Nancy, a friend on Goodreads, asked me about the writers that have influenced me. Pretty good question and one I really haven’t thought about as much as I should. I know the author closest to my heart is the late Joseph Hansen, the author of the David Brandstetter mystery series.
Being gay is a weird kind of minority because of your isolation and invisibility. We really don’t look any different than the wider heterosexual population and most of us are born into a primarily heterosexual family. We have to venture forth to find others like us, those that see the world as we do. Homosexuality is invisible but sexuality is core to personhood and is a major lens through which we experience reality. After all what can be more central to the human experience than how and who we love?
I came of age in the 1970s and early 1980s. Back then the public discussion of gaylife was, if not quite non-existent, was never very flattering. The idea of well adjusted lesbians or gay men being portrayed in books, film or TV was something beyond imagining. To be gay was to have your life, your reality, omitted from the cultural milieu. You and your kind did not exist. This was the context of my reading my first David Brandstetter story. I was a college kid trying to find myself and here was a story about a cool manly guy being a detective in California. But he was also gay, and had feelings. He was grieving his lost love of many years. I cried through the whole book because that was the first bit of media that I related to. Can you imagine living for twenty years and never seeing yourself reflected in popular culture?
About a year ago, I submitted my first attempt at a short story to an anthology. I knew it was a long shot but I though, what the heck do I have to lose? It wasn’t accepted and looking back it now, I see that it was pretty weak. But what really got me was the comment from the editor. He said it was just too gay, that it needed balance, more heterosexuals in it. Well it was a short story about two men falling in love, you can only have so many characters in it. But what really got me, and still pisses me off, was the “balance” comment. Because I’m sure none of the other writes got comments about having too many heterosexual characters in their stories.
In a hetero-normative society gay is still seen as other and pushed to the side. People are always going on about homophobia, I think they are misguided. I don’t care if people like me, I care about systemic oppression and the denial of my very existence. Which is a long and rambling way of getting at why I write “gay fiction.” Where ever I go there is at least one gay person present. There are usually more. We just aren’t seen. I know I have a better chance of “making it” as a writer if I write stories about heterosexuals but I can’t do that. I write for myself. And in my reality there are gay men and women in the world. They, we, me deserve to have our stories told. It is my very feeble attempt to say thanks to Mr. Hansen for the stories he shared with me. Maybe some kid somewhere will download one of my ebooks and for a few hours won’t feel so alone or isolated. If that happens just one time, I’ve made it big time as a human. The writing thing is secondary to that.
Links: Joseph Hansen bio. His blog.