A Gay Pride Dialogue

Anthony DiPietro (left) and John Kotula (right).

We’re John Kotula and Anthony DiPietro. A mutual friend put us together. We’re both writers who celebrate Pride. For several weeks we have been in dialogue by text, email, phone, and once over coffee.

John Kotula: Anthony has a new book of poetry, kiss & release, which looks at relationships and sex, drawing on his gay identity and experience.

Anthony DiPietro: Two years ago, John presented an art exhibition that included an illustrated chapbook called Coming Out. John’s project was inspired after the November 2022 massacre in Colorado that targeted queer people. John is a man who has been romantically in love with men and had sex with men, although he has been in a monogamous marriage to a woman for the past 30 years. While his circle of friends and family knew this about him, John consciously undertook a more public act of “coming out” through acts of creation: artwork and writing.

JK: Our mutual friend thought, correctly, that I might be interested in writing about DiPietro’s book. Hell, I just want to write about that title! Picture a trout on a hook dangling from a line over a brook. The fisherman has him where he wants him, but the intent is to free him from the hook, toss him back into the water to swim away, perhaps to be caught another day.

The hook hasn’t done too much damage; the trout will heal, maybe his mouth will remain a little twisted, but given his trout brain, this encounter won’t stick with him for long. The fisherman, on the other hand, will return often to the image of that particular trout, swishing his tail as he moves off into the shadows of the stream.

Now do the switch: instead of a fish with rainbow sides, picture a boy with dreamy eyes. The kiss grabs hold of him, but the kisser isn’t interested in ownership or possession. When the lips meet, when the tongues find each other, that in and of itself is enough. (Okay… maybe “kiss” here is shorthand for sex.) After the “release,” the kisser writes poems about the experience. And the boy? Well, he has a short attention span.

AD: I have been an out gay man since my 20s, though coming out is a process that evolves over time. Learning about your project helped me understand my own book as an act of pride, an act of coming out as a gay sex poet through a vulnerable, exposing collection of poems.

JK: Why did you choose to label yourself “gay sex poet” in your bio?

AD: I decided to claim it because I expect that some people might use the subject matter to dismiss the book. Who can level that as a criticism now that I’ve named and acknowledged it? Who can ask me to be quiet about sex when it’s right there in this statement of who I am?

JK: This is making me think of lyrics from Nina Simone’s famous protest song “Mississippi Goddam”:

Yes, you lied to me all these years
You told me to wash and clean my ears
And talk real fine just like a lady
And you’d stop calling me Sister Sadie

AD: Nina Simone also said, “What I hope to do all the time is to be so completely myself… to be so much myself that my audiences and even people who meet me are confronted, they’re confronted with what I am, inside and out, as honest as I can be, and this way they have to see things about themselves, immediately.”

JK: And James Baldwin wrote: “You have to decide who you are and force the world to deal with you, not with its idea of you.”

When we hold these conversations, I picture us sitting in the middle of a circle of all the people we reference. A cast of characters, some more imaginary than others, including Viola Davis, Orville Peck, Barkley Hendricks, Elsa of Arendelle, and The Lady Chablis. There are also supporting appearances by Clint Eastwood, Willie Nelson, and The Polish Rider.

AD: And you brought up Frank O’Hara, the celebrated, openly gay poet and art curator. These essential things about him are on display in the poem “Having a Coke with You.” It celebrates gay love and sensuality while incorporating acts of creativity and several art forms.

My gay younger brother asked me to read that poem at his wedding. I decided to memorize it, practiced for months, got inside the lines, and the emotional turns of the poem. That last line,

it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I’m telling you about it

was a mystery to me, and I felt I had to land it perfectly. When the day came, I performed “Having a Coke with You” from the heart, without notecards.

JK: Have you seen the portraits by Larry Rivers? Rivers thought of himself as straight, was married a few times, and had a bunch of kids, but was lovers with O’Hara, of whom he painted a number of famous portraits, including nude ones. Take a look. Did anyone ever look at a man’s body with so much heat?

AD: Exactly! I see it. I’m exhilarated by our conversation, which I’d sum up this way: Coming out is just one act of Pride. Pride can be an artistic act or series of actions that are completely individual. However someone practices it, Pride is for everyone. It is about being your full and authentic self.

And Pride is a movement. A movement is a beautiful thing. We are being witch-hunted right now. Our rights are being attacked and successfully taken away. But those who try to do that are not a movement, they are backlash. Backlash comes from a place of fear, which makes it ugly. Our movement comes from love — and that is beautiful.