I’ve traveled a lot in my life, both in the U.S. and around the globe, and these trips have greatly informed my fiction. They got me thinking about how gay men approach travel differently than straight people do, especially in the internet age. It’s easy to forget that even ten years ago much of the world was disapproving if not openly hostile towards gay people, and of course many places remain so. The internet has allowed gay men the world over to find a space of community and solidarity, a place where we can reach out and discuss our experiences. Very often in the countries I’ve visited the men were seeking refuge online, and were eager to meet guys from countries like the U.S. where the society at large was more accepting. This also allowed me to access their culture on a more personal level—instead of communing with other backpackers at hostels and observing these cultures from a safe distance, I got to engage with locals and hear their stories. I also improved my Spanish a lot!
While these stories are fiction, there’s at least a spark of truth (sometimes more) in each of them. I’ve been to all the cities where the stories are set, and some of the events did happen, yet most of the “plots” of the stories are fiction. For instance, like Tyler in “Inner Eye,” I lost my wallet in Salvador. Unlike him, I was single at the time.
It was important for me to show the contrasts between different cultures on issues of gay identity and acceptance. We have Francisco in “Floating,” in Arequipa, essentially sacrificing his happiness to keep his mother secure in their shared lie, to Johannesburg, where the constitution protects gays and yet, like Ricardo says, gay people are often killed and not allowed to be buried in the cemeteries. Juxtapose that with Parker and Chase in the title story, whose neighbors greet them with a bottle of wine at their doorstep and ask them when they’re going to get married, or Todd in “Dear Guy in 24B,” lambasting the straight guy next to him for not turning down his advances more explicitly.
While the discrimination in the U.S. is usually more subtle, it still exists, such as the tacit approval of all things heteronormative on the cruise ship in “Cruising.” Then there’s the discrimination that gay men engage against each other, such as the kind targeted against the Waiting in “Cruising” or Marcel’s cruelty in “Body and Mind.” I wanted people to think about how things are changing both within the community and with our interactions with the outside world, but also, how they are not changing. How certain things will likely never change, and how we deal with that.