Throughout time, artists have inverted themselves in any number of gender permutations in order to both enlighten and educate. This may have occurred due to an era’s artistic conventions, or, in other cases, of assuming different gender roles in order to comment on the broader human condition. Authors, correspondingly, have done the same, using pseudonyms either to conceal identity or in order to write in genres not specifically associated with their own gender. For example, men have long used gender neutral or female pseudonyms when writing romance, whereas women have used gender neutral or male pseudonyms to write “male genres,” such as detective or action. But with the explosion of the male/male romance genre (m/m for short), I’m seeing more and more authors not only using pseudonyms, but actually trying to pass themselves off as gay men in their media interviews and online marketing efforts. Which begs the question, “Does the gender of a novelist matter?” or, better yet, “Does the truth matter when writing fiction?”
Gay fiction, while certainly a genre, has most often been a means of self-expression, within which gay men have written tales of their search for identity and community. The sharing of such stories, both fictional and not, have helped countless others discover more about the gay community and their prospective place within it. When I think of gay literature, classic authors such as Larry Kramer, Armistead Maupin, Michael Cunningham, Stephen McCauley, Felice Picano, Paul Monette, and John Rechy, among others, come to mind. With each, being gay was integral to both their identities and their art, helping to shape the stories they chose to tell and the characters they created.
Directly informed by their personal experiences, their novels delved into the very heart of what it means to be gay: how our familial relationships may change as a result of living authentically, how the disapproval from society can shape self-esteem, how the gay male’s search for love and sex may differ from others, and how the AIDS epidemic altered the framework and communities many of us live within. These gay authors, self-identifying and using literature as their platform, encapsulate what gay fiction has largely been known for, until now. (To note, there have certainly been well-known female gay fiction authors, most prominently Patricia Nell Warren (The Front Runner) and Mary Renault (The Persian Boy). Both women are/were lesbian, and it could be assumed that they wrote gay male fiction as a way to write of same-gender affection in a way which allowed them to still remain disassociated; neither, however, cloaked their identity by pretending to be gay men.)
While a well-told story is just that, and the gender of the author typically shouldn’t matter, does it, indeed, make a difference with gay fiction? The bigger question, of course, is, “What is gay fiction?” Is it simply a matter of the lead character’s sexual orientation? Is it the sexual orientation of the author? Is it a gay author specifically telling a story with gay characters? Or is there something else, not entirely tangible, which a gay author may bring to a story that a straight author cannot? Many of the authors mentioned prior wrote in the earlier days of gay liberation. They were simply writing what they knew and what they’d experienced, without necessarily thinking of their stories as a specific genre. But, in the years since, gay fiction has splintered, with genre within sub-genre, blurring the lines, and making the categorization of “gay fiction” difficult, at best. (more…)