By Catherine Wagley
By Channing Sargent
By L.A. Weekly critics
By Amanda Lewis
By Catherine Wagley
By Carol Cheh
By Keegan Hamilton
By Bill Raden
Dean Seagrave, the narrator of the late James Robert Baker‘s aptly named last novel, Testosterone, barely waits until he’s off the first page to announce: ”I‘m a no-bullshit guy, and one angry queer, so don’t fuck with me because I‘m on a mission.“ To dispel any doubts that this might yet be a gentle, sensitive gay novel, Seagrave, roaring down the PCH in a rented Nissan, goes on: ”Attention all breeders: You’d better part for me like the Red fucking Sea, because I‘m plenty pissed-off, and if you get in my way, I’ll ram your rear-end and squash your little baby.“ Thus begins the final installment of Baker‘s trademark genre, the literary celebration of the Angry Gay Male.
The pace doesn’t slacken much in the next 200 pages. Nor does Seagrave‘s obsession- and methamphetamine-driven rage. His mission, alluded to above, is to track and kill his former lover, Pablo, who went out one evening to buy cigarettes and, without explanation, never came back. Testosterone is very much an L.A. novel; the text, saturated with film references, is ostensibly the transcription of audiotapes recorded by Seagrave while scouring the city for traces of Pablo. It is therefore almost entirely set behind the wheel of a car, from which Seagrave heatedly recounts his adventures, complete with real-time road-rage outbursts (”Come on, move it, fuckhead!“).
As Seagrave burns through the Westside, interrogating Pablo’s former lovers, assaulting Pablo‘s mom and an AIDS-crippled friend, Pablo is transformed from a merely cruel and manipulative ex to an ”emotional serial killer,“ a sadistic dognapper, a former Chilean secret policeman and torturer, and, eventually, a Palo Mayombe high priest who doesn’t blink at human sacrifice. The uncertainty, never resolved by Baker, as to whether Pablo is just such a monster or Seagrave is psychotically deluded, adds to the giddy anxiety of the narrative, which only builds as the book progresses. The rising tension makes Baker‘s darkly deadpan humor all the more effective: Seagrave regretfully brings his Glock (”rhymes with cock“) gun into a sex club because ”I just don’t think they‘d let me in with a machete.“
The Angry Gay Male genre bears disturbing similarities to the more generic Angry White Male genre. (Think Michael Douglas in Falling Down.) Seagrave is wearisomely nostalgic for the days ”when the gas and marijuana were cheap, when you could still experience freeway euphoria, when Southern California was a white boy’s utopia. The days of fun, fun, fun. Before the killers of color shot you in the head and took your T-bird away.“ If Testosterone is haunted by the specter of AIDS, rather than by defense-plant closings and working women, it is nonetheless studded with enough rants against ”beaners“ to make the stereotypical pissed-off white guy feel right at home, almost. (Still, it‘s fun to imagine Michael Douglas speaking Seagrave’s line ”I like a nice juicy cock in my mouth as much as the next man.“)
Gay men don‘t come off very well, either, especially if they have sex a lot. As in a teen slasher film, all the victims are promiscuous, and get what they deserve, though in this case it’s AIDS as often as a violent death. And Pablo‘s first crime, the only one we’re sure he‘s guilty of, was the betrayal of the monogamous coupling Seagrave idealizes -- ”My goddamn boyfriend was a secret fucking sleazy little scumbag beaner tearoom queen.“ It is not, though, simple puritanism that drives Testosterone’s rage: Seagrave (and presumably Baker) is not so much squeamish about desire freely unleashed as he is disgusted by the dehumanization that he sees as accompanying compulsive, anonymous sex, particularly when it occurs under the shadow of HIV. Seagrave rages further at the cult of the body, the fetishism of youth, the aggressive conformity of urban gay life. There‘s much talk of ”clones“ and ”robots,“ even of ”reptiles.“ Scratch a delusional madman, Testosterone suggests, and you find a violently disappointed humanist.#
Note: Testosterone will not be available until October. (Sorry.)