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Wednesday 14 April 2010

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The Gay Blade

22nd October 2009

Life & Literature

Posted by: Michael Stevens

I read a lot. So I go to bookshops a lot, and love spending time and money in them. bookslog.jpg

If you’re ever stuck on what to give me for a present, book-vouchers are perfect. But I have to admit that it took me a while to figure out that Unity Books here in Auckland had moved their gay literature section to another part of the store. On reflection, this surprised me: not that they’d moved it, but that it took me so long to notice.

Time was I couldn’t wait to get my hands on any books that dealt with gay life. Fiction, poetry, biography, research, theory, whatever, they just seemed so important and so necessary to me. When I first enrolled at University, one of the first things I did was find out where all the gay books were kept in the library. I used to have that catalogue number memorised. The first time I went up there I remember looking at the books, pulling a few off the shelves, and looking down the aisle to see a guy with his cock hanging out, using the gay section as a cruising area. Now there is shelf after shelf of work on gay/lesbian/queer stuff and I barely bother to give it a glance, and I haven’t noticed any hot undergrads hanging out cruising there either.

The old OUT! office in High St (very near to where Unity is now in fact) was my first source of gay literature. I still have some of the books I got there. Felice Picano’s poetry The Deformity Lover and a few others. I wish I’d kept hold of my copy of the first edition of The Joy of Gay Sex though. That office was a strange place. They had porn under the counter, and serious literature on the stands. I bought works put out by the Gay Sunshine Press from SF, which I still treasure, because I do treasure books.

At one time, anything written to do with being gay was seemed esential to me. I read, and by reading heard of other books I should read. By reading I learnt what it was to be a gay man.  Giovanni’s Room made me cry. Dancer From the Dance made me want to live in New York, dance, fuck and take lots of drugs. Faggots made me re-evaluate that, temporarily. I loved Rita-Mae Brown’s work, and others from that era. Books helped me learn about how gay men lived in other places, gave me models for what to expect, how to dress, how to behave, what drugs did, styles of sex, all of that. They gave me an education, when one was hard to find locally, and showed me that I belonged to a much bigger more exciting world than 1979 Auckland.

Now there are hundreds of books, by many different authors available. And yet I feel little compunction to follow the latest trends in gay fiction or poetry. It just doesn’t seem to matter to me any longer. Yet once it was central to me discovering who I was and how to negotiate the world. Perhaps internet dating sites fill that function now? I can’t help thinking that they can’t do it quite as well, but technology is always socially transformative.

I suspect that here we can see the effects of the normalisation of queerness. As we have won our rights to live as couples in the suburbs, adopt babies or bring them into the world with surrogates, or adopt unwanted puppies instead, and generally join the hegemonic world of day-to-day dullness that straights inhabit and so many of us now seem to crave, I suspect our literature (if it is indeed “ours” any more) has become less interesting, less challenging. We’ve moved from being a group of people demanding social change based on strong political analyses to suburban conformists shaping arguments on the premise that “Hey, I pay taxes too”. We’re in the system, not trying to change it.

Our communities have suffered as well. Once HIV/AIDS was a central part of who we were, at least for gay men anyhow, but today interest in this has nearly disappeared too. The communities that fought for better treatment of those of us living with HIV have largely dissipated. Instead of HIV and the welfare of HIV+ men and the care of us all being the central unifying issue for gay men, it has become of marginal interest for most, even when they become infected. A bored “Whatever, take the pills” seems to be the response to HIV today in the gay world, here in NZ at least.

So we’ve made spectacular gains in some areas. We can have our relaitonships officially recognised. We can’t lose a job for being gay. We can fuck legally just like straights, at 16. We can take our pills, and manage our HIV pretty well for most of us.

But what unites us? What holds us together as a group now? And do I care? Maybe not so much, which is why I didn’t notice they’d moved the gay books. And I’m not sure whether this is a good thing or not.

Tags: General

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Patrick Hine // Oct 25, 2009 at 8:32 am

    And, consistent with what you say, it is a smaller gay and lesbian literature section in Unity Books, at least when I was there a couple of weeks ago.

  • 2 Brandon // Oct 25, 2009 at 10:26 am

    Very interesting read, I remember picking up the Spartacus Guide when I was 16 and that was what motivated me to travel.

  • 3 Paddy // Oct 31, 2009 at 10:43 pm

    I think it’s just that we’re older, Michael. We’ve “been there, done that”. I think there’s still just as much a need for gay literature as there ever has been. Kids may see gay characters now on TV but that’s very different from realising that YOU are one of them and not like the rest of your mates and they don’t know. Youngsters still need good gay literature to turn to. Unfortunately I think a lot of them, however, aren’t turning to it. Instead they’re switching on their computers and finding poor quality free stuff online. And a lot of them are finding porn and not discovering the literature.

  • 4 R-bo // Nov 3, 2009 at 10:05 pm

    “…and generally join the hegemonic world of day-to-day dullness that straights inhabit and so many of us now seem to crave”

    Eh? You’ve completely lost me here, Michael. If you’re going to make such a sweeping and insulting statement, shouldn’t you also explain just what is it about straight society that you find boring that isn’t part of GLBT society?

    Surely the ultimate in liberation is not to have to confine ourselves to circulating exclusively with others who are GLBT, but to actually be happy living amongst the wider community. Maybe what the “many of us ” who “now seem to crave” straight society have realised is that it wasn’t straight society per se that was the problem, but the two problems that existed: 1. non-acceptance of ourselves by others and 2. non-acceptance of ourselves by ourselves. Once those have been dealt with, and that’s no mean feat, then it’s case closed.

    Having said that, I think that those problems still have some way to go before they are solved, particularly no.1, but that’s another story.

  • 5 The Outer Alliance » Linkdump #6 – Gay literature and TV // Nov 11, 2009 at 12:02 pm

    […] gay literature Michael Stevens writes about the change in how important gay literature has been to him: “Now there are hundreds of books, by many different authors available. And yet I feel little […]

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