A year ago, I wrote a post about being closeted. Specifically, straight people being “closeted” about reading or writing LGBT fiction. I talked about the importance of being open about that one small thing, not hiding your ally status from the world like it’s something shameful, because we need all the allies we can get.
Today, I want to go further. You see, this language of being “in the closet” gets bandied around about all sorts of things, and is used frequently when allies and aficionados of LGBT fiction (romance, particularly) discuss how they represent themselves in their everyday lives. I can understand the appeal of using that vocabulary. It seems fitting, given the context. But here’s the thing: every time someone talks about “coming out of the closet” by telling a friend of relative they like LGBT fiction, they’re likening that experience to what a fifteen year old goes through telling his fundamentalist Christian parents he’s gay. One of those things is not like the other. I would go as far as to say it devalues and demeans our experiences of coming out as LGBT by comparison.
For those of us who are LGBT, the closet is not a safe space where we can hide from the jocular ribbing of friends and relatives. It’s a claustrophobic, stifling corner in which we hide the truest part of ourselves for fear of what would happen if we were ever found out. Some of us — too many of us — lose our friends and families, our homes and livelihoods, and sometimes even our lives, when we finally come out. Yet we come out, and we keep coming out, every day, to all sorts of people, because not to do so feels oppressive. It feels like living a lie.
Moreover, when our allies talk about being “closeted” about something as simple as reading/writing LGBT fiction, it reinforces the impression that anything LGBT-related is inherently shameful. That our allies are ashamed to be reading about queer lives. And how do you think that feels to those of us who are living queer lives?
Why does the word “gay” stick in your throat when you tell a friend or parent or sibling or spouse what kind of romance you read?
I’m not saying go into work and announce to your conservative boss that he should rethink his political position because two men getting it on is hot, but why can’t we use LGBT fiction to start a debate about LGBT equality? Perhaps if we heard the word “gay” a little more often, it wouldn’t stick in so many throats. It wouldn’t be synonymous with shame and guilt. If more people spoke up, perhaps the voices that sounded loudest wouldn’t be right-wing zealots spewing hate and lies.
Perhaps, if more people spoke up, we wouldn’t need closets at all.
Phoebe Sean · May 28, 2015 at 11:54 pm
I am guilty of not announcing to everyone that I read mostly LGBT romance novels. I am. I’m also guilty of not telling people I write it too. Phoebe Sean isn’t even my real name. I created this pen name especially for my MM romance stories. I’m not published yet so it doesn’t matter. I’ve never been pretentious enough to feel like I was ‘in the closet’ about anything, though, I’m a woman and I’m attracted to men. I’ve never had to come out to anyone and tip my hat off to everyone who has. But that doesn’t matter either. What matters is that since I created this fictional name for myself in order to publish something, I’ve decided that if I want my kids to live in a world where gay or het or bi should not be anything more than blond, brown or green is for eye colour, then I have to man up (or woman up?) and publish with my real name. In a year, I’ve gone from not telling anyone except my close friends to telling pretty much everyone and giving my novel to my mom to read -which a year ago I would never have done. Ever.
So your post just encourages me to keep going on this road, to talk about it loud and clear so that someday these posts will be antiquated and referred to as ‘in the time when LGBT was still a problem for some people’.
My name is Josée De Angelis and I read and write LGBT novels.
Kate Aaron · May 30, 2015 at 11:44 am
hbpattskyn · May 29, 2015 at 2:54 pm
Great post 🙂 It took me a little time to embrace the phrase, “I write gay romance”. In part, it’s because I write romance and it just so happens to be boy-meets-boy, and I want what I write to be taken as seriously as boy-meets-girl. The conversation about romance being taken seriously is something else again, but somehow you say “gay romance” and people start assuming the strangest things.
It took me a while to realize that the only way to combat those things–whether it’s “hey, this is serious/real writing” or “no, I’m not writing porn, but I do kinda dig it, can you recommend any good ones?” or “yes, people *do* read that, and why yes, my family *does* know what I write” or all of the wonderful points you brought up about what awful, lonely places closets are and the only way (I know of, anyway) to help people feel safe coming out of them is to start those conversations, to get people thinking–to start changing attitudes, one person at time, if need be.
Kate Aaron · May 30, 2015 at 11:44 am
I’m a little on the fence about the “gay romance is no different to straight romance” argument, it smacks me of the old “I don’t see colour” platitude, and rather negates our differences, which do exist and should be discussed, because a lot of them relate to social justice and whitewashing the real experiences of being queer only stifles change. M/M has a lot to be responsible for in that regard, because all too often the characters people love best are parodies of a certain type of (straight-acting) gay man, and they don’t realistically represent the community and people that I know.
Andrea M · May 29, 2015 at 4:33 pm
I once read a post and comments about authors who write gay fiction using their real name. The consensus seemed to be that most don’t and think its fine for various reasons. These same writers portray closeted gay people in an unfavorable light. When I compared closeted men to the writers who hide behind pen names, the reply was that its not at all the same, that closeted gay people are denying who they are but writers aren’t. The writers are shielding themselves because of extended family, jobs, etc. Makes no sense to me that there’s a difference there. I guess you’re supposed to always proudly proclaim that you’re gay but if you write about it there’s no problem with not acknowledging it. If you are gay, write about it or read it, be proud of it.
Kate Aaron · May 30, 2015 at 11:36 am
I don’t have a problem with people using pen names or picking and choosing who they tell, because sadly I do know people who’ve lost their jobs for writing LGBT fiction, however I think socially it’s something we should all be more open about. You’re absolutely right there’s a disconnect between the genre’s appetite for coming out stories and the number of people who won’t admit to reading them.
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