If you would ask me how it was like, being gay in the late Seventies in a suburb of Rotterdam, I would probably answer, “Quiet, very quiet.” Yes, there was a lot happening by the time I came out as a 17 year old lesbian, but virtually none of it reached me until I actually went looking for my own people. That kind of silence is now hardly imaginable.
Gay culture mainly consisted of the people I met, the things we organised, the magazines we ourselves filled with stories, the protest marches against this and for that. And, of course, there were the handful of no-budget films of often questionable quality we still visited, thankful for the few instances the gay main character didn’t die or turn straight, and a book here and there, almost all of the problematic variation.
Legal rights for my girlfriend and me, like the ones for my younger sister and her husband? Or for our parents and straight friends? You’re kidding, right?
Time went on and things changed. The change came slow and hard-fought, but in 2001, after a relationship of nearly twenty years, we got legally married and became officially joined parents of our two sons and it actually meant something other than our self-declared emotions. At least the state sanctioned homophobia in the Netherlands was over.
I sometimes wonder how many of you feel the hot blind anger in your bones of having to wait fucking 20 years before enough straight people decided that yes, we would get permission to get married. Yes, even after 10 years of legal same-sex marriage that anger’s still there. I want it to be there so I will never forget. And my wife and I are the extremely lucky ones, remember.
I’m not even all that interested in the private opinions and feelings of individual straight people regarding homosexuality. You feel what you feel and I won’t blame anyone for that, though I hope some are willing to listen and learn when they’re ready. What you do, however, is a different matter. Acts of physical or verbal violence are never okay and I have yet to hear an acceptable excuse for treating gays and lesbians differently under the law.
We are no longer as invisible as when I came out in 1979, as is, to keep with the theme of this blog hop, reflected in the stream of gay and m/m fiction published in recent years. In contrast to when I started to read gay fiction, most writers of m/m romances and erotic-romances seem to be straight females. That’s definitely worth a discussion, but I’d like to reserve that for some other time.
Personally, I fall in the middle of the gay and m/m writers. There’s no denying (and why should I) I’m a woman, but I’m also a gay person who’s been there and bought a lot of T-shirts. Yes, I write about gay men, but much of it is about the reality of living in a world that has enough –subtle- ways of telling you that you don’t quite belong.
That reality has taken a long detour and became the inspiration for some of my writing. That’s why I’m offering two very specific novels as my hop against homophobia giveaways. Both are about what it means to live with external and internal homophobia in different times and on different levels.
In Ravages, a closeted gay English Premier League football (soccer) player survives an act of extreme homophobic violence. Not only does he has to live with the lifelong consequence, his lover also realises it wouldn’t have happened hadn’t they believed in one of the most popular lies among many of us gay people, namely that being gay, and thus coming-out, is a strictly private matter.
Honest fear of rejection, to avoid arrest in many countries, a way to keep a much-needed job, to avoid getting bullied in school, because you don’t feel strong enough to lose everyone you know and love or even because of feelings of shame: you have my full understanding and support. Calling it personal and private? I passed that burned-out station a long time ago. It’s a blatant lie and I’m no longer prepared to call it anything else. I know, a controversial opinion, but internalised homophobia hurts us as much as the external one and we have to face it. To avoid misunderstanding: I will never out any gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender persons against their will, because that would be bad manners.
In Unspoken the main character, a working class man in the nineteen-thirties, though deeply in love with another man, is painfully blunt about how he thinks about “being that way” and about men who don’t meet his criteria for real masculinity. He’s a child of his time and we will get nowhere if we don’t accept our history in full honesty. So yes, he’s homophobic and cheats on his wife with another man, but he’s also a kind-hearted father, loyal, keenly aware of his responsibilities and courageous enough to face the reality of his feelings.
The main characters in both Ravages and Unspoken are in a way their own worst enemies, and that’s the most damaging kind of homophobia and the most subtle one. Both stories are also about love. Because, when all is said and done, that is what matters most.
Anyone giving a reaction to this post has a chance to win a copy of either Ravages or Unspoken. I do need however an e-mail address in case you win to send you a PDF copy of the e-book and your preference for either titles.