Gay fiction/non-fiction discussion

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Ralph Gallagher I'm not sure if I saw this topic here or in Queerreaders, but here it is. What classifies something as LGBT fiction? Is it that sexuality is a focus point? Is it just having a character that is LGBT? Is it the author himself (or herself) being LGBT? How do we define this "genre"?


message 2: by Christy (new)

Christy Stewart (christyleighstewart) | 22 comments I don't consider the author, but I count any book that has a LGBT character in it.


message 3: by Collin (new)

Collin Kelley | 17 comments My just-published novel, Conquering Venus, is labled on the back cover as "Gay Literary Fiction." I'm not thrilled about it -- since only one character in the book identifies as gay -- but the publisher thought it would help the book find a niche. I think what defines the "genre" is still nebulous. For example, Michael Cunningham is gay and The Hours has gay characters, but its with all the other fiction books.


message 4: by Tom (new)

Tom (beachcombert) | 27 comments Good question! Maybe it depends on how the author (or his agent or publisher) markets himself. Easy to classify the younger Violet Quill novelists as LGBT since most of their books center on gay relationships. But how about someone like Gore Vidal, some of whose books have gay themes and others are historical fiction. Or E.M. Forster, remembered more for "A Passage to India" than for "Maurice"? As a gay reader I like to claim as many writers as possible for "family" but I realize some gay writers resist being pigeonholed because it may cost them sales in the mainstream (hetero) market. Has the Triangle Publishing group in NYC tackled this issue?


message 5: by Matthew (last edited Nov 01, 2009 08:59PM) (new)

Matthew | 5 comments http://www.hipsterbookclub.com/featur...

I wrote this a few months ago, and I think it sums up my thoughts pretty nicely... so rather than reiterate, I figured I'd just link.


message 6: by Ted (new)

Ted (efcorson) | 414 comments Mod
Matthew wrote: "http://www.hipsterbookclub.com/featur...

I wrote this a few months ago, and I think it sums up my thoughts pretty nicely... so rather than reiterate, I figured I'd..."


Post-gay, however that's defined, is a long way away. And I don't feel that "it's very hard to stay gay nowadays." Labels are your friends, as you eventually conclude in your final paragraph.


message 7: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 5 comments Ted,

I love labels, but I think the vast majority of people, particularly those in the younger generations, would disagree with your claim that labels are your friend.




message 8: by Ted (new)

Ted (efcorson) | 414 comments Mod
Being "Bi" seems to be fashionable among young people these days. But it's still a label. As much as modern kids are much more tolerant of diversity, they still use words like gay, str8, bi, fag, dyke, etc. with which to label others.


message 9: by Matthew (new)

Matthew | 5 comments Right, but the whole point is that nowadays there are literally dozens of labels to define sexuality rather than the three of my generation and the zero of the bygone generations. The floodgates have been unleashed on the idea of labels, and they won't close until they've drowned the idea of labels itself.


message 10: by Ivan (new)

Ivan I belong to an LGBT Book Group here in Tallahassee - we've been meeting for ten years (almost) and our rule has always been: books by or about gay people - simple as that.




message 11: by Tracey (new)

Tracey (tracey1970) | 1 comments Ted wrote: "Being "Bi" seems to be fashionable among young people these days. But it's still a label. As much as modern kids are much more tolerant of diversity, they still use words like gay, str8, bi, fag, ..."

Hi Ted. I don't believe in labels either. It doesn't matter what colour you are, what sexual preference you have or what you eat. We are all different but we all deserve the equal rite to "survive".


message 12: by Ted (new)

Ted (efcorson) | 414 comments Mod
Ivan wrote: "I belong to an LGBT Book Group here in Tallahassee - we've been meeting for ten years (almost) and our rule has always been: books by or about gay people - simple as that."

So, is "LGBT fiction" what a publisher says it is or a category in its own right? By your definition, an historial novel by Gore Vidal, having nothing to do with sexuality at all, is LGBT?




message 13: by Ivan (last edited Nov 26, 2009 03:21PM) (new)

Ivan I wouldn't leave it to publishers or bookstores like Borders. Borders has a "gay fiction" section, but then has loads of books dealing with gay characters or issues in with the general fiction. Obviously gay or gender studies would be a category in its own right. Fiction gets a little murky.

Your Gore Vidal question is certainly valid. It's kinda like "Giovanni's Room" by Baldwin being lumped with the Africian American fiction, even though there isn't a single African American character in the book simply because Baldwin was African American.

So, the answer to you question - as far as our group is concerned - is yes. This is our rule - adopted to give us a greater pool of material to choose from. Say someone wanted to choose "A Passage to India" by Forster or "The Heart is a Lonely Hunter" by McCullers - that would be fine by us as the authors were gay.


message 14: by Ted (new)

Ted (efcorson) | 414 comments Mod
My persective is this: we are everywhere and we always have been. If the thrust of a novel deals with gay characters snd relationships, then it's a "gay novel." On the other hand, just because you're a gay author (or reader) doens't necessaily mean that ou have an agenda, as if that's all your life is about.


message 15: by Ivan (new)

Ivan Yes, I agree with you. This group I belong to has been meeting for ten years and we've read 110+ books. A straight friend in Atlanta asked me if reading books "by or about" gay people wasn't limiting. I replied that the opposite has proven to be the case - one book leads to another. We've read books about gay people from all walks of life and from all over the globe - great histories that we were never taught in school (which is why we formed the group in the first place). Even when we read a book by a gay author that has nothing to do with gay issues or feature a gay character, we have taken the time to learn about the author. It's truly been a great experience - and we've become great friends - vacation together, share Thanksgiving dinner, birthdays, even funerals (both my parents), they've proven the greatest friends I've ever had.
Sometimes the only "agenda" is to share the experience of a good read.


message 16: by Ted (new)

Ted (efcorson) | 414 comments Mod
Yes, Ivan. One book leads to another. ANs books lead to freinds. Would you care to reveal who "we" are, this magical group you belong to?


message 17: by Ivan (new)

Ivan It's a little group - seven of us now - three other members have moved away. We started as a chat group at the local gay and lesbian center. We call ourselves The Whitman Samplers (silly story) and were recently profiled in Bookmarks Magazine.


message 18: by Ted (new)

Ted (efcorson) | 414 comments Mod
That's awesome. May I ask how old you are?


message 19: by Ivan (new)

Ivan late 40's


message 20: by Chuck (new)

Chuck (griffbluedog) | 3 comments Okay, I'd like to ask this: Armistead Maupin writes books with gay characters, and they have a quality of respect for all, but somehow they seem pretty mainstream. Michael Chabon, a straight man, includes gay characters in a lot of his books. I just read a book by Perry Moore about a gay character, but his being gay seemed almost peripheral to the plot. Are their works gay fiction? If so, do we limit their appeal?


message 21: by Ivan (new)

Ivan Griffbluedog wrote: "Okay, I'd like to ask this: Armistead Maupin writes books with gay characters, and they have a quality of respect for all, but somehow they seem pretty mainstream. Michael Chabon, a straight man, i..."

"...do we limit their appeal?"

Why would it? Chabon has explained that he includes gay characters because gay people are, and always have been, a part of his social circle. Moore is a gay film producer and novelist - the hero of his novel "Hero" is gay; so what more does one need? Sometimes, as in life, the story doesn't focus on our sexuality (it doesn't negate it either).

To me, Maupin is all inclusive - the opposite (or flip side of the coin) of Chabon - he's a gay writer who includes straight characters in his gay stories.

I like this new inclusive trend in the arts - the story may not be about the gay guy, but the protagonist has a gay friend or co-worker or brother who is very much a part of the the story being told - just like real life.

I think the more "present" we are in films, plays, on television, and in literature, the better.


message 22: by Ted (new)

Ted (efcorson) | 414 comments Mod
Perhaps gay fiction is what we say it is, not a "category" as such?


message 23: by Jay (new)

Jay Bell (jaybell) | 7 comments I don't think gay fiction needs to focus on sexuality, but one of the main characters should be gay. Since our sexuality crops up in our lives constantly, even if only in very subtle ways, then this will be expressed in the story naturally, assuming the gay character has a major role.

What I hope to see more of, and what I try to provide with my own writing, is a wide genre of stories, fantasy, horror, mystery, that just happen to have a gay character at the helm. Eventually, when people ask what sort of mystery a book is, perhaps they'll simply say "a gay mystery" as casually as we say a detective or gothic mystery now.


message 24: by Ivan (last edited Apr 10, 2010 12:16PM) (new)

Ivan Speaking for myself only, I find that most gay authors exude a certain gay sensibility in their work; and when straight writers attempt gay characters there is generally a feeling of falsehood about it/them - something just doesn't ring true.


message 25: by Jay (last edited Apr 12, 2010 07:28AM) (new)

Jay Bell (jaybell) | 7 comments Oh, I don't know. I think there are plenty of female authors that do just fine at portraying gay guys. They can understand what it's like to love a guy and what is sexy about the male body, so it isn't so different really, especially when it comes to romance.

Gay authors tend to write more about coming out, not fitting in, and persecution, which might be more unique to our life experiences.


message 26: by Jon (last edited Apr 13, 2010 06:46PM) (new)

Jon (jon_michaelsen) | 37 comments Jay wrote: "I don't think gay fiction needs to focus on sexuality, but one of the main characters should be gay. Since our sexuality crops up in our lives constantly, even if only in very subtle ways, then thi..."

Jay - I can't agree with your more; my writing is more focused on the mystery/thrill, romance, etc than on the protagonist (or other characters') gay sexuality. Yes, I write stories of men emerging sexuality - but not coming of age stories; I mostly prefer to write stories where the characters are either closeted or (very) out - but, they the situations/themes are back stories and not central to the plot.


I prefer stories of the like - BUT, I have to say that when I was in my late teens and coming out, finding/reading books dealing with coming out, coming of age, etc were so important to me (i.e., The Front Runner: A Novel). Many, many years later, I find that I enjoy novels where characters just "happen" to be gay (ala, Richard Stevenson series with Donald Strachey.....


message 27: by Duane (new)

Duane Simolke (duanesimolke) | 19 comments I think categories such as "gay fiction" are helpful for people who want to find or market books with gay characters. But that doesn't mean the same works can't fit into many other categories, or that they would only appeal to gay readers. It's just a helpful label.

Like Jay, I enjoy works with characters who just happen to be gay. Still, I could name a lot of "coming out" works that I would still suggest.


message 28: by Tom (new)

Tom (beachcombert) | 27 comments The "gay" labeling issue is somewhat important to me as an operator of an online bookstore because I have to decide whether to include "gay" or "lesbian" in the keywords and descriptions that are attached to each book's listing. My guideline is to use the label if I've read the book myself and feel that it is gay. If I haven't read the book, I go by the texts of the dust jacket summary and blurbs.
It's a more important issue for a bricks and mortar bookstore. At my local favorite, I feel sad that David Leavitt novels are shelved only in the general "literature" section and not placed on the GLBT shelf. If I were running the store, I'd try to put them in both places. But, of course, stores have limited shelf space and have to make tough decisions.
Then there's the issue of transgender-related books. Many T militants dislike being assumed to be gay even if that happens to be the case. Are bookstores creating "Gender" shelves?


message 29: by Robin (new)

Robin (therobinreardon) | 47 comments Tom wrote: "The "gay" labeling issue is somewhat important to me as an operator of an online bookstore because I have to decide whether to include "gay" or "lesbian" ...

Tom -- The question of where to display transgender/transsexual and similar themes in books reminds me of the battle of the restrooms. Many corporations and public groups are nervous about letting M-F trans into women’s bathrooms, and vice versa, and they don’t want to have to spend the money to create new facilities for – for whom? This country is SO hung up on sex.

My goal as a writer, though I happen to be writing gay-themed books now, is eventually to write (and sell) stories in which there are non-straight characters who just happen to be characters in the story. That is, the goal is to have the story not be about sexual orientation or gender-anything. I think Julia Glass is approaching this as well.

Tom, what’s the url for your bookstore?



message 30: by M. (new)

M. Kei (kujakupoet) | 10 comments I would define 'gay fiction' as fiction in which the character's orientation matters. It could simply being part of who s/he is, but it could be the point of the story. I have heard some sf authors claim that certain characters are gay, but that it doesn't come out in the story.... closeted fiction characters? If nobody can tell the character is gay, then it doesn't matter to the story, and it's not gay fiction.

On the other hand, I am tired of fiction in which 'gay' is code for 'porn.' I have been rather disappointed that some fans of the m/m romance genre, for example, in their online postings have said that they won't read a gay romance unless it has sex in it.

When I wrote Pirates of the Narrow Seas, I kept the sex non-explicit because I wanted it to be about the characters, not the bodies. Orientation matters. During the Age of Sail, the British navy hanged men convicted of sodomy or buggery. So, the first novel is something of a coming out novel, although the focus of the novel is nautical -- storms at sea, duels, ship to ship battles, and assorted swashbuckling adventure. The fact that the character is gay matters -- it influences his choices and what happens to him and what risks he runs, and for the first novel it's an issue he struggles with. In later novels he has come to accept himself, but that doesn't mean society has, so it still matters, although again, the nautical action is primary.

Coming out stories have their place; everybody has to come out, to themselves if no one else, but they seem to me to be the quintessence of novels that are 'about being gay' as opposed to being about gay characters who are dealing with whatever challenges the author cares to throw him/her. This is why I prefer genre fiction over general fiction. In a mystery novel there is a mystery to solve, for example. The orientations of the characters can matter a little or lot, but there's something other than just the debate over orientation involved.


message 31: by Tom (new)

Tom (beachcombert) | 27 comments Robin wrote: "Tom wrote: "The "gay" labeling issue is somewhat important to me as an operator of an online bookstore because I have to decide whether to include "gay" or "lesbian" ...

Tom -- The question of whe..."


Robin, thanks for asking. KingChamp Books is at www.kingchampbooks.com.


message 32: by Sally (new)

Sally (mxsallybend) | 3 comments All too often, an LGBT character or scene is thrown in for nothing more than the titilation factor - a chance for the author to show how bold and risque they are. The LGBT element has to be more than just a convenient plot device, more than just a convenient means of shocking/exciting the reader, and more than just an attempt to pander to an audience.

I think M hit the nail right on the head - "I would define 'gay fiction' as fiction in which the character's orientation matters."

If the LGBT question is not of key significance to the primary characters involved, then it's just generic fiction.


message 33: by Dylan (new)

Dylan (greendragon06) | 8 comments Over the question of where does transgender fiction fall, I think that it depends on the content just the way it is with gay fiction- if the story is about a thought to be gay man coming out as a woman, then I think that has a place in gay fiction. But if nowhere in the story is there anything gay and the fact that someone is transgender does not matter orientation wise but maybe matters for other reasons, such as getting married to a loved one legally, then that should either be in mainstream fiction or whatever genre it fits into.


message 34: by Chuck (new)

Chuck (griffbluedog) | 3 comments I'm wondering if anyone has read Peter Cameron's Someday this Pain Will Be Useful to You. If so, did you think it was a gay novel? The protagonist finally states that he is gay and one of his actions indicates it, but I personally think that being gay should be more central to the story for a book to be considered a gay novel. I don't think the character's orientation much matters in this novel.


message 35: by Steven (new)

Steven (goodreadscomstevenkerry) Some of the best "gay books" have no gays or gay references at all; it is a sensibility one can feel and relate to. That being said, I also love books by gay writers. I don't mind my own book being considered a "gay book", but the subject matter (handsome gay public relations man loses his face/good looks) is one anybody who's looked into a mirror and said "God.I gotta learn to love this person as he/she is" can relate to. It has plenty of material for discussion in book clubs.


message 36: by Chuck (new)

Chuck (griffbluedog) | 3 comments Sometimes i feel like fiction with a protagonist who is an outsider is easier for me to relate to as a gay man than just any book that has a gay character or two in it. That said, the gay characters don't have to be outsiders for me to relate to them; Boy Meets Boy was one of my favorites.


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