My posts during April form part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. I will be writing to a theme: book genres, largely taken from the comprehensive Goodreads list.
I wondered what book genre I could find for Q and had resigned myself to writing about quilting, when I decided to bite the bullet and go for Goodreads' category of queer literature. I feel a degree of discomfort as the word queer has been a derogatory term for most of my life. But as I believe that it is being re-claimed by the LGBT community, I decided to proceed.
I wrote last year of my reaction to a review on the latest Patrick Gale stating that the reader hoped Gale wouldn't turn into one of 'those' queer author. That particular reviewer didn't elaborate on what was meant by this statement, but I recently had a similar reaction when I read that the New York Review of Books had critiqued Hanya Yanagihara for her representation of queer life and issues because the reviewer presumed the author to be heterosexual.
So, are there rules about who 'should' write about who? We've all heard the advice 'write what you know' but if that were to be taken as the only way, we'd not have the wonderful array of works currently found in the genres of science fiction or fantasy? Is writing from imagination frowned upon? Certainly a writer who is queer will have a personal experience which can be brought to the writing of queer characters, but observation and empathy can allow that same queer author to write beautifully about heterosexual characters - and vice versa. Rant over ...
As previously, I crossed referenced Goodread's list of works categoried under this genre as my starting point.
Evelyn Waugh's "Brideshead Revisited" was an early example - for me - of an openly homosexual character in literature. Additionally, there has been much debate of whether there was an actual, or simply underlying, homosexual nature to the relationship between the two primary characters. My personal feeling is that close friendships between males were entirely common in literature, especially in private schools and universities. The likelihood is that some were romantic and some platonic, with discretion being given greater import than now, due to the legal situation. Waugh simply reflected that situation and so didn't specify beyond suggesting that Charles loved Julia because of her similarity to Sebastian. Oh ... and it's a beautiful read, so do if you haven't already!
"A Little Life" is a more recent publication where the central character is homosexual but the minor characters are a mixture of sexualities, in much the same way as one would expect in life. It's a very powerful read and has multiple layers and themes. The sexual preferences of the characters is simply just one facet of each individual. The book is about way more than that: there's love, the trauma of abuse, hope, self-harm, loss of hope and grief. My favourite from last year's Booker read-a-thon.
Ali Smith's interesting Costa and Bailey's winner "How to be Both" presents a variation in this arena. The well-known variation is that the book contains two linked stories which are presented in random order, dependent upon the copy of book bought. Both main characters are female but called by a male name. For me, the more enjoyable and interesting is that which came first in my edition. The tale of Francesco del Cossa, a talented painter of frescos is told backwards and we slowly come to realise that all is not what it seems. Francesco was born a girl, whose father recognised that he would not be able to protect her, nor able to provide for her after the death of her mother. Although his daughter displays a singular artistic ability, he knows she wouldn't be able to train or work unless she was a he. And so starts her life as Francesco. Shakespeare's regular use of women dressing as men leads one to believe that there are more examples of this occuring in history, generally through necessity rather than any preference in sexuality. Again, a book I'd recommend.
How do you feel about the term and the category queer-literature? Would you avoid the work of known queer writers on the assumption that their primary characters would be queer? Is it easy, as an LGBT reader, to find works containing queer characters, should you so desire to?