Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Romancing Teh Gay

I’ve been struggling with my thoughts on the recent Running Press/Trisha Telep debacle with Jessica Verday. In a nutshell, Telep asked Verday to change her gay romance short story to a heterosexual one. Verday refused and pulled the story--as did half the other contributors when they heard about it. Details here and here.

In lots of ways, this situation is not unique to the LGBT community. All minority groups suffer at the hands of the majority in one way or another, particularly in publishing and movies. Stereotypes abound, as do the justifications. What I think makes the romance anthology situation unique is sex. Not orientation. Not gender. Not sexuality. Sex. Gay sex.

I haven’t read the story, but Verday reports it contains three kisses, one use of the word ‘f*ck’ and is sexually ‘g-rated.’ Did Telep ask her to remove any of those things? No. She asked her to change the gender of the characters in order to make it “light on alternative sexuality.” That’s a reaction that LGBT people know pretty well.

Straight couples have romance. Gay couples have sex.

That’s what the underlying issue is here. No sex is pretty light on the sexuality. Why, then, the gender change if no actual sex occurs in Verday’s story? Because in mainstream publishing—and other forms of entertainment—“light on alternative sexuality” means you can have a gay or lesbian character but 1) he or she cannot be the main character 2) cannot be in a romantic relationship (unless it’s for cheap laughs) and 3) cannot express any physical affection of any kind to someone of the same sex (unless it’s for cheap laughs). You know, the sassy gay pal. Extra points if they’re single but not lonely since they’re not interested in dating. In other words, sexless. This, btw, is actually progress. Gays and lesbian used to be depicted solely as psycho, sad and suicidal.

Telep has claimed that she’s not anti-gay, and, to a certain extent, she probably isn’t. But that’s just it—to a certain extent. While Verday apparently wrote a romance, Telep’s imagination, like many others do, leaped to the bedroom. LGBT people are always viewed through a sexual lens. A gay romance inevitably leads to gay sex, even if it isn’t explicitly depicted. Someone might not want to have gay sex. Someone might not care if other people do. But a lot of someone’s draw the line at having their imaginations take them somewhere they don’t want to go. Yet, LGBT folks somehow manage to read straight romance all the time without getting all swick about it.

Ask yourself, when was the last time you saw a gay kiss in a movie that wasn’t accompanied by at least one hiss or groan from someone in the audience? Now try and recall that happening with a straight kiss. The idea that a kiss might merely express affection applies to straight folks. Gay kisses are not affection. They are sex.

Three kisses are porn, I guess.

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