When Marvin Richmond’s dreadlocked bottom boy Calvin kneels to the hand at his shoulder in “Twas the Night Before Christmas,” his mind performs the same trick erotica itself plays on its readers. Admiring his lover Malcolm’s thick daddy body spread before him, Calvin’s memory runs through a bank of half-discarded images from his past: Malcolm—days beforehand—strutting in tight jeans as Calvin watched it him behind, the elastic band of Malcolm’s briefs smacking into place as he prepares for work, and that same elastic band then spilling its contents as Malcolm undresses for bed. These memories incite Calvin’s appetite.
Good erotica—like its higher-minded Auntie, Literature—fuels the lived lives of its readers. It stays stored away and then unfurls like a translucent onion skin over a reader’s own temporal experience. To flavor and shade the raunch of otherwise mundane lives, it does so without ever exactly obscuring the real. Rather than bellowing their fantasy, as porn does, erotic tales speak in measured, even tones.
Richmond’s back-arching tale, “Twas the Night Before Christmas” alongside the sixteen other steaming selections in Black Fire: Gay African-American Erotica (Bold Strokes Books), reveal editor Shane Allison’s taste for language, privileging lyricism and lived-in scenarios above the bludgeoning effects of cliché. While situating himself in the “ghetto” of black gay erotica, Allison uses that perch to unearth black bodies crying out for sex in tongues the wider gay conscious claim not to make out. Suffice it to say, no erotic imaginary committed to print has seen the likes of Eric K. Anderson’s “Bryce Canyon.” Anderson’s protagonist, a black boy adrift at a gay bar in Maine, turns up a nostril to the lone Huxtable in surrounding area codes, the law student Darnell. Rather than settle for the vanilla, circle jerk chastity of his “talented tenth” clone, the story’s hero abandons his pride and takes a job in a loading dock. He finds there, according to the logic of porn narratives, a working class buck willing to satisfy his baser desires. An erotic collection without the benefit of a race label might have read that back-story as overly political. From Allison’s editorial perspective, it comes off more like a wink. Intra-racial class fantasies like these are inside jokes, a welcome relief against b-boy/basketball player tropes. The schema of the larger jacking world—black bodies as poor, blunt, and undiscerning—are dismantled herein. Allison wants mostly to muss up the gay world’s marginal spaces, to fix them with a more discerning eye, and grant them their true complexity.
I dare you to find a more nuanced, or a sexier, exhibition of black male bodies, desiring one another. Without Allison’s worthy contribution, those expressed fantasies wanting to explode the confines of the BBB (Big Black Buck) would be one book short. Without its addition to your collection, you are that less hip to black bodies this intelligent, and this trenchant in yearning for their likeness or their difference—bodies that love and quiver and skeet.