By: W. Brady Stonica
“Ever since I could remember I was interested sex. It never seemed strange to me. I was born ready. — Eddie St. EOM Martin to biographer Tom Patterson.
Reeds slap young Eddie Martin in the face as a man forces him down towards the river. A calloused hand squeezes Eddie on the nape of his neck. His feet tangle in the brambles on the bank. The irate Georgian man shoves Eddie forward, dragging his flailing feet behind him.
In moments the mouth usually filled with witty words and odd opinions will be gargling river water. Yet fortune-teller in the making Eddie, must see his future as St. EOM. A future he needs to living to bring to fruition.
With a death by drowning a few feet away, Eddie devises a plan. He escapes the adult’s grasp, and spins on his heels to face his attacker. A poked-out chin and defiant expression hints to a rebellious streak about to make an appearance. Eddie refuses to break eye-contact while shimming out of his pants.
The man that would one day be referred to as St. EOM said to his attacker, “‘Well, I’ll lay down, and you can fuck me between the legs,’” and then in his biography he reflects on what he did next and claims, “I spit on my hands, wet my thighs and pulled my legs together and he got down there and fucked me between the legs and popped his rocks.”
The Koehler Foundation’s multi-million dollar investment aided in the recent restoration of Eddie Martin’s lifework, his Pasaquan art compound in Buena Vista, Georgia. As these renovations near completion a new “buzz,” as local farm-wife Claudine Morgan would say, circulates around the gay, visionary artist, and his legacy.
Pasaquan, the village-sized exhibit is described by Mike McFalls, a professor of art at Columbus State University as a “pre-Columbian psychedelic wonderland […] a pluralistic utopia to Eddie.”
As a queer, southern, cis man (and a marijuana enthusiast) like Martin, I reap the harvest St.EOM planted through shared experiences and identity. We are undeniably similar on paper. Yet he was an out homosexual and part time sex worker as early as the late 1930s, while today in 2016 I am closeted to the root of my family tree.
“And I saw my father out behind the house with this neighbor woman, and he had her standin’ up by this tree, fuckin’ her,” St. EOM said when asked about his family.
My dad never ravished his mistress against a tree in direct view of the family’s kitchen window but we share tumultuous paternal relationships, which may explain why we both sought outside influences in our childhoods. I twiddled my thumbs through countless sermons given by my friends’ African-American Aunties, and heard the voice of God when Mary J. Blige, Jill Scott, and Kelly Price wailed.
Eddie Martin also found solace with the black community. “It was like he was oppressed just like we was. We found camaraderie with him, because the regular white folk made us outcasts,” explains friendly local loiterer Willie Hudson that grew up around the time Eddie moved back to Georgia from the Big Apple.
Being gay in the homophobic South of the past (and present unfortunately) puts a target on one’s back. Yet the black members of Marion County embraced Eddie Martin shielding him, because many felt “He was doing something good out there,” said Alfonzo Kin before adding, “Though a lot of black people were drawn out there sometimes just to try and get him to read their fortunes to figure out lotto numbers.”
The support the black community showed for St.EOM despite his sexuality no doubt contributed to his confidence to strut around out and proud to almost every person he met. His familial connections were weakened by his trek up North, and without any obligation to them or their beliefs he was free to truly be himself.
I am twenty-two years old. I have been in a homosexual relationship for over a year. I fully accept my bisexuality with my preference for men. I am out at work, to all of my friends, and I speak candidly about my identity even in an academic setting.
That being said when I smell the scents of the apple cinnamon candles mingling with my Mama’s fresh cut roses placed on the chipped granite counter tops in the kitchen, I wrap myself in a shroud of asexuality. My boyfriend dissolves into a mere roommate. My identity is hidden behind a mask.
I tie my tongue not out of fear or self-consciousness, but rather a two-pronged problem. First, I do not have the patience to listen to my father’s hypocritical squabbles with my reality. Second, while I know Mama’s love is unconditional, I just do not wish to see the disappointment she would try to cover. The moment I come out I will squash her dreams of watching me walk down an aisle to some long-haired fantasy that would birth her legions of grandchildren.
“This boy I went to school with, I walked with him to get cows, and on the way we stopped to jack off,” reminisces Eddie Martin in audio interviews performed again by Tom Patterson.
In the thirty plus years since St. EOM’s life ended, acceptance and tolerance of the LBGTQIQ+ community has made great strides. Just last year the Supreme Court legalized marriage equality, but I am not alone as a modern closet case.
Eddie Martin says during his time in New York, “There was screamin’ loud faggots in the street,” which perplexes me as a quietly screaming faggot myself.
Too many queer and transgender teens commit suicide every day over archaic issues like bullying. I wonder now that, as Willy Hudson says, “Columbus State University has taken it upon themselves to upkeep Eddie’s legacy,” will his story, art, and ideology resonate with other Southern queer individuals. I hope it does, for perhaps then we will see a new generation of visionary artists or just maybe the South’s notorious hospitality will finally be extended to the LGBTQIQ+ members of Old Dixie.
“But when somebody wanted a terrific cocksucker, man, then Ethridge’d call me, ’cause I could do a blow job that wouldn’t quit,” Eddie Martin boasts while explaining his lifestyle as a male sex worker in New York in his youth.
On October twenty-second I sauntered onto the grounds of Eddie’s art environment Pasaquan. It was humbling to be intruding on the last legacy of another southern gay like myself. I walked the perimeter, and I could almost feel him walking right behind me. Some say St. EOM’s spirit still haunts certain rooms, since he died on the compound. If that’s true, let’s lift up our voices and let this gay man finally receive the respect and acknowledgement he deserves. Who knows, maybe some backwoods kid will attend. A child that can grow up one day to truly be themselves unafraid of their “Minds get[ting] locked” as Eddie Martin would say.
I know this twenty-two-year-old is inspired by Eddie St. EOM Martin as a visionary artist, and I am proud to be a small part of his Georgia counterculture, gay legacy. As everyone started to trickled off the premises I fished the half-smoked-jointed out of my back pocket. I wandered over to the massive, square sandbox where St. EOM once performed his Native American, tribal dances. I buried the joint. If Eddie does still linger here, let it be by way of saying thank you for my future one queen to another.