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Kevin DiLallo and Jack Krumholtz think the world is ready for a guide to being gay. A homo improvement course, as it were. The Washington lawyers and live-in partners have written The Unofficial Gay Manual: Living the Lifestyle (or at Least Appearing To). Part tongue-in-cheek jest, part practical advice, and stocked with top-ten lists of queer trivia, this paperback is the lavender equivalent to the pink-and-green milieu of The Official Preppy Handbook.
“When we were doing the proposal, we went around to see what kind of competition was out there,” says DiLallo, 35. “And there was tons of lesbian humor, but almost no gay male humor. Gay literature is predominantly AIDS topics and political topics, heavy intellectual stuff.”
He and the 33-year-old Krumholtz settled on a humorous approach for the volume—with some safe-sex asides, of course. On a sunny October afternoon, they sit in the back yard of their Adams Morgan town house, discussing their writing experiences and finishing each other’s thoughts in comfortable-couple fashion.
The idea first came about when “we went to Laguna Beach, California, for the first time in April 1993,” says DiLallo.
“A year ago last April,” Krumholtz echoes. “We’re big beachgoers.”
“And we’re sitting on the beach, looking around,” says DiLallo, “and we realized that the people dressed like the people in Rehoboth or other gay areas, they listened to the same music….”
“I said to Kevin, “Here we are 3,000 miles from home and we might as well be in Rehoboth. Everyone looks the same,’ ” Krumholtz concludes. “And we’ll probably for the rest of our lives argue over who said it, but one of us said, “Somebody should write a book about that.’ ”
They returned to D.C. and compiled several lists—myths about what “makes” someone gay, for instance, and how to decipher a personal ad. Then DiLallo contacted a literary-agent friend in New York, and they drafted a book proposal. That October, they signed a contract. Now, only a year later, they’re ready for a national promotion tour, beginning Nov. 12.
“We put everything on hold,” says DiLallo of this speedy publishing schedule. “We’d go to work, come home, and work on the book….We hired a photographer, hired an illustrator, coaxed a lot of friends to model—all the models in the book are friends of ours.”
“I spent four nights in a row doing nothing but calling gay hot lines,” Krumholtz says, feigning exhaustion. He and DiLallo also sent a questionnaire to 100-plus acquaintances all over the country, then tallied the information on nightclubs (yes, the 17th Street corridor is included), lingo (“Don’t clutch your pearls”), turn-offs (cologne—“one respondent suggested that Karl Lagerfeld be taken out and shot”), and using “gaydar” (“gay radar”) to spot family. They focused solely on men, thinking it “a bit presumptuous” to attempt a lesbian womanual.
In terms of art and research, “it’s a 100 percent local effort, basically,” Krumholtz says. “All the people that we worked with were so enthusiastic. Some of them hadn’t even come out to their parents yet.”
“Well, he hadn’t come out to his parents before we wrote the book,” DiLallo conspiratorially reveals.
“Yes, Mom and Dad, it’s true,” Krumholtz laughs, quoting from a chapter titled “Parents—A Captive Audience.”
“When he wrote that, he still hadn’t come out to his parents,” DiLallo says. But wait—haven’t they been a couple for 11 years? Haven’t they owned this town house for six? “I’m as astounded as you are,” DiLallo sighs.
“I come from a large Irish Catholic family, and we never really talked about it,” Krumholtz rushes to explain. “My parents aren’t stupid, but I think truth be told they would rather have just gone on knowing but not knowing. The book sort of forced the issue.”
At least coming out enhanced his research. “I did the first draft of the section about coming out to your parents,” he shrugs. Meanwhile, DiLallo contributed his own prudent suggestions on “how to tell your mother.” DiLallo claims responsibility for the more outré selections—he pioneered a segment titled “How to Break Up With a Psycho-Killer”—while Krumholtz had more practical experience in topics including relationships with women.
Attempting to blend vérité and outrageousness could land the authors in hot water, however—and we’re not just talking about a steamy shower at the gym. Their glibness tends to perpetuate rather than defy stereotypes. This runs counter to Krumholtz’s claim that “we were really pushing for a diverse portrait of gay lives….This is a nice window onto the world that [straight readers] may perhaps be interested in or curious about or perhaps even threatened by.”
The authors’ “Guide to the Flora and Fauna of the Gay World” is perhaps the easiest chapter to criticize. It includes photos of men in classic Village People poses: There’s the Biker (“soprano voice forced to tenor….dog collars chafe neck”), the A-Lister (“calluses from social climbing”), the Cowboy (“not shown: bridge club membership”), and the Gym Dandy (“pathological desire to take shirt off in public”). Such definitions arguably encourage narrow perspectives.
But DiLallo defends the images. “I think people tend to see themselves [in different roles] depending on the time of day, or the outfit,” he says. “This is not to suggest that everyone fits into one of these 13 categories. These are just types that are very identifiable.”
“The personas are taking a little bit of all of us to a humorous extreme,” Krumholtz agrees. He thinks a moment, then adds, “I’ve been waiting for the Sugar Daddy in Kevin to come out.”
In any case, sales of the Gay Manual have been brisk since it arrived in stores Oct. 21. Lambda Rising, perhaps the ideal outlet for this work, reports selling 50 copies over the first weekend. But the book trade can be unforgiving, too. “We went into one store and…I saw a guy flipping through it, so I kind of watched him for a while,” Krumholtz says. “Then he put it down and didn’t buy it, and I was completely demoralized. It depressed me for the whole day. My mother said, “You should stay out of bookstores for a while.’ ”
Kevin DiLallo and Jack Krumholtz introduce The Unofficial Gay Manual at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 3, at Luna Books, and 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 10, at Lambda Rising.