Curse of Chalion again — I’d mentioned before that it had a SURPRISE HOMOSEXUAL, a guy who was pretty cool and shaping up to be my favorite, with only a “oh! so you’re… okay, I see” to change his orientation, which pleased me greatly. Bujold is very good at remembering that Gay People Exist in her fiction (which seems like a rather sad thing to be so grateful for, and yet).
On the other hand, she gets a headdesk and -5 points from Griffindor for having every gay subplot tarred with horrible tragedy.
Okay, so I have a theory about this. The majority of writers perpetuating the GAYS MUST SUFFER trope aren’t doing it because they hate gays; on the contrary, I think it’s intended as an odd gesture of respect. They, these gay-friendly but predominantly straight authors, are very much aware of the various ways that homosexuals have suffered at the hands of cultures hostile to them — whether through internalized hatred, vigilante gay-bashing, or institutionalized persecution of homosexual activity — and these authors want to make sure their (predominantly straight) readers really GET how fucked up and how much of a tragedy that is. Oh you liked this character? Well, thanks to people being DICKBAGS, he gets to live a life of unrelenting misery, PRETTY SHITTY, HUH?
And then, theoretically, these straight readers see that gays are people too, and that it’s sad when bad things happen to them for no reason except prejudice, and we win a few — if not quite allies — people who are sympathetic to our side.
Except goddamn I’m tired of hearing that story. Seriously, we should be over this by now. E.M. Forster was over it in 1913 when he wrote Maurice and was like, “No really, they’re going to live happily ever after, fuck all y’all,” even though that meant it didn’t get published until 1971 and still gets critical points deducted for being “wish fulfillment.”
And make no mistake, there are plenty of gay authors who’ve written gay tragedies too, because art echoes life and gay life, historically, has had the deck stacked against it for happy endings. Rightly or wrongly, we value realism in our fiction, and at many, perhaps most points in history, a happily-ever-after for gay protagonists would be patently unrealistic. Then just as we were coming out of that, the AIDS crisis broke, and proceeded to dominate gay narratives for the next twenty years. (I was born too late to really understand what that had meant to the people who lived through it until I read Randy Shilts’ And the Band Played On, fucking spectacular piece of nonfiction there.)
I’m a fantasy geek who happens to be gay — I want the same story that everyone else gets, with magic and swordplay and high-stakes adventures, plus a well-developed romance that happens to be gay. That is my ideal. I don’t want my protagonist to be gay for cleverdick plot purposes, don’t want him to be gay as a metaphor for moral dissipation. I want him (or her) to be gay because some people are. Because gay people exist and always have, because not all of history’s heroes were straight and not all of fiction’s should be either. The end.
I don’t even object to unhappy endings, because tragedy can be brilliant when it’s clear that given these characters, in this situation, there was no other way it could have ended. My favorite manga, Miyamoto Kano’s Not/Love, is a brilliant example of characters being the instruments of their own unhappiness; there’s no one else fucking it up for them, they manage it just fine on their own. I haven’t finished Gemma Files’ hexslinger trilogy yet, but in A Book of Tongues, the writing’s on the wall from the very start — Chess and the Reverend are Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, and we all know how those stories end. You can’t get angry about tragedy so inevitable, any more than you can get angry at the sky for raining.
But there’s a world of difference between tragedy as natural outgrowth of the plot vs. tragedy as object lesson. “Surprise tire iron to the head” is not natural plot progression, the-fucking-end.