In Review: Blue Movie by Stephan Ferris

Nothing makes a work of art more welcoming to me than a warning label. Like the parental advisories on CDs when I was growing up, warning labels still offer a childlike thrill but also come from a place of mindfulness. Starting off with a subject matter warning, one author’s statement, a publisher’s disclaimer, and a several page statement from the publisher, Blue Movie by Stephan Ferris is four times as inviting than the average book can be. 

The notices are meant to inform the reader that the memoir contains graphic sex and drug use, and maybe it’s not the best book to read during the early stages of one’s recovery. The warnings specifically reference a film called Viral Loads, a modern cult classic which starred the author. Even before the book’s beginning that covers the actor-turned-lawyer’s early queer days, the reader is invited in by the cruisy winks that comes from a warning. 

I’m glad that the book is so mindful, because it’s a text that I think more people to read, especially fellow queers. That mindfulness lives on throughout the text, maintaining a sex-positive mindset no matter what hardships arise from it, using terms like “harm reduction” and embracing its philosophy over traditional 12-step, and U=U, meaning that someone who is “undetectable” cannot transfer the HIV virus. This modernity casts its own shadow, however, and for as modern as Blue Movie is, queer erotica is its backbone. 

Blue Movie depicts a young gay man’s coming of age. Sure, coming-of-age tales are shoved down our throats as soon as we can read chapter books, but queer people didn’t get to grow old for the longest time. Ferris was born at the height of the AIDS crisis. Instead of getting caught up in phony David Copperfield nonsense, we start at one of the most real, vulnerable moments one can share with another: a diagnosis that forced Ferris out of the closet. 

I love a memoir that plays with form. Creative Nonfiction is often defined by backhanded compliments comparing it to another genre. It’s great to be told something is poetic. It’s also nice (albeit cringe) to be told that your CNF “reads like prose.” Blue Movie embraces film, forgoing long chapters and embracing tiny sections called scenes. Each of the 70ish scenes has a song dedicated to it on a playlist Ferris made to accompany the text. 

While I’ve not seen Ferris as an active member of the flash fiction/prose poetry community, he’s got an incredible hold on that form. Each scene balances internality, the overarching story, and many, many scenes of sex and intimacy. This includes but is not limited to unapologetic bottoming, fisting, rimming, rope bondage, filmed sex, and puking on someone’s dick (which happens to the best of us). Ferris is not afraid to take on topics that are taboo even for queer people, including the swastika and Nazism’s role in the kink community, PnP (party and play) with a critical yet empathetic lens, and even an encounter that ends in someone’s death. 

“Queers and faggots are gods among insects. We cannot be crushed, exterminated, locked away in jars. We cannot be assimilated, sanitized, defused. We cannot be cured because there is nothing wrong with us. I know who and what I am. I am a sexual outlaw.”

Ferris’s confidence is such a gift to whoever is reading it. The closest thing I had to a book like this growing up was The Heroine Diaries by Nikki Sixx. Accompanied by a soundtrack written by the Motley Crue songwriter and its own parental advisory, the book was more of a “look what I survived” narrative. Had Blue Movie been available to me as a young queer, I’d instead have been exposed to the critical look that the self, at vices, at men offered by Ferris. These issues that remaining ongoing in his own life, his community, and the wider world. 

Ferris goes on to say, “what is professional? This is my identity crisis.” Even as Ferris grows farther apart from his days acting in porn which sparked controversy across the globe, adulting is hard and Ferris’s honesty makes him more relatable than extraordinary. We’re living in a time where we’re simultaneously being told to “be gay, do crime,” while being under more surveillance than any other period of human history. How exactly do we come of age in a world that seems set on keeping us set in our ways, no matter how harmful they are. 

Instead of preaching different pillars that might generate success for you, Ferris opts to keep us in the moment as the memoir continues to memoir. Ferris becomes an attorney, forms a strong bond with his partner, and navigates the early stages of the pandemic that remains ongoing today. From one health crisis to another, there are no enchantments that nearly tie Blue Movie neatly into a box.  

Advocacy is an unexpected hero in this story. Ferris’s efforts to reduce stigma among those who are living with HIV and/or are sex-positive can be found on almost every page of this book and in his body of work outside the hardcover. Nestled between blissful tales of passionate sex that is both vivid and honest about its circumstances, Ferris calls out different people and organizations that have stigmatized queer, HIV-positive, and/or sex-positive people. Sometimes the call comes from inside the house. 

It’s not just Ferris who takes on the role of advocate in this text. Other protagonists include Ferris’s family: those closest related to him by blood, his extended family, his chosen family, loved ones, and a brotherhood of sexual outlaws. His family is shown constantly choosing love by helping Ferris when it’s needed most. I also appreciated interactions Ferris shares with his mentors. The AIDS epidemic wiped out so many leaders and guides while traumatizing those who’ve survived it. By showing earnest interactions with mentors, Ferris turns the reader into a mentee: “it’s going to be okay,” says the coda of the memoir. 

Today, Ferris is one of many voices amplifying important issues that disproportionately affect queer and trans people. In addition to writing and his legal work, Ferris raises thousands of dollars through AIDS Lifecycle, a nonprofit that has kept queer people alive for decades. Released in late 2022, a time already defined by the mountains of anti-LGTBQIA+ bills being pushed into the system, this book is both a relic and a power-up item for revolutionaries. Blue Movie is proof that there is no set direct path toward any goal and that you do not have to be ashamed of any parts of your past. Just keep going. 

“I am going to be okay,” Ferris repeats as a motif throughout the text, and he never stops showing up, even when he feels like he isn’t. I’d like to start showing up more, too, and Blue Movie is full of reminders as to why I must. I will also be okay. You will be too. The story doesn’t end just because we’ve run out of pages, it’s a movie! Lights can always shine brighter, cameras are capturing more and more frames. Don’t forget about the action, there’s always something (or someone) that needs to be done. 

Eric P. Mueller lives in Alameda, CA. Reading outside, red wine, soft pretzels, and a nice garden are a few of his favorite things. Eric is the Managing Editor of Longleaf Review. His work has appeared in Talking River, WAS, Foglifter, and elsewhere.

Vagabond City Literary Journal

Founded in 2013, we are a literary journal dedicated to publishing outsider literature. We publish art, prose, reviews, and interviews from marginalized creators.