BOYS tell their own true stories in new gay anthology

Mon. October 28, 2013 10:55 AM by News Staff

Chicago editors release new anthology 'BOYS', Oct. 31

Chicago, IL - Last Thursday, Oct. 17, Thought Catalogue's "Boys, An Anthology: The Voices, Stories, And Lives of Gay, Queer, And Trans* Men" -- more commonly known as BOYS -- debuted at #3 in essays on Amazon, ahead of David Sedaris, and #1 in LGBT non-fiction.

BOYS is the pet project of Chicago writers and activists Zach Stafford and Nico Lang, who wanted to feature queer voices in a way that was unique and different from things they'd already read. They pictured a book that told the honest and intimate stories about the lives of real boys, while challenging the way our community tells its history and even the very definition of the term "boys."

"I talked to Zach about the sorts of gay anthologies that I grew up on," Lang, a producer for Thought Catalogue and frequent contributor on issues of gender and sexuality for WBEZ Chicago, told "I remember how white and very very male they were and how unrepresentative I thought that was of the community and what a poor job it did for preparing me for the diversity of the community itself. It seems like we're only telling a certain type of story and we need to start creating different ones and showcasing different ones."

The resulting anthology is a collection of 19 stories from writers around the world. These include Noah Michelson, a former poet and now editor of Huffington Post's Gay Voices, who writes about his earliest memories growing up in Racine, Wisconsin in the 80s, as well as Buck Angel, a FTM porn star and trans* icon, who writes for the first time ever about starting to take testosterone and realizing he was interested in other men. Another story from spoken word poet and NYC-based activist Alok Vaid-Menon seeks to articulate what it's like to be a diasporic LGBT person in a supremely Western world and the challenging experience he had going back to India.

Other stories include an essay exploring the difficulties gay men of color have navigating the dating world from madison moore, author of the upcoming book "People of the Fabulous Class," an intimate portrait of dealing with break-ups from the editor of Hello Mr. magazine, Ryan Fitzgibbon, and Toronto-based writer Jamie Woo's unique meditation on the overrepresentation of certain types of boys in porn and on hook-up apps.

"People may be attracted to the fact that we have a lot of new writers," Stafford, who writes a column on the LGBT community for RedEye and works with the Gender, Sexuality and HIV Prevention Center based out of Lurie Children's Hospital, told "I think writing is very elitist, like who should publish and who shouldn't, and this book is really pushing against that. You have people like Noah [Michelson] who has an elite education, who's a poet and commands millions of readers a month, next to someone who just started writing."

Stafford and Lang reached out to colleagues and friends, as well as branching out to people they'd never talked to before, wanting to feature new voices and a breadth of styles and experiences not typically discussed in queer anthologies. They worked hard not just to represent diversity, but to purposefully not tokenize people, including their voices for the sake of their ability to tell honest and intimate stories and not to fill a category or slot.

A number of local Chicago writers contributed to BOYS, including Huffington Post's Joseph Erbentraut and Thought Catalogue's Patrick Gill, who were inducted into the Windy City Times' 30 Under 30 alongside Lang and Stafford this year, and trans*/queer poet and writer Mar Curran. The duo also made an effort to feature new voices like Sean Binder, a native Floridian who lived in Chicago during the writing process and worked closely with Stafford and Lang. Binder, in turn, introduced them to RJ Aguiar, a YouTube celebrity and contributor for

"I was more often than not surprised with how open and generous people were with their time and their willingness to be involved in this project," Lang said. "It was really humbling to me just to see how excited people were about this because it was just our weird little pet project that we thought would be interesting. It was something that we wanted to see more of in the world and it was just really lovely for me to have other people share that same enthusiasm for what we wanted to do."

Adding to Lang's surprise is the fact that all contributors for BOYS are donating their time and talent to charity. Stafford and Lang knew from the beginning that they wanted to donate the proceeds, but since charities are so geo-specific (Chicago House in Chicago, Ali Forney Center in New York, etc.) and the stories in BOYS include a range of geographies from Bangalore and London to San Francisco and New York, they had a hard time making a decision.

Contributor Oscar Raymundo of Queerty and Rolling Stone introduced the duo to Tony Valenzuela, Executive Director of the Lambda Literary foundation, and a perfect marriage was born. Lambda Literary is the top nonprofit for LGBT literature, seeking to preserve and promote the storytelling of LGBT lives through their publishing, book reviews and annual Lambie awards. Valenzuela, a Latino gay man, expressed immediate interest and excitement about what Stafford and Lang wanted to achieve with BOYS and signed on to the project.

"That Nico and I can call writers and say 'I want to do a book thats not about the stereotypical gay man, that's about all these different voices of people of different colors, genders, everything and have them tell their story' and for people like the executive director of the Lambies to be so excited, shows that this is really needed," Stafford said, trying to articulate the potential impact BOYS could have. "People are really wanting to read this and it has the potential to be really....I don't know the right word, not radical, but could be healing, maybe."

Initially, BOYS was set to be published solely as an eBook for Thought Catalogue, but after seeing the excitement it generated, was picked up to be published for bookstores as well. While both Stafford and Lang are excited for the day they get to see their baby on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, they are also interested in investigating eBooks as a mode of communication.

"EBooks are something we haven't really explored, so at the same time that we're exploring these identities that have been underrepresented in the community we're also exploring these technologies in the community that are still really waiting to be tapped to their full potential," Lang said. "I think this book is a document of the ways in which our community is changing...the way we think about our community and how that changes the way we tell our stories."

"I think that is the most salient point -- that a lot of these stories wouldn't be able to be told the way they're being told if they had to be told out loud or written down on paper," Stafford added. "I think writers being able to type it from the privacy of their own home, initially thinking 'it's only gonna be an eBook,' and was all done through the internet...allowed us to be more intimate...and allowed people to open up and explore different ways of writing, feeling and thinking in a way that will show whether you're reading it on your ipad or in a coffee shop."

The essays in BOYS are not always the easiest to read, daring to ask difficult questions and explore issues not frequently discussed in the mainstream LGBT community. Stafford's own piece talks about his bulimia, something he rarely speaks of, let alone writes down, while Lang's is a twist on the traditionally coming out story, exploring that while he could probably bring home a white man to his grandmother, bringing home a person of color would be entirely different.

By telling such intimate, personal stories, which can be quite a painful process for writer as well as reader, Stafford, Lang and the contributors of BOYS hope to reach out and connect with readers and to start conversations. Many of their authors already have an established internet presence that helps to get the ball rolling on the greater discussion, such as Michelson who posted his essay on the Huffington Post the day pre-ordering began.

"As much as it was about creating a community in print it's about creating communities on the internet and bringing issues to the floor and starting these issues in our community that are being discussed already but not at the same mainstream level that they should be," Lang said.

Stafford and Lang hope to pursue other avenues with BOYS. They held a Google Hangout on October 17 for Spirit Day and were joined by several contributors who spoke about their essays and their personal experiences with bullying. The duo also appeared on HUffPost Live and have tossed around the idea of maybe doing a regular a podcast or future anthologies. They don't claim to represent all every sing person or identity in their community, saying they see BOYS as the start of the conversation, rather than the whole conversation.

"It showed me that these kinds of things can be really easy," Lang said. "Or not really easy, but simpler than we think they are and that we talk about how creating change can be really difficult or pushing the community to be different is this really uphill battle, but I just think that when we try and exert a little effort, it might not be as hard as we all think."

"Gay men are always portrayed as really catty, really conniving, really egotistical, but this book is evidence that we're not always like that," Stafford said, laughing with Lang. "Well, sometimes we can be like that, but we're willing to work together to all come to the table and tell our stories in a way that is transparent and open and I think thats what people will get from the anthology. These are the real lives of real boys."

You can pre-order your eBook (it's only $4.99, how can you resist?) online before its October 31 release date and the printed version is slated to be available at your local bookstore in mid-November. For a preview of what's in store, check out Noah Michelson's piece, published on HuffPost.