How Gay does a GLBTQI book need to be?

Some time ago, author David Pratt wrote a novel named Bob the Book. In the story, Bob is a gay book. At a literary festival we both attended, David talked about the absurdity of a book being deemed gay. That’s why he questioned the notion and came up with this character.

This came to mind recently when I started reading the reviews of my novel, Social Media Central, because some wonderful critiques have pointed out that although the main character comes to terms with his sexuality, this is not the focus of the book. I find this amusing. It’s like saying that if a character is gay, or in this case, bisexual, then there needs to be some exploration of themselves coming to terms with their sexuality.

Another friend of mine here in Sydney has a thriller out through a major press. His name is Nigel Bartlett and his book is King of the Road. The main character is gay, yet the focus of the novel is the kidnapping of his nephew.

This is why, as an Australian, writing for an American press and reading the responses is so fascinating. This odd assumption that if a book is GLBT, then it must be a Romance, a coming out story or some erotic tale. This would be excusable twenty years ago, but in this decade I feel it’s out of place.

During a visit to San Diego, my partner and I chatted to a guy at the bar for hours. In that time he talked about the religious right as if every civilised nation had to put up with their imposition on society. We corrected him, letting him know this was unique to America.

In my reality, I had an easy coming out (when I finally did) and went on to live in one of the most gay friendly cities in the world. I also studied acting where all males in my class were gay. Well, all but one. And I worked at a television station, so my sexuality was unimportant. Yes, I’ve been lucky, and although I’m not saying all Australian gay males have it as easy, I am saying a religious right is something we don’t need to worry about. They are generally laughed at in most western influenced countries. This is why in my world, and in my books, there’s no need to make being gay problematic.

Me and my partner of twenty-seven years don’t hide ourselves in a gay ghetto. We don’t need to. We’re safe in the suburbs.

The latest edition of ‘Drama Queens with Love Scenes’

The difference in cultures became evident when one US critic felt it comforting that there was no homophobia and no drama about anyone’s sexuality in the theatre world of the Afterlife explored in my novel, Drama Queens with Love Scenes. This story, like all my stories, have some basis in my real world. Only in the third book of the Actors and Angels series, Drama Queens and Devilish Schemes, did I bring in a homophobic American who claimed to be religious. It was my way of acknowledging these odd ‘not a Christian Jesus would recognise’ people, and to somehow make it connect with my American readers.

When I think back to the first edition of Drama Queens with Love Scenes which was published through a Boston Press, I remember a curt email from the Editor-In-Chief accusing me of writing an erotic novel with no sex. I wrote back explaining I never wrote an erotic novel.

This absurd assumption just wouldn’t happen if the publisher was Australian or for that matter, was from one of many other countries. And yet there are still reviewers out there who slam a GLBT book for not containing sex. Yet, there are many gay themed novels, including American ones like Joe Keenan’s Putting on the Ritz, that aren’t about sex.

There’s a lot of us writing gay books out there. Some erotic. Some romantic. Some influenced simply by the art of telling tales based on our own experiences. Please don’t judge a novel by what you feel it should be just because some characters represent the colours of the rainbow. Some gay characters don’t need to explain their sexuality. It’s not part of the story they are telling.

3 Replies to “How Gay does a GLBTQI book need to be?”

  1. I’ve noticed this as well with my first book. Most people have enjoyed having a trans character and a gay relationship “just be there,” but others expressed confusion over whether those elements were “real” because there was no sex or explicit romance.
    A lot of readers believe LGBTQIA+ has to be romantic and explicit to exist. We need to keep writing what we do to show them otherwise.

    1. Dorian, I think one problem in our digital is age is that everyone believes their opinion should be heard, even if they judge your work against pulp fiction. I find that my books will be equally celebrated and criticised at the same time.

      So my works are appreciated and critiqued fairly by those who are well read (so they’re the people I learn from), and those who think queer literature began a decade ago and should all be romance or erotica.

      Sadly the latter rate our books as well, bringing down our scores for idiotic reasons like a lack of sex. They’re not interested in enjoying the different worlds a variety of authors can show them. They just want validation by telling us they know best.

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