“Fuck all y’all” reads the opening dedication of 100 Boyfriends. One gets the sense author Brontez Purnell doesn’t mean it as an insult.
What follows are a series of polyphonic sexual encounters on the margins of gay culture’s newfound respectability. 100 Boyfriends is narrated – with little self-awareness - by men not yet consumed by the aggressive gentrification of queer life. Too broke, too black, too poz or too punk, they elevate sluthood as an art while resisting its Grindr-era commodification.
In the footsteps of visceral artists and cruisers like Genet, Wojnarowicz, Haring and Delany, Purnell finds poetry and humour in the horny pursuit of anonymous sex, capturing how the vulnerability of desire and a transgressive fearlessness can cohabit in brazen acts of independence.
These short stories are vulgar, honest, sordid and often darkly funny. Beneath the punk ethos emerges a subtle yearning for intimacy. But there is no blueprint for that connection, at least none that doesn’t mimic failed white heteronormative institutions. As mainstream gay culture formats intimacy into palatable morsels, from bland to stale, its rejection becomes both heroic and heartbreaking.
Perhaps these nocturnal encounters that mean nothing, mean something in their accrual. “Between two men, there can be a hundred ghosts in the room.” The forgotten or faceless guys of our past haunt us, and the sum of the sex we’ve had – as well as the rituals of waiting and wanting that surround it - might end up defining who we are.
100 Boyfriends makes a compelling case that each sexual act – even the rawest, saddest or dirtiest, in anonymity a sort of collective intimacy – is a key building block of queer identity. Decades after Stonewall, it’s an invitation to inhabit and occupy the black negative space in between the stars that shine the brightest, the ones that make-up the guiding constellations of our culture.
Purnell’s project is perhaps too purposefully unfocused – like a punk anthem’s embrace of noise – to offer this reader a truly transformative experience, but echoing long after the final page is a rowdy rallying cry for bringing the homo out of homogeneity.