“Come over here, you sexy bitch.”

The bartender’s voice seeped slowly into my awareness as I stood staring hang-jawed at my surroundings: the dark wood sheathing the club from floor to ceiling, the fish tanks embedded into the face of the long bar, and, especially the person sitting on the barstool. Was that the same person featured in the drag show I’d been at a few weeks earlier? Finally, I heard the words.

I turned my head toward the bartender and the space between me and the bar, which had only seconds ago been filled by other customers but was now empty, and realized he was talking to me.

“Oh! I’m the sexy bitch,” I said. “Thanks for that. I was worried that I looked like Xena: Warrior Princess.”

“Why do women always do that?” the bartender asked, pouring my drinks. “They’re always talking about how they look fat, when women are supposed to be curvy!”

I gaped again, not sure what the hell he was going on about, as if we were reading from two different scripts. Then I realized what he meant.

“No,” I said. “I meant the belt. Is it too Xena: Warrior Princess?”


“Oh,” he replied, considering. “Well, it’s a little rustic, but it breaks up the shininess of the dress.”

I carried the drinks over to my table, where my cousin Erica sat with her two friends, Traci and Miguel, and my friend S. Erica, Miguel, and Traci**, all a decade younger, had been visiting me from southern New Mexico for the last week. Finally free from parenting responsibilities, I was able to join them for a night out on the town.

The day they all arrived at my house, Miguel found my copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves on my book shelf and held it in his hands like it was a holy text. “Oh my god!” he squealed. “It exists! This is really it! I’ve only read about this book!”

A few days later, Miguel said, “I’ve been walking around gay all week and no one cares!”

Traci teared up one afternoon as she, Erica, and I sat talking about what women supporting women should truly look like. “You know, an easy place to start,” I said, “is to – whenever you see a woman, of any age, walking down the street or in a store or whatever, and you think something negative about the way she dresses or the way she looks – override the negative thought by sending her positive psychic energy. Say in your head, ‘I hope she’s well. I hope she’s happy. I hope life is kind to her.’”

“Yes. Yes!” Traci said, slamming her hand down on the table, choking back tears a little. “That’s what I’m saying! It’s just so nice to be around people who get it.”

I understood what she meant. I’d also been raised in southern New Mexico, with its rigid gender role expectations – where not shaving my legs meant I was a dyke. Where domestic violence is taboo “family business” that you don’t intercede on. I, like all three of my visitors, grew up watching women – sometimes our own mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmas – beaten until they surrendered to man after man. I’d heard them called whores for the way they dressed, even as they were sexualized and exploited by men whose sense of superiority convinced them they had a right. People had tried to teach me, too, to think less of myself and to fear other women as threats. As enemies. As competition.

Fortunately for me, I had Erica’s mom, Aunt Sunny, my first hero. Aunt Sunny, through action alone, showed me what a strong woman looked and thought like.  “If not for your mom, Erica,” I said, “I wouldn’t be the woman I am today.”

“You know what? You helped show me all that. You’re my hero.” Erica shouted, pointing at me. Inside, I swelled.

It was while riding high on this cloud of the mythos of me that had been built up over the week of my cousin’s visit that I concocted our night out. I wanted to show everyone a sex-positive good time. I wanted all of them – these two young women and this one young man from the repressive, small southern locale I’d extricated myself from twelve years earlier – to see the possibilities, freedom, and excitement Somewhere Else offered. To see how open-minded Portland is. To see how open minded I am.


I looked around the bar. “Sorry guys. This is pretty dead.”

“I told you the queers don’t come out until late,” S said.

“Well, we’ll be going to Slaughter’s after Night of Kink,” I said. “Things will’ve picked up by then.”

Just before 10:00, we wound our way over to the Fez. We stood in line amongst men and women, young and old, dressed in leather and fishnet, nurse’s outfits and street clothes. Heads were adorned with fedoras and horns. Inside, there were two rooms, one upper and one lower. We went upstairs first, to the room that hosted the latex section, the foot fetish section, and the BDSM arena. There were two large screens with a video of a naked woman with perfect breasts and hips dancing in silhouette to loud house music. The event was just getting going, so there were only a few people milling about, the most notable being the couple dressed from toe to head in black and white checkerboard body suits. The woman had on a gigantic antique black hat with feathers. They reminded me of a Tom Petty video. I left my party and went downstairs to find some friends I was meeting up with.

The room below was much smaller. There was a mustache fetish section that displayed a video of famous mustachioed men – naked Burt Reynolds, Charlie Chaplin, Tom Selleck. A picture of Farah Fawcett with a mustache faded in and out. Near there, half a dozen naked women painted each other with body paint. Two people kissed passionately on a bench under a window. I located my friends.

By the time I got upstairs again, the room had begun to fill. Men in drag mingled with women in drag, who all mingled with a man on stilts dancing with a midget, the checkerboard people, plain Janes, people in leather… I looked around for everyone I’d come with and finally located them sitting on a series of couches arranged atop a wooden platform overlooking the BDSM arena.

For the next twenty minutes, I sat and watched, mesmerized, while an incredibly attractive naked woman, save for her thong, which hugged her perfect ass, was slowly, teasingly whipped by a man who could’ve been anyone. She leaned stomach-down against an A-framed post, arms above her head, and trembled in anticipation between each strike. Miguel sat, mouth agape, and watched as a young man was lashed by an adorable young woman, who looked very much like a librarian straight out of the 1950s.

“I see you’ve found your fetish,” I told him.

“Oh, I already knew,” he said. “Mmmhmmm.”

I turned back toward the young woman being whipped.

Eventually, Traci got down off the platform and wandered out into the arena, to the section in the corner, next to the stocks, where a chair with stirrups sat abandoned and a man in a lab coat and mad scientist wig busied himself with tools. Erica and I – and about a dozen other people – turned to watch as Miguel joined them. Traci and the man in the wig had a brief conversation in which the man presented a tool – a long, handheld wand with blue electrodes on the end. He turned the tool on and ran it over Traci’s arms and chest as she giggled. Then, she was in the chair, feet in the stirrups. We all watched as first the man in the lab coat and then eventually Miguel ran the electrocution wand over Traci’s writhing body. She was absolutely enraptured, completely unaware that anything existed except the experience she was having.

Erica nervously expressed her discomfort. Traci had a boyfriend. She’d been drinking.

“Will she regret this tomorrow?” I asked.

“She might,” Erica said.

I went down to the arena and whispered into Miguel’s ear, “She needs to be done now. Let’s move on.”

Not long after, Miguel ran up with an ecstatic look on his face. “I want to walk around in boxers!” he said and proceeded to remove his pants for the remainder of our time at Night of Kink.

Later, just before we left the Fez, as I stood by the bar, I heard someone shout my name. I turned to Erica, “Did you hear my name?”

“I did.”

I turned around and started toward the latex section, where people stripped naked and laid underneath a large vinyl sheet, into which they were vacuum packed. I was stopped by a man guarding the area, protecting the privacy of the person under the sheet.

“Can I help you?” he asked.

“I heard someone say my name,” I said.

“What’s your name?”


“No, you heard glory-hole.”

Misunderstanding a second time, I touched my chest and said loudly, but slowly, “Yes. Gloria.”

The man looked at me, exasperated. He pointed behind him and said slowly, but loudly, “No. You heard glory-hole.”

I looked where the man was pointing to a large, black wooden box with different sized circles cut into it. While I was still trying to make out what this glory hole thing was, a man walked up next to me and looked at the box. “It’s upside down,” he said, then wandered off.

Erica, Miguel, Traci, and I left the Fez and walked to our final stop, CC Slaughter’s, the premier gay dance club in Portland. While standing in line for drinks, an LCD screen displayed text messages from people on the dance floor. Miguel sent a message that said, “It’s my first time in Portland, and I learned that I love electrocution! <3.”


By pure force of will and after more than twenty minutes of waiting for our drinks, we dragged our tired feet to the dance floor. A thumping club remix of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance” came on and for the first time all night I let myself go. For one song, I danced like no one was watching me (because they weren’t) and fell in crazy love with the music. Around 1:30 in the morning, sweaty, beat, and high on our night, the four of us left the club and moved onward to find drunchies.

Erica, Miguel, Traci, and I sat in our booth at the Hot Cake House surrounded by dozens of other people, all of whom also had melted hairdos and runny mascara. While I scarffed down my biscuits and gravy, Miguel and Traci recounted their experience with the electricity. They were wide-eyed and spoke in a tone that said, “Did you see that? Did you fucking see that?”

“I’m moving here,” Miguel said. “I fucking love Portland.”

Sometimes I still feel like that young, naïve girl who doesn’t know what a glory hole is and who can’t even begin to live up to her own myth, but I do feel blessed to live in a place where how I look, whether I shave my legs, what kind of sex I like to have, and which gender I identify with are the least of my concerns. I fucking love Portland, too.

I hope this experience sticks with my three young visitors for the rest of their lives, even if they never do come back to Portland; even if they spend the rest of their days avoiding suffocation in closed-minded southern New Mexico. I hope to one day be the woman Erica thinks I am – the one who not only can overwrite negative messages about other women with positive thoughts, but who can also overwrite negative messages about her own body (like when a bartender insinuates she’s fat) with positive ones as well. More than anything, though, I hope for all us to be well and happy, and for life to be kind.


**no names have been changed because everyone is innocent

TAGS: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

GLORIA HARRISON is a writer whose work has been featured on The Nervous Breakdown, Fictionaut, and This American Life. Gloria was the lead editor for The Portland Red Guide: Sites & Stories of Our Radical Past by Michael Munk, which was published through Ooligan Press in 2007. She was also a contributing editor to Pete Anthony's book, Immaculate, for which she received a high five and a ten dollar gift card to Stumptown Coffee. Gloria graduated from Portland State University with her B.A. in English in 2006 and now focuses on her own writing. She had a work of flash fiction published in The Bear Deluxe Magazine (No. 26). You can follow her on Twitter here.

Gloria lives in Portland, Oregon with her school-age twin boys. She is currently working on both a memoir and her first novel. You can contact Gloria via her Facebook page.

55 responses to “Glory Hole”

  1. Jeffro says:

    At first glance, I thought this was a Bruce Springsteen tribute.

    • Gloria says:

      Glory holes well they’ll pass you by
      Glory holes in the wink of a young girl’s eye
      Glory holes, glory holes

      Glory holes yeah goin back
      Glory holes aw he ain’t never had
      Glory holes, glory holes

  2. Art Edwards says:

    I prayed “Glory Hole” somehow factored in, and I was not disappointed.

    Sounds like just another wonderful day in Portland, where people who feel like freaks everywhere else in the country feel quite at home…without overpaying for housing.

    Thanks for the peek, G.

    • Gloria says:

      You’ve no idea how much “glory hole” and “gloria” sound alike when you’ve had three whiskey and cokes and there’s house music playing and it’s midnight, Art. No idea at all.

  3. James D. Irwin says:

    I love the new title. So much more apt/dirty.

  4. David says:

    I see I am behind in my Harrison. Time is short, but I must catch up.

  5. New Orleans Lady says:

    Ok, you’re taking me to that show when I visit and we’ll dance like no ones watching for 5 songs! at least!

    • Gloria says:

      FIVE songs? Holy crap. I’ll have to get plenty of sleep the night before and take loads of vitamins. And not wear a purse on my shoulder – that kept knocking me off balance.

      Also, YOU’RE COMING TO VISIT!!!???

  6. Great stuff, Gloria. Here’s to being around people who get it!

  7. Don Mitchell says:

    You do a nice job on the vibe of events like that, Gloria. There’s one in Buffalo (“Artists and Models Ball”) that’s similar but maybe not quite so hands-on. True, I haven’t been there for a long time, so maybe they’ve changed and are more, ah, interactive. Vacuum-packed. I don’t know about that.

    My best gay friend and I were talking about glory holes and I’ve never forgotten what he said: “there’s considerable trust involved.” Of course he was talking about the kind in public bathrooms.

    • Gloria says:

      I didn’t know about the vacuum packed thing, either, Don. I walked around like a kid at an amusement park for the first time in her life. It was an interesting experience to discover how knowledgeable and experienced I’m actually not. The interactive part was super interesting, for sure. But what was cool is that the boundaries were so clear – so much more so than I’d anticipated. There was the guy guarding the latex section and security guards walking around telling people they could only have their cell phones out on the stairwell (“Hey, man,” on guard said to Miguel, “there are doctors and lawyers and stuff here. No one wants to end up on youtube.”) As a matter of fact, the only person who violated my space was some slick close-talker who was dressed in slacks, a dress shirt, and a tie who told me he was a business student and who was clearly there to pick up chicks. He was literally the only person who creeped me out.

      Glory holes. Geez, man…

  8. Cheryl says:

    This is a great stry and you tell it so well. I like that you are for your cousins what their mother was for you. The circle of empowerment – rock on.

    I love living in Austin and loved Chicago for the same reason. Come as you are – no one really cares. I think Portland and, to some extent Austin, are special in that respect, but I think in almost any large urban area you can find it. That was my experience moving from tiny, oppressive Cornhole, IL to Houston, anyway. While Houston isn’t generally known as an open accepting place, it’s big enough to have diversity of viewpoints, has a thriving arts community, etc. You can find your tribe there, and I did. Just don’t go to the suburbs if you are not gender normative.

    I feel for your cousins and poor Miguel in S. New Mexico. Everyone thinks that whatever environment they grow up in is oppressive – that’s the nature of adolescence and the striving to break free. However, it is very different to grow up in a small town, far from any city that could offer a few short hours of anonymity or release, when you don’t buy in to what is considered “normal” in that town.

    Is “S” who I think it is?

    • Gloria says:

      Cheryl! If the S you’re thinking of is the lovely young woman who beered us in the middle of our hungover afternoon during your visit here, then yes! She’s so fun. 🙂 Circle of empowerment, indeed.

      Gender normative. Yes. Living in Portland has given me a chance to really explore what that means and to find my place in it. Interestingly, now I feel like I could go back and confidently live in southern NM (or wherever else) and not worry about the messages and pressures and whatever. (Though, to be clear, I would really, really prefer not to.) I realize how very vanilla I actually am.

      Hi Cheryl!! <3

      • cheryl says:

        “I realize how very vanilla I actually am. ”

        That was what was really cool about moving to a city after Cornhole, IL. Seeing and knowing people that were waaaaayyyyy more out there than me, and totally comfortable being out there, helped a lot actually. Contrasted to the small town, where even the minimum amounts of freak I displayed were SHOCKING!

        Yes, that is the “S” I was thinking of. She IS so fun! What a perfect afternoon. You were napping, I was on the couch reading, and all of a sudden your front door flew open open, and she burst into the living room. I was like, “Um, G? There’s an Amazon here to see you.”

        3 hours later, my gut hurt from laughing so hard. Actually, we laughed so much that visit, it was like doing 1,000 sit ups in 4 days.

        Hi G-Hole! <3

  9. I make you cry, and you make me laugh. We are yin and yang this week. Love this, you sexy bitch! I’m sending a gazillion positive thoughts your way right now …….. can you tell!?

    • Gloria says:

      I can totally tell, Cynthia. I just got a warm, fuzzy feeling in my glory hole…

      Love to you, you sexy bitch. 😀

  10. Richard Cox says:

    You could take the names and places out of this piece and it would still be identifiable as yours. You tell the story with a certain aesthetic, set scenes and render the interpersonal interaction so vividly, that immerses the reader in the story.

    One of your best posts, in my opinion.

    Also, regarding the photo: Gay men sure are obsessed with juicy cocks.

    • Gloria says:

      That’s such a sweet, flattering thing for you to say, Richard. Thank you. 🙂

      Also, don’t assume the admiration is exclusive to gay men. I’m not saying… I’m just saying…

  11. Miguel says:

    A toast to the best vacation of my life. Gloria, you’re a doll with an affinity for beautiful literature and a real talent for writing. I’m going to miss you bunches but we will meet again. <3

  12. Joe Daly says:

    Well done, Gloria. It’s one thing for people to talk about power, and quite another to see them wield it. Super fun piece with no shortage of positive messages- acceptance, self-esteem and following your spirit wherever it leads you.

    Rock on, Gloria!

  13. Jessica Blau says:

    Love your suggestion to think good things about women who walk by you on the street–wonderful!

    I still don’t understand what the glory hole is. A black box with holes? For what? I’m confused.

    • Gloria says:

      I’m so glad you said that, Jessica! Because I didn’t understand it either…still! My friend Jason told me he was going to revoke my pink card. I mentioned it to my therapist yesterday (that I wasn’t clear on the ins and outs) and so we Googled it during my session.


      It’s a whole thing, Jessica. There are rules and everything. Sometimes, I still feel so innocent.

      • Cheryl says:

        There is an urban legend in Houston that the men’s bathroom of the Sears in downtown Houston has a glory hole. I grew up there, and, hearing the rumors, discovered what the term means when I was in high school.

        I was always too chicken to go in the men’s bathroom at the decrepit Sears, which was built in 1939 and had been in serious disrepair since the 1960’s. I could never convince my trusworthy male friends to go in and report back. My untrustworthy male friends would swear that they had seen them, at some other time; or someone they knew had been in, or knew someone who knew someone who had been in.

        You can also learn about glory holes via the trusty episode of “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, entitled “The Gang Gets a Glory Hole.” http://www.hulu.com/watch/55827/its-always-sunny-in-philadelphia-glory-hole

  14. Erika Rae says:

    Can I be Central Erika, or does that just sound conceited?

    Wow, what a night you guys had! I think I would have been transfixed by the checkerboard couple, too. As always, excellent writing, lady! And no, you don’t look like Xena Warrior Princess. That is, er, unless you wanted to look like her. (There is nothing wrong with that, of course. Lucy Lawless is sort of badass.)

  15. Hey! You are not allowed to post on TNB during my week-long technolojacation! I’m glad I decided to check my email today so I didn’t miss this.

    That’s hilarious. Had I been along for the ride, I would have spent the rest of the night trying to see how many times I could get you to respond to “Glory Hole” instead of “Gloria.” Heh.

    Thanks for taking us on your positive sexual adventure, Not Glory Hole. I really enjoyed your descriptions of the colorful people and exciting happenings. Sounds like a great night out to me. (:

    • Gloria says:

      So, what I hear you saying is when I go visit you, you’re going to spend the whole night working glory hole into conversation just to see if I keep saying, “Did you say my name,” right?

      It was a great night out, for sure. Though, I suspect that I’m too old for this much excitement.

      I just interviewed Art Edwards for TNB the other night and, at the end, we were talking (again, as always) about the TNB Band lineup. I threw your name in the ring and said that, since you go to bed at 8:00, the band would have to play late afternoon gigs at senior centers and all you can eat buffets. 🙂

      To being old and tired!


  16. jmblaine says:

    As a former nightclub DJ/Psychologist
    I do love to watch people be people
    & I so love a story
    that takes me through a crazy night.
    You wrote this one just right
    because when it was over
    I didn’t want it to be over.

    • Gloria says:

      You’re a former nightclub psychologist? That’s some pretty progressive thinking on the part of the nightclub owner! 😉

      Thank you, J.M., for your sweet words.

      On another note, does your mama call you J.M.? When you get solicitation calls, what name does the telemarketer refer to you by? I’ve always been curious about this J.M. thing.

  17. What a fun and funny entry. Took me a double take before I believed the title.

    • Gloria says:

      Yeah, Jeffrey Pillow, up above, thought at first that this was a Springsteen tribute post. The word, like the box itself, requires a second or third look before you begin to understand what you’re seeing.

      Thanks, Stefan!

  18. Erica says:

    Thanks for being the best big sister I never had, G-Hole (Yup. It’s caught on.) We had a truly wonderful time, and I’m even putting into practice lessons you taught me during that week. Love you, lady.

    • Gloria says:

      Oh yeah? Which practices are those? Do they involve electricity? 😀

      I love you, too, Erica. Bunches and bunches and tons.

  19. Reno Romero says:

    This is a keeper. Love the details and tone. Like 11 said: people being people. The stories are always right there before your eyes. Want stories? Go to the market, the mall. You nailed this one, Gloria. I love Portland, too. Got tanked on a local beer there called Terminator X. Yum.

    • Gloria says:

      That’s a big beer, Reno. I’m too much of a wuss to drink most of what Portland has to offer. Actually, I should say to “consume” most of what Portland has to offer and just leave it at that.

      Thank you for your sweet words.

  20. This was such a fun romp–I can just imagine how those kids’ minds were blown in great ways. I’ve only been to Portland once–and though I do agree with points earlier that all cities offer varieties of this kind of scene, it does seem that Portland is particularly tolerant and open to the point that the alternative is the norm in ways that many other cities, i.e. Midwestern cities like Chicago, don’t quite offer, where alternative is still “alternative.” That said, I think what you’ve really hit on here is the challenge and excitement of finding a way to embrace yourself, your passions, your kinks, your personhood, your full sexuality and full personality, WHEREVER it is you happen to live. Portland may offer it more front-and-center than New Mexico or the Midwest, but your niece and her friends are exactly like the burgeoning adults everywhere who are looking for a way to express themselves safely and without judgments and have a great time doing it. Women supporting women, people embracing many different forms of sexuality–huge props to you for starting these young people on their way, and for remaining open, too, to challenging your own self-concept even though you’re not 20 anymore–it’s never too late to find a fuller self-acceptance and embrace the Sexy Bitch inside you.

    • Gloria says:

      It’s true what you say about Portland, Gina. I get frustrated sometimes because everyone here is so alternative and it seems sometimes like it’s as much of a tolerance orgy as it is an alterna-competition. So really it was nice to be reminded where I came from and where am I am and appreciate it again through new eyes. I needed it, too. I’ve been bitching a lot about this place – mostly about the weather, but also sometimes about the schools – and this was a great perspective gathering experience for me.

      My Sexy Bitch is totally high fiving your Sexy Bitch right now, Gina. Thanks so much for reading.

  21. Matt says:

    The title of this was enough to send the safety filters on my work PC into red alert and block me from reading it. Had to do so on my iPhone! Naughty, naughty, naughty.

    Sounds like a good time was had by all. I’m curious as to what that electrical taser thing felt like.

    • Gloria says:

      I’m kind of proud that my title alone got me blocked. Excellent.

      I don’t know what it felt like; I forgot to ask. We were all caught up in the excitement and then the kids (I can call them that because I’m ten years older) left the next morning. I’ll ask Traci and get back to you.

  22. Stubob says:

    Hey G-Hole! I find it interesting that the one creature who creeped you out was wearing slacks, dress shirt and a tie! Talk about your dress reversal…How can a glory-hole box be upside down? Was that guy a midget? Is sending good vibes gender specific, or can I send you good vibes too?? *closes eyes, scrunches face, hums/grunts, hits “send”* There, they’re on their way…Gawd, I wanna know who S is…I have a guess, but…I thought it might’ve been me, but I don’t remember this night, which doesn’t mean it wasn’t me…What? Where was I…oh yeah, great piece, my mouth was agape the whole way through. I wanna be shrink-wrapped…

  23. Laurel Woods says:

    Great read, love your story! Totally perked me up on a rainy afternoon…thanks for sharing.

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    Say, you got a nice blog.Much thanks again. Awesome.

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