Sunday, September 11, 2016

Common Threads in the Life

A series dedicated to the common threads that run through most LGBT people's lives...

Way back in the 1960s when I was in high school in Deming, New Mexico, and lived on a farm, I felt isolated even from those who lived in town. Back then, Deming was a whopping 6,000 people, and the high school had about four hundred students. Oh, I dated early, and in the beginning, my father had to drive me to pick up the girl, drop us off at the event (football game, basketball game, City Hall dance...whatever). And later, when I got my driver's license at sixteen, I borrowed the family car and took girls out to the movies, attended the prom with a date, and otherwise cruised Main Street like all the other bored teenagers in the small town. But there was something nagging at me. I had a full-blown crush on a boy and simply didn't know that's what it was. I couldn't even speak to him in the hallways. I was afraid of him and thought about him all the time.

One day, during the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, I was driving the tractor, and singing some song (I believe part of the lyrics were "everybody loves somebody sometime"),  and it hit me in the pit of my stomach as it dawned on me that I was in love with that boy. I realized it was a crush. I was so isolated and ignorant back then, I had no word to describe what that attraction was. And then a kindly uncle of mine gave me a copy of Look Magazine. He only said that I might find one of the articles in there interesting. He turned the magazine to the article and told me to go ahead and read it. He didn't hover as I read but left me alone. It was an article about the shadowy world of gay bars in New York City, where homosexuals gathered. 

A lightbulb went off in my head...duh...!

I knew instantly that I was one of those, a homosexual, and everything fell into place for me. Even today, I silently thank my uncle for that little nudge he gave. He must have watched me growing up and saw what I was going through. No...people...he did not abuse me. He was just a lot more worldly and he helped out a nephew in a subtle way.

Years passed, and several boyfriends and an ex-wife later, I wrote my first novel called Common Sons. It was a coming out story. It was set in my hometown (named changed to "Common", which in my mind meant ordinary), and it was about a farmer's son and a preacher's son. I wrote about what I knew, but it was not autobiographical, because unlike my real life, the farmer's son in my novel fell in love with another boy and they became best friends and by the end of high school they wanted to be together in a close approximation of marriage. The preacher son's parents kicked him out. The farmer son's family took him in, and even when they found out that their son and the preacher's son had gone from friendship into a sexual relationship they allowed the two boys to live on the farm in a separate house. The father understood better than the mother and he made a deal with his son that if he could prove that what he and his boyfriend had was genuine and respectable, he wouldn't stand in his way.

That was the first "thread" in my Common Threads in the Life series. It was about coming out, an experience I believe that all gays experience in many varied ways; gays having to deal with their parents and their church. I set the novel in 1965. I purposely chose to set it in a place in the middle of nowhere, so that the two young men would have to invent their own life together. Unlike today, the Internet was not available to isolated young men and women who realized they were gay, and it was unusual, back then, for such isolated young people to move off to some big city where they could be a part of the gay life, no matter how sordid and shadowy it might have been. Instead once they were out of school and on their own, many of them drifted to the bigger cities, but many others stayed in their hometowns, and this was another common thread I wanted to include.

My next novel, The Blind Season, involved other "common threads" that run through gay people's lives, particularly those gays and lesbians who want to have children of their own. Back in the late sixties, early seventies, finding a surrogate mother was one of the methods that gay couples chose; this has also been the method that barren straight couples often use. In the case of Joel and Tom and the woman who agreed to become the mother, the surrogacy part was only temporary, since in some ways the mother never completely gave up her child (but that's the subject of other books in the series). Nonetheless, parenting and how to adopt, find a surrogate, or become artificially inseminated is a common thread.

Another of the common threads that many people experience in their lives is the struggle against (usually) the religion they inherited from being born into any given family. 

By 1998, when the ex-gay programs were going full swing in the US and almost world-wide, I wanted to show the harmful effects of these reparative- therapy-based programs, laced with anti-gay religious undertones. Like the throwback cures of the 1950s that involved in some cases lobotomy and castration, the modern but cruel reparative therapy methods were rampant. Maybe a small percentage of LGBTs have actually subjected themselves to ex-gay cures, but eventually these were all seen to be ultimately harmful. So I wrote about an ex-gay group that was more based upon Anita Bryant's fourteen-step program, along with throwing in a basic-training-type of tough program. I chose a new character for this book, The Salvation Mongers, whose lover of five years committed suicide after going through the Reverend Rafferty's program. Kelly O'Kelley becomes a major character in later books in the series, as well. This is an ugly, cruel book, but I consider it an important part of the common threads series, and if you have not read it because you don't want to read an ugly, cruel book, do it anyway. Your enjoyment of the next book in the series will be enhanced a thousand fold.

While violence against LGBT people has also, unfortunately, been a common thread that runs through the LGBT communities, as the 1990s gave way to the 2000s, bullying in schools, attacks on the streets, hatred from the pulpits of the fundamentalist churches against LGBTs has risen higher and higher, and so it was for Tom and Joel Allen-Reece in the fourth novel, The Gathering, where an old nemesis (also involved in the Reverend Rafferty's cure program) makes his way back to Common. This villain unfortunately reflects another common thread: quite often the homophobes who do violence to LGBT people are themselves homosexual, and it becomes even more toxic when it gets tangled up with their religious upbringing. How many anti-gay, fundamentalist Christian preachers in the last few years have themselves been caught having same-sex partners? How many anti-gay politicians, likewise, have themselves been caught having same-sex partners?

As the years passed and as my volume of novels in the Common Threads series accumulated, I realized I had to finally stopper the series, so in an attempt to finish the series, I wrote A Summer's Change, and kept writing for several years, until the single volume I had been promising my fans grew too large; so I broke it into three volumes.

A Summer's Change Book I The Runaway explores not only the many ways in which LGBT people have sought to form families (I think in some ways they call them blended families), I felt it was also time to introduce a transgendered individual, and I made the MTF individual be one of a new character's grandmother. Oh yes. Even though Granny Mackenzie (Mack) never went through the surgery, she was every bit a grandmother to Jared Rory, the runaway in this book, whom she had adopted as a newborn, when the mother died, practically in childbirth (but you'll have to read the story to find out the details). Transgenderism is a common thread among those in the blended universe of "queer" people that we have embraced, and it was with a great deal of thought that I wondered what such a character would be like. I also wondered what influence such an individual would have over a child who had never known any other family but his transgendered grandmother. Surely, he would view the world and sexuality and identity with a much more fluid eye; he would no doubt be open to Q(uestioning) his own identity. He would also wonder if he was being an ordinary boy, once puberty hit, and his sexual attractions would soon be falling into place like the pieces in a mental, emotional, and physical puzzle.

The Summer's Change trilogy, if you will, flows from one book to the next, so in A Summer's Change Book II A Season of Family, I sought to show how the core family of Tom and Joel, their daughter Shara, and Eva Reece ripples out to include not only Eva's natural children but her adopted children, their children, and their children's children. It's not only blended from adoption, but also blended because even though only Joel is the gay son, one of the adopted son's three boys is also gay, and one of Eva's adopted sons (out of three) is also gay. It is also a blended family because of the ethnic diversity that results as a result of one of the adopted sons marrying an Indian woman (ancestrally from India). By the time 2005 comes around in this series, Eva Reece is the matriarch of a family that spans four generations. It's a doggone saga by this time.

And finally A Summer's Change Book III The Rest of Their Lives takes this marvelous family all the way to the present of 2015. Just like American society has undergone immense changes since the mid-1960s and post 9/11, so does this family. Individual members are more sophisticated in this new millennium and of course everyone in the family knows what homosexuality is. I've often wondered if readers think I am just stuck on writing about teenagers and getting them involved in unlikely long-term relationships when they're still wet behind the ears. So, readers will see Tom and Joel through the years grow from eighteen and nineteen-year-olds to being in their late sixties. Besides those two, of course there is Henry (an adopted son) Reece who does not "come out" to himself until he is in his mid-thirties.

I know there is a divide among gay men (probably lesbians, as well); some gay men don't think we should be trying to pair off and form monogamous relationships as a cheap version of heterosexual marriage; other gay men want nothing else besides finding a life-partner to grow old with. Some LGBT people mourn the loss of the shadow world of homosexuality and the demise of the gay bars, the self-ghetto-izing we had until of late made our safe places where we could be ourselves and we could shut out the cisgender world of heterosexuals. Some LGBT people want to be ordinary people even though they are not straight. They want to hang out with friends in nightclubs where it doesn't matter if you're gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered. Others want this to fade away, so that our creativity is not endangered or watered down by mixing too freely with heterosexuals. There will be those who object to every book I have ever written because I come down on the side of mixing with the whole of society, while still being glad to be gay. I even realize that some of my early fans have been slightly disappointed that I didn't keep Tom and Joel young or without a child. As the series grew, I guess I grew with it. I could well see past the time when Tom and Joel would grow up, when they would not be the center of the novel. But I've come to know my characters like I know members of my extended family in real life. In fact, my characters are just as real to me as are some of my cousins and aunts and uncles that I don't see very often. Forgive my writer's fantasy that my characters end up speaking to me as I write their story.

I'm not too crazy, not too confused about what is real and what is just part of my imagination, and better this kind of hallucination than thinking that the Walmarts around the country are being readied to act as prison camps.