“I’m a storyteller,” says Chilean-Canadian writer Francisco Ibanez-Carrasco. Then, reconsidering, he picks another word: “I’m a liar.”
At the Yaletown café where we arrange to meet, Ibáñez-Carrasco doesn’t wait for his latte. He takes aim at two false fronts before the recorder turns on.
One: “Gay men around here, we’re terribly conservative. This town’s just waking up to things.” And two: “Crystal-yes, it’s pervasive, but not at the level [that] media reports.”
For an AIDS social scientist and a teacher, Ibáñez-Carrasco can come off as a bad boy. His second book, Killing Me Softly, is peopled by arrogant assholes and abusive husbands. Crystal meth spills into your lap as you turn each page. And safer sex is nowhere on the agenda.
Amidst the intelligent prose, vehement characters exhibit a constant distaste for the so-called “good gays”.
In “Strictly Professional,” a story about a positive guy who purposefully makes himself sick in order to be fondled by a doctor he idolizes, the narrator exclaims: “It had to be a straight papi, naturally, maybe in a clinical way, but such strictly professional relationships (like prostitution) are far more humane and tender than the hurried sex among liberated queers, say I.”
Another queer bad boy, author and academic Patrick Califia, is a fan of the “Strictly Professional” anti-hero, noting that, “Rather than passively submitting to medical treatment, he’s stalking the doctor, redefining their relationship so that it glows with erotic energy, and giving himself a very perverse reason to live.”
Perverse? Perhaps. But, as that narrator quips, “how could you label with scientific tags the reasons of the heart?” How could you label them with, say, a rainbow flag?
Ibáñez-Carrasco wants to dismantle the coalition that Pride has become and report unflinchingly on its underbelly.
Reminiscent of Christopher Isherwood’s dictum “I am a camera,” Ibáñez-Carrasco employs a journalistic feel to push his readers beyond their area of refuge.
“We’re able to do more than this,” he insists.
He aims for “other narratives- where people understand they’re not monsters” for doing a line of crystal, or fucking without a condom.
“These people [his characters], they do things that are, for many of us, reproachable…I’m just saying that they do.”
Though Ibáñez-Carrasco does draw sordid details from his own experience, he’s ambiguous about where exactly the truth abides. The stories in Killing Me Softly are concentrate life experience.
“Maybe this is the debris of all that,” he posits. “It’s distilled to a few stories.”
And would he have become a writer without his particular set of experiences? (At 22 years old, Ibáñez-Carrasco found himself an immigrant and HIV-positive.) “No,” he says, “I wouldn’t be a writer without all that.”
He means to write stories that are more about love and desire than they are about raunchy sex and crystal meth.
But prudish readers will have difficulty overlooking lines like: “You are not a girl, motherfuckin’ cunt. Gimme my man back, or I’ll cut ya good.” Or pretty turns of phrase such as: “It takes a whole can of lube and a small case of carpal tunnel syndrome to get them off.”
These characters roil in the nasty.
“I’ve just bracketed these moments,” says Ibáñez-Carrasco. He sees his stories as chinks in the armour of our pedestrian lives. Little moments where error, or abandon, reveal the sort of truths that polite society cannot describe.
Polite society does more than ignore these truths; it oppresses them.
In “Mr Deluxe” a cat, unable to speak, tells his story as a submissive partner to his master. In “Emilia’s Dial-Up,” a Chinese wife, rendered nearly mute when she comes to Canada, suddenly attacks her husband with clear, unstinted English.
Language becomes an index of power. Our ownership of words allows real change. Maybe it makes sense, conversely, that an AIDS activist would make such a fine writer.
Ibáñez-Carrasco’s first book, Flesh Wounds and Purple Flowers fictionalized his journey from Chile to Canada and was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writer’s Prize. Now this so-called bad boy, this outsider employs a considerable talent and unique voice to dismantle the privileged assumptions of our West Coast lotus land.
But first and foremost, like he says, Ibáñez-Carrasco is becoming a successful liar.
“A lie has to be thin; if it’s too rich, you don’t believe it,” he argues.
The narrator in “Atonement” agrees: “A good story, because it is a lie, always keeps a secret.”
Readers are tempted to ask how much truth there is in his outrageous fiction, but Ibáñez-Carrasco merely smirks mischievously and reiterates: “You would never believe the whole story.”