Edgar Gomez Unpacks Their Internalized Machismo in High-Risk Homosexual
Andrew Sciallo in Conversation with the Author of a New Queer Memoir
I sat down with the author of High-Risk Homosexual, Edgar Gomez, to discuss how they navigate writing about the people in their life, the violent effects of internalized homophobia, and how Gomez’ managed to unpack the machismo from within. This conversation comes on the heels of a dangerous time for the LGBTQ+ community in America, as we are seeing the rollback of trans and gay rights across the country. Despite this difficult moment in our history, my talk with Edgar gave me hope that through the challenges we face, we are stronger together. “Now more than ever… I need my community.”
Andrew Sciallo: I think it’s common for gay men of our generation to process the fact that our country is in turmoil by seeking pleasure and having sex and going out after the things we desire. Was that something you thought about when you were pitching this book or beginning to write it?
Edgar Gomez: That’s a good question. I don’t know that a lot of what I do is planned enough. I feel like we’re part of this chaos generation where, every day, we wake up and some new bullshit is happening. Some new, wild thing. And when it comes to seeking pleasure, I guess I see it as an antidote to grief.
Certainly, like a lot of other people, the pandemic made me reevaluate my priorities and how I’m spending my time. And so, now more than ever, I do try to enjoy queer spaces, going to gay bars, or hanging out with queer and trans people as much as I can. Just because, you know, we were isolated for so long, and it really made me realize how much I need my community to just be a person, to be alive, to be happy.
AS: Absolutely. You write about a lot of familial relationships in the book. I’m wondering: how did you approach writing about your family in a way that still sustained the relationships after the book came out? And were you scared about writing about the people in your life?
EG: I mean, that’s the question of the century. The truth is I grossly underestimated my mom’s ability to read English. I knew that she spoke English enough, she worked at Starbucks for over 20 years in the US, and she’s lived in the US for a minute now. But I never really saw her reading a lot in English. So I thought, okay, even if my book gets published, I don’t think that she’ll be able to read it unless she gets it translated or something. So, I felt a little bit protected by that.
I’m very confident in my writing because I work very hard at it. But at the same time, I’m also very aware of how this publishing industry works and the types of stories that get told and get bought and published. And though I believed in my writing, I also thought it was very unlikely that it would get published. It’s queer, it’s Central American, and it doesn’t necessarily fit into the narrative of suffering that is demanded of our stories. It also doesn’t fit into narratives of joy either, sort of like this weird in-between place where I tried to capture the entirety of the human experience, all of the emotions.In my mind, I was like, if I’m gonna come for other people, I better be coming for myself as well.
I’m not just leaning into joy, grief, or anything like that. I knew it for a combination of all these things and more. I was just like, I don’t know that it’s gonna get published… and even if it does get published will my mom be able to read it? And if my mom is able to read it, and it does get published, is it gonna even be successful enough that it’ll be on her radar? It might be something I’m going to be able to keep hidden.
And so while those things definitely weighed on me, they also freed me a little bit, because I was like, I can write about whatever I want. And all the concerns that a lot of other nonfiction writers have, I didn’t necessarily feel like they applied to me when I was writing about my family. I don’t know that I needed to be super-worried that they’re gonna read this and feel some type of way about it. And that allowed me to be more authentic.
AS: You write early in the memoir, “A boy is not something you’re born as, but rather an identity you inherit.” I wanted to talk about that. What does gender expression mean to you today after having written in the book?
EG: Yeah, I think early on, I became very aware of all of the expectations that are placed on us because of the sexes we’re assigned at birth. I knew that so much of what I liked to do and who I wanted to be was “wrong.” And that I needed to perform to appease others, specifically the men in my life, but also some of the women, like my mom.
And so I guess I had an acute understanding that so much of who we all present ourselves to be is kind of an illusion. And many of us are just trying to make other people happy and comfortable. And a lot of what is comfortable to people is preserving the status quo, which is racism, homophobia, sexism, and transphobia. It also made me very suspicious of everybody around me.
AS: The beginning of the book focuses on this silencing you were experiencing from the culture around you. You wrote, “Everything would be okay, as long as I kept quiet.” The opposite of silencing is really writing in many ways. I’m wondering about what the decision was like to take all these things that you’ve been so silent about for so long and document them through writing? When did you first decide that was something you wanted to do?
EG: Yeah, I think definitely writing my story is in direct response to all the silencing that happened early on in my life. It’s a direct response to my culture, which is a culture in which people who are perceived to be male can’t be emotional, can’t cry, and can’t speak about their feelings. And I think one of my life projects outside of writing is unpacking the machismo within me.
And though it’s an ongoing journey, I saw writing this book, even though I still am unpacking machismo within me, as a first step, where I’m being vulnerable and trying as much as I can to explain my emotions, even when I don’t understand them. That’s one of the things I tried to do in the book. Even if I don’t completely understand the emotions, I’m writing to understand myself better.
AS: You refer to this as Post-Closet Stress Disorder throughout the book. How do you see the current structure for coming out, specifically for Latinx folks?
EG: Yeah, I think for both Latin X boys, and just for boys in general, it definitely is a trauma. The reason I say boys is because I’m thinking about the Pulse shooter, Omar Mateen—as well as all of the mass shootings happening every single day—but specifically the Pulse shooter because he was closeted and queer.
I think about how being closeted as a kid makes you really suspicious of everybody around you. Suspicious that everybody’s perceiving you and clocking you, and you’re constantly trying to navigate that. You’re constantly worried about being caught. And that makes you really resentful of everyone around you. And it just leads to shame. And then that shame leads to hate. And that hate manifests in these acts of violence.
And I often think about Omar Mateen. Though I have no sympathy for him, I really wish that somebody had stepped in when he was younger and made him feel like there was hope and community out there and that he didn’t have to see other queer people as enemies.
I remember growing up, one thing that I would do was Google gay bars. And I would look at the pictures that they would post on their websites. And I would look at all of these queer people so joyful and celebratory and just like hanging out and being themselves. And I would have this mixed reaction, where I would be like, Oh, my God, that’s amazing that that’s out there. And at the same time, I was just so jealous and angry that I didn’t have that.
And there was a long period of time when I thought I would never be able to have that. And I resented those queer people because in my mind, for some reason, I was like, Why aren’t they trying to reach me? Why aren’t they helping me? Why aren’t they waiting for me? If this is my supportive community? Why aren’t they looking out for me? I am in so much pain, and they’re so happy, and like blasting it all over the internet.
And I can imagine young positive kids, even in this time… I mean, this time is also very complicated, right? It’s like supposedly a queer generation, but at the same time there’s “Don’t Say Gay” and anti-trans legislation all over the country. So there’s just so much going on. It almost reminds me of the queer liberation movement. A lot of white gays stopped after marriage equality. And were like, Oh, it’s over. Everything’s good now. Love wins! Meanwhile, a lot of queer people of color, and a lot of trans people were like, Wait, but what about our rights that are getting taken away?
AS: Something that I think the chapter about Pulse really illuminated for me was the fact that we do have a lot of divisions within our community. And we do have a lot of infighting. I feel like if you look on Grindr alone, there’s so much division just within that online space. I’m wondering if that’s something tat you were trying to tap into when you decided to write about Pulse?
EG: I don’t know if I was doing that consciously, but in a way, I was. It was hovering in the back of my mind for sure, yeah. There’s the fact that not only did Omar Mateen face homophobia, but he also faced a lot of racism as well as fatphobia. He grew up in post-9/11 America, and he was bullied as a kid for being Muslim and for being overweight. And I imagine that when he went to gay bars in Orlando, he experienced racism and fatphobia. I imagine he probably went into those places and felt rejected. And I’m sure a lot of shame, which ultimately led to his act of violence.
AS: And your writing holds space for so many kinds of “coming out” experiences. Was that something you thought about?
EG: I remember when I was just working on random stories throughout the book. And I was turning pages into my MFA workshop. And I remember I had a professor who once told me he was like, I liked that this story isn’t just a coming out story. Because coming out stories are kind of becoming passe. And in my mind, I was like, I don’t know that, that this isn’t a coming out story. I do think of it as coming out in a bunch of different ways. Other than just gay? I think he was referencing this tie back to the idea of, “Once queers got the right to marry, everything’s fine. Everything’s over. And now we can all write our beautiful, joyful stories.”
And for me, it was like, No, coming out was still very difficult. And I didn’t know that other stories had been told, and my story hasn’t been told. A lot of queer people of color stories, a lot of trans people’s coming out stories haven’t been told, and it is still very hard. And I was thinking about coming out throughout every story in the book and circling around the idea of whether it’s worth it to come out.I find it hard to separate my queerness from my Latinx identity.
Because I think that’s a question most queer people ask themselves at some point. When we realize we’re queer, we’re like, Oh, should I tell anybody? Is it safe to tell anybody? For some, it is, more so than for others. And I also think about, when I go on Grindr and the grid loads, immediately I can see three, four, or five DL (Discreet) guys. And I’m like, Oh, to all of these DL dudes, it isn’t safe to come out. It’s not worth it. And so yeah, I wanted to hold space for that as well.
AS: Yeah. I definitely felt there was an interplay at work in your book between the identity you were born into in the Latinx community, and then the identity you found in the queer community. You write a lot about the pressure you faced from the Latinx community, but I’m wondering about the pressures that have come from the queer community as well, the pressure to conform in certain ways, to adhere to certain beauty standards in the gay community?
EG: Yeah, I find it hard to separate my queerness from my Latinx identity. Because so much of it is inherently linked. I mean, one example is, and this is something that even after writing the book, I’ve just been thinking about a lot: I write in the book about this pressure to perform masculinity even within the queer community.
But a lot of that pressure comes from the fact that I’m Latinx and there are all of the preconceived notions around Latinx people being, you know, sex objects, basically. And in the book, I write about that making me uncomfortable… being called “Papi” on Grindr by white guys. There is a racist history of Latinx people being portrayed as overly sexualized, and that were all savage, and we all need to be tamed, and how the media portrays us as gangbangers and the hot gardeners and all this and that, but even outside of those things, I think after writing the book, I have thought about it more.
Another reason it makes me uncomfortable is that I’m nonbinary. And, you know, I don’t want to be gendered in that way. So yeah, it’s really hard for me to separate all those things. I will say I definitely have found freedom in queer spaces. You know, queer bars were the first places where I didn’t have to worry about anybody hating me for being gay.
AS: We talked about how you’re holding a lot of these relationships in the book to a high standard, and rightfully so. And I felt like you challenged the people around you, but you challenged yourself even more ruthlessly. I’m wondering if you noticed, since writing the book, that you have alleviated some of that pressure you were putting on yourself throughout the narrative.
EG: I guess in my mind, I was like, if I’m gonna come for other people, I better be coming for myself as well. I really took that to mind. And though I feel like I was hard on other people, I think it was really important to me to be generous as well, to be as generous as I could. And to create as fully dimensional characters on the page as possible. And for every bad thing I say I did try to find something good. I tried to speculate as to everyone’s motivations so it didn’t just seem like everybody was just acting villainous for no reason.
You know, if my mom was doing something to me, I did try to reflect on the fact that, you know, she was trying to protect me in some way. That doesn’t necessarily excuse her behavior or the behavior of other people who may have harmed me. But it does explain it a little bit…