The ancients had a thing, Greek myth shows us time and again, for having sex with their gods. Since today’s deities are variously elderly and asexual, unkempt on the scale of the chronically homeless, or have been pronounced dead, we moderns have to make do with fucking the famous.
I chose a movie star. If I told you his name, some might quibble with “star.” Perhaps, in terms of his career, he was only an asteroid or a Kuiper Belt object. But as an openly gay actor playing openly gay characters in openly gay movies, he had the heat and radiance in my fantasy life of a supernova. He wasn’t mere celluloid jerk-off fodder, he was a plausibility.
My desire for plausibility was the first indication that I had moved beyond a normal moviegoer’s fantasy life into the shadowy psychic and emotional realm of the starfucker. Not everyone qualifies for entry to this inner demimonde: Your self-esteem can’t rise above the average film actor’s crotch, and on some level you must secretly envy Monica Lewinsky and the late Princess of Wales.
In adolescence I showed signs of being predisposed to starfuck. I was enthralled to learn that my parents had acquaintances who were even marginally famous, even though these supposed stars typically belonged to the dim and dismal constellation of left-wing politics. My mother knew Harvey Milk! My father met Flo Kennedy! I collected autographs, a common and low-grade form of starfucking. An aspiring violinist growing up in San Francisco, I was a fixture of the Davies Symphony Hall green room, where I met visiting virtuosos after their concerts and dropped any name I could think of as they wearily signed my program. To what end?
The crucial premise of starfucking is that a little stardom will rub off. More often than not, nothing rubs off but the disease, the desire that only increases on being satisfied, of being loved by multitudes rather than just one. It’s like nuclear proliferation, that kind of wanting.
I caught up with my screen idol, sleazily enough, in a professional capacity. He was going to be at the local queer film festival promoting his new movie, and his career was just far enough below the radar of the mainstream media that I was able to score an interview without significantly exaggerating my credentials.
In the spastic dance of misfiring neurons that passes for thought in the starfucker’s mind (it more closely resembles religious faith), an interview with a third-rate movie star provided any number of perfectly reasonable escape scenarios from the mundane existence adulthood had foisted upon me. The typical fantasy involved a sexually tense interview followed by passionate sex, then increasingly frequent visits to Los Angeles, introductions at Beverly Hills cocktail parties (or orgies) to well placed friends in the business, a subsequent indiscretion or two with an up-and-coming director, and voila: a dressing room with my name on it in the pantheon.
Too nervous to eat, I spent the final hour before the interview shaving so avidly that I cut my face in a dozen places and left my apartment bleeding, a wet paper towel pressed to my jaw. I had changed in and out of several outfits before settling on one that seemed to say journalist with sloppy sexual ethics: jeans, white t-shirt, black leather boots and motorcycle jacket, generously applied hair gel.
Ten minutes early, I was ushered into the tent behind the Castro Theater, a movie house that looks from the outside like a Mexican Catholic church and serves on the inside as a queer cathedral of star worship. Here, in the tent, I felt the closest approximation of divine revelation a gay secular Jew is probably capable of feeling. Rising from a red, curvy modern sofa, touching me with a lasciviously limp handshake, was the god incarnate, the spirit who could simultaneously manifest himself in houses of worship from Jerusalem to Santa Monica, in the waking and sleeping dreams of devotees around the globe, revealing himself in identical beams of light or similarly directed surges of blood. He was now concentrated (too concentrated — like so many film actors, this one was short) in unique, palpable, smellable, fuckable flesh. Throughout our interview, he ate a sandwich. I envied its entry into his body.
Because I am a compulsive personal archivist who once earned, from a bemused boyfriend, the nickname “Chronicles of Paul,” and because I am a masochist, I kept the tape of our interview. Listening to it seven years later, however, I was pleased. I was surprised by its professionalism. He came off smart, articulate, sensitive and funny, occasionally incautious yet somehow smooth. He spoke with affection for his theatrical family, told stories about the Islamic commune where he’d grown up and where adherents got a new name every seven years to signify the cyclical regeneration known as a “windu.” He had a background in painting. He read and knew something of the world outside Hollywood. Nothing he revealed about himself made me like or desire him any less.
For my part, I had prepared well, tracking down what few profiles and interviews I could find online, watching as many of his (mostly execrable) movies as I could rent. He had a lot of straight-to-video on his resume, along with a healthy dose of gay film festival favorites, small roles in bigger movies, medium-budget horror. I asked a few frank questions, acknowledging the comparative meagerness of his career. Did he think his willingness to be out of the closet and to play gay roles had stunted it?
“I have no desire for fame,” he replied. “I’ve seen my whole life what it does to people. I’ve seen how it affects their lives. They can’t go anywhere without people wanting their autograph or wanting to fight them or fuck them or yell at them.”
I took the comment as a personal reproach. Starfuckers were a problem, and I was part of it. But I needn’t have taken it so personally. As the interview came to a close, his professional pose began to lapse. At one point, while I searched through my notes to make sure I’d asked all my questions, he snatched the pages from me and started reading aloud. I tried to get them back but he begged to keep them. Turned on by the spectacle of his pleading, inflamed by the power it bestowed on me, I relented.
The first few things he read were innocuous enough, but then:
“Typecast as gorgeous guys.”
“Did I write that? I didn’t write that.”
“I can’t believe you read that.”
“I’m sooo sure.”
Then the actor did something distinctly ungodlike: he became nervous. He fumbled with his things and stalled while I put away the tape recorder, the mike, the retrieved notes. He looked down, then back up again. He mumbled: “So, are you free later on?”
In the four hours of sex that would ensue in my nearby apartment, nothing would compare with the feeling of being asked, on the curvy red couch, by the god with nervous, darting eyes, whether I was free later on. That simple question conveyed not merely the acceptance and desire of a single person, but access to the world that in 1997 mere mortals paid an average of $8.50 to glimpse for ninety minutes at a time and could never touch with their hands or any other extremity. That question elevated me in status, put me on the receiving end of desire by an entity who existed to be desired. It put me, for a heady, hazardous moment, beyond the realm of the celluloid gods as the object of divine lust. And like other things that elevate you rather quickly — methamphetamines come to mind — this experience was never so heady as in the ascent.
From two in the afternoon until six at night we smoked grass, sucked dick, wrestled, talked, listened to music, read poetry, smoked more grass, sucked more dick, and finally came noisily, voluminously, spectacularly. While in important respects he was perfectly my type — skinny, well hung, butch and athletic in bed — I experienced some dissonance between my expectations of the god made flesh and the reality I encountered. That marble smoothness of skin that revealed itself with such regularity in onscreen nude scenes turned out to be stubbly, marked by ingrown hairs. Those luxuriously full lips that, in the dark intimacy of the movie house, told of recent and imminent fellatio were, against mine, suspiciously lumpy.
But who was I to criticize? I was living out a fantasy. I was two stages into my starfucker’s life plan (sexually tense interview, check . . . passionate sex, check), and now I had to cinch the deal. Now, before letting him off this bed and out of this room, I had to make him fall in love with me. I went about this using a method I considered foolproof despite its never having shown the slightest evidence of success, which was to show him how culturally sophisticated I was by delivering, in between blow jobs, learned disquisitions on the classicism of the four Brahms piano ballades and the representation of dialect in the poetry of e.e. cummings.
He endured these lectures gamely for a long while, then finally brought his index finger to my lips.
“Shh shh shh shh shh,” he urged.
I became instantly mortified at my cultured logorrhea and apologized for it.
“I love being here with you, having you teach me things,” he said soothingly, reassuringly. Then he turned me over and started eating out my asshole.
I wouldn’t let him continue. Generally speaking, I wasn’t entirely averse to having my asshole eaten out. On the contrary, I had vaguely romantic notions about it, thought of it as sort of a second or third date sort of sexual practice. Sensing that I was going out on a bit of a limb, I said so.
Seven years later, I’m helpless to reconstruct the artful way in which his response implied, without spelling it out, that there would be no second date. Its meaning was clear, yet ambiguous enough to construct starfucker life plan detours around it. Those trips down to L.A. still awaited me, along with those cocktail parties and those indiscretions with directors, and the fantasy life that survived the devastating oral-anal negotiation received a shot of pure adrenaline once we’d both come, showered, and dressed, and the actor wrote down his phone number, address, and his family’s phone number so I could always get in touch. By the time I’d showed him to the door, disregarding the vaguely guilty, regretful look that seized his face as he said goodbye, I was convinced that I was all but officially Hollywood royalty by marriage.
“Believe that not anything which has ever been/invented can spoil this or this instant,” read one of the cummings poems he had recited. The line would haunt me in the days and weeks that followed, that cruelly turned into months before I gave up waiting for him to respond to my letter or my calls, and then, absurdly, the years that passed before it didn’t hurt to think about him, before I shook the feeling that I was hated by God.
My therapist at the time was useless. She wasn’t interested in my confessions of starfucking machinations or the redoubled intensity of my desire for the actor. She just brought the story back where she habitually brought every story, to the subject of my abandoning, narcissistic father, his abrupt departure from our home when I was seven years old, and the scarring experience of calling him night after night, waiting in vain for my messages to be returned. All this upset about the actor had less to do with him or even with my career and evil starfucking heart than with what Freud had called the compulsion to repeat traumas in attempt to master them through repetition.
How preposterous, to suggest that my tawdry afternoon epiphany could be reduced to something as common, domestic and tedious as my father’s act of abandonment! My therapist was proving herself to be the one-trick pony of psychoanalysis. I considered firing her.
But I needed her. The world outside her office was replete with painful reminders of my failed audition. Once you have starfucked, there is no stopping these reminders. A writer is said to have remarked about his marriage to a famous actress that it was “like fucking a billboard.” The primary hazard of starfucking is that there is no divorcing the billboard. As long as she’s still a star, you remain fucked. You’re permanently involved. She’s forgotten you, moved on to the next worshipper, and the evidence is plastered on every highway, off every exit, on the sides of buildings, behind Plexiglas above urinals. A year after the interview I came home from a two-week vacation and realized that in Europe, where he is unknown, I had finally managed to stop obsessing over him. Then I turned the corner and saw his name on the marquee of the Castro Theater.
In my attempts to make peace with the encounter, I tried to take that cummings line to heart. Wasn’t there something perfect and inviolable about that moment of invitation, those hours of sex? Couldn’t they exist, under glass, unsullied by the foolish things I said and did afterward, the stalker-scented letter I sent, the rambling, desperate voice mail destined to be deleted before it was heard? Some part of me persisted in believing that irresistible message that accompanied the invitation to his body: that some part of me was special, elect, attractive and specially deserving of a god’s desire.
That train of thought was quickly derailed whenever I committed the irresistible indiscretion of mentioning the hook-up. The first person I told said, “Yeah, I know another journalist who did it with him.” Another said he’d been responsible for driving the actor to a New York film festival, and wound up getting his ass eaten for a half hour as a tip. A third friend, also in New York, mentioned that the last time he’d seen him, the actor had been fellating himself in a nightclub. I asked a mutual friend what the actor was up to and she put her hand to her mouth and her tongue in her check to simulate cocksucking. Far from feeling special, I now began to suspect that in my wider circle of friends, at least, the way to distinguish oneself was by not having sex with this particular actor.
In writing this reminiscence, I contacted him through that mutual friend. I wanted to finish the interview, ask him questions that had come up in the interim. Here is a transcript of our exchange:
Do you remember having sex with me, or does it just blur in with the rest?
(The actor declined to comment.)
Are you aware of the power you exercise as a movie actor, and does it ever occur to you to use it judiciously?
(The actor declined to comment.)
How much sex do you think you get, just for being in the movies, on a weekly basis?
(The actor declined to comment.)
In a recent issue of Star magazine, someone says, “If a friend of yours says they want to date someone famous, say no.” Good advice?
(The actor declined to comment.)
In fact, the actor declined to be interviewed altogether. He declined to talk to me. This second rejection hurt like a pin-prick on scar tissue; in seven years new heartbreaks, and then a happy marriage, have covered the original wound in virtually impenetrable layers. I recently saw him onscreen and felt some vague titillation that I knew the mortal body under those clothes and that make-up, some admiration for his performance. Mostly I felt a striking absence of pain or longing, and the impossibility of regret.
If a friend of yours says she wants to date someone famous, say maybe. Urge her to be clear about her motives. Thinking back on that afternoon seven years ago, I see two young men who wanted something from one another. He wanted something for four hours, and got it. What I wanted was a little more involved.
I wanted the actor to change my life; I wanted to be rescued, plucked from the anonymous multitudes who had to fight one another for space and resources and love; I wanted to be transported to a place where there was no drudgery or obscurity, no real reason to feel sadness because the eyes of a hundred million people at any given time might be radiating love at your ubiquitous image. I wanted, that afternoon I went to bed with a person from the movies, no longer to be me. In a way that is only coming into focus seven years later, I got exactly what I wanted. I got what my therapist said I’d sought — repetition — and what all those poor nymphs got when Ovid turned them into fountains and shrubs and knick-knacks to protect them from the lust of their gods: metamorphosis.
I had next to no acting experience, and less ability, and I wanted to be transformed into a movie star. Instead, I became a shrub. Yes, I was surprised, and disappointed, but my fate was not without its consolations. Shrubs are immune to the poisonous desires of the gods. They are at peace with the circumstances of their provenance. They draw sustenance from the earth and sky equally. They are hardy. They grow.
Perhaps the moment we want to fire our therapist is the moment we are getting our co-pay’s worth out of her. What does the starfucker want, after all? To accelerate his career. To accelerate his life. What does he get? In my case, I brought my life to a halt and hurtled through my windu backward in time, past the realities and disappointments of my career, past the recognition of an approaching adulthood that demanded an identity, all the way to the day I was seven years old and the only star in my firmament who would ever really matter went out.
This article originally appeared in Nerve’s True Stories.