Monday, April 28, 2008
GLBT: Salvatore Sapienza Interview
1.When you were younger, you attended an all-boys Catholic high school, which was run by the Marist Brothers. When you got older, you became a Marist brother yourself. Was your time in high school a starting point to wanting to become a brother yourself? What exactly appealed to you about the lifestyle?
When I toured the country promoting my book, I met many GLBTs who had attended Catholic schools and who had such horror stories to tell me about their negative treatment at the hands of unaccepting nuns and judgemental priests.
My years in Catholic high school, though, were extremely positive. The religious brothers who taught me were totally cool and very accepting, and they really lived Jesus's message of loving one another without judgement. In fact, one of the brothers was the first person I came out to when I was a senior there.
After graduation, however, I attended NYU, and I lost touch with the brothers from high school. During my college years, I became an active part of New York City's gay club scene, but there was always something missing for me. Although I was nurturing my physical, sexual and intellectual sides, I did nothing to foster an active spiritual life.
As the AIDS crisis was in full force, the Catholic Church and the gay community were at bitter odds with each other in New York, and I felt like I could be of service in helping bridge the gap. So, I decided to join the Marist Brothers, and I worked as an AIDS educator.
During those years, I took the vows poverty, chastity and obedience, although I was fully out to my religious community. I will admit that the vows were tough for me, but I'm very proud of the work I did during those years.
2.Nowadays, you are no longer a part of the religious life. What was your reasoning on leaving? How much of Seventy Times Seven is autobiographical?
I ultimately left religious life because it was not a healthy lifestyle for me. I became unhappy and depressed as I realized that the Catholic Church was unwilling to change its attitude towards the gay community despite all the good work that was being done by many of us.
I felt pulled in two directions. My church would not accept my sexuality, and the gay community did not understand my spiritual side. That's very similiar to the journey of the main character, Brother Vito, in "Seventy Times Seven."
Although Vito and I have much in common, the book is not fully autobiographical. Vito experiences things in the book that I did not. The biggest difference is that Vito falls in love while he's in religious life, and I did not.
3.What do you hope people who read Seventy Times Seven get out of it?
First and foremost, I hope readers are entertained. Despite its religious backdrop, the book is actually a very easy read with lots of funny and romantic moments. That said, I've heard from so many readers who've been able to relate their own lives to that of Vito's, especially in his struggle to integrate his sexuality with his spirituality. The fact that so many young GLBT readers have been comforted by the book has just been icing on the cake for me.
4.Are you currently working on anything at the moment? If so, is there anything you can say about it?
I am part of a brand new anthology called "Queer & Catholic," in which GLBT writers share their stories of being raised Catholic. Some are positive stories, some are negative, and some are very funny. I think it's a good mix.
Readers have been asking me for a sequel to "Seventy Times Seven," but my next book is a novel called "Hustle Muscle," which is a satire of the gay media and its obsession with youth. It'll be out next year. After that, I may write a sequel to "Seventy."
5.What are your thoughts on the GLBT community in entertainment?
Well, the gay book business tends to want "young, fabulous and sexy," which is a bit of a frustration for me. If I see one more gay novel with a naked male torso on the cover, I'm going to scream! Don't get me wrong, I like a good fluffy beach read as much as anyone, but there seems to be a predominance of that in gay literature these days.
6. Is there any GLBT literature that you are a fan of and would recommend, whether for young adults or adults?
For young adults, I love the books of Alex Sanchez and Brent Hartinger. I was a high school English teacher for many years, and I always had their books in my classroom library. Other gay writers I like are Jay Quinn and Felice Picano.
7. If you had to give advice to someone who was struggling with their sexuality and/or coming out, what would you say?
It's always important to be true to yourself and to follow your spirit. If you're living a lie, you'll never be fully at peace. That said, everyone's journey is different. Just because I came out at 17, it doesn't mean everyone can or should. If you can't find someone trustworthy to confide in, there are so many support groups out there and online. I highly recommend OASISJournals. com. Bottom line, know you're not alone.