Tag Archives: gay men

Slavery, Geneaology, and Southern Food: Michael Twitty Comes to San Francisco


Debbie says:

Apparently, I have been living under a rock (where the food isn’t as good as it should be), because I had never heard of Michael Twitty before a few weeks ago, when a friend suggested we go hear him when he spoke at Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

He sounded interesting, so I said “Sure.” When another friend (both white women) was excited that he was coming to town, I realized I’d been missing something. But I had no idea how much.

Michael Twitty is: black, Jewish, gay, and very fat. Also beautiful and compelling. He blogs at Afroculinaria: Exploring Culinary Traditions of Africa, African America and the African Diaspora. His new (first) book is The Cooking Gene, which contains some recipes, but is basically autobiographical, and focuses on his long and arduous journey to learn about his African ancestors. As he said, this has given him the pleasure of learning he’s related to Samuel L. Jackson, somewhat balanced by the disturbing knowledge that he’s related to Sarah Palin and Dick Cheney.

Much more important, he has found his actual African ancestors. When he finished the book, he had not been able to finance a trip to West Africa, but when he talks about being there, and meeting his clan, and having access to a name not forced upon his forebears by slavers, the awe in his voice is palpable.

Twitty is an irresistibly friendly and inclusive speaker. The bookstore is tiny and was jammed, and he somehow made every one of us feel like he was personally chatting with us; it just happened that he was doing the talking, but your turn was coming and he wanted to hear what you had to say. He talked about geneaology, and about visiting plantations for the book (and how hard that was). He told us about cooking in Colonial Williamsburg, and doing a little bit to desanitize that particular (very) overly whitewashed experience.

He also talked about being Jewish (“by genetics and conversion”), and told a few stories of Southern Jews, especially a pair of Polish sisters who were World War II refugees and (unlike many American Southern Jews) always felt that the civil rights movement was a struggle they had to be in.

He read some bits from the book, most memorably one about his father making him eat dirt, not as punishment, but for the experience of tasting good Virgina dirt (!).

He says his next two books will be about Judaism and food, and then about being gay and food (and that third one will deal with body image issues).

He closed by pleading with everyone African-American, African, or Afro-Caribbean to get their genetic history tested. He spoke passionately about how little information there is, and how much more each individual adds to the mix. If you’re reading this and you fit the description, I’m passing his plea on to you.

The Cooking Gene looks awesome. Afroculinaria is a great discovery for me. And I would pre-order the next two books now if I could, but they aren’t much more than twinkles in his eyes at this point.

Check out Michael Twitty. You won’t regret it.



A Night With the Boys

Marlene Says:

Last Wednesday, I attended the Hellhole Handballers panel discussion at the Center for Sex and Culture. I won’t be writing explicit descriptions of hands in asses here, but that’s what was talked about. I want to talk here about being the only woman in a room of kinky gay men talking about sex. I had a lovely time.

To begin with, I arrived a little on the early side. Larry Shockey, the facilitator and leader of the evening’s discussion was just finishing laying out cookies and sodas. I took a seat and he walked over to be sure that I understood that the presentation would be about anal fisting. I assume that he asked because he doesn’t see many women at his events.

Some might have taken offense at his concern. It was a question that could have been mis-interpreted as him letting me know that I was out of place. I saw it as what it was – genuine concern that the unexpected stranger not find herself in a potentially embarrassing or uncomfortable situation. For me, there was something very pleasant about being unexpected. It let me know that I was going to be in a type of space where I had not been for a very long time, the world of gay men.

Until the last few people arrived, I think I was the youngest person in the room. I’m not that young. I was sitting with men who have been fisting for over forty years. We started with “A Road Map to Taking or Giving Your First Hand” These men were incredibly warm and generous with each other. They shared anything they could. It was clear that many had come simply to participate in the conversation; to share not just techniques and knowledge, but also their culture. There were those in the room who wanted to start or continue their journey in to this fraternity of men who hold each other from the inside. There were many men there because they wanted to hold the door open for newcomers.

Many people reading this may be under the mistaken impression that fisting is a cold and violent activity. It is not. These men put themselves in (literally) each others’ hands. Fisting relies on trust and communication. The openness (I’m speaking figuratively now) that their sex requires has permeated this whole community. These men are fearless when they feel they are among their own. They share the tenderest of moments and most intimate of details freely. I was touched to spend a few hours in their world. Every anecdote is shared in hope that it will improve someone else’s life and enhance their good times.

One thing that I want to talk about is┬áthe segment of the program when Larry talked about head space. He spoke for quite a while about allowing time to prepare, not just physically (enemas are all but universal preparation), but mentally. He suggested that one should allow at least two hours to alternately “clean out” and to relax; to contemplate one’s navel; to meditate; to stop being in the rest of one’s daily life. You can probably imagine that taking a hand is an all-consuming task. If you can imagine that, you can probably imagine that one doesn’t get there in just a few minutes. Besides, a relaxed mind and a relaxed buttonhole go (I can’t help the pun) hand-in-hand.

As we continued on to the second part of the discussion “Going Wider and Deeper”, the smiles in the room seemed to get broader. The older members of the group shared tricks and techniques discovered over a lifetime. It was clear to see the joy on these men’s faces as they almost wistfully told of the variety of ways people reach for each other’s hearts (I’m not sure where I am with this statement between literal and figurative). A man who has had his hand in over a thousand other men spoke briefly and simply about the fact that no two lower intestines have the same folds and turns. I was struck by the immensity of his experience and by his expression. It might be hard for some people to see ass fisting as beautiful, but I was listening to a man who had contemplated the angles and symmetry of a thousand snowflakes without losing his appreciation for any of them.

This is one of my ideals for how people should be with each other. This trust. This openness. This frank affection. I can describe it and laud it until the whole jumbo-size can of Crisco is gone, but I can’t really put you in that room. I don’t know how to make more of the world like it is inside that room. I cannot model it for others by myself because the interaction is the thing to see, to emulate. Some days, I am afraid that this culture will be lost. I hope not. Larry Shockey and Handball Academy are doing great and important work by carrying along what has come before.

I am very glad to have had the opportunity to spend a few hours in that space. I gave away the free pass to one of the Hellhole fisting parties that I won as a door prize. I don’t think that gay men’s play parties are places I will ever return to, but it is so very nice to know they are still there, the way I remember them.