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Department of Sex Ed

Department of Sex Ed

June 2, 2010 | by

Between the sheets with Ignatius Reilly.

The Confederacy of Dunces

Ignatius wasn’t gorgeous. But he was sexual.

My father gave me A Confederacy of Dunces when I was twenty-one. Like most people who have read this book, I fell hard for the protagonist, a waddling, unkempt mammoth toddler with “blue and yellow eyes” and crumbs in his mustache. Unlike most people who have read this book, however, my love for Ignatius involved wanting to be naked with him in my bed.

Until then, I’d always thought of myself as straight. I walked straight and I talked straight. I dated girls, I slept with girls, when I jacked off, I jacked off to girls. I had a girlfriend for ten years, and I loved her. I enjoyed each and every time we fucked. Boys never interested me. Not “cute boys,” anyway, not “handsome men.” The only members of my sex I ever noticed were the stockier set. The jovial ones. That was the word I could live with—jovial: both happy and like some god you might see in a fountain. Every time I passed one on the street I’d think something like, “If that guy was my friend I would probably hug him so much that people would start to wonder if we were gay.”

Reading Confederacy, well, it changed me. I was living in Rome at the time. I was often alone so I was often reading. I was being fascinated by a lot of books. My fascination with this book, however, and with the man in the middle of it. I read it erect. I reread it, erecter. Who in the fuck was this Ignatius? Who was this?

I lusted after this chubby mess of a man until I felt sick in the stomach over it.

One scene, near the beginning of the book, had an especially dizzying effect on me. (I’ve read it hundreds and hundreds of times.) It’s where we find Ignatius practicing a little "self-love" in his bed; an innocent, even saintly, wank to a happier time in his life. He had accessories nearby: a rubber glove, a piece of fabric from a silk umbrella, and a jar of Noxzema:

Ignatius manipulated and concentrated. At last a vision appeared, the familiar figure of the large devoted collie that had been his pet in high school...Ignatius’s eyes dilated, crossed, and closed, and he lay back among his four pillows, hoping that he had some Kleenex in his room.

This is the page where I went fag. The solitude and isolation, the very sadness of it all, didn’t turn me off—on the contrary, it was the hook. Sex scenes had always been filled with gorgeous people. Ignatius wasn’t gorgeous. But he was sexual. I think it must have been the first time, in literature or film or life, when it occurred to me these were two different things. It was loud and clear. I had been fooling myself. I wanted something else from the Ignatiuses of the world. Something if much more than hugs.

Giancarlo DiTrapano is the editor of New York Tyrant, a tri-quarterly literary magazine.




  1. Anthony santelmo jr | June 3, 2010 at 2:29 am

    This is one of my favorite books too !!!!!

  2. Ken Baumann | June 3, 2010 at 2:31 pm

    This is beautiful.

  3. Ryan Scully | June 3, 2010 at 4:37 pm

    You got guts motherfucker! I love it.

  4. Elliotte Jaccobs | June 3, 2010 at 5:31 pm

    Great article!

  5. Ed Allen | June 3, 2010 at 6:29 pm

    True, but The Moviegoer, by Walker Percy, is the better novel.

  6. James Yeh | June 3, 2010 at 7:52 pm

    Nicely done. I especially liked the line, “This is the page where I went fag.”

    I, too, am a fan of this book, though was not similarly seduced.

  7. jesusangelgarcia | June 3, 2010 at 8:52 pm

    Sweet essay, Gian. My girlfriend would love it. She hates my book b/c it reminds her of Confederacy. But ya know… I don’t believe you. I think you’re talkin shit, Mr. Tyrant. Am I wrong?

  8. Steven Augustine | June 4, 2010 at 2:31 am

    I once went on a date with a Big Chief Tablet when I was young, and still in the experimental stages of defiling print, but things didn’t work out.

  9. Steven Augustine | June 4, 2010 at 3:31 am

    PS Like that excerpt from “badbadbad”, Jesus!

  10. derek | June 4, 2010 at 12:25 pm

    Nice. But you lied to me, you said it was the panini guy that turned you fag? Where exactly is that guy again?

  11. jesusangelgarcia | June 4, 2010 at 7:21 pm

    Tante grazie, St. Augustine. See, I told y’all DiTrapano was talkin shit. I know. I’m a professional.

  12. Gian | June 4, 2010 at 7:41 pm


    You have a stupid name. Change it.


  13. jesusangelgarcia | June 5, 2010 at 10:31 pm

    Hey G Love,

    Is that any way to talk to someone to whom you once wrote affectionately: “I’m drunk and what am I saying? I’m sorry, Jesus. Forgive me, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus, for making me gay.”

    That’s you, man, late-night on HTMLG. It’s also why I don’t believe you.

    Now… if you’re honestly saying Ignatius, the panini guy & a 3am online chat with me all “turned you gay,” then perhaps I’m the one who’s confused. If so, brutha, I do apologize.

    Jesus Loves You

  14. jags-girlfriend | June 6, 2010 at 1:37 am

    I don’t think Jesus is Jesus – The true Jesus would be privy to Gian’s most intimate secrets.

  15. jesusangelgarcia | June 6, 2010 at 2:17 pm

    First: is there really a “true” Jesus?

    Next: the true Tyrant dropped me an email last night saying he isn’t the “Gian” in the comments above. (It goes w/out saying that “jags-girlfriend” is not JAG’s girlfriend either. So ya know, there is no “JAG” in the non-fiction world.)

    Last: I’d like to publicly apologize to Mr. DiTrapano. After hearing from him last night, I’m willing to admit that I was misguided in my reading of his piece. I thought he’d written a brilliant satirical confessional. Not hard to believe, I think, given the content of his post. Ultimately, though, I didn’t believe him based on our HTMLG dialogue, which I referenced above, and then there was Derek’s statement, which seemed to underscore my point. I thought Gian saying “so-and-so turned me fag” was perhaps a familiar trope of his, a running joke among his friends. It appears that’s not the case. He wrote me: “I can assure you, I have never written anything more true in my life.” With this understanding, I’d like to reiterate Ryan Scully’s comment: “You got guts, motherfucker.”

    Sincerely… with heartfelt apologies.

  16. Ani Smith | June 6, 2010 at 7:41 pm

    Felt like I wanted to sleep with you before, but now I’m sure of it.

  17. asdf | July 9, 2010 at 11:38 am

    i call bullshit.

  18. Milton | January 18, 2016 at 8:49 pm

    If you liked this novel you need to read ‘A Confederacy of Dunces Cookbook.’ Lots of narrative that explains why Toole wrote what he wrote. Plus good recipes (and definitions) for the New Orleans food Ignatius Reilly keeps talking about.

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  1. […] of the world. Something much more than hugs. – Giancarlo DiTripano on A Confederacy of Dunces at The Paris Review Blog. SHARETHIS.addEntry({ title: "", url: "" […]

  2. […] Falling hard for the hero of A Confederacy of Dunces. […]

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