When I was younger I struggled to published stories about men who loved other men. It was very frustrating because I thought I had something valuable to say, but my words bounced off of publishers who didn’t want books about men who—god forbid—kissed each other or—even worse—overcame obstacles, found magic in the world and realized happiness. I left writing and publishing for awhile because of that. Then, with the birth of the new era of publishing I returned to writing and went back to creating the kind of stories I always wanted to create with the freedom of not having anyone else telling me how I had to do it.
It seems rather hypocritical now that many of those same people who wouldn’t touch the stuff I was writing back then have jumped on this new “gay fiction” trend. Ideas I came up with twenty years ago that I couldn’t sell then are now flooding the marketplace. Stories about men loving men are hot right now. The topic is on fire and seems very interesting to many.
What’s also interesting is that, in many cases, the reasons for interest are superficial ones. Physicality, identity and gender stereotypes abound: all of the things that keep people limited in their experience are the reasons why many people are attracted to the subject. Those are OK subjects to cling to if you want to stay isolated, angry and anti-social, but we’re living in a world full of humans, who, the majority of which, don’t necessarily fit the tiny mold that each of us casts him/herself into. At some point, we have to reach out past what we do in the bedroom or how we define ourselves on insurance forms and touch people (smiling wickedly) where we are similar.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying everyone does this. Some people, like me, just want to read a good story and they love well-developed characters and a forbidden adventure, regardless of all that other garbage. I really don’t care that Yuko in xxxHolic was a woman, That Han Solo was a dude who dug chicks, or that River Tam in Firefly was a freakin’ basket case. All of these characters kicked ass and went beyond human limitations to become examples of something heroic. And the people who understand that concept are the ones I write for.
See, growing up my favorite stories were either fairytales, children’s adventure novels, or those written by writers like John Irving who seemed to care about bigger issues than what someone did with their penis or a vagina. Irving was great because he said shit like: “We invent what we love and what we fear…”; “Just when you begin thinking of yourself as memorable, you run into someone who can't even remember having met you…”; and, “You've got to get obsessed and stay obsessed…” Those were things, I thought, worth saying, because they were things that, if understood, could change a life: any life.
But something very strange started happening to me after I wrote Year of the Bull and was working on Anatomy of a Wish. People started asking me if Anatomy was going to be a, “gay novel.”
That baffled me for two reasons. First: I had spent so many years writing “gay stories” that no one gave a shit about. And second, for years gay people have been begging everyone to take them seriously, to accept them as they are without conditions; and yet, the first thing we do when we demand everything or most things in our lives be labeled as “gay” is set up conditions.
It’s very telling that this stuff is going on in our stories. Because our stories mirror our lives and our values. And if you watch, you can see how those limits are playing out in our world. The isolation and confusion currently affecting people from the labels that we are constantly coming up with is astonishing. The other day I saw someone refer to “the community” as LBGTQ. A friend of mine was confused because they didn’t know what the Q stood for. I had to confess I didn’t know either. But then I wondered how many freaking initials we have to have to divide an already small group? Are there enough letters in the alphabet to classify us by our flavor of hurt that we will ever be satisfied? And when we are finally the LBGTQRSTUVHUNLOPFSCXZAC community will we finally be at peace or further dividing our identities by algebraic equations to keep the separation going?
Recently single again, I went with a friend to a bar the other night for the first time in like ten years. When we were younger she and I went out all the time and we were always baffled by how hard people worked at separating themselves from each other; but now, it’s almost hysterical the limits people are putting on themselves and trying to put on others. People kept asking us if I we were a couple. I would look at them smile and say, “No, I really love men (And I’m pretty good at it.) Is that…um…” *still smiling* “…OK?”
They all crashed because they saw the genuine, non-sexual affection my friend and I had for each other and were confused by it. (They were also confused by the passion I have for loving men: but then, passion seems to be a thing people are afraid of these days.) But let me ask you: If we can’t have affection for each other that goes beyond gender and sex how can we ever expect to find the love we as humans claim to really want?
That same night, a dude we were talking to showed us his sparkly phone case and asked us if it was too gay? Is that even possible? I mean—seriously, do the people who would judge anyone for having a sparkly phone case really matter in anyone’s lives?
I specifically chose to classify my books as “Urban Fantasy” because I wanted people to realize that they weren’t just about “gay people”. Oh yes, men kiss in my books. And some even have sex with each other if it’s important to what’s going on in the story. But there are other characters in my books too. And the new book I’m working on, The Particle, has a lot of characters who really don’t think pride parades are the highlight of the summer.
There comes a point in your life when you really begin to understand the truth of the things you tell yourself as a kid when you’re coming out. Love is Love. People are people. And there should be bigger experiences we try to aim for in art then how we can best label ourselves.
The phrase, “Is it a gay book,” should be outdated. If we can’t reach each other in our stories in ways that illicit romance, enthusiasm, hope and prosperity then we have no business claiming we’re artists. Because those four things are what will bring about the kind of changes we need to see in the world now. If our art stops at gender, sexuality, and identity then we limit ourselves from the truly powerful experiences that awaken us to each other as humans like our ability to come together, heal each other and create unity and wholeness.
Those of you who’ve read Anatomy of a Wish know that I threw a curve ball into the gender thing. That was on purpose. Because I wanted people to start feeling the truth of what they are: that we are something bigger than these bodies we reside in and all the tiny labels we attach to them like travel stickers on a suitcase. The connections we have to other people are more significant and at the same time more fragile than we have ever imagined. And if we really want the things we say we do: love, respect, honor and a deep connectedness to others, at some point we have to stop looking at the superficial flesh and realize that we are something so much more than an “X” or “Y” community. We are vessels for something that could become limitless.