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Brontez Purnell Can’t Get Enough of ’90s Queer-Girl Culture

Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photo: Getty Images

Brontez Purnell’s latest book 100 Boyfriends, a novel in stories released earlier this year, is an exploration of queer men and sex that’s funny, sad, and sexy: the ultimate trifecta. Purnell himself is a punk trailblazer who started the bands Gravy Train!!!! and the Younger Lovers in Oakland back in the early aughts. Those subcultures and their queer iterations were wildly influential for Purnell — he excitedly mentioned the impact of artist Vaginal Creme Davis and director Bruce LaBruce on his art. And if Purnell didn’t already do it all before, he can now put “television writer” on his list of achievements as well — he’s writing for the Queer As Folk reboot.

Purnell talked to the Cut about Dave Navarro, Bratmobile, and some of the other artists who inspired his work.

First and foremost, I would have to say my subscription to the Kill Rock Stars single club [the indie record label known for punk bands like Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill]. That’s how I met my future bandmate — we were both Kill Rock Stars devotees. I didn’t know that he was gay then, and I didn’t know any other gay punk boys. He was the first person that I came out to and we would mail letters and tapes to each other.

Calvin Klein Ads

It’s not even because I particularly lusted after any of the men in them. It’s just that I thought if I could be a Calvin Klein underwear model, that the world would finally feel fair to me. And you know what happened this month, I’m actually doing a Calvin Klein underwear ad for their Pride campaign. It finally came full circle.

Photo: Paul Chedlow/World Prods/Channel Four UK/Shutterstock

There was the movie Beautiful Thing. It was about these two boys in England. It was one of the sweetest love stories ever made. It just seemed like I was so far away from ever kissing a boy and there they were, two boys around my age, and they lived right next to each other and they were in love. I just remember thinking it was so cool.

Anthony Kiedis and Dave Navarro Making Out

Anthony Kiedis and Dave Navarro [of the Red Hot Chili Peppers] making out in the “Warped” music video. [Navarro] was such a mood in the ’90s. I have to say alternative culture, even straight male alternative culture, was ten times more radically homoerotic than any of the homoerotic stuff they were showing. I don’t think I saw Will ever kiss anyone on Will & Grace.

I credit this book all the time as probably one of the big impetuses of having the writing trajectory I did. I just felt like it was the first modern gay boy book where it wasn’t that cheesy. Like, this is how you be gay. It was just him living in New York in the ’90s. And it was about fashion, STDs, having an office job, going back to his parents’ house in Virginia. I remember reading that when I was 18 and just being like, Oh my God, this is my destination. This is where I have to land.

The IFC Channel was pretty instrumental. So alongside Beautiful Thing, there was that movie, The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love. And I remember it was the first time I heard that Bratmobile song [“Cool Schmool”]. Bratmobile is the reason I started playing guitar, because when you listen to it, it’s these very minimal surf lines. It was just like, Man, I could do that. And that whole queer-girl aesthetic, you just couldn’t beat it. I always wanted there to be the kind of fag movie where they played in bands and were doing stuff like that. But queer-girl culture in the ’90s was just so much cooler.

Brontez Purnell Can’t Get Enough of ’90s Queer-Girl Culture