I did not expect to ever be in a civil marriage, something I have written about before. However, I did think that people would become more casual about sexuality by now. I had assumed that progress about being part of the LGBTQ community, led by popular culture, would open the doors of every closet sometime early in the twenty-first century. Who’da thunk that popular culture would still have male characters recoiling in fear at being thought of as gay, audiences cheering over-loudly when women kiss, or trannies treated as a fad? Almost universally, sexuality in books, film, and television must be clearly delineated or else it is assumed everyone is heterosexual. Anyone “L” or “G” has got some splaining to do while everyone else just seems too confusing for audiences and readers to grasp.
I have been open about my sexual orientation ever since I determined I was gay. I was attracted to men. I started doing them. Well, they started doing me. A book called Boys & Sex that my parents had given my brother who gave it to me when I hit puberty explained what sex with men was in a non-judgmental way. It still took me three years to conclude I had zero interest in girls sexually, although a few seemed to enjoy my research.
That certainty at a young age and no one telling me being gay was wrong (except the minister at church) freed me to go anywhere with nothing to hide, but also nothing to blab about either. I also had been identified as “gifted” in seventh grade. I started taking college-level writing classes at the same time I started having sex with men. As a young writer then and muchos años después, not explicitly discussing a character’s sexuality was and is perfectly natural. Most writing, regardless of the format, doesn’t. Except for me, characters are something other than straight unless specifically identified as such. I had learned, “There are two kinds of men: gay and in the closet.”
My fiction prof was Edmund White, who remains an iconic figure within the LGBTQ literary community. I read his Nocturnes for the King of Naples before taking his class. I was stunned he wrote about man-to-man relationships with such candor. He urged me to take up writing and even offered to place one of my short stories in Christopher Street. The story followed the morning activities of a man who did nothing to indicate he was gay. Ed knew though. I already had had a poem published the previous year, the only male contributor to the Ithaca Women’s Review. I declined Ed’s offer because in 1979 I was not prepared to be a “gay” author. More importantly, I was not mature enough to take on the risks and obstacles of becoming any kind of author.
Five years later, I had a relationship with a famous writer. He has never written any openly LGBTQ characters that I know of, although he has touched on bestiality as an absurdist metaphor for the arbitrariness of society’s sexual codes. He has gone so far as to show anger when he is asked whether certain characters were meant to be homosexual. This writer is from Edmund White’s generation, but he chose not to be a “gay” writer.
Although I rejected the label, my full-length plays say I haven’t. Mother Explains has eight of ten characters who clearly declare they are LGB or T. The themes include self-identity vs. outside identification, stereotypes, and subcultures. Father’s Day has one character based on the more flamboyant bears I have known and another testing the homosexual waters. Their sexuality is explicitly discussed also. And I am shopping around a jukebox musical that takes place during a gay rodeo weekend; it’s even titled QC for queer cowboy/cowgirl. So much for not being vocal about sexuality.
On the other hand, the characters in my fiction do exactly what I do. They are not openly anything except when they choose or discuss sexual partners. Granted, my fiction has been predominantly speculative history science fiction. The protagonist in The Secret History of Another Rome spends one entire chapter choosing two male consorts, but his sexuality is never mentioned directly. In my next novel, C Square (with Paul Barone), being published by Double Dragon Press around Thanksgiving, the three lead characters are asexual or bisexual. Their sexuality rests on past or present relationships or the lack thereof. The novel I just finished, Crossing Xavier, has one openly straight couple. Everyone else must be LGBT or Q, right? Who knows? Sex isn’t a high priority when giant GMO bugs are killing people.
Science fiction is overwhelmingly hyper-heterosexual. I sometimes find Heinlein and others difficult to digest. The who-haw over having a darker-skinned lead in the last Star Wars film died down, but what if Finn and Poe do turn out to giggle when they say “cockpit”? What happens when the next rebels introduced are played by Sean Hayes, Neil Patrick Harris, and Zack Efron?
The character in my ten-minute play Ghost Gig sums up my ideal: “To me, sexual orientation is a weather vane. The wind can be steady in one direction. Other times, I’m spinning circles trying to decide which way to point.” Writers in the LGBTQ community are best qualified to undermine the assumption that everyone is straight. Louis XVI, when asked to appoint an atheist, replied, “But the archbishop of Paris ought to at least believe in God.” We know we are swimming in heterosexual waters. We can work toward that ideal by using casual sexuality in developing our LGBTQ characters. Perhaps popular culture will take note and follow suit.
About the Author
Bear Kosik is a novelist, playwright, essayist, ghostwriter, historian, and poet. His short plays, Déjà vu on the Obituary Page, Ghost Gig, and Hiding Bodies, offered in June and July 2016 at off-off-Broadway venues, marked his world production debut. His most recent publication, Restoring the Republic: A New Social Contract for We the People, was released March 30, 2016; the book explores the state of democracy in the USA. His first novel, The Secret History of Another Rome, was issued in April 2015. He has completed a prequel to Another Rome entitled C Square that will be published by Double Dragon Press this fall A related short story called See You on Hel, and a flash fiction piece, Ranulf Takes Flight, are scheduled for anthologies coming out this month. Bear was raised in the Baltimore-Washington area and has lived in the Albany, NY, area since 1995. He spent over 30 years working in higher education. He has lived overseas in four countries and has traveled extensively. His hobbies include gardening, cooking, reading books (on natural science, religion, geography, and world history), and submission wrestling. He and his spouse enjoy taking care of their century-old house, their three cats, and each other.