Kate Anderson is on stage at the Abbey Pub in Chicago's Irving Park neighborhood, making a come-hither gesture at a few dozen people; the designer-cowboy-boot-stomp of Lady Gaga's "You and I" begins to play. Kate has a lissome, athletic build, and wears perfectly cut plaid and grey jeans which cling to her legs like fog, cuffed and stacked atop a pair of fashionable boots. Her soft, pleasant features are crowned by a singular, shaggy Chicago boxcar of a hairdo, part pompadour and part mullet, with clipped parietals like a French soccer player. Her eyes like embers, she is stepping towards us, now, with confident coquettishness, crossing each leg in front of the other runway style.
Then she sets the whole thing in motion, a serpentine nuzzling up, before planting, before us and everyone else, a kiss on, um, an invisible lover? And what a kiss: tongue! passion! Then a pantomimed pulling of the hair, a pardine bite of the jugular, and now she undoes spectral bra clasps, slowly makes her way down, and comprehensively eats her lover out. The crowd cheers, and Kate stands up, pulls something on, wait no straps something on, cinches up the toy, and the audience cheers even louder. There follows a fabulous orgasm, and the evaporation of any doubt. It is obvious why Kate is a national champion.
She is the 2013 Air Sex national champion. She punched her ticket to Austin two years ago on this very stage, when she won the Chicago regional. This capped a career that began over a thousand miles and a sexual orientation ago.
Air Sex is, by now, most definitely a thing, in that it has been parsed and ogled and talked about in Jezebel, Cosmopolitan, BuzzFeed, Playboy, even the goddamn Huffington Post. Normally hosted by comedian Chris Trew—his demonstration of the form on America's Got Talent perturbed no less a sybarite than Howard Stern—Air Sex has been making the rounds since 2007. A movie is on the way, which the Air Sex website describes as "part tour documentary, part comedy special, part exploration of sex in today's society."
Said site calls Air Sex the world's first SPART—sport and art, the capital letters are theirs—a claim which Terry Southern, circus artists, and skateboarders, among others, would find laughable. But Air Sex is unique in what it can provide to both its participants and spectators: a safe environment for raucous, good natured, sex-positive… performance? Sex education? Avant-sports?
It's not quite any of them, or enough one not to be the other. Which is a good thing, mostly. The less Air Sex resembles every other sex-related aspects of our culture—sterile "sex ed" classes or flubbily lewd comedians or stupid-mean cis-centric sitcom dumbassery—the better it is, overall.
Which isn't to say that Air Sex events are not funny, or entertaining; they are both. They are also a competition, with titles at stake and champions, who are flown across the country courtesy of Flesh Light to compete. There are no categories based on gender, orientation, number of partners, or any of the myriad things sex can be categorized with; everyone is just having sex. They gain the ability to confidently explore their sexuality, their deepest fantasies and basest desires, in a safe, well lit—stage lit—place. Then a rotating panel of judges, usually drawn from the ranks of comedians and sex educators, gives them a totally subjective score. While Air Sex has the shape of a competition, its soul is something hornier, lighter, and more distractible.
Gregory, last year's Chicago champ, tells me that he has never seen anyone take the competition seriously, not even at nationals. "What are you going to do if you win?" he asks. "Brag about it?"
It is not unusual for Gregory to come up with his routine day off; for some of the more challenging/artistic lays—say, adding live viola accompaniment on stage or doing a Mario Bros. themed set replete with sound effects, e.g., the going-down-the-pipe-sound—that require some coordination, he may run them through a few times first. Gregory puts an emphasis on oddity.
"You've either got to go sexy or you've got to go funny," he tells me. "And I don't have the body for sexy."
Kate tells a similar story of ad hoc expertise, performances being honed more on stage than in, say, a bedroom mirror. Both find the acting out of fantasies—Gregory's are more conceptual, coital architecture; Kate's are more akin to her actual sex life—to be a self-esteem boost.
"It's validating," Gregory tells me. "Like, if you are going to be here, you are most likely sexually open minded, so it's nice to have a very safe area to practice in."
The talent pool is small, with five or so air fuckers lined up on a given night. Open calls are commonplace, and Gregory speaks of walk-ins winning it all. That is, it so happens, how our Kate got started, back in Phoenix.
This was back in 2010. She won twice in Phoenix, with her desert career ending in a disappointing trip to nationals before her eventual move to Chicago and subsequent title. She's retired from active competition for now, but organized this night's regional event. Her performance was both demonstration and foreplay, designed to get the crowd and anyone on the fence about giving it a go suitably warmed up. "It has been a career," she told me before taking the stage.
"For me, moving to Chicago was a very personal journey," Kate said. "I came out in between Phoenix and Chicago as a gay lady, and that was all part of it." (She would later add, via email, that she cried it out in the U-Haul, "I'm so ga-hay-hay-aay," which she wrote was so stereotypical "I can't even write it as a joke, because it's the truth.")
Kate came to understand her sexuality, in part, through her life in Air Sex. "I had not had sex with a lady the first time I air-fucked a lady!" she wrote. She initially felt ashamed of that; more practically, as a performer, she was anxious that her routine would fail due to her lack of real world experience. "Years later," she wrote, "being a happily out woman, I'm not afraid to tackle anything on that stage!"
That includes fisting—which, she is now both proud and humble in pointing out, she can perform with equal gusto in real life—and double penetration, which, if she is being honest: she is just not quite there yet.
"It makes us all feel a bit more normal, seeing what other people do," Sunny Megatron told me after the performance. Megatron is a sex educator, pleasure advocate, and host of Showtime's "Sex With Sunny Megatron." She was also one of the night's panel of judges. "Anything that gets people talking about sex in a non-judgmental, light way is a good thing."
The evening's winner is an Air Sex virgin.
She dubbed herself Pegasus—a name inspired by an instant classic "Broad City" episode—and pantomimed a "normal Saturday night" for her and her boyfriend. That is: vicious spanking, a touch of flogging, and a not-unsubstantial amount of pegging. She dominated her fellow fuckers, and edged Gregory—whose performance included classical music, balletic movement, and creative uses of a sex swing—in a climactic head-to-head fuck-off scored to Taylor Swift's "Shake it Off."
Pegasus' face was flush with joy afterwards, lending her the look of a victorious athlete, and also a post-coital human. "Even if you don't really know what you are doing," she said, "a lot of enthusiasm goes a long way."