Ah, the gay fiction boom of the mid-eighties to early nineties. Remember that? Remember all those earnest novels of coming out, moving to the big city, having sex for the first time? I do, as I was doing all of those things. Then Borders and Barnes & Noble had a gay fiction section, and A Different Light closed and became a hardware store. I wonder if we are reading less, or we have less of a need for it. I have mixed feelings about it, being a lifelong reader, but many times disappointed in gay fiction. This has led me to questions: Is it my own homophobia, that I can't take gay fiction seriously? Is it that the books are narrow in scope, and don't seem to connect to the world at large, except as a site of opression? IS it just that I feel I'm reading the same story over and over? All of these may be true, but I am currently excited about a new collection of gay fiction that Stinkylulu sent me, Fresh Men 2, New Voices in Gay Fiction, edited by Donald Weise.
I am not saying anything here said that's not said better by Andrew Holleran in his forward, but I am struck by the difference in the tone of these stories. They are still some seeped in the sadness and melancholy that pervades a lot of gay fiction for me--the desire that is just out of reach, desire attained but still unsatisfactory. I think much of that is the psyche of writers--you're not writing a story because you're thrilled with the way things are. That said, what's striking about this collection (and I've only just dipped in) is the breadth of voice. It's new, and wonderful. The writers aren't even all gay--and the stories aren't either, or should I say that they aren't explicit in the way of previous collections I've read. I've read a story about the death of a lover, another about drinking buddies, about an ambi-sexual drugged-up club kid, and another about a straight man's obsession with his roommates pecs. "Manboobs", it's called, and it made me laugh. Not only is the peotic language intriguing, but the straight protagonist, having just been abandonded by his fiancee, becomes obsessed with his new roommates giant pectorals. Throughout the story he just wants to touch them, and ends up working out to try and get them himself. It's an hysterical story about the body and desire, but from an unexpected source.
I suppose what's fascinating about this collection is the variety of voices, and the difference of experience. Since "gay" has become part of the culture in such a way that people writing can now explore outside of the "gay ghetto", and explore a lived experience in the world at large. It just feels less claustrophibic to me, I guess. And that's a great thing. It's why I like the films of I've seen of Eytan Fox , as he positions his characters in a world at large that feels real and lived. Not everyone is part of a larger opressive culture, they are people to degrees accepting of difference, and trying themselves to figure out a place in the world. This is not to say those feelings of shame, closetedness, self-hatred, aren't with us anymore. In fact. some would argue we are still the butt of the joke in a way that's acceptable, but would be offensive to any other minority. ( I personally feel somewhat being able to take the joke, and give it back, is part of acceptance, as it is on any playground) Those feelings of self-hatred are still with us, and as "gay" becomes more accepted we are in danger of forgetting why we grouped together in the first place. I'm hoping that doesn't happen. But this book gives me hope that gay fiction, instead of disappearing, is just becoming something else. That's exciting.