Born This Way

Monday and we survived Weekend One of Carnival Parades. *whew*. I am exhausted, though, which is never a good thing for a Monday morning of a new work week. Heavy heaving sigh.

Now I know what ‘bone tired’ means. And speaking of ‘bone tired’….

As Constant Reader knows, I taught a session on writing LGBTQ characters at the SinC into Great Writing workshop at Bouchercon this past September in New Orleans. It was an amazing experience, and it was enormously flattering to be asked to do so in the first place. I was also asked to write something for the Sisters newsletter, pretty much given carte blanche to write whatever I wanted to, and since I had an essay about being a gay writer on the backburner (I’ve been toying with it for almost a year) which I was calling “Death by a Thousand Cuts,” I said sure. As I was wrapping up deadlines and looking ahead to the glory days of NOT HAVING ANY DEADLINES, I started writing the essay again, whittling away things from the original unfinished draft that no longer fit my thesis and…I got about halfway through and stopped.

The reason why I stopped? Because it is next to impossible to write about the challenges of being a gay crime writer writing about gay characters without sounding like the biggest whiner in the world, and I don’t want to be that guy.

Then, a question posted on a list-serve I belong to for crime writers triggered some answers that were so horrific, so thoughtless, and so ignorant that I suddenly knew how to write the essay–or at least how to address it with a starting place.

One of the current ‘boiling points’, if you will, in our current society is the question of ‘cultural appropriation’ as well as ‘cultural insensitivity’, and how these questions apply in a broader sense with the American guarantee of First Amendment rights under the Constitution (without getting into the reality–which most people either don’t understand, or chose to ignore– that ‘freedom of speech’ is actually only guaranteed as a protection from persecution and prosecution from the state; not from other people, and certainly not from consequences. The example I always use is, “Well, when I worked at the ticket counter I couldn’t tell a passenger to go fuck himself, could I, without getting fired?”) Recently–I don’t remember where I saw this, but it was on Facebook; I don’t know if it was from an industry publication or a newspaper or something–I read a piece about the major publishers hiring what were called ‘sensitivity readers’ to read manuscripts dealing with characters who were out of the author’s experience to make sure the characters weren’t offensive. I am of two minds about this, and I can certainly understand why people would find this alarming/concerning; how much control/power would these ‘sensitivity readers’ have over the author’s work? Not to mention the fact that no one can speak for an entire community; what one gay man finds offensive the next three you ask may not.

So, yes, I do have a bit of a problem with the concept of sensitivity readers. However, if I were writing a character from a culture not my own; say, a New Orleanian of Vietnamese descent, wouldn’t I want to talk to a New Orleanian or two of Vietnamese descent? Wouldn’t I want my character to be as authentic and realistic as I can possibly make him or her? I’ve talked to cops, private eyes, and FBI agents to make my characters are grounded in reality as I can. So, why wouldn’t a heterosexual writer creating a gay character want to get some insight from a gay person? And so on, and so on, and so on. I don’t see a problem here, but again, that is the work that should be done before the manuscript is turned into the editor and publisher, and I’m not sure how comfortable I would be with that for myself.

Of course, there are those who, because of this, have pulled out the ‘censorship’ battleflag, thoroughly missing the point. The First Amendment does not guarantee anyone a publishing contract, nor does it guarantee a platform; if it does I’d like to be booked on both The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert when my next book comes out, thank you very much. Oh, wait, it doesn’t mean that, after all?

Blimey.

Which is my roundabout way of getting to the latest provocateur, Milo. People were rightly outraged when the conservative imprint of Simon & Schuster gave him a book deal; people were rightly outraged when he started getting invitations to speak at colleges and universities; people were outraged when he got invited to go on Real Time with Bill Maher (whom I also have problems with, but we’re talking about Milo now). As loathsome as the things he says are, I will defend his right to say them against any attempt by the state to silence him. Simon & Schuster is a business; they have a right to give a book deal to anyone they think will make them money (although I seriously doubt this book will make them any money; I see it going onto the remainder table pretty damned quickly, and not even being released in paperback; unless, of course, conservative clubs and organizations buy it in bulk at a deep discount as giveaways for fundraising drives and so forth–which is often how people like Ann Coulter wind up on the bestseller lists), and likewise, college/university groups have a right to invite anyone they want to come speak to them…but rescinding those invitations (and promise of payments and expenses) when said invitations blow up in their faces is not censorship as defined by the law and the Constitution. The same law that gives Milo the right to say what he does also applies to those who oppose the things he says.

That’s um, kind of how our country works.

Being utterly uninterested in anything he has to say (I’ve never enjoyed listening to transphobia or racism), I didn’t watch Real Time with Bill Maher, only watching the clips of Larry Wilmore telling him to go fuck himself, which I will also admit to enjoying immensely. (Of course, now that clips of him talking approvingly of sex between children and adults have turned up–and really, who didn’t think something like this was going to come up; it was just a matter of time–he won’t be getting invited to speak anywhere anymore, and I suspect S&S will be cancelling their book contract.) But Milo–like Ann Coulter before him–fascinates me. (And for the record, I use ‘fascinate’ with the old meaning of like how a snake fascinates its prey; I do think he is kind of dangerous, and snake-like.) I always wonder how people like him come to be. I wrote eighty pages of a Paige novel in which the victim was a Coulter-like character, attempting to peel back the layers and see what could create someone like her/him (that manuscript is in a drawer, as no one had the slightest interest in publishing it). Coulter apparently sees herself as a comedian/performance artist; I sadly know people who know her, and they state she doesn’t really believe what she says but it makes her money; I suspect Milo is kind of similar to her in that regard, yet at the same time…

Take, for example, his appearance on Bill Maher. Milo is precisely the kind of gay stereotype that triggers homophobic reactions from the right, and even from some gay men: he isn’t particularly masculine, and wore enormous faux pearls around his neck on the show, which he played with as he spoke (damn it, I am going to have to watch); he is an effeminate gay man (think a conservative Jack from Will & Grace, or Emmett from Queer as Folk: the kind of gay man that ‘straight-acting’ gay men loathe and despise). The loathing of homophobes for effeminate gay men (and, let’s be honest, a number of GAY MEN as well) has everything to do with the culture of masculinity and the fear of ‘not being a man’; which, really, is where homophobia and sexism and transphobia comes from.

I just saw on Twitter that Milo may lose his job at Breitbart over the pedophilia comments; I am not holding my breath, nor will I hold my breath about losing the contract with S&S. He has, always, positioned himself as a spokesperson for the First Amendment; all of this should give him more material to work with, and of course, I am sure it’s the fault of the ‘politically correct’ who ‘want to silence him.’

So, I doubt he will go gently into that good night, and he will undoubtedly continue to fascinate me the way cobras fascinate their prey before they kill and eat them.

I always am curious at to what made these types of people what they are.

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