Wednesday, December 2, 2009

On Writing Gay; On Living Gay


"Years ago it would have caused me great pain to even write the word gay on paper to describe myself... Writing has allowed me to change my self-hatred and doubt into true self-esteem and self-love."
--The late E. Lynn Harris in his 2003 memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted

Wow. I was just having a little breakfast, a copy of Entertainment Weekly devoted to celebrities who has passed during 2009 open before me on the table when I came across that quote. To say it resounded would be putting it mildly. It was like someone had stepped into my own mind and eloquently sorted the emotions, memories, fears, joys, and hopes brewing there and instilled them into a few spare, eloquent words.

I am like E. Lynn Harris. Beyond being gay men and writers, I don't know how much else we have in common. But I have traveled that same territory of self-loathing Harris describes. For so many years, I wore a mask and hid my true self in a closet. For most of my young adulthood, I was a married man, associated only with other straight people, and did not know what the inside of a gay bar looked like. I pondered checking out those vile groups that profess to change gay people into straight. I saw therapists, one of whom told me I could change and that my attraction to my own sex was simply my longing for the loving father I never had. My journey told self-acceptance was long and rough, and it pains me to think I was not the only one hurt on that journey. It now either makes me shake my head, laugh, or cry, when I hear people talk about the gay "lifestyle" or that being gay is a choice or a preference. When I think of how hard I struggled not to be gay, it's hard for me to fathom how someone could view this as a choice. These narrow-minded souls have only themselves to ask the question: when did you make the decision to be straight?

Harris's quote made me think about all of the above and why, today, my stories revolve almost exclusively around gay characters. And, with one exception, most of those stories show gay characters for whom sexuality is simply a part of their lives and not their exclusive reason for being. I try, with my work, to affirm my gay characters and to give them lives worthy of respect. It is only my gay villains--twisted, tortured souls--do I demonstrate not that being gay is unhealthy or wicked, but that not loving oneself can be incredibly damaging. I think that's why some of my gay antiheroes, such as serial killer Timothy Bright in IM, want so much to be understood because they are beyond understanding themselves.

In my ebook short, Through the Closet Door, I write about a young man who was, very much like myself, in a straight marriage with a woman he loves (emphasis here is important) who struggles to accept something he doesn't want but can't escape. Toward the end of that story, he begins, just barely, to love himself for who he is and not who he thinks he should be.

It's been about twenty years since I was a young man similar to the one in that story, and I think the reason the quote I began this blog with resounds so much with me is that I never realized until today how much the things I write have enabled me to grow and develop not only as writer, but as a gay man. I can see how my increasingly turning to gay themes and characters has mirrored my own self-acceptance. I am lately writing a lot about love, and romance has taken a huge role even in my horror/suspense stories. That, I think, is more of a statement than I realized.

I have finally cast aside the chains of self-loathing that once bound me. I no longer hide that I am a gay man. And maybe, just as important, I can stand proud and say, "I write gay fiction...exclusively. Because these are my people..."

25 comments:

  1. Very powerful, Rick. I enjoyed your blog. Thanks for sharing your story; it was enlightening.

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  2. I loved this blog and am I'm so happy you've reached this point in your life, but regret that you had to suffer even an iota of self-loathing due to idiotic and cruel perceptions from people who should take a deeper look at themselves.

    Writing romance and women's fiction, I've had to explain that I'm not writing about sex. That sex is merely a part of my characters' lives, and what's wrong with wanting a committed life partnership? I'm going to steal your line and tell people who question what I write that I'm a woman writing women's fiction because these are "my people."

    Even during my recent Spec Ops thriller series, my stories always included a bit of my own life's journey. (My family could make a Tennessee Williams family look like the Waltons, so I lean toward the idea of what, exactly, makes up a "family" and redemption themes.)

    And at least one of my characters always possesses one of my flaws. When I started out, I'd tell people that with my number of flaws, I could probably write forever. At 27 yrs and about 100 books, I guess that's turning out to be true.

    I'll admit that while I've enjoyed your journey to the PNW and the lovely wedding, I've never actually read one of your books. (It's hard to find time for reading for pleasure when I'm always working.) But that's going to change today. I'm off to Amazon.

    Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Aw, thanks JoAnn! I am going to have to check out your work as well. Do let me know if you read some of my stuff; I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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  4. Rick
    This is so moving and I was moved to tears when I read it. I'm one of those people who knows that you're either born gay or straight or bi or whatever and that you can't change basically who you are.

    It's funny you mention that writing romance is probably your way of accepting who you are, at long last. When I read the post you did for my site that came through loud and clear. I can imagine how tormented you must have been as a young married man and Through The Closet Door exemplified your turning point as well as the character in the story.

    You know that I hold you in high esteem and I think you're a really wonderful person. Being gay is just a part of who you are, not the whole person who is much more multi faceted.

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  5. Wave...the same right back at you. I hold you in high esteem for all you selflessly do to promote good gay fiction...and keeping non-gay writers writing about gay lives on their toes!

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  6. BEAUTIFUL! thank you for this. you make all us homos proud.

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  7. Writing is great therapy. It's amazing the issues we can work out for ourselves while hopefully entertaining others. The best is when our writing helps the reader, too. Keep up the good work, Rick. :)

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  8. I'm glad that now you seem to have found a balance in your life Rick. And that this allows you to gift us with your books. Elisa

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  9. Rick, thank you so much for sharing your feelings and for writing your stories. One of the gifts of the Internet is the widening of our circles of people whom we admire.
    You're one of them

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  10. What a powerful post! With a few words you've allowed people to see a little bit of who you are and how you got there. By no means an easy thing; I've been able to something similar about living with depression.

    It's always a beautiful when, by your words, you allow other people the opportunity to see something of themselves or to learn something new ~ and real ~ about others.

    I thank you for the gift you've shared; your words remind us that opening ourselves to other people's experiences is not only freeing but humbling.

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  11. Great post, Rick. Thanks for sharing. I particularly like your comment about how your writing is turning more to romance and the reasons for that.

    All this heavy thinking so early in the morning! LOL...seriously, good stuff. Thanks.

    Leslie

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  12. Rick, I read your post and it was like you were reading my mail. I began life's journey as a gay male and transgender, winding up as lesbian and female. Though not for an audience at the time, writing and journaling also helped me move from self hate to self embrace or perhaps reflected that movement. Oh how I tried to be straight! I'm so glad I failed.

    Great post!

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  13. I'm so happy that you've found your way through the bad times and have found your happiness and your strength in yourself. You deserve it! We all do, every single person on this earth. I know a couple of people who actually talk about those horrible "conversion" camps as if they are a good thing, and it makes me so sad and so furious. I just don't understand why some people can't accept others as they are. It doesn't make any sense, and that hate does so much harm in the world.

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  14. The strength that you needed to grow, you share with all of us with each word you write. All the love and happiness to you is what I wish, Rick.

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  15. The strength that you needed to grow show in your words that you share with us now. I wish all the love and happiness for you, Rick.

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  16. I'm about as straight as straight can be, and I've long believed science affirms that gayness is not a choice. Not any more than my heterosexualness is. I'm glad you're free now, Rick, of the exhaustion of struggling to be who you are not. And that you no longer fight self hatred. As the race issue inches toward change, so does America's attitude toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and "queer" people. Let's hope the acceptance begins to speed up.

    Carolina Valdez
    http://www.CarolinaValdez.com

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  17. Rick,

    This is a struggle many of us in the BDSM community have faced as well. I spent the first 35 years of my life denying my submissive/masochistic impulses. I bought into the idea I was 'sick' and perverted, twisted. I came up during the women's lib movement, when we were encouraged to be strong and independent and not take shit from no man, damn it!

    Yet here I was, longing to kneel naked before him and feel the kiss of his lash, to yield my will to his, to submit... What the fuck was WRONG with me!?

    I too went to therapy, and had docs tell me I was acting out from an abusive childhood blah blah bullshit cough...

    Ironically, it was Gloria Steinham who showed me the light. She said basically, true liberation is the freedom to be WHO YOU ARE ...not who society dictates you should be. I was like, WOW, yeah! I am strong, independent, my own person, AND I am sexually submissive.

    It was so freeing. I "confessed" to my vanilla husband of my needs and desires...eager for him to embrace my new feelings and findings with me....

    oops...

    He said, "you are SICK you are Perverted, I will take the children, I will have you committed..."

    Instead, *I* took the children, and I left! I started writing as a way to explore my submissive impulses and longing, and then i found the courage to seek it out in real life.

    Today (15 years later), I am happy and fulfilled, and proud of who and what I am.

    So bravo, Rick, for your message. Maybe the day will come, someday, when every person feels free and safe enough to just BE THEMSELVES...

    Till then, keep on telling your story, and I will too!

    Love, Claire

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  18. In 1958, Mildred and Richard Loving, a newlywed couple in Virginia, were awoken by the sheriffs breaking into their house to shine a flashlight on them and ask her what she was doing in bed with that man. She said, "He's my husband." They were arrested. She was black and he was white. It was illegal still in many states for them to be married. They fought it all the way to the Supreme Court, and in 1967, the last laws banning inter-racial marriage were declared illegal. Mildred just passed away last year, and she said she hoped she would live to see the day when "Everyone, black and white, gay and straight, could be free to marry the one they love. Because that's what 'Loving' was all about." She won't live to see the day, but I hope some of us will. Tolerance is what our country was founded on. It's a real shame that so many seem to overlook that fact.

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  19. What a poignant, honest and intense post. Thanks for sharing yourself like this, Rick. It makes me feel better about the struggle I am going through to work through years of self-hatred to finally find a way to be me.

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  20. Powerful stuff, Rick, and I am happy for you! As a straight woman who writes some gay fiction I can say for myself that getting into my characters heads and hearts has really been liberating and broadening for me! A gay boss I had years ago gave me some bad impressions but they are long gone now and as a newish Druid practioner I can truly accept and love you and your friends and fellows with a glad heart and mind and not flinch when I use my life-long nickname which is Gaye. It is a pleasure to know you and read your great stories!
    walk in harmony!
    Deirdre O'Dare

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  21. Powerful post, Rick. I was watching the Today Show the other morning when Meredith Baxter came out in her interview with Matt Lauer, and all the while I'm thinking to myself, WHY do we have a country, one of the most advanced in the world, where people still feel they have to justify their love for another person, and they face ridicule if they don't conform? It's sad that people can't just accept people for who they are and who they love. I was disgusted when my home state of Florida was one of the states to vote in a gay marriage ban. Like others have said, I didn't make a choice to be straight, I just am. Just like others don't make a choice to be gay or bi, they just are. And it shouldn't matter in this day and age.

    Or even as it was said on Ellen the other day when Adam Lambert was her guest, it shouldn't matter that it was a gay male, either sexuality on TV should offend you or not, not selectively offend you just because it was a gay male expressing it. (That's not exact, it's a paraphrasing, but you get the idea.)

    I write books that tell stories about characters and the lives they lead and the love they have for others. I actually had one reader compliment me that she'd never read or wanted to read any m/m fiction until she read one of my books, and that the love story and how I portrayed the characters changed her mind. So I consider it a success that by my writing, I at least positively impacted one reader to change her way of thinking and open her mind.

    I hope in my lifetime we get to a point where our country (and who knows, maybe even the world at large) finally drops the archaic mindset and realizes that as long as it's consenting adults involved, it doesn't matter who loves who or how they express that love for each other. Then kids can finally grow up appreciating who they are and not having to go through what you and others have gone through. And not just for gay issues, but as another poster noted, for BDSM issues, and even transvestites who are straight but wish to cross-dress, etc.

    People should be free to be who they are without fear, and consenting adults should be free to love who they wish and how they wish without the government or narrow-minded prigs putting their two-cents in.

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  22. Very well written and moving. Thanks for telling your story in such a beautiful way. Jean

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  23. I'm going to post longer comments in the other forum you read, Rick, but I felt I should add this comment here.

    I always laugh at the beginning of HBO's True Blood where they show the sign: God Hates Fangs. Obviously we all know what that's a play off of.

    The argument I use when I have to face down people who insist that God hate homosexuals is that God is all knowing, all powerful, and all capable. If God didn't want gay people then there wouldn't be any, simple as that. This is something that God thinks is okay, and the rest of us should quit questioning God's judgment in this area.

    While I've gotten some very tortured attempts at a logical comeback to this over the years, God allows us to screw ourselves up, those lame attempts are easy defeated by the question of: Just what kind of God do you have here?

    As for anything else, I'll let me writing speak for itself. My fembots and m'bots are all fully bisexual -- and why would we have ever programmed them any other way?

    Peace!
    --DB_Story

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