If jealousy is a green-eyed monster, my bosom is chief among the beast's favorite nesting spots. Recently, upon opening Entertainment Weekly's homos-in-showbiz extravaganza and seeing>"/>
If jealousy is a green-eyed monster, my bosom is chief among the beast's favorite nesting spots. Recently, upon opening Entertainment Weekly's homos-in-showbiz extravaganza and seeing an old East Coast acquaintance listed as one of 100 new names to watch, the Morrissey tune "We Hate It When Our Friends Become Successful" began ringing in my ears.
But as soon as I got about five pages into Mike Albo's Hornito: My Lie Life (HarperCollins), that melody rapidly faded. Albo's book, a fictionalized account of growing up gay in suburban Virginia in the '80s, contrasted with episodes from 1997's lusty summer in New York's East Village, parallels a lot of my own experiences—yet shines more insight into them than years spent poring over my journals. Albo's anecdotes will ring familiar with other gay men, too: The forced enrollment into youth soccer, the friends who ditch you when the cooler Dirt Bike Kids come around, learning to navigate the school cafeteria to minimize abuse. And, most vividly of all, the way we eradicate aspects of our primordial personalities to survive.
"I wanted to talk about the gay childhood and these feelings that masculinity was learned in me," explains Albo over the phone from his apartment in Brooklyn. "I'm glad I'm the way I am, but I definitely had to learn to run like a boy. If we lived in a completely different culture, like the Hopi Indians, I'd be one those gay guys who lives in their own tepees. I would have been appreciated in a different way. But in our weird, stratified culture, I had to learn certain signals to be a guy."
Then, further along, we learn a new set of signals so we can be accepted (hopefully) in gay culture, too, which is what the modern sections of the novel—in which Mike, clad in retro-kitsch togs and fueled by nightly drink specials, pursues a beautiful but aloof go-go boy—artfully uncover. But while Mike Albo the protagonist gets laid plenty in Hornito, he never manages to swallow the pedestrian rules his boy-crazy roommate Benny constantly spouts—not unlike Mike Albo the author, whose scathing, weird sex-and-dating column in OUT got axed a while back after the turtleneck set running editorial decided he didn't fit their image.
The ardent music lover (his current faves include Adventures In Stereo's Monomania) uses songs and bands to frame key moments throughout Hornito, from the high school pep drive to win a Wang Chung concert to the flamboyant blind date who starts snapping wildly when RuPaul's "Supermodel" comes on the radio. But the author also voices strong opinions about "the sick way we sell nostalgia back to ourselves," and though the hero loses his virginity to the Cocteau Twins classic Treasure, Albo fears trying to get it on to that record today "would just be too gooey. I love that album, but there's no way I could listen to it [during sex]—I'd feel like I had a bad haircut the entire time."
Typically, there's nothing like another fag riffing on pop culture to spark what I call "My Kid Could Do Better Than That" Syndrome. But what separates Albo from the pack of thirtysomething queers peddling thinly disguised memoirs as literature is the vivid, tangled emotion surging through his words. Which, the author admits, was the only thing that kept his own internal critic in check while writing Hornito.
"Anyone who's doing anything artistic always feels like, 'A million people did this before me. Why am I doing this?'" he concedes. "But when I'm writing something deeply emotional, I develop this strong attachment to it and become ignorant of everything else around me."
"I know a guy who got a $600,000 book deal for writing this stupid book about his dog," says Albo. "I cried while I was writing this book, and I didn't fuckin' get $600,000. It's so hard to keep faith that there are things done for artistic reasons. But—and I know this sounds so cheesy—as long as I feel that nice connection with people when they read [Hornito], I can be satisfied with that."
So my old friend made it into Entertainment Weekly. But would they have deigned to write about him if the cast of Will & Grace hadn't been on the cover? "It's very interesting to see where this will and won't go because of its content. A similar book written by a straight woman can easily go on the front table at most book stores, but Hornito goes right into the Gay & Lesbian section. And then sometimes I get people asking, 'Do you think straight guys are going to read this?' Well, I've had to read The Red Badge of Courage and Toni Morrison, I've read about other people's mental and spiritual journeys through their lives. What makes this book different?"