A New Gay Manifesto (essay), Alan Semrow

A New Gay Manifesto

 

When I look at the more recent successes in the gay human rights campaign, I can’t help but feel a sense of pride. We have come far since the times of Oscar Wilde. Since the times of Harvey Milk. Things have changed. In many states, same-sex couples can marry. Anti-discrimination laws have been enacted to a great extent. Things have changed. It’s certainly cause for celebration, but there still are miles and miles and miles to go.

I really do think that same-sex marriage will be passed in every state by the end of my lifetime. For this reason, I do feel a tremendous sense of optimism, but it also makes me wonder how the internalized homophobia still harbored by many will ultimately be dismantled. Recently, I watched a few segments from the 2014 GLAAD awards. Presenters and recipients including Ellen Page, Laverne Cox, and Jennifer Lopez took the stage and made moving speeches on not only the importance of acceptance, but the important of celebration. The lives of LGBT members need not only just be tolerated, but be celebrated, because celebration of different people is, in at least my opinion, part of what life is truly all about.

I look at my struggles as a closeted boy in high school; depressed, looking for meaning, feeing self-conscious and sorry for myself. And then I look at the LGBT men and women I have talked to, had relationships with, read articles and books by. We all still suffer. It is in my opinion that the vast majority of LGBT members come up in the world with the sort of aforementioned self-consciousness instilled within them. In fact, the words of my father have always rung hauntingly true for me. As a child, he consistently told me, “Alan, what you have to do is go to school, get a job, get a house, find a girl, marry, and then have children.” We grow up in households with parents who do expect us, whether they support LGBT people or not, to go to school and marry and raise a family. As a young child, of course, I took this all so very seriously. I also took seriously the derogatory comments being flung around at family reunions and by bullies in my school.

No one is expected to be gay.

As trite as it may sound, the former statement always reminds me of this scene in the film The Family Stone. Sarah Jessica Parker’s uptight, New Yorker character confronts the ill mother of a gay son played by Diane Keaton and says, “You didn’t really want a gay son, did you?” The Diane Keaton character becomes totally defensive and fights for the feelings of her son. While viewing this, I felt a sense of humanity. I saw a mother who was proud of her gay son, but, ultimately, it is worth noting that surely Keaton’s character did not raise her son with the expectation that he was meant to be gay.

This is where the upbringing of LGBT members really suffers. Unlike women or people of color, LGBT members are not brought up in a family that instills a sense of familiarity that coincides with their minority status. A black boy is raised, unless adopted, in a black home. A girl is generally raised in a family with a mother figure. This differs from, say, a gay boy who grows up in a family with no sort of role model that echoes his sexual inclinations.

Many might ask if I’m simply saying to raise all of our children gay.

This isn’t the point. The point is that the bigotry that continues to echo through society causes the unawareness that parents still suffer. This ultimately affects the ego of the LGBT member as they comes of age.

Celebration. I’ll continue going back to this word, because I really was affected by the words of the different speakers at this year’s GLAAD awards. A producer of the outstanding documentary film Bridegroom accepted an award and stated that tolerance is simply not enough. She then used to word celebration to label what the views held toward LGBT people should really be like. And I’m not saying life is not currently a celebration of sorts for me, but, growing up, it never was.

As a young gay boy, I really did seclude myself. Even through high school, I rarely spoke of my private life even with friends, because all my private life ended up being for me was a combination of my creative life and my overwhelming depression, guilt, and shame. After publicly coming out, I really do feel that I changed overnight and I can’t emphasize that enough, because truly I woke up the morning after coming out as a totally different person than the young man who woke prior to coming out. The sense of shame was almost fully lifted. The self-consciousness dwindled. The guilt remained in some ways, but it surely lessoned. For the first time in maybe all of my life, I truly felt loved and accepted. But why did it take me until the age of 21 to actually feel this way? Was it my parents’ fault?

I’d hate to go that far, because I think that is extremely reductive to two people who truly always worked their hardest for my sister and me. Without a doubt, I do believe that I always had love within my household. The fact of the matter is, however, that I grew up in a straight home, where, no matter what, I would never be fully accepted until coming out and saying, “If you have a problem with it, then that’s your problem.”

After coming out, my life did become a celebration. My relationships changed. My love life changed. My creative life changed. My goals changed. For about a year now, I’ve had explicit conversations with close friends of mine that have set all the bullshit aside and gotten to the point. Very recently, I made a comment to a couple of friends of mine, Taylor and Claire. I said, “I mean, it’s true you guys liked me more after I came out.” Not surprisingly, the two of them balked at the idea, but I simply rolled my eyes and made them elaborate.

Claire said, “The truth is that you just became more comfortable in your own body and, therefore, were more open with us.”

Taylor added, “That’s why our friendship blossomed as much as it did. Before, you were hiding and now you’re not. After you came out, you became your full self.”

I didn’t disagree with any of these comments. In fact, I embraced them, because I knew my friends were stating the truth. After coming out, I certainly became more confident in my life. I was able to sit down and really look at the things I had accomplished and the many people that I had had relationships with up to that point. It was a life to finally be proud of, but it was also a life that was really only beginning. I was starting over. I was ridding myself of the spectrum of self-hatred that I had been carrying with me like a dead horse throughout my life. That boy who kept a private life in high school soon became a blossoming personality who had no qualms about talking about gay sex and gay relationships; who had no problem wearing tight pants to class and exuding a vibe that simply said, yeah, I’m a homosexual. Pride. I fully embraced pride.

In today’s world, I really don’t see any gay people who are speaking directly to an audience with my generation in mind and, for that reason, I really don’t know where we will be as my generation comes into full bloom. Right now, the LGBT generations before me are certainly displaying gay themes in the media. In fact, I think right now is probably the most fruitful time in media for LGBT people. Since my birth, literary novels by gay authors like Dennis Cooper, Michael Cunningham, Jamie O’Neill, and Augsten Burroughs have been praised for their portrayal of gay men. Of course, in reading these novels I do feel a sense of acceptance and happiness for the overwhelming popularity that these authors have gained. However, all of these authors are from a totally separate generation than I am. As times change, we need more and more spokespersons who address issues in the LGBT community. Right now, we don’t have anyone really speaking to my generation. We only have people from previous generations speaking to my generation and I find fault in this, because even I sometimes find it hard to relate to the amazing works by Michael Cunningham.

Another area in the media where LGBT members are getting more and more screen time is in film and TV. Right now, I think TV is far ahead of film in their portrayal of gay issues. This all started in 2000 with “Queer as Folk”on Showtime and has continued into the present with shows like HBO’s “Looking” or the new cable show, “The Fosters.” Even with network shows like “Modern Family,” the general public is consistently being witness to television shows that feature a broad spectrum of characters that represent different parts of our society. With film, however, things are different. I look at pictures that have crossed over into the mainstream like Far from Heaven, A Single Man, and the ever-popular Brokeback Mountain. Truth is, these films started out as indie films and just happened to cross over. I like to the cite the story behind the Liberace biopic, Behind the Candelabra, to really bring this point home. I recently read an interview with the director, Steven Soderbergh, who really is a huge name in the film industry. In the interview, he stated that his picture was meant for the big screen, but all of the production houses rejected it and labelled as too gay. For this reason, it was released as a TV movie on HBO. Producers are still hesitant to make a big budget film featuring gay men. It’s a shame. And it’s discrimination. Until this changes, the internalized homophobia that I still feel is prevalent in our society will continue.

Very often, I’ll read statements made by members of the LGBT community and straight allies that address gay rights and gay struggles. A lot of the time, members of the community will say things like gay people are no different than straight people. These kinds of quotes remind me of a time two years ago when I had a conversation with my dad’s cousin at a family reunion. She was speaking to me about her gay son. She said, “The only thing different between his life and my life is his sex life. And he doesn’t want to hear about my sex life and I don’t want to hear about his, but there is no reason not to accept him.” Though my dad’s cousin’s head and heart were certainly in the right place, I really do find fault in this statement.

Truth is, my life is so incredibly different than the lives of the straight people around me.

It’s not only my sex life that is different. My goals are different. My views are different. The possibilities that I can attain in my life are different. My stigmas are different. My persona is way different. My rights are different. The way I go about my everyday life is so different.

Gay life is so different.

Going back to the comments made by the speakers at the GLAAD awards; they all said, in their own ways, that we need to celebrate these differences. And we do, because they may just present a new way of looking at things that differs greatly from the way our heterocentric society still does. In the 1970s, this sort of sentiment would have gone over very well. I always look back at the 1970 political writing by Carl Whitman entitled “A Gay Manifesto” which almost fully coincides with the points I am trying to make about differences. In the essay, Whitman states, “Gay people must stop gauging their self respect by how well they mimic straight marriages.” During a time post-Stonewall, this kind of comment came as a breath of fresh air. Today, however, I think many gay men would take this sort of sentiment for granted. In my opinion, we’ve almost started to fall behind and have lost the liberating aspect of our gay society. In my day to day life, I do live in a state of pseudo-celebration. I have a lot of things to be thankful for and I’m fairly happy with my life as a gay man in society. I know my place and I am, more or less, alright with the differences that I have with my predominantly straight friendship circle. However, I look at a lot of the gay men around me and no longer does it seem that our stories are being told. That our differences are being laid out. That our pride is being exemplified in the explicit way it should be.

Whitman also makes another interesting comment in his essay about forging an identity within the gay community: “We have to define for ourselves a new pluralistic, role free social structure for ourselves. It must contain both the freedom and physical space for people to live alone, live together for a while, live together for a long time, either as couples or in the larger numbers; and the ability to flow easily from one of these states to another as our needs change. Liberation for gay people is defining for ourselves how and with whom we live, instead of measuring our relationship in comparison to straight ones, with straight values.”

For me, I can almost relate to this sort of call for action more than any others I read today and this really has to do with the fact that not as many gay political writings are really covering the aspects of celebrating and forging differences today. No, we are in a place where, for some reason, we feel our differences are clear and it’s all laid out and it’s only up to Congress and the government to now champion our cause.

It doesn’t work this way. It only hinders us and enables the parents who are unknowingly bringing up a gay son to dismiss the idea that he could ever be a homosexual. Internalized homophobia still exists. Right now, it is still about demolishing the internalized feelings in the parents who are raising that gay son. The only way they can truly protect him is through leaving every possibility open.

Imagine this, the couple sits down with their son and says, “Son, this is what you have to do. You have to go to school, find a job, buy a house, and find a man or a woman you love.” This is where we need to be right now. That child will not grow up with the self-hatred that many LGBT members still grow up with.

Currently, it seems the gay community is somewhat unaware of this. Right now, we’ve come so far with human rights that we’re only taking it for granted. The philosophies established during the post-Stonewall times when gay liberation was at its height are no longer of interest to the gay community and that’s a shame because, to me, they are all relevant to our times. I’ve talked to many gay people who do not even know what Stonewall was. They do now even know what had to happen in order to make gay liberation begin. They’re clueless as to who the great gay activist Larry Kramer is. So it goes, all of the statements and calls to action made by people like Carl Whitman have been lost. We’re only riding on the past, but, soon enough, the ride is going to end all together if we don’t continue shouting.

It’s time to focus back on those times when being different was really about establishing a different way of life, living it, and showing the heterocentric culture that this way of life works too. A way of life that demonstrated that we will celebrate ourselves even if you don’t, but we’re sure you’ll come along to appreciate it. It needs to be about forging ahead with the sort of spunk that the activists during the gay liberation in the 70s took up so readily. It needs to be about ingraining even a new and improved identity for gay people. It needs to be about differences and it needs to be about the celebration of these differences, because, without the celebration, we are boung to forget how important and special we are as a community.

It’s important to not stop being vocal. It’s important to continue writing about these things. It’s important to speak with our straight friends about our lives and our stories, because, once they know them and appreciate them, their views will change and, because of that, the acceptance toward every new LGBT child in the world will be overwhelmingly different than the beginnings of people in my generation.

Currently, I’m finishing up my undergrad at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. This small city basically echoes the god-fearing, conservative attitude that was held amongst the residents of the small town I grew up in. For this reason, the gay community up here really just sucks. Honestly, it’s so quiet and so small. I meet people all the time who are still living in the closet, who still spend their nights alone, who are still afraid to have a same-sex relationship or, god forbid, be seen in public kissing a person of the same sex. I witness hatred and infighting amongst the homosexuals around here. I witness shame and guilt and self-consciousness. I’ve talked to a lot of gay people in this college town and, though we all have entirely different stories and upbringings, I can almost always see where our own inner self-hatred once stemmed from. It stemmed from a heteronormative upbringing that didn’t allow us to be who we were. Of course, many of us have conquered our horrendous self-esteem issues, but many of us still continue to allow ourselves to sit in a bind that prevents us from really making a statement. I mean, I think it’s absolutely wonderful that we have our Gender & Sexuality Alliance group up here. That group certainly works for our rights as students, but, as individuals, what are we all doing to make an impact and to continue on with the legacy that was laid down upon us by the men who had the balls to stand up and shout?

It’s still time to live loud, which, of course, we do during Pride Fest and events like that, but let’s talk about how difficult it is to get a book published featuring two gay men. Let’s talk about how every film nominated at this year’s Academy Awards lacked a gay character. Let’s discuss these things. And let’s continue with the sort of sensibilities that were laid down by our gay forefathers. The one’s that said come out, be proud, laugh, have sex, have fun, and talk. Times are changing and we have to change with them, but we also cannot dismiss the great people who have brought us to this place as a community.

“Gay Through Time: A Chronological Look at Gay Literature” (essay), Alan Semrow

Gay Through Time: A Chronological Look at Gay Literature

 

Throughout history, gay literature has suffered perhaps the most tumultuous literary story. From the beginnings featuring inconspicuous players like Plato, Shakespeare, and Proust to the more current times featuring the more explicit Vidal, Isherwood, Kramer, and Cunningham, the gay literary movement has changed with the changing times. In fact, looking back on the literary movement is almost just like looking back on the history of the gay movement. It all changes with the times. Starting with the inconspicuous words by the ancient Greeks up to the explicit and transgressive words by writers like Dennis Cooper, Michael Cunningham, and Alison Bechdel, it’s evident that with more and more successes in gay rights comes more and more works that act to tell the truth of the gay lifestyle.

It’s appropriate to begin with a definition of gay literature, because the genre is an area of contention in the literary world. Over the past year, I have studied in deep detail various pieces of fiction, political writings, and essays that make up the gay canon. Through my research, I have come to the conclusion that gay literature is any text that can be deemed socially important or of literary value which features homosexual themes, homoerotic undertones, and/or gay or bisexual male protagonists or (in some cases) supporting characters. The lines do get muddied, however. Though a work like Nightwood by Djuna Barnes is often considered to be a work that concentrates on the sexuality of two females, it is often grouped into the genre of “gay lit.” This is where the umbrella term “queer lit” comes into play. This term is broader in scope and encapsulates all works with LGBT themes. However, when looking at the area of “queer lit,” it is easy to deconstruct the different areas of it, which all have an entirely different history and set of influential works from what they are based. For instance, the “lesbian literature” tradition has a different history and place in the present moment than, say, “gay literature.” Each movement stems from differing preeminent texts and lie in a different spectrum within the literary world. It is evident that it often becomes a muddy situation when trying to distinguish what makes something “gay lit” or “lesbian lit” or “transgender lit” and, therefore, each sect of “queer lit” really deserves its own critical essay. My focus will be on “gay lit.”

It is also worth noting that many writers who receive the label of “gay author” immediately reject it. Armistread Maupin and Jeanette Winterson have been particularly opponents of the label of “gay author.” Many authors of works that have been grouped into the “queer lit” canon have argued that their works are for everyone and that making the distinction between “queer lit” and “heterosexual lit” is reductive and unproductive. On her official sit, Winterson argues why she does not feel her successful novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit to be a “lesbian novel.” She writes, “I’ve never understood why straight fiction is supposed to be for everyone, but anything with a gay character or that includes gay experience is only for queers.” Winterson believes that it is important for works featuring gay characters to be just as integrated into society as works that primarily feature straight characters. This statement does make sense. For me, it brings my mind to the current human rights movement. With human rights, the objective is not to point out the differences between homosexual and heterosexual people, but to embrace the similarities. Maupin establishes a point in a 2000 interview with the New York Times that is not as cut-and-dry as Winterson’s view. Maupin says, “I don’t mind being cross-shelved. I’m very proud of being in the gay and lesbian section, but I don’t want to be told that I can’t sit up in the front of the book store with the straight, white writers.” I align more with Maupin’s point of view, because he does believe in distinguishing the differences between homosexual literature and heterosexual literature, but also, like Winterson, believes in the integration of certain genres of literature. The pride that Maupin takes in being featured in the gay and lesbian section at the bookstore aligns very well with the pride that homosexual people often take in their lifestyle. The fact of the matter is that, yes, the homosexual community is different than the heterosexual community, but that does not mean that the two different sectors in our population are polar opposites.

By historical terms, it is difficult to trace when exactly writers began writing about homosexual themes. Fortunately, there are many texts that offer a scope as to when homosexual writings began. First and foremost, it is always worth mentioning Greek mythology. Detailed in these fantastical stories are anecdotes about various Greek gods and the men they attracted. Though these works do not overtly speak of homosexual sex, they offer a beginning to writings about the topic. Often, in any sort of queer lit course, Greek mythology will be the first area that will be covered. The Book of Samuel in the Bible also offers an early example of homosexual writing. Though also not overt and quite controversial, the story about Jonathan and David has often been interpreted as being about the love between two men. Plato’s Symposium is also an early example of homosexual writing. Between 385-380 BCE, Plato set about writing his classic work, Symposium. Detailed within the work were several meditations on homosexuality. It’s interesting to note that this piece has hardly aged with time. Plato’s observations on homosexuality align almost perfectly with the current, dominating view: homosexuality is natural.

Fast forward several hundred years to the times of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. Both playwrights/poets have been cited as being extremely influential to current gay literature. During the 1500s, sodomy laws began to become enacted and the church really came down on relations between men. These rulings can now be seen as incredibly hypocritical, because, only a few hundred years early, several Roman and Greek emperors had had public affairs with men. These church laws absolutely affected the way relations between men could be talked about through literature and, therefore, caused any writer who wanted to write about these topics to basically conceal them in metaphor or through masking. Though Marlowe and Shakespeare’s works are often read today with a queer eye, during their time of production, they were often represented and interpreted through a heterosexual lens. Marlowe’s Edward II could surely be read as a text with both heterosexual and homosexual undertones. It details a relationship between two men. During the late 1500s, it can certainly be deduced that this was seen as a platonic friendship between. By today’s standards, however, many read this play as being about the romantic attraction between two homosexuals. The same thing goes for Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. The play details a relationship that could be taken as either heterosexual or homosexual. Through today’s lens, many read it as homosexual. The same sort of lens can be used when looking at Shakespeare’s Othello, The Winter’s Tale, and Two Gentlemen of Verona. Current readings of Shakespeare’s various Love Sonnets also offer the argument that these poems are predominantly gay and were written to males. These current rendering may have something to do with the fact that there is certainly evidence of the fact that both Marlowe and Shakespeare were homosexuals.

In the mid to late 1800’s, Walt Whitman and Oscar Wilde came to prominence and instilled an everlasting influence on not only gay literature, but the gay community. Both men, in different ways, were seen as revolutionary for their works and views. Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass was first published in 1855. This is work is seen by many as his masterpiece. For obvious reasons, Whitman has been incredibly influential to American literature, but, in many ways, he has also been seen as particularly important to gay authors. Whitman, himself a homosexual, has been cited as a huge influence by gay literary luminaries like Allen Ginsberg and Michael Cunningham. Leaves of Grass contains a chapter called “Calamus.” Several of the poems in the chapter Speak explicitly of comradeship, the embrace of men, and brotherly love. By today’s standards, it really is the first of its kind to really speak in depth of the natural act of love between men.

Also influential during this period of time was Oscar Wilde. Of course, many tend to focus on his personal life when taking a look at his impact on both the gay community and gay literature. In 1895, Wilde was put on trial for “gross indecency,” a term that, by today’s standards, would mean homosexual sex. The trial was very public and caused a decent amount of outcry from both sides. In his testimony, Wilde refused to apologize for his love affairs with men and, afterwards, was imprisoned. In a lot of ways, Oscar Wilde soon became a poster child of sorts for homosexuals at the time. His refusal to feel shame for his sexual preferences and his often times garish way of dressing led signaled a coming movement with terms to homosexual rights. During his lifetime, Wilde published and produced many types of art. Gay anthologies almost always feature his testimony at his trial. In addition, some queer literary scholars often site his works The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890) and “De Profundis” (1897) as primarily homosexual texts. Some also argues the merits of including Dorian Gray in the canon. Scholars have stated that many people tend to put the face to the title and deduce that it is homosexual. Surely, Dorian Gray does feature it’s fair share of homoerotic undertones; however, it is his work “De Profundis,” an epistolary work written from his prison cell to Lord Alfred Douglas, his former lover, which features the highest amount of homosexual themes. In the work, Wilde meditates on love between men, desire, passion, art, and philosophy. This epistolary piece has become a go-to in gay studies.

During World War I, homosexual literature remained in almost the same place it had been in pre-War. Few risks were being taken, because, as evident from the Wilde trials, there were consequences. Of course, during the period of the war, many political activists began writing on the subject of homosexuality, protesting the injustices done to people like Oscar Wilde, few authors wrote of the subject. Here, I introduce two of the few writers who took a risk during the time: Thomas Mann and Marcel Proust. Mann, first and foremost, has been praised for the effect that his only overtly homosexual text, Death In Venice (1912), has had on the genre of gay lit. To this day, the German novella hits the top of almost every list titled to the effect of “Essential Gay Lit.” Many consider this work to be the first explicitly fictitious account of a gay man. The story details an aging gay man in Venice who becomes obsessed with a young man while vacationing. By the end of his stay, he becomes ill and dies while watching the boy over a weeklong vacation.

Marcel Proust is also cited as being a major influence in gay lit. His seven-volume French novel, In Search of Lost Time (1913-1927), details several questions relating to homosexuality. In America, it is also worth mentioning that Willa Cather began writing. Her works (particularly “Paul’s Case” (1905), today, are often read with a queer eye and are interpreted as being about young homosexuals.

As the Modernist movement came to fruition after the war, homosexual themes began to become more and more prominent in literary texts, especially in Europe. The Modernist movement signaled a change in the philosophy of art during post-war times. Many writers of the time like Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway, 1925), DH Lawrence (Women in Love, 1920), Nella Larsen (Passing, 1929), and Djuna Barnes (Nightwood, 1936) argued for full creative expression, which meant the ability to write about issues revolving around sexuality, gender, and race. All of these issues are taken up the former works. In addition to Woolf, Lawrence, and Barnes, EM Forster began to forge ahead with his successful career during the post-war times. A homosexual himself, Forster began to pen one of the most cited gay pieces of fiction in history, Maurice, in 1913. At the time of writing and throughout his life, Forster remained fairly closeted. The only people who knew of his homosexuality were close friends and lovers. Out of shame, Forster refused to have this preeminent homosexual text, which details the coming out process of a young English boy, until after his death. The book was not published until 1971.

It is also worth noting Jean Genet, who, also during this time, wrote his French masterwork, Our Lady of the Flowers in 1943. Genet wrote the work during one of his many stays in prison. Flowers explicitly details a relationship between a homosexual man and a drag queen. Genet wrote the work as a meditation on masturbation. Story goes that Genet felt incredibly sexually repressed in prison and wrote to stimulate himself. The text of Our Lady of the Flowers proves this to be true, for it is incredibly transgressive for the time and stands as one of the first books to meditate on the sexuality of gay or transgendered people.

In addition, it is also important to mention that gay pulps and gay comics began to become popular during the latter half of the war. Many gay men called for more explicitly told stories about gay sex. These cheaply-produced underground texts began to be produced in the 1930’s and later took off, cashing in on themes of pornography, politics, and love.

In the times of World War II and Post-War/Depression era, the gay literary movement truly began to take off. One of the first primary figures of the time was Gore Vidal. Vidal, a pseudo-closeted homosexual throughout his life, published his very controversial work The City & the Pillar in 1948. This work is important in many ways. First of all, it is the first piece of literature to actually portray a sex scene between two men. It is a love story, but ends tragically. This work is also important, because it signals a shift in the way homosexual stories are told. Vidal does not hold back in the text and feels no barriers when attempting to suggest the truth about the American homosexual man. Of course, during this time, there remained wary authors who were afraid to explicitly detail a story about a homosexual man, Vidal signaled the beginning.

James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room and Allen Ginsberg’s poem “Howl”followed in 1956. In comparison, Baldwin’s novel was by far much more tame than Ginsberg’s masterpiece, the publication of which followed in a censorship trial, but both works are almost always canonized when looking at gay lit. Another key figure of the time was Truman Capote, who was well-known as a flamboyant, homosexual man. His novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s, though certainly about a homosexual man and his platonic relationship with the infamous Holly Golightly became a smash hit in 1958. Capote never does write the word “gay” or “homosexual” in the novels, but shadows it with literary devices which allude to this truth. Some scholars see that as a tactic to appeal to both a heterosexual and homosexual audience. This piece of information does showcase how it still remained a risk in the late-50’s to speak of homosexual men in literature.

Other primary gay authors of the time were William Burroughs, John Rechy, and Christopher Isherwood. Burroughs, who was part of the Beat Generation, with the like of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac, developed a sensibility with his comrades to not “hide the madness.” This philosophy become all to explicitly clear with his groundbreaking work, Naked Lunch (1959), which also, as was with the case with Ginsberg’s “Howl,” suffered through an obscenity trial. Rechy’s City of Night (1963), which detailed the life of a semi-autobiographical gay hustler and his trysts in various cities, was almost equally as controversial. Also, during this period of time, Christopher Isherwood came to prominence as a gay author. In 1939, he published Goodbye to Berlin which contained a wealth of homosexual themes and a particularly infamous semi-autobiographical story of the platonic relationship between a gay man and a salacious woman, Sally Bowles. This novel began a prolific career for Isherwood, which resulted in many influential gay texts, including 1969’s A Single Man. This Post-World War II period signaled a major shift in gay literature. As certain gay authors rose to literary prominence, more and more leniency began to be enacted when looking at texts that establish gay characters and themes. It’s important to note that many of these authors were also in correspondence with each other during the time. Capote, Vidal, Ginsberg, Burroughs, and Isherwood all came to know each other, fight each other, promote each other, and give feedback to each other. A community was set in motion which indicated a new era in gay rights. This shift in politics would really take off once the final straw was drawn during the Stonewall riots in 1969.

Throughout the 1960’s, police often raided several establishments popular to members of the LGBT community. The people of the community would be kicked out and, often times, arrested. Arrested, basically, for trying to have fun in a heterocentric world. These injustices would start to come to an end in 1969, when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay and transgender establishment. Unfortunately for the police, the attendees had had enough of unfairness done upon them. They fought back and a riot ensued. This riot would become the major the event that would, in full force, begin the gay rights movement. Many writers turned to political writings to install a new gay philosophy of sorts. Carl Whitman, famous for his essay, “The Gay Manifesto,” would instill that gay men must celebrate their differences and make them known to the public. Gay men must come out. They must have sex. They must be loud. Soon, life for gay men became a huge party. Along with this party came a boom in gay literature. Beginning in 1970 with Gordon Merrick’s rarely anthologized, The Lord Won’t Mind, gay literature got a new, more commercial face. This work, in particular, is praised for providing that does not end in detriment or death for a gay character. It reads like the typical romance novel, but with two male characters. It does not necessarily have literary merit, but it does represent a shift in the view of gay literature. The Lord Won’t Mind was very successful and was followed by mainstream novels like Tales of the City (first serialized in 1976) by Armistead Maupin and the wildly successful The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren. Of course, many scholars argue the importance of the latter, mainstream works, it can also be argued that they also have a place that kickstarted a new view of gay literature in society.

What followed Merrick’s work was the successful Argentinian novel The Kiss of the Spider Woman by Manuel Puig in 1976, which was later made into a successful play and film starring William Hurt. In addition, authors like Edmund White (A Boy’s Own Story, 1982), James Purdy (Narrow Rooms, 1973), and David Leavitt (Family Dancing, 1984) began their incredibly prolific careers as gay authors during this period. In 1971, EM Forster’s posthumous Maurice was finally published to critical acclaim as well. In 1978, Larry Kramer and Andrew Holleran both published works that have been regarded in two different ways. Though both novels detail a story about a gay man looking for love amongst that crazy, drug-heavy, promisicuous party scene of Fire Island and New York City, each novel is written in entirely different ways. While Andrew Holleran’s Dancer from the Dance is written in a very lyrical, beautiful style, Larry Kramer’s Faggots comes off as a satire that is loosely written and is often times read as a commentary against the fast lane lifestyle of gay men post-Stonewall. Many gay men criticized Kramer for his portrayal while commending Holleran for his. This would all change as Larry Kramer became a predominant, important influence during the AIDS epidemic.

The first case of AIDS was said to hit around 1981. The epidemic, however, really picked up around 1983 when many, many, many gay men came down with and dropped dead from the virus. The medical, political, and gay world were in crisis. Ronald Reagan wouldn’t say the word “AIDS;” the general public came down on the gay community and called it “karma;” the medical world struggled to find medicine appropriate in aiding the victims; and gay men lost lovers and friends every single day. The gay world was in crisis. This crisis surely impacted the gay literary world in a lot of ways. First of all, many publications were extremely wary of publishing anything about any gay characters during that period of time. The reason being that gay men suddenly had a harsher connotation attached to them than ever before and, as sad as it is, were no longer marketable. Also, because gay men were losing their friends and lovers and fearing for their own lives, the will to write literature dwindled and the act was put on the back burner. Political writings became prominent during the period of time. Larry Kramer was crucial and stands as a poster child for activism during the AIDS crisis. Many of these writings have been anthologized. During the crisis, Kramer also wrote a play called A Normal Heart which really has acted as maybe the most important work written during the AIDS crisis. The play truly made a social commentary on the beginning days of the crisis and, surely, there was not a dry eye in the audience after opening night. Some established authors like Edmund White, David Leavitt, James Purdy, and Armistead Maupin did continue to write during this period of time and did cover the topic of AIDS, but as far as new gay writers were concerned, there were very few. The gay world had come under fire and crisis.

The negative connotation given to the gay community did not really dwindle until the early 1990s. New advancements in AIDs medicine and successes in gay rights helped in establishing new views toward the traumatized gay community. With this came celebrated works like Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming Pool Library (1988), Michael Chabon’s The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), Dennis Cooper’s Closer (1989), Michael Cunningham’s A Home at the End of the World (1990), and, perhaps most importantly, Tony Kushner’s mega-important play, Angels in America (1993). Angels in America really signaled a shift in the connotation toward gay men at the time and is often times considered to be one of the most important gay works of all time. Not only does the play attack homophobia, it attacks class discrimination and racism. It paints a painful picture of the AIDS crisis and surely has been important in establishing a new era in gay literature. Right now, gay literature is facing perhaps its most colorful time in history. New works including Annie Proulx’s “Brokeback Mountain” (1997), David Sedaris’s Naked (1997), Michael Cunningham’s The Hours (1998), Moises Kaufman’s The Laramie Project (2000), Augusten Burroughs’ Sellevision, Jamie O’Neill’s instant classic At Swim, Two Boys (2001), Dennis Cooper’s The Sluts (2005), Andre Acimen’s Call Me By Your Name (2007), Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), and Stephen McCauley’s Insignificant Others (2010) have provided a wealth of new viewpoints on the LGBT community and have certainly offered a new progression in the public opinion toward LGBT individuals. This progress is most certainly due to progressions with regards to political rights involving LGBT members. Times have changed and so has gay literature.

In addition to more adult-oriented literature, gay young adult literature has also become a popular medium in the gay lit tradition. Works like Stephen Chbosky’s The Perks of Being a Wallflower (1999), Brian Malloy’s The Year of Ice (2002), David Levithan’s Boy Meets Boy (2003), and Perry Moore’s Hero (2007) have been responsible for providing stories that positively depict gay men in the YA novel format. Of course, many schools are still hesitant to teach novels like Chbosky’s Perks, which only features a gay supporting character, the medium has been well-celebrated and is very popular between teens and young adults.

Lesbian literature and transgender literature surely do not have as large an audience as gay literature and, for this reason, I do believe it is important to note some of the important works that have been published along with the wildly successful gay literature works. To begin, lesbian literature stems from almost the same beginning as gay literature. Some often cited, preeminent works in the two genres include the afforementioned Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, Passing by Nella Larsen, and Nightwood by Djuna Barnes. From these works, stemmed some major lesbian works of fiction. First, came Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle (1973), which was released soon after the Stonewall riots, initially through an independent lesbian publishing house. Rubyfruit Jungle soon crossed over into the more mainstream domain and has since been deemed an American classic. Another important figure of lesbian literature is Jeanette Winterson, who, as stated before, rejects the label of lesbian author. It is worth noting, however, that many of his fictional and non-fictional novels, including, perhaps, her most influential, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), have been incredibly important to the lesbian literary tradition. More recently works like Michael Cunningham’s The Hours and Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel Fun Home have been praised for their depiction of lesbian women.

Transgender fiction is in, however, muddier water. Because there are fewer homosexual people than heterosexual people and even fewer transgender people than homosexual people, pieces of fiction by transgender people are far and few. It is not a popular topic to write on by the general public and often causes anxiety by the publishing house. Many are not willing to publish works that may not cater to a larger audience and, therefore, many transgender pieces of writing are not published. However, there are a few pieces that have been cited as being influential throughout history. The aforementioned Jean Genet wrote Our Lady of the Flowers in 1943. The story details a relationship between a homosexual and a drag queen. This is, perhaps, one of the first works to detail the story of a drag queen in such explicit detail. In more recent times, Kate Bornstein’s autobiographical Gender Outlaw (1992) and Leslie Feinberg’s Stone Butch Blues (1993, now out of print) have been cited as some of the most important works by someone who is transgender. These works do not cover the entire spectrum, but the sparseness of titles does demonstrate the elusive nature of the transgender text. Many transgender writers do not even write on the topic, while many of the writers who do are not published. It’s a contentious area that does need revision.

Overall, I do feel that gay literature is sitting in the most shining position that it has ever been in. Recent developments and successes in gay rights and with concern to gay marriage and anti-discrimination laws have provided me with even more optimism as to where gay literature will go in the future. The fact of the matter is, however, that gay literature compares nothing to the current state of more heterocentric works. Even today, it remains risky domain to write about a gay character. For this reason, it is still rare to see it and, most of the time, the only place we do see it is from more established gay authors like White, Winterson, Cunningham, Chabon, and Leavitt. I like to often compare the gay literary movement to gay film. Even though Brokeback Mountain ended up becoming a huge film of the times, many do not realize that it began as a low-budget, independent film. This has also been the case for such films as A Single Man, Far From Heaven, and I Love You Phillip Morris, which all depict the realities faced by the gay man in American society. In 2013, the biodrama about Liberace, Behind the Candelabra, was meant to be released as a big budget picture. However, none of the studios would accept it and, therefore, it was released as a TV movie on HBO. Today, this is still the case with gay literature. Many authors go directly to the independent presses, because many agents and major publishing houses are hesitant to release or support a book about gay men, because they fear the audience will be smaller than if they were to release a book that is centered on heterosexuals. It’s still a reality. It’s still discrimination. However, I am optimistic that, with time, and with successes in gay rights, things in the gay literary world will continue to change and progress. I have no doubt they will. I’m also certain, though, that I will never see a novel about gay men hit the charts like something like The Hunger Games did.
 

Post-Script

I thought it would also be important to look at some of the other works that I have not yet mentioned that have been included in the gay canon. Though, sometimes very confusing, almost all of them make sense to me (except for maybe To Kill a Mockingbird and On the Road). I think it’s important to look at these works, because many of them have supplied the public with homosexual characters and undertones and, therefore, have surely been influential to the current time in gay literature. Also, it’s worth noting that these are only works that I have read that are often included in the canon:

  • Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll & Hyde (1886)
  • Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (1899)
  • Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon (1930)
  • John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men (1937)
  • Carsen McCullers’ The Member of the Wedding (1946)
  • JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951)
  • Jack Kerouac’s On the Road (1957)
  • John Knowles’ A Separate Peace (1959)
  • Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)
  • JG Ballard’s Crash (1973)
  • Bret Easten Ellis’s Less Than Zero (1985) & American Psycho (1991)
  • Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club (1996) & Invisible Monsters (1999)
  • John O’Brien’s Better (2009)

I mean, seriously, On the Road is pushing it, though I have read a rumor that Kerouac and Gore Vidal did hook up one night. I’m going to go ahead and believe that.

Apart from that, I am very confident that I could easily teach most of these texts in a Queer Lit class. Fight Club for sure can be interpreted with a gay lens; there’s absolutely no question about A Separate Peace; and American Psycho and Crash may be two of the gayest novels I have read in recent times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Consulted

 

Stevens, Hugh, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Gay and Lesbian Writing. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.

 

Bram, Christopher. Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America. New York: Hatchette Book Group,

2012. Print.

 

“Smile” (poem), Alan Semrow

Smile

 

I wake in the morn and I stomp out the door to the wood, where I light my morning cigarette and the three Shih Tzus run around me, laughing, playing with each other.

With me.

Do you ever say fuck it? Do you ever just live and breathe in the moment, because it’s all you have. Take advantage, because you can.

Nothing matters but the moment.

And hardly anyfuckingbody realizes the damn fact of the matter.

You’re in control.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe.

It doesn’t matter. Nothing matters the way you make it out to matter in your own brain.

Will you live with me, you fuckers? Will you fuck and beg me for my cock?

Reinvent yourself right this minute. I demand it.

You are okay. You are special. You can live your life. Really live.

You are a butterfly that can fly away from anything you want.

It’s time to begin again.

Begin again.

Promise yourself that you deserve it. That this all happened because you were not strong enough.

Trust yourself this once, fucker!!!! Jesus!!!!

I want to play my violin, but I only have a guitar. I will play my guitar and I will study novels by Michael Cunningham, James Purdy, and John Rechy.

Look at yourself, silly. You’re awesome.

You’re the greatest motherfucker you’ll ever meet.

And, now, laugh. Smile and laugh. Wake in the morn and smile.

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Croissants for Seth (short story), Alan Semrow

Croissants for Seth

Alan Semrow

 

Seth sits at the table across from me. He smiles at me and then takes a sip of the coffee that he’s just brewed.

Seth makes silent eye contact for a few second. “How you been?”

“I was on Grindr last and this dude messaged me. He was okay looking and everything and I guess I was just kind feeling lonely, so I said hi back to him. And he asked how my day’s been. And I said fine, how is yours. And then he said the strangest thing…”

“What?”

“He said, ‘I just got back from the doctor’s. Was getting some Botox injections for my migraines.’”

As usual, Seth opens up into his typical uproar of laughter. Sometimes, you can’t be sure whether he’s being authentic or not, but, since I’ve gotten to know him, it’s become clear.

He’s being authentic. And I’m glad to have Seth, you know. In my earlier days as a gay man, I didn’t really have any gay friends, per se. And it would have been really nice to have at that time. All I was was this sexual object. You know, call me up, come on over, fuck me hard. Bye.

Nothing lasted. Nothing ever lasts, but friendship lasts longest.

I couldn’t have ever gotten away talking to my straight friends like this.

“What’s been up with you?”

Seth gives off an almost devilish grin. “You know that guy I was texting you about a few weeks ago? That once. Billy was his name. Such a cute face.”

“I remember, yes.”

“I had a dream about him. It was so surreal.”

“Go on.”

“So, obviously Billy didn’t call me back. We had been talking for a couple weeks before meeting up and, I know for a fact that in the back of my mind, I thought, this could really be something, you know. Like I really enjoyed talking to him. We went back and forth with text messages for a really long time, but he never got the nerve to ask me over. And then one night he did and I told him to my place. He got here and we made small talk, but, Jesus, he seemed nervous. He told me before coming over that he had had a few drinks and I was just all like, okay, that’s fine. I’ll catch up to you. But, shit, he seemed nervous. Took him forever to even sit next to me on my couch, but I loved it. He had this like boyish, naivety. Like he was new to all of this, even though I know he wasn’t. I don’t know. I put on a movie and then we started making out. We 69-ed for what felt like forever and then he came all over me. He wanted to wait until I was ready, but I said I had had an orgasm, which was a lie.”

“Dirty guy. Dirty guy.”

“I know. I know. So we lay together for a little bit and then he says I better get going. I felt my heart sink in that moment, like I’d never see him again. I just thought maybe, just maybe this would be a new friend for me. Someone to chill with at night and have sex with and, you know, just hang out with. I dropped him off, because it was cold out and we kissed and I said to call me.”

“He didn’t.”

“No. No. And that was weeks ago! Just last night, though, I had this dream. It was late out and I was walking for some reason. I walked downtown and the streetlamps were guiding me. I don’t know what I was thinking about, but then I just came across this bench and there was Billy, sitting there. I looked at him and looked away instantly.”

“Are those croissants over there?”

“Yeah. Yeah. Help yourself.”

I get up and put what looks to be a chocolate croissant on a plate that must have been just recently washed. I sit back down and begin to eat it. So good.

“Anyways,” Seth begins again. “So it’s so late and he’s fuckin’ Billy on this bench and I look back at him and he looks at me. I smile, but he doesn’t and then I just say, ‘Billy.’ And he says, ‘Hey.’ I ask him how he’s been and he says good. And then I ask him if I can sit next to him and he says sure. So I sit and I ask him what he’s doing out so late and he tells me, ‘My mom’s in that bar across the street. I’m just waiting for her, so I can drive her home.’ I chuckled, I think. And then we sat in silence. Then the silence ended and I said, ‘I was pretty upset when you didn’t call me. I thought we hit it off.’ ‘Yeah,’ he says. I then asked him, ‘Have you thought about me?’ And he said, ‘Here and there, yeah.’ I laughed and then just told him, ‘I thought something cool could have happened between us.’ We sat in silence longer and then he put his head on my shoulder and said, ‘I thought so too.’ I asked him why we can’t just run off now and just start over. And he just said, ‘No, no. I’m leaving town soon. I can’t. I can’t, Ben.’ I started to cry and then he cried. We kissed. And then his mother exited the bar. He said, ‘See you later’ as he got up to get his mom to the car. I sat on the bench and cried.”

“That was a dream?” I ask him.

“Weird, huh.”

I grasped the empty plate in front of me.

“I can’t stop thinking about him now. It was just so…”

“Surreal. Yeah.”

I put both hands around the plate. The empty plate.

“What if I love him? Is that possible?”

I lift the plate with both hands.

“I do love him.”

And I fling it square at his face.

It knocks him out instantly. I stand up and look at him, sleeping, now on the floor. I say, “You fucking idiot.”

Rubyfruit Jungle (Rita Mae Brown, 1972) Book Review, Alan Semrow

Rita Mae Brown’s novel, Rubyfruit Jungle, has maintained a wealth of analysis since its 1972 publication. Marked as one of the first “lesbian” novels, the book still remains relevant to LGBT concerns in the present era.

Molly Bolt is our protagonist. She’s beautiful, gifted, active, blunt, and sexually interested. The first portion of the novel delves into great detail about Bolt’s beginning sexual adventures. She sleeps with women. She sleeps with men. The candor of these sexual rendezvous is one of the most surprising facets about the book. Brown does not hold back and, for this reason, it is important to be able to look at this novel with a both historical and present-day social eye.

As Bolt grows into her teen years, her relationship with her mother becomes rocky and her encouraging father suffers a sudden death. These factors influence Bolt to work her hardest to get full scholarships to college. She does so and works diligently during her time at the University of Florida. However, once her lesbian relationship with her roommate is discovered by campus officials, her scholarship renewal is rejected. This puts Bolt in a bind, forcing her to reexamine her life goals and desires.

The novel serves several purposes to the current time. Of course, because it could easily be given the label of one of the first pieces of lesbian fiction, it gains a deserved place in the queer lit canon. Apart from this, though, matters that shine in the novel like promiscuity, issues with parents, sexual discrimination,  and alcoholism remain relevant not only for a gay audience, but for all audiences.

In addition, the use of sexuality in the piece really offers an ageless tone to the work. Rubyfruit Jungle really hasn’t aged and the sex scenes bare more similarities to modern literary sex than they do to the scenes written by other authors in the 70s. It’s commendable.

It’s easy to see the influence that the work has had on present-day lesbian writers like Alison Bechdel and Jeanette Winterson who both have gained great acclaim in their respective, prolific careers. It’s hard to say that they would have achieved that careers they ultimately did without Brown’s preeminent influence. Brown’s work truly is one of the first and works as a forecaster for what has come.

Though many critics have cited that the effeminate nature of the protagonist does nothing to enhance the social stigma of the more “butch” lesbian, I’d argue quite the contrary. Bolt has sex with a plethora of people. In fact, she celebrates the act of sex. She has sex with men. She has sex with women. Straight cheerleaders, even. The novel offers an intense examination of sexuality and gender norms and makes it easy to deduce that Brown wants us to do away with all the boundaries. It’s a celebration of liberation and can offer a bit of solitude to any questioning person, because what is offered in this great novel is that a lot more people than we could ever imagine are of a “queer” nature.

Fountain (short story), Alan Semrow

Fountain

Alan Semrow

 

After the men leave, I feel like standing at the edge of balcony, holding out my arms and screaming to the world, “I just had sex!”

One time, after a particularly drunken stand, I did this. And a homeless, passer-by screamed up to me, “Faggot!”

I yelled back, “You better run, you cunt or I’m gonna come down there and rape you!”

Drunk on cum. Drunk on the afterglow. You’ve done it once again, silly boy. Rejoice! Rejoice!

He’s gone and now you can walk into your kitchen, right to your refrigerator, which stands right next to your rumpled bed, and you can grab a beer and you can go into the adjacent bathroom and sit down and take a loose shit. It may hurt. It may not all come out, but you’re left to your own devices. And you’ve changed. You’ve changed because of this one-time rendezvous.

Rejoice, because it may not happen again anytime soon.

It’s clear to me that it’s all so very dependent on the men around you. You get on that Grindr app right after work and you wait, you just wait until someone, somewhere close by says something. And maybe they’re not as beautiful as you see yourself to be, but it’s a chance. And it’s something you’re willing to dig into.

This life, this lonely life. Take your chances. Be a man. Let it cum. Let him cum all over your face and body. And then rub it in. Rub it in, because you won’t have his cum again.

Andrew, his name was Andrew. He just got up from bed and walked into the room next to my room, which is next to the refrigerator. From the mirror in my room, I see him as he put on his maroon V-neck t-shirt. What a fine body. What a fine outline of his ass.

And yet I felt nothing, because I knew what was coming.

The one night stand, it provides you with this opportunity to become a new person. He doesn’t know you and you don’t know him. Something could transpire, because everyone wants to be loved, but it comes with the gay condition that a lot of us won’t accept it. We won’t accept the possibility. And though I pride myself on my open-mindedness, it’s also to my knowledge that this sort of openness isn’t necessarily a turn-on. And so I turn off and I become the person that I envision he wants me to be. A new person, a blank slate.

And we come together and I put my legs on top of his and he begins to caress my legs as I caress his arms. His hand graces over my groin. I moan. And we kiss. Kiss so passionately as if this is love. This is the love that I thought I could have.

We hop onto the bed and take our shirts off and throw them with such fervor that they end up in the adjacent room. We kiss more. We take our pants off, our boners shooting out of our spandex underwear. We rub each other’s’ cocks, jerk each other off. My tongue slides over his neck and pits and nipples, down his fairly washboard stomach and to his cock, where I suck hard and play with his balls and taint.

He moans. I moan back. I take a breath and whisper, “You’re so fucking sex, babe.” Now, I’m only turning myself on with my words. And he’s turning himself on, watching me with a mouthful of his cock.

He fucks me as I lie on my back. He lifts my left leg and fucks me. He lifts my right leg and fucks me. I squeeze my asshole and make myself ejaculate through it.

He cums on my stomach and I’ve already come plenty enough. We kiss once more. He gets up from bed and goes into the other room to grab his shirt.

Andrew says, like all the rest, “I should probably get going.”

“Aw okay. Are you going to call me again?” I’ve told myself so many times not to say this, that it really makes me appear desperate. But I do and he says he will call me. And I know I can either take that as truth or lie. In most cases, it’s lie and it’s only up to me to not sit and wonder why. What I did wrong, why I’m not the one that could provide him with the intimate relationship that I so dearly want, that he must, in some sense, desire.

I watch him as he pulls his bright red underwear up. This is the last time I will see that cock. That ass. And I feel nothing, because I’ve cum and, though it’s a very perky ass, I don’t even want to see it.

Sometimes, they kiss me goodbye. Sometimes, I ask them to kiss me goodbye. Andrew bends over the messy, dirty, wet bed and kisses me on the lips. I can taste my own precum.

I say, “Call me soon.” And I quickly regret it.

“I will.”

Andrew departs.

I walk out onto my balcony, light a cigarette, stare off onto the streets below me, dreaming, remaining optimistic, but knowing that Andrew will not arrive in front of my door again.

 

I met Jason the way I meet most men: Grindr.

The gays have it down, see. I mean, we’ve really made it very simple. You log onto this IPod app and you’re shown the array of gay men in the area. Some men, they’ll only be 1500 feet away and they’ll message you and say, “Dude, we’re like neighbors.”

Sort of. If 1500 feet really constitutes neighbors, then I guess he’s right.

You meet men. They message you or you can message them. And they tell you they like your smile and you feel sort of giddy inside, like you could take on the world. Maybe, silly boy, you even blush. You might even tell him so.

And then you’ll tell him that he’s pretty cute.

Actually, the range of compliments is really dependent on how they truly look. If they’re fairly cute, you tell them that they’re super cute. If they’ll not exactly cute, you tell them that they’re cute. If they’re hot as fuck, you tell them they’re super sexy.

It’s all a part of the game. The game of love, right?

They’ll ask you what you’re on Grindr for. Sometimes, I think it’d be funny to say that I’m interested in finding love.

But I just say, “Anything really. Just wait to see what happens. Pretty open-minded.”

They’ll be all for that. Basically, what I’ve just implied is that I’m ready to fuck.

The straights could really learn something from us. This is all very simple. Like a naturally constructed mating ritual.

He’ll ask if you’re top or bottom.

I always just say vers, though I’d much prefer a dick in my ass. And that’s mostly because I can ejaculate out of my asshole. It’s like a female orgasm, what I can experience. So you can see why I’d prefer that.

Now, before you’re convinced that Grindr is only for sex, it’s important for me to say that it’s actually not quite that. Really what it does is give you the opportunity to meet men. This comes in great handy when you’re visiting areas that have no gay scene or gay area. It’s easy. You log on and you just talk. And, sometimes, you’ll go fuck him. And, other times, they’ll ask you to go on a date.

I fucking hate dates. I’m never doing a blind date again. There is absolutely no point. It’s bullshit. Just come over and talk to me and then if we get heated up, we can fuck. If we like each other enough, maybe we’ll meet up again. Meet up again, when we’re comfortable and this will eventually become a date-oriented relationship. Where we go out for drinks and fuck afterwards.

This kind of thing can transpire from Grindr, believe it or not. Relationships can actually happen as a result of Grindr. It’s all about this culture. If you get along enough and come to some agreement after fucking that you’d be interested in pursuing this further, then you will and maybe it will grow.

Most of the times, however, it doesn’t work out this way.

You fuck and he leaves. And you try not to feel sorry for yourself.

Motives. I don’t know. We’re men. We want to get our rocks off. We’ll lie in order to do so and we’ll break whoever we have to in order to have that orgasm.

And then we’ll leave, because I guess we know that there are other men out there. Other men who might suit our fancy better.

Truth is, we’re all looking for love. But egos get in the way. Close-mindedness gets in the way. First impressions mean everything. The blank slate means everything. Sometimes, they just want you to be like their ex-boyfriend.

No one can live up to that.

And it might end up meaning nothing too. This blank slate.

I ring Jason’s doorbell and he answers. Turns out, we live 80 feet from each other, which, because we’re both fairly attractive, basically implies that we will fuck. It’s like necessary.

He’s hotter than me. I can’t even lie. Me, I’m more boy-next-door than hot model.

Jason’s hot model. And I mean that literally. I think he’s a model.

He answers the door. He’s wearing a nice outfit. He smells nice and he has an even tan. It’s clear he works out, which, ya know, good for him. All the gays want to work out and tan and spend two hours in the morning getting ready. How reasonable this is, I don’t know. But it’s instilled in us to work out and tan.

Can’t deny that I don’t.

There are two reasons. One, we’re men. We like looking at men. And the most, supposedly, beautiful men are the ones who are built like motherfucking Adonis.

There’s fault in this though. Charm goes out the window, once you build yourself up like a Grecian god and, as a result, lose half the self-consciousness that all gay men have instilled within them. I’m not much for the overly toned and tanned men, to be honest. It’s preternatural beauty at its finest and, though it’s nice to look at, it’s overwhelming to fuck and it takes away from all semblance of connection.

The second reason is competition. There are only so many gay men in the sea. By being some version of “beautiful,” you greatly enhance your chances of hooking more and more men. The more men you get, the more you get off. And, also, the higher chance you have of meeting the one.

It’s a science and there are plenty of gay men who are too stupid to even realize it.

Jason doesn’t make eye contact with me. He asks how I’m doing and I walk into his living room. With my mouth, I admire it and say, “Looks just like my place.”

Jason chuckles, but I don’t know if he even gets the joke. Truth is, anyone spending this much time on their body is missing out on their education of the world. No street smarts, no smarts at all. He’s stupid as a box of rocks, but we’ll still have sex.

I sit on his couch and he enters the bathroom to brush his teeth.

I stare around the room and hate it. So under-decorated. For a man so concerned with appearances, his house is surely fucking lacking.

I continuing looking around for a good five minutes. Never have I thought it would take a man so long to brush his teeth. It’s like he’s making me aware of the fact that this is more a service than anything.

He exits the bathroom. His tan makes his blue eyes jump out. They’re pretty. His hair’s pretty.

I’d never fucking do that with my hair.

Jason sits down next to me on the couch. He makes a few comments about his modeling and go-go boy dancing career and then moves in close to me. He lifts my legs on top of his and then begins caressing them. I begin caressing his big arms. They’re very big. And I’m not even jealous in this moment. I’m not even thankful as Jason might imagine I am. I’m just thinking, I’m so turned on.

Being turned on doesn’t always have to do with the other person either.

By the way.

The caressing picks up. He doesn’t look at me. He makes me feel like an object. Like a gross object. Jason moves his hand to my taint and presses it, rubs it, makes me moan.

To reciprocate, I go right for his dick.

Both pants come off. We’re rubbing. I’m sucking his fairly large cock.

Mine’s bigger.

I suck it and taste his precum. He sucks mine.

He tells me it’s time to go into the bedroom. I do as told.

Yes, master.

Jason goes back into his fucking bathroom and does God knows what.

I sit on his bed, underwear half on, shirt still on.

He enters, grabs his lube from his closet and does not make eye contact. I smile and giggle a little. He doesn’t do a thing.

Jason hops on the bed and pulls my underwear off. He sucks my cock some more. He’s good at sucking cock. He deep throats me. My precum. It’s really spewing. He rubs my cock and gets precum on his hands. He looks at it as if it’s shit. And then rubs it on my leg, because he doesn’t want to go through his beauty regimen again this morning.

It’s hot when he deep throats my cock. Gags as he releases himself from the envelopment of my member.

We finally kiss. He’s obviously opposed to tongue or something.

I suck his cock.

We keep switching.

He keeps rubbing my cum on my leg.

He fucks me hard. I wonder to myself how he’s going to feel after my anal ejaculate graces his precious sheets.

It makes me harder. It makes me more turned-on. This motherfucker.

Jason still doesn’t look at me.

I’ve cum.

He takes himself from inside me and forces my mouth onto his cock. I suck it hard. As he cums, he holds my head down with his hand and makes me swallow his cum. As I do so, he apologizes. He had asparagus a few days ago.

We lie there for about five seconds and he gets up and says he needs to get something to eat. This leaves me alone to dress. I do so. Oh wait, he goes into the bathroom first, of course.

Of fucking course.

I walk out into the living. Jason is now fully dressed. He asks me a few more innocuous questions and then tells me that he better let me get going.

We hug, which actually surprises me.

I tell him thanks. And I leave.

Just a silly story about love, see.

Fuck a model. Check!

 

The silence of a car is only a fear of mine, for what is there to do with silence? The IPod was a pretty decent invention, so thanks Steve. I plug it in and turn it up just enough so that the men and woman and neighbors of mine passing as I drive out of the complex can make out the noise I’m emitting.

What is it today? Maybe not the same as yesterday.

I look in the mirror and my face is contorting with the sounds. The words. I feel like I’d make Sheryl Crow proud of my car-singing abilities. It’s when you sit and drive and sing that all eye reactions don’t matter. The people around you don’t matter.

This is particularly true in the dark or on the interstate, when even the people passing you are only passers-by. It’s at stop lights when the singing must end. The dancing must go for just a moment.

Steve McQueen! Steve! Steve! Steve!”

                I laugh at myself really hard and then Tori Amos.

Every finger in the room is pointing at me. Wanna spit in their faces…”

                So much nuance. So present. Only proving something to myself in this moment.

Those men don’t matter. The past, all that bullshit, it doesn’t matter. What matters is female rock. They wrote these songs for me.

And then I arrive at the little high rise, the place I claim as my employment. What happens inside here doesn’t matter, because I’m only doing this because I have to. Because my Mom won’t always pay for my apartment. For my lifestyle, because my lifestyle does cost a lot.

It costs a lot to tan.

The gym membership.

My honey, cinnamon body scrub costs a lot.

My cologne, my lube, my magazine. They cost a lot.

It all costs so much, so I work at a marketing firm and that’s all I want to say right now, because I fucking hate, man.

 

You exit work and can’t wait to get home! You smile and you turn on your music really loud. You exit work and people walk past you and they look, but they don’t judge, because your music isn’t that loud. You’re not one of those kinds of people.

I’ve been a bad, bad girl. I’ve been careless with a delicate man…”

I think to myself how I oughtta sing this at karaoke some time. And I just might, because my favorite gay bar in Portland has a karaoke night each night.

It’s all about appearance, though, so I’d only do it if I went there with a large group of friends, which might really happen one of these nights. I don’t know. We’ll see.

I pull into the tanning salon. I only do this twice a week. I know it’s bad for me, but it’s also worth noting that during both of these car rides that I’ve described, I’ve been smoking a cigarette and dreaming of a cool craft beer.

I pull my lime green underwear down and step into the bed, naked. Sometimes, I look in the mirror and I’m so horny that I turn myself on. I look down at my body. The blue glow. I’m happy with it. Not that horny today. Sometimes, I think my life is blessed.

I wonder to myself ever so briefly if friends of closeted men have a moral obligation to bring the truth to the surface to the individual who still hasn’t recognized his truth.

I guess it’s kind of like outing.

It might be inappropriate. It might cause an uproarious reaction. Sometimes I wonder what my life would be like if my friends had brought it to my attention earlier. If, in high school, I had been open and gay and lived life in the same gay way I’m living now.

It doesn’t matter.

The bed ends its roll. I roll my lime green underwear up and put on my clothes. I enter my car, put on my sunglasses, and turn on the music.

I’m only happy when it rains…

I light a cigarette on my way to the gym.

 

Bodies. In the 70’s and 80’s and times like that, you’d have these saunas, filled with horny men, fucking and sucking each other. And now we stand and glance maybe, but inconspicuously, because some men aren’t gay as they say.

I dress into my gym attire, which perfectly wraps around my fairly fit form. It’s really all about the body now. If you’re tall, you have something inherently special going on for you. If you’re not tall, you have the choice to build up. And so we do, because there are only so many gay men in the sea. You want to be the epitome of all men’s desires.

You’ll never pull that off, but you’ll try. And the one man who you think you could picture yourself with five years from now, he might only respond to that first text the morning after. And then you know it’s over. As much as you don’t want to believe it’s over, all men know that they can find someone else. All men seem to think someone else will come to them. And, at night, will continue to all sleep alone. To have our own quiet lives, trying to fulfill some identity that could only feasibly be validated with the addition of someone else in our lives.

We wait. We wait.

I finish my work on the Stairmaster and then get on the ground to do my daily ab work out. 90 sit-ups. 130 crunches. An 80 second plank. Abs. Very quickly, I got abs.

Some men look. Some men, I’ve banged and I look downward at their glance. It’s awkward, but it’s the life.

I shower, trying to pretend that my dick isn’t out and half hard. It is, though. And it needs to be sucked. But it won’t just today. Maybe tomorrow.

 

At home, I turn on the stereo. “And every time I scratch my nails down someone else’s back I hope you feel it. Oh can you feel it?”

                Sometimes, I’m reminded of ex-boyfriends. The one’s that I consider to have once upon a time been boyfriends even if they had seen it differently.

These were always temporary, though, and we both knew it. Six months and it’d be over, because someone would fall in love and, in all the cases, it was me. And then it was me who got his heartbroken, because he imagined a future. A future where I could even  see myself raising his family, even though I’ve always hated children.

It’s what love does. It’s important to love, but there’s a downfall in it and someone will get hurt, because nothing lasts forever.

I make a stir fry without any Asian sauce, because I hate Asian food.

Once, I fucked a man for an entire day and we went out for burgers afterwards and I grabbed his cock under the table. He told me he didn’t like mushrooms and I told him that I’d teach him to like mushrooms.

We went back to my place and fucked really hard. We talked a lot. I told him I wouldn’t let him kiss me and that turned both of us so very much. A faux connection, which actually is a real connection. That’s the thing about this life. It’s all real, but it’s most real when the connection is prolonged.

I eat the stir fry and drink a craft beer. I listen to Alanis. I read The Advocate. Somehow, someway, I have to maintain my gay-hood. I do it by reading, by researching, by being the smartest homosexual you’ll ever meet.

And I work-out and I tan and I use honey, cinnamon body scrubs in the morning. At night, I’ll put on a facial mask. Someone will validate this hard work, this knowledge, but he might not come for a while or I might just fuck it up and we’ll part.

Quiet, so quiet. Such a quiet life. And it’s different, you know. It’s different form the heterosexual norm, which really was what we were going for after Stonewall and everything. I mean, it was supposed to be about sexual freedom and going out, dressed in pink. It was about coming out. About living a loud life.

It’s not loud anymore. And I know back then, loneliness was still a part of the equation. Feelings were hurt. Hearts were broken. Self-esteem issues still ruled the day.

If just one man could come along and be cool and just say to me, “Let’s just make this work. Move in. We’ll make this work.” If he said that, I’d say yes and we’d move in and have sex all day and read books and drink craft beers in front of each other.

Not today. It was always supposed to be different from the norm, but a lot of gay men don’t know that. Don’t get what it means to be gay. And that’s a shame. It’s a shame that they’re just flailing and fall into the norm as I sit here, looking and waiting.

We are different. So different. Gays are so different.

Alanis finishes and the CD player switches to Liz Phair. “I woke up alarmed. I didn’t know where I was at first, just that I woke up in your arms. And almost immediately I felt sorry, because I didn’t think this would happen again…”

                That record really spoke to me. Even if it was truly a feminist record, I heard myself and my angst in her words. And, see, feminism and gay rights, they really do overlap, even if there is some tension between the two. We wouldn’t be where we’re at without the feminists and so we have to thankful.

We wouldn’t be able to marry.

Who will I marry?

The day I came out, I made a promise to myself to never look back again. At the hard times. At the guilt and the shame and the regret. No more. No more depression. I’d live in the present and soak in the music and the moment and words I was reading in all of these important gay texts that I was studying hard, hard, hard, with no particular end result in my visions.

I’d soak in the lifestyle and become the greatest homosexual I could become. And I validated myself by doing this and haven’t really taken any time to look back and that’s good, because we all spend too much time being hurt and thinking of hurts or wrong-doings. We look at the past like its part of what we are right now. But it’s not. We’re different people. I’m different than I was just yesterday. At least in theory, you know.

No apologies. No regrets. Live life.

Live the vacancy. Keep busy. Prove to yourself if there is no one to prove a shred to.

Live. Just live.

I can’t become another statistic.

I finished the bowl of stir fry. And I pop open another craft beer. I will hit the bars tonight. After I shower, I will head downtown. And I will probably have sex with a man. I will probably.

 

Jonathan dresses with his back facing me. He tells me thanks for having him over. I tell him that he’s welcome.

Jonathan departs.

My cherry wood night stand. I open the drawer. Gwen Stefani is singing to me. “You and me, we used to be together always…”

                You take the 20 millimeter from the drawer and point it into your mouth.

Another statistic.

Don’t speak. I know just what you’re thinking…”

                You pull the trigger. A fountain on a bed.

Sean & Christian (poem), Alan Semrow

Sean & Christian

 

Sean proposed to Christian

With a cock ring on their second anniversary.

Christian cried, let Sean put the ring

Around his cock.

They kissed and

Sean began to fuck Christian.

As Sean came, Christian felt like laughing,

Laughing at the sill face he made when he came.