Golden Boys USA

Golden Boys USA

An advertisement for a Golden Boys USA party that was ultimately cancelled.

In the days before COVID-19 led to the closing of New York City Public Schools and gathering spaces, a group of party promoters in New York City’s queer community wrestled with the prospect of cancelling a series of long-running sex parties.

While some New Yorkers were cancelling travel plans, hoarding toilet paper and working from home in response to the COVID-19 crisis, Chris Hawke was getting ready to throw a sex party: a “college kegger’ themed gay sex party to be exact where, according to the invite, over 200 in-shape guys ages 18-30’s pay $30 and a $3 clothes check to fraternize naked or in underwear in a 2,000-square-foot secret location in Brooklyn. Showers, towels, snacks, condoms and lube are provided hand sanitizer and masks are not.  

“I’d say it’s like a frat party in your underwear with a lot of hot young guys, and it’s, you know, lots of hooking up,” says Hawke, whose company Golden Boys USA (GBU) has been hosting some iteration of the party since 2002. “For the first two years it was strictly a watersports party then we started doing it every two months. We were very strict with the door policy so people heard that we had the hottest guys. So guys that weren’t into watersports started coming and then it became exponentially more of those. We did it every two months. It was the second Saturday then it was every month then it was three times a month and now we’re doing it four times a month with two in Midtown and two in Brooklyn. There are thousands of guys on our mailing list. I have a very specific demographic guys who are between 18 and 30, live in New York City and are sexually active.”

A scene, suspended

It is a demographic that is well served not just by GBU but other promoters across the city, such as nightlife impresario Daniel Nardicio, whose “The Devil Wear’s Nada: St. Patrick’s Day Edition” would have had guests pony-up $15 to party in their underwear or $10 to go naked. It was scheduled for March 18th, but subsequently cancelled.

Another is Jacks of Color, whose Monday night massage and play parties for “Men of Color and their friends” have been “offering a venue for fraternization for gay men of all colors” since 1990. It may be a month of Monday’s before the now cancelled, party resumes.

Inferno, one of New York City’s most diverse parties for gay, bi, and trans men and women, bills itself as a sex party for queer friends, f–kbuddies and lovers of all kinds. Their parties are a mix of performance art and debauchery with a socially progressive slant: In January a cadre of queer performance artists at their “Performance Anxiety” party helped raise money for transgender migrants in Tijuana, Mexico.

Despite the “anything goes” feel of the Inferno parties, its organizers seemed alert to the coronavirus threat early on.

On Thursday, March 12 on the party’s Instagram account under the heading of “Queerantine” Adam (last name withheld) the party’s organizer made a plea to anyone who attended New York City Inferno parties over the past two months and either have come into contact with sick people or developed symptoms of the Coronavirus to contact them to keep the community safe.

When it came to its March 21st “A History of Sluts” party, NYC Inferno pulled the plug early. “Here’s this moment where within 24 hours you have to decide whether you were making a decision that could potentially harm other populations of people. We said are we going to be what we say we are. Are we going to care for everyone else, are we going to do the right thing to prevent the spread or is this just giving in to fear?” asked Adam. When I talked to the people in the COVID-19 working group they were like, ‘This is absolutely the right thing for you to do’ and they were extremely convincing that this is going to be like Italy if you don’t act.”

Delaying a decision

While some made the decision quickly, Hawke deliberated for a few days and at one point posted a message to his massive mailing list that read in part: “We don’t believe that closing will prevent our guys from going out and socializing. GBU will be open Saturday for the ‘Kegger’ and assess the situation week by week.”

That stance garnered praise and criticism. “You’re probably getting an outrage of emails for staying open–but I’m really glad that you have the courage to do so. I appreciate that you’re able to make a reasonable, rational judgement in your actions rather than catering to hysteria”, wrote one partygoer.

“I love you guys but wow this should so obviously be cancelled,” wrote another. “This wildly irresponsible of you all to hold this party in the midst of a viral pandemic that directly impacts people with compromised immune systems (aka poz folks). Please consider canceling,” wrote a third.

A few hundred emails and 23-hours later, Hawke he did just that, reversing the decision to keep the party open with another mail under the heading “College Kegger CANCELED” that read in part:

“I appreciated the emails I got commending me for staying open in the face of all the fear and hysteria and pointing out how essential parties like ours are to the health of the younger queer community, combating loneliness and isolation through socializing and acceptance in our unique way. But this crisis is bigger than just us…it effects our families and the community at large..which is why I am making this decision.”

He further explained his decision to City Limits via phone. “We had a conference call the other night and I spoke with a couple of other promoters to decide what to do. I certainly have been in touch with the health department and a couple of microbiologists who are part of a task force working with the NYC Department of Health. This might go on for a while and we had to make the decision to close and just as recently as a few minutes ago I found out that all the other parties are going to close. I think everyone’s done now so we’ll see when we can come back.”

In the end, two gay men came to the same conclusion from different vantages, each the product of their generation.

History lesson

“For years during the AIDS epidemic the motto at sex clubs was ‘no lips below the hips’ now it’s ‘no lips above the hips,'” says Chris who saw the ravages of HIV/AIDS among gay men in New York City.

The younger Adam was part of the first wave of gay men who came of age sexually in the era of widespread condom use and a safer-sex message.

Each of their respective parties are predominantly populated by young men who largely came to sexual maturity with the virus chiefly framed as a chronic manageable condition, not a death sentence.

“During the AIDS epidemic, we couldn’t get the government to give us any funding. Reagan didn’t even mention the word for several years. We fought for treatment and medication. Looking at our party’s demographic, I hope they are conscious of that,” says Chris.



Read our coverage of NYC’s Coronavirus crisis

For the new generation of queer New Yorkers, part of a larger community that has stared down a plague and survived, this pandemic may feel like part of a strange continuum. Adam from NYC Inferno urges the queer community to find strength in its history.

“The whole arrival of Coronavirus took everyone back to this moment in the early 80s when the bathhouses were forced to be closed by the city. Anything that was perceived as sexual was immediately able to be demonized, such as two gay men kissing. Gay men were suddenly villainized as disease-carriers. We fought the false narrative.”

He also sees self-determination as this queer generation’s inheritance. “The queer ethos of my party is that we’ve got to keep each other alive, because no one else is going to do it.” Defiant in the face of the pandemic, he added, addressing this new virus and anyone cheering it on: “You’re not going to get us so fast. Don’t try it. We’ve been through way worse and we’re going to care for people and we’re going to make it out okay.”