Did Peter Pan Inspire This Gay Prostitute Turned Novelist?
Peter Pandrew is the gut-wrenching story inspired by the true events of Internet personality Andrew Cristi's life, dealing with themes ranging from mental illness, sexuality, feminism, relationships, power, domination, identity, and coming of age — or lack there of. It's been likened to Running With Scissors. Ultimately it's a coming-of-age story that deals with him being a prostitute, working in fashion, being a stripper/go-go boy, fetish escort, and overall mess. The Advocate spoke with Cristi about handling all that while trying to maintain his innocence.
The Advocate: You say that this story began as a suicide note. How did it go from that moment in your life to becoming a book?
Andrew Cristi: I always had this big funeral in my head for myself. I talk about this in the book a lot. I don't know if it's really as touched upon in the first book, but by the second and third book — which get progressively darker — I really go into my obsession with death. I say that some people plan out their Academy Award speeches, some people sing in the shower... and here I was, constantly planning my funeral. I never really saw myself living past 25, so I really see myself on borrowed time, like a ticking bomb. Maybe it's the narcissism in me, or the desire to tell my story and the truth, since I feel so many people in my life that I have left behind don't know where they stand with me. But I just felt like this would help me live forever. It would give me a sense of immortality in the hearts of those I matter to. And as I wrote, I guess I let go of a lot and just became inspired in a new way. I really threw myself into this book, and it saved my life. It no longer was a suicide note, it became a goal, since I figured others out there probably could benefit from it.
You seem to have relished the excitement and thrills of some of the more risky encounters. Do you still?
I think I would be completely false and against my nature to act preachy and say I'm in some better place now, as if writing a book made me "completely better." As someone who studied psychology and the psychology of personality, I strongly believe that personality is constant and who you are at 5-years-old is who you'll always be. I'll always be a horny bastard that's desperate for adventure. I'm a danger-junkie at heart. That's not going to change. But... so was Peter Pan. And, that's why he was the perfect metaphor. He never changed either. I really like stories in general that aren't as much plot-focused, but more character-focused. This is a character study. In the end, that was what Peter Pan was. He never grew up. The message of this book wasn't that I should have to change, it was being able to accept that I probably never will.
I have. I think that's pretty much the overall message, is that I've reconciled with every part of myself — the bipolar disorder, the temporal lobe epilepsy; the narcissistic, borderline, and histrionic personality disorder. I am who I am. I really am very self-aware. My psychiatrist actually says that I'm the most self-aware patient she's ever seen, and I really think most people — whether they are diagnosed or not — aren't that self-aware in everyday life. People love to lie to themselves. [That's] another big reason why my relationships don't work out. I'm big on telling people the truth. They hate that. They love a big bag of bullshit like someone like Lady Gaga will give 'em.
How much of the books and your Facebook are a persona and how much are real?
Every inch of me is 100% real, and I would hope that's the draw here. I'm really letting people see the good, the bad and the ugly. This isn't what I want you to see or a branded character that I made up — this is the real deal, and I think there's something very attractive about that. Again, with Lady Gaga, or other ridiculous celebrities... they create these "gimmicks," or these bullshit personas, these acts, and people might be fooled for a while, but lies are just truths waiting to be themselves. How many times are we gonna watch her go up on stage and scream "Equality my little monsters?" I mean, shut up. She does not understand this struggle… [she's] looking to make a dime off of gay men; that's evil. I don't want to be a fake act for people to bow down to. I want them to see something real and see a real struggle and inspire something in them based on more than being able to walk in ridiculous high heels and putting a lobster on my head. I am real, through and through.
You seem to still be sensitive to some of the loves of your life. How do they feel about you writing about it, or have they not read it?
I know a lot of people have read it and the reactions have been, as expected, intense. It's hard to separate yourself from every little event. Most people are not as painfully self-aware as I am, so when they see themselves painted in even the slightest light that might be unfavorable they want to deny it. People don't see themselves clearly. But, I'm not looking to expose anyone. I didn't use anyone's real names. I just told the truth as it was and as I felt it. If anyone is mostly painted poorly here, it's myself. I would think that most of the people who care about me would read this — which was intended to be a suicide note — and find it to be a gift. They get to know my thoughts and feelings about everything. If you truly cared about someone, that is a gift.
There are people that got this book immediately and read it cover to cover and understood what I was trying to say and let go of anything that might have been negative about them. Then there are the people that didn't read it, or took their time, and obsessed over the tiny little parts about themselves, not seeing it for the big picture and not really caring about me and what I was trying to get across. It was a great answer to a question I was asking myself for a very long time: who matters? I mean, I know if I actually were to end my life, like most suicides, I'd have tons of fake people lining up to mourn me like I was John Lennon, and I swear, the thought of that phoniness turns my stomach. I can't tell you how many times in my life someone has told me that I was the most important person in their life and that they knew me best, as if they won. This really helped put a lot of that into perspective.
The truth is, most people are horrifically selfish and self-absorbed. There is no perfect person. But I'm not trying to hurt anyone with this book. It's a fantastic character study, practically a DSM-IV companion, and a love letter to the people I have loved. Anyone who wants to see it as a personal attack needs to get over themselves. It's not about them... it's about me. The people who matter will realize that.
Well, I mean if you read the book, I clearly don't make decisions based on how healthy they'd be for my life. In all seriousness, moving out goes against a lot of my character. I hate growing up. I hate change. I know that kind of responsibility will lead to me being viewed as an adult and that scares the shit out of me. I know, deep down, I like the idea of being a little boy trapped in my parents house as I've used it to my advantage at times to turn on perspective clients. Many people tell me that I "fake dependence." Basically meaning that I act like a little boy lost, but I'm very sly and capable of taking care of myself. This is really illustrated more and more throughout the rest of the trilogy.
Also, I really love my neighborhood. [Editor's note: Cristi lives in Bayside, a neighborhood in Queens, New York.] I have my gym and tanning salon right around the block and a pool in my backyard and it's all so convenient. It's closer to midtown than Harlem, which for some reason a lot of people are starting to consider the upper West Side because a lot of transplants move to New York and think they're amazing for living on 168th street. Same with Brooklyn and Astoria. I've been here all my life and people have always looked down on me for being too "Queens-y." Um, where's Astoria? And I'm desperately afraid of bed bugs. Once the epidemic really broke out it really scared me into living at home forever. I might actually just move to like, Miami, just to get away from them — and hipsters.
You have a very specific aesthetic. What does that stem from?
That's a tough question. I guess it's really just from the fact that I'm not trying to write. I just tell it like it is almost conversationally. Again, this was supposed to be a suicide note. I really didn't want it to be too wordy or sophisticated in composition because I didn't want to alienate readers, especially because they were people I care about and people I really wanted to read this. I found it far more important to be sophisticated in message than in style. It was really important for people to hear my voice as they were reading this.
I tried to work with a few editors while in production of this novel and every time they'd send me a draft of their cleaned up work I'd read it over and wince. Not because their work wasn't good, but because I felt like it lost my voice. They would be adding words I wouldn't say or cleaning up things that just made it seem less like me. In the end, I decided to live with the mistakes and edit it myself. I'm clearly a flawed person. If the message gets across, that's the important part.
Well, I cannot possibly answer this question without referencing J.M. Barrie [the author of Peter and Wendy, the story behind Peter Pan). His work provided such a fantastic metaphor for this story that I really don't know if it could have been told without it. I would really recommend everyone read Peter Pan, or at least see the movie — and not the Disney one — before reading my book. He made one of the most beautiful, rich, colorful anti-heroes that is just so complex and powerful and I really relate to him. And on top of that, he really surrounded Peter with tons of other multidimensional characters. Everyone really has so much going on. As far as the plot goes, what really happens? Not much. It's an endless series of adventures that really end up with all the characters exactly where they started. It's just an amazing character study. As fantastical as it is, as much as it seems like a dream world, it's real life. People don't change. It really was such a great foundation for Peter Pandrew, which I would hope would be looked at as an adult Peter Pan.
As far as other writers, I really love the selfish, decadent worlds of Bret Easton-Ellis and Whit Stillman. I feel like they also usually are all about the kinda shit that I'm about — crazy, selfish, self-absorbed characters that get into a series of self-destructive misadventures that usually just leave them just as sad and lonely as they started out. You know, real life.
I also really get very inspired by song writers. I can't get behind an artist if they are not writing their own music, as lyrics usually have a profound impact on everything I do. Most of the music I reference in my books I am actually listening to at the time and the lyrics all make sense to those scenes. Amy Winehouse, Fun., The Counting Crows, Third Eye-Blind, The Goo-Goo Dolls, Lana Del Rey, Snow Patrol, Florence and The Machine, Passion Pit, Regina Spektor. I mean, I just don't understand how people are listening to this bullshit pop and techno/house/dub-step and celebrating shit like LMFAO. If there isn't poetry and passion behind a song, you shouldn't be singing it. I'll really be glad when country and folk music comes in style and kills the house music scene, cause get ready, it's coming.
What about film and TV?
I just saw Silver Linings Playbook and it was amazing and scarily like my life: over-protective mother, explosive Italian father who favors my condescending older brother, and if the two [main characters; he's bipolar and she's borderline] got together and had a baby, they would totally have me. Really, I'm far more impressed with television. I just think it covers more ground, character wise. I love anything that Showtime does: Shameless, Nurse Jackie, Web Therapy. I was obsessed with Weeds and saw a lot of myself in Nancy, and obviously can relate to the bipolar Carrie from Homeland. These shows are just phenomenal and feature real talent all around. Again, I really think the world is just obsessed with celebrating mediocrity nowadays, especially when it comes to film. We're in a day and age where we can't wait to give Anne Hathaway an Academy Award and say she's killing it, but no one is constantly celebrating Edie Falco for her work on Nurse Jackie. It gives me heart palpitations, I swear. I could really just watch two people sit there and have a conversation if I feel the characters are well thought out and perfectly played. I don't really need a story. I need good characters. To me, it's all about a good character-study.