore bodies, desire, pain, personality, an invention or a misconception, without being judged.
That’s how I landed at 21st and Mission Street, at Mission Control, a place I walk by all the time but had never spotted as the gateway into another world.
Going wasn’t easy, because visitors can’t go alone. Mission Control operates on the PAL system (pervy activity liaison, or pervy alert, as people call it). Basically that means you have to bring a PAL, though the PAL doesn’t necessarily have to be someone you are dating or are even friends with. The PAL must, however, be someone you trust to understand that pervy shenanigans that make others uncomfortable are unwelcome.
You can join the alliance at any time, for free — and you have to, since membership is required to get into the sex club … or, er, your favorite place to get friendly at.
The parties at Mission Control have a theme and an objective. The theme varies, but the objective — sex — is always the same one way or another. Some ways I knew, some ways I didn’t. Other ways surprised me.
When my PAL and I walk up to 21st and Mission, it’s unclear which door to buzz. Then we see people dressed like us, in leather outfits and black boots. We follow them to the black iron door on Mission Street. Behind it is another door with a hint of light pink, and behind that door a gatekeeper dressed in black asks if we know the password. We do, and the door opens wide.
“Welcome. Please enjoy yourself and walk up the stairs.” Upstairs, I feel like I’m at a house party, but with more adult-looking guests and rooms that appear to be for different purposes.
No alcohol is served, and although you can bring your own, no one appears to be drinking too much. I sense Mission Control’s customers would rather spend money on costumes and prophylactics than booze.
The bigger room has about 25 people and is full of cozy couches and big beds. A show starts. In front, a handsome, boyish-looking girl winds a rope around her arms and legs. Someone helps her up into a suspended cocoon of red stockings, which she stretches out and tangles herself in.
Inside the cocoon, she wrestles with her rope and rips her clothes off in a very BDSM-istic way, letting her skin turn red until the fabric breaks loose.
When she’s naked, she rips the stocking-like fabric of the cocoon as well. A few minutes later the performance is over, but the room has clearly heated up.
Men start to bundle their own PALS or lovers off to two roped areas. Others are showing a submissive response to their partners in power. I turn my head when I hear a girl moan very loudly, almost as if she were screaming. Then I hear the sound of her partner spanking her bottom. She looks like she’s in pain, but her face dissolves into a half-smile as her partner tells her she will get some more of that.
I realize I don’t know where my PAL is. As I walk up the short hallway, away from the spanking and the roping, a couple stops me and says hello. I nod and shyly say hi. I ask if they’ve been here before. It turns out that it’s their first time as well. They’re from out of town and are on a tour of sex clubs. It seems like an interesting road trip, so I engage in some conversation.
As we talk, the man starts to fondle his partner’s butt. I don’t notice until his partner’s face starts to cringe and she lets out an involuntary moan. Woah, I think. Where did all this desire come from? There are other rooms in the back, they say. Do I want to go with them? Instead I feel a pressing need to find my PAL or have a cigarette.
I need to think more about this experience, I explain to the couple. They nod, then engage in a huge french kiss in front of me. Not wanting to be rude, I stay and watch — after all, they had been nice. As the kiss ends, I excuse myself and head toward the bathroom. Really, I think. You thought it would be rude to leave? Yes, the rules of etiquette change at places like this.
People here are not afraid to look at you or your body, and they take great care to make you feel comfortable in joining them. Or perhaps this great care is rooted in building up a denial of desire — so said the man who later approached me.
I decide to enter one of the back rooms, where I sit on a couch and look over my shoulder. I wonder how many here are regulars.
I spot a couple to my left making out heavily. I try not to look because I don’t want to make them uncomfortable. But then I remind myself that manners are different in this place. So I look again. One of them smiles at me, but I don’t smile back. I now know what a smile means, so I direct my stare to their hands.
I can’t stop thinking about a documentary I saw on Gustave Klimt and his painting “The Kiss.” I think about the metaphor of the painting and the penis, and then I think of Freud, and then I remind myself of where I am and what I am looking at. There is no gold leaf covering anything that looks like a masterpiece here.
I turn my head to discover someone coming toward me, and desperately look away. I want to leave, but before I do, he sits next to me and rests his hand on my leg. I look at his hand. He removes it and puts both hands up as if I am an arresting officer. Instead of fear in his eyes, however, there is horniness. You are a strong one, he says. I like that. I love that. I love dominant women. Hmm.
Tie me up, deny me, tell me I am your bad boy and I will be. My smile tries to figure out what he’s saying, but I shake my head and say no in a low voice. “You can deduct your loss off my win,” he says, smiling. But then who would be in denial?
“Behind this nakedness there is a Humphrey Bogart waiting for you. We won’t have Paris, but we will still have Mission Control — are you in?”