by Joan Opyr
Christ on a Cracker!
s I've put the finishing touches on my second novel, From Hell to Breakfast, I've been obliged once again to think about what exactly makes a story gay. Is it gay characters? Maybe. My first novel, Idaho Code, was rejected by at least eight mainstream publishing houses because they deemed it too gay. While I thought the book was a murder mystery about a crazy family living in Idaho, to mainstream editors it read like a wild hootnanny of Radical Faeries and Lesbian separatists. Sure, there were men in dresses and dykes on bikes, but that wasn't the point of the story. The point was coming of age, finding true love, and learning to deal with your domineering mother, all while trying to figure out whose body is buried in your new girlfriend's garden. Nothing particularly gay about that. But what I've discovered about being a gay writer is that it turns even the most sensible straight people into a queer version of that kid in The Sixth Sense. Whatever you do, however you do it, they see gay people. You write about a woman who breeds dogs. Someone will ask you if all lesbians like dogs. You write about the Marine Corps. Someone will ask if that's because lesbians are uniform queens. And it gets stranger and more esoteric. A few months ago, I gave a copy of Idaho Code to a straight friend.
She's a great woman, brilliant, and she has a terrific sense of humor. She's the same age I am, and though she was born and raised in Idaho, she spent many years in Los Angeles. She knows plenty about the wider world and nothing much surprises her. This, however, was the conversation we had about my book. Straight Friend (SF): So it was really funny. The main character's voice was that you? Me: No. And yes. Every character is always in some small way the writer. It's kind of like having a child. It's you but it's not you. You give birth to it, and then it takes on a life of its own. SF: But you don't swear like that. Me: What? SF: Or maybe you do swear a lot but just not around me. Do you swear more around your gay friends? Is it a gay thing? Me: I really don't know . . . what are you talking about? SF: Do gay people swear more than other people? They swear a lot in your book. Some of it's really creative you know, "Christ on a cracker," stuff like that. Me: The woman who does the bulk of the swearing in the book is straight! She's the foul-mouthed
mother, the crazy old woman, the comic relief! SF: Really? I didn't notice that. Do lesbians all have a thing for motorcycles? This lesbian does. This lesbian loves motorcycles, swears quite a lot, actually, and writes whatever pops into her idiosyncratic head. If I were married to a man, would all of that stuff be straight? Or would no one even notice? Would my books be funny or strange or compelling or odd if they were about people other than the people I know best and care about most? Are my books gay because I'm gay? Or do people pick up my books and, without knowing it, don my Queer Goggles?
Joan Opyr is a gigantic crank. Her life is frequently weird, and she enjoys writing and talking about that. She's a transplanted Southerner who dreams of golden beaches, sweet iced tea, and sunny skies. She believes that Eva Cassidy should be beatified. Oh, and she's also an award-winning novelist.
www.qviewnorthwest.com | Q View Northwest - Spokane Edition | February 2009 |