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Mountains of Marvel and Magic

a gender-queer fag lost in south america

by gale pettus

Mountains of Marvel and Magic

“So you’re going to South America are ya’? You’re a lucky man! Those Latinas have the most spectacular mountains.” He nudges me with his elbow as I miss my cue.  


“That they do.” I’ve heard this before.  A knowing look creeps into his eyes.  He clarifies, “Breasts!” A wave of satisfaction washes over him and I get the sense he’s proud to be guiding the next generation.  I begrudge him for his existence.  I’m more of a dick-or-two-in-my-ass-‘man’ than a breast-‘man’, though I don’t correct my parents’ roommate, instead I leave and go on a bike ride.  Only much later will I understand the love and affection he feels towards me.  Instead I silently scream, “I’m a fucking faggot” for all the neighbours to not hear as I slam down on the old rusted bike pedals.  


At dinner, talk of my travel plans segues nicely back to the magnificent mountains of marvel and magic.  My angst gets the best of me, “Oh dad.  How can you ride that bike of yours?  After five minutes my ass was ripe.  And trust me, it’s used to being pounded.”  No one laughs.  I chalk it up to the generation gap.





When you’re traveling you always have your map and your guidebook.  You always see the welcome signs.  You always hear the accent.  You always run into the little stands selling tiny pins, patches and flags that proudly proclaim where you are.  But you never really know where you are.  This is especially true for me, because I have no sense of direction.


The roads traveling through the Andes zig zag up and down each mountain like they follow the path of a chicken with it’s head cut off.  The way is steep and rough.  The bus bounces around and you feel like a kernel of popcorn bursting into the air only to be flung in some other direction moments later.  It’s best to focus on not hitting your head or the people around you and leave the cliff for the driver to fret about.  


I’m returning to the amazon from a wonderful little Christmas excursion in the mountains.  I haven’t showered or done laundry in what smells like ages.  It’s beyond hot and humid.  I’m tired and cranky.  I can hear myself whining and I don’t care.  I arrive and stumble across a cute little family run place.  It’s perfect.  I have to stay here.  I try to barter but the mum of the house won’t have it.  She offers me a tour and I take it.  


Everything is wonderful.  There’s a common room with plush soft couches and a computer with internet.  I can feel the world calling my name.  Emails are begging for a response.  The newspaper is demanding I know where austerity has most recently focused it’s violence and hate.  Youtube is clamoring for me to dance to my favourite songs.  I feel the pull so strongly I’m tempted to take a rain cheque on the rest of the tour.


We continue to the bathroom.  It’s clean.  There’s toilet paper and hot water.  Better yet, you can control the temperature.  No more jumping between scolding hot and freezing cold.  Dare to dream.  There’s a kitchen.  It’s small but comes equipped with spices and oil.  I can’t hide my excitement another second.  I feel my smile exploding through the dirt caked on my face.  She reminds me that I must clean up after myself.  “I’m the mum of this house but I’m not your mum and I don’t have time to do your dishes.”  I was a little insulted at first but than I noticed my body odor and understood the source of her fears.


Finally, she helps me with my bags and shows me to my bed.  The mosquito nets above the beds seem to be in decent shape.  There are six beds in the room but three are empty and one fan that the other two travelers are clearly not willing to share.  I don’t care.  It’s heaven.  


I take my shoes off.  Woh, big mistake.  The mum’s about to leave so I can get settled when she decides there are somethings I need to know first.  


“You pay each day in advance.”  

“No problem.”  

“There’s hot water in the mornings and evenings, but not a lot so shower quickly.”  

“In and out, I promise.”  

“The neighbourhood is safe but we keep the door closed.”  

“I’ll buzz when I’d like in.”  

“The cat isn’t always that friendly.”  

“I’m allergic.”  

“Brown outs are common this time of year.”  

“I’ll be in town a lot.”  

“You can use the kitchen but only if you really clean up after yourself.”  

“Scouts honour.”  



Just as she’s about to finally leave, she offers me one last piece of advise.  She ever so delicately explains that while in many countries deodorant isn’t necessary, here it most definitely is.  I can see where she’s going with this.  I try to explain but she won’t listen.  She knows what she wants to say and she’s going to say it.  “You’ll have much more luck attracting the latinas if you wear some.”  I retort, in a much less friendly manner than I’d like to admit, that I’m not concerned about attracting any women.  At all.  She eyes me knowingly, “The men don’t like it either.”





In every city, the gay bars are in the sketchiest parts of town.  Gay men don’t want to be seen entering the clubs just as others don’t want to be near a gay bar.  Keep your head down and hope no one stops you.


The outside isn’t lit.  There’s no signage.  There’ll never be a queer flag and it’s definitely not in your guidebook.  If you’re looking for a gay bar, you’re best bet is to go to the poorest part of town and listen for Lady Gaga or look for a small group of clean, rich men.  Unless, of course, you have insider information.  The daughter of the hostel approaches me.  Her mum must’ve mentioned our discussion as she’d spoken to friends, found the address of a bar that might ‘suit me’ and told me where to go.  Unfortunately, having the address isn’t enough when you’re directionally challenged.  I search for this place.  I really scour.  Nothing.


I’m lonely.  So I continue the search efforts.  I wander these few intimidating blocks in my smuttiest outfit scared shitless (though I don’t shit my pants, that’s a different story) in search of a club I’ll never find.


What I do find is a man in a car trying to solicit me to have sex with him for money.  As he stops his car I consider it.  I’m proper lonely and horny.  I want more than anything to be held.  I don’t have a private room and before I can suggest we rent one, he drives away.


I’m alone again.  


But I find myself with a peep in my step.  I regain my commitment to find the club.  I stumble across a local sex worker.  We smile at each other so I approach him.  He tells me right off the bat, “you don’t need a condom.”  I feel a burning sensation.  I have to know everything he’s willing to tell me.  


Were people ever abusive?  

Have you ever been in love?  

Do your parents know you’re gay?

Have they told their roommates?

How old were you when you came out?

Do you make enough money to eat?

Do you find life worth living?

Would you say you’re happy?

Do you want a family?

Can you have a family?


I catch myself hoping so terribly that he’ll tell me how awful everything is and how sad his life is.  He listens to my questions but doesn’t really answer.  He’s more focused on the johns and looking available.  He gets in a car and stares at me as they drive away.  My pity is far from empowering.


The next day is New Year’s Eve and to my surprise, the bars open after midnight.  The earliest is  one in the morning.  Family life is an important part of Latin culture.  People celebrate the New Year’s Eve in their home like we do Thanksgiving.  Only much louder and with more flare.  They laugh at the idea of a New Year’s kiss.  The mother of the hostel invites me to join her family in a traditional midnight feast.  How can I say no?  


The food’s outrageous.  Plater after plater of meat arrives.  More animals are being served than Old MacDonald had on his farm.  People.  There are so many people all laughing and singing.  It’s a joyous time.  I’m asked so many questions.  Everyone needs to know everything about me, my family, my travels and my plans.  Why am I alone?  Don’t I have family or friends to travel with?  No one asks me about love.  Instead people lavish me with complements.  They claim I am kind and brave and intelligent and charming and my spanish is perfecto.  People have definitely been drinking and their generousity isn’t stopping with the food.  I feel welcomed, special and funny but still very lonely.


Before I mission out in search of my sex worker friend, I tell the family I’m going dancing.  I’m not sure what I want to say or why I want to see him again.  But I’m drowning in guilt and I want a hug.  The reality is, my Spanish isn’t that great and we mostly misunderstood each other.  


I spend the night looking for him hoping he’ll return from a trick.  I don’t see him.  I like to think he was with his family.  I have no reason to think otherwise.


Perhaps it’s the loneliness, perhaps it’s guilt for taking without contributing, perhaps I’m angry that these Catholics aren’t torch-carrying fag-hating head-smashers, but I can’t bare my Latin family’s kindness another day.  I tell them the one year anniversary of my fathers death is coming and that I need to be by the ocean to honour him, a convenient coincidence that occurs to me in the moment and I run with it.





As I wait at the bus stop, another family comes to wait for a different bus at the same stop.  They ask the usual questions:


What do I think of their city? their country?

Where am I going?

Where have I been?

Do I miss my family?


Than the father asks that dreaded question, “What do I think of the local ladies?” 

“Oh yes, they’re very nice and very friendly.”

“Right right, but what do you think of their mountains?”

“Oh yes they’re very attractive, though I prefer the gentlemen.”


Silence.  Followed by awkward silence.  Finally I get the response I was expecting. Than the mother gives me what I initially take as justification to have been self-righteous all this time.   She asks, “do you like children?” Somehow I remain calm, and ask what she means.  She tries again speaking slowly so I can understand.  “No woman, no baby.  Do you want children?”


She’s concerned for my happiness and my future.  In a culture where family comes first, she worries I’ll find myself old and without a network of support.  As I explain that I do long to help the next generation, though not through child birth, she expresses a great deal of relief.  


She doesn’t care how many dicks have been tickling my prostate or the sex clubs I’ve been to or the golden showers I’ve taken or even the pornography I made.




I miss my mum and want so dearly to feel close to her so I write to her.  I’m not sure where I am. or what to say.  All I know is I’m glad my mum doesn’t know where I am either.  So I write about my Latin family, how I smell bad and how her roomie really has no idea how spectacular the mountains of South America really are.




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galecifer (gale pettus)
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