The erotic tone-poems in Ancient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam

Ancient, AncientAncient, Ancient by Kiini Ibura Salaam

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The story “MalKai’s Last Seduction” is an erotic tone poem that celebrates black queer love. The set up is deceptively simple. MalKai is a visiting alien who is gathering “human nectar”–a substance derived from orgasms. MalKai belongs to a race of moth-like beings, but is able to appear as human. His species communicates via movement, rather than words. MalKai meets Cori, a closeted black gay man, and seduces him.

Cori had no way of imagining a velvet people who spoke through balletic motions and muscle spasms, arced arms and bent necks. A nation that consisted of beings who were physically similar to humans but biologically distinct. A people who thrived on human nectar.

The bulk of the story is told through the alien’s eyes. But there is a point of view shift, when we understand the transcendence and healing that Cori feels through the encounter:

Cori’s entire life, it could be argued, was an attempt to avoid any event such as this one. For years, he discretely avoided eye contact with men who wore their privacy in public like an expensive coat of chinchilla.

Both creatures, human and alien, experience a hallicination-ridden orgasm that acts as an exorcism for Cori.

He couldn’t remember his closet…

He is freed by the sexual act. It is liberating. Salaam drenches the story in sensory overload, with sentences that sing.

Kiini Ibura Salaam finds the balance between visionary poetics and science fiction in this tale and others.

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The Importance of Visibility: Patrick Ness at the National Book Festival

Last Saturday, I got to hear author Patrick Ness speak at the National Book Festival. I’ve read his Chaos Walking series, and am looking forward to his adult novel. He writes high concept fantasy and science fiction that deals with gender issues.

He was a charming speaker with a nice self-deprecating sense of humor. But the thing made me really like him was that he came out as a gay man in a nonchalant way. He alluded to his husband in an aside. I’m loving this way of being visible; the actors Zachary Quinto and Wentworth Miller went this route as well. Instead of a grand announcement, it’s just stated as a fact.

This is extremely important, especially for the audience he’s writing for. Gay youth are at risk for suicide in spite of increased acceptance. It also helps straight youth to have a happens-to-be-gay role model.

Patrick Ness

 

BOOK REVIEW: Legendary: Inside the House Ballroom Scene by Gerald H. Gaskin. A peak inside a magical subculture.

Legendary: Inside the House Ballroom SceneLegendary: Inside the House Ballroom Scene by Gerald H. Gaskin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Legendary is a gorgeous photography book that chronicles the vibrant underground Ballroom Scene. Gaskin captures black and Latino gay men in their finery. Their outfits exist somewhere beyond couture. They transform themselves into ephemeral creatures of their own imaginations. The balls themselves, held in NYC, DC and other urban areas, are alternate dimensions, where you can let your freak flags fly. Gender warriors become proud peacocks in bold colors. The sheer beauty of these photographic compositions are astounding. Gaskin has created a visual feast that reveals this magical subculture.

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Muses: On Mapplethorpe and the Black Male Body

I have a complicated relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe’s work. And I don’t mean his flowers and fruit pictures. The way he fetishizes the black male body disturbs me; he makes me a partner in their objectification. I mean, these men and the light with which they are cast and their poses are undeniably beautiful. But they are just icons, and in a way, no different than the glossy eggplant photo or the calla lilies he captured.

 

Mapplethorpe

 

Captured.

 

These men are captured in black and white, on film, in the camera’s eye, and in my own. Is the baggage that I bring to these images my own or is it deeper than that?

 

Back in the early 90s, my then-partner created a video, a mediation on interracial relationships. The video was eventually picked up by the Festival Circuit. The video had showings internationally, including places like Italy and South Africa. I narrated portions of the video, which included a poem by Harlem Renaissance writer Claude McKay, called The Snow Fairy, which could be interpreted as an ode to an interracial encounter. I went to a showing of the video in New York. One of the scenes in the video has me kneading the flesh of my then-partner. When the video finished, the floor opened up for a discussion about what we had seen. One man thought the video was racist. He highlighted the scene where my hands were on the the white flesh of my partner. He thought that scene showed that I was like a slave, pleasing his master.

 

 

This incident, for me, encompasses all of the issues I have with this section of Mapplethorpe’s work. The black men on display in his work are ciphers, upon which a viewer’s thoughts/agendas may be placed. Like the men in those photographs, I was a willing participant in an act that could be seen as racist, regardless of intent. The fact that I don’t think so is immaterial; in the video, I was just a symbol, an image. I’ve learned that many of the men that Mapplethorpe photographed were friends, and indeed, lovers with the photographer. Does that change the meaning or doesn’t it?

 

 

I identify with the photographer and the photographed.