This essay, about the colorism faced by my Sicilian grandfather in our Italian-American family and beyond, begins with a personal experience of othering and works back through buried family lore. It appears in the current of Via: Voices in Italian Americana from Bordighera Press.
It’s been a journey for this deeply personal essay. In 2017, it was accepted for publication by a fledgling queer literary magazine. After a routine editing process, two more editors were brought on at the last minute and demanded major changes to the scope. I wound up pulling it from the publication, so it’s very good to see it in print in its current form.
Thanks to Editorial Coordinator Nicholas Grosso at Bordighera, and to all the prior editors for their suggestions and challenges.
Catapult is a platform founded in 2015 by Elizabeth Koch, with the mission of publishing “stories that celebrate life…Stories that reveal all the layers—the sinews and hairy knuckles, the iron and meat of history and influence…stories that land us squarely, concretely, in someone else’s shoes.”
My first essay for the platform was a chance to unpack my distinctly non-linear career path, to contextualize sex work as labor, and to outline how my stint as a traveling salesman has fueled my creativity.
Having serpentined through many art/finance divides, I find that this unlikely gig sustains my writing practice in ways large and small. I love traveling through my territory, and the places and spaces it affords for writing: Amtrak and commuter rail cars, airplanes, small-town coffeehouses, anonymous motels. I feel something akin to Maya Angelou, who said of writing in hotels, “I go into the room and I feel as if all my beliefs are suspended. I value the perspective on my environment I’ve gained from getting to know the 400-mile radius around me.”
“You’ve Got Male” is a reflection on my earliest interactions with the internet (dating back to 1996), and chronicles the rise and demise of our online sexual freedom, from the wild frontier of the Naughts to the passage of SESTA/FOSTA, legislation that encodes a moral panic about trafficking innocents (innocence?). It appears in the visual compendium/collection of critical essays Matt Keegan: 1996 from Inventory Press.
We were pioneers in the vast unknown: we embarked to the wheezy chimes of the blippy modem, and were greeted on arrival by the upbeat intonations of an anonymous vocal actor, so full of promise: “Welcome! You’ve Got Mail!” AOL’s software suite gave newbies like me access to the world’s largest “walled garden” browsing environment—a controlled, user-friendly platform offering email, file storage, content (games, news, and gossip), and interactive features such as instant messaging and chat rooms. AOL rapidly became the largest internet service provider in the country, with more subscribers than the next largest fifteen ISPs combined. At its peak, AOL had over thirty million members.
Many thanks to Matt Keegan for including me in this momentous work, and to Claire Lehmann for the thoughtful edit. The book release is in October 2020 and is now available to pre-order here.
Back in March, I was supposed to read in San Antonio at Gertrude Press and the University of Texas Press‘ joint offsite AWP reading event. I was especially looking forward to sharing the bill with Sasha Geffen. After the event got cancelled (thanks pandemic), I got in touch with Sasha, who was kind enough to send me a copy of their book Glitter Up the Dark. My review of the book is live on Lambda Literary.
The book is very readable; Geffen’s love of music shines through every page. I was happy to have included a section about the late Richard Penniman in the review:
A raunchy anecdote about recently departed Little Richard telegraphs Geffen’s emphasis on voice. In its original version (Tutti Frutti / Good booty), his 1957 smash was the paean to butt sex you didn’t know you needed; even in the cleaned-up recorded version, an attuned listener can clock the libido in his wild singing. Vocal performance has a capacity to reach our inner selves; for queer people confronting a social order that excludes them, the effect can be cathartic as well as erotic.
Thanks to William Johnson for the thoughtful edit.
My feature on Chile’s queer performance artist/writer renegade voice, which he once characterized as “mariconaje guerrero” (“warrior faggotry”) appears in the May/June Gay & Lesbian Review, under the issue theme of “Unsung Heroes.”
The below excerpt describes a performance by Lemebel and collaborator Francisco Casas (as Las Yeguas del Apocalipsis entitled La Conquista de américa:
At the Chilean Human Rights Commission, Las Yeguas danced the cueca, Chile’s national dance, on a map of South America littered with broken Coca-Cola bottles, until their commingled blood stained the map in dance-step patterns. They each danced the female role alone, signaling the absence of the desaparecidos (political detainees who were “disappeared” by the state). It was a haunting appropriation of the symbolic dance as much as a rebuke of colonialist violence.
Many thanks to Chilean-American artist Ignacio Salas for his unwavering guidance and support, and to Richard Schneider Jr, for his scholarly edit.
I read from “Raunch Daddy,” an audience fave. A few words from my intro:
Hi from Manhattan West 30’s, or Lower Hell, as we say. I normally describe this neighborhood as “convenient, but noisy.” Not any more…
For the last year, I’ve been writing about artists: deejay Frankie Knuckles, whom I counted as a friend, photographer Alvin Baltrop, and Chilean writer/activist Pedro Lemebel. All queer people of color, who all showed us queer resilience as artists and people. We’re gonna need some of that power…
For this reading at San Francisco’s wonderful independent bookstore Dog-Eared Books Castro, I read from an excerpt for “Raunch Daddy”, story 2 of Worker Names. Also on the bill: Denise Conca, author of A Recursive Nature, Cass Sellers, author of the thriller Finding Sky, Wayne Goodman, and Rob Rosen. Thanks to Rick May for organizing a lively night of queer lit~
From Beny’s letter to Nick:
All is illusion except for your odor, gringuito. Let me also remind you that it is quite inconvenient–given my populist and anti-imperialist leanings–to be so enraptured by your capitalist body. You dominate me completely without raising a hand, yet here I am colonizing your pages. Sometimes when I grade my students’ compositions I hide lurid suggestions in the commentary…
The Gay & Lesbian Review‘s blog section posted my report from a recent visit to Santiago, Chile, in which I reflect on the work of writer and activist Pedro Lemebel:
Among the miles of graffiti I saw were many paste-ups devoted to Lemebel, and a line from “Manifiesto” repeatedly scrawled on city walls as an encouragement to the resisters: Soy más subversivo que usted (“I am more subversive than you”).
As Max passed between the stanchions he extended his hand to Rita. She strained to elongate her fingers while rotating her wrist, willing her rough hand to appear delicate. She then placed her hand atop his, as if he were about to escort her into a ballroom.
“Aren’t you a tall drink of water,” she said with theatrical, accented diction, then she drew close to his ear and mouthed an indecent sipping sound. Too embarrassed to reply, Max smiled awkwardly and entered the club.
Rita’s sharp allure on that night in 1986 would come back to Max decades later, opening more than a door.
ImageOutWrite is the companion volume to the ImageOut LGBTQ+ film festival in Rochester, NY. Volume 8 includes my short story, “Rita Dolores” (p. 75). It’s a little mystery set in NYC featuring a gay crime reporter, a drag performer, and a lesbian coroner. The book is a dense collection of short stories and poems by diverse LGBTQ+ voices.
Condragulations to my fellow contributing authors:
I enjoyed how Bondhus’ poem “My Brother Asks…”, (p. 173) invokes “the whole hotbox universe…” in answer to a flip question, and how Elaine Burnes’ short story “Life Time” (p. 39) about a time-traveling butch, queers the conceit.