Jamison straddles the roles of both artist and muse. Read more below.
Among the brawny and muscled California beauties, there is one sharp brunet who is building a body of radical, sex-positive work. Jamison Karon completed his erotic memoir, How to Be a Faggot, during his summer 2016 stint as artist-in-residence at the Tom of Finland Foundation. The collection of nonfiction stories is a sexy and telling account of the young writer’s sexual experiences, integrated with poetry and social commentary. The book is illustrated by the Los Angeles artist Van Jazmin.
How to Be a Faggot explores a queer experience of the 21st century, while paying homage to the lineage of LGBT writers and artists.
"Frank and fancy, new world and old world, How to Be a Faggot is beyond all category. With a sophisticated and intimate tongue, Jamison Karon speaks directly into your ear, whispering of desire free of inhibition and full of poetic expression. At once classic in form and contemporary in content, this book reveals secret depths and secluded corners. Urgent and vital, a genuinely fresh voice." —Martin Pousson, author of Black Sheep Boy
Honestly, it was the best experience of my life. It gave me permission to be the most authentic, queer, sexual, freaky version of myself. There’s a piece in the book called “How to Spend an Afternoon at TOM House,” and it’s all about the magic of the space. There aren’t many queer places left — walking through the gate at TOM House is like stepping into a timewarp.
Do you mean to say that gay culture is disappearing?
Not disappearing. As long as there are gay people there will be gay culture, but I think it’s certainly evolving. The mainstream is including us more — they realized how stylish and witty and fun we are — but pop culture dilutes us. When we assimilate, we lose parts of the counterculture we’ve created. The older generation of gay people are concerned that we are losing our roots and our culture with the changing times. We have to find a way to keep gay culture alive in a modern context.
How does your book fight against dilution of queer culture?
The book is about uncensored homoerotic experiences, written and illustrated by queer people. In that way, it is a radical response to the system we live in. It is important that we tell our own stories rather than let the mainstream fuck them up. The book examines identity and sexuality as they are now, using a style that riffs off the classic queer literature that much of our culture is built on. I think it is important for us as young people to understand the past, but we are the new face for our culture.
Pictured: The Tom of Finland Foundation in Echo Park by Van Jazmin.
How has the culture changed since you wrote the book?
When I wrote the book, we were in this golden era of basking in our liberties. We had gay marriage legalized, “don’t ask, don’t tell” was removed, queer people were being afforded a lot of new privileges that we hadn’t before — a long list in those eight years of Obama. It wasn’t a utopia, but it was at least a respite. We were maybe resting on our laurels; we stopped fighting nonstop. With Trump’s presidency, we are going to have to start mobilizing again.
Do you think we took the Obama years for granted?
No. I don’t think it’s problematic to enjoy our lives as queer people. I think the people who fought before us were fighting for that. I believe reveling in that joy has merit of its own, but now our freedom is being threatened again. In that way, sadly, the book becomes very relevant. It is important that we strive not only to maintain the freedoms we achieved, but also to fight for the queers who have been underrepresented by the LGBT movement, namely people of color and transgender people.
How do you place this book in the canon of queer literature?
It was very much inspired by authors like James Baldwin, John Rechy, and Jean Genet. I would like to think that this is a 21st-century version of the same genre: homoerotica with literary merit. I think that juxtaposition makes it interesting and accessible for multiple generations. How to Be a Faggot is extra special too because it is full of these vivid full-color illustrations.
Why did you decide to have the book illustrated?
Having the book illustrated was something I’d always considered. Being surrounded by so much art at TOM House, it seemed like a natural concept to me. As I was writing the collection, I was very inspired by the visual work around me. Why wouldn’t I include that? It is difficult to find something of literary value that is also illustrated, especially something contemporary. I didn’t realize how rare it is.
How would you compare 'How to Be a Faggot' to other works?
I think this book is pretty one of a kind. It’s literary, it’s artful, and it’s queer as fuck. In a lot of ways, I’m hoping this books can help inspire a new wave of queer culture. We are on the dawn of a new queera. Ha ha!
Pictured: Jamison poses in front of an installation by Homo Riot.
What does the modern era of queerness look like?
It has the same fundamental qualities as it always did: lots of sex, freedom of expression, and community, but the climate is different now. We’re more feminist, more gender-fluid, more future-is-feminine — we need to be better about giving trans people and people of color a platform. We have a president who wants to regress progress, so there is this huge response to that; we are countering all of that. We have to fight to preserve queer culture, but also to re-invent it.
We are fighting to maintain the integrity of this project, not to be diluted by the mainstream, but there’s a huge possibility that for that reason, it will be rejected by the mainstream. This presents challenges in garnering support from individuals outside of our own niche, for funding, for publicity, and for marketability. Censorship has presented its own challenges; we have already come across printers and binders who will not provide services due to the content.
What makes it worth it?
How to Be a Faggot is something that is and can be very empowering for queer people. It is an unapologetic commentary on what it means, for me, to be a faggot. There are sexy moments, it’s hot and arousing, but it also has blood and shit and heartache — all the real stuff. Nothing is sanitized. The goal is to create a dialogue about our authentic culture, free of fear.
How can people support the project?
We decided to crowdfund this project to avoid censorship, but that means we need your help in funding the project. If you have the means to buy a book via Kickstarter, that helps us to have the book printed and bound. If you don’t have the means to buy a book, spread the word. We also have digital versions available for $3. The more money we raise, the more books we can print, and the more hands we can get How to Be a Faggot into!
"At twenty-one we whispered secret ambitions to leave behind our hollowed adolescents. Lay it down in its basic grave to die. Goddamnit we'd make something of ourselves. Move to the city. Be happy, or at least be something."