Book Review: MENAFTER10 by Casey Hamilton
Reviewed by Michael Medina
Writers speaking on the topic of race or sexual orientation are habitually hypersensitive of how they portray minority groups, even when said writers are among those minorities, which can so often take away from the raw truth of a story. Casey Hamilton, however, doesn’t hold back, doesn’t edit uncomfortable truths in his characters or the minority groups they represent in his novel MENAFTER10. He portrays them honestly by giving the reader their intimate realities, the good, the bad, and the fabulous. Hamilton reminds us that his characters are unbearably human, which ultimately is what makes them so relatable.
From the viewpoint of several friends/acquaintances in and around an unnamed city, MENAFTER10 skillfully depicts not only the power and struggle of being a gay Black American but also the benefits and tragedies that come from living in the information age and having access to a gay urban-dating app like the titular MENAFTER10. The star of YouTube series Judys and a first-time novelist, Hamilton bares his soul on the page like so many in the LGBTQ+ community dare not, speaking on the Black gay experience—a voice often stifled within even its own LGBTQ+ community—in an incredibly hard-to-stop read that’s raw, real, and relevant.
From the onset, Hamilton uses characters like Chauncey (@RedNReady69 on MENAFTER10) to acknowledge that the men he portrays are flawed and make bad decisions sometimes. Chauncey displays narcissism and vanity, as he uses MENAFTER10 to mend his pain and loneliness by searching for one-night stands that eventually just return him to a cycle of despair. His relationships with the characters outside of MENAFTER10 seem to become increasingly shallow when, really, they are important and life-changing bonds, like the one Chauncey forms with LeMilion, who harshly stops Chauncey from taking a sexual risk: “Chauncey could still feel the sting in his words when he remembered how LeMilion had looked at him with more concern for Chauncey than Chauncey had for himself. He remembered his dick going limp as he looked for clothes to cover himself with, putting a shirt and socks over a night that would never be discussed again.” Hamilton isn’t afraid to use characters like Chauncey to lift the veil on vanity and sex that goes so much deeper than queer authors are generally willing to admit.
Meanwhile, Justin (@GOODVIBESGUY) redownloads MENAFTER10, desperately trying to negotiate his confidence and isolation. Justin encounters homophobia among the Black community while in a barbershop and ends up leaving with a life changing haircut, illustrating the unique intricacies of the relationships between two different minority communities. Hamilton treats us to this equally important but rare occasion, as we are so used to only examining privileged majorities and the trauma and oppression done by them to a minority population—i.e., white privilege and it’s oppression of people of color. Hamilton reminds us with his firmly precise (but all too true) awkward dialogue between straight POC and gay POC that even minority populations can harm one another through discourse, sometimes quite knowingly. In so many words, Hamilton says, despite your community status, people fear what they do not understand.
In a soul-bearing fashion, Hamilton dares to uncover the failures of the queer community to each other through LeMilion (@Lemilionaire), who learns he has failed his friends by keeping them intoxicated and partying, then later learns how to protect them as he navigates the modern world of safe sex and HIV stigma. Through the app, these characters give into their lust, face and avoid their fears, and better discover themselves. These men battle loneliness, depression, image, and vanity to get to the other side of self-worth. Hamilton delivers unquestionable emotion and experience with each of his characters while making them relatable to anyone who has ever felt like their identity has constructed their future.
Hamilton has a clear knowledge of the unspoken truths in the LGBTQ+ community and is an expert at getting readers to understand and feel the characters’ pain, lust, and joy. Hamilton uses a voice for his characters that is unique to each man, yet of a combined consciousness that can only come from being an authority on this kind of suffocation within communities. A voice that is beautifully uncomfortable, in the best way possible. When writing a book such as MENAFTER10, which stays authentic to its truth, graphic detail is often inevitable. Hamilton does a good job of keeping sex and explicit scenes from taking away from the artistry and goals of the book while at the same time letting it become an important part of the characters’ conflict and development, an important distinction among queer literature.
It’s only when Hamilton introduces Malcolm (@MALICOUS), a heavyset social media troll, that the author seems to exhaust his knowledge of each character. There is a disconnect with this (arguably minor) character that doesn’t feel as passionate and understood, and Hamilton seems to identify the least with @MALICOUS, as he reads more like an unlovable villain meant to move the story forward and resolve earlier plans rather than as a relatable source. For example, when Malcom bullies others online to make fans, Hamilton writes, “There was only one bar but that was just enough to check and see that Mary Divine, his idol, had reposted him and that the Aura Era fans were flaming him. The Timeline was on fire, just how he liked it.” Perhaps Malcolm is just so unrelatable because, as a people, we hate to admit our love/hate relationship with entertaining but damaging internet trolls like those found in MENAFTER10. Or maybe it’s because Hamilton tries to give Malcolm a fleeting, undeserved redemption story arc that just isn’t convincing enough to get the reader to sympathize because he’s already done such a good job of making the character insufferable. Had Hamilton let Malcolm stay an antagonistic literary device, there might not have been a need/want to try and connect with him.
MENAFTER10 offers a distinctive perspective into how trauma, race, and sexual orientation can influence sex, relationships, and self-worth, sharing with us the importance of the discourse we use among and between our communities. Despite tackling such a heavy topic, MENAFTER10 remains funny, accessible, and meaningful. Anyone who’s ever felt hopelessly alone while standing in a room full of people, ever used sex to prove their own worth to themselves, or felt like a haircut could change their life, owes it to themselves to experience Casey Hamilton’s MENAFTER10.
Michael Media is a queer writer and purveyor of all things storytelling (from theater to podcasting to television). Pursuing his MFA in creative writing at the University of California, Riverside-Palm Desert, he is a self-proclaimed nerd whose goal is to infiltrate heteronormative genres with queer, colorful, and inclusive themes. He studies and writes on the subject of trauma and oppression among minorities in America with the hope of increasing minority representation in literature and media.