So, a friend of mine wanted me to write an article for her newsletter on writing LGBTQ-themed fiction. We got our wires crossed, though, and instead of writing a how-to article on how to crack, as it were, the market, I gave her something else.
Anyway, as with most things, it got me thinking, as did last month’s Lambda Literary Awards where Edward Albee, in accepting the Foundation’s Pioneer Award, said, “I’m not a gay writer. I’m a writer who happens to be gay.” You can watch the speech here.
What’s the difference?
Obviously, with Edward Albee (did I mention he and I were in the same anthology once? I know-who’d have thought?), you have a writer whose work didn’t address themes from an LGBTQ perspective. A writer, he said, needs to be able to “transcend self.” Indeed, all writers have to do that, otherwise they’re memoirists (which is not to knock memoirists).
I think Albee’s stance came across as overly simplistic and more than a bit defensive. Maybe it’s a generational thing. Maybe it’s a symptom of white male privilege. I don’t know. But I think he’s wrong. He’s also right.
He’s wrong if he thinks being gay has had no influence on his writing. (Hello: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Sylvia?) Your work doesn’t necessarily need to address being gay specifically, but I think the context of our own existence will influence what we write. I’ve written about suburban housewives and vampires, though I am neither. I am also writing about a girl and a ten-foot-tall cat. I don’t have to tell you that I’ve never been either of those, do I?
Do you have to be gay/lesbian/bi/trans to write literature with explicitly gay themes? Clearly, the answer is no. Did you ever read The Dreyfus Affair by Peter Lefcourt? Straight. Married. (Also, great book.) There is also a vibrant market of women writing gay-themed fiction (for those to whom this is Greek, and admittedly my Greek is of the phrasebook level here, it’s been called “slash” but is more commonly now called “m/m”) and they’re not strictly writing for the gay reader. An LGBTQ writer should not automatically be required to write about LGBTQ-related themes either.
Nor should a gay writer (or a writer who happens to be gay) who wants to be taken seriously (whatever that means) feel it necessary to avoid writing fiction with specifically LGBTQ themes in it.
I understand I’m treading a line here. We develop our fictions to get at some truth about life. Whether our life specifically or life in general, it is life as we, the writer, observe or experience it. Our lives. Whether the protagonist sleeps with men or women is often not the point.
But it’s not like I sit down at the keyboard and switch off the part of me that’s gay. It’s part of the fabric. Remove it and the entire weave unravels.
So what I guess I’m saying is, don’t touch my weave.
What do you think? Do you agree with Albee or disagree?