I stare down at my gut. A marker of the fact that I’m not as young as I used to be. And yet, I would never think to blame an entire city for my lack of exercise and poor eating habits, because that would be narcissism of the highest order. It would be almost as dumb as thinking that getting into bike accidents, falling on ice, or being shunned for being willfully oblivious to how uncomfortable you make other people are things that only happen in Chicago.
I’ve lived in Chicago for 11 years now, and yeah, I feel a little more broken now than I did when I was 22. But that’s not Chicago’s fault. That’s more of an “irreversible passage of time” sort of thing. And now, as I read this HuffPost essay that’s suddenly gone viral, by a guy named Eric Barry who’s upset we simple Midwesterners didn’t take one look at him and his enlightened, coastal sensibilities and accept him as our new god-king, I can’t help but reflect on that time. Specifically, the time I met Eric Barry myself, when he was living here in this city he so tried to love but didn’t love him back.
It was an unsolicited Facebook message, as you might have already guessed. I was freelancing at the time, and I got a message from a guy who was new in town and who wanted to know if I could hook him up with any writing or stand-up comedy gigs. “Hey Katie, we don’t know each other, but...” it began. Being of cornfed peasant stock, I said no, I couldn’t help him, but that his podcast sounded interesting. (Note to podcasters: I was being polite.) I also said that, if he liked, we could get together sometime and talk shop over coffee. It never happened, but I invited him to a screening I was hosting anyway. He responded with an anecdote about how he’d once gone on a date to that venue, but that the woman he was with “freaked out” because of “what I do.”
That’s how I found out about the “sex positive” thing. You see, Eric Barry is “sex positive”—something he talked about constantly, along with how no one in Chicago understood it. Why, he wrote another HuffPost article on the very same subject! He even ran a “sex positive” comedy show for a time, where stand-ups were invited to come do a set as a warm-up for a live sex show—like the time he brought a woman he’d been dating for two weeks up on stage for a foot fetish demonstration, or the time Chicago’s own Auntie Angel gave a demonstration of the “grapefruit technique” for a better blowjob.
The performers were great—Auntie Angel, in particular, is both entertaining and knowledgeable—but the shows were poorly structured (Jesus Christ, that foot fetish thing went on forever), and the comics were often ill-suited for the environment. Not that Eric Barry listened to the criticism. If the comics were uncomfortable, or the crowd didn’t respond well to a bit—his bits in particular—it was their fault for not being “sex positive” enough. Just like if a woman didn’t want to have sex with him, they must be hopelessly closed-minded and monogamous.
And hi, Eric Barry: That’s why Chicago didn’t love you back. While some of Barry’s positions on sex work and rape culture are commendably progressive, there was always a “but what about me?!” undercurrent to his “activism” that tends to set off bullshit detectors, and Chicago is a city with a very low tolerance for bullshit. Not to mention, Barry was always, always talking about his dick—and specifically, how small it is. That’s not exposing private info; he would talk about it on his podcast. And on stage. And probably somewhere on the sex spreadsheet he also wrote about on HuffPo.
You wouldn’t know it from his HuffPo essay—“Chicago is family-oriented. There’s a wholesome undercurrent running beneath it,” it says—but Chicago currently has a show called Strip Joker where stand-up comics perform in their underwear, and another one called Naked Girls Reading that’s exactly what it sounds like. There are several active kink and swingers’ clubs in town, and until recently, we were home to the Bijou Theater, the longest-running gay adult theater and sex club in the country. I hosted a screening of some films at a Halloween event at the Bijou once where one performance artist squirted milk from a clear latex bra onto muscle men in skimpy thongs, and another did a piece that incorporated glory holes. This was in October 2014, months after Eric Barry moved to town. I must have missed him there.
He must have also missed the Lagunitas brewery on 17th St in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood; for you bovine flyover staters in the audience, that’s the “quirky, indie-leaning Bay Area beer” Barry was so shocked to encounter here, in the land of Old Style and hot dogs. It arrived here in 2012. He must have missed it when he was busy fretting over how there are no bus transfers in Chicago, which is curious, because I transfer buses several times weekly on my way home from work. He must have missed it when he was too busy obsessing over his own dick to notice that people found him to be a total self-obsessed creep, the kind of guy who writes a huffy HuffPost article about how an entire city wasn’t good enough for him. Goodbye, Eric. I look forward to your essay about how New York doesn’t get you, either.