Saturday, 8 September 2012

In which I get serious, and more than a little mad

I read a book today. I'm not going to mention the title or author, because honestly, they're both beside the point. I've read this book before. I've read hundreds of this book before. It varies in content and genre and reading level, but one thing remains consistent no matter what the variables: it always, always has a Tragic Gay.

Case in point.
The Tragic Gay (always gay- bisexuals don't exist in the universes this book takes place in, and transpeople aren't even considered) sometimes exists during the timeline of the story, and sometimes is only a footnote in the main characters' backstory. Sometimes they even get to be a main character. Sometimes they're the protagonist, sometimes the antagonist. The one common thread in this parade of gays is that they are Tragic. Often they're victims of bullying, usually they have some unrequited passion for a straight person, and frequently they commit suicide. Very frequently, they end up in the great refrigerator in the sky, and our mains weep and beat the ground with their fists and cry many straight person tears for their poor Tragic Gay friend. Then they go off and save the world with their magic, heterosexual powers and the Tragic Gay smiles beatifically from heaven or wherever they've been shuffled off to. For lo, they have served their purpose;  the author can feel good about themselves for "representation," and the audience can cry for the plight of those poor Tragic Gays and the queer audience . . . um . . . well gosh, you just can't please some people! But some will no doubt eat from the plate they've given, because even if the food is rotten, it's better than starving.

I have read- and seen- this story so many times, and I am beyond goddamn sick of it. Hey powers that be, know why our kids keep killing themselves? Because you're telling them to. Tell someone a story often enough, and they start to believe it. Tell someone that being gay automatically equals a lifetime of noble suffering often enough, and they start to understand that this is what they can expect their life to be. Is it true? Not necessarily. I'm not one for the empty platitudes of the It Gets Better project- well to be honest, I'm not one for Dan Savage in general- but I do think that when you create art, you have a responsibility to consider what cultural and sociological impact art has. We tell stories because they mean something to us- they tell us who we are and where we come from. They tell us not to talk to strangers and to be kind and keep our promises. They tell us what we can expect from the world, and what is happening around us. Do you think it's a coincidence that in the eighties and nineties, we had so many stories about gay men dying of AIDS? Did a bunch of artists wake up one morning, isolated from all current affairs, and say "I'm gonna write an AIDS story?" Of course not. They wrote it because they saw the issues being faced in the world around them and said "I want to explore this story with my art." And now, on the heels of several well-publicized suicides of gay teenagers, we have stories about attempted suicide. And people- children- are surrounded by these stories and decide that this is what they can expect from life. Can we blame them? It's not like we offer them alternatives.

If I never have to watch another outing story or bullying narrative, if I never have to read another book where the main character's sidekick is defined by being gay and persecuted, if I never have to watch another goddamned episode of goddamned Downton Abbey where the lone gay character sits in a corner and cries because his love interest slashed his wrists- if you agree, if you're sick of this shit too, here's what you can do.

Don't write it.

It's as simple as that.

Don't write it. It's more than possible to write stories about gay people- or, shock of shocks- queer people who are NOT gay without drowning them in misery and calling it inspirational. It's been done. It's been done well! (Although how fucking depressing is it that two of those books had to be self-published? Mainstream publishers, you need to STEP UP YOUR SHIT.) I know Annie on My Mind and Keeping You A Secret were important when they were released, and I'm grateful for what they accomplished. But it's not enough anymore. If you agree? Then say so. Comment right here, comment on your blog, comment in your writing that you're not participating in this any longer. It has to stop.

This quote here? It's by E.M. Forster, the author of Maurice. His book wasn't published until the 1970s, because the idea of gay characters having a happily ever after was so anathema in the time it was written, he didn't dare try publish it. It's not the 1970s anymore. I think we can do better.

"A happy ending was imperative. I shouldn’t have bothered to write otherwise. I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows, and in this sense Maurice and Alec still roam the greenwood. I dedicated it ‘To a Happier Year’ and not altogether vainly. Happiness is its keynote – which by the way . . . has made the book more difficult to publish. If it ended unhappily, with a lad dangling from a noose or with a suicide pact, all would be well . . . but the lovers get away unpunished and consequently recommend crime."

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