Filmmaker, writer and multimedia artist Jonah Barrett recently debuted a personal essay, “Anal Pleasure & Health,” at Creative Colloquy in January 2019. Jonah’s essay is authentic, humorous and heartfelt, and for those reasons (and many more), we’re incredibly excited to feature “Anal Pleasure & Health” here at Blue Cactus Press. We’ve also included a video recording of Jonah’s performance at Creative Colloquy below. Go ahead, read your heart out, friends.
Anal Pleasure & Health
by Jonah Barrett
I’m bad at bottoming. I’m just horrible at it. Throughout my life I’ve successfully done the deed about four times, with three of those instances involving more than enough alcohol. As a cis gay man, I really should have the act down by now. It’s the act of preparation that really gets me. Who knew getting ready for fucking had to be such a chore? I won’t go into the details, but it usually involves planning a few hours in advance and hoping to God you’ve eaten at least one piece of fruit in the last 24 hours.
I know we’re approaching the 2020’s and the era of “sex can be whatever you want it to be,” but I actually would like to bottom more. It’s just something on my to-do list. People look at me and just assume I bottom: I’m short and I have this high voice and I’ve got just a hint of The Lisp, so I can’t really hold it against them. It doesn’t help that my boyfriend, Austin, is about a foot taller than me. Really, he should be doing at least half of the fucking. So bottoming, at least for me, is a major goal for this year, internalized homophobia be damned.
Whenever there’s something I need to learn more about, I buy a book on the subject. I just like to buy books in general. I feel guilty if I walk into a bookstore and get nothing. You can’t walk into an independent bookstore and just loiter like a common villain. And I can’t enter a town and not check out its bookstore. There are things to buy. Capitalism eternal.
One such a town would be Astoria, Oregon. Astoria was actually the first ever permanent settlement established on the Pacific Coast, so says Wikipedia. The Goonies was filmed there, if you care about that. I don’t really, but now you know—I only just found out after clicking through Wikipedia for a minute. I wanted to check if I could film something at the Captain George Flavel House Museum, but it turns out The Goonies already filmed at the Captain George Flavel House Museum, so what’s the point? Fuckin’ Goonies. Besides serving as the setting and shooting location of the popular Richard Donner 1985 adventure cult film at the Captain George Flavel House Museum, I would describe Astoria as a strange, scraggly little place layered over with history and barnacles, with a lovely independent bookstore. I forget the name, which doesn’t matter really because I’ll never set foot in there again. I have forever shamed myself in there.
While kickin’ the shit in Astoria one summer I managed to drag both my best friend, Sam, and Austin into the Astorian bookshop. It’s always been easy with Austin, our relationship started based off our love of books, and he could easily be suckered into buying at least one or two volumes with me. Burning cash was always more fun when you did it with others. You could share the guilt. Sam on the other hand wasn’t so easy. She was cheap as knockoff Sneakers and refused to ever spend a dime on anything unless it was for a pretty girl. Whenever Austin and I dragged her into a bookstore she would sulk until we left. For the record, she was an absolute asshole, we both were. It’s why we’ve been so close. We liked to think this made us quirky and original, but the common theme of general assholery is probably the basis for every best friendship known to humanity.
But what do I know? Maybe some best friends are actually nice to one another—those kind of annoying BFFs you see on Instagram that you wish would trip into the asphalt and knock out all their teeth. Sam and I were not like that. Our companionship had been a series of continual roasts and jabs at one another, attempts to embarrass the other to no end whatsoever. But in a fun way.
In bookstore terms, the shop was literally perfect, if not a bit cliché. Warm lighting, cozy mismatched shelves, a few antisocial bookworms that would leave the aisle if you entered it; all the perfect elements of a bookstore. Typically, Austin would head for the fiction section while I perused fantasy and sci-fi with Sam. But on this day it took me a moment to realize I was on my own in the sci-fi section. Sam was over in the health shelves. I should have known by then she was up to something sneaky as shit.
I couldn’t really find anything in the sci-fi. You can only buy so many Bradbury and Le Guin novels before you think “Maybe I should read some of these before I get any more.” And I didn’t have the patience at that point in my life to get into another Golden Age author. Isaac Asimov would have to wait a few more years before I’d be ready to commit. But of course, I had to get something. Something! I was in an indie bookstore in a town by the sea. How was I going to retain these memories without a paper memento to seal the deal? I kept scanning the shelves, in search of literally anything that caught my eye.
“Hey.” I turned around to see Sam walking toward me with a book. My savior. Or so I thought.
You see, Sam know about my bottoming hangups. We knew everything about one another, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise to me when she slinked her way toward me with a little blue book from the health section, this shit-eating grin on her face as if to say: “This’ll be funny.”
She put it in my hands. “I found this for you and Austin.”
Anal Pleasure and Health.
“You absolute motherfucker,” I said.
She snickered. “I just want to help you guys in the bedroom.”
“We don’t need help in the bedroom, we’re fine.”
“You need to learn how to put stuff up there. It’s time.”
I flipped through the book, glimpsing chapters with titles like: “Inside the Anus,” “Discovering the Rectum,” and “Opening a Dialogue.” On the back was a picture of the man who had written the book—a balding guy with a Ph.D. and a face just a little too small for his head, with a dimpled smirk that seemed to convey: “I know what I did.”
“Yikes. He really looks like the kinda guy who’d write this,” Sam said. “…I dare you to get it.”
I looked over at the cashier, this nice-looking man who was flipping through a book on sailing. He seemed kind, pure. Like someone who liked sex but didn’t enjoy talking about it in the open—much like Austin, actually. I looked down at the book, thinking about how this might actually help me out. Techniques! Tips! Discovering the rectum! All the golden tidbits I’d need to know how to truly bottom right in my hands. Sam’s smirk dropped.
“Wait, you don’t really need to—”
I turned toward the counter. Fuck Sam. Fuck Sam and her stupid dares. I was gonna do this for me and myself. And I guess Austin too.
It’s not like this was the 80’s and this was my one and only chance to learn the secrets of bottoming. We all have the internet. We all watch porn and take Buzzfeed quizzes on what sexual positions we are. But there was something about having the book in my hand, a physical volume of something that was once so taboo, that I wanted to chance it. My old habits kicked in. If I read all up on the subject, maybe I’d be good at it. Austin would be so impressed and think I was so cultured—a real man’s man: powerbottom extraordinaire. My face reddened at the idea. I quickly scanned the fantasy and sci-fi shelf and grabbed a random Bradbury to cover the butt book up.
I think this also taps into the fact that there aren’t a lot of basic resources out there for gay kids like myself. We never had even heterosexual sex education in school, but abstinence classes instead, which really stuck with me at age seventeen when I sucked my first dick. Something kicked in at that moment in the bookstore, this desperate grab at knowledge that I had felt like I’d never had access to (besides Buzzfeed).
I made it to the counter. The nice man perked up and smiled at me, this warm gentle not-shit-eating grin that I will never forget. Something about those kind, innocent eyes. The button up shirt underneath the argyle sweater. He probably owned a cat and named it Sophocles. Too pure for this world.
“All finished?” he asked.
I swallowed. “Yes.”
He picked up the two books, his eyes lighting up when he saw the first one, the sci-fi novel. The butt book lay there to the side unnoticed, seeping in filth.
“Ray Bradbury!” he said. He looked up at me, warmly. “I grew up on Ray Bradbury. I think his work is timeless.”
I wanted to die right then and there, but of course, capitalism must be performed with a smile. “Yessiree,” I said. “He sure is the master of science fiction.”
“I just think he’s the best. I remember reading Dandelion Wine one summer growing up and how much that impacted me. He really captured the essence of childhood…” he kept on like this for what felt like minutes. I forget what he actually said; it was too wholesome for memory. We bonded back and forth about the Golden Age author, talking about how Bradbury had influenced us as writers and how wonderful of a man he must have been. It was all very pure. For a moment I actually forgot that I was buying the butt book. Such bliss can’t last forever. The man’s eyes shifted behind me, and I followed his line of sight to see Sam recording us with her phone.
“What are you doing?!” I asked.
Snickered again. “Nothing.”
The cashier gave her a puzzled look but smiled back at me. His last milliseconds of innocence. Then he picked up the other book.
Our short-lived relationship was shattered in an instant. Nothing could repair what irrevocable damage had been done. I’m sure you’ve all had moments where one second feels like a year. It feels like the situation you’re in can’t actually be happening, so you disassociate and believe it’s not you that’s living this life, it’s someone else. You’re just watching it through a set of borrowed eyes, like a television. It’s not your body that’s turning pure red and all sweaty in the bookstore. It’s some other sucker’s. Someone who has made a horrible and embarrassing decision.
Snicker snicker snicker behind me. I could hear Sam trying not to burst out laughing. The man looked back as well, and it suddenly dawned on him why this was being recorded. My heart broke a little bit… but I also wanted to laugh. I wanted to slap Sam. Maybe throw her phone to the ground and assure the man: “It’s not a prank. No, really. It’s not. I actually do want to put things up there. I’m serious!”
The man—the poor delicate man who did not deserve any of this—put the books in a paper bag without me asking, his final noble deed of our interaction.
“Have a good day,” I said.
He nodded, not looking at me. I left in shame.
We exited the store in a hurry, forgetting we had left Austin in the fiction section. The two of us rounded the corner and burst out laughing—because what else was there to do? I was fucking horrified at Sam for doing that, but I also loved her for it. We watched the video and giggled together like evil school girls. Assholes in cahoots. What happened could never be undone, and I looked back at the store a little sad. There would be more bookstores, but never again this one by the sea.
Austin came out, confused. “Where did you guys go?”
“LOOK WHAT JONAH GOT!”
Austin’s face reddened, a scandalized look passing through his kind, innocent eyes.
I haven’t read Anal Pleasure and Health; it’s still on my bookshelf. I just took it off right now and blew off a layer of dust. I don’t know if I’ll ever truly read it. But sometimes books can also act as mementos, and not just sources of knowledge. Maybe this wasn’t such a big deal and we were overreacting. That man did the best with what he was given: two shitty best friends who can’t be adults about anything. I really did buy that book to become a better bottom, but like every thing I purchase: it evades me. Bottoming is this highly personal thing that I probably shouldn’t have written about, but it’s too late to turn back now. And no matter how old you are, it is never, ever too late to begin your own discovery of the rectum.
About the Author
Jonah Barrett is a filmmaker, writer, and multimedia artist. His writing can be found in Creative Colloquy, Everyday Genius, Lit.Cat, OlyArts, and the bestselling Portland anthology City of Weird. Jonah has also directed and written two feature films, a dozen-ish short films, and three web series. He has worked as both a literary magazine and anthology editor, as well as journalist, assistant director, script supervisor, and art conservator. His favorite genres are creature features and romantic comedies, and he has found they are pretty much the same.