Edgar Gomez's High-Risk Homosexual seeks answers to questions about Pulse shooting and queerness
Edgar Gomez is the main character.
In his debut memoir High-Risk Homosexual (out Jan. 11), Gomez explores his upbringing and coming to terms with his identity in a series of humorous essays. When it comes to its inspiration, the writer is honest about it being a mix of "pettiness and my attempt to make myself a main character, and to really express my emotions." Those feelings stem from feeling like he couldn't or shouldn't do what he my have wanted because of what his family or the world would say. "I'm allowing myself to talk as freely as I can about sex, love, my fears, danger, and the various things that you're not supposed to express at all if you're male-identifying," he explains.
While there's a humorous tone through the memoir, Gomez found sharing his life story daunting. One of the most challenging parts was writing about Pulse nightclub, Gomez's own experience at the venue, the tragic shooting, and Omar Mateen's life. "This is a subject I needed to take great care around, especially because either some survivors or families of survivors may read this book," he says, "I wanted to be perfectly clear that I'm writing from a place of love."
The biggest takeaway is in the title – risk. Gomez wants readers to understand that people, especially queer readers of color, don't have to live without fear, shame, or risk but instead live despite it. He feels this push in storytelling to move away from trauma and towards queer joy, but that reality is we live with a mix of the two. "Everything is hard, but the fact that it's hard doesn't mean it isn't worth it," he explains.
We spoke to Gomez about telling a queer Latinx coming-of-age story, bringing readers into his life, the reason for incorporating LGBTQ historical context, and much more.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: We find out where the title came from in the book, but why did you choose it as the title of the book?
EDGAR GOMEZ: The original title was Boys Club, which is the title of another chapter about going to a bathhouse in Orlando. In grad school, I finally had health insurance and was able to go to my campus health center, which is where I was ultimately diagnosed as "a high-risk homosexual," and once that happened, it instantly clicked. Aside from being a provocative title, it links the essays in the books, which has to do with identity and how we see ourselves, how others see us, and how our identities shift from place to place.
Throughout the book, you cover the intersection between the idea of "male pride" and being a queer man. What did you want to explore?
What I'm saying regarding pride, especially in the introduction, is that when you're born a male, there's a lot of pride is embedded in you because of many things, including toxic masculinity. However, as a queer person, I feel like you start with zero pride. I had extreme shame, and there's this complicated journey I had to go through to find pride in my queerness while unpacking the pride ingrained in me at birth as a man because that initial pride is where homophobia, transphobia, and misogyny are.
What does it mean to you to put a queer Latinx coming-of-age story into the world?
It still feels super surreal, to be honest. When I was younger, which I think is an experience a lot of people from marginalized backgrounds can relate to, I didn't see myself represented a lot, so I forced myself into whatever representations are vaguely similar to mine out there. I didn't see people like me on TV. There was Queer As Folk, Noah's Ark, The L Word. I related to them on a queer level, but these weren't my lived experiences. I would watch these shows or read books by people like David Sedaris. My expectations were different from the reality of my experiences. By writing this book, I don't think I captured the entire scope of the Latinx experience, but I do hope it is one a young queer kid can use as a guide.
Part of your coming-of-age story is your coming out story. We are at a point where people say we've seen enough of them, but I'm curious about whether you think there is more to mine there?
Absolutely. A lot of media I consumed "back in the day" centered coming out to your parents or guardian. There are so many different [versions] of coming out that aren't explored enough across media. Another way I thought about this book is each chapter I'm coming out in different ways. In the first chapter, I'm coming out to myself. In the second chapter, I'm coming out to a boy at school and my classmates. I come out to my mother, I come out as femme, as a sexual being. There are like a million different ways we can explore what it means to come out.
Secondly, I think about how both JP Brammer and Karamo Brown, who both have memoirs, have written about shifting coming out to inviting people in. That's also an idea that should be mined more. You don't necessarily owe it to anyone to reveal yourself. It's a privilege to let people know who you are.
You discuss the connection you felt to Jennifer Lopez growing up. What was it about her that drew you in?
Mostly, it's the idea that in high school, when I felt so lost and unseen like I couldn't have a happy ending. I was clinging to rom-coms, and J.Lo was the rom-com queen who offered me a light at the end of the tunnel. There was always a guy, usually a white dude, who sweeps in to make her life better in those movies. I really needed that fantasy to keep me going on a straight-up day-to-day basis.
You include your experiences at Pulse and some information about Omar Mateen in the book. Can you talk about why you decided to include that additional context?
One of my impulses to write is to process my chaotic and difficult memories. Pulse was one of those things. I just had a lot of questions about the shooting and the aftermath. Mainly why it happened; another was figuring out why I didn't want to visit the memorial site. I wanted to give context as a person from Orlando and Omar Mateen's life to answer those questions. How do we prevent shootings like this from happening again? I wanted to make sure I approached it with care and respect and not retraumatize my community.
It was essential for me not to romanticize Omar while acknowledging the events that led him to who he grew up to be. I had compassion for the young boy who experienced a lot of homophobia and racism that could have shaped him. I'm not excusing him, but I experienced a lot of what he did. We both got kicked out of high school, we both had criminal justice in our backgrounds in different ways, we were both bullied, we both didn't have the most accepting parents, although my mom ended up being way more accepting. [High-Risk Homosexual] is a story about how the world shapes who we are. We have to acknowledge how we've been shaped and start to unpack that.
In addition to Pulse, you include some background information about PREP, The Castro, and Stonewall. How did you balance telling your story while incorporating the historical context and meaning of these parts of queer history?
It was important for me to acknowledge that I wouldn't be where I am today without the people who came before me. It would have been hypocritical of me to erase the people who made my life possible.
The process was pretty simple in places like the Castro and the Compton's Cafeteria riot because I went there during my trip to San Francisco. I wanted to make room for as many experiences as possible in other people. I felt pressure, especially early on, because there aren't so many queer memoirs, particularly written by Central American authors or authors from low-income backgrounds. I don't know when another book like this is gonna come out.
Your baby is out in the world. What's next for you?
I am working on another book. It's going to be a collection of essays. High-Risk Homosexual centers queerness, and this book will be about growing up poor. Poor looks very different for everyone, and it's not a competition either. There will be stories about my house getting broken into when I was in middle school, one about a love triangle, and another about the times I've done sex work. They're all gonna have to do with money.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.