This post is part of an ongoing interview with author Mark John Isola about his forthcoming book Inky Flesh, so check back for more questions. Once posted, a link following the current Q&A will allow you to click through to read the next question–or begin reading from the first question: Why the title Inky Flesh? Quotes that are reasonably sized and maintain the context of the discussion are permitted for review, interview, academic, and blogging purposes—a link to the web page quoted will help maintain context.
Here is the current question:
Cal: You referred to yourself as a bad boy—what does that mean? How are you a “bad boy” when it comes to gay fiction?
MJ: Maybe we no longer have such concerns, but this gets at what has been a contentious debate about sex, lust, and beauty in gay fiction and whether we should or should not write about such as gay authors. To Dancer or not to Dancer is the question: meaning whether we should embrace or reject the version of gay life that may be glimpsed from Andrew Holleran’s novel Dancer from the Dance—not to mention Larry Kramer’s Faggots.
The problem is Holleran’s novel seems to produce responses that are more akin to a Rorschach test than an attentive close reading. This reader response becomes part of the problem, if not the problem itself.
I understand the debate, and I respect its thick origins—a minority group’s anxiety regarding representation, the concern over telling community secrets to outsiders, the worry regarding playing into stereotypes, the separatist versus assimilationist political and cultural strategies, the reconsideration of narrative sex in the age of HIV, and perhaps a fair amount of denial, which mirrors the larger culture’s Puritanical preference for real-sex to remain unspoken. However, I find this discussion more reductive than productive at times. Can’t we all just jerk off and get along?
If you’ve spent five minutes reading Inky Flesh or on my web site, you know I think sex is a poignant, productive, and important narrative subject. I would argue it is perhaps more important now given the hyper-romantic and hyper-sexual depictions—all those fantastical faggots—one tends to encounter, particularly of gay men, but of humans generally in mainstream culture.
This is not just a gay male concern. It seems to me lesbians continue to face an even greater problem when it comes to a constant cultural invisibility or strategies of containment. Sadly, this is not so new. This is the problematic “bury the gay” trope, where by the end of the narrative the sexually transgressive character is killed or otherwise locked up or removed from the narrative. Otherwise, just like the fantastical faggot, it’s all luscious lesbians.
There are additional complications surrounding this discussion today. For example, nowadays, same-sex male narratives are not only by, for, or about gay men, and a gay web search is not necessarily an organic gay query anymore. This equals a big difference between today and the days when these debates were more active.
Check back Wednesday for the next question and answer.