Edgar Gomez (he/she/they) is a Florida-born writer with roots in Nicaragua and Puerto Rico. A graduate of University of California, Riverside’s MFA program, he is a recipient of the 2019 Marcia McQuern Award for nonfiction. His words have appeared in Poets & Writers, Narratively, Catapult, Lithub, The Rumpus, Electric Lit, Plus Magazine, and elsewhere online and in print. His memoir, High-Risk Homosexual, was named a Best LGBTQ Book by Harper’s Bazaar. He lives in New York and Puerto Rico.
Michelle Malonzo of Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe, Arizona, served on the panel that selected Gomez’s book for Indies Introduce. “High-Risk Homosexual by Edgar Gomez has my heart,” said Malonzo. “This memoir is hilarious! But it is also a poignant and searing examination of machismo culture in the Latinx community. Gomez dissects the gender dynamics within Latinx families, speaks with honesty and vulnerability about queerness, and what it means to flip those power structures that seem difficult to break. Yet he also writes about the joy at the intersections and ultimately this memoir is a celebration of what it means to be gay and Latinx. If you love Samantha Irby, then High-Risk Homosexual is your next read! It’s thoughtful while still making you LOL.”
Here, Malonzo and Gomez talk about the importance of Latinx LGBTQIA+ and Central American stories.
Michelle Malonzo: High-Risk Homosexual is an important addition in the Latinx canon. We need more Latinx LGBTQIA+ stories and Central American stories. There is a strong inclination in this industry to publish books by marginalized authors that fit in very neat and unrealistic boxes: here is the queer memoir, here is the immigrant story, etc. One of the things I love about your memoir is how you write from the intersection of being a Nicaraguan and Puerto Rican gay man. They aren’t two separate stories but rather one whole story. How do you write from the intersection when there are so many structures in place that don’t know how to receive it?
Edgar Gomez: To be honest, I was very, very aware while writing High-Risk Homosexual that it might not get published because it doesn’t fit neatly into any one simple, easy-to-market category. I swear, every time I go on Twitter there’s another depressing infographic about publishing. They say: this many queer writers get book deals a year and this many Latinx writers, but what they don’t say is, of that already small number, how many of those queer writers are BIPOC, how many of those Latinx writers are Central American/Caribbean? After having the thousandth bleak statistic shoved down my throat, I was like, okay, I get it, my book will never be more than a Word Doc. It was strange, because maybe that should have dissuaded me. But it didn’t. It freed me to stop thinking so much about publishing and instead focus on writing the best story I could, on being truthful about the full scope of my experiences and, better yet, having fun. When I started writing the book, it was as if I was making dinner for a group of super picky eaters who kept saying, “I don’t want that! Take that out! You’re putting what in there? Who is going to eat this?” Eventually I was like, “You know what? I’m gonna cook for myself and if no one else wants, y’all can stay hungry.” Being nearly certain that I wouldn’t be received helped me prioritize my own needs. Thank God I was wrong though! One of my needs is to pay my bills…
MM: You discuss in your memoir the machismo, misogyny, racism, and homophobia in the Latinx community, but you also write with humor and heart the joy that goes along with being a part of this community. As a Latina it’s an experience I know too well but find hard to articulate and you capture it so well. How do you write that dichotomy on the page?
EG: Thank you for saying that! Finding a way to balance humor and trauma was extremely important to me for three specific reasons. The first is that humor is a subliminal way to signal to people that, no matter how painful whatever scene they’re reading is, I’ve now reached a place where I can look back and laugh. This book is in no way a how-to guide, but I’m aware that many readers will be young, queer, Latinx folk, and I felt a sense of responsibility to them, both to not sugarcoat things and also to let them know that happiness is possible for us. Without the humor, I think some of them might put the book down before the happy stuff happens. The second reason for having that dichotomy is because it’s true to life, at least to mine. In my darkest moments — when I’ve asked myself, “Why keep going?” — what has saved me is thinking about all the joy I’ve experienced and want to re-experience, and so that needed to be included as well. And the last reason is that humor is a coping mechanism of mine. Machismo and misogyny and racism and homophobia are, and I hope this doesn’t come across as trivializing, so profoundly ridiculous. Maybe I have faulty brain wiring, but when someone calls me a slur, as long as I don’t feel genuinely threatened, usually I can’t help but laugh. I don’t really go out of my way to articulate that on the page; I just show it, like in the scene in the chapter “Mama’s Boy” when my mom confronts me in our kitchen to ask me if I’m gay a year after I’d already come out to her. Humor doesn’t always have to be jokes. The funniest parts of High-Risk Homosexual to me are when I describe a silly situation and my equally silly response, like what I did that day, which was laugh and run away.
MM: I was both appalled and unsurprised while reading your memoir that the phrase “high-risk homosexual” is an accepted medical term and billable diagnosis code. It’s one of the many ways you demonstrate how our current language binds and restricts us. You even offer a disclaimer in the beginning of your book about the limitations behind the term Latina/o/x to define such a complex community. Do you see your book as a way of reclaiming language?
EG: Yeah, it’s wild, another one of those ridiculous things that you can only laugh at. To answer your question: absolutely. One of the aims of this book is to reclaim language, reclaim identity. What I love about memoir writing as a genre is that it offers marginalized folk the radical opportunity to tell our own stories and assert, in our words, who we are, what we value, and how we see the world. I needed to put that disclaimer in there because I recognize the way terms like “Latina/o/x” can be oppressive, specifically to Black and Indigenous folk, who are often either barred from “Latinidad” or have it thrust upon them without their say. For me to reclaim my story while erasing someone else’s would be, to say the least, hypocritical.
MM: My favorite to ask any author: what were the books you were reading while writing your own - whether for research or for pleasure? What books do you feel your book is in conversation with?
EG: So many! Redefining Realness by Janet Mock. I Am Not Myself These Days by Josh Kilmer-Purcell. Butterfly Boy by Rigoberto González. Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala. How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones. Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls by T Kira Madden. The Country Under My Skin by Gioconda Belli. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. And more recent debuts: Pedro’s Theory by Marcos Gonsalez and I’m Not Hungry But I Could Eat by Christopher Gonzalez. All of these books have valuable lessons to teach: how to write about love, how to write with vulnerability, and humor, and compassion, and soul.
MM: Final question: as a fellow JLo fan — how do you feel about the return of Bennifer? Did you see it coming? Was it inevitable?
EG: Returning to old, toxic patterns? Desperate ploys for attention? Photoshoots on yachts? This is what I live for! I hope she goes even further. I want to see her on a pizza date with Jonathan Seda, like in that scene in Selena, though that might actually break me.
High-Risk Homosexual: A Memoir by Edgar Gomez (Soft Skull, 9781593767051, Paperback Memoir, $16.95) On Sale: 1/11/2022.
Find out more about the author at edgargomez.net.
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