Whenever Victor J. Banis drops by the site I never know what to expect because he’s unpredictable. But he makes me laugh, so he can do no wrong in my book. When I asked him to guest blog on The Golden Age of Gay Fiction I should have known that he couldn’t resist the ‘golden’ opportunity to poke fun at whatever he found offensive on that particular day and I wasn’t disappointed. Here, then, is Victor’s post on The Golden Age of Gay Fiction, with a few side trips along the way.:)
They stink! Ha, ha, I know what you’re thinking: he’s ranting about the Lammies again. But no, just for the moment I am referring to those armored and odiferous Chinese interlopers currently plaguing parts of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, the stink bugs. To be more specific, the Chinese Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs, and not our good ole American stinkers, which, in the American way, are nowhere near as nasty, if none too lovable. These suckers are very hard to kill and, boy, just step on one and you’ll know how they got their name. Which is what had my thoughts occupied this early morning, since I collided with one in my kitchen and it completely put me off an otherwise delightful breakfast.
Of course, as practically everyone knows by now, I think the Lammies stink too, and they have put me off a meal or two as well, and I don’t recommend stepping on them, either, though sometimes toes cannot be altogether avoided.
I was interested to note that along with (predictably) the many women who wrote to say they agreed with my recent blog rant, many gay men wrote to say they agreed with me also, which was a bit more of a surprise, albeit a pleasant one. Yes, I did read a couple of dissenting opinions, but that’s fine with me. If someone is disagreeing with me, it means I got them to think, and that is as much as a writer can hope for, I believe.
Plus, to be honest, I have reached the curmudgeonly state where I don’t much care if people agree with me or not, since I don’t need a lot of validation (at my point in life, if you don’t have a good sense of who and what you are, you’ve spent too much time in the bushes) and I’m not a whole bunch impressed with the way a great many people these days think—or don’t think, which is closer to the truth. We live in a culture, seems to me, where people are in fact increasingly discouraged from thinking for themselves. Too many of them get their politics from Barbara Streisand, their moral values from People magazine and their philosophy from tee-shirt slogans. I am dismayed at how many of those tee shirts I’ve read of late that say, “It ain’t bragging if it’s true,” which I think aptly demonstrates my point about non-thinking.
So, fine with me if someone expresses a contrary opinion, which is what free speech is all about. Mine own opinion remains unchanged: which is, the Lambda people shot themselves in the foot—again.
But, I may as well come clean. I was already ticked off at those folks. Mightily so, and here’s why. I went to the last awards ceremony, in May in NYC. As most of you probably know, each year the Foundation presents a gay pioneer award. Now, my dictionary defines pioneer as “one of those who is first or earliest in any field or endeavor…” And while I don’t deny that some of the people they have honored have made legitimate contributions to the genre, so far, with the exception of my buddy Ann Bannon, who was indeed writing lesbian fiction in the fifties, none of Lambda’s so-called “pioneers” – and certainly not this year’s recipients – were even around when Ann and I and a passel of others were stirring things up. Not even close. So how did they get to be pioneers and not émigrés to an already settled land?
It appears that the genuinely courageous efforts, the hard work, of scores of writers, editors and publishers – who had quite literally created the genre of gay literature – have been swept under the rug without so much as a “kiss our patooties.”
I came home from that award ceremony disheartened and profoundly depressed.
But, like the Ginzu ads say, “Wait, there’s more.” Happily, I don’t have to continue grousing about this injustice, and here really is the whole point of this essay: MLR Press has just released a splendid anthology, edited by Drewey Wayne Gunn, titled The Golden Age of Gay Fiction, and herein the misconceptions of the Lambda Foundation and the faux pioneers are laid to rest, and may praises be sung on high. This is all about the early years, as far back in fact as the thirties, forties and fifties, but focusing mostly on that turbulent era of the sixties and the early seventies, when we really were rewriting the rules.
I can’t write a review of this book, since I’m in it. Suffice for me to say I have contributed to nothing in my entire career of which I am more proud. I know that some of you are only interested in fiction, but for any who find the history of our genre interesting and meaningful, I would urge you to pick up and read The Golden Age of Gay Fiction . Given my druthers, I’d want to see it on the bookshelf of every writer, editor and publisher of gay or M/M fiction in the world today. It would give everybody a little bit of perspective to understand that we are all of us a part of something much bigger, much more meaningful, than our individual scribblings, happy though those may be. And, yes, I see the current popularity of M/M writings as a logical out-growth of those early, pioneering efforts, just another step along the road to the promised land, where as I like to envision it, what one has dangling or not will matter far less than who one is and what one does with that. Oh, happy frabjous day!
In lieu of a review, then, here is a tidbit, to be gleaned from Golden Age, that will surprise some of you, judging from comments I’ve read of late, and will underline yet again why I don’t think gender or sexual orientation has anything to do with the end product. Today the discussion is on women writing glbt fiction, which apparently some find shocking, though there were women writing it in the sixties, too (we just called it gay fiction then.) But, surprise, surprise, the shocking truth is revealed at last: back in the day, there were straight men writing it as well—apparently convincingly, since nobody ever started a rant about it. Which is to say, it really does all come down to how well you do the job. Do it right, and nobody notices. Do it badly, and hey, what difference does it make which side of the bed you sleep on?
See. Now you have to read this book to find out more about this, don’t you?