Tonight I’m pleased to blog for the Rainbow Book Reviews Blog Hop!
I’ll also be giving away a digital copy of my novel Inside the Beltway. All you need to do is comment on this post to be entered, and I’ll pick the winner via random number generator. The novel will be added to your dreamspinnerpress.com shelf once I get your information.
So on to the topic at hand. The blog hop’s theme is “What Writing GLBTQ Literature Means to Me,” which has been the topic of much self-examination (and interrogation by others) since I started writing. Why on earth do I? The answers, I think, are much closer to home than I realized.
Venture beneath the cut for more!
Why men? Why gay? What do you know about it, being a woman — a straight woman at that? They’re not exactly new questions, and the answers are varied. For some it’s as simple as “they’re hot together.” For others it’s tied to an equality of power, or a desire to explore bonds that have society-prescribed limits. All of this is true of me, too, to some extent, but there’s another aspect to it that really drives me, and that is the concept of identity.
If there is anything that has defined me personally it has always been the search to present myself to the world. I’ve been a drama diva my entire life. Give me attention, and I’m a happy person. Let me create, perform, write, draw, or sing for you; give me an audience, and I’m ecstatic.
So for better or for worse, I’ve always been very caught up in the public aspect of my own identity. What do you think of me? Am I entertaining to you? Can I make you smile, or laugh, or beam at me proudly? And it’s when that started to butt up against my internal needs that I started to have trouble; one long psychological sob story later, and here I am still trying to find balance between my private self and my public self.
Identity is a complicated thing. We do our damndest to classify it — introvert, extrovert; male, female; gay, straight; liberal, conservative — and even when we don’t fit neatly into one of the boxes we find ourselves making compromises and choosing which bubble to fill in for the sake of a world that needs us to conform to its expectations.
That balance of public and private, expectations and reality, and how we define ourselves vs. how others define us is a big reason I write gay romance.
Because what is romance if not the struggle to find happiness in our private selves, and someone who will look past the expectations and see us for who we are? The whole process of meeting someone and falling in love is a process of discovery of identity. Who is this person I’ve just met? What is the substance beyond the face I can’t forget? Is this someone I can live with, someone whose flaws I can grow to tolerate and maybe even appreciate? And can this person understand me beyond the face I show to the rest of the world? Can I change, can he change, will we find a shared identity together?
Is there a deeper happiness beyond that of public acceptance? And, with the aspect of gay men thrown in, the second question becomes apparent: Is it worth the consequences for my public persona? And that can mean hiding in the closet, or it can mean being out and proud, or it can mean demurring on questions about one’s personal life. Or a million other things that don’t fit into easy boxes. Because none of this does, really.
But it’s fascinating.
“Inside the Beltway,” my first novel, deals with these themes on a number of levels. Davis is a senator, he identifies as straight and has been married, and he’s in the public eye. And yet he finds himself wildly in love with a man despite his best efforts. Maybe if he were younger or in a different position in life he would think of himself as bi, or pansexual, or some other label that would better describe his history. But for Davis, he has a career that’s well on its way to becoming presidential-contender-level, and he has to make some compromises and figure out how he’s comfortable identifying himself, both in private and in public. What does he tell his staff? His colleagues? The public in general? And when does he tell them? For Davis it’s a quandary he has to deal with throughout the book, even as on a personal level his relationship with Kurt is clearly a good thing. Being with Kurt makes him a better person, but he has to figure out how to translate that to the world.
The book I’m working on now, tentatively titled “Thinking Outside the Box,” is a different animal altogether. Again, you have someone who didn’t consider himself attracted to men finding himself drawn to one person in particular. Ryan’s background is different than Davis’s, and his attitude is different, too — he hates labels and identity politics with a passion, and he’s unwilling to label himself at all, even as “single” vs. “taken.” One of the things Craig brings into his life is a sense of why identity is so important, and why putting yourself in one of those boxes sometimes has value beyond making you more palatable to society at large.
All of this is a good sight more cerebral than perhaps you’d expect out of a writer of gushy romances. But for me, the self-discovery and self-acceptance parts of gay romance are so crucial and interesting. Even writing about two already “out” guys, there’s still the tightrope of public life to walk, and regardless of the genders/sexes of those involved, love stories are so often about not just meeting the person you were meant to meet but becoming the person you were meant to be.
And as for me, I think I was meant to write them. That is a discovery about myself that was long in forming but only recently came to fruition, and I’m grateful to the M/M romance community for helping me get there. I’m a bit in love with you all for helping me find this home, and becoming Ellen Holiday has been one of the greatest journeys of my life. So thanks, and cheers, and here’s to lots more romance.