Queerness, Sex, Coming Out: Stefan Mesch & Antonio Capurro (Interview)

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A Peruvian journalist contacted me on Facebook:

He saw that I took part in the “Daily Portrait” photo project in 2016 (article about my experience: here)…

…and wanted to know more about my ideas on queerness, privacy, and sexuality.

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The interview will be published in Spanish at La Revista Diversa.

For my blog, here’s the (long, unedited) English version.

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Tell us about your childhood: Where did you grow up?

I’m 34. I grew up in a wealthy, rural town in Southern Germany: less than 2000 people, no train station. Everyone has a car, most people own their house. My childhood was okay – but I missed culture, diversity, intellectual life. I often point out that I didn’t interact with lesbians until 2003, when I moved away for college. There were two or three boys who were whispered to be gay in my high school – but no visible queerness.

What did you study?

I studied Creative Writing and Cultural Journalism; because I wanted to be an author and a book critic. The “book critic” part worked out great, and I’m finally finishing my first novel. There is so much culture – literature, journalism, comic books, TV shows, online projects – that’s important and relevant to me: I’m good at scouting, learning, judging and explaining, and I want to be a part of these larger cultural (and sometimes: political) conversations.

Growing up, did you enjoy being nude?

I’m not an outdoor person, nor a sports person, and I have no great memories about enjoying nudity as a child. Quite early, I often felt that nudity had to do with humiliation: Only powerless people were nude. So I tried to stay dressed and not let my guard down. I don’t tan well, my skin is quite pale, and as a teenager, I thought that people would dislike my nude body.

How did you discover your queerness?

I always liked queer characters or people who fought gender stereotypes. Also, my village was so rural and… tense about masculinity that I felt “queer” and “strange” just for reading books or being friends with girls.

Sexually, I’m more often attracted to men than to women. Romantically, I had more crushes on girls than men. I think that by the time I was 15, I understood that I was bisexual. But the first man that felt like a possible romantic partner only showed up when I was 18.

How was your first time having gay sex?

I had sex with 26, with my first boyfriend. The relationship was exhausting, but worthwhile. Our sexual mechanics never worked out that well. We have chemistry – but we didn’t have much sex.

How was your coming-out?

I was nervous about my dad and waited until 2014 (!) to tell him. He was the biggest hurdle – although in the end, he surprised me. I gradually started talking to friends and family members since I was 20. I did not enjoy coming out because it felt like I gave up power. I felt like I had to tell people: “Here’s something intimate and sexual about me that doesn’t really concern you. So: Are you okay with it? Or are you disgusted? Come on: You may now judge me.”

I came out before I had boyfriends. Today, I love to introduce my grumpy partner to people and say: “Look! He’s great, we’re happy, I’m bisexual!” But before I had a partner, it always felt like saying: “Do you want to know if I fantasize about men and/or women every time I jerk off?” I was passionate about diversity and visibility and talked about that a lot, long before being out to everyone. But my personal sexuality, for the longest time, began and ended with masturbation and some unrequited crushes.

Why did you take part in the “Daily Portrait” photo project? Did you think a lot before you decided to pose for a nude photo?

In 2013, an awesome Berlin painter, Martina Minette Dreier, asked me if I wanted to model for an oil painting. I sat for the portrait in the nude, and it felt great. In 2016, I lost a lot of weight. I always thought that very soon, I would be a balding, sad and awkward man – but when I realized that I liked my current body, I decided to take part in the project.

It still took a long time – 7 months – because I thought about shame, exposure and my credibility as a cultural journalist… but I wrote about this at length elsewhere, in a longer essay: Link.

Why did you decide to start a blog where you post nude self portrait photos?

I love selfies and quick snapshots, and in 2016, I spent much energy and time on Instagram. I don’t know what “exhibitionism” means: If you define that as “I want to surprise people by showing my penis publicly or unexpectedly”, I am not an exhibitionist at all. I would not undress in public, or annoy or shock people with nudity. To me, unsolicited dick picks are a form of sexual harrassment.

But I knew that online, in places like Tumblr and Reddit, people who like my body type sometimes LOVE nude pictures of people, quite similar to me. I have never felt very desired by friends at school. But I like myself right now, and I thought: “Here’s the target audience for your nude body.” I enjoy posting pics to that very specific audience.

Do you like erotic photography?

Yes. I don’t like classic masculinity. Also, young bodies often make me uncomfortable. I dislike many standard poses, and anything with twinks/boyish men.

Do you enjoy porn?

I love amateurs, and any kind of person who shares or overshares online. But I dislike the porn industry, the clichés, the standardized bodies, the exploitation. Lots of it feels sexist, boring and crude.

Do you consider yourself very sexual?

I’m not very sensual, I’m not very cuddly, I don’t enjoy touching many people. Also, I don’t like one night stands and I have spent many years without any sex. So I don’t think I’m “very sexual”. I do enjoy having sex and making out, though – and if I talk to friends, I’m surprised that most of them want less sex or have less energy for sex than me.

Do you consider yourself sexy or attractive?

I only have to be attractive to the one person that I want to attract right now: my partner. He likes me, so all is well. Generally, I don’t think I’m particularly sexy. But I know how to write well: I’ve learned some techniques. I think that in photography and taking selfies, there are many similar techniques. So: I’m learning how to appear sexy in photos. And I think I’m getting better.

What was the most bizarre experience in your life?

Sexuality-wise? Nothing wild. But in a gay bar in 2013, someone tapped my shoulder and said: “Sorry. A stranger just tried to piss on your shoe.” I was annoyed because it felt completely tactless and disrespectful. If you’re friendly and ask nicely (and if I have some extra shoes), I’m the person to say “Yeah – whatever gets you off. Okay.” But to try that, without asking?

What kind of feedback do you get from followers on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram?

I love giving and getting book recommendations, I want to share ideas with many people: I love my profiles and my feeds in these networks. If you ask about nudity: People pay me compliments, and often, gay men from Spain or Spanish-speaking countries contact me to say “I wish I could be as brave” or “I wish I had the confidence to show my body online”. So far, I’ve had these conversations with five or six men; and they’re all Spanish-speaking. Maybe it has to do with catholicism…?

Have you ever meet online friends in person?

Most of the literature and journalism people that I’ve met since finishing university in 2009 were my Facebook friends before I eventually met them in person, yes.

Have you ever blocked people who bother you because they were only looking for sex?

I’ve blocked two or three people on Facebook because of hate speech or personal/political attacks. I never had problems with sexual harrassment. I have met all three of my boyfriends on datings sites – but I don’t like chatting there, and I often dislike the tone that German people use in „kinky“ networks like Gayromeo or Scruff: To me, German „dirty talk“ often sounds too degrading and shame-centered. „Filthy Pig“, „Worthless Fag“, „Pussyboi with Boypussy“ etc.

But even though that tone makes me run, I never personally felt disrespected, no.

What do you do when you are not working?

I love reading – books and articles and graphic novels. But as a book critic, I still can count that as work: Ideally, I just spend 12 to 14 hours a day reading, talking, learning and writing. I love cheap food and very cheap restaurants. And for a while last summer, I was in love with “Pokemon Go”.

What do you think about the new ways to make journalism – like citizen journalism?

If people are paid, they have more time and energy to write. On the other hand, there are passionate experts in every field – who can often do much deeper work because they have much more knowledge. I enjoy book blogs, wikis, fanzines, social media and all other places where people who are not trained journalists still have a voice. But I think that selecting stuff is my personal super-power: You can send me to “messy” sites like Reddit, and I will ignore the hate-speech, the conspiracy theories and the overall unpleasant atmosphere… and just focus on the good writing and the good ideas that are still there. Theodore Sturgeon said that 90 percent of everything is crap/crud. So of course, 90 percent of “citizen journalism” is crap, too. I want to focus on the other 10 percent – in every field.

I’m worried that every artistic or journalistic outlet I know is constantly asking for money: There are so many crowdfunding campaigns and kickstarters and patreon links etc. that I sometimes fear that as a journalist and writer I will never find a publisher who will pay me decently. Instead, it will be our job to constantly ask all friends for money and spend more and more time and effort on these campaigns.

Which authors or writers do you admire and what genres do you prefer?

My favorite classic novelists are Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Wolfe and John Cowper Powys. My favorite living novelist is Stewart O’Nan. I have a soft spot for Young Adult literature (here, my favorite writer is A.S. King) and graphic novels and super-hero books (Greg Rucka). My favorite German writer is Dietmar Dath. Generally, I admire people who get raw and personal. And I enjoy domestic fiction – books about grief, sadness or families, often set in suburbia.

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I took part in a queer photo project, and wrote an essay about it for the Berlin Tagesspiegel (Link). my photo for the article was taken by Mike Wolff.

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Do you remember a gay movie or gay role on TV or cinema?

There are some popular gay favorites that I don’t enjoy: Oscar Wilde, „Queer as Folk“, musicals and pop divas, and many boarding-school novels like „A Separate Peace“ or German queer-ish classics like „Unterm Rad“ by Hermann Hesse or „Katz und Maus“ by Günther Grass.

My favorite German soap opera, „Verbotene Liebe“, started when I was 12 and almost always had compelling and fun queer characters – particularly lesbians. I didn’t like their most famous gay couple, Christian and Olli, because they were both quite masculine and sporty bland characters. In 2006, I was hooked on „As the World Turns“, a US soap opera, and the (dramatic and self-obsessed) gay character Luke Snyder.

In my early teens, I liked lesbian or gender-nonconforming heroines in „Lady Oscar“ and „Sailor Moon“. Today, I love Batwoman and many lesbian or queer comic book characters, often written by author Greg Rucka.

„Ugly Betty“ is queer, cheery and has a diverse and fun cast. As a kid, I enjoyed dandyesque, foppish characters like John Steel in „The Avengers“, Elim Garak in „Deep Space Nine“ or anyone played by Peter Cushing. I liked „Brokeback Mountain“. HBO’s „Looking“ bores me. I have tons of favorite queer authors: Alison Bechdel, Marcel Proust, Hubert Fichte. I loved David Levithan’s “Two Boys Kissing”.

What is the most comfortable place in your house or outside to ne naked?

I need warmth to feel comfortable, and I need privacy to be nude. There is no warm AND private outside place where I can be nude. Inside, I enjoy taking baths or showers, and I love overheated rooms, botanical gardens, greenhouses and saunas.

Are you thinking of recording videos or to show more your butt?

I move quite awkwardly and can’t imagine filming myself stripping without having to laugh. I think my butt looks okay, but every time I try to shoot a decent photo of it, it looks pale and flabby. Celebrities often post butt pics. But my pictures never turn out like this.

What is the part of your body that men like most?

I’m not flirting a lot, and I don’t ask what men who see me in person like about me. People who see me online sometimes comment on my scruffiness/body hair. But then: hair is just a common fetish.

What is the part of your body that you like the most?

Most strangers seem to understand that I’m usually friendly and interested: I don’t think I’m super-charismatic. But somehow, my body language signals “I’m smart and alert and friendly”, and I like that. I also like my eyes, when I’m not too tired.

If a magazine offered you money to pose nude on the cover or centerfold, would you say yes?

The “money” part sounds weird: I don’t know if I ever want to feel like my sexuality or body can be bought. But yeah – I would partake in nude art, or sex-related projects.

Is there any sexual fantasy you want to make happen?

Bondage. Also, I have never done anything sexual outside/in nature.

How do you see LGBT rights in your country and worldwide?

I think visibility matters: It’s important to see and hear queer people in public, in culture and in schools. I don’t think most people even CAN be „anti-gay“ once they meet so many queer people that „I’m anti-gay“ sounds like „I’m anti-brown-eyed-people“.

I’d love to think that things get better. But the tone, aggression and hate of all these current backlashes – ISIS and Russia, Trump and European xenophobia – shock me almost every day: We can’t take civilization for granted. Or democracy. Or tolerance.

Is there more acceptance in your country?

More than when I was a kid? I hope so. There is no marriage equality yet, and gay couples can’t adopt, and too many people still think that you can’t have „Christian values“ and, at the same time, openly talk about homosexuality in schools. German politicians and pundits talk about „Leitkultur“ (a cultural standard about what it should mean to be a proper, „real“ German) a lot, and I think that as a country, we are obsessed with being „normal“ and „regular“.

Every time queer people want to be aknowledged for NOT „being normal“, people get angry quickly: Ideally, queer people, non-white people etc. should just work hard to blend in, and not address discrimination; the idea seems to be that if everyone acts “normal” enough and never complains, no one would be discriminated against, anyways. I admire people who stand out. Or complain. Or fight to be aknowledged. That’s why I love activists, rabble-rousers and politically queer people.

Have you ever been to a gay wedding?

No. I spent lots of time in Toronto from 2009 to 2013, I’m close friends with three gay or lesbian Canadian couples, but I met them after they were married or I wasn’t in Canada when they had their ceremony. I have one German gay friend who is getting married this summer, but I haven’t met his partner yet – we only became friends last year. I wish I had more queer real-life Berlin friends, and I wish I had more older queer role models.

Single? Looking? Dating?

Since summer of 2014, I’m in a relationship with a German florist. Most of the time, I live with him in his Berlin apartment. It’s not an open relationship, and we both hope that we’ll stay together for decades. Everything is more fun when he is around. We’re crazy happy to have each other.

What do you know about my country, Peru?

For a couple of weeks in 2001, my mom had an au-pair from Peru: a very, very shy girl who was too nervous, quiet and demure. We never really established a connection, and she switched to another family. It felt like having a maid – it was uncomfortable for everyone.

I sampled and liked „The Cardboard House“ by Martin Àdán. But I don’t even know any other Peruvian literature.

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