So this is one of the things its somewhat difficult for me to talk about. I don’t want to be known just as a queer writer, but I am, and I do think queer visibility is important in books and I try to work it in. So let me talk a little bit about something that bugs me, as a queer writer: when I see people call Ashton (that’s a character in my book, if you’ve not read it) a “flamboyant homosexual.” Also: “flaming” or the somewhat more well-intentioned, but still meaningful “fabulous.”
Whenever I see someone do this, my first reaction is “that person has never met a real life gay man.” My issue with these words is that they’re coded. What they really mean is “stereotypical,” or “effeminate,” or something even less polite than that.
I worked hard not to make Ashton a stereotype. He’s a dandy, yes, and so he has some attributes that folks might characterize as stereotypical (cares about his clothes, is an artist, is witty like all the other characters in the book), but to me, Ashton is just a very worried elder brother. That’s the role he fills most of the time. He also has a romance, and it’s with a dude, which I will grant you makes him queer, although I don’t think flamboyantly so. He’s somewhat secretive about the relations with the dude after all. Sort of the opposite of flamboyant. I think what people read as “flamboyance” (gods that word is getting annoying) is the aforementioned stereotypical qualities. But those come more from his status with the historical subculture of dandyism. Dandyism is about performance, about aesthetics. But it was a subculture of the Victorian age – and a very popular one at that. Gilbert and Sullivan wrote an entire operetta about the subculture. That would be like Spielberg doing an entire movie about goth subculture today.
I tried to show that the dandy subculture was prevalent in the novel through the character of Professor Valentine, who is even more of a dandy than Ashton, wearing makeup, with long hair and frilly jackets – an EXTREME example of dandyism, next to which Ashton is positively staid. And yet I don’t see anyone calling Valentine “flamboyantly heterosexual.” And, frankly, he’s much more open about his pursuit of women.
I don’t mind if people don’t know the history and don’t understand Ashton’s character traits that way, but with a character like Valentine also in the book, I have to ask myself what they’re thinking about him. Is Valentine’s demeanor somehow excused by his non-traditional sexual desires for somewhat older ladies? (desires which, it bears noting, many a heterosexual man has today. Just google GMILF) Does being non-traditional in his desires allow him to behave in a fashion which such a reader would characterize as “flamboyantly homosexual”? I don’t know. It’s very interesting, though.
I suspect that what happens with folks who view Ashton as flamboyant, flaming or fabulous is that they see a few traits they associate with the stereotype, see that he is queer, and fill in the rest themselves. Which is fine – every work of art is shaped as much by the viewer as by the artist. I have no control over how you picture Ashton’s voice in your head. I may not have given him a lisp, but maybe you have. In fact, one of the few things I’m not 100% about in the audio version of the book is how Ashton is sounding (but I’ve only listened to the sample, not the whole thing, so I don’t know for sure).
When I picture Ashton, it’s as a rake, in a stylish, and maybe slightly weird, but not gaudy outfit, hands in his pockets, naughty half smile on his face. His long hair is parted down the middle, slightly wavy and ends at about his mouth. Were he in a movie today, he’d probably play a bad boy rock star, someone who is attractive because he appears so naughty. I thought that was how I wrote him, too. But I think a lot of folks place another character on him because of his sexuality, give him traits and characteristics that I didn’t write. And I get it, that happens with literature. But it still annoys me.
So, why does it annoy me so much I’ve taken to my seldom-update blog to rant about it? Because it happens to me all the time, too. There are people – most often women, but more than a few men as well – who, upon finding out I’m queer immediately want to go shoe shopping with me. I loathe shoe shopping. I have one pair of shoes for winter and one for summer and I wear them for years until they break and then I go online and buy something as close to that pair as I can find. But, I’m queer, so I must love shoe shopping, right? People who make these assumptions aren’t homophobic. They are often passionately for gay rights, and I thank them for it. But they are, as was said (and possibly coined, though I don’t know) on the TV show “Happy Endings,” Gaycist. That is, they make assumptions about a person based on their sexuality. Just as it is wrong to assume all black people listen to rap, it’s wrong to assume all gay men love shoe shopping or all lesbians love flannel. That’s gaycism.
I once knew (and really we were just in a program together, I didn’t *know* her) a girl who literally assumed everything I said was somehow related back to my sexuality. I asked who a guy was, she told me his name and said “but sorry, he’s straight,” though I had no attraction to him and just wanted to know his name, as I’d forgotten it. Another man came up to me and asked me if I thought he could pull of pink, from a dude’s perspective. She interrupted to point out I was gay and so wouldn’t really have a dude’s perspective, and would in fact love pink, as all gay men do. I deeply regret being too polite to have said anything to her at the time. Because I would have been very very rude if I’d let myself. (the dude in question, to his credit, seemed confused by her statement and asked me again).
So yeah, Ashton is queer, and he has some qualities you might think are stereotypical. But he’s not a stereotype. He’s a (fictional) person. Don’t let your vision of him be clouded by assumptions based on his sexuality. And don’t do it with me, either.
(And, as a side note if you’re wondering about “fabulous” – I think when you describe a gay man as fabulous, you’re pretty much describing him as flaming, but while flaming implies you disapprove of his personality because of those characteristics you’d call “flaming”, fabulous implies you love those characteristics. And that’s kind of you, really, but keep in mind that when homophobic people talk about flaming homosexuals or “I don’t mind them being gay, I just wish they wouldn’t be so flamboyant about it” what they often are referring to is two men holding hands. I don’t know what is so flamboyant about that. Just like I don’t know what makes a gay man fabulous for holding hands with another man, or saying they find some guy cute. It’s not a bad word, provided you really know the person you’re ascribing it too. At least, in my opinion.)
So, I’m going to stop ranting now. I’m sorry if I’ve offended anyone. But sometimes this stuff gets to me, and look, I suddenly have an outlet to express why. If I can make just one person see something from a new perspective, then that’s awesome. And if you post something homophobic or hate-filled, I will, naturally, delete the comment. Hope you all have a wonderful day.
(also, feel free to check out the episode of Happy Endings where the term Gaycist is explained. It’s good. The whole show is good. That episode is called Of Mice & Jazz-Kwon-Do)