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.
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”).
Writer and activist Elizabeth Koke and I shared the bill for the 9/17 Experiments & Disorders at Dixon Place.Read cuts from the following works-in-progress, and a cut from “Raunch Daddy,” the second story in the Gertrude Press chapbook Worker Names.
I Speak for my Difference, a new English translation of the poem Manifesto/Hablo Por Mi Diferencia by Pedro Lemebel, a queer Chilean writer and activist who resisted oppression, authoritarian rule, and the culture of machismo.
Last year, a fellow writer recommended Bruce’s workshop to me. I was familiar with his name but not his actual work. I started reading after joining the workshop, wondering how could I have missed out? I love the voices of the Times Square queer underworld he chronicles in User. His“erotic autobiography, ” The Romanian, is a fervent love letter to hustler Romulus. The tract he mentions, Against Marriage, was published by Semiotexte. In Benderson’s prose the erotic, the personal, and the political form a singular sweaty body.
In this interview for RFD Mag Stonewall Issue “Rebellion Feels Delicious.,”Benderson offers context to the Stonewall narrative. Whenqueer people were criminalized, we had common cause with other criminals. Like them, we sought to get away with our crimes, in our case, living our lives. Not to deny that we were exploited, demeaned, endangered in the process. Whatever current aspirations for bourgeois respectability, there are workers and outlaws among us, now as then. Our creative work should reflect these multitudes, not just this largely gentrified projection of today’s queer representation:
I was on the bill for this celebration of the life and work of Dean Johnson, in support of an upcoming feature documentary from Lola Rocknrolla. I opened the second set by delivering the Living Dean Manifesto, and then reading excerpts from “Raunch Daddy,” the second story in Worker Names. From the manifesto:
There was a spiritual component to Dean’s lifelong work, all of it, the parties, the music, the drag, the performance, the hustle. In 2007, the Times quoted me saying,“Dean was a New York landmark, like a tall tower or a tourist attraction.” Today I’m gonna tell you something else about Dean that you weren’t ready for back then: Dean was a Pagan God. His irreverence was absolutely necessary and his fury was holy: Fuck thermo-nuclear war, fuck Mary Tyler Moore (I mean, rest in peace Mary Tyler Moore, but also fuck Mary Tyler Moore.) Big Red was the God in charge of dislodging the Judeo-Christian hold on the sacred, with its tedious cycles of guilt, castigation, and redemption. We are sacred. This gathering is sacred. Music, dance, celebration: sacred. Sex is sacred, drugs are a sacrament, prostitutes and artists are sacred, our naked bodies are sacred, queer people are sacred.