November 23, 2014

Interview with Sebas Martín

Sebas Martín (Barcelona, 1961), the author of Aún estoy en ello, has talked to about his work, same-sex marriage, comics, politics, love, sex, life, and so on. I will always appreciate this plentiful, interesting interview he has granted.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: What did you do the day of the same-sex marriage law approval? Did you live a huge celebration on the streets such as Salva and his friends do in Aún estoy en ello?

SEBAS MARTÍN: Almost… I was somewhat less expressive, but I do remember me and my circle of old friends joining for a home dinner to celebrate it. Along came institutional and associational events I was invited to, where we all congratulated one another. It was a great day and a great achievement for people like me, who still had experienced the customs of the Francoist regime in its death throes: peepholed-door gay clubs, social dangerousness law, and so on. I have no intention to get married (at least for now, LOL), but the right to do so puts me on the same level than the others.

SGF: The final sentence of your comic is: “After all, it did seem things were changing…” Nine years (it seems like it was just yesterday!) after the same-sex marriage law approval, do you really think things have already changed? Is there still a lot to do?

SM: Things have changed because laws have to be like the mirror of the current society. Firstly, a law must make a righteous deed legal, and then it is a matter of time that society in general makes it normal. Let me paraphrase my own comic and say: we're still on it. While it is true that the LGBT fact can be seen as something ordinary in the big cities (a law considering homophobia as a crime has just been approved in Barcelona), you cannot say the same in the question of smaller cities or rural communities. And these rights are, apparently, in constant danger of being abolished. We must not forget that one of the election promises of the PP[1] during their last campaign was to abolish same-sex marriage. There are still not only pending issues, but we also cannot drop our guard about the work done.

SGF: I am totally ignorant about the status of the Spanish gay-themed comic domestically… Is it a rising value? Do you have multitude of followers? Or is it a minority, selective audience?

SM: The number of followers is constantly increasing, though it is still for minorities as it may be considered a genre comic. The problem with gay comics is the same as mainstream comics. In Spain, the comic has always been considered a second-rate literary genre, and it was only until very recently that it has attracted attention from the world of culture. If a comic book artist is like a pariah (sorry for the comparison) in the literary creation world, then a gay-themed comic book artist is a female pariah. However, I cannot complain: While it is true my target audience is more limited than others, it is also really devoted.

SGF: And how does the Spanish gay comic work beyond our borders? In your case, are you an internationally-recognized author?

SM: The places where comics work best are, generally, French-speaking countries, since they consider comics a very important part of their culture. However, it is also true that these countries are suffering a wave of conservatism, and that does not help too much if you are gay-themed work author. Regarding the Spanish gay comic abroad, it is almost completely unknown. Well, I would even dare to leave out ’almost’. I think some work by Nazario[2] was translated long time ago to some other language, but I have no news about more Spanish gay-themed comic authors having their work translated (I may be wrong, anyway). I think Ismael Álvarez and David Cantero[3] have done something, but I am not sure.
I took my first steps internationally---with modest results, I must confess. Some of my work has been translated into French, English, German, and Italian. Eve my contribution to the comic album Historia de Sitges ("The Sitges Story"), which was Machos al sol ("Machos in the Sun"), was translated into Croation, since I gave the copyrighs to an LGBT association in Croatia for a very underground publication.
In addition, I have been invited to comic conventions in Angoulême and Helsinki, and given lectures in Berlin and Paris, and I am still surprised to be the speaker or guest of honor beyond the Pyrenees.

SGF: In the very first pages of Aún estoy en ello we can see a manifestation against gay marriage, where you portrayed a series of characters, all of them representing the most conservative population of Spain, giving their reasons why they do not admit it. One of them bears a suspicious resemblance to Rouco Varela, a member of the Catholic Church in Spain who has shown his opposition to this law in the most emphatic way. Did you have fun working on these two pages of the comic? Or, were you in an enraged mood and the result was a kind of settling of scores?

SM: Well, it was a settling of scores and I was enraged---but it was very funny, LOL. I believe these suspicious resemblances came from deep inside my guts. And the ‘pearls of wisdom’ the protesters let out are taken directly from actual statements that I read in the press or heard on the TV news. I had a very good time working on those pages, but it was also a kind of little catharsis.

SGF: The stable, long-term relationship is represented in Salva's parents in the comic. However, these characters do not show any complicity or affection for each other. What is your opinion on LTRs? Do you believe in them? Or, do you think, as Rafa says, that marriage is an outdated, anachronistic institution?

SM: See... my characters express opinions which can be far from matching mine. Each one of them thinks in a different way than the others. Salva's parents represent those typical elderly couples based on an affection that has gradually turned into monotony, as many people of their generation. In addition to this, if things between them did not go well, they even could not divorce as a means of escaping. Rafa's remarks about life as a couple are very libertarian, but he eventually asks his boyfriend to marry him in the last pages of Aún estoy en ello. Rita and Salva believe in the GREATEST love and do not find it...There is not a general rule to measure for everyone. Love can last for ever or not. But I do not believe in marriage as an excuse to make it last. You must stay with your partner just because you want to, because all your body asks for it. If not, turn the page of your life story. Years ago, one of my characters said this: “Love is like a butane bottle: When it is out of gas, you have to replace it.”

SGF: Salva is a fervent follower of Sex and the City, a TV series which has usually received criticism due to its gallery of somehow stereotyped characters. Salva's friends seem to represent, each one of them, a cliché linked to the gay universe: Rafa, the bear; Oriol, the drama queen; Rita, the fag hag... Take this opportunity to stand up for stereotypes.

SM: Well, I defend the use of stereotypes because they do exist. You only need to go out and see the people on the street. Society compels to define one’s self by clichés: bears, gym queens, hipsters, tops, bottoms... Perhaps we are generally not so stereotypical (well, the people you can see in a circuit or a kedada[4] are reliable evidence of the existence of stereotypes--and how!), but clichés are useful tools that help tell stories in a way that characters are more defined and you can develop a very specific feature in them. Let’s just say it is a literary license that works very well.

SGF: During the Christmas shopping episode, Oriol defies an old man who talks disparagingly about homosexuals. Oriol defends his attitude, despite his friends' warnings, stating this is the way to earn popular respect. Do you agree with Oriol's behavior in similar situations, or do you think it is better to conduct yourself otherwise, even ignoring the provocations?

SM: You cannot confront anyone who says things you do not like or agree with. It is neither necessary nor worthy. But there are times you hear such nagging things that you can hardly shut up. I do not use to be a troublesome guy--just the opposite! But I am very proud of being the way I am, and if someone questions this by forcing me to listen to their opinion---Well, I am afraid that person will have to listen to mine, like it or not.
I think you should not go the agitators' way, but you cannot let them humiliate you.

SGF: With your permission, I would say that your generosity with Lucas (when you give him such a beefcake as a boyfriend at the end of the story) is so excessive that sounds just like a tall tale--really hard to believe. Were you carried along by the celebration moment of positivity, or do you know of any similar case?

SM: Curiously, things seeming more unreal are, many times, based on true stories in my comics. I know of three very similar cases--handicapped guys, unattractive guys, or both--and they are dating real stunners. And up to this point I remind the popular Spanish saying: ‘La suerte de la fea, la guapa la desea.’[5] (Quite true, by the way… LOL)

SGF: One of the aspects I find most interesting in Aún estoy en ello is the way sexuality is portrayed: You show it bluntly, but without falling into pornography; you do not judge, although there is clearly a rule breaking in the conventional game of monogamy. There are no fixed roles with respect to the top/bottom positions. Do you think homosexual relationships can be too shocking in the eyes of the heterosexual population?

SM: Well, they first make much fuss--and then they confess they work the same. There are very active women and very passive men, and also straight people who live their sexual life openly. The Gay Kama Sutra I created along with Diego J. Cruz has been more successful among straight girls than gay men. Even they ask for my personal dedication! Some confess it is always good to learn new things. You can find very timorous heterosexuals, that is true---but also very timorous gays.

SGF: The episode of the beefcake of Naples in the trattoria seems taken directly from an erotic film. It is now when you shut me up and say it is based on a real experience…

SM: TOTALLY REAL… but my lips are sealed.

SGF: The story of old Román is my favorite. It could well deserve a comic book itself. Have you ever met someone who has lived a similar story in those times during Francoism? Did you do some research? Was the gay-hunt as ruthless as you depict it?

SM: I did research, I met with a group of gay elderly... charming all of them!!! And I have a drawer full of notes to do something set in that period in the future. I am really willing. I also admit it is one of my favorite chapters. It is a humble tribute to all those who lived in a much harder time, when you risked your job and even your life just for loving someone of the same gender. We owe the situation we are in now to many of them, thanks to their struggle and courage.

SGF: Now let's talk about the way you depict the young homosexuals in the comic. Aitor, the cunning, hypocritical young student, makes Salva get fired from his job since he could not get what he wanted. Xicu is eventually (Poor Salva!) a complete nightmare. Both are selfish, manipulative characters. Aún estoy en ello may even be understood as a warning for middle-aged gays to act warily with the younger. Do you feel there is a big difference in attitude between young gay men and gays of Salva's generation?

SM: It is not exactly a question of generation. In the gay universe (and in the hetero universe many times also), youth is a rising value that seems to override any other. The other day, when discussing a political issue with someone ostentatiously younger than me, he replied I am a "fat, ugly old lady"...Weight reasons in political issues, don't you think?---In the gay universe (not always, but often) the young tend to domineer the and 200 years ago. In the case you mention, the different attitudes between Salva and his friends and young people are that the latter do not value what they have, since they found it all done, and the point of defending LGBT rights seems to them a thing from the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

SGF: Salva is a huge Corto Maltese fan. I can see in Xicu certain features similar to Corto’s. Was it on purpose?

SM: Absolutely. Everybody searches for their fantasies. Unfortunately for Salva, although Xicu may look like Corto just in appearance, he lacks of the romantic, adventurer nature of Hugo Pratt's creation. Never mind...

SGF: I find priceless Xicu’s explanation on people’s outlooks about the difference between a gay tourist and a gay resident in Ibiza. Do you think there is still such a hypocritical attitude?

SM: I heard this statement from a guy of Ibiza. Not someone living in Ibiza in that time, but a lifelong resident, someone whose surname is Marí or Tur, the most popular, traditional family names in the island. And now I recall one of your first questions, where you asked me if there was still a lot to do. Keep in mind that there are tourist places where the only aspect the residents consider in gay visitors (no matter if they have been crowds for decades) is their money. However, they do not like the idea of having gay relatives. It is amazing to know the large number of citizens in Sitges, one of our first national gay destinations, who still denies this situation and claims “there are just a few clubs for people like this, and that is all.”

SGF: Talking about Xicu, he is quite an irritating character. The fact that Salva, a homosexual going through a midlife crisis, could withstand all the humiliations just for sex and fear of solitude reflects a certain masochistic aspect in relationships. To what extent does the story of Salva and Xicu represent your own view of relationships?

SM: I have seen things like this in several couples. When I broke up with the partner I lived my longest-lasting relationship with (12 years), an acquaintance told us he did not understand why, since it is better to be in bad company than alone in this world. And there are many people who think so. Sometimes, gays seem to be women of the 1940s: Society instilled in them a dreadful fear of being single. Life as a couple is wonderful, but only if it is fulfilling. You live and share with that someone, you do not put up with. If so... out! And if your love dies ’of overuse’, as Jurado[6] sang, then try to find another...or not. You have to learn to be okay with yourself in order to feel comfortable with someone.

SGF: Anyway, I think that, despite Xicu's annoying behavior, you are not too harsh on him. He is a repressed guy ready to conquer the big city, get the most out of a freedom he has not enjoyed in his small town; but his immatureness will cost him dear, and he will finally have to give up his constant-party dream and go back home with his tail between his legs. I have the feeling that you somehow feel affection for him, understand him...

SM: Yes, because he is just an immature guy. He is not a vicious son of a bitch: He just cannot do better. Xicu is one of those guys (and we all have met lots of them) who are very true and loving when you meet them in the loneliness of their town, and then they come to the big city and see so many hot gay men on the street. And as they do not want to miss a thing, then you cannot stop the inevitable… In a dialogue finally deleted in the script, Oriol said to Xicu: “Okay, so you were not a slut in your village just because you didn't have the chance.”

SGF: What are your current projects? What are you working on?
SM: I am ending up the second part of Kedada, the new adventures of Peluche, and making a cookbook to win over beefcakes, LOL. Meanwhile I make flyers and posters and take part in all the collaborations I can make some money with. I am making exhibitions from time to time. I do not know how I can find time to do it all...

SGF: And finally, a doubt... In the last panel there is a man with a camera. Who is he?

SM: Oh! It is the photographer Guillem Medina, a good friend of mine, who asked me to appear in and helped me in several works. He was one of the first cameo appearances I made. Now all my friends ask to appear in, LOL.

[1] PP: Partido Popular (“Popular Party”). It is the political party which won the last general election. Thus, it forms the current national administration in Spain.
[2] Nazario (b. 1944) is considered the father of the underground comic in Spain. His most popular creation was Anarcoma, a transvestite detective.
[3] Ismael Álvarez (b. 1978) and David Cantero (b. 1972) are two of the most outstanding, celebrated Spanish gay-themed comic authors nowadays.
[4] Kedada: a gathering arranged through the net.
[5] Sorry, but I do not know any equivalent expression in English. It could be said: ‘The beautiful covets the luck of the homely.’
[6] Rocío Jurado (Chipiona, Cádiz, 1944 – Madrid, 2006) was the perfect example of the Spanish popular folk singer. Her fans used to call her “The Greatest” because of her powerful, over-the-top performances. Sebas Martín mentions here a line from “Se nos rompió el amor” (“Our Love Broke into Pieces”), one of the most popularly demanded songs of her repertoire. 

A Sentimental Journal of the Approval Year

On Sebas Martín's Aún estoy en ello (I'm Still on It)

The main situations gay writer/illustrator Sebas Martín's comic book is about happen the year prior to the legalization of same-sex marriage in Spain (June 30, 2005). It therefore may be logically inferred that this is not a randomly-chosen year. However, the fact that Martín honors this major event in his work does not mean the reader is going to be a pleased visitor in a kind of Idyllicland, as a spectator for a series of delightful panels praising a supposed total tolerance. As a matter of fact, the story begins a few days before the Spanish Congress vote, when a huge protest against gay marriage took the streets. Martín displays all his talent picturing ferocious though funny portraits of the protesters.

But let's leave all these political issues aside for the moment. This comic deals mainly with the story of Salva, a teacher/illustrator in his forties, and also about his boyfriend, close friends, family, acquaintances…

At the beginning, Salva is smitten with Xicu, a younger man of Ibiza he met on holidays. Xicu is quite an attractive, easy-going, sexually-vivid guy. His unexpected, unilateral decision of living with Salva in Barcelona both stuns and excites his submissive flatmate. It will not take long before Salva feels sorry. Xicu brazenly shows himself as a messy, cheating, immature, promiscuous man. So---why does Salva turn a blind eye to it all? Can sex neediness and lonesomeness exert such a strong influence over one's will? In Salva's case, we can positively say, or even exclaim, HELL YES! Being a witness of Salva's slow though unstoppable descensus ad inferos is one of the most interesting points of the whole book. Before hitting bottom, Salva will experience a series of weird, funny, humiliating episodes.

1st. After two weeks living together, Xicu acts sexually disinterested in Salva. When Salva complains, Xicu suggests him to have sex with other men (as Xicu seems clearly open to follow his own advice).

2nd. Salva forgives Xicu for having sex with another guy thanks to his attentive justification: Xicu has got two flight tickets to Naples to spend a long weekend together. There they will visit a Caravaggio exhibition Salva has been eager to see long since. By the way, that other guy was a travel agency clerk and Xicu (who was jobless at the moment) got the tickets for free, so---tutti contenti!

3rd. When Salva finds himself unjustly dismissed from his teaching post, Xicu not only shows no sensibility about his situation, but also asks Salva to leave his apartment. Xicu’s parents are coming to Barcelona for Christmas to visit their dear sonny, and their dear sonny has not told them yet he is gay. Salva must vanish so that Xicu’s parents do not suspect, and also because Xicu has told them life is treating him so good he can afford an apartment for his own. Xicu sweetens his story to make his parents proud in spiritual terms and generous in financial ones, and this way he could finally buy a super fast moped---Once to this point, if the reader still has any liking for Xicu, wait and read on…

4th. Xicu is almost missing on Christmas holidays. The only moment Salva can meet him privately, Xicu announces his parents’ decision to extend their stay in Barcelona (remember, in Salva’s place). Furthermore, Xicu is still repeatedly unfaithful to Salva in saunas, despite Salva’s purposely lost opportunities of having sex with other sexy young guys…so far, as Salva was feeling so needy and horny and furious that he reluctantly decides to enjoy the carnal pleasures of a sauna.

5th. Two days later, a low-spirited version of Salva asks Xicu to let him get in his own apartment as he needs some stuff. He secretly finds a present box with an expensive watch inside. All of a sudden he gets happy again, as he thinks Xicu tries to make up for his sacrifices. All that joy, as the reader can easily guess, will not last forever. On New Year’s Eve, Xicu will text Salva too late that they are not starting the year together since he will not attend his friends’ party. On Three Kings Day, not long after Xicu’s parents have left the apartment (at last!), Salva finds out the watch was not the present Xicu had planned for him. Some days later, he will discover Xicu kissing another man who is---Guess what? Wearing the watch!

Don’t panic! This will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back and, after a loudly dispute, Xicu and Salva finally break up. When Xicu goes back to Salva’s apartment for his belongings, he even tries to make up with him. However, Salva kicks him out the moment he realizes Xicu has been cheeky enough to come with the watch guy… And that puts an end to their (love?) story. But fortunately for Salva, his world is not so limited as to focus strictly on Xicu.

Rita is the helping friend who brings Salva home with her while Xicu’s family is squatting his apartment. She just seems happy enough to spend Christmas Eve drinking hot chocolate, sitting on the couch while involved in a cozy blanket, watching on DVD Vincente Minnelli’s Meet Me in St. Louis and hearing one-of-a-kind Judy Garland singing marvelously “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” together with Salva. Anyhow, do not think of Rita as the perfect spinster. She is a mature, heterosexual woman and, though she complains about how difficult is to hook up for a woman of her age, hot men usually put their eyes on her (for instance, a bodybuilder in a hair removal center waiting area). However, she soon gets tired of them. What’s wrong with her? Carmen, Salva’s sister, opens her eyes abruptly at the New Year’s Eve party: she makes Rita realize she is in love with Salva since her teens…, hurting herself for so long…, believing he will change some day… But do not worry about Rita: she is strong enough to rise easily from the ashes.

Rafa, another friend of Salva’s, is another middle-aged, love skeptic, promiscuous man. His philosophy of life turns round when he meets an attractive man at the New Year’s Eve party (hope the next New Year’s Eve party I’m invited to will be as enjoyable as this!). Rafa gets stuck on him. But when they are about to have sex at the other man’s place, Rafa finds out by chance the man is seropositive and flees away. Rafa soon regrets his childish, apprehensive behavior, so when he comes across the man again he asks for a second chance. This time the guy speaks openly about his current health, but now Rafa is okay. Things between Rafa and the seropositive guy will go so well that, during the brand-new same-sex marriage law celebration day, the couple gets engaged.

This engagement news will astonish Salva and Oriol, another member of this circle of friends. Oriol is used to an easy-going, uncomplicated life. For him, the only interesting point in getting married is to find a wealthy husband. He is really fussy, and makes a risky scene at the shopping plaza when an old man calls him fag. He also hosts the crowded, cheerful, gaudy, madly-gay New Year’s Eve party along with his beloved, indulgent mommy in mink coat. The father, surprisingly, does not know (maybe he does not want to know) his son is gay, so he is far away from the party.

At this party, by the way, Salva will meet Wili and Rico. Sebas Martín pictures a facetious caricature of a gay couple too self-confident of their ultra-modern style. They two find everything slapdash and in bad taste, but when Salva and Oriol are invited to their apartment, they find the place all shabby, messy and even dirty. Their landlord, Román, an old-aged homosexual, tells Salva the bleak, moving story of his younger days under Franco’s regime, when gay men could not develop their sexuality freely and a fearful Román let go the opportunity to start a better life abroad with, who knows, the love of his life.

I find Román’s and Lucas’s stories the most enthralling of the whole comic book. The latter, Lucas, is a disabled young gay boy in a wheelchair who needs assistance to go out. Rafa usually works as a volunteer worker but this time he cannot carry out his tasks, so he asks Salva to take his place. Salva gets shocked the time he realizes Lucas wants a ride to a male brothel. After Lucas has spent more than an hour with Sandro, a big black muscled prostitute, and Salva is driving Lucas back home, he can hardly hold back and tells Lucas he is too young to resort to prostitutes. Lucas pours cold water on his driver when he acidly replies nobody wants to have sex with an ugly disabled guy in a wheelchair for free---Oh, come on! Don’t sob your hearts out yet! Martín has saved for Lucas a bright, happy ending in the shape of a hot, muscular, affectionate boyfriend. Note the contrast between Román’s and Lucas’s outlooks towards life: Lucas is up to experience sex though he sourly knows he has to pay for it, whereas the young, frightened Román decided to repress his sexuality in the past, dark times of abuse of police authority. Avoiding the question of different periods of time, the opposite attitudes considering sexual life are clear.

Salva and his sister Carmen go home on Christmas Day. Mother is a hypercritical woman who does not want to know a thing about Salva’s homosexuality, whereas she is eager to get Carmen married to the perfect husband. She thinks her daughter can find her match in one of the two nice new neighbors, so she invites them home as well. These guys are in fact a gay couple (who, by the way, have experienced hard situations in the past due to their families opposition to their sexual orientation) willing to get married the moment same-sex marriage is finally declared legal. But nobody told Mother… Poor thing!

Time goes by and springtime finally comes. Salva and his friends discuss imminent gay marriage rights approval. There is a general feeling of repulsion towards the Church’s fierce opposition. They joke about a supposed ecclesiastic fear of priests marrying seminarists en masse; but, talking seriously, they agree to say same-sex marriage in Spain will attract more gay tourists and residents, resulting in employment increase (up to this point, it is interesting to note gay marriage was approved a couple of years before the global economic crisis). A drunken man insults Rafa and his boyfriend when they are kissing outside. But this disgusting affair will not tarnish their happiness, since everybody takes the streets to celebrate exultantly their newly acquired social equality rights.

November 9, 2014

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Gay Man

On Eduardo Mendicutti's El ángel descuidado (The Careless Angel)

It was by the end of 2002 when El ángel descuidado showed up in Spanish libraries. The author, Eduardo Mendicutti, is a well-known national writer, particularly unconditional to gay-themed fiction. Let me try to give my personal account on this appealing novel.

One can find in Mendicutti's work some usual clichés in gay fiction. First of all, the romantic couple: Rafael Lacave and Nicolás Camacho represent the stereotyped gay lovers. Rafael is the smart, high-class, sensitive, imaginative, and effeminate half; Nicolás, the tough, low-class, manly, and sexy one. God also gifted him with a big fat-sized penis--the icing of this ultra-macho (beef)cake of desire--Besides, the environment they live in is none other than a religious congregation. The pattern of homosexual relationships in a deep Christian atmosphere has been discussed many times and can be found in other works of fiction or films (i.e., Pedro Almodóvar's Bad Education or C. Jay Cox’s Latter Days).

These two young novitiates will experience the sprout of sexuality in 1965, in a place where clandestine sex intercourse is punished despite frequently-occurring masturbation between fellows under their robes.

His main protagonist, Rafael, is portrayed as a man with artistic inclinations, both in music and, especially, in literature (his praised paragraphs for the Congregation common journal as early lights of his talent). The fact that 35 years later Rafael is a celebrity well known for his television appearances suggests that Rafael may be an alter ego of Mendicutti himself. (Another evidence that could hint at this coincidence is the foreign air of both Lacave and Mendicutti surnames for Spanish-speaking readers.) Anyway, do not assume Rafael is presented as a mature boy. He even develops a childish fantasy, considering several stage names for him and Nicolás in their probable (at least for him) brilliant, smashing acting careers on Broadway after leaving the Congregation.

Perhaps the most attractive aspect of the novel in my extremely subjective, personal opinion is not so much in the resolution of the love story itself (something the none-but-either-happy-or-tragic ending fans will find so disappointing), but the importance of sexuality in self-construction not only as individual, but also as an artist. It could be said that the sentimental relationship Rafael maintains with Nicolás will mark his education in much more than sentimental terms. The moment Rafael starts to take aware of his sexuality he will deviate from the Congregation rules. This is obvious in moments like the music competition, where Rafael will execute a passionate performance resulting in the hilarity of fellow novitiates and the indignation of the jury, who will refuse to judge; or the time when the brothers are proposed to vote in the question of keeping their baptismal name within the Congregation, when up to that time it used to be changed: Everyone will vote for or against... less Rafael, who refuses to vote. Moreover, before this voting, Rafael’s invention of Leafar (his name spelled backwards), the careless angel,[1] is an evidence of both his creativity and nonconformity: the choice of a name impossible anyone else can select, as well as the reaffirmation of his self--by the use of his own name anyhow--proves Rafael does not want to give up with his individuality.

Then not so much his breaking with the chastity vow but the obedience vow will cause his expulsion. It was just clear that Rafael was not made for becoming the perfect missionary.

The ending, a completely naked Rafael looking at his reflection for the first time (mirrors were prohibited in the Congregation), secluded in the toilets of the train that takes him back home, means not only an act of sexual awareness, but also an ultimate affirmation of his self, his individuality, his freedom to do whatever he wants.

But all that happened in 1965… Mendicutti tells their story in two periods. The present time is 2000. A new millennium. A new age. Rafael is no longer in the Congregation, where monitored permanently by elder brothers, but in a friendly, urbanite atmosphere, with places expressly designed so that gay men can meet and have fun freely. In one of those clubs Rafael will meet Vicente--I find very interesting (and amusing) this character.

Vicente is a little younger than Rafael and Nicolás and from the same place than the latter. He will give news of Nicolás’s whereabouts to a cold-but-curious Rafael 35 years later. Vicente is presented as an aged, small-town man, occasionally spending a few weekends a year in the capital of Spain to meet men. He is quite naive and somewhat nosy, as one can see in his talks with alternately Rafael and Nicolás, shamelessly intrigued about their past love story and the state of things in the present. His tactlessness is embarrassingly proved when he tells Rafael that Nicolás refers to him as a faggot.

It must be borne in mind when reading the novel that the story is told from the point of view of Rafael, thus his way of portraying Nicolás, especially in 2000, can make us think it is quite biased. To Rafael, it is clear that Nicolás is a closeted gay, married (though childless) to an ugly woman in order to follow the social conventions. However, we can see in his intimate exposure to Vicente that Nicolás speaks openly and unaffectedly about that experience, only presenting the situation as something easy to understand since the same kind of things happens between men in prisons in the absence of the opposite sex. When big-mouth Vicente reveals Nicolás’s version of their story, Rafael does not give any credit to this explanation, as he remembers the moment Nicolás promised, 35 years ago, that he would never ever love anyone as much as he did to Rafael. No wonder Rafael prefers to live with the memory of such a romantic vow--but the reader can also believe (why not?) in Nicolás's words.

Another possibility: Nicolás might also be bisexual, as he had proposed Rafael to marry each other's sisters in order to be together for ever... In any case, the interest he showed to Rafael's family fortune suggests Nicolás happens to be a self-interested rather than hasty, infatuated young boy. (35 years later, Nicolás has become the richest self-made man in his humble town). Ambiguity in such a delicate issue is achieved thanks to the elegant, precise sobriety of Mendicutti’s style all along this bittersweet narration.

[1] That kind of proverb Rafael makes up about a third angel of Sodom who carelessly preferred to go with the Sodomites instead of assisting Lot and his family (another case of Rafael’s creativity displayed).

Welcome to Spanish Gay Fiction

My warmest welcome to everybody!

I invite curious readers as well as fans of LGBT-themed fiction to read this blog. Hope it will be amusing and entertaining for book-lovers, and a helpful tool for those interested in this kind of literature.

This blog has been created to try to recognize the true value of Spanish literature contribution in the world of LGBT fiction. Thus, I commit myself to do my best ;)