Many years ago -- more than two decades -- I was friendly with a gay man named Vincent, whose trademark lament (with a dramatic sigh and a stereotypical swish of the wrist) was, "It isn't easy being gay."
LGBT rights have come a long way. However, Vincent's lament still rings true. I have never been one to complain about my lot -- after all coming out as a lesbian was, for me, a kind of freedom (and I wouldn't trade my life for any other). But I was reminded of the fact that it is still hard to be gay by three new books that I recently read.
In Mr. Loverman, (Akashic Books, 2014) a novel by British author Bernardine Evaristo, we meet an elderly gentleman (Barry) who was born in Antigua and who has lived in London for years. Barrington lives a double life -- having been lovers with his childhood sweetheart (who is not his wife) for just as long. First, we meet his wife as a long-suffering and extremely critical woman. But gradually as the story unfolds -- and Barry finally works up the courage to leave his wife for his gentleman friend, who is his long-term lover -- we discover the complexity of his wife's character. Barry stayed in the marriage because of society's taboos (in particular, West Indian cultural mores) and because he didn't want to leave his two daughters. The writing is poetic, the characters are realistic and all sides are well portrayed.
American Honor Killings, Desire and Rage Among Men (Akashic Books, 2014) by David McConnell gives us a dark and disturbing portrait of the hate crime murderers of gay men as men who are also gay (or who have "homosexual tendencies"). The idea of men trying to rid themselves of their "inner gay" by bashing and killing men they know to be gay (more gay?) is not a new concept. It is murky and complex and filled with self hate fueling the hate crime and, sometimes, attracting the victim to the perpetrator. In one instance, the author talks about a young gay man from Oklahoma who fell in love with a skinhead: "In Houston he saw his first skinhead and fell in love -- not with the person but with the type, the idea."
In the same section, McConnell writes:
"Oklahoma seems tough on its children, like a badly educated parent. Time and again before interviews, I found myself holding hands around the table in prayer. Our bowed heads, our extravagant humility, felt propitiatory. Then the interviews would turn to the kind of seedy, raucous lives glimpsed on certain TV shows, where the country's underclass likes to make a spectacle of itself as we watch and call it pop culture. Here, since the point wasn't ratings or harsh amusement, the stories were suffused with sadness and incomprehension."
Although it is not mentioned, the glimpse into small town America that American Honor Killings presents is a strong rationale for gay positive role models, including ally groups and self-esteem activities in the educational system -- and the sooner the better.
A Song For Lost Angels by Kevin Fisher-Paulson (Fearless Books, 2014) is a memoir by Kevin Fisher-Paulson that details the quest that two gay men, in a long-term relationship, undertake to become fathers. They become the foster care parents of triplets with multiple medical issues. The story takes many twists and turns, and is engaging and witty. It is true that many of their obstacles were inherent in the structure of the foster care system, but the two men also encountered a fair amount of blatant homophobia -- in their home town of San Francisco. Woven in with the story of becoming fathers is a back story of how the two men were raised and had come to understand family and reinvent traditions for themselves.
There are also some heart-warming insights into the psyche of a man who yearns to be a father:
"There was a tenderness in both of us that surprised me. Like the way that Brian just sat in the rocking chair and rocked whatever baby needed it, sometimes for hours at a time, sometimes humming. Or leaving each other little notes again, like we were young and in love all over.... Maybe that's why gay men adopt, so they don't need to feel so much pressure to be butch."
The story takes a heart wrenching turn but there is a surprise happy ending. It is a reminder that when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.