Why Are Straight Men Embarrassed by Gay Literature?

“Are you a faggot, or what?”

gay-plays-wildeThat counts as literary criticism in many circles.  You see, most straight guys have a problem with gay writing.  They will go see a Lorca play, but start mumbling into their beard when you mention he was homosexual.  Joe Orton is sharp and catty and they can get that.  He has a seventies sharpness around the edges, like an Oscar Wilde with the toffee knocked off… if only he wasn’t, well, gay.

Come on, guys!  Here are 10 essential pieces of reading to get you thinking about how to get with the twenty-first century.  Time to get over yourself and get with the times!

1:  Nick Alexander wrote this piece in The Guardian ten years ago.

I first started to realise that heterosexuals were less interested, less open to, or perhaps even embarrassed by my world when a close friend declined to read my book. “Well,” he said simply, “I’m not gay.”

With Trump in the White House and a wave of reaction sweeping across Europe, it feels to me LGBT folk must look at the world and think, “All very well for now, but we know the bastards are waiting in the shadows.”  A little solidarity is needed I think.

2: Toby Sharpe gives us these amusing insights in The Skinny  on how to behave around gay friends.  I found myself wincing as I read through: yup, that could have been me.

Making that weird tight-lipped smiley-face of tolerance when you walk past gay couples doesn’t make you look super-enlightened. It makes you look like you’re sucking a Fisherman’s Friend made of kitten litter. It makes us feel uncomfortable.

Tennessee Williams

3:  Brian Abrams in Mental Floss shows how heterosexual tightness leads to the suppression of homosexuality on the big screen.  Dear, oh dear, how could they do that to Tennessee Williams?

He just drinks whiskey on the rocks and leaves Maggie to wonder how she’s “gone through this horrible transformation.” But Tennessee Williams’s play remains ambiguous, pushing its audience to raise questions about Brick’s sexuality.

4:  That sucks, doesn’t it?  If you want to see things change you could pop over to GLAAD and support the work they do in standing up for LGBT rights.  There are some interesting articles there.  There are some great pages over at the BFI to explore the world of film.  Try this one for lesbians.

5:  Saeed Jones on Buzzfeed has put together a good list of classic books.  I didn’t score too well- only 10 out of 36- but I don’t mind that.  At least I know there are other good books to read out there.  I accept Jones’s point here:

If you’re a black gay guy, or a woman, or pretty much anyone but a straight white man, I imagine you understand just how powerful — and rare — it is to feel that a classic work of literature relates to your life.

BUT, my Gay Plays week in Asturias doesn’t have this aspiration.

You see, I don’t think we have to read literature that relates to our own lives.  And, especially from where I am standing, there is a great need amongst heterosexual readers to change their habits.  I’d like to get ALL good readers together to discuss a question I haven’t got an answer to: is there such a thing as a “gay voice”.   This question has some interesting corollaries, such as what is chick-lit? and why do men like science-fiction?

Here are some examples:

LORCA:  it is only now that we are ready to read about Lorca’s sexuality.  Ian Gibson has written a book that challenges many of the ideas that we might have had about the great Spanish writer.  Here is an article from the New Yorker to put you in the groove.  Lorca was homosexual and a writer: does the one fact inform the other?

WILDE:  of course Oscar Wilde is homosexual.  But does that fact mean anything when we are reading his plays or seeing them performed?  There is a certain kind of acid humor in the English theater world that traces a line of heritage from Wilde, through Coward to Ned Sherrin.  Is that gay?

GENET: Read this excellent article in The Paris Review that makes a direct connection between Oscar Wilde and Jean Genet, both of whom were committed to prison.  Jean Genet had the good fortune to see a change in customs and the quality of his writing and vision was lauded by writers such as Jean Paul Sartre.  We can do the same by honoring his writing today.

ORTON:  Everyone knows What the Butler Saw in the UK.  It is a classic smutty farce.  Joe Orton doesn’t have a catty humor, he is a lion.  The sharpness of his social satire and the relentless pursuit of hypocrisy and double-standards is nowhere more apparent than in Loot.  As Braham Murray says in this clip, Orton was a devotee of Dionysos.  What do you think?


queeremosMOURE:  Things have changed Teresa Moure has written a whole series of books that challenge gender sterotypes and reactions in the 21st century.  What is a gay play? she would ask.  Does that category exist?

I reply, “You can only find out by reading.  Get behind the surface and see what you find.”

These are the five writers that form the background of my Gay Plays course.  You do not have to be gay to join in; you just have to be a normal reader with an alive sense of what is important in this world.

Follow this link to find out more about the course and write to me if you are interested.

Gay Plays 10-15 December, 2017


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