Humpfest: Watching Porn in Public

If it weren’t for the local news, we would’ve missed Hump!, the amateur porn film festival created by Dan Savage. It was chance that both TJ, my boyfriend, and I were watching, and even more unlikely that we were paying attention. But there was Dan Savage talking to our favorite news anchor, Reggie Aqui, a tall good-looking guy whose hipster vibes couldn’t be contained by the confines of his stereotypical broadcaster suits. This was the Dan Savage of the advice column “Savage Love,” who with his husband, Terry Miller, created the “It Gets Better” project advocating against the bullying of gay youth. Savage was more casually dressed than Reggie, though no less arresting, and definitely more interesting when the topic was amateur porn. Even as I listened to the two men, I couldn’t help but feel like this news story was indicative of Portland, the city we’d recently moved to together. I couldn’t imagine seeing two men, one of them  openly gay, discussing an amateur porn film festival in my home state of North Carolina.

But Portland, with its abundance of strip clubs and Keno games in every bar, has proven to be just as weird and wanton as we’d joked it would be. And maybe this is why we paid attention to Dan and Reggie. And maybe this is why when Dan mentioned that the festival was almost completely sold out, I turned on my laptop to discover that only one show, the midnight showing, still had tickets available. Coincidence, on top of chance, who were we to deny it? I bought two tickets.

TJ and I have been together for almost four years, in a relationship as stimulating as an expedition on the Oregon Trail; many an oxen had been lost along the way. Most people, upon seeing us, would probably attribute our trials to my being a black woman from the South, and TJ being a white man from Idaho. But the reality is that our issues are as simple as being a woman and a man in a monogamous relationship, and we are more often reminded of our cultural differences by outsiders than by each other. What has kept us together, through tumultuous times (both self-created and otherwise) has been the comfort of being understood, a trait I have learned not to take for granted.

In being understood, it was only a look between TJ and me that confirmed we would be going to Humpfest. We knew only as much about it as the five minute T.V. spot had revealed to us: that twenty films were presented, that they covered “all manners of taste,” and that tickets were $18 each. This was all we knew and we agreed it was enough. To be clear, this was not normal for us. Or rather, hadn’t been normal for us. We are very much a movie-and-dinner couple. The few times we’ve found ourselves outside our comfort zones, it has always been accident. Like, oh, how did we end up at this Mexican Quinceanera in one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Phoenix? And so, on Saturday night, when we met up with friends early in the evening for drinks before the festival, it wasn’t surprising that I had a strange feeling in my stomach. What if we saw some strangely specific sex act that turned one of us on, while the other was completely turned off? What if, while watching these couplings, some of whom were real-life couples, we found our own love life lacking?

Like most couples over time, our sex life had evolved from the frantic first encounters of discovery with those precious moments of learning a new body and what pleases it; we’d eased into familiarity – we know well how our bodies feel under each other’s hands or pressed together. This is not to say that in our years together, we know everything about each other’s sexual fantasies. It still happens that we unearth pockets of secret desires, but I feel confident that neither of us is a Furry or overly interested in BDSM. I think what worried me was the unknown. Because my own sexuality still surprises me, I assume that everyone else’s does, too. Who knew what this film festival would uncover?

Once we were on the right side of town, we stopped in to another bar, where I quickly downed another drink. As we walked up to the theatre, it was hard to believe what we were coming to watch, and that it was almost midnight. The crowd looked as diverse as a Friday night movie. There were the expected hipsters, tattooed and suspender-ed, but there were also well-heeled couples: women in cashmere sweaters and pearls and men in tan blazers. There were older couples, and groups of what I would call youths, who didn’t look old enough to see a rated R movie, let alone what we were all about to watch. In the queue, there was a strange comradery, a nervous energy, a woman who smelled like she’d had as many drinks as me, and the one guy who talked loudly about how he’d been to every Humpfest since it began ten years prior.

Once inside, we discovered that besides popcorn, this particular event offered beer for sale. And not just any beer, it was locally brewed, of course, and served in plastic cups, with lid and straw. And so with hands full of both, we moved into the large theatre space, deciding on the balcony, which was soon full of people. Settling in, we took off coats, made last minute bathroom runs. We’d also been offered ballots and tiny golf pencils. After a wonderful introduction by Dan Savage himself, where he encouraged us to laugh and be turned on as respectfully as possible, he also asked us to look over our ballots, so we could vote on the films that fell under the categories “Best in show,” “Funniest” “Steamiest” and “Best Kink”. I took this very seriously, while TJ folded his ballot and stuck it in the cup holder beside us.This is how I will always remember Humpfest: drinking beer through a straw, trying to read the names of the films in the dark light of the screen.

For almost two hours, we watched amateur porn, in public, while munching on popcorn. More than one film was pure comedy, dicks with puppet heads & surprise butt plugs, and I found that therapeutic—laughing about sex with a large group of people. Sex is hilarious, who would disagree—all those drawn faces and awkward moments, but none of my lovers have ever appreciated my mid-coitus chuckles. What surprised me the most, was how the audience reacted to a particularly steamy bit of film, how a general stillness came over us all. I felt like if I shifted in my seat, squirmed as I wanted to do, I’d reveal my inner turmoil. More than once I was fully aroused and fully aware of it. More than once I wished TJ and I were alone. But more than once, I cocked my head to the side, all inquisitive Beagle. There was shit I’ve never seen before, never even thought to be into, like the erotic nature of fruits and vegetables. I’ll never be able to walk down the produce aisle without remembering a film called “The Grocer.” One film featured two transgendered lovers, their transgendered-ness being unclear to me until they were naked and the scenario took on a whole new level of complexity. I went from being aroused to being confused back to arousal mixed with being disturbed at the implications. If I’d been attracted to man, who was still anatomically a woman, was I gay? Or when the woman revealed her penis and I found it be quite a beautiful penis, what the hell did that mean?

When the lights came up, it was, for me, a bit of a relief. I was oddly exhilarated, and probably a little intoxicated. I completed my ballot slowly, nibbling on the end of my tiny pencil like I was talking a trigonometry test. When I looked around at the people who were exiting around us, it struck me again how normal it all felt, like we were leaving a viewing of Horrible Bosses 2, and then I looked at TJ, who grinned at me as he handed me my coat. Walking toward our car, in the quiet calm of the Alphabet District at 3am, we argued over which had been the best film, which was the funniest and which made us the most disturbed. We laughed at our own reactions, debated whether the festival was more male-focused or LGBT focused, and came to zero conclusions. At home, we undressed, leaving clothes where they fell as we climbed into bed. We switched off the lights and threw back the covers. And we went to sleep.

9 Comments

  • CathieSmathie says:

    What I appreciate most about this is the continual return to the complexity of how intertwined humor and sex is and how someone gives an audience “permission” to laugh…that’s great. I love the intimacy of the scene with the dark room, the popcorn, the ballot, and the straw-in-the-beer held up against the idea of being in a room packed with strangers. Yes. Can’t wait for more Monet-barks!

    • Monet says:

      The straw-in-the-beer confirmed that we’d crossed into the absurd, but it was all so civilized, humorous and grotesque at the same time. Thanks for reading, Smathie!

  • Great piece! Real sex is never as glamorous as Hollywood would like us to think. So, laughter is the only way to get over the awkwardness of pants stuck to your foot, that slapping sound skin-to-skin makes, and accidental head butts. Not sure I’d be brave enough to watch porn in public though. I would most likely laugh at inappropriate places, really loud, and not when others are laughing. :-)

    • Monet says:

      Believe me, Asa, I laughed at several inappropriate moments but everyone did. SEX IS FUNNY. I might write an ode to O faces! And remember I made sure to be properly under the influence.

  • Sam Ligon Sam Ligon says:

    I’d like to read a dispatch from the next Furry convention….

  • Brett says:

    This was damn good, and funny as hell, too.

  • Marc says:

    Real sex isn’t clean, sanitized, and unemotional like you see in most mainstream porn. There’s smells, fluids, noises, and all sort of stuff going that you have to laugh at. That’s what’s awsome about amateurs: the stuff they produce looks and feels real and people who have have been having sex for a while that’s hotter than and “high definition” hollywood movie style stuff.

    https://www.naughtyfactory.com/

  • Sara O. says:

    This sounds like quite an experience. What a range of emotions. I got an erie chill when you described the stillness of the crowd. Reminded me of watching unexpected steamy movie scenes when sitting in between my mom and dad. Just slightly awkward. I think it’s incredibly interesting how something so unique can also feel so common place. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

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