I woke up this morning (December 9th) and found out over coffee that The Gay & Lesbian Review had published my essay, How It All Changed. Wow. That was fast. It wasn’t like I didn’t know it was coming. They had accepted it last week and said it would go up a week or two after I sent them photos, etc. Well, those things got sent yesterday, and here we are.
The essay is particularly important to me because I was able to work out a lot of disparate moments in my life and see how they wove through our evolving LGBTQ history timeline. It surprised me to discover events that were coincidental when looked at by date but that I never mentally connected. Memory is a fascinating thing. It seems to create pockets of isolated events and moments that exist like snow globes one takes out and shakes up from time to time.
I’ve been doing a lot of that, shaking things up as I look back. In some cases getting shaken up while examining the life lived, searching for meaning within the interconnection of so many things: family, culture, schooling, social mores. This web of experiences, many of them tiny little memories, or snippets of memories are composed of images, teachings, things overheard, rules, restrictions, ecstasy, surprise, fear, all the moments of life that create a personal landscape. What does one do with all that? What does a writer do with all of those memories?
Well, it’s complicated. I have always been introspective, possibly because being queer put me at odds with just about everything growing up so I had to withdraw and think about it. Or not think about it. To be able to look back and examine what you’ve experienced and think about why and how such and such a thing happened takes time and courage and just a little bit of obsession. I’ve been exploring and writing about many of those examinations in a series of linked short stories. Several have been published over the last twenty-seven years. There are a few more stories coming out next year that are also from this collection.
The structure of the work was part of the overall story concept. A composition of linked stories that would read a bit like an experimental novel. As it stands, there are eighteen flash pieces that separate eighteen short stories. The Flash pieces run backwards in time and the short stories run forward in time. The idea was for a reader to get to know my main character, Steven, through a mosaic of lenses all centered around liminal moments in his life. My life. A fictionalized memoire of sorts.
The collection is finished. It is back from beta readers and an editor but I don’t think I am going to shop it around. Why, you ask?
First off, Steven dies. I can’t tell you how many panels I’ve been on at conferences discussing the evolution of GLBTQ literature where the early requirement was for the main character to die. The publishing world demanded it because, they said, society couldn’t bear to have a happy homosexual running around happily ever aftering. In the last century, homosexuality was the shorthand way of saying “this is the bad guy.” So you had works by Raymond Chandler (The Big Sleep), Ian Flemming (Diamonds are Forever – Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd did burst into flames, however, in the movie), where the gay characters died. Even early gay romance author Gordon Merrick (whose gay characters were the good guys) killed his main characters at the end of his novels. And these were mid century classics. According to wikipedia, it wasn’t until 1948 when Gore Vidal wrote The City and the PIllar that a main sympathetic character was homosexual and wasn’t killed off at the end. It should be noted that Gore Vidal was queer and that E. M. Forster (also queer) beat him to a more or less happy ending in the late 1930s with Maurice.
I grew up in that era. I was steeped in and molded by a homophobic society, and I’ll be damned if I will let it subconsciously undermine myself. Poor Steven! He and I deserve better!
Second, it’s depressing. Even though there are wonderful and bright moments in Steven’s life, the societal and familial crap that was the norm in the mid to late 1900s makes for rough reading at times. Face it, growing up gay in the second half of last century was not easy and, in times complicated by AIDS, one was lucky to make it through Y2K alive. Writing some of these stories was the best therapy I could have ever gotten. My whole outlook has changed as a result.
This means I’m not ready to move forward with the collection as originally designed. It could simply be that I’ve found a really huge new procrastination project and may never finish! I’ve broken the collection apart, reshuffled the stories chronologically and pitched a bunch of them so that now I have an overall story arc and it is going to end on a very happy note.
Anyway, here’s that Gay & Lesbian Review essay. Thanks for reading. https://glreview.org/how-it-all-changed/
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