A debut novel which explores gay cruising culture and sex work has drawn upon the author’s own experiences of cruising as a young gay man, to be called
by some critics as “the great gay novel of our times”.
Written by American author Garth Greenwell, What Belongs To You
is the story of a teacher who falls in love with a sex worker after they meet in a Bulgarian restroom. Across a series of encounters, the pair grapple with desire, exploitation and childhood anguish.
Greenwell told The Guardian
he was introduced to the world of cruising as a young teenager growing up in Kentucky. “Cruising has been central in my life since I was 14 years old,” he said.
“It was the first gay community I found in the pre-global internet in Louisville, Kentucky, where I grew up. I do think ‘community’ is the right word for those places, which have not disappeared.
“When I found this cruising bathroom in Bulgaria where the novel begins, I immediately knew what it was. I barely spoke Bulgarian, but I descended into this place, and I suddenly had a complete fluency."
While Greenwell said cruising locations were “places that are [still] treated very dismissively” and “very disdainfully”, there were also positive connotations to be noted.
“They’re places of such human richness, and places that humans have human encounters, of all kinds," he said.
"They meet other people, and they get robbed and assaulted, and they have encounters where other people are nothing more than instruments.
“They are human places, where I have had at times what feels like as genuine an intimacy as any time in my life. I wanted to write about these places, to show they are full of dignity as much as shame."
Greenwell added the modern gay world had adopted a “sort of scrubbed, PR vision of gay life, the marriage equality vision of gay life.”
“I am glad that this vision exists because it opened a space and possibility that didn’t exist before,” he said.
“Marriage equality was an important battle, and I think that it’s tragic that the battle came at the cost of other issues in which lives are at stake.
"I think it’s very dangerous that it shut down other possibilities of gay life.”
What Belongs to You
is published by Farrar Straus Giroux (USA) and Picador (UK).
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