Does sexuality govern how we write? As writers, do our preferences enslave us?
Our desires bend us in certain ways and every experience spills onto the page, coloured by our own personal wants.
Dreams really do shape reality.
This question popped into my head while writing Unrequited, this notion that while I was writing something personal (and no doubt, unmarketable) in terms of gay relationships, it was, at heart, only an unveiling of experience. Perhaps that’s all writing is, coaxed and prodded to within an nth of the make-believe, that capricious landscape that we call Fiction. But all Fiction has its roots in Truth. Would I have written graphic gay sex scenes if I were straight?
Doubtful. Or so I thought at the time.
If art reflects life, then it might explain why the majority of mainstream novels deal largely with straight experiences. How we, as humans, are rarely drawn to desires beyond our own, but as writers, how frequently we plumb the depths of passions unknown. The girl who grows up dreaming of Prince Charming is unlikely to generate the passion to write an account of Cinderella falling for an Ugly Sister instead, amusing as that might be. It’s improbable that the boy who grows up fantasising about the cheerleading team will write a boy-meets-boy coming of age tale. Generally speaking, of course. If the biggest sexual organ is the brain, then that surely stems from the imagination. Sexuality influences, if not governs, the imagination. It seems obvious, at least on the surface, but like every question – and please remember, it is a question, always a question – there is often more to it than a yes or no answer.
The answer I’m giving here today is that I think the whole idea is a myth. We do what we do from desire, more so than from design. Desire is strong enough to surpass our biology, our genetic framework to create life, and defy any ‘moral’ upbringing. The heart goes where it wants to and we come to learn – hopefully – that everybody has a right to love. We may have no choice in those desires, but they do not chain us, any more than a writer’s preferences chains them.
In contemporary literature, the evidence is all there, from Annie Proulx’s At Close Range (that later became the landmark movie Brokeback Mountain) to the gay MC in China Mieville’s Iron Council and likewise in Richard Morgan’s The Steel Remains, brilliant books that transcend the concept of preference-specific literature, let alone genre. Novelist Anne Brooke does a fine line in leading gay men. I can’t speak for the experiences of these writers (although I’m pretty sure they’re all straight), but I can speak for the imagination.
As times change, so has sexuality in fiction. The imagination finds new and fertile ground to play with. The established order shakes. The walls are coming down.
And imagination? Well, we are only ever catching up with it, because imagination knows no bounds.
James Bennett is a British writer of dark fantasy and the occasional contemporary fable. The Lambda Literary Foundation (US) nominated Unrequited for Best Debut Novel in 2007 and he is currently working on a second book, a dark fantasy epic. This is his first guest blog. He thanks you for reading and welcomes your opinions.
For further info, please visit: www.freewebs.com/waxlyrikal