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Justin Hernandez writes about abuse that led to sex work
BOOKS Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Joe Franco

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Justin Hernandez began penning his now popular blog, "Naked in New York City" in 2010 following his return to his hometown after eight years of living and working in Los Angeles. "When I got back to New York I felt that my spirit and energy were recharged," Hernandez told Windy City Times. "I wanted to chronicle my life as a gay man in the City and I found blogging to be a fun and creative outlet for me."

It was his blog and the fans of his blog that drove his first step into writing a memoir, describing not his present-day affairs but his past and those moments that made Hernandez into the man and writer he is today.

The memoir, entitled Inside the Vortex, is as spiraling and elusive as it sounds. From the very beginning, readers are struck with Hernandez's vivid account of the physical and sexual abuse he suffered at the hands of his mother's second husband, Sam. "Of all the characters in the book, Sam is the only one who did not get a name change. No one should ever wish that a child should have to go through that. It was a robbery of my innocence," said Hernandez. "I have made some peace with that experience and realize that having the life that I had has made me exactly who I am today."

Hernandez's book, while revealing, also obfuscates details of his days as a stripper and sex worker that other memoirs of this genre offer—which he does on purpose. "This was not about glorifying the darkest points of my life," Hernandez said. "I really was not thinking. It was more like being on autopilot. I was caught up with the money, admiration and attention from other men and I liked it. I was two different people.

"There was much loneliness even when I felt I had so much attention on me. There is an undercurrent of sadness that runs throughout the book."

Inside the Vortex was written as much for Hernandez's audience as it was written for himself. "When I committed myself to the writing of this memoir, I knew it had to be a no-holds-barred project," Hernandez said. "It allowed me to look back on my life, understand it more and realize that the abuse I suffered as a child led to more addictive personality traits that were out of control while I was in Los Angeles and are still, to some extent still with me."

But this memoir was not to cast the sex worker in any light but was written to let those who may not want that life to find their way out. "There is always a way out," he said. "I wanted to let the LGBTQ youth know that if they felt they had to live like this they do not. They can use the adversity and turn that into pure determination, utilizing their resources and become truly amazing."

Hernandez's life as portrayed in the book seems, at times, dark and immovable. However, there are moments of pure joy that seep through, and it is in that joy that Hernandez found his grace. When Hernandez speaks about his family—particularly his mother, aunts and cousins—the warmth and safety seemed to envelop him. When Hernandez first finds the art of dance, his joy leaps off the page. "Right now, I am the happiest that I have ever been," he said. "I had to confront years of feeling worthless after my abuse but I realized, through my passions of dance and later writing that I was worthy and I was good enough.

"I wanted this book to be a message to others that it is never too late to change anything about yourself. Youth might be celebrated and even worshipped in gay culture while the older men are tossed out and forgotten. But it doesn't matter how old you are. The saying that you can't teach an old dog new tricks—t's just not true."

Hernandez found the writing process both emotionally draining and completely jubilant at the same time: "While I was writing, tears often were running down my eyes." But Hernandez noted, "If anything different had happened to me in my life, I would not be the person that I am today.

Inside the Vortex examines Hernandez's serious side, but there is a second book planned that examines the lighter side of gay life. "Originally I included more anecdotal and humorous dating stories in the memoir but I found they ruined the cadence of the book," he said.

So Hernandez plans on releasing a book that every person, gay or straight, can relate to. "We've all had horrible dating experiences," Hernandez said. "I want this second book to be a little lighter. This book is not only intended to call to mind what was lacking in the men I have dated but also asks the question, what is it that I am bringing to that table?"

Inside the Vortex is available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble's website. The book will be available in print and digitally for Kindle, Nook and all other e-readers.

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