Saturday, September 14, 2013

A Gay Old Time

What's it like to be in a longterm relationship? Well, don't ask me. I have no idea. So, why am I writing a novel that (hopefully) portrays the possibility of a life-long love affair? Because it's interesting. 

Take the story of John Banvard and his partner Gerard Nadeau. The two gay seniors in Chula Vista, California held a wedding ceremony at their retirement home. The UK's Daily Mail refurbished a San Diego TV station's coverage of these adorable older men who decided to finally get hitched after spending decades together.

But their belated union wasn't without its controversies. Some of the older residents were ticked off, and even tried to get the rabidly idiotic Phelps clan to show up and protest. That failed.

So, too, do the sniping antigay comments on the website. These two men served our country in different wars, and yet the same sort of people who bleat "Support Our Troops" are often those who denigrate equality for these men after their service.

It's very easy to get caught up in the trail of ignorant comments on such websites. We want to share our opinions about equality in the hopes that it will change minds, or at least comfort like-minded strangers.

Since stumbling into the Male-Male Romance genre, I've read a lot of books in that category. Every Time I Think of You tells the story of Reid and Everett, two very different teenage boys who fall in love in Pennsylvania. It's very much a romance. None of the events portrayed happened to me.

Many of the books in this genre, as M/M GayRom fans know, are written by women; straight women with husbands and kids and cats who live in the Midwest. They may have never even been to 'gayborhoods' in San Francisco, Philadelphia or New York City. They may have never been to a gay bar, a sex club, or even tried to hook up on Grindr under a fake persona.

And that's okay. They don't need to have actually experienced a gay romance to write a story. Sure, some of them get it wrong – terribly wrong– but that's my opinion, and some of these authors have an enviably large number of fans.

Like the nasty comments on websites that cover LGBT news stories, I'm sometimes stunned by the odd negative opinion about my books. A few ratings on websites like GoodReads stick out in particular. The Negative Nancys seem to think they know better than I do how my characters should behave.

One preposterous comment surmised:  "I don't see Reid and Everett staying together."

Really? Oh, well, I guess I should have them break up. Because that person's idea of romance, relationships, monogamy and love were not shown in the book.

Another person commented that Every Time I Think of You reads like a dream. That could be a negative critique – is it too gauzy, unrealistic? – but since the genesis of the novel stemmed from a very detailed dream I had, I'll take it as an unintentional compliment.

Were I to be in a long-term relationship (a guy can dream, can't he?), I'm not sure how it could work. "Sorry, honey, I can't go on a leisurely drive to Point Reyes today, because I'm too busy typing about people I made up."

Or, how about, "No, sweetie, you can't toss out that two-foot-high stack of books. That's my to-do pile. Just dust around them."

What sort of partner would tolerate that for years on end?

Ursula K. Le Guin's, apparently. In the spring 2013 issue of UC Berkeley's alumni magazine, the prolific author discusses her balance of family life and writing.

Along with a lot of fascinating quotes about her life growing up in Berkeley, Le Guin offered this bit of advice.

"She and her husband, historian Charles Le Guin, balanced work and parenting by following what she has called Le Guin’s Rule: 'One person cannot do two full-time jobs, but two persons can do three full-time jobs—if they honestly share the work.'"

I wonder how much a partnered author's real life reflects on fictional works they create about marriage.

In the real-life case of John Banvard his partner Gerard Nadeau, a good fictional comparison would be the fascinating trilogy of novels by Elliot Mackle. The three books in the Captain Harding series blend military tactics with subdued manly passion. Mackle, a Vietnam Air Force veteran, obviously knows what he's writing about, and that gives the books a veracity that's valuable for books based around real events.

Real events in the early 1980s and in Philadelphia will be a part of my sequel to Every Time I Think of You. But I'm trying to not get caught up in facts that prevent a good story. And since I have no experience with a years-long relationship, I get to make stuff up. 

Although I don't plan on writing a third novel about Ried and Everett (several more on the back burner are simply demanding my attention!), I have envisioned the two of them growing old together. As the difficulties faced by both the gay and disabled communities in the 1980s and 1990s have shown, they would have (will have?) faced an uphill battle to stay together. 

But if real-life couples, writers or not, can continue to have a "gay old time" (as The Flintstones' theme song goes), why can't my fictional characters?

1 comment:

  1. This post kind of got past me, but as someone who's been in a 32-year-long relationship, I can say this: people change so much that being in a long-term relationship should feel like you've been in one with several people: your partner as he is now, as he was, say, 10 years ago, 20 years ago, or 30 years ago. In the beginning you really have many more conflicts than you will have later—and one of the real problems is just knowing this. Your partner can get used to your yard-high stack of books (no big deal—my partner is a bigger reader than I am, and he keeps the book stacks), or that you need to write, in fact, must write. You can get used to what he does, the annoying things. The important things are the gifts you give each other: that of genuine love and caring. That is the only thing that really matters. Everything else is just a matter of communication and patience. Perry Brass, author of King of Angels.