There’s a couple more guests who’d like to add their voice to this topic.
This week meet Steve Berman, founder of Lethe Press. This publishing house has grown steadily to become one of the larger gay presses. In fact, they have won the Lambda Literary Award for Speculative Fiction five times in a row.
He also writes, and has been a finalist for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy (for his novel Vintage, A Ghost Story), the Lambda Literary Award (for Charmed Lives and two editions of Wilde Stories), the Golden Crown Literary Award (for So Fey and Heiresses of Russ 2011), and the Shirley Jackson Award (for Where That Dark Eye Glances).
Kevin: As you were growing up, where did you find queer literature?
Steve: Honestly, the first story that I can recall reading with gay characters was Clive Barker’s “In the Hills, the Cities” when I was eighteen. Unless you count Holden Caulfield’s teacher in The Catcher in the Rye. I knew I was attracted to other boys back in junior high school. Did I identify as gay? I don’t remember. I was ashamed of my feelings, I hid my feelings; none of my high school friends suspected. They assumed I was asexual or just different. I hid very well. In college I learned about gay characters through English courses.
Kevin: We’ve seen a lot of authors write gay romance, but we’ve also seen a lot of authors been mistaken for gay romance writers when there’s no evidence that their books are romance. Why do you think this is?
Steve: Well, I suspect one aspect of being non-Heteronormative in sexuality is that it is hard to express without having, well, relationships and trysts. Unless you drop clues to a character being gay or outright say it, a gay man is arguably no different than a straight man. Arguably. It all depends on how invested the author and reader is in the variety of queer culture (club culture, bear culture, etc.). So I think many readers anticipate the romance to prove that the character is gay.
Also, some readers are just so very tired of being constantly reminded we live in a world where the vast majority of people are low Kinsey’d. So on commercials, in print media, in films, we see time after time a man and a woman holding hands, kissing, being intimate, being sexual. And some are so hungry for same-sex affairs that, when given even a small taste, they do not want to stop eating.
Kevin: What trends have you seen emerge in GLBTI writing?
Steve: Oh, well, fortunately we are seeing more ethnic diversity in the field. Considering that minorities are quickly becoming demographically a majority, it’s a shame that there is still not enough promotion of Latino, Black, or Asian authors.
Kevin: What trends have you seen emerge in the romance genre? Is the genre being reinvented?
Steve: Hmm, I don’t personally read much romance. Obviously more and more women (whatever their sexual identity) feel comfortable writing gay male romance. I think they are still abiding in the standards, such as preferring happily ever after endings.
Kevin: What excites you about modern GLBTI literature?
Steve: The sheer variety of experiences. No one’s coming out, identifying, living is ever the same. I enjoy also that we are seeing so many better queer genre titles. Twenty-five years ago you could fill a single sheet of paper with LGBT science-fiction novels or westerns or thrillers. Now…well, bibliographies require a great deal of scrolling. It’s new Golden Age for queer authors.
Kevin: What topics, character types and situations are discussed now that weren’t around ten years ago.
Steve: Transgender themes and characters are treated with a great deal of empathy now as opposed to the derision of yesterday (but we still have leaps and bounds to make). Gay immigrants are now recognized also. And, of course, we have gay marriage in the United States.
Kevin: And what topics have dropped from gay lit these days?
Steve: Coming out stories are still told. They are still needed. A boy in Idaho or Mississippi may not feel comfortable coming out – whereas his counterpart in a liberal suburb of Pennsylvania would.
Unfortunately, stories about older men hiring young hustlers refuses to go the way of the dinosaur. The male prostitutes are always pretty despite living on the street or being exposed to crime, poverty and disease. I’m amazed…haven’t these authors ever been close to someone who has not bathed/showered in weeks? I’m not being flippant; hygiene is never a factor in these romances. And there is never a sense of predation.
I think we read less about gay bashing, ironically. Perhaps because it is finally covered in the news.
Thanks Steve for sharing your thoughts. You can check out his writing and the many anthologies he’s edited at his Amazon page.
Next week, reviewer Amos Lassen shares his own unique views on what is gay lit.