Monday, October 13, 2014

Quoted: Edmund White on the state of LGBT lit

Whereas pioneer gay novels -- Gore Vidal's The City and the Pillar, James Baldwin's Another Country, John Rechy's City of Night -- had attracted curious heterosexual readers, now gay fiction was a commodity assigned its two shelves in a few stores, and no heterosexual would venture to browse there, just as no man would leaf through a book shelved under "Feminism." The heterosexual browser or the curious male might have even felt he was trespassing. The category of general literary fiction was vanishing and its disappearance showed that the new multiculturalism was less a general conversation than rival monologues. Edmund White from The Farewell Symphony
It's rare that I pull a quote from a novel, especially one a decade-and-a-half years old that deals directly with the AIDS crisis. I love all three in White's trilogy or autobiographical novels: A Boy's Own Story, The Beautiful Room is Empty, and The Farewell Symphony, but given the current climate of LGBT rights, I worry that recommending them beyond any sort of historical document might seem sentimental given that I'm part of a generation that entered its teen years as AIDS was becoming a national issue. We were raised to believe sex could very well kill you.

However, I think it's important to acknowledge, lament even, the death of a an era where gay books, when you could find them in stores, weren't slapped with the scarlet rainbow. Yeah, it's better know that those books are just a click away, or that the remaining brick-and-mortar stores aren't afraid to stock them, but banishing gay books to the gay shelf is still an obvious form of marginalization.