On Writing Gay On Being Gay by Rick R. Reed

It’s no secret that I enjoy Rick R. Reed’s books and that I think he is an awesome writer. His books never fail to move me but this post is, I think, his most poignantrick, photo 2 and revealing piece of writing because it comes from the heart and shows us the man he really is. This was first posted on Rick’s blog and he gave me permission to reprint it since I couldn’t get his words out of my head.

“Years ago it would have caused me great pain to even write the word gay on paper to describe myself… Writing has allowed me to change my self-hatred and doubt into true self-esteem and self-love.”
–The late E. Lynn Harris in his 2003 memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted

rick reed e lynn harris coverWow. I was just having a little breakfast, a copy of Entertainment Weekly devoted to celebrities who has passed during 2009 open before me on the table when I came across that quote. To say it resounded would be putting it mildly. It was like someone had stepped into my own mind and eloquently sorted the emotions, memories, fears, joys, and hopes brewing there and instilled them into a few spare, eloquent words.

I am like E. Lynn Harris. Beyond being gay men and writers, I don’t know how much else we have in common. But I have traveled that same territory of self-loathing Harris describes. For so many years, I wore a mask and hid my true self in a closet. For most of my young adulthood, I was a married man, associated only with other straight people, and did not know what the inside of a gay bar looked like. I pondered checking out those vile groups that profess to change gay people into straight. I saw therapists, one of whom told me I could change and that my attraction to my own sex was simply my longing for the loving father I never had. My journey told self-acceptance was long and rough, and it pains me to think I was not the only one hurt on that journey. It now either makes me shake my head, laugh, or cry, when I hear people talk about the gay “lifestyle” or that being gay is a choice or a preference. When I think of how hard I struggled not to be gay, it’s hard for me to fathom how someone could view this as a choice. These narrow-minded souls have only themselves to ask the question: when did you make the decision to be straight?

Harris’s quote made me think about all of the above and why, today, my stories revolve almost exclusively around gay characters. And, with one exception, most of those stories show gay characters for whom sexuality is simply a part of their lives and not their exclusive reason for being. I try, with my work, to affirm my gay characters and to give them lives worthy of respect. It is only my gay villains–twisted, tortured souls–do I demonstrate not that being gay is unhealthy or wicked, but that not loving oneself can be incredibly damaging. I think that’s why some of my gay antiheroes, such as serial killer Timothy Bright in IM, want so much to be understood because they are beyond understanding themselves.RR ThroughClosetDoor

In my ebook short, Through the Closet Door, I write about a young man who was, very much like myself, in a straight marriage with a woman he loves (emphasis here is important) who struggles to accept something he doesn’t want but can’t escape. Toward the end of that story, he begins, just barely, to love himself for who he is and not who he thinks he should be.

It’s been about twenty years since I was a young man similar to the one in that story, and I think the reason the quote I began this blog with resounds so much with me is that I never realized until today how much the things I write have enabled me to grow and develop not only as writer, but as a gay man. I can see how my increasingly turning to gay themes and characters has mirrored my own self-acceptance. I am lately writing a lot about love, and romance has taken a huge role even in my horror/suspense stories. That, I think, is more of a statement than I realized. I have finally cast aside the chains of self-loathing that once bound me. I no longer hide that I am a gay man. And maybe, just as important, I can stand proud and say, “I write gay fiction…exclusively. Because these are my people…”


  • Rick, thanks so much for sharing your journey of self-acceptance with us. This was a deeply touching testimony and I hope somewhere a young gay man read it and it helped him accept who is is too.

  • What kills me is that story, your story, I have heard so many times and yet find that it’s becoming less understandable to the young. Maybe it’s the silver platter effect.

    Maybe that’s a good change for some but for me it underlines that being Gay, really being a Gay Man, is not just how you were born it is also about understanding and admitting to yourself what you want in life.

    It’s a combination of genetics and admission and experience.

    I don’t have so much a problem with the term “lifestyle” because we created that on purpose with the Gay Ghettos and the Gay Bars and the Gay Community and Gay Bookstores. Our community has become a “lifestyle” for many and even though I was never married and never really “did not know” I was Gay I still sought out that community on purpose at the age of 18.

    I just wish people understood the inner battle that so many have fought to be who they are.

    Good thought provoking article.

  • Thanks for sharing your story, Rick. To come to self-acceptance with being gay within an intolerant time and place has got to be one of the hardest things someone can do. I’m glad that in doing so, you found inner peace and a source for your creativity. I’m also glad times are changing and it’s easier for your son. I only wish that E. Lynn Harris had lived to see things get better.

  • I have several young gay friends, in their 20’s who seem to be “out and proud” and never questioned their sexuality at all and I wondered if you guys who are older (in a good way like fine wine 🙂 ) think that it’s different for the newer generations of gay men (and women). That it’s easier to be gay now and admit it publicly with fewer repercussions than it was 20 years ago.
    I have no clue if that’s true or not as I’ve never had to face that choice. I know there will always be families and friends and strangers who will never accept a gay person but I just wondered if you find there is less self-loathing as Western society in general seems more accepting of the gay community, or at least tolerates if not completely accepting it.
    It’s always touching to read about someone’s personal journey to accept themselves no matter what that entails. Thanks for sharing that with us here.

    • I definitely think we’ve made some progress. My son, who is 25, had it a lot easier…out to his friends in high school with very little problem. I couldn’t have imagined such a thing when I was his age. But then when I was his age, I was in the closet and about to become a father to said son.

    • Tam
      I think it all depends on the background of the gay man/woman. Tomorrow I’m interviewing a gay artist, Paul Richmond, who is only 29 but had a very difficult time growing up in the Midwestern US. Based on his experience it seems that not all young gay men are “out and proud” unfortunately.

  • Nice piece and well worth reprinting. I think Rick makes a very fine standard bearer for our gay writing community. I can’t say, with Rick, that I write gay fiction exclusively, but I think I can say that I have committed much of my life to the cause of gay freedom and to the genre of gay publishing. And for much the same reason Rick cites: these are my people. But I am also profoundly grateful to those men and women, not gay, who have contributed so much. Suzanne Brockman may or may not be one’s cup of tea as a writer, but Wayne Gunn is right in pointing out that by including a major (and happily non-neurotic) gay character in her books, she has probably done more for our cause than a score of activists. And look at the impact of Brokeback Mountain. We have come a long distance in the last decade, in large part because the larger social community has come to realize we don’t have horns and tails. And I think the women who write and read m/m fiction and who manage blog sites like this one deserve some of the credit too.

    • Oh Victor, you say it so well and I agree completely with you about the supportive, larger community that surrounds us. But as for us not having horns and tails, I can only say: speak for yourself, honey.

  • I saw the same quote in EW, and it moved me as well. Harris was only 54 when he died; I wish he had been able to enjoy more years being comfortable in his own skin. Thank you for sharing your story, Rick, and thank you, Wave, for reprinting it.


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