INSIDE|OUT JOSEPH OSMUNDSON
Sibling Rivalry Press, 2018
I open Inside/Out and immediately I’m greeted with a rustic depiction of Boyhood; “Boys” getting dirty, “Boys” in school who allowed for a gaze to linger, “Boys” one could do homework with and laugh and “Boys” who eventually grew up to be mean. “Boys” where it all started…
The piece about boyhood acts as a black and white prologue to the following 75 pieces on a break-up, and the sadomasochistic love story that came before. Reading the first piece made me question: What is it about boyhood that is so paramount to gay art and culture? What drives artists to infinitely repaint that portrait of a “Boy”? Is it the permitted protogaiety ticker-taped by the growth of musculature? Is it the sexual impotence often misrepresented as “innocence”? the soon-to-be hostile world of men once familiar? Or the lack of universality in homosexual upbringing perhaps, nostalghia for once-fluidity of gender?
But “Boyhood” is just the start, the real pain is only about to begin. Pain that should not be forgotten or dismissed. Pain, that transgression of “polite” company that needs to be displayed bare to all, whether in the arms of a loved one or on the dinner table.
“I want to see your scars, and here are mine”
I had not heard much about Joseph Osmundson (pictured here) outside the hilariously named podcast “Food 4 Thot” (Highly recommended by yours truly!), but I naturally gravitated towards the minimalistic, yet heart-wrenching cover art, and a few pages in I was sold. Its important to point out that Osmundson holds a PHD of molecular biophysics, since the central theme of Inside/Out is showcased in a piece towards the beginning of the book where he describes a lesson in animal physiology. He quotes a professor stating that for an object to enter our bodies, it needs to make it past our epithelium and into our cells; meaning that the simple fact that something is inside of our bodies does not necessarily mean it is “Inside” of our body; one can swallow a pebble attached to a string, and once the pebble passes the entire length of the string is in fact “Outside” of our body. Osmundson uses this analogy to draw parallels between molecular biology and sincerity in love, how a lover can be literally “Inside” your body without letting you “Inside”.
“that’s how he was: all up in my gut but outside my body. And my insides were coming out.”
“Without him, am I inside or Out?”
Interspersed throughout the book are redacted images deemed too vulgar to be shown. The result is an empty space, with a description of what the pictures were supposed to be: snapshots of grindr conversations, bathroom selfies and other snippets of gay nightlife too personal for print. These erasures hang between the pieces, adding an urban ambience to the otherwise domestic mise-en-scene. Through these redacted images an entire cityscape is painted around these two men, hanging by threads to their dying relationship.
Osmundson’s writing is frank and raw, visceral and to the point. He discusses his writing, how his lover provided him with so much to write about while he himself considered himself to be “Outside” of writing, how he struggled to publish a book that others saw as just another book about a break up, lacking anything vital or new, but his writing is justified in a startling snippet:
“[…] we can model our love on the worst of the straight world, beat the shit out of each other just like them, and not know how to walk away, or stop. I haven’t seen enough of that between two boys, so here it is.”
It’s a simple book about a break-up, about the conflicting emotions that draw us towards what hurts us most. It’s a book about the highs and lows of being “Outside”, struggling to get “In”, about being “Out” without being “Outside”.
“His beauty left me chasing him; it left me always outside knocking on a door that only occasionally opened. A door he alone controlled. What freedom to have no control, to simply wait. Yes, the times he let me inside were ecstatic, but mostly I was outside, as I had always been.”
I slowly close the book and head outside.