I have been wondering about this question for quite some time and I don’t pretend to have an answer.
Looking at the history of gay fiction in the last century, we cannot say that it has not received praise and accolades: among us, we have the Nobel Laureate Andre’ Gide, whose The Immoralist may be seen as satrting a still-very-much-alive tendency of male gay fiction to ‘say it as it is’ when it comes to sex, even indulge in a bit of healthy provocation. This reflects in many ways the honest and open attitude many, I think the great majority, of gay men have towards their sexuality, maybe because being gay was for many years also synonymous with not being part of a moralist, well-to-do society which imposed artificial and prudish values on one’s sexual activities.
But this freedom and openness does come at a price in many cases: maybe I am speaking as an older generation man as I am now in my fourties, but that all-imposrtant conquest of freedom and self-acceptance has come, for many of us, after years of struggles, of anxiety and in many cases of bullying. This path has become a staple of gay fiction, in fact, looking at some of the most significant texts in male gay literature, coming out features as a main theme. In most cases, this is linked with social values, sometimes very hostile to homosexuality, which has created a leitmotif that follows the path to self-acceptance as an identity mark, a path of self-exploration that maybe is deeper or more challenging in the LGBT community than in many straight people, who can recognise themselves in many models around them from a very early age, to a very unabashed recognition of one’s sexual nature. A recognition that dan become a defensive weapon, and has for many of us who, unlike others, are identified by the majority by what we do between the sheets, not by our jobs, cultural interests, eye-colour or height. This path is however very significant, often poignant, psychologically interesting.
There was then the time when HIV dominated ay fiction: for younger people in the West, it may not be easy to convey the sense of doom that the epidemic had on our community not so long ago. Our friends were decimated by the virus, they died fast, they died in great numbers. The television was haunted by ads that told us our end was coming soon, that sex could be lethal. That love could kill. Nowadays, in the Western world, most HIV positive gay men can live to a ripe old age, we don’t see apoclyptic adverts on TV any more and fiction books that deal with this plight (which is still very much a killer outside the west, let’s remember), have become ‘less palatable’.
While gay fiction still seems to be driven by a Western agenda and cultural environment, it is also true that it has lost some if its ‘scandalous’ flavour: ever since the ‘sexual liberation of books’, sexually explicit, provocative scenes have become the norm in a great number of books, LGBT or straight. What once would be XXX rated is now almost expected in the books we read.
So, what’s left to male gay fiction that distinguishes it substantially from straight fiction, now coming out is less of dramatic experience, being sexually honest is the norm, and the HIV apocalypse is a non-Western concern?
This is where we are at… And yet, despite all the converging points between straight and gay male fiction, the latter remains a ‘niche’. However, I have had the pleasure of reading books by and talking to authors who are now re-shaping the very matrix of what we can call gay fiction and have felt a lot of optimism. I don’t know if there is a clear idea of where it is going, but I have felt that these authors feel more free to be idiosyncratic, individual, not to have to follow an expected pattern. I believe spring is in the air; I can’t see its full glory yet, but I can clearly smell it!
For information on some interesting contemporary gay authors: https://martindavies90.wordpress.com/2014/05/02/contemporary-authors-to-look-out-for/
To read texts by leading contemporary gay authors: