Edward Ficklin

Cruising the city

publishedabout 2 months ago
3 min read

Darling, how are you? Today, let’s discuss the ultimate gay art from: cruising. I have to tell you about a lovely gem I discovered while cruising (for books!) at the delightful Bluestockings Cooperative.

Today’s main event: Cruising, a intimate history of a radical pastime
By Alex Espinoza

I love how he describes cruising as a “radical pastime,” both in the title and throughout the book. It’s easy to dismiss cruising, to buy into the heteronormative (i.e. white supremacist and colonial) narrative about queer people as sex-crazed and indulging their addiction. Espinoza, however, takes a deeper look at the phenomenon among gay men and its history in western culture. He looks at the need for connection in repressive times and places, the subversive thrill, the pangs of guilt and shame during and after, and the racial and class dimensions. He also muses throughout about the evolution of cruising in our app-based culture: Grindr, Scruff, and Squirt, oh my!

A particularly fascinating aspect to me are his observations and questions on cruising in urban spaces. He often revisits aspects of its urban manifestations: crowded public spaces with points of seclusion like grottos in parks or restrooms in transit hubs; how public attempts to shame and police these spaces usually just serve to call even more attention to them; how, historically, knowledge of spaces and actors is maintained and promulgated through coded signs, whisper networks, and underground publications.

Also worth savoring
Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller
Four Lost Cities by Annalee Newitz

The city is both container and magnet. It attracts and holds tight a critical mass of human need and desire that creates something more, something alive. And whatever the living, collective force is, it seems to foster queer gatherings and expression. Whether out in the open or carefully occluded for safety, it’s always there.

The exploration of how cities and their queer denizens will coevolve in a future wracked by climate catastrophe is the thrust of the delightful and engrossing Blackfish City by Sam J. Miller. Each chapter shifts perspective among a group of characters from various strata of this very stratified society. Through their eyes we see all the different cities within the city, jostled, jumbled, competing. We’re still firmly in genre territory, so true to the SF genre the stories will interweave, heroes and villains (sort of) emerge and battle it out and techno-geekery abounds.

How do cities end? Do they end? Four Lost Cities explores these questions, and more, by examining four cities across times and cultures. Annalee Newitz approaches her subjects with an eye toward the everyday people: laborers, sex workers, merchants, and more. This focus throughout the books helps pick away at colonial narratives baked into modern sensibilities around urbanity. Like brushing away layers of dust, she reveals a more complete and interesting picture than many other books about history or archeology. If, darling, like me you’re a denizen of a modern urban setting, you might find surprising moments of familiarity despite the vast distances in both time and place of the cities described.

So why all this talk about cities? Glad you asked, darling. I’ve been thinking about this stuff as I work on the script of my first graphic novel “Lavender Menace: Taking Flight.” It’s set in NYC, of course, and and will feature some depictions and commentary on life here.

I debated on the setting for quite some time, believe it or not. Originally, I was going with an unnamed urban setting that suggested NYC, but would avoid names or specifics. It was just “the City” and leave it at that. I partly wanted some freedom to make things up to suit the plot points I had in mind, rather than have to contend with reality. (To be honest, it was a bit of artsty-fartsy pretentiousness, too.) As I was writing the script, I realized that my time in NYC has deeply influenced this story and its characters—possibly even creating them. So now, visually, the story’s setting will be unmistakable even if none of the characters refers to their various locations by name. (That may have to change as New Yorkers are always comparing neighborhoods!)

“Okay, that’s where it’s set. But what’s it actually about, then?,” I hear you also asking. Well, darling, let me tell you:

Danny, trying to survive a world grinding him down, is thrust into the role of reluctant hero when a secret society of queer super-powered vigilantes calls on him and his newly emerging powers to aid in the quest to avoid being wiped out—or worse—turned into weapons.

I'll be posting chapters as I go. Exact location (my website or another platform) is still TBD. Rest assured, darling, you will have free, complete, and total access to everything I post. Stay tuned for more!

Until next time, flame on! 🔥

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