We have reached a strange moment in gay politics. There’s a strange commemoration and valorizing of the AIDS movement, vis-à-vis recent films like The Normal Heart and the documentary How to Survive a Plague. Whatever you think of these films individually, or the history they tell, part of the reason they managed to get so much attention and accolades is the spike in marriage equality. The excesses of gay male sexual culture is safely tucked away in history, for audiences who already think the riotous sex, and the deaths, have ended. In popular culture, all of the gay fucking happens not in glory holes and back rooms, but under the canopy of the nuptial bed.

Then, there’s Brontez Purnell. The Black punk (in both senses of the word) musician and dancer/choreographer turned-author has made a point of using his own sex life to paint a very vivid portrait of a sex life in the San Francisco Bay Area now. His new illustrated book, The Cruising Diaries (with art by Janelle Hessig), continues Purnell’s tradition of DIY literary and performing art that’s filled with bubble-bursting honesty.

Because he’s a star and was touring in Montreal with the Brontez Purnell Dance Company, I emailed him a set of questions about The Cruising Diaries.

So one of the first Youtube videos I saw of you was you reading from the “Cruising Reviews” of your zine Fag School–which was after we met, of course, but we will get to that later. I was all at once, grossed out, turned on, and enraged. Now, you have continued your legacy of pushing the boundaries of good taste. Who am I kidding–there is no good taste in this. It is ratchet from top to bottom. Anyhow, what made you compile these sexcapades into your new project and first book, The Cruising Diaries

Well, my friend Janelle Hessig and I had been talking about doing something like this for, like, years, and finally, she called me up one day and was like “I have the money to publish it, let’s do it!” When I first started doing my old zine Fag School (like, 300 years ago), in the back of my mind, I always knew I wanted to compile it into an anthology. I have to say, I wasn’t as prolific with Fag School as I hoped I would be (four issues in ten years–HA!), but I will say I’m happy with how The Cruising Diaries turned out. As far as how the “Cruising Reviews” in the original Fag School zine became a thing, for the first issue of Fag School, I was interviewing Alvin Orloff (a cool punk writer from San Francisco), and he had put out a punk memoir about his time being a fag in New York in the early ’80s, called Gutter Boys, and I was interviewing him, and he said something really interesting–that if you want to write a memoir, you better do it as its happening, because in twenty years who knows what the hell you’ll remember? With that bit of advice (and some other key elements), I put the “Cruising Reviews” in the first issue of Fag School….

What I find refreshing about this collection (besides the scratch-n-sniff butt hole scented paper Cruising Diaries is published on), is that it’s hard to find this kind of smut these days. Like, most of the work being published by gay men has lost this sense of immediacy, this brutal honesty about sex, and the kind of sex we’re having, especially in the era of gay respectability. Were you worried about the reaction to the book?

To be honest, yeah. But I knew that The Cruising Diaries, despite being about sex, comes from such an innocent place–i.e., one gay/queer boy’s sexual awakening–that I knew that only the most sour of fucks would hate on it for real. And it’s something that I felt a lot of people would look at and immediately relate to, you know? Like, who doesn’t trick?

What’s been the most interesting, or horrifying, reaction to the book thus far?

I’ve gotten some sideways shade from some jealous fags who have made some sideways comments about how its cheap to write about sex, or how anybody could have done a book like that, but I’m all like, “Boo, bitch, anybody didn’t do it–I did it! How you like me now?!” But I’m into art that’s human. It’s so relatable! Plus, I feel like when most guys write about sex, it’s either flowery and total bullshit, or they want to paint themselves as the ultimate indestructible stud. I like writing in a way that can sometimes be dark yet still be generous to the human condition–which is what I think is lacking in the genre, you know? But I have to say, I’ve mostly gotten a lot of love from it.

Part of the experience of the book is the illustrations. Did you know you were going to illustrate each story when you decided to publish the book? What was the process of working with Janelle Hessig, the illustrator?

The Cruising Diaries

The Cruising Diaries

I gave Janelle full reign. I had no idea what she was going to draw, and it still cracks me the fuck up to see where her mind went when she drew the pictures. The illustrations were her idea and a stroke of fucking genius. I think they make the book a lot more 3D in depth and intention. I had been a fan of Janelle’s drawings and her legend in general since I was a wee tween, but also, in the last couple of years her art has taken on this crazy new dimension, and it really, really, really blows me away. She’s also a really good friend. Lord knows, that woman has seen me through my bratty twenties and beyond, and I’m glad we still kick it. Have you seen her paintings!? Holy shit….

Were there any “Cruising Reviews” that didn’t make it into the book?  

Oh, yeah! I forget how many stories there are in the Fag School, but I’d say there are twenty or so stories from the original Fag School that didn’t make it into The Cruising Diaries, but I compiled them in the Juvenilia section of my upcoming novella Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger?

Speaking of which, I half expected to find my cruising review in the book. If you had to write a short cruising review of our first meeting–what would it be? 


So most of these were written a few years back. What would you say to your old self–the boy from Triana, Alabama newly arrived in the big city and obviously sex-starved? Any reflections for that kid?

Put on a condom—you fucking hippie, and go to college!

What’s next on the roster?

I’m making a short film with Naked Sword! (the same company that put out I Want Your Love, this movie I was in). I’m also putting out my first novella early next year and I’m currently writing my first novel 100 Boyfriends for the City Lights’ Sister Spit Imprint, which is due sometime in 2016. Also, I’m doing music and dance stuff. The usual!


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8 Responses to “Brontez Purnell: On His New Book ‘The Cruising Diaries,’ Silencing the Critics, and the Joys of Writing About Sex”

  1. 12 October 2014 at 10:09 AM #

    Dude. This doesn’t even make sense.

    We’re reached a strange moment in gay politics. There’s a strange commemoration and valorizing of the AIDS movement

    It’s so “strange” you had to say so twice?

    The “AIDS movement,” which was instrumental in reversing anti-gay government policy in your country and which led directly to the creation of combination therapy that has saved the lives of millions, is somehow by implication not worth commemorating and valo(u)rizing?

    You’re an “HIV prevention and treatment activist and writer” yet you shit on actual HIV activists?

    Whatever you think of these films individually, or the history they’re telling,

    So you’re saying history is contingent on people’s opinion of it.

    And are you talking about “popular culture” or two specific films?

    Piercing literary criticism there, Kenyon.

    “ACT UP did better work than you ever will”: Discuss.

    • 17 October 2014 at 10:02 AM #

      I wasn’t going to respond to this. But I’ll be as even handed as possible. Mr. Clark, the point I am making seems to have been lost on you. I was not necessarily critiquing AIDS actiivists per se. That’s actually another story. I am suggesting that the reason we’re seeing this memorializing of the AIDS epidemic (painting it as past and not present) is precisely because marriage equality has made gay men (white gay men actually) feel safe to the rest of America, so we can do this kind of commemoration without thinking about the bodies that are still suffering. And I happen to be friends and colleagues of many current and former members of ACT-UP. Thank you very much.

  2. 17 October 2014 at 9:17 AM #

    Love the term “sideways shade”. There is a difference between critics being silenced and having the sense to know a book like this is pretty much beyond reproach as any negative criticism could possibly be misinterpreted as some form of prejudice against either punks, blunt artists, or race. I lean toward favoring brutal honesty in matters of sexuality myself, but I’m not convinced people necessarily want it in their face (so to speak). I suspect more people come to books and movies, etc. to escape raw reality than to see it reflected exactly as it’s lived. Is it possible that “bullshit” and “flowery” sells while truth so often just collects dust on the shelf? I agree it seems hypocritical, but is that going to change? The irony seems to be that the biggest, most potent fantasy of all in gay life is wedded bliss (the gay version of Harlequin romance?) and not all that nasty, juicy stuff going on in the back rooms and glory holes, etc. Does sex sell? I’m sure the author of Fifty Shades would say it does but how many gay male equivalents to that are there? Stories of gay men cruising could be interesting depending on how they are presented, even though it’s been done before. It’s not so much the “Numbers” and tricks nowadays as how many of them are cruising with a wedding ring on (or discretely off). “Promiscuity” is worked turf and kind of old hat in some quarters. I will have to check this book out to see if it addresses the era of the happily married player and prevalence of open coupledom. Everything has changed, yet nothing has changed except the how the hook ups are arranged. (gotta stop writing this comment as my cell is bleeping) Best of luck to Mr. Purnell with all the creative endeavors.

  3. 17 October 2014 at 1:51 PM #

    Brontez Purnell’s outrageous writing has a tradition, it’s just not the tradition of Purple Quill or Bloomsbury. Its genetic line (or Tijuana Bible) is Straight to Hell and John Rechy and Samuel Steward aka Phil Andros. He steps this line up by being shamelessly first-personal and shocking in the combination of race, heart and filth. Derisive of AIDS activism? I don’t think so. Instead, he is like those angry, dying writers of Diseased Pariah News (look it up!) rather than the sometimes humorlessness of perennial politicos.

  4. 18 October 2014 at 2:39 PM #

    Wonderful Interview here, Mr. Farrow, please, please continue with the Controversy, anything at all that doesn’t ‘conform’ is so refreshing to hear, and I am glad that you responded to those critical words up there, to Mr. Clark, although I leave those differences to you two… it is very fine to hear an opposing voice in the gay press, all too often strong opinions are censored, especially in the gay ‘media’… which to me doesn’t come anywhere near to who I am personally.

    More of this!

    Well done!

  5. […] a wide variety of fields, ranging from interviews with new literary lions like Saeed Jones and Brontez Purnell to under-recognized but influential historical figures like photographer Alvin Baltrop and musician […]

  6. […] a wide variety of fields, ranging from interviews with new literary lions like Saeed Jones and Brontez Purnell to under-recognized but influential historical figures like photographer Alvin Baltrop and […]

  7. […] a wide variety of fields, ranging from interviews with new literary lions like Saeed Jones and Brontez Purnell to under-recognized but influential historical figures like photographer Alvin Baltrop and musician […]

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