March 10th, 2016
(written by lawrence krubner, however indented passages are often quotes). You can contact lawrence at: firstname.lastname@example.org
I certainly was aware—and I was aware of this as a reader, and I was aware of this as somebody in the literary community—of this stigma about gay books. And I was also aware of a kind of gap between the generation of these trailblazers like Edmund White and Andrew Holleran, and my generation, in terms of those novels that document gay life at a particular moment. One explanation for that is very obvious: It’s AIDS.
Another explanation for that, though, is, I think, the kind of pressure of this conventional wisdom that I think for a while really did reflect the reality of a market, and then, I think, at a certain point became just a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, which was that if you write a book that is centered on gay lives, it won’t find an audience. And I love that we’re at a moment where—I was just having this talk earlier today with someone who’s considering going to Iowa, who was saying that he’s been hearing from his advisors or from other writers if you write a gay novel it won’t sell—and I love that I can say they’re wrong. It’s just not true.
I would also say that stigma about gay novels, which I do think is often expressed by gay writers who say, “I’m not a gay writer,” or, “This isn’t a gay novel—this might be a novel with gay characters,” or, “I’m a writer who happens to be gay, but that’s not the identity.” I would never want to put any pressure on anyone to identify in any way in any aspect of their lives, but to me it feels kind of desperately urgent to identify as a queer writer, and to say that this is a queer novel. And I think part of that is because of the political moment we’re in.
We’re at this moment where gay people have gotten a kind of mainstream acceptance, and gotten a set of legal rights that was unimaginable even a decade ago. And I think that that’s incredibly important. And I think that marriage equality is incredibly important. And I think the marriage equality battle was important and it’s important that we won it. I also think that it came at a really great cost. And that cost was a marketing campaign that took queer lives and translated them into values that could be appreciated by people who are disgusted by queer people. And that meant presenting one model of queer life, which is a model that looks very much like straight life, which is a monogamous relationship centered on the raising of a child. That’s a beautiful model of human life, and it should be available to queer people. It is not the only model of queer life, and I think it forecloses much of the kind of radical potential in queer life. And that radical potential, I think, inheres in spaces like cruising bathrooms and parks, where the categories by which we organize our lives, like race and class, get scrambled by desire, which is a reason why our culture is so terrified by desire, because it scrambles those things. Without romanticizing those spaces—because they’re spaces in which people are assaulted and robbed and used in instrumental ways—anytime you have face-to-face encounters by human beings across those divides, you have the possibility for a kind of ethical spark that can engage the entire gambit of moral and emotional response. And that seems to me radical.
And if we accept the narrative of queer life that cleanses it—and those are the terms, “dirty” and “clean”—of those spaces and of relationships whose value is not immediately recognizable by mainstream culture, I think we sacrifice too much.
I think for queer writers to say, “This is a queer book. This is a book about queer communities. This is a book that is not going to translate the values of those communities into a mainstream value,” I think that’s important. That’s certainly the work that I want to do.