Someone on social media recently posed the question of whether there was really a need anymore for gay fiction, now that gay marriage is becoming much more commonplace and generally much more acceptable to the masses.
I didn’t have to think long about my feelings on the subject. That’s because I think there will ALWAYS be a need for gay fiction, no matter how similarly we identify with straight people and anybody else.
I do get why the questioner was posing the question. And it does deserve some consideration. I think the underlying point is that now that gay people are more assimilated with the rest of society, there may no longer be a need for the “ghetto-ization” of gay fiction. That as we become more a part of mainstream society—and more acceptable and accepting of that—we may not need to take refuge anymore in gay literature. That gay literature will simply serve no more useful purpose.
I’m afraid I can’t agree with that, and not simply because I write lesbian fiction and still enjoy reading lesbian fiction, even though much of my book collection would fall under “straight” or mainstream fiction.
It’s true that gay fiction has evolved over the decades to reflect the times. It’s gone from being the outsider looking in, of characters fighting for acceptance, characters losing jobs, family and children because of their sexuality, or characters being outed or afraid to be who they truly are for some darned good reasons. All of those battlegrounds have been addressed in gay fiction over the years, and they needed to be.
Those novels reveal and reflect what life was like for many gay people in a way that histories and biographies simply can’t do. Those novels place the reader—many of whom are too young today to understand some of these battlegrounds—right in the story, so that they can see and feel what life was like for their predecessors. Those novels are a window to our past and still serve as a testament to all those brave souls who fought the good fight to get us to where we are today.
Today’s gay fiction is, for the most part, much different. Characters fight battles every day, but they are often the same battles everyone else is fighting too: relationships, issues with kids and jobs, working to fulfill dreams, saving the world, and so on. The characters’ sexuality is still very important in today’s gay fiction, but the battles have changed.
So… do we need gay characters? Should we exclusively read (and write) mainstream fiction, if all the trial and tribulations are basically the same now?
Absolutely not. While I don’t personally feel the need to exclusively read or write lesbian fiction, I still, and always will, feel like I’m sheltering in a nice, cozy, safe port when I burrow into gay fiction. It’s home to me, and while I’m happy to foray into other neighbourhoods, I still need to come home every once in awhile. I still need to see myself, my relationship, my friends, my life occasionally in the novels I read (and write).
There is still a need to see ourselves in fiction, because if we don’t, we may disappear altogether. Or we risk letting someone else define our lives for us.
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