Teen angst bullsh*t is rarely justified but if someone had a reason to load the gun it was me. A pre-gay teen, unemployed father, going to a pre-aspirational Bankstown Catholic school - there’s three cylinders needing a shell already. I required a roadmap to me and there wasn’t one available. No UBD street directory to myself. No Atlas of Peter. But then I heard about this book through an article in a grunge music magazine and went to find it.
One day after school I creeped into my local library still wearing my tie. My backpack was so big it looked like the shell of a ninja turtle. Through the maze of books, I found the adult fiction section. When I was 16 libraries were still quiet places, they hadn't transformed into “information spaces” and assistants in navy uniforms would raise a finger to their lips to shoosh the obnoxious.
Looking through cluttered shelves I searched and almost missed it. Slender, small in height but its shadow fell on me the day it was printed and still falls on me today. Amongst metal bookshelves I looked up and down the aisle before reaching for the book. The blue carpet was free of familiar people, I whipped out Loaded by Christos Tsoilkas, stroked it and went to sit down on an armchair at the end of the book stack.
On playgrounds I was given names before I could name myself. Fag, faggot and poofta
At 16 I was too scared to borrow anything gay, already there was a gothic terror in me. On television commercials I watched the grim reaper bowl me down and I thought my destiny was to be AIDS-filled corpse. At my family BBQ lamb and tzatziki gave way to bitter words, an uncle said that we should put bombs on the roads where Mardi Gras happened. On playgrounds I was given names before I could name myself. Fag, faggot and poofta.
I recognise this gothic terror in gay men of my generation. We played with He-Mans in harnesses and thought death an inevitability. We watched healthy young men in our community disappear from family and then return to die of the "flu". And I could try to transmute with words the fear that defined a generation of men, how I can still see remnants of it when I look into my peers eyes, but the kindling has diminished. It was partly extinguished in 1995 when medications that turn HIV into a manageable illness dropped, it was also the same year Loaded was published.
There was no way 16-year-old gay brained Peter Polites was going to borrow Loaded. No way I wanted it attached to the record of my library card, the gothic terror was deep, but my mum was also a Librarian at my local library. She might throw a slipper at my head. Or worse. I would be homeless. So, over a period of a few months I would hunt for it after school. Days when Mum worked, I pretended to wait for her to finish her shift, really, I was there the same reason other people were. Reading to find a map to myself.
When he wants Greek, it’s not just a body he thirsts for. He wants a cultural connection through language, someone to whisper dirty words in his own language
The book was map to my desires that I had yet to understand. In the chapter ‘I Don’t Often F*ck with Greeks’, the narrator documents a desire for dark skinned Mediterranean men, he uses Arab or Turkish men as a simulacra. But when he wants Greek, it’s not just a body he thirsts for. He wants a cultural connection through language, someone to whisper dirty words in his own language, merging sexuality with spirit even if the men aren’t particularly handsome. Ten years after reading this I finally understood what it was to want a Greek, to feel a soulful connection for a tongue that lashes body and soul.
Loaded foreshadowed my experiences. Sometimes I went straight from a Greek wedding to cruising, while wearing formal attire. If I paid better attention to the book Loaded, I would have brought a change of shoes, something more appropriate to scrummage through alleys while peen trawling. In my social life I replicated the destructive relationships in my family by enacting abuse and coupling in dominant and violent ways. I also found generous and tender love in my youth many times but kept punching it in the stomach. Sorry one, two and three. Drugs and dancing were an expression of my emotions, the sadness of Rebetika amped the existential nothing that accompanied soulless electronica. Not so far apart in age, everything I did had been done before. So, when it was time to publish my first novel, I pulped it out and referenced Loaded in the opening sequence and in the geography of the chapters.
Loaded became a map of my mind. It showed me my teen angst bullsh*t would transmute into adult angst bullsh*t. Through this book, I found that I wanted to f*ck with Greeks, to speak right to me, create roads into the experiences. I wanted its tongue to whisper dirty words right into me.
Peter Polites is a Greek Australian writer from Western Sydney. He is the author of ‘Down the Hume’ and ‘The Pillars’. Peter is appearing in conversation with Christos Tsiolkas and Maxine Beneba Clarke at The Wheeler Centre on Friday November 29.
If this story raises issues for you or you are in need of support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Watch 'Head On', the film adaptation of Loaded on SBS On Demand.