Gay Lit. 102byendthedream©
There is, it is said, nothing more boring than a lecture on why comedy is either funny or unfunny. So here's my version of that joke. This is my attempt at guessing at my mind's viewpoint of gay fiction and fact in a retrospective. What I thought then. What I think, on re-reading these books and re-watching movies I once took to my heart and said, yes, this is who I am.
You should have seen the mental contortions, concerning how to purchase it that I went through when Gordon Merrick's THE LORD WON'T MIND stared me from the paperback rack, in the face and I HAD TO HAVE IT BUT GOD WAS I SCARED. I was working in a large town in Kentucky. I was just on my first job. The bookstore across the street had this very very evil devil inspired book, with an image of a "youngman" (John Rechy word) kneeling, wearing only briefs. Come hither pose. It was difficult as hell to finally work up the courage to buy it. Took about a month. Found the hard cover of it in the library, which gave it, to me, a sort of rightness—if this town's library could have it.... so with something approaching D.T.'s I took the paperback, Avon, to the cash register. Expecting the lightning from the ceiling ball of energy like on an "Outer Limits" episode to come crashing into my head.
She rang up the price and put the book in a sack, and I was on my way. It was one huge deal for me. I tried to like the book. I tried to see something to do with me in there. But I couldn't find it. So as with straight novels, I had to do it again with this book—rewrite the characters and story line as I read it, which can make for pretty confusing reading. But I treasured the book. And gradually as other Merrick books were available at that same gateway to hell bookstore, I got more and more courage. Then when they started stocking "After Dark" I became very courageous. And a few more gay novels like "Something You Do in the Dark" and I was just brave as hell in buying them.
"Something You Do in the Dark" by Daniel Curzon I loved. It was the first gay novel that I thought spoke to me. It had a one line review on the front cover, by Joyce Carol Oates, whose work I had already fallen in love with, which made the book more important to me. It was a scream of rage. A scream of pain. A scream of the horrors of secrecy and the ultimate result of it. I re-read the book last year. It was just awful. It was over-written, melodramatic, uninteresting and just tired me out. I was like, what the hell has happened? Is this the "Lost in Space' syndrome? As a kid, I thought the first season of "Lost In Space" was terrific. I loved and love lots of TV shows from that time in my life. They stand up and are still excellent.
When the summer hiatus came round, I couldn't wait to see the second season of "Lost in Space." So party hats a flutter, the first episode of the new season came on, and it was just horrible. Getting their sea legs. Give them what nobody ever gave me, a chance. Or a fake chance. And the next one and the next one, and the entire season was just awful. I thought well either I matured a lot over the summer or this was just the series now on a downhill slide.
When the Science Fiction channel debuted, its first rerun was the first episode of "Lost in Space" and it was awful. And the second and the third..so I decided on that maturing over the summer thing was the actual problem.
If you watch the movie "Boys In The Band" now, it will rot your teeth out. I couldn't tell the characters apart in the play, because except for the straight character, they are all the same person. Plays do that to me. But never like this. It was one huge weep party. Mart Crowley has since made apologies for the play, that it was of its time and what he believed then. He should not have apologized. This is how he wrote, this is how felt, and it, true, was a massive break through play and film.
A movie I loved when it first came out was "A Very Natural Thing" which was just so right and honest and true and uplifting. So I was happy to finally get the film on videocassette. It includes absolutely everything I hate about the so-called gay life style. Numb who cares how this hurts you? Emotions, here have one or two, they are like M&Ms Now we have proven how deep we are; let's get to the sex. Sex partner after sex partner. Fucking in the baths. Men leaving his wife for his true self, which seemed to be constant sex with whomever possible. Two men ran naked on the beach in the film and it is now so funny watching their penises and balls bobbing along. Then, to me, it was erotic as hell, and served for many masturbation fantasies.
It was Larry Kramer's seventies novel "Faggot" and Hubert Selby, Jr.'s "Last Exit to Brooklyn, and especially John Rechy's "City of Night" and other novels and non-fiction that galvanized me. "Faggots" made me ill, as it was supposed to. Rechy made me realize just how frightening life is, especially the gay life. Which I've never been a part of really and don't want to try it. I've been hurt enough by gay people, thanks anyway. They know where the buttons of pain are and didn't mind pushing them either.
And this little love song: In bars, right before closing, the lights out while men desperately grope to find a partner for the night, then the lights back on, and if you were the one alone—well, that's some liberation, isn't it? Patricia Nell Warren's "The Front Runner" and her other gay novels seem to pin it down; for me, gay fiction is just incredibly difficult to write—there are no parameters or too many—it's either heavy handed or underplayed or ridiculous and just falls down onto your lap in shame---I have done every one of these things myself—through my life, it has left me numb to a lot of things, myopic to a lot of things, which is why I write stories, so I can put the ideas down the way I see them, and not have to rewrite what I believe and turn everything around, including writing about situations and characters who have nothing to do with me. Those I work the hardest on.
"Blueboy" was the bane of my existence because a local bookstore carried it and I thought I had to read it because it was a gay magazine. I was overjoyed when they stopped carrying it. There is in gay fiction and gay fact more than a little danger. Rechy writes of that quite a lot. He was and is a superb writer. But he was also a hustler. Would do whatever for money. Piss on people. Hurt them. And then go back to Texas and write these truly stunning books, especially "The Fourth Angel" and "This Day's Death."
David Elliot's "Listen to the Silence" is an aching, ultimately beautiful novel of intense pain, and Merle Miller's "On Being Different" were novel and article I read over many times. I felt that loneliness, the loss, the being forever considered a freak. BY THOSE WHO KNOW BEST. I knew what that boy was going through and I felt a fresh breeze of cool in a too hot summer when I read "On Being Different." Which quoted from "What I Believe" by E.M. Forster. It was quite a beautiful essay—"if I had to decide between betraying my friend, and betraying my country, I hope I would have the guts to betray my country." I was teaching high school English at the time, found the record of the writer himself reading his essay, played it in class; some students left the room without a word, some returned only after a couple of days. I also played Lenny Bruce records. In that tiny town in the South. I know lots about living dangerously.
The violence in "Blueboy" was unconscionable. As was the violence in so many gay novels. I've read some porn and it's always just filled with knifings and humiliation and fist fucking and half killing people and I think well sure "Cruising," novel and movie were abhorrent. I made it through the novel, but not the movie, which was filled with such horrid violence and the stupid theory, it seems, that homosexuality, is catching, like a disease. But gay writers have been, better or worse, writing stuff like this for forever. Their intelligence is greater; for instance, I love Gore Vidal being interviewed, because his wit and vision and fearlessness are need most desperately now—for God' sake, Gore, stay healthy and alive. Please.
But man is he one dry as dust writer. "City and the Pillar" he added a "happy ending" to that throws the whole book off. He is a meticulous writer and exceedingly good at his craft, but I don't read him anymore. I don't mean this to be what I am afraid it is, a diatribe, it's just gay writers just never threw the ball in my court too often and I was still adrift. One does not become disillusioned over night. One has to have enough experiences, enough years, and has had to have enough. But:
Does this twit like any gay writing? The twit answers in the affirmative. Above all else, I forever love Thomas Mann's "Death in Venice" and Visconti's luminous film of it. They are so beautiful in and of themselves and because I had a great one-sided love then and will always connect Joel with them. It so amazed me, a writer that long ago dead, and he tapped me on the shoulder at the paperback rack at a local store when I was in college, as I picked up the Bantam movie tie-in edition, looked at the back cover and begin weeping. Friends, Randy and Jo, were with me. I put the book back immediately. I would have to buy it when I was alone. I remember Jo putting her hand on my shoulder and asking, "Barry, what in the name of God has happened." And I couldn't tell.
Mann's writing and Visconti's film are about love, and Truman Capote's "Other Voices, Other Rooms" is also, though it has become some what creepy to read, though valiantly written and limpid and beautiful as are all of Capote's works, but love happens little other wise it seems in gay fiction. Not that there are not beautiful stories such as many here on Literotica or other web sites, and it is a medicine to read them. I try, stumble and fall, but I will try again.
And I guess this is the end of this essay. How do you describe comedy without putting everyone to sleep-hey wake up!—and how does a person say what he feels about almost all the gay novels and magazine stories he has read over the years? Well, "After Dark" gave way for me to "The Advocate" and I forced myself through the keyhole till I finally admitted how very sad all of this made me. It was like group counseling and telling everybody how god-awful everything is, but by damn we would be happy one day, and soon.
But face it, being gay, especially today, is terrifying. Gay people want to live and be happy and find love returned and it's as simple as that. Just like everyone else. But there is sadness in being gay and I forced myself to read "Maurice" and I forced myself to struggle though porn of such sickness to get to maybe one paragraph, or one sentence, that made me feel good or say yes this is how I feel, this is how I would say it—it's like a friend and I have discussed-after writing gay stories or any kind of stories, especially ones that turn on a happy note-though I am not what you would call the most happy go lucky person or writer—there is, as for all writers, this sense of let down, that our story is finished and it's been fiction and fantasy and wish fulfillment or bringing up all the pain in our lives that, in my case, will be likely unread by anyone else.
And you just sit there at the computer, feeling like the life has been sucked out of you.
It's how, I suppose, I feel about gay fiction in general. If even its comedy or happy in any way, and this is rare, or if it's just a masturbation story, it goes away—it was all an illusion or a facing up to facts and life you'd rather not know about but need to. Like with the great British movie, "Victim," there is always that knife-edge of violence, of mistrust, of blackmail, of betrayal, and to some extent it will always be. I think when a gay person hits the age of thirty, unless he still looks younger, that is downhill for the rest of his life. Larry Kramer wrote an article about that for "The Advocate" some years ago. And of course everything I've written here are broad swipes and artificial categorization, but then so is much of gay writing. I don't think the panic or the one night stands or the cover stories when really it's the guy to the left of you at the bar, and I don't mean politically or at the bar of justice, is really cute and maybe you can attempt to philosophize him up to your bed, I don't think that in essence regardless of setting or plot, can ever be anything else of a Saturday night and a lonely as hell Sunday morning, but the hold bigoted society has on gays: Let's face it, shallowness hits everywhere there are people. It's a defense I guess. Like something the rest of us should feel guilty about not aspiring to.
We can't equate sex with love because then we will be hurt. " I have no need of friendship, friendship causes pain, its laughter and its loving I disdain.' Simon and Garfunkle. But we need friendship and sex, and maybe gay people can get the sex, but love and friendship are rare commodities for anyone in this world. "Sexual Heretics" was a compilation of gay poetry, stories, and essays from many centuries ago to the present day last century. It is the same compendium of pain and sadness and loneliness. Love hurts. Love means rejection. Love means goodbye. For me. For many people. Regardless of sexuality. I wonder why we even try at all. I mean the odds are astronomical it's going to fuck up, go away, be one sided, tossed away, kindly or unkindly, same thing, it hurts.
The silliest gay novel I've ever read with cardboard cut outs, even sillier than "A Fairy Tale" or "Natural Acts" which seemed to have been group written by propagandists George W. Bush should have hired—I've never read anything so disgusting about two paragons of virtue that would make Christ step out of the way and let them take over, was called "Adrenaline" in which two gay men (Chip and Dale were more realistic) in an apartment, have such wild screaming joyous sex that the cops are called and they are running for their lives.
I just see these writers and other writers now slaving over their Apple or their Mac and writing their hearts out or writing to make a little money at least, for the market, and though writing is a lonely business, it seems more so for the gay writer though even if he has lots of friends and lovers-when the going gets tough, where are these friends and lovers? Ask Google how it was for Lionel Bart.
I remember me on that hot summer day at the book store, I, young, thin, long brown to the shoulder hair, bell bottom jeans, paisley shirt, new and fresh to the adult world, eager to go, trying to work up the courage to buy "The Lord Won't Mind" and finally doing so, taking it to my apartment and reading it so hungrily, I remember thinking I had found home. Man, was I ever stupid. But it was lovely while it lasted. It's Autumn almost, the weather even here is getting cooler, and Autumn is Joel forever and a day. And he is my home.
And I really don't give a damn if the Lord does mind. Who asked him anyway?