• The Conflict Issue

    Gay Sluts Who Read

    The Conflict Issue

    Photos by Michael George

    Gay Sluts Who Read

    John Walker gets to know the crew behind Food 4 Thot, a new podcast discussing things like sex and race, and what and who the thots like to read.

    Fran’s raincoat is black and reflective, perhaps PVC. It’s very “I Can’t Stand the Rain,” which honestly, same. We all took a different path to get to this studio on the industrial side of McGuinness Boulevard in Brooklyn, New York, but every one of us is thoroughly soaked from the lower thighs down. I’m here to sit in on a recording session for Food 4 Thot, a new podcast created by and featuring four queer writers from different backgrounds who live in New York. Joe uncorks a bottle of rosé. I’m here for that, too.

    “Our itineraries are very moist,” says Fran as he hands out a particularly gay agenda.

    “Ugh. Moist.” Dennis places a half-eaten McNugget back in its carrier, which sits atop a coffee table next to his copy of Zadie Smith’s Swingtime. “My favorite word.”

    “Moist,” Tommy riffs without looking up from his compact. “It’s really a state of mind, don’t you think?”

    A two-tone cackle bounds up from the bottom of his throat as Tommy and friends leave the room, taking their mugs of wine and moist itineraries with them. They make their way into another room nearby where their mics are set up around a circular dinner table. I hang back with their producer and their engineer. We can’t see the boys, but we can hear them through the speakers on our side of the studio’s sound system. “THIS. IS MY VOICE. ON TEE-EE VEE-EEEE,” Tommy shouts through the speakers in his best Homer Simpson. He softens his voice but keeps it playful to record the intro. “Hey! Welcome to Food 4 Thot…

    At the top of every transmission, Food 4 Thot announces itself as a space where “a multiracial mix of queer writers gather ‘round the table to talk about sex, identity, culture, what we like to read, and who we like to read.” That’s all true, but it doesn’t quite capture the perversely joyful and joyfully perverse experience of listening to an episode. It’s like wandering into the stockroom of a dusty old gay bookstore and finding the owner and the manager slicking one another’s taints with candle wax. (The safe word is “Cheryl Strayed.”) It’s like hurtling down a Sliquid Slip ‘N Slide and landing face first in a pile of fellowship applications. In 60 minutes or less, Food 4 Thot speaks truth to publishing industry power and laughs in the face of bottoming anxiety. In short, “it’s [a podcast] for gay sluts who read.” That’s Fran after a couple glasses of rosé. And maybe a beer or two after that.

    The co-hosts and creators of Food 4 Thot – Dennis Norris, Joe Osmundson, Tommy Pico, and Fran Tirado – met last summer at a Tin House writers’ workshop. Dennis, a reformed figure skater turned fiction editor at Apogee Journal, tells me that he’d wanted to do some kind of roundtable podcast with other gay men for a long time but that he hadn’t found the right people. Night after night at the workshop, he found himself staying up late and drinking and giggling with these three new friends. Their conversations segued from thoughtful literary discussion to thotful threesome horror stories without missing a beat.

    “Everything was so natural and brilliant and beyond anything I’d ever had,” says Dennis. He soon realized that “this is the group.”

    Dennis put forth the idea of starting a podcast together, but, like many a drunken idea, it got up in the middle of the night, quietly buckled its belt, and tiptoed out of their lives forever. Or at least for a while. A few weeks later, once the four writers were all back in their respective boroughs of the city, Tommy, a managing editor at Literary Hub whose second book Nature Poem comes out on May 9, returned to the idea. His motives, he admits, were not purely creative.

    “I just wanted to con all of these people into hanging out with me once or twice a month,” Tommy says, cackling again. “I know when I feel activated in the sense that I feel inspired and want to keep talking and I don’t feel muzzled. When I’m with some groups of people I shut down. I get quiet. When I was with [Dennis, Fran, and Joe] all I wanted to do was sing.”

    That desire to make cool shit together was a powerful one, but Fran, an editor at Hello Mr., felt that it wouldn’t be enough to see the project through, much less get it funded.

    “I thought, ‘There’s no fucking way,’” he says. “I was so discouraged. The radio landscape is so white and so straight and so middle-aged. My experience in publishing Hello Mr. has taught me a really hard lesson. Queer people are not marketable. Brown people are not marketable. No matter how much we champion the fact that Moonlight won an Oscar, we are still living in a capitalist world where people don’t think we’re worth listening to and advertisers don’t want to invest in us. I could sell the best fucking story you will ever read that’s worth millions of dollars to, like, Levi’s jeans or whatever, and they still won’t buy it because of those two caveats.”

    Thankfully, Fran put his “bitch of a Moon in Virgo” to bed and came around to the idea.

    “Fuck y’all! We are, in fact, fucking brilliant. We are interesting and have great taste and say fucking smart things! The word ‘lure’ feels kind of dirty, but it feels like we have to lure a lot of people into listening to our podcast and then say, ‘We’re queer and brown, too, in case that’s what deterred you in the first place!’”

    “There are so, so many podcasts and literary journals in the world that exist around the shit we care about [writing and reading] but that don’t allow us to be our full selves,” Joe adds. “So, what if we create this media space on our own?”

    Creating this space has not been easy. Food 4 Thot still has yet to find any advertisers to sponsor their show. (The tagline about how the program is “made possible by the generous, unequivocal support of rosé” is, obviously, a joke.) The show sounds as good as any of the corporate-backed white noise promoted in the Apple Store’s “New & Noteworthy” section. That’s in large part thanks to some very talented producers – first Julia Alsop and later Alexandra DiPalma – who agreed to pour their talents into the project free of charge. They also got a deal on their studio space since Tommy and Tom Tierney of Spaceman Sound are old friends. Otherwise, the recording process came entirely out of pocket.

    The Food 4 Thot crew hope that their situation changes. That once this eight-episode first season concludes they’ll get sponsor after sponsor sliding into their DMs. That the powers that be in the rain-soaked world beyond the recording studio finally catch up to the brilliance standing in front of them. For now, at least they have each other to get the job done.

    “You gotta be the powers that be,” says Tommy. “You are the powers that be.”

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