Born in Nova Scotia in 1958, George K Ilsley graduated from Acadia University and Osgoode Hall Law School. He first published short fiction in Queeries: An Anthology of Gay Male Prose. His first collection of edgy gay fiction, Random Acts of Hatred (Arsenal Pulp, 2003), has been followed by ManBug (Arsenal Pulp, 2006), a fragmented and tragicomic exploration of a tempestuous gay relationship between a former entomologist, Sebastian, who has researched the development of pesticides, and Tom, a "spiritual bisexual," who may or may not be recruiting Sebastian for a cult. In this exploration of identity and sexuality, the title ManBug "is a term every student of entommology discovers, in a spontaneous playful moment, generally upon viewing ladybugs in a slightly sexualized context: 'Male ladybug? Shouldn't that be manbug?'" The relationship is complicated by the fact that Sebastian suffers from Asperger's Syndrome (similar to autism). Ilsley explains: "A thread that runs through ManBug is who lives and who dies and who makes the decision. Many of us, for example, do not think twice before we kill an insect. Maybe we'll throw a lobster in the pot. But what else will we kill? Where do we draw the line?"

But mostly this novel is about sexuality, and bi-sexuality. "Tom does not date the kind of gay boys who are determined, silly, aggressive bottoms, overfed and undernourished, maturing into fruition as streaked, puffy, too-tanned, frantic clichés of the sort one is not allowed to mention, it's so embarrassing and so true. The type Tom goes for is sensitive and in transition (in the classical sense, meaning a lifestyle and/or self-concept metamorphosis, but not a gender reassignment). What attracts Tom beyond all reason is a manboy exploring the boundaries of a gentle, proud, fierce, but uncertain masculinity. Young and naive enough to believe in his essential spiritual nature." Ilsley is particularly focussed on the state of being bi-curious. He quotes from a biographer of Alfred Kinsey: "For Kinsey, then, labels such as 'homosexual' and 'heterosexual' did not make sense. People engaged in homosexual acts; they were not homosexuals. Therefore, the only proper use for the word 'homosexual' was as an adjective, not as a noun. Pressing this point vigorously, he declared, 'It would encourage clearer thinking on these matters if persons were not characterized as heterosexual or homosexual, but as individuals who have had certain amounts of heterosexual experience and certain amounts of homosexual experience.'"

Like Kinsey, it would appear Ilsley's design is to encourage clearer thinking about sexuality. Whether or not a novel is the ideal vehicle for his meditations on the subject is a matter for individual readers to decide.


Random Acts of Hatred (Arsenal, 2003). $19.95 1-55152-152-0
ManBug (Arsenal Pulp, 2006). $19.95 1-55152-203-9

[BCBW 2006] "Fiction"