Head and shoulders of Brontez Purnell, who is wearing glasses in the shower, with water running over him. His eyes are closed in abandon and his hand drags sensually across his face, parting his lips
Brontez Purnell by Florian Hetz.

The Queen in Trade: A Sex Column Not Yet Started

Writer, artist, and musician Brontez Purnell shares an unreleased sex column for Serpentine Podcast’s Intimacies series.

Sex columns fucking scare me. Hot on the heels of writing my last book, 100 Boyfriends – seemingly everyone’s fave new emo slut sex romp, and yeah, I’m motherfucking bragging – I have encountered so very many TV people, online content creators, and even internet stalkers who want me to recreate that diary of isolation, pain, and semen ejaculation for either pennies on the dollar – or sometimes even for fucking free. I am, by nature, a people-pleaser and sub, but that aside, I am also very fucking lazy, though not afraid of a challenge. It is true enough that, no matter how old we are, with each new sexual encounter, we incrementally learn something new about ourselves and about others. We reaffirm things we have known for a very long time. I am constantly redrawing the line in the sand of what I thought I knew about sex almost every other day of my life.

The ultimate nuance of a sex column is condensing things learned in an instant and relating them in real-time, as opposed to in a book where one has a longer arc of time to relay how this new information sits in the body. For this juncture, it was time for me to return to the immediate. In my novel-writing life, I tend to gravitate more to a fictional space, mostly to protect the wicked – namely myself – and also within that framework, it is the age-old rule of memoir. All memoir is essentially fiction: that is, validity, annoyingly, is sometimes a little too much in the eye of the beholder. I can write my experience as near as I know it to be truthful from where I am sitting. But of course, as seen from another vantage point, my own clarity of witness can be questionable. Whether this is fair or not, I don’t care to argue.

Artwork in a white frame on a white wall. On the right hand side of a white piece of landscape paper is a grainy scanner-art style image of a figure whose face is blurred out by the Xerox grain. on their white t-shirt are doodled hearts and the word 'slut' in black ink hand lettering. On the left hand side of the paper is hand lettering saying 'TBH I DON'T EVEN LIKE SEX I JUST DO IT TO BE POPULAR' and doodled hearts
Artwork by Brontez Purnell, courtesy the artist.

What I will say is that, ultimately, it becomes rather hard to bear witness in a body all the time, particularly one in which – given the confines of the world we live in – feels equal parts hyper-ignored or over-surveillanced. I could make this an overly sociopolitical statement that I exist in a body that is very Black or overweight or under the economic line, and that because of these things, X, Y, and Z will be true of my sex life. And yes, none of that would be lie, but for the purposes of this, I can tell you, Dear Reader, how many of my varied friends I have who sometimes sit in a cultural positionality quite opposite to my own, and we in equal parts are having the same connectivity issues or the problem of making any sort of intimacy stick. I guess what I’m trying to name is that universal spectre of disappointment that sits on top of the places we feel like sex is failing us – and sex is indeed failing a great many of us.

I could tell you that moving to the Bay Area in the early 2000s, I cast myself amongst the latter day Flower Children, staging protests in the Castro over, God, nearly anything – who can even remember at this point. Hexing the patriarchy, while also fucking the patriarchy. We were all sex workers for some reason, and being in that certain group of misled boys who dared to have sex condomless, some might very accurately call us bug chasers. Perhaps we dared to call it a liberatory act. Again, we were ‘protesting’. We were behaving in this manner literally five minutes before Prep appeared on the market and seemingly depoliticised the act of barebacking. It was really all too much to fit in one paragraph. But what I can say is that within that group of boys, from where I was standing, I felt that I was led to believe that if I threw my body fully, completely, and perhaps most dangerously, unquestioningly, into the ritual of sex, that only pleasure and wisdom would be at the end of the tunnel. I know now that only wisdom was there. Like the poet Nikki Giovanni said, the price of experience is weariness, and too much popular sex writing suffers from some conventionally attractive man trying to sell me on the endless potential joy of sex, and I’m fucking over it. Furthermore, I need not have this be a rally cry for those of us who feel under-desired. I know that a great many of us – all of us, somewhere – feel exactly the same fucking way. It was time for me to write something for the rest of us.


Listen to episode 4, Desire of Serpentine Podcast: Intimacies to hear Purnell read his full sex column in addition to an original sound work by Pixy Liao and an interview with Tiona Nekkia McClodden.


Brontez Purnell is a writer, musician, dancer, filmmaker, and performance artist. He is the author of several books, including the novel Since I Laid My Burden Down, and 100 Boyfriends, a collection of stories. The recipient of a 2018 Whiting Award in Fiction, Purnell was named one of 32 Black Male Writers of Our Time by T: The New York Times Style Magazine in 2018. Purnell is also the frontman for the band The Younger Lovers, a cofounder of the experimental dance group the Brontez Purnell Dance Company, and the creator of the renowned cult zine Fag School. Born in Triana, Alabama, Purnell has lived in Oakland, California, for more than a decade.


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