Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Yes I read Gay Pulp Romance Fiction...what about it!?!

I am an avid reader. I read three or four books a week. I just have one general requirement in the books I read....that there is at least one gay character. I don't really care if the character is good or bad, smart or attractive, they just have to be there. Why? Because as a child I read just as much and there was nobody like me. There were no gay pirates, firemen, spacemen, spies, soldiers, superheroes, heroes, doctors, or scientists. No we were not reflected in popular literary culture.

There are contemporary gay "reads" on characters; like Biff Loman, or Frodo Baggins and see perhaps a hint of pink. But it is a stretch of the imagination to see these characters in any context but what they are. To apply a "gay" label is just wishful thinking.

My passion for reading came from my mother. As a pre-teen I would read her books. She only read two genres: romances and spy thrillers. So I read a lot of Harlequins novels, Barbara Cartland, the queen of romance, mixed in with Robert Ludlum and Clive Cussler. Barbara Cartland's books always had her dressed in fuzzy pink hats and with a white fuzzy toy dogs on her lap. My older brother read Doc Savage, about a scientist and his intrepid band of talented friends. There is a definite gay "read" on Doc Savage by the simple fact that the novels are completely devoid of females and that Doc Savage was a musclebound god....sorta like a buffer, more tan Mr. Clean, with platinum blond hair.

My first inkling of a gay character was in Susan Isaac's book: Almost Paradise. Which was one of her best...about an agoraphobic that marries a movie star...yeah you can see there's a challenge there, I'm sure its hard enough to marry an agoraphobic if you're not a movie star. In any case her devastatingly handsome brother was caught kissing a producer or something. It was too subtle for my 12 year old mind, but somehow "I got it." I didn't really know what gay people did until I read Judith Krantz' book Princess Daisy when her fashion designer boyfriend (really Princess Daisy had no idea? Fashion designer...come on!) goes back to his "assistant" and Princess Daisy catches them in flagrante-delicto. Ms. Krantz goes into a bit of detail about what gay men really do. Thanks Judith!

So one day I was wandering through the Barnes and Noble bookstore, not the big superstore ones they have now, but the dinky little ones they had in Malls in the 80's. It was like a Hallmark store with a newsstand attached. So there I am, a suburban bookworm, and I happened across a rather intriguing paperback with two beautiful men, reclining in the sun, unusually close, with a beach scene in the background. It was done in the style of my Mom's sappy was like Fabio and his boyfriend were at the beach. The cover was very a straight Harlequin romance kind of way. It was a series of gay romances by Gordon Merrick

The Gordon Merrick story-lines were weird, but then again they were written in the mid 50's so the sex scenes were written in classically euphemistic terms like " his manhood" or "reach ecstasy" and being "taken". I had no idea was ecstasy was but I know I sure wanted it and I was so ready to be taken. Only mushrooms grow well in the dark, so Merrick's romances were "mushroomy" in the sense that they blossomed inside the closeted world of the 50's. There were weird relationships of married men with "understandings" between wives and lovers. Young men yearning and having "furtive" gropings in rowboats. There were rapes of young men by Greek sailors(duh). None of the characters worked, they were all rich and angst ridden. It was as satisfying as muddy water would be in a very dry desert.

As the 80's drew to a close, better novels appeared by Edmund White, James Baldwin and a plethora of new voices arrived at the local Barnes and Noble. The internet was a long way away and the term "gay bookstore" had a different meaning entirely.

Still for many years, aside from a few "respected" gay authors which managed to come out or break out after they were established, there were still very few writers willing to populate their books with gay characters and even fewer willing to create gay characters that weren't tragic. and Google put gay literature literally just one click away. Today the gay romance genre is dominated by women.....strange but women seem get much of the longing that gay men have for acceptance, earning self esteem, and self respect yet at the same time create compelling plot lines and very erotic sex scenes....its as their gay best friend has given them all our secrets! The books are populated by extremely handsome men, who have interesting careers. The overcome the usual obstacles to love: class, low self-esteem, werewolves, vampires, jealous love interests, fallen angels, angry exes, murderous exes, disapproving parents, and being "out". Gay romance also has many sub genres: sci-fi, firemen, werewolves(WTF?), vampires, you name it. While I'm not sure where gay characters are in "straight" literature, but I'm sure they're there. Suggestions welcome.