When Wanda asked me to write a blog entry about my new book, Captured Up Close (20th Century Short-Short Stories) for the LGBT Daily Spotlight, I asked, “What can I say that would interest your readers?” She said, “Write something personal.” Since I write fiction, I balked. You could say, I hide behind my characters, preferring to let them speak for me through my stories. But now, I’ll share myself without a role to hide behind.
My themes on LGBT, racial, and social injustices are obvious to anyone who reads my stories. In Captured Up Close, four of the stories are about what it was like to be gay or transgender in the last century.
I grew up in a time when being gay was considered a mental illness. We were called degenerates, child molesters, monsters. Ignorance in the “straight” world was pervasive. It was a lonely and difficult life made more so because I could only be myself and had no shame about it. That got me into a lot of trouble. Girls were scared of me, as if being gay were contagious. Guys wanted to change me as if having sex with them would magically make me straight. My mother was horrified that she had a “sick” daughter. She tried some weird stuff like locking me in my room. She even took me to a psychiatrist. He told my mother, even after I told him I liked girls, that I wasn’t a lesbian because I didn’t “look like one.” Wow, what a competent shrink!
But the biggest nonsense to ever come out of my mother’s mouth was that it was rock music that turned me into a homosexual. Toward the end of my mother’s long life, her views about LGBT people changed, and she called Wanda her daughter-in-law.
In spite of the alienation, there was something exciting, on-the-edge, even thrilling about “being me.” I had no role models, couldn’t relate to the butch-femme thing. I liked creating myself, discovering the different aspects of me, not conforming to the rules of society, and most of all shunning the idea that I was going to hell because I was gay. I never blamed my parents for being stupid. They’d been brainwashed by the church, politicians, and the looping of a homophobic culture.
One thing I know for sure: gay people must come out of the closet. We have to make our many millions visible. We are sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers. It’s hardest for transexuals. It takes courage to be themselves when fear and prejudice are so prevalent.
In Captured Up Close, “1984” is the story of a friendship between a drag queen living with AIDS and the lesbian nurse who cares for him. The decision to put in his obituary that he died of AIDS and not pneumonia
is a big coming out for James.
Before Stonewall, LGBT people lived like Stormy and VaVoom from “1957.” They were beaten, rounded up, and tossed in jail for gathering in bars, the only place at that time where Queer people could meet and socialize.
And in my first story, “1912,” a gender-bending vaudevillian is torn between being a man and a woman to save himself from drowning.
But it’s “1968,” where Johnny sneaks out of the house to go to his first gay bar that I took from my own life. I never stole my parents’ car, but I did do some crazy things like stuffing pillows under my covers at night to make it look like my body in case my parents looked in on me, climbing out my bedroom, and dashing across the woods to see my girlfriend who lived a couple of miles away.
There are other stories not LGBT related. To me we’re all one big happy and dysfunctional family trying not to throw food at each other at holiday meals but instead lift our glasses in a toast to love and acceptance.
I hope to entertain, enlighten, and uplift people through my stories. That’s why I write. As Edward Bulwer-Lytton said in 1839,“The pen is mightier than the sword.”