Growing up in New Jersey, author, editor and photographer Michael T. Luongo traveled very little.
“As a child, my parents never traveled anywhere,” he says. “They couldn’t throw all the kids in the car and come back in the space of a day.”
Instead, Luongo referred to his parents’ art and archaeology books and began to discover a love for foreign places.
“It was something that started to develop ever since I was little,” he says. “I read a lot. I was constantly reading.”
Luongo now lives in Manhattan and is the author of several travel guides. He will come to Bloomington on July 10 to speak at 6:30 p.m. at Rachel’s Café, 300 W. Third St. He will discuss his newest book, Gay Travels in the Muslim World, which is a compilation of travel stories outlining the experiences of gay men in Middle Eastern countries.
Although the book was just released in 2007, the inspiration began when Luongo was working on one of his earlier novels.
“When I did the call for submission nearly one-third of the submissions were about the Middle East, and I realized there needed to be a greater focus to travel writing there,” he said.
After 9/11, Luongo noticed that the War on Terror raised questions concerning homosexuality and the Middle East.
“You began to see a lot of coverage mixed in with homosexuality,” he says. “Like Mohammed Atta, there was talk that he might have been gay and that he wanted to blow up the Twin Towers to prove his masculinity.”
Luongo says there were also questions raised about the Taliban’s misogyny, possibly stemming from its members’ homosexuality.
“This gay aspect to the war had already been ongoing,” Luongo says. “So that was part of the reason to do such a book.”
Yet Gay Travels in the Muslim World is not another book analyzing the effects of the war on terror. Instead, the book is a compilation of stories by several gay men, each sharing their travel experiences in the Middle East.
“I think every story is different,” Luongo says.
While he says some encountered terrible things in their travels, most of the book’s contributors had positive experiences.
“There’s a lot of coverage on homosexuality in the Middle East, and people paint it as very black and white,” Luongo says. “It’s very, ‘Oh you’re going to get tortured. You’re going to get killed.’ But reality is that on the ground there’s very welcoming aspects to the Middle East if you allow yourself to exist or coexist in the culture.”
While speaking at Rachel’s Café, Luongo will also read from his book Voyeur, a novel about a gay sex researcher.
“This book is for anyone from Bloomington,” Luongo laughs. “Bloomington will always be associated with sex research because of Kinsey.”
Set in the “Giuliani era” of New York, Luongo takes readers to the streets of Manhattan.
“New Yorkers have very different minds about Giuliani,” Luongo says. “He was extremely bad for gay life and sexuality when he was mayor.”
While working on AIDS prevention, the main character begins to discover secrets of his lover, coworker and boss while gaining a “better understanding of why he decided to go into sex research.”
“The book is a novel, but it is clearly inspired by my own life,” Luongo says. “Not the plot or any of that, but the venues and the milieu.”
Luongo is careful to remind readers that Voyeur is not an erotic novel.
“It’s a novel about sex and sexuality,” he says. “And while there are sex scenes in it, it is not an erotic novel.”
Although he acknowledges the novel has not done well financially, Luongo is proud of his work and is looking forward to writing a new book.
“I hope to create some more over time,” he says. “It’s a matter of finding time and putting them on paper.”
Mal Hackleman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.