Homo Odyssey: Adventures Of A World Traveler by Brent MeersmanHomo Odyssey: Adventures Of A World Traveler by Brent Meersman

Homo Odyssey: Adventures Of A World Traveler

byBrent Meersman

Paperback | November 1, 2018

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A gay Muslim in Berlin, a young gay man bewildered and lost on the highways of Los Angeles; a rent boy in Shanghai; a holiday romance in Mexico; a man from Dakar in a bathhouse in Paris; a love hotel in Tokyo; a darkroom in Rio; a hamam in Syria; the burning ghats on the Ganges; Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist, Shinto and atheist; legal and illegal ... blazing through 17 countries on six continents, "Homo Odyssey" is an upfront, edgy, often funny, travel memoir that will leave you seeing the world and yourself with different eyes. How do men sexually attracted to other men live in different parts of the world? How do they see themselves? How have they survived over the centuries, mostly in places hostile to them?
Brent Meersman is a well known journalist, critic, columnist and author in South Africa. He is currently co-editor of the groundbreaking news site - groundup.org.za. His first job was as a press photographer in Grahamstown in 1989. His first novel Primary Coloured (Human & Rousseau) was published in 2007, followed by Reports Before Day...
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Title:Homo Odyssey: Adventures Of A World TravelerFormat:PaperbackDimensions:336 pages, 7.5 × 5.25 × 0.68 inPublished:November 1, 2018Publisher:Bruno Gmuender GmbHLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:3959853416

ISBN - 13:9783959853415

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IntroductionSex between men is not the sole preserve of those who see themselves as 'gay'In coming to terms with my own sexuality, I developed an almost anthropological obsession with what it means to find yourself inexplicably and irreversibly attracted to the same sex. I wanted to understand homosexual life in all its diversity. How, I wondered, do men sexually attracted to other men live in different parts of the world? How do they see themselves? How have they survived over the centuries, mostly in places hostile to them?I set out to immerse myself in every part of the world I could reach. Through 60 countries and seven continents, it has been a journey that has fundamentally changed my conception of myself, and along the way my view of so-called 'gay' identity.As a reader, it used to irk me how sex, such an integral part of most people's lives (which doesn't suddenly stop when travelling) is usually deliberately written out of travelogues; swashbuckling adventurers suddenly become awfully coy. Such intimate contact with someone who has their roots where the traveller is merely passing through often leads to revelation; the unexpected romance with a beautiful stranger that transforms a dingy destination into a brief paradise; a mysterious man who turns exotic fantasy into reality; a dishonest rent boy who poisons a whole city for one.The stories in this collection are spun from my uncensored travel diaries. I have included accounts of sex and non-sex and no sex, some events of which I am now somewhat ashamed, together with stories of love, and some of violence. They are not in chronological order.In my short life, I have seen my society make some profound shifts in how it views homosexuality. For most of my childhood, I believed I was the only one like that in the world. When I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, homosexuality was illegal and punishable with imprisonment. The social stigma was even worse than the law. There were no queers on television - unthinkable today. Even heterosexual sex was made into something dirty by the hypocritical, puritanical bigots that ruled my country.Before the 1990s, you didn't see genitals in South Africa, apart from the breasts of black women, who the authorities thought of as wildlife. Magazines and newspapers redacted white peoples' private parts with big black stripes and put stars over nipples. Even art programmes were censored. On state television, when the camera panned down the body of Michelangelo's David, the screen would go blank at the navel, and the picture only recover around the knees. The only nude male you ever saw was a Nuba tribesman in a National Geographic magazine. No wonder sex was something dirty or unspeakable, something to be sniggered at.Society had defined me as a pervert. God, I was told, wanted me dead. So it seemed did the government. When I went to university, my country was militarily occupying Namibia, at war in Angola, and on the brink of a civil war at home. Nearly all my close friends skipped the country to avoid conscription into the hated army.I was in two minds about fleeing. I spent several months on the backpacking circuit with a Eurail Pass criss-crossing the ten countries that at that time made up Western Europe. Coming from parochial, culturally isolated and backward apartheid South Africa, I had an insatiable appetite for the bookstores, the architectural wonders, the galleries and museums of Europe. I sought out all those paintings and great works I had only ever seen as feeble facsimiles in counterfeit colour in encyclopaedias.With my nascent sexuality, still unfolding, heuristically, Cellini's Perseus, Moreau's unpierced Saint Sebastian, the men from Picasso's rose period, and all of Géricault's male nudes, came to define a sexual ideal. I began to yearn for male bodies that resembled those palpitating sculptures and paintings; I'd go weak at the knees when seeing a face that appeared like an El Greco saint; my heart skipping when I met a young man who looked as if he had just stepped out of a painting by Botticelli.Western Europe gave one a bittersweet taste of freedom and the dream of self-actualisation. You could dress as you pleased, and you could say what you liked. And in Europe, finally, we could love who we wanted, whatever their sex or race.Not unlike South African backpackers, British aristocrats of the eighteenth century also took to escaping the rigidity of their society. They embarked on what became known as the Grand Tour. It was meant to broaden, edify and cultivate the mind. Inevitably, the body received educating as well, usually in the form of paid sex in Paris.At the start of the nineteenth century, the most famous of these travellers was probably Lord Byron, who made a bisexual sweep of the continent. Other homosexuals followed, sometimes discovering their 'true identity', liberating their sexual inclinations suppressed in prudish England, and feverishly indulging their passions in the relatively easy virtues of the continent, where the rustic Italian ragazzi, with their swarthy complexions, gazelle eyes and curly locks, were the equivalent of today's rent boys in Pattaya.Some of those gay travellers are homosexual luminaries to this day, such as E.M. Forster, W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood.However, most of these travels went unrecorded, and the men they encountered have passed into the unknown, much as a page fades to blackout during a Bruce Chatwin travel narrative. I think we can - and we must - guess what happened in the dark.In my early 20s, I concluded that homosexuality, although not the norm, is perfectly natural. I had slept with girls, but I had never slept with another boy, so on that first trip to Europe it became a priority among other civilising attractions.My travelling companion was Simon, a straight boy from school days, my age, at the time living in exile in London.In Paris, he accompanied me on my pilgrimage to Père-Lachaise to seek out the resting place of Oscar Wilde. We found a stone tomb vandalised with graffiti by fans expressing their undying love for Oscar. I skipped lunch so I could afford to place a red rose on the grave. Then I told Simon, "I think I might be gay". I said I wanted to go to a gay bar to see what it was like.When we reached Vienna, which was hardly known for its gay life back then, somehow I located a gay spot on my city map, appropriately called The Why Not.Cherub-faced Simon agreed to go with me as my protector.We arrived to find a dark entranceway with a heavy wooden door firmly shut. We rang. A slot opened in the middle of the door. A set of narrowed eyes peered at us through an iron grid.Simon, stammering, asked if we could come in for a drink."Sorry," a voice said emphatically in a thick Austrian accent, "this is a gay bar." The slot closed.I pressed the buzzer again. This time the door opened, but only a crack. "It is a gay bar," the man hissed. "It is for men only, understand? For homosexual men." "Yes," I said, "I know, I know, that's why I want you to let me in!"The man in the doorway looked at us. We were dressed like backpackers; quite unconscious of our appearance those days; hiking boots, jeans with knees worn through, lumberjack checked shirt clashing with a Palestinian keffiyeh, unkempt hair, unshaven. With hindsight, Simon probably looked like a pretty boy for rent and I looked like a gay basher. The man, baring a set of yellow teeth, hesitatingly allowed us to pass.Inside, there were three single, elderly men sitting on high stools, evenly spaced for equal opportunity along the dimly lit bar, nursing drinks and looking sour. My heart sank; the only open space for two of us was on the corner of the bar counter, where we were in full view of the men.I ordered two draft beers, which came in embarrassingly large glasses. Simon was looking a little nervous. The men all focused on him. How typical, I thought; what is it with gay men that the straight guy always gets the most attention, even when he looks more gay than you do? But Simon was quite safe; nobody made a move on us.We left with my virginity intact, Simon relieved, and I despondent. Those men exiled in a dark bar, always waiting, not speaking to each other, haunted me. Understand, that from the 1950s to the late 80s, we were constantly told by society in one way or another that this was how being gay would end - in tragedy without witness.But then, apartheid croaked its last and Nelson Mandela made homosexuality legal. We went wild. During our Prague Spring, after years under the jackboot, people partied. Gay bars and clubs sprang up, crammed to bursting with patrons spilling into the streets, and backrooms for sex. I remember some revellers openly smoked pot in front of the police. Nobody it seemed was sure anymore what was and wasn't legal.It wasn't all plain sailing. I narrowly missed a bomb planted in a gay bar on Green Point's Main Road. Nine people were badly injured. That particular bar never reopened.But in time, Cape Town became a gay mecca, a pink paradise, a rainbow village. Apparently, we middle class gays had won our freedom without even having to fight much for it.Now in South Africa in the 21st century, we have extensive 'gay rights', including marriage. On Clifton Third, Cape Town's gay beach, muscular bodies of all hues, from deep ebony to blinding white, from chemically bronzed to natural beige and sunburnt pink, lie side by side. At the height of summer, the vast majority of sun-worshippers here are gay males, though scattered between them are always a few umbrellas with families and children, who seem quite unperturbed by the occasional kiss, body rubs and other demonstrative physical affection between the men. It is a postcard for the country's human rights-based Constitution; black and white, straight and gay, young and old, male and female, all peacefully luxuriating in natural beauty. We are celebrating and no longer protesting.Yet there is another side; the majority of queer men in South Africa are black and living below the poverty line. Victimised by ignorance, cultural chauvinism and religious prejudice as bad as the naked racism of apartheid, they are unable to assert their rights. Sometimes subject to extreme homophobic violence, they nonetheless survive in their communities by forging other ways of expressing their sexuality and hopefully gaining acceptance. Street-smarts, fashion and bling are some of the strategies they employ. Others have even managed to "recruit" local gangsters as their protectors, because it's cool to have gay friends.Reflecting on their lives during the course of my journey around the world, compelled me to question the very concept of 'gay' identity.Like Gore Vidal, whenever I hear the words 'gay culture', I too reach for my revolver. When I grew up, gay life was a politically subversive subculture. That was a big part of its attraction. In the West, gay has now become "normalised" to the point of becoming mainstream: the stereotyped gay clowns you find in television soap operas; the yuppie gays that car advertisers and so-called 'lifestyle' marketers target; the model gays who magnetise Cape Town's booming rainbow tourist industry; the go-go cover boys found dancing on floats in gay pride marches the world over. But the gay village and the gay beach is only one highly visible, shared identity, one particular model of masculinity in which gay men can be publicly comfortable, assimilated, confident and aspirant. But it is a very narrow, globalising, consumerist paradigm. No fats, no femmes. It also excludes bisexuals and the asexual. For another thing, it largely excludes older men, while offering them the purchase of happiness through some superficial, titillating, porn-imitating gay capitalist nirvana.Is this really the best road to safeguard the rights of men who have sex with men?The men I encountered outside the West forced me to question the very notion of the closet, the liberationist and peculiarly Western preconception that 'coming out' is the prerequisite to live authentically. I discovered the heterosexual/homosexual binary fails as a model for understanding human sexuality in many parts of the world including my own backyard.Long before Europe had even been conceptualised, men who have sex with men have lived in almost every society that has ever existed, from ancient China and Egypt to the Americas. Socially accepted homosexual behaviour is not only well documented in classical civilisations, but also in first nation traditional societies, and in such remote places as New Guinea and the Amazon rainforest, existing long before there was any contact with the white man.The view that homosexuality is European and un-African is not only false, but a pernicious belief on my continent, spread by corrupt African politicians and white, North American evangelicals who preach their hatred in Africa. To say homosexuality is un-African is racist and patronising to black homosexuals.In so many countries - Russia, Ethiopia, Egypt, and India, to name a few - I found men who have sex with men trapped between political rivals, each trying to outdo the other in persecuting them.And place after place, I found the wealthy and middle class can live and do as they wish, while the poorer are left to the mercy of intolerant communities.It has been a journey of many discoveries, discoveries of what we already know but must learn to feel. If we think the mind is treacherous, the body is even more so.I hope I have done justice to the boys and men I met along the way. These are a handful of their stories.Cape Town, South AfricaMay 2014

Table of Contents

"Introduction Masree & Dahoud - Banana Island - Luxor, Egypt William - Pagan rites - Damascus, Syria Anonymous - I'm a Berlin boy, now - Berlin, Germany Musa - Between two worlds - Paris, France Jussef - The outsider - Marrakesh, Morocco Hakim, Asma & Julio - After darkroom - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Abel/Isobel - Swapping sex - Toronto, Canada Chester - The invisible ghetto - New York, USA Giovanni, José and Santos - Sexploitation - Havana, Cuba Sergio - Macho - Cancun, Mexico Diego, Rico, Gregg, Scott & Kate - Good citizens - Mérida, Mexico Chavez & Pepe - For a few dollars more - Mexico City, Mexico Michael - Archangel - Los Angeles, USA Adan and Xolelwa - Black but blue - San Francisco, USA Lee and Rex - The edge of the world - Auckland, New Zealand Daniel - Out cloning - Sydney, Australia Hiroshi, Hilton & Jiro - Avatars in bed - Tokyo, Japan Lao Ping Lee - The cut sleeve - Shanghai, China Jason - Address lost - Bangkok, Thailand Muahmmad and Terrence - Singabore - Singapore Epilogue - India"

Editorial Reviews

"These stories transcend the gay theme, they are about people making (or failing to make) their way in the world. Their essential human condition is easy to feel and identify with."