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Edgar Gomez’s Intricate and Emotive Memoir, High-Risk Homosexual

Edgar Gomez’s Intricate and Emotive Memoir, High-Risk Homosexual

Author: Matthew Caprioli

March 28, 2022

Publishers tend to market gay memoirs as campy, joyful, and frivolous or serious, profound, and brooding. High-Risk Homosexual, the debut memoir by the talented Edgar Gomez, manages to fall into both categories—a funny beach-read with piercing cuts into lived reality, all conveyed in a wry yet generous tone. 

The voice and structure of High-Risk Homosexual make each chapter a propulsive delight. Gomez could write beautifully about a toothpick, but the 29-year-old has gathered a roster of peculiar stories: pressured by an uncle at 13 to prove his machismo by having sex with a “girl-woman”; an unexpectedly sweet coming-out story; skirmishes with a bouncer that barely conceal the aftermaths of a national catastrophe. Many of the subjects—sexual disillusionment, complications with coming out, relations across race and class—are common terrain, but Gomez primes the meaning in fleeting intimacy so well that the result is a compelling page-turner. 

Raised in Orlando by a Nicaraguan mother and a Puerto Rican father, Gomez first went to Pulse as a quiet 18-year-old Latino still figuring out his queerness. “When I made it to Pulse,” he writes, “I finally understood what it meant to have my life belong to me.” Gomez has his first legal drink at Pulse and his fair share of make-out sessions. Understandably, June 12, 2016 haunts him. His analysis of the Pulse massacre is keen, questioning the limits of public mourning and the representation of minorities as victims or perpetrators, and delineating the psychological impact of Pulse. The night after the shooting, he leaves an angry voicemail for his brother; while his brother doesn’t explicitly know he’s gay, Gomez had still wanted him to check-in. “I love you. Once would have been enough. I am a love camel. I would have made that last.”

This is the more elegiac side of High-Risk Homosexual that’s resonant of Paul Monette or Richard Blanco. Elsewhere, Gomez has the droll observations of David Sedaris or Michael Arceneaux. Here’s how Gomez describes a PrEP in-take process: “‘Do you prefer to give or receive,’ [the doctor] asked during my last visit, as if the question weren’t about anal but my philosophy on Christmas.” Noting that the good doc wears Toms, Gomez opines, “She cared about orphans. She probably was a normal amount of homophobic. Fifteen percent. She’d cry if one of her kids came out to her, but in her room.”

While the memoir isn’t billed as a manual to gay life, it is full of hard-won insights into the heart, Latinx identity, and contemporary queer life. Here is Gomez discussing poppers: “One sniff from the tiny vial labeled ‘nail polish remover,’ and your body felt as if you were sinking into a cloud of silk.” Drag: “All the things that made people ignore him as a boy were what made him a beautiful woman. Drag was like magic. It made problems disappear.” His love for Valentina before Drag Race fame: “[Her] over-the-top mixture of anguish and sexiness. It’s peak drag: painful, messy, a constant negotiation between holding and spilling out.” Hookups with strangers: “It felt good to kill someone, a stranger who didn’t matter to me.” Then years later and seemingly more experienced at college: “In my room, I asked him his last name, his favorite book. Details I needed to convince myself he wasn’t a stranger I met on a website where people sold used car parts.” 

High-Risk Homosexual continually interrogates the boundary between self-definition and socially or legally imposed definitions. Gomez inherits cultural scripts—embody machismo, don’t be malcriado—as well as the government-assigned names—boy in the hospital, and later in his mid-20s after seeking PrEP, a high-risk homosexual. To what degree he meets, rejects, or complicates these assigned names creates an engrossing memoir. 

One striking aspect of High-Risk Homosexual is Gomez’s consideration of Omar Mateen, the Pulse shooter. Always inquisitive and skeptical toward government documentation, Gomez critiques the mass media interest in a fifth-grade report that purportedly established Mateen’s inherent criminality because of his callousness on 9/11. “I’m curious,” Gomez writes, “Knowing the way minorities are dehumanized in this country, what it means for an elementary school student to lack remorse. What would have been an appropriate response to terrorism for a child who must have understood that the images flashing onscreen would ruin the lives of so many in his community?”

Other chapters of High-Risk Homosexual argue that without his queerness that questioned machismo, without solid friends and a POC counselor to ensure some fairness, Gomez would have gone through a penal system that offered no second chances. One powerful paragraph about Mateen reads:

“It could have stopped when he was fired from the prison. It could have been stopped had he not been hired at G4S and granted a permit to carry a weapon. It could have been stopped when he was placed on the FBI terrorism watch list. It could have been stopped by his father. It could have been stopped at the gun store. It could have been stopped if at any point in his childhood he saw Pulse as a place that would have taken him in, like it did me, like it did so many of us.” 

This is not a defense of Mateen, but rather a powerful call for accountability within a society that is quick to categorize and demean certain groups while claiming innocence from enabling such violence. 

The battle between social scripts and subjective truths is a familiar story, but when told in such an honest and perceptive light, it remains a profound one. High-Risk Homosexual makes a convincing case that no matter what society makes of you—criminal, reject, a high-risk homosexual—a life of one’s own making is worth every risk.

High-Risk Homosexual
By Edgar Gomez
Soft Skull
Hardcover 304p
Matthew Caprioli photo

About: Matthew Caprioli

Matt Caprioli teaches writing at Lehman College, City University of New York and is the author of One Headlight: an Alaskan Memoir. He has contributed to the Alaska Dispatch, The Huffington Post, Quip Magazine, The Northern Light, The Paris Review Daily, and The Anchorage Press."

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