There are plenty of gay travel writers but few who defy pigeonholing the way Michael Luongo does. He moves between mainstream (The New York Times, National Geographic Traveler) and gay (Gay City News, Xtra) publications as deftly as he’s jumped between 80 countries on all seven continents during his career.
Along the way, the New York-based writer has explored his share of queer hotspots, becoming the Buenos Aires expert for Frommer’s guidebooks and the go-to guy for Argentina on About.com. But he’s just as likely to be found delving into human rights issues in Palestine, Israel and Egypt, work that earned him the 2013 Journalist of the Year Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association.
This genre-busting quality infuses the books he’s edited or authored as well, including the recently released Sensual Travels: Gay Erotic Stories. Contributors to the country-hopping collection range from Lambda Literary Award–winners Felice Picano and Trebor Healey to established erotica writers Simon Sheppard and Sebastian V. Each author shares tales of his encounters on the road, some porn-worthy, some simply charged with the sweet spark of unrequited romance.
Daily Xtra Travel: What was the key ingredient for you when you were deciding which pieces to include in Sensual Travels?
Michael Luongo: I call these stories “literotica.” If I were to separate out the sex, it would still be a story that stands on its own. It’s sensual and mysterious in its own way.
Your piece in the collection, “Black Gold,” is about a Brazilian that you were never able to get alone. Is it more sensual when the story doesn’t go all the way?
When it’s not consummated, sometimes the thought of the person lingers a bit more. There was that particular instance in Brazil. I can think of another instance in Iguazu Falls where I met a carpet vendor on the border, in Paraguay. We wandered for hours, but there was just no place to go. Sometimes I think it’s the possibility of what could have happened that makes you want to go back.
Do you have any advice for travellers who want to make a local connection in countries where the LGBT community is invisible?
Anywhere you go in the world you run into gay people. I remember coming across a drag show in the middle of the jungle in Peru! If you begin conversations, you can talk around an issue at first and see if it’s safe to go deeper. And there are LGBT groups in almost every part of the world on Facebook now; there are always resources. The Manjam website is particularly good for the Middle East and some of the more remote places.
Travel, no matter where you are, leaves you open for all kinds of possibilities. Even at home, there are ways to put yourself in the world where you’re the one meeting tourists or foreigners.
So, how do you turn your home city into a sensual destination?
By being open to people. In New York, if you sit at a subway map, you’re more likely to meet a lost tourist and be able to start a conversation that can lead to something. This isn’t just about sex, but also about talking to people coming to your town.
Go to a museum one day by yourself and use eye contact through museum cases — you can look through the glass at the object, but you can also look at the person. I think we forget about the importance of eye contact in North America.
For more information, see Amazon.com’s listing for Sensual Travels: Gay Erotic Stories.
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Michael Luongo’s Top 5 Sensual Destinations
1. Montreal is a world apart from the rest of the Canada. Wander the streets in a warm rainfall, as men lift their eyes to you from under the shadows of their umbrellas, letting you know without a doubt the thoughts running through their minds.
2. Italy. No one knows the art of flirtation better than Italians, whose bella figura lifestyle means they are always seeking the attention of others. Even a visit to the Vatican is a remarkable experience, where the carabinieri saunter through Bernini’s colonnade, an eye on the pilgrims, stopping often to chat with each other, their legs and arms brushing together.
3. Brazil. A friend of mine says the moment he gets off a plane in Brazil, he gets goose bumps, the warm humidity upon landing just a prelude to what awaits. Brazilians have an endearing friendliness, playfulness and joy of living. It’s also one of the few places where the double standard for women’s sexuality doesn’t seem to exist.
4. Buenos Aires, where I live part-time. It’s a city full of deliciously butch bottoms, and in my younger days any conversation could easily lead to something.
5. French-kissed Lebanon’s Mediterranean location means a beach-and-body culture found nowhere else in the Arab world. The constant wars and strife also mean the Lebanese live for the moment, an added benefit to any tourist visiting.