Forget the rock-hard cocks, inflated tits and bed-rocking orgasms of hardcore porn. Brontez Purnell’s transgressive microscope into the humorous lives and times of gay sex – tragic, pathetic, romantic – is the tour de fuck of modern erotica. Or, as the punk author, musician and dancer puts it, “anti-erotica,” when he speaks to THE FACE about his latest novel, 100 Boyfriends.
“Most erotica is written from the point of view of porn – it’s meant to get you off,” he tells me over the phone from his home in Oakland, CA. “When you watch porn, everybody’s dick is eight inches, everyone’s muscular, they have sex on camera in ways that people don’t normally have sex.”
Purnell has already been the author of two highly-acclaimed novels since 2015. His debut, Johnny Would You Love Me If My Dick Were Bigger, was a filthy cult-classic published in small batches through underground publisher, Rudos and Rubes. It traces the life of an artist and “old school homosexual” who mistrusts the new breed of flashy gentrified gays cornering streets lined with hip bars and organic coffee shops, instead plunging into self-sabotage, late-night park cruising and bathhouses.
Then in 2017 came Since I Laid My Burden Down – an unadulterated portrait of a gay man, DeShawn, returning home from sexy San Fran to Bible-belt Alabama, somewhere in the 1980s. Upon his return, he’s haunted by Sunday services, ratty white neighbours and a giddy trip down memory lane for being an outsider.
What Purnell does in 100 Boyfriends, then, is offer the emotion behind the sex, through a sticky load of sexual encounters as told by various narrators. There’s a minted fit guy in an arm-sling, a Satan worshipper, bits on the side, alcoholics and racist neighbours. Not forgetting sloppy blowjobs, cocaine in offices and public sex in bathrooms. Ultimately, 100 Boyfriends is a community of outsiders journeying through mishaps most can relate to – even if we don’t want to admit to it.
“I’m giving you the shot with the cellulite on it, the fucking erectile dysfunction, and the anxiety,” he adds. “Basically all the things that renders sex, not necessarily this performative thing you can watch, but actually this human thing that we all engage in and this form of communication that we need to be human.”
It’s not always pretty – in fact, it barely is. There’s a point when the narrator is shagging the Satan worshipper mentioned above, only to find a box of condoms with “inverted-pentagram insignia” on them. A bit before that, the foreplay (or something like that) has the bottom force-shouting “FUCK GOD, HAIL SATAN” at the command of the worshipper. Then, later, the worshipper begins shouting “YOU ARE JUST A FAGGOT HOLE FOR SATAN’S SONS.”
Pretty mad, right?
Whether Purnell likes it or not, this book is radical. Because for all the queer writing out there, so much of it is told through the lens of a white man – often privileged, often not having the foggiest about marginalised communities. Often with a massive dick. But for the author, this is just a part of his everyday friendly conversation that goes from mouth to paper, and straight to our heads like a hot shot of vodka.
“I can see why it reads that way to other people,” he says. “But just being in the complications of marginalised, Black, punk, queer, survivor, whatever, it’s closer to the vernacular of how me and my friends have always talked about sex. It doesn’t feel so radical to me.”
Hilariously, Purnell picks up on the common styles of queer writing coming from a sense of deism, where the writer acts as an oracle of all-seeing, all-knowing power. “So much fucking queer writing always has to be proselytised,” he says. “Like everyone has to speak like they’re coming from some oracle, or they’re talking to their subjects.” Purnell’s writing style couldn’t be further from that. Rather, he’s doing coke at the back of the club and giving you the rundown of the story. His words, not ours.
“I’m talking to you like I’m holding court with you,” he adds. “I’m not the queen, I’m not the king. That’s probably why it feels radical to some people who mostly digest literature in other types of ways.”
For the gay man, Black or brown, who has never seen themselves in a piece of gay literature, we reckon this one’s for you. Not least because Purnell’s empathy is written on every page, somewhere between the lines. He knows what it’s like to write yourself into a queer story, somehow.
“We move into this era of literature where we’ve always been taught this trope of the universal hero, and also ingesting white literature a lot,” he says. “Growing up, I had to look for myself in this white boy that went to some boarding school on the East Coast in the 20s or 30s because he was the universal hero – I had to locate myself in him.”
And now? “We move past the universal hero and we get into these pocket universes of so many different experiences.”
For Purnell, it’s about shifting that weight in order to present more than one idea of gay identity, to see ourselves in different appendages of marginalised identities. One that is, by default of his wildly funny writing, sweaty, smelly and a bit fucked up.