When Edgar Gomez was 13, their mother took them to visit their Nicaraguan uncles in the expectation that the trip would mark an initiation into manhood. It wasn’t quite that simple. In Gomez’s funny, luminous memoir, “High-Risk Homosexual,” the rituals intended to make them a man lead them instead to examine the complex tangle of love, fear and violence at the heart of constructed masculinity. Ultimately, Gomez embraces a queer, nonbinary Latinx identity that looks on machismo with more compassion than judgment.
“Something I especially appreciate in memoirs is when the writer is honest about their own flaws and complicity, instead of just pointing out how everyone else has wronged them,” Gomez told GW Today. “I don’t mean self-deprecation; I mean self-interrogation. That usually leads to the best lessons.”
Gomez will virtually visit the George Washington University next Tuesday as part of the Cisneros Hispanic Leadership Institute’s “LatinXpression” talk series with artists, authors and musicians. Assistant Professor of Latin American and Latinx Literary and Cultural Studies Manuel Cuellar and writer Ofelia Montelongo, visiting faculty in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, will join them in conversation.
“In their coming-of-age memoir, Gomez tackles topics like queerness, machismo, relationships and identity with wit and humor,” Montelongo said. “Talking with them about their book is like chatting with a longtime friend about life. It’ll be a pleasure to be in a new conversation with them at GW. I hope our students find new inspiration for their writing and life.”
The conversation and the Cisneros Institute’s series are also part of GW’s 2022 Latinx Heritage Celebration, “A Community United Cannot Be Divided.”
“I’m so excited to speak with GW students about the book and what it was like to grow up as queer in a machista culture during Latinx Heritage Month,” Gomez said.
"The university is proud to honor the rich history and vast contributions of the Latinx/o/a and Hispanic communities. Showcasing the traditions, values and diversity of our community through events, dialogue and celebrations is a meaningful way to mark this very important month."
Mark S. Wrighton
Community is a throughline in Gomez’s memoir, which opens at their uncle’s blood-spattered cockfighting ring—“the ultimate anti-gay space,” Gomez says—and moves through the empowering warmth of queer urban spaces. One such place is Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, where Gomez spent their 18th and 21st birthdays and where, in June 2016, 49 people were killed by shooter Omar Mateen. It was Latin night. One of Gomez’s most powerful chapters digs into the vibrant, exhilarating atmosphere of Pulse before the shooting and also into Mateen’s history, in which they see parallels to their own.
“I realized through writing that story that a lot of the shooter’s anger was cultivated early on,” Gomez said. “As a kid, he received a lot of racist, fatphobic, xenophobic hate. Those are some of the things this country needs to work on if we want mass shootings to stop happening. It’s all interconnected.
“The question I was trying to answer for myself in the chapter about Pulse was, ‘Why would someone do something like this to us and how can we ensure this never happens again?’ and being vague wasn’t going to help. I needed to pinpoint exactly where the hate came from, like a surgeon looking for cancer in a body, so that I could extract and study it.”
Gomez “desperately missed” their community after moving away from Florida to get their MFA, and their memoir was one tool for finding it again. “Writing was a way for me to revisit places like Pulse, the friends I used to go there with who helped me get by in my early twenties. It helped me feel less alone.”
The writing in “High-Risk Homosexual” is visceral and immediate, but Gomez sometimes had to unspool the details of a memory from a single enduring image. “I did research like looking at old pictures, randomly Googling things like what music was popular during certain years or who was performing at an event I attended and seeing what memories that triggered.”
Once Gomez moved out and got their first laptop they started taking more notes, they said, even writing early versions of what would become chapters in “High-Risk Homosexual.” But in the tiny home they grew up sharing with their mother, brother and stepfather, “Keeping a diary would have been like leaving evidence of my crimes everywhere.”
“In general, getting the memories right is one of the biggest reasons the book took so long—about seven years—to write,” Gomez said. “I would write a draft and then just sit with it for a while until I was absolutely confident I’d told the story to the best of my abilities.”
Their confidence didn’t waver, but Gomez still wasn’t sure publication was in the cards. That doubt came from statistics, not impostor syndrome. Though Gomez knew their writing was good, they were also aware of the overwhelming whiteness of the book industry.
“I didn’t have a huge platform,” they said. “It’s a queer, Latinx memoir. And though I’ve since proved there was an audience for it, many publishing houses don’t see voices like mine as great investments.”
But there was an upside. Gomez’s dubious estimation of the book’s chances “made me feel like I could write with as much vulnerability and honesty as I wanted,” they said. “Because no one would ever actually read the book.”
People did read it, especially after a glowing New York Times review. Now Gomez is working on another. They feel some responsibility to give young, queer readers hope when sharing their story—“I didn’t want them to read my book and leave more depressed than when they started”—but a greater responsibility to the truth.
“I’m not a big fan of neat, tidy endings or people sugarcoating things for me,” Gomez said. “One of my greatest disappointments as a queer kid was seeing television shows that made it seem like queerness was fine, and when I got older and entered the world on my own, having to confront that for many people, it still isn’t fine. It’s not all rainbows. So while writing my book, I insisted on telling the truth—as ugly as that was at times. It’s both what I wanted to do and also what I felt I owed readers. I didn’t want to lie to them and pretend everything is all good and have them be unprepared for the real world.”
And what if a teenage Edgar Gomez were one of those young queer readers? What would Gomez tell that kid?
“I would tell them that all the things they don’t like about themselves now are what will save them when they’re older,” Gomez said. “And wear sunblock.”
More ways to celebrate Latinx Heritage at GW
Organization of Latin American Students (OLAS) president and GW junior Gillian Villarroel noted that this year’s celebration theme “is special because it highlights how close the Latinx community is here on and off campus with the vast Latinx alumni network and amazing Latinx professors.”
“Together as a community we uplift each other’s voices and celebrate our successes,” Villarroel said.
Upcoming Latinx Heritage Celebration events at GW also include:
- "Latinos in the Law," Oct. 6 at 7 p.m. in the Jacob Burns Moot Court Room, 2000 H St., NW
- "Nuestra Belleza y Galán Latine," Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. in the Continental Ballroom, University Student Center third floor, 800 21st St., NW
- "Latinx Professors’ Brunch," Oct. 8 at 11 a.m. Students are invited to connect and share with Latinx faculty. Continental Ballroom.
- "A Taste of Latin America," Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. in the Potomac House basement, 2021 F St., NW
- "The Only Latina in the Room," Oct. 13 at 5:30 p.m. Four national security professionals will discuss the challenges and triumphs of being Latina in an overwhelmingly white and male profession. Elliott School of International Affairs, Room 602, 1957 E St., NW.
- "La Fiestasa," Oct. 15. All are welcome at OLAS’ closing celebration—more details and tickets available soon.