“I did not set out to write a memoir because who writes a memoir at 30? The book was originally designed to be a collection of my previously published pieces,” says Alex Cheves. But faced with a raft of essays and articles written for a wide variety of publications, Cheves ended up cutting most of the essays and penning new ones. “And in the editing we were like, ‘Oh it’s a memoir,’” Cheves says.
Published in October, My Love Is a Beast is the rare memoir that is unstinting in its depiction of a voracious appetite for sex. But fans of Cheves expected nothing less; after all, this is the man who played a role in making fisting a topic of mainstream discourse.
“I knew even before I got the internship at The Advocate that started my career 10 years ago that I wanted to write about sex,” Cheves says. He initially intended to write fiction, but his time at The Advocate launched an entirely different trajectory for his writing. “I knew when I walked into the Advocate offices I wanted to focus on sex and sexual health, and luckily there really wasn’t any sex content at The Advocate at the time and I filled a content gap. But I knew that I had to be unapologetic to the point of being shocking, otherwise no one was going to read it. And I knew I could do that, and I knew I could write about things no one else was writing about.” Cheves points to the reluctance to publish an article on fisting; indeed, a slideshow on the subject on TheAdvocate.com features a “word of warning” from Cheves that includes this sentence: “The views in this slideshow do not reflect those of The Advocate and are based solely off of my own experiences.” An article on the 101s of fisting published this past summer on Men’sHealth.com includes no such trigger warnings.
That speaks more to the nature of writing about gay sex in America than anything else; Cheves has received hate mail for his entire career. In fact, the book just elicited his first death threat, something Cheves laughingly refers to as proof that he’s doing something right.
“I had a really good mentor at The Advocate, Christopher Harrity,” Cheves says. “He took me under his wing and was like, ‘I want you to know when we publish your first sex piece you’ll get some really nasty messages. And that’s exactly what you want to do. That’s the only way you’re going to do anything. It’s going to get really harsh.’
“You can write about politics and people get nasty. You write about sex and people really respond viciously. And it becomes personal because you’re talking about something that’s personal with them. And that was very true. I learned a long time ago not to read the comments and if you get a message on DM with lots of exclamation points, just delete it and move on.”
An angry reluctance to engage in any meaningful way with sex and sexuality (to say nothing of gay sex and sexuality) is nothing new to anyone visiting Fort Troff. But Cheves’ refusal to be anything other than unapologetic about his appetites and his past should point a way forward for everyone, regardless of one’s personal kinks and fetishes.
“I have to say that something in my genes or some weird twist of fate, I never actually felt shame,” Cheves says of grappling with a religious upbringing and his burgeoning sexuality. “I felt rage. And I think people go one way or the other. The rage has caused its own issues, but I recognize that beneath everything there’s this nice deep hot coil of abject fury that runs me. That’s my little inner motor. I think when your parents shame you, you can retreat and go back in the closet and embrace that shame or you have to become very antagonistic against it.”
With the publication of My Love Is a Beast, Cheves is focused on looking forward, with some concern.
“Places like apps and websites are great—but they’re not an adequate substitute for events,” he says. “I could not understand the kink community until I went to Folsom. You need that experience, or something equivalent. You can find forums and communities. And obviously Twitter has really thriving kink communities. And all these spaces are important and connect you to people and give you a sense of what your kinks are, but if you’re a new kinkster, you need to make it a priority to go to an in-person event.
“MAL and Folsom and Pig Week and Fist Fest, they all really matter,” he adds. “And so the fact that they’re all increasingly threatened should be a major concern for our community because they are our community.