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Author Topic: Queer Lit  (Read 6263 times)

berto

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Queer Lit
« on: March 18, 2007, 01:29:44 PM »

I thought I'd start a new thread about queer books. Not necessarily über-serious treatises on What It Means To Be Gay, or whatever, but just a sort of catch-all thread. Books you have read and loved, books you haven't read yet but think might be interesting (such as the one below), light fiction, biographies, novels, fantasy, science fiction, humour -- even short stories. Whatever, as long as it's by a queer and/or about a queer.

I'm not familiar with this Sessums fellow, but this review sounded interesting. For some reason I picture this guy as looking and sounding like that short little actor who had a recurring role as Karen's nemesis on "Will and Grace" -- not that I've watched "W&G" in a long time, mind you, but I did at one point. Anyway, this pint-sized actor had a southern-sounding drawl, and was usually given screamingly funny lines to skewer the "Karen" character, and I used to love episodes that he was on. My favorite put-down by the character was one time he came strolling across this party to the bar, to where Karen was, and drawled, "Ahhh, Karen... I thought I smelled the reek of gin and regret." (I howled. :mrgreen: )

Anyway, I'm prolly waaaaaay off on what this Sessums guy is really like, but that's what this review reminded me of. It sounds like it might be an interesting book, though, so I thought it might do to kick off a "queer lit" thread. Anyone else have any submissions?

Mississippi Sissy by Kevin Sessums:

Quote
Trouble followed Sessums always. At 13, he was molested by a charismatic Billy Graham-like preacher who relied on his profession to cloak suspicions of wrongdoing. At 19, just before he left Mississippi for a new life in Manhattan, Sessums' best friend and mentor, Jackson Daily News arts editor Frank Hains, was bludgeoned to death. It was Sessums who found the body, bound and gagged with silk scarves, and briefly became the prime murder suspect.

Some of the book's chapters are light and bubbly: Sessums warmly remembers the bourbon-fueled party atmosphere at Hains' home where Eudora Welty, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and a Jackson resident, joined a cadre of local wits and theater professionals for bracing repartee.

Other passages in "Mississippi Sissy" leave chills. In 1964, two weeks before his mother's death, Sessums insisted, against his grandmother's wishes, that he dress as a witch for a Halloween carnival. He describes the townsfolk, many of them already disgusted by his "sissy" behavior, looking on in "appalled silence." Provoking that reaction made him feel "powerful," Sessums says...

[...]

The book is tough, frank, even if it sometimes reads like a beautifully phrased pity party. Sessums holds nothing back, even details of his sexual abuse at the hands of the preacher and, on another occasion, by a violent stranger in a movie-theater restroom.

"It upsets me when people say there's so much sex in the book," he says. "Molestation is not sex; it's a physical act that is a perversion of trust." Describing those episodes so graphically was important, he believes, "because a lot of times people abstractly talk about being molested -- because there is so much shame involved in it. I wanted the reader to know exactly what happened and wrench any shame I had left over from its memory by being very specific and very clear."

[...]

Reactions to "Mississippi Sissy" from Sessums' family have been mixed. Brother Kim, 49, a conservative Republican, obstetrician-gynecologist and sculptor, objected to the vivid descriptions of sex with Frank Dowsing, the first African American football star at Mississippi State. Sister Karole, 47, he says, "wrote me a beautiful letter about what the book meant to her and said, 'You brought Mommy and Daddy alive for me.' She has no memories of them at all."

Sessums wells up remembering the words of his sister, who was 4 when their mother died and the three "Sessums orphans," as the local newspaper called them, went to live with their grandparents. He mentions that Karole lives in Vicksburg, Miss., with her female partner of 17 years -- and that their brother has been married to the same woman 29 years.

"I used to say to my shrink, 'Why have my brother and sister had successful, fulfilled personal lives while I've never been able to have a boyfriend that I've lived with. I've never -- I've just had intimacy issues and abandonment issues all my life. I mean, if you want to know why I'm a lonely old homo with a Chihuahua on his lap, just read the book."

The shrink had an answer: "You still don't understand, do you?" he remembers her saying, "You were just old enough to get it. You were blessed that you were smart and sensitive and had a brain and sort of a way to understand this. But they were too young to really understand."

[...]

"I hated being called a sissy," Sessums says. The word marginalized him but, at the same time, he had a mother who told him not to be ashamed but to embrace his uniqueness.

[...]

Most reviewers have liked his book, he reports, but the one review that probably matters the most, in the New York Times, took him apart. It was written by Norah Vincent, author of "Self-Made Man," her chronicle of spending a year in male drag.

"In the realm of worst-childhood one-upmanship," Vincent wrote, "Sessums ... can surely compete." His work should appeal, she snarled, to "voyeuristic trauma gluttons."

"I was very upset by it, for the first couple days," Sessums admits. "But now I've summoned my inner Scarlett, torn the drapes off the windows and made my gown and I'm holdin' my head high. I don't want to sound self-aggrandizing, but one of my best friends said, 'Look, if one frightened, freaked-out teenage gay person finds this book and doesn't kill himself or herself, it's worth any review the New York Times could ever write.'"
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Feral

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« Reply #1 on: March 18, 2007, 05:12:35 PM »

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"I thought I smelled the reek of gin and regret."


OMG is THAT where this line comes from?

It was practically a habitual greeting among some of my co-workers a few restaurants ago. It makes perfect sense of course... the gang were much amused by the show. They could not fathom why I did not watch it. As one of the waitresses once said, "I love Jack. I wish I had a Jack." What could I say? It's a TV show... there is no "Jack." I seriously question whether the young woman in question could survive the attentions of the real-world version of what is being portrayed there for very long.

Anyway...

All the works of Christopher Bram (who has been busy writing while I have not been busy reading). Much to my surprise, I have not read about half of his books (and here I thought I had read them all). At the moment, I am recommending Father of Frankenstein. Indeed, watch "Gods and Monsters" with a masterful performance by Sir Ian, and consider the metaphor of "the monster" as it is employed in each. (I'll not make you write a paper on it :) )

Mr. Bram has a talent for history. Not that dry, fact-ridden history that so many complain about, but the flavor of history.

One can find a great deal of gay literature (and other treasure) at JClark Media's gay and lesbian reading group.
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berto

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« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2007, 10:58:01 AM »

Authors campaign to save Britain's only gay bookshop

(I am aghast... Britain only has *one* gay bookstore?!)

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Authors are campaigning to save the UK's only dedicated gay and lesbian bookshop, threatened with closure because of rising rents and pressure from the internet.

Gay's The Word, which has been selling books in Bloomsbury, central London, since 1979, is hoping to secure its future by raising £20,000 to pay the rent, building a strong internet presence and beefing up community activities.

[...]

American novelist Edmund White, author of A Boy's Own Story, said: "It's a shop that keeps gay titles on the shelves for years in a way no regular bookshop, even one with a gay section, would ever do. The staff know the books and can give advice. It would be very sad to see it go."

Booker-nominated novelist Sarah Waters said: "For me it's more than a bookshop. It was one of those places you went to when you first arrived in London; it had its noticeboard and it was a meeting place. It felt very empowering that it was here and it is still important that there is a visible place for people to go."

Andrew Johnson, a librarian from Birmingham, said while browsing the shelves: "I always make a point of coming here because it stocks such a great range. I'm holding a novel - Armistead Maupin's Further Tales of the City - but in the past I've bought lifestyle titles, non-fiction books. This is one bookshop that covers a multitude of interests." The range of titles, described by manager Jim MacSweeney as everything "from academic studies to trash", includes Sodomy in Early Modern Europe, edited by Tom Betteridge; The Gendering of Men 1600-1750 - The English Phallus, by Thomas A King; and The Clitoral Truth: The Secret World at Your Fingertips, by Rebecca Chalker. Then there's Charles Anders's The Lazy Crossdresser, the favourite title of assistant manager Uli Lenart.


"The Lazy Crossdresser" ... LOL :mrgreen:
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berto

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« Reply #3 on: May 21, 2007, 04:44:59 PM »

Why don't straight people read gay books?

Quote
As a gay man, I actually read very little "gay literature". There isn't that much gay lit published these days, especially since the demise of Gay Men's Press, and anyway I consider myself a citizen of the world, not a member of some exclusive fragment of society called the gay community.

Furthermore, I have no problem relating to the characters in heterosexual fiction: the fundamental desires for love, justice, health and enlightenment are the same whichever camp you're in. Far from putting me off, in fact, that which is different is of interest to me. I don't, in a nutshell, need to read about me. I need to read about you, precisely because you are different.

When I started writing, I wrote mainly about gay characters. Why? To start with, in all fiction there is an autobiographical element which can't be denied, but it honestly struck me that there were aspects of my gay life that were uniquely interesting, funny and sometimes tragic - and I thought that this very difference, this shift of perspective, would be interesting to the residents of straight land.

I first started to realise that heterosexuals were less interested, less open to, or perhaps even embarrassed by my world when a close friend declined to read my book. "Well," he said simply, "I'm not gay."

I accepted his refusal at face value for a while, until the day someone offered me the latest "brilliant" TC Boyle novel, when the full absurdity of his position suddenly dawned on me. It's exactly the same as me passing on Boyle's book on the grounds that "I'm not straight, you see".
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Feral

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« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2007, 12:05:00 AM »

The author might better ask "why don't Gay people read Gay books?" Of course, the answer is that tired old canard about being a 'citizen of the world.'

Get over yourselves, Sweeties -- you are not either.

Funny how this peculiar affectation of reading straight books inevitably precludes reading much of anything Gay.

Quote
I actually read very little "gay literature".


"There isn't that much gay lit published these days?" Just how would a person who reads very little of it know anything of the sort? It would take little trouble to jot down a reading list that would take two years for most people to get through.
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berto

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« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2007, 01:13:58 AM »

"A fresh, clever coming-of-age tale"

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Reviewed By Rebecca Swain
Special to the Sentinel

It's a scene worthy of The O.C.: Boy meets girl. Boy gets drunk and sleeps with girl. Boy has serious regrets in the morning. Oh, and by the way: Boy is gay.

Nico Medina mixes up the high-school drama in his debut novel, The Straight Road to Kylie. It is Jonathan Parish's senior year, and he's proud to finally be out of the closet. But a tequila-fueled lapse in judgment during his friend's birthday party gives rise to the rumor that he's straight and on the market. Uh, hello. That's news to Jonathan -- though it certainly explains why every girl in his Winter Park high school is suddenly trying to snag his attention.

Things get really complicated when popular rich girl Laura makes him an offer he can't refuse: Be her hottie boyfriend for a while, and she will take him to gay icon Kylie Minogue's London concert.

What is a boy to do? Jonathan and his group of best girlfriends don't particularly like witchy Laura's demands, but if it means he gets to meet the fabtastic Kylie Minogue in person, then maybe certain sacrifices must be made. Then Jonathan meets a cute guy from a nearby school, and suddenly staying in the closet is the last thing Jonathan wants to do -- but how else can he see Kylie?
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berto

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« Reply #6 on: July 01, 2007, 10:20:31 PM »

Sean Horlor, unconventional queer poet

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When asked what he believes poets are supposed to look like, Horlor concedes that Vancouver's West Coast sensibilities have probably influenced people's perceptions, so that when they see a poet without a black turtleneck and thick black glasses, not to mention bongos or empty liquor bottles, they get confused.

He goes on to describe how he often gets mistaken as straight and that when people find out that he's gay, let alone a gay poet, it sometimes takes them a few moments to process the information.

[...]

That this gay poet also used to work for Premier Gordon Campbell as a speech writer; or that he used to work at Butchart Gardens and can name all the flowers and plants as he walks down a street; or that he runs half-marathons; or that after partying all night he'd hang out in his tight t-shirt with 80-year-old nuns in Victoria to talk about the lives of Saints—"I came for books, but stayed for the sister-to-sister chats," he says; or the fact that much of this interview took place around the ping-pong table in Horlor's living room can only complicate people's perceptions. (For the record, Horlor is a much better writer than ping-pong player.)

"I think there's sort of a definite expectation for gays to be smarter, be cleverer, be wittier, to be more things to more people," he says. "Most of the time I feel like an actor. How much can I get away with?"

[...]

"There's a gay poet and a poet who is gay," says Horlor. "They don't necessarily have to be exclusive, but there are those two terms. I had to mature personally in order to feel comfortable to write gay themes and realize that I belong to a long gay tradition. I'm proud of the fact that I can walk down the street holding hands with my boyfriend and it's because of the hard work of those people 10, 20, 50 years ago. To pretend not to be a gay writer is a slap in the face of those people."

On his inclusion in the groundbreaking anthology of Canadian gay male poets, Horlor reflects on his years of feeling isolated in the writing department at the University of Victoria, where he was the only male poet, let alone gay one. "I would have loved to have had access to such a book and all its poets. Sometimes I felt like such a unicorn. I hope my work, along with the other contributors, inspires a new generation of poets."
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berto

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« Reply #7 on: July 11, 2007, 12:52:32 PM »

'Taboo' story takes African prize

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The Ugandan writer who won the Caine Prize for African Writing with a story about lesbianism, often a taboo topic in Africa, says she is "very excited".
Monica Arac de Nyeko beat four other finalists to get the $20,000 (£10,000) prize for her story Jambula Tree. It is about a relationship between young girls in a country where homosexuality is illegal.

"I'm not a lesbian but I do think it's a difficult subject, like... writing about Uganda's history," she said.

The Caine Prize, announced in Oxford on Monday night, is considered a major award in African creative writing. Jambula Tree was described as "witty and mischievous" by the judges.

Her publisher Becky Ayebia Clarke said when she first read the story she thought "how brave" Ms Arac de Nyeko was to take on the subject. "In Africa these are not the kind of stories we're allowed to tell. She's taking on a theme that Africans have been in denial about - a theme about same-sex love."

"The Jambula Tree is about the relationship between two young girls in a very complex social setting in a community which does not look kindly at that relationship," Ms Arac de Nyeko told the BBC's Network Africa programme. "It's a combination of struggle and the power to dream and love," she said.

"There are a lot of difficult things that I think we need to talk about and not build walls of huge emotion so that they're almost impassable."
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berto

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« Reply #8 on: July 11, 2007, 03:59:10 PM »

"Desert Hearts" author to receive Order of Canada

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Jane Rule, 76, a writer of lesbian-themed novels, is to be appointed to the Order of Canada, the country's highest civilian honour, in recognition of her lifetime contribution to literature.

Ms Rule has won many awards over the years as a writer, educator, gay rights activist, including the Order of British Colombia 2004.

[...]

In 1964 her first novel Desert of the Heart, a lesbian love story, was published and Ms Rule was publicly outed.  It was made into an award-winning film, Desert Hearts, starring Helen Shaver, in 1985.

In recent years, Ms Rule has opposed gay marriage on the basis that it 'mainstreams' gay and lesbian relationships. "To be forced back into the heterosexual cage of coupledom is not a step forward but a step back into state-imposed definitions of relationships," she told the paper.
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berto

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« Reply #9 on: July 11, 2007, 04:03:55 PM »

Gay poem still contrary to 'law of the land'

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Today marks the 30th anniversary of the day when Denis Lemon was found guilty of committing libel against Christianity. He was the editor of the now defunct but iconic UK newspaper Gay News.

Mary Whitehouse, founder of the National Viewers and Listeners Association, (NVLA) announced her intention to sue in December 1976 after she read the poem entitled The Love Which Cannot Speak Its Name by James Kirkup, published in Gay News.

Denis Lemon was sentenced to nine months suspended imprisonment and fined £500. Publisher Gay News Limited was fined £1,000.

They were represented by creator of Rumpole of the Bailey and defence counsel at the Oz "conspiracy" trial in 1971 John Mortimer QC at the Old Bailey.

An appeal against the conviction was rejected by the House of Lords.

It still 'illegal' to publish the poem in the UK. However, it was published again in two socialist newspapers few days after the original trial the offending poem as a protest against censorship
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Feral

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« Reply #10 on: July 11, 2007, 05:57:25 PM »

Mr. Kirkup's "The Love Which Cannot Speak Its Name" can be read here (should anyone care what all the fuss is about). Seems a nice enough poem to me.
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berto

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« Reply #11 on: July 21, 2007, 04:08:47 PM »

A new anthology of Canadian gay poetry, "Seminal", has been published.

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A new book called Seminal, though, is more my speed. For one thing, it's an anthology of Canadian gay male poetry, the first of its kind, and a major addition to the rather thin shelf of Canadian gay lit.

For another, it ditches some of the most boring bits of the Canuck self-image. No odes on the Canadian Shield or paeans to plucky pioneer women, thank the lord, and where the landscape does appear, as in Daryl Hine's classic "Point Grey" or Robert Finch's "Midsummer," it shimmers with a very subtle sensuality. Beaches aren't just for viewing sunsets here, they're built for boinking.

Not that you need fear too many odes to hardcore bliss. The reliably outrageous Sky Gilbert manages to link anal sex and June Allyson ("I can't believe I got them both in one poem," he says) but, mostly, there's a suspicious lack of indelicacy. In fact, if there's a fault to this collection, it's a rather bizarre, not to say unexpected, lack of lust.

Certainly there's nothing to equal the forthright raunch of Irving Layton's straight classic, "I think of Ovid" ("and the merry twinkle/ in his eyes as he fingerf---- the dressed-to-kill/ matron sitting beside him while her husband....")

If any of these poets are playing porn star, they're keeping it to themselves. The dominant note is one of yearning, pain, distance and a certain wry surrender to the vagaries of human desire.

For a straight reader, the lack of angst, drama and painful recrimination might seem foreign. For the gay reader, it's deeply comforting.
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berto

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« Reply #12 on: July 30, 2007, 12:17:23 PM »

Island in the Storm

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Two years ago, David Leavitt published an essay in the New York Times about the welcome transition from gay fiction to what he termed "post-gay fiction" -- "novels and stories whose authors, rather than making a character's homosexuality the fulcrum on which the plot turns, either take it for granted, look at it as part of something larger or ignore it altogether." Aoibheann Sweeney's first novel is a lovely example of that shift, the striking way in which the issue of sexual orientation can now permeate everything in a novel without overwhelming it or even rising to the surface. Among Other Things, I've Taken Up Smoking is a coming-out novel about a world we don't quite live in yet, a world in which the great dividing line between straight and gay looks as faint as that other once life-and-death demarcation between Protestant and Catholic.

The novel, which comes to us as a series of delicate short stories, is told by a teenager named Miranda, who lives alone with her bookish father on a little island hidden by a thick fog -- "our own dark kingdom," Miranda calls it. You don't have to catch the allusions here to "The Tempest," but part of the novel's considerable charm is how lightly it taps into older, sometimes ancient stories. Miranda's family came to Crab Island off the coast of Maine when she was almost 3; shortly afterward, her mother drowned, presumably a suicide. Since that time, Miranda has led an unusually isolated but contented life, enjoying the sea, leaving their island only when weather permits, and taking responsibility for all the chores around the house that her father can't or won't do. By the time she was 9, she tells us, "My father gave me his watch and told me to go wherever I wanted as long as I was home on time for us to make dinner." When he buys a typewriter, she becomes his secretary and drops out of school to help him with his work.

[...]

The pleasure of this novel stems from Sweeney's gentle balance of comedy and sorrow, the predicaments of an odd girl hurtling through adolescence with little guidance. At times, she writes, "loneliness descended on me like a cold fog," but now and then she manages to go through the motions of "normal" teenage life, gossiping about boys and listening to cosmetics secrets, but it's always like trying to sing along with a melody she can't hear. Her only real friend is Mr. Blackwell, a kindly fisherman who helps maintain their house, often cooks their meals and seems to be her father's lover. The nature of his role, however, remains entirely unmentioned by anyone.

At first blush, this reticence would seem to harken back to the pre-Stonewall days of a love that dare not speak its name, but in fact Sweeney is doing something far more modern. The gay relationships in this novel never become the subject of scandal, are never a source of pride, are never "accepted" in the face of an oppressive straight culture. Among Other Things isn't interested in looking at homosexuality as a socially constructed lifestyle or a biological orientation; in fact, although almost all the characters are gay, the novel doesn't seem interested in looking at homosexuality as a distinct and defining characteristic at all. Instead, Sweeney completely subsumes sexual orientation in a larger process of self-discovery, and with that subtle shift, she has moved from "gay fiction" to "post-gay fiction."
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« Reply #13 on: July 31, 2007, 01:39:40 AM »

Quote
Two years ago, David Leavitt published an essay in the New York Times about the welcome transition from gay fiction to what he termed "post-gay fiction" -- "novels and stories whose authors, rather than making a character's homosexuality the fulcrum on which the plot turns, either take it for granted, look at it as part of something larger or ignore it altogether."
...
At first blush, this reticence would seem to harken back to the pre-Stonewall days of a love that dare not speak its name, but in fact Sweeney is doing something far more modern.


Ummm...no. It's certainly contemporary (in that it recognizably happens all the time), but calling  it "far more modern" suggests that it is some sort of change, even intimating that it is some sort of change for the better. It's neither. It's just the same old closet crap. What this 'reticence' looks like at first blush is pretty much what it is. Mr. Leavitt is mistaken on this point... there is no "post-gay," there is no "shift" to be perceived here. Certainly books with this attitude exist -- they've pretty much always existed.

It is a quite simple matter to write a narrative that excludes a character's homosexuality or relegates it to a matter of trivial insignificance. I, for instance, walked out to an aquarium shop and bought an oranda this afternoon. I could embroider this rather banal tale to include the fact that it was humid, really very hot, and the traffic was lighter than might be expected for a late Monday afternoon. Ho hum. Yes, I have a really very uninteresting life... phrased that way.

I am, of course, neglecting to mention the positively electric blond (three-quarters naked, and perfectly lumpy in all the best places) who stopped his car to ask me directions. I'm omitting, for no real reason, the troupe of tawny twenty-somethings that passed me in the street -- their trousers seem to have been held up only by the curvature of their asses (and no small amount of prayer). I suspect their manner of dress wasn't entirely legal, but I offer no complaints. I completely ignore the fact that the very attentive woman who waited on me at the shop had to draw my attention back to the business of buying a fish when I became hopelessly distracted by a really very beautiful man who was engaged in the serious task of comparing aquarium filters of German manufacture with competing brands of American manufacture. Naturally, after allowing the clerk to discharge her duties without further interruption, a conversation simply HAD to take place about the recent improvements in American filter technology, but how the German firms have always been the leaders in the field and quite likely always will be... as far as quality of operation goes. The almost absurd earnestness of the conversation did not surprise me one bit. It's not like the relative merits of aquarium filter manufacturers are of any Earth-shaking importance... but really, ANY topic of conversation that can persuade a beautiful man to look right into your eyes is quite important.

But... I walked to an aquarium shop and bought an oranda. (It has since been named Squiggle.)

A person can SAY that their orientation is of little import. A novel can be written so that the orientation of it's characters has no importance at all. Saying so does not make it true. Ignoring orientation does not make it go away.

Andy Towle's rendition of the quotation from Mr. Leavitt retains a bit more of it's original context.

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"A gay bookshop (or a gay shelf in a general bookshop) implies that there is such a thing as a gay book. When I started writing, a gay novel, at least, was fairly easy to define. In it the hero or heroine's homosexuality stood by necessity at the dramatic center of the plot. More than that, such a novel presumed that any gay person's homosexuality stood at the center of the plot; that in the paper-rock-scissors game of identity, gay was always the rock...More and more, gay fiction is giving way to post-gay fiction: novels and stories whose authors, rather than making a character's homosexuality the fulcrum on which the plot turns, either take it for granted, look at it as part of something larger or ignore it altogether."


The entire essay can still be read here. The text also appears here.
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vanrozenheim

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« Reply #14 on: July 31, 2007, 05:28:41 PM »

Quote
... in fact, although almost all the characters are gay, the novel doesn't seem interested in looking at homosexuality as a distinct and defining characteristic at all.


Oh yes, I see.  :roll:  I can very well imagine that for a single person who happens be an asexual, sexuality isn't an issue at all. But it's hard to imagine any group of healthy people in normal circumstances, where "almost all the characters are gay," with sexuality being excluded in a natural way. No, she avoids discussion of such things on purpose - attempting to have it both ways (aiming Gay and straight readers).

A close look on the story will give you an example of how insane such an undertaking is:

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Miranda's family came to Crab Island off the coast of Maine when she was almost 3; shortly afterward, her mother drowned, presumably a suicide.


Well, considering homosexuality of Miranda's father isn't supposed to be an issue at all, guess why the poor woman went into water. In a literary work, an author can either tickle important issues of life and death, or waste his/her talents on extensive description of irrelevant neglibilities. The question arises, who is interested in wasting his/her lifetime with reading such irrelevant stuff?
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