Just in case you didn’t know, June is officially Pride Month. The legislation was passed during the Clinton administration. Sunday is the culmination of Pride-related events in New York and San Francisco, including the annual parades. When I lived in New York it was still called Pride Week, and I participated for a number of years (much alcohol and dancing, the only time I participated in karaoke, and other embarrassing behavior I have blocked from my memory).
For some reason, the New York Times Magazine decided to have its gay-themed issue this past Sunday. I call it the gay-themed issue, but in fact it’s the anti-gay issue. The cover story is on whether therapists should help their patients stay in the closet; it’s titled “A Good Life in the Closet?” on the cover and “Living the Good Lie” inside. I suppose I should be grateful for the question mark on that first title.
A second, linked story is titled “My Ex-Gay Friend,” about a man who was gay and out in his teens and 20s and worked for the gay magazine XY after college. In his early 30s he announced that he was no longer gay, experimented with a series of religions and is now an evangelical Christian who lives in Wyoming (pot shots at Dick Cheney’s home state provided for your reading pleasure).
Both of these articles are very well written, as you would expect from the NYT. They are thoughtful and raise some interesting questions. Among the questions I have, however, are: why run them this week? And why, if you are writing about gay identity, do you choose these subjects? Clearly they’re newsworthy, in the man-bites-dog sense; a story about well-adjusted, contented, successful gay and lesbian Americans would potentially be much more boring. But surely the vast staff and freelance talent pool that is available at the Times could come up with a non-boring story about LGBTQ life in Pride Month? Or, if not a positive story, a story that is not about the inner struggles of middle-class white men? I don’t consider living in the closet to be a “good lie,” but maybe that’s just me.
The New York Times front page has rightly been called the prime real estate of American journalism, and the Magazine holds similar stature for feature writing. So when its editors make these choices, I assume they are doing so intentionally. I would really like to know what those intentions were. I can’t think of any that give me a positive opinion of their judgement.
On a happier note, over at Dear Author we’ve been marking the last week of the month as Pride Week with posts and giveaways. It’s been a lot of fun and we’ve gotten to talk about books we love and give some of them away. I’ve been emailing the winners, and I can see why bloggers do giveaways; you get to make people happy, one book at a time. I’ve also been reminded, however, that there are bloggers and readers who find the idea of straight women focusing so much on m/m and gay romance (in particular) to be problematic. I can’t speak for the many non-straight women who read, write, and discuss gay romance, but let me say a couple of words about why I care about it.
First and foremost, there are a lot of good writers and good books. I talked about how and why I started reading m/m at DA a while back in a post titled “Reading Outside Your Comfort Zone.” It’s squarely in my comfort zone now, but the reasons endure. Yes, there’s a lot of dreck out there; Sturgeon’s Law applies in romance as it does in every other genre, and given the volume of romance published, the absolute amount of crud is probably higher. But the good ones are really good. I like reading romance, and while there are some genres that I avoid, sexual orientation does not comprise one of my dividing lines.
Second, I strongly believe that while people are entitled to not read something (that would be The Rights of the Reader #1), that doesn’t give them the the right to keep it from being published. I don’t read inspirationals, but I’d be deeply disturbed if they were blacklisted by mainstream publishers. I don’t read shape-shifter novels, but I’d be angry if they were blacklisted as well. I hate that AA romance is segregated in its own line too. So how is it noteworthy that I have an analogous attitude about the dearth of mainstream publishing opportunities for and integration of m/m and f/f?
Although their views are very important, this is not just about what m/m writers, or LGBTQ writers more generally want. It’s also about what those of us who consider ourselves part of the reading community want. I want to live in a community where publishing standards are inclusive, not exclusive. As a member of this community and society, I have a stake in this issue.
I’ll end with the obligatory personal anecdote, which seems especially apropros today. When my parents decided to get married, my American mother (Irish Catholic by ethnicity) had to convince the county clerk that my Indian father was Caucasian, because otherwise the miscegenation laws then enforced in the state of Indiana would have prohibited them from marrying. A quirk of American jurisprudence had resulted in South Asian Indians being reluctantly recognized as members of the “Caucasian race,” so even though my obviously not-white father was unwelcome in any number of establishments, he could marry my mother. The fact that they were allowed did not make the requirement any less offensive, or my parents feel particularly grateful. Had the Supreme Court ruled differently in 1923, they would have joined the millions who couldn’t marry in many American states until the Loving v. Virginia decision in 1967.
Congratulations, New Yorkers! Especially to those of you who haven’t been able to marry before, but also to everyone else who has been supporting this legislation. As an academic who has spent a lot of time researching civil rights in the United States and elsewhere (and written a book and several articles on it), it’s clear that this bill is far from perfect, but it’s a big step forward.