Some gay people prefer to be called faggots. Well, let me rephrase that—some queers prefer to be called faggots. The word "faggot," much like "queer," has been reappropriated as a word of pride. Whereas so-called mainstream consumerist gays, with their chiseled bodies and designer loafers, take offense at the word, queers like Mattilda Sycamore celebrate nonconformity.
That's how Sycamore arrived at the title of her book Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots? (AK Press, 232 pages, $17.95). The explanation is admittedly reductive for a book dying to be rid of labels, but, essentially, it pits radical queer culture against what Sycamore says are the assimilationist attitudes of gays and lesbians who buy into heteronormative ideas about marriage and gender binary.
Sycamore's fifth anthology collects stories from queer people who face adversity not only from straight culture, but from gay culture: a fat man's ode to self acceptance, a trans man rejected because he doesn't have a penis, a West Texan who feels he's always fetishized as a Latino or a faggot.
Why explores perspectives of race, culture, sexuality, gender and body image, though, as you've probably guessed, it's mostly about sex. A good deal of ink is dedicated to how white, masculine ideals have made gay sex too…vanilla. One polemic addresses gay guys on online hookup sites who only want "HIV-neg, STD-free, UB2. Masc only, no femmes or fatties. Straight acting, straight appearing. No blacks or Asians. Must be discreet." As Sycamore writes, "We wonder what happened to our dreams of a world of sexual splendor only bounded by the limits of imagination."
A legitimate critique, but the free-love mantra gets uncomfortable at times, especially in passages that tread too closely to the joys of unprotected sex. But the book also makes an important point about the cruelty of ostracizing people who are HIV positive, as well as elders in the gay community. And for the record, Sycamore says she's an advocate for safe sex.
As anthologies go, writing styles vary wildly, from stream-of-consciousness journal entries to academic papers. The ideas each author presents, while intended to be some variation on a theme, don't always mesh perfectly. That's perhaps what saves Sycamore's anthologies: If you're not on the same page with one author, you can turn to the next one.
GO: Mattilda Sycamore reads at Powell's on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 228-4651. 7:30 pm Monday, March 5. Free.