In Wish You Were Me, Myriam Gurba will make you laugh and then cringe. Her words are crass and up-front but hilarious. Her poignancy comes from her ability to speak how we all speak. She laughs in the face of rape, but she herself was a rape victim. She attempts to cover up her wounds with patches of humor and nonchalance as if making fun of herself first will keep her from being attacked. I think Gurba says it best in her introduction when she writes, “sometimes, writing feels free as finger-painting. Other days, it’s as though parts of me are falling off.”
Part One of Wish You Were Me is full of short and imaginative jokes. I watched a few of her live performances and her deliveries are monotone and quick, just like how these short stories read. In “Observational Humor,” Gurba writes, “From the neck up, so many socially awkward teens look like signers of the Declaration of Independence.” Part One is short, but this hilarious outlook on the world is the foundation for the rest of the book. She recognizes the weirdness in life’s everyday: “Thank you for printing JUICY across your asshole. We’ll avoid it.” It’s like reading a stand-up comedy routine.
In Part Two, Gurba describes intimate encounters with perverse and awkward boyfriends. Gurba dates a 22-year-old at 15, and it is mostly awkward. In her retelling of the story, Gurba focuses on the hilarity of it all. The most exciting thing about this guy to a fifteen-year-old is the fact that he has a freckle on his penis. The rest of her encounters with men are similarly uncomfortable and hilarious. None of these are horror stories or even sad stories, although they could be. The stories are only related by the fact that they are all of the men she has tried dating. Sometimes, like with the first boyfriend story, Gurba’s accounts are long and detailed, and other times they are short and to the point. She does not try to tie the story together neatly with a bow on top, she just lets it rest. This may make it difficult for readers interested in reading a long and continuous narrative, but I think Gurba’s stop-and-go style is more realistic. People do not remember things in full detail; some memories are clear and present while others flash only as short tidbits. She remembers going on a date with a man who wore a Burberry scarf, and then seeing him later at a gay party, “We smiled, a pair of beards as themselves.”
Gurba simultaneously resists labels and grabs hold of them. She frequently pokes fun at her Mexican/Polish/lesbian identity, resisting the perfect portrayal of the female body in the most hilarious way. She calls herself hairy, blaming her clogged pores on her ethnicity, and hilariously comparing herself to an Ewok. In one poignant essay, “Impostor,” Gurba runs through the ways in which she could be a better lesbian. From funny: “I would be a better lesbian if I left cat food on my porch,” to unsettling: “I would be a better lesbian if uncles had gangbanged me,” Gurba shows readers that even the marginalized can be judgmental. She does not spend time comparing her feelings to flowers or the sunrise, she just blatantly tells readers how she feels. But it made me wonder if readers resist up-front writing like this because it is about uncomfortable topics, or because it is about female topics. I have read and seen plenty of jokes about male genitals and all of the discomfort that comes with having those, but rarely is it okay to make a joke about a smelly vagina. Gurba breezes past this discomfort and just says, this is how it feels to be a woman, or at least how it feels for her. She cannot live up to the expectations that come with any demographic—no one can. Gurba strips away the pretenses and acknowledges her imperfections.
Her writing rips off band-aids and exposes the wounds that society has, but she does not dwell on the pain, she simply laughs it off. Sometimes I laughed with her, other times I cringed. From her short jokes to her long narratives, even if you don’t want to deal with the real issues she is writing about, you can still laugh along with her.
Myriam Gurba is a kickass Long Beach writer, teacher, and speaker. Her non-fiction work is humorous and focuses on issues such as homosexuality and feminism. She is the author of Dahlia Season, which won the Edmund White Award for debut fiction, Menudo & Herb, and A White Girl Named Shaquanda. She has toured with Sister Spit and blogs at lesbrain (WordPress, Twitter, and Instagram), and radarproductions.org