www.ambiente.us SEPTEMBER | SEPTIEMBRE 2009
Queer and Catholic |Trebor Healey’s Perfect Scars
by Charlie Vázquez
Writer, poet, and Queer and Catholic (Routledge, 2008) coeditor Trebor Healey’s debut
novel Through It Came Bright Colors (Haworth, 2003) followed the melancholy and eye-
opening rite of passage of Neill Cullane, a sensitive and withdrawn young man whose
brother has been diagnosed with cancer. Through this experience Neill meets a
punk/radical thinker who has also been diagnosed with cancer, Vince. Vince and Neill
become doomed lovers, meeting in private at Vince’s San Francisco “junkie” hotel
room, where their dynamic relationship unravels.
Through It Came Bright Colors was followed by the poetry collection Sweet Son of Pan
(Suspect Thoughts, 2006) and Rebel Satori Press has recently republished Trebor’s
short story collection A Perfect Scar (2009). Trebor lives in Los Angeles and agreed to
answer some questions regarding his new fiction collection and the groundbreaking,
iconoclastic volume Queer and Catholic, which I highly recommend to any LGBT
person who has experienced the painful condemnation Catholic culture has
unleashed on us for being who we are.
CV | You co-edited the impressive volume Queer and Catholic (Taylor and
Francis, 2008), which broke new ground in queer academia. How does your Catholic
upbringing inform your fiction writing? As a Latino reader (and fellow ex-Catholic) I found
myself entranced by your depictions of Mexican towns and religious ritual and artifact.
TH |One of the reasons I did that book is because I think one’s Catholic upbringing does
inform one’s image base if you will, and to some extent, one’s world view. I globbed onto
Kerouac when I was young because of his Catholic imagery and always wanted to
explore how Catholicism influenced writers—especially queer writers. On the one hand, I
value the very old world poetry and philosophy of Catholic culture, which is so unlike the
predominantly Protestant American culture, but I also disdain the cynical abuse of
catholic theology that destroys lives through apathy, alcohol, sexual abuse and fascism
(the full flowering of catholic shadow). For those who shake it off, it makes for very good
comedy and for those who connect to its earthy, pagan subculture it’s quite beautiful and
CV | You mentioned that you wanted to “explore how Catholicism influenced [queer]
writers”—what’s the verdict now that the collection is done and published?
TH | Well, I was really amazed how varied the influence was. For some, it provided a sort
of mythic ancient framework that they morphed into their own queer world view (Pansy
Bradshaw, Nora Nugent, Charlie Vázquez). For those folks, it seems they were reading
between the lines at a young age that Catholicism was in essence a highly erotic queer
pagan religion that was just subtle about its queerness, but blatantly erotic. Some were
even motivated to remain in the church and change it from within (Jane Grovijahn’s
amazing essay on the body of Christ). Many were somewhat embittered or felt betrayed
or like a bad joke had been played on them, which often led to a humorous take on the
absurdity of it all once they got wise to the game (Tom Spanbauer, Austin J. Austin). And
for others it resulted in a deepening of their “Catholicness” that was queerer and more
inclusive (Anthony Easton). Catholic does mean universal, so in some sense, any
homophobia in the church is essentially heretical. What I saw in all the essays was a
sense that there were some good things to keep—or perhaps a weird sort of nostalgia
for a beautiful corrupt artifice—from the experience (or culture) and some to throw away,
but overall one was Catholic like one comes from a particular culture. You can take the
queer out of Catholicism, but you can’t wholly take the Catholicism out of the queer.
CV | Are you aware of Queer and Catholic’s being used in any particular institutions of
TH | I know they’re using it at Wesleyan and Western Montana State, last I heard, but not
sure where else.
CV | I fondly remember reading your debut novel Through It Came Bright Colors back in
2004. Some of the short stories in A Perfect Scar evoke a similar mood and sentiment; a
dark San Francisco-based, AIDS-battered subculture inhabited by magical and
desperate characters dealing with very serious problems—things I doubt your “average”
American could even imagine. Are you drawn to struggling people, as bases for
character building in your stories?
TH | Oh yeah, I think people in crisis show their true colors—it brings out the best and
worst in someone and their essential character. I like people with a sense of nobility,
trying to do the right thing, aspiring to being a good solid person and then meeting with
folly and all bets are off. This can be tragic, comic or tragicomic. My novel was fairly
solemn about all this, but in my short stories in A Perfect Scar I really tried to be a little
more comic than in the novel, as I think it makes for a more exciting and entertaining
story, while still offering something profound and meaty. Half the stories in the collection
are comedies, while the other half deals with fairly dark things, people ominously up
against their edge.
CV | Were the stories in A Perfect Scar written around the same time (as the novel)
moving forward, and were they written with the intent of being a collection?
TH |They were all written after the novel, and two of them actually began as novels, one of
which I’ve since completed (Faun). The others were a way of writing about all sorts of
things I was interested in, without writing a whole novel about each one. I’ve really come
to like writing short stories and usually I send them off to anthologies, so I never had any
intention of doing a collection. But now I think a short story collection is a great way of
introducing oneself as a writer because you can show all these different aspects of your
writing and your interests, which isn’t really possible via one novel. I constantly pick up
short story collections now as a way to familiarize myself with a writer. If I like their
stories, I'll usually go on to like their novels.
CV | I was very humored by the story “Captain Jinx”. Your portrayal of an Irish immigrant
woman living in the United States was cleverly layered. Does being a queer man give
you an advantage in being better able to dispense with gender expectations—to open up
and feel the character as if she were you?
TH | Yeah, I’d say so. I grew up in a family of four boys, all of them jocks, so it was all
about gender and proving I was a “boy” as opposed to a “girl” in their conventional
standards vis-à-vis gender. I’ve always felt the two-spirit idea made a lot of sense, so
that’s how I experience my own gender. I am very much Constance from “Captain Jinx”,
the Irish maid, not only because she feels like the kind of woman I would have been in
1890, but because my family is full of old Irish aunts and their stories about how their
grandmothers and aunts came over from Ireland as maids. These ladies were mostly
tough and scrappy and the men around them were generally buffoonish, drunken louts
and miscreants, so the story was a way of digesting and recreating all of that the best I
could. I really have to thank Stuart Timmons (author of Gay L.A.) for that story, as he was
doing research for his book and kept feeding me these great stories about 19th century
queer life in Los Angeles. Captain Jinx was a real woman who passed as a cowboy and
I developed a crush on her.
CV| As an editor and prolific poet and author, what do you suspect the future will bring for
queer writing—fiction and non-fiction—as reading seems to be declining
and with the publishing industry in a semi-crisis?
TH| There will always be those hardcore queer book fans—that’s a small, but strong
market. But with trends in publishing it doesn’t look great right now. I try to remain
optimistic, but I think the large media companies controlling publishing is not good for
literature at all, queer or otherwise. Small presses are where it’s at for art and lit and I
think that’s how it’s going to continue in the future. And that will keep queer lit alive. I think
there will continue to be mainstream gay stuff—just look at TV and film—but the edgier
stuff is moving to other places. This might be a silver lining—I mean look what’s
happening in film and music—internet niche marketing is huge and it’s growing.
CV | Do you have any favorite Latino writers and what do you admire about their work?
TH | My favorite poetry has always been Spanish-language poetry—and I like it for its
imagination and connection to the earth—not just that term ‘magical realism,’ but the
comfort with magic and spirit that is so lacking in American lit. Juan Rulfo and Octavio
Paz and Sor Juana from Mexico; Neruda of course. I like Ana Castillo—So Far From God
had a big influence on me and on my own voice. Garcia Marquez of course and Sandra
Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street and Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless Me Ultima. More
recently, from right here in L.A.: Guadalajara-born Salvador Plascencia’s People of Paper
is an amazing book. And of course, I love the poetry of Emanuel Xavier and his vibrant
queer poetic voice. Jaime Cortez put together a great anthology of queer Latino lit I
recommend: Virgins, Guerrillas, and Locas. I’m hoping he does another.
You know, to get back to Queer & Catholic, I often feel that being Catholic, I am drawn
toward Latino lit and it’s closer to me somehow than the predominantly Protestant
American lit. I always notice a Catholic voice right away: Kerouac, Fitzgerald, Louise
Erdrich, John Rechy. I just read Our Lady of the Assassins by Fernando Vallejo, an
awesome book and movie. I’m heading to Argentina soon and I’m on a reading bender
of Argentines: Aira my favorite so far and I like
Borges’ poetry and the novels of Sabato.
CV | Why is it important for queer people to support queer writers and literature in
general? Imagine that you’re trying to convince a queer non-reader why they should
explore queer literature.
TH | Well I never ask people to support it just for political reasons. I just ask them to look
at it and they always find something that they like that they didn’t know was there, since
they’re inundated with the usual hetero marketing stream. My main argument to a non-
reader is to point out what they’re missing. Gay mainstream culture is banal like the rest
of mainstream culture and there are amazing books that have been written that will
deepen one’s queerness and one’s understanding of what it means to be queer.
Literature has always existed for the more sensitive, the more awake, the seeker. We
need to let people know it’s there and to encourage them to look toward it for knowledge,
beauty and a wider consciousness—queer wisdom. The books of Mark Thompson, Tom
Spanbauer, David Wojnarowicz, Michel Tournier, Genet, Guy Davenport and dozens of
others will expand your mind and that’s a beautiful thing that we can’t lose. The fact that
literature is becoming a kind of “esoterica” is just another indication we are living in a
CV |What might we expect next from you, in terms of what might be published next?
TH | I’m doing another short story collection, probably called Eros & Dust, which will have
more of these crazy comic tales I've been into of late. It should come out next spring. And
I just finished my novel Faun, so I’m shopping that around with agents. And since I’m in
Los Angeles, I’m doing screenplays of both Faun and Through It Came Bright Colors, as
there is some interest. But it’s Los Angeles, so you never know what interest means. But
it’s a good, fun exercise and I encourage all novelists to do screenplays of their books,
as eventually someone will want to see one.
MIAMI RIVER INN
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