November 23, 2014

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.

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