Thursday, October 1, 2015

Taking My Main Character Out of the Closet

Growing up in suburban Long Island, NY during the 70s and 80s, I lied to myself every single day. I was (and still am) the eldest of three kids, and the only male child, so the expectations for carrying on my family (i.e. marrying a "nice, Jewish girl") had been placed on me by a mother who had no idea who her son really was deep down. I never told anyone how I felt because I didn't want to get the crap kicked out of me, and in my teen years, I would never have thought to use the word "gay" to label myself. I don't think I even heard that word growing up. I did hear "queer" or "faggot," however, from people my own age, and my step-father (who used to say I was queer because I liked to draw; I just think back then he didn't know what to do with a step-son who wasn't into sports and liked to be creative). I kept telling myself I liked girls, and that I should just do what was expected of me and date them with the hope (my mother's, not mine) that I would marry one at some point. My lies festered within me, and I gradually knew I liked actually guys by the time I was in high school.

I would sneak glances at guys I thought were cute, making sure my surreptitious looks were quick and sly. This side of me could never come to the surface, I would tell myself, because I would lose everyone I held dear. When I started writing, I even kept those ideas out of my personal stories for fear that someone would find what I'd written and discover my secret. I started writing "The Olympus Corps" in high school, and my outer-space fantasy with Olympian gods had all straight characters. It would never have occurred to me to make any character gay or even bisexual. It just wasn't done then.

Even after high school, when I dabbled with my story, even knowing that there were, in fact, gay people at SUNY Albany (having seen the Gay and Lesbian Alliance office in the student union), I kept my characters straight and largely relationship free. At that time, that was the world I lived in—a heteronormative world where nothing else existed. When I came out in 1994, that was all going to change.

Dan Fairmont aka Aegis
It wasn't until I changed the name of the story to Task Force: Gaea—Destiny's Talisman (that title didn't last long) that I toyed with the idea of a bisexual character in Dan Fairmont. At that time, I hadn't even thought about the prospect of publishing the book, so it was all private and personal. Over the years, as the story morphed and developed, I felt something was missing, and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. Somewhere in the 2000s, I had an epiphany: DAN HAD TO BE GAY.

I had been out since 1994, and I was living in a long term relationship with my partner, so why on G-d's green Earth couldn't Dan be gay? Of course he could. That was when it hit me: my world wouldn't have homophobia. Nope. Not at all. It was a fantasy novel, after all. The world I had created could be whatever I wanted it to be, and that kind of prejudice (or any, for that matter) just didn't need to be there. My story wasn't about a man struggling with his being gay or adjusting to a different society or making strides in a largely heterosexual world. If the Olympian gods could have male and female lovers, then my main character could be a gay man.

Herein lies my issue: I don't market my books to an LGBTQ audience largely. I go to Bent-Con and RainbowCon, two LGBTQ-focused conventions, to sell my books (basically because I'm a gay author), but I don't tag my book as LGBTQ on Amazon. My biggest fear is that people will think it's somehow an erotic fantasy novel, and it's not. Dan has a boyfriend, and, once in a while, they're seen lying in bed together talking, but there's never any intimation of sex. Not even "fade to black."

Yeah, I have a gay main character. Yeah, his father, Apollo (the Greek god), had flings with men. Hell, so did Zeus (Ganymede, anyone?). Why I think people would suddenly run screaming from Task Force: Gaea if they knew the book had a gay character is just my own hang up. I'm certainly not ashamed of my work (or of myself), so I guess it just comes down to the idea that I'm afraid of a future I can't control. They say admitting you have a problem is the first part of solving it. So, to promote as an LGBTQ novel or not... THAT is the question.

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