I recently read a review about a book that focuses on two gay male characters in high school. The book was written by a woman and reviewed by a woman. Personally, I’ve read a good deal of male/male fiction written by women who do a great job. So this post isn’t about whether or not women can write gay fiction. Some can, they do it very well, and I support them all the way.
But this book and this review made me wonder. The review I read was good, and the book was praised. But, as a gay male, I found it unrealistic to the point of ridiculous in many places. Because I know, from personal experience, not what I’ve read or seen on TV, that there are some things that just don’t work. Not even in a romance novel. For me a book like this, even well done, is almost insulting. I know it wasn’t written to insult, but that doesn’t change the facts. And, oddly enough, on the day of President Obama’s “Beer Summit” I’m writing this post. I didn’t plan that. But it is interesting that every single minority in America is treated with great care, except the GLBT community. We still get the brunt of politically incorrect jokes and we still aren’t taken seriously in certain areas.
When I create a gay male character in a romance novel, I’m always doing it with the intention that the character didn’t have what we all consider a normal puberty. High school is nightmare and puberty, if you survive it (no joke), isn’t a fond memory. I try not to assume anything, but I think it’s safe to say that most gay men of a certain age didn’t actually come out of the closet until they were in their early to mid-twenties. And I personally know some who came out much later, after years of agonizing about it.
The gay men I write about didn’t start dating in high school like everyone else. They didn’t write love notes and they didn’t hold hands in the hallway on their way to class. These guys were terrified of the locker rooms and they kept their feelings hidden from everyone. There were no fond memories of teenage romances. If they went to their proms at all, they didn’t go with the guy they had a crush on, they went with the girl they were pretending to like because that’s what everyone expected them to do.
By the time my characters reach their early twenties, they are ready to experience all the things they’ve missed and have been suppressing throughout their teenage years. And they do it with a vengeance, which is something a few of the newer Internet book reviewers don’t comprehend about gay men. So I’m educating them, nicely, in case they are interested.
I know things are changing, and younger gay men are starting to come out in high school. But things aren’t changing all that fast, and there are still male teenagers out there who know they are gay (it’s not a choice…and I’m not even going to explain that) and are still missing out on what everyone else takes for granted, which is a normal puberty.
This is just a very basic example of how I create a gay character. I don’t go into details about his past or his puberty unless it’s relevant to the story, but the underlying implications are always there. And a good deal of it comes from my own personal experiences and the experiences of the many other gay men I’ve known. And when I see a male/male romance where the characters are still in high school and they fall in love and live happily-ever-after, I have to wonder where the writer is getting her information.
You can be gay and live happily-ever-after. I write about that all the time. And I’m sure that there is some gay person out there, somewhere, who might have experienced a wonderful puberty and a hot romance with a high school jock. But it’s not the norm.