Those fat Spartacus and Damrom travel guides for men make one thing perfectly clear—there’s a big travel market for gay men, and since the libido is portable, why not make it easier for gay men to find sex while abroad? And despite the wealth of legitimate listings in books and underground venues suggested on illicit Internet sites, gay men have been known to stumble across sex in locales not hinted at in any of those sources and at times they’ve least anticipated it.
“There’s nothing more intimate than when two people share a bed, no better way to understand each other’s societies,” says editor Michael T. Luongo, a Gay City News contributor who has pulled together a diversity of gay travel erotica in “Between the Palms.”
You might not learn everything about a culture between the sheets, but it certainly seems a nice place to start out.
Luongo notes that about a third of the stories submitted for the book were about encounters by Western men with Muslims, remarkable given the increased cultural barriers since 9/11. In addition to cultural diversity, the book also provides generational diversity, as well as guides not only to particular places but also to specific zeitgeists. Dayton Estes captures the Cold War’s piercing paranoia and fiercely held ideologies in “A Page from History,” set in Berlin just as the Wall is about to go up. Simon Sheppard charts the experience of being a long-haired hippie on the go in Europe and North Africa in “Stoned in Ten Languages.” If you ever wondered what it’s like to sneak into Morocco wearing a short-hair wig, or to have sex with a German heroin addict in a minivan in 1972, it’s all here. Felice Picano’s “Biker Boys and Commie Lovers” shows us London’s gay scene before liberation, where, in typically rigid British fashion, there were rules and practices that needed to be followed and understood.
Daniel Collins offers a more observational perspective, examining decidedly shy gay mating rituals while visiting India in “Malabar Spice.” Matthew Link looks at how coming on to foreigners is a living, even if a surreptitious and dangerous one, for a young African hoping to become a kept boy for a Westerner in “Ghana’s Kiss of Love Without End,” set in a culture that restricts open gayness.
Some travels seem more about going to a new consciousness than to a different country. Tim McKenzie takes us all on a trip of a different sort in “Desert Bloom: Memories of Burning Man,” as he chronicles a few days of a San Francisco man’s visit to the Burning Man festival in the desert in Nevada, where free form nudity and love and painting your body with mud are the order of the day. Author Robert Stephenson examines an American’s encounter with Salaam, an angry Egyptian man he meets in Florence. Salaam find himself brought to Florence for one purpose, and then left to fend for himself, reluctant to return to a culture that would oppress him for being gay.
The anthology also offers up tales that offer more below-the-waistband action than serious cerebral perambulations, “Sizzle in Paradise” by Lance Rush gives us the story between a white man and his black Jamaican guide, will certainly stir those who like that kind of brew. Aaron Krach’s “Big Red” seems more about a New York couple’s fractious, tenuous connection than about the protagonist’s philandering hook up with an adonis on St. Bart’s.
“Between the Palms” offers something for everyone, and for the romantics among us, editor Luongo’s “The Eyes of Caravaggio” presents the beginning of a potential love affair conducted on the final night of a trip to Buenos Aires, showing how a conversation can lead to sex, which can, believe it or not, lead to a lovely friendship that spans continents.
In choosing his selections, Luongo manages to cover the six inhabited continents with stories that are as personal as they are different. And if travel plans are not in your budget this summer, these stories can offer you on a different type of trip altogether.