ALTA ASKS

Talking with Alex Espinoza

Alex Espinoza examines his experiences with anonymous sexual acts within a broad historical and cultural context.
Alex Espinoza examines his experiences with anonymous sexual acts within a broad historical and cultural context.
The author of Cruising writes about how sexual encounters with male strangers provided him with “solace and acceptance.”

In Alex Espinoza’s Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime, the author relates his own sexual experiences as a young gay man and explores their ramifications in a historical context. Seen through Espinoza’s eyes and prose, cruising is indeed a radical act, one of defining himself and claiming space in a world that has not made room for LGBTQ individuals. Espinoza’s research provides a frame of reference that sets the tone for his intimate story and for his discussion of how cruising shapes cultures and individuals. Deemed “provocative, curious, and noteworthy” by Kirkus and “touching, resonant, and deeply felt” by the Los Angeles Review of Books, Espinoza’s work “invites us to think about the right to freedom of sexual expression and where it fits in within the larger aims of the LGBTQ community,” as LARB notes.

Watch Alta Asks Live: Alex Espinoza 

A teacher, Alta contributor, and active participant in literary communities such as Sandra Cisneros’s Macondo Writers Workshop and the Community of Writers, Espinoza lives in Los Angeles and is the Tomás Rivera Endowed Chair of Creative Writing at UC Riverside.

Alta caught up with Espinoza via email to discuss Cruising, how to respond to the current moment, and what the future holds.

What central question does your work ask?
I would say that Cruising: An Intimate History of a Radical Pastime explores an aspect of gay culture (anonymous sexual encounters in public spaces) in an attempt to destigmatize an otherwise-taboo practice and see it as an act of rebellion and not a perversion. 

EXCERPT:

That curiosity grew as I went from elementary school to junior high and then to high school. By then, I had begun to notice that my interests focused on boys—more specifically, older men. The first time I had a sexual encounter I was sitting at a bench waiting for a bus when a young man in his twenties picked me up, drove me to an empty field, and we messed around. He told me about the parks and public bathrooms littered across the area where men were meeting up to exchange blowjobs, handjobs, or more. That was my introduction to the world of cruising, and I was hooked. I found solace and acceptance, a function in those anonymous spaces, where I met up with men for brief and intense encounters.

Do you listen to anything as you write?
I typically don’t listen to anything. Though this past September, when I received a fellowship to attend an arts colony to work on my next novel, I started listening to classical music as I wrote. This had more to do with the remote, isolated location I was in for a month. It was nice and soothing. Since I got back, I do find myself tuning in from time to time, though not as ritualistically as I was when I was in the remote New Hampshire countryside. 

How is the current moment shaping your writing?
I’m finding it difficult to focus on one thing for too long during these strange days. Everything I’m writing is taking more energy and thought, so I find myself more tired than usual. Naps have become a regular part of my day now. Luckily, I’m in the middle of doing some final revisions of my next book, so I don’t have to sustain focus for a long time while I’m doing this. It’s still hard, though. 

What, in other disciplines, inspires you to create?
I’m reading a lot of poetry right now. Perhaps it’s the focus thing I mentioned before. Poetry has been helping me connect once again to the lyricism and economy of language. I’m also inspired by a lot of dark and moody alternative music at the moment, especially the haunting tunes of Agnes Obel, Mazzy Star, and Daughter.

What’s on your to-be-read list?
Right now, I’ve got Godshot by Chelsea Bieker, Your House Will Pay by Steph Cha, and Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn. 

What can you tell us about your next project?
My next novel—tentatively titled The Moment We Touch Ground—explores three generations of a Mexican and Mexican American family’s long and complicated history with the sport of lucha libre on both sides of the frontera.

Heather Scott Partington is a writer, teacher, and book critic based in Elk Grove, California. She most recently interviewed David L. Ulin for Alta Asks.

CRUISING: AN INTIMATE HISTORY OF A RADICAL PASTIME
  • By Alex Espinoza
  • Unnamed Press, 240 pages, $21.99

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