Older gay men who lived before the time of acceptance were fairly invisible as far as books and films were concerned. For that reason, many of us grabbed and read any book we could lay our hands on and went to any film that depicted us. It felt as if these works were a privilege – they were specially ‘written for us’.
Was it because few or no role models? Were we constructing a ‘gay identity’? Does it matter whether we delve into ‘high’ or ‘low culture’? Does it matter if it’s opera or Donna Summers and her modern equivalents?
There’s a tendency to try and persuade younger gay men to read this stuff. In our youth, we were ‘reading ourselves into’ our heritage. So should they, the reasoning goes.
However, younger gay men aren’t that interested, unless it is a major work and is well-written. After all the fact that we older men read anything we could get our hands on meant that publishers didn’t always bother with quality – they just churned out stuff that would sell.
Anyway, for what it is worth and in response to an enquirer’s question, the following might be described as ‘the canon of gay literature.’
GAY FICTION BEFORE STONEWALL
The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891, ed. Norman Page, Broadview Press 1998)
André Gide –The Immoralist (1902, trans. Dorothy Bussy 1930, trans. Richard Howard 1970)
E.M. Forster – Maurice (written 1913, pub. 1971)
Marcel Proust –Sodom and Gomorrah (part one 1921, part two 1922, ed. Christopher Prendergast,trans. John Sturrock, Allen Lane 2002, Viking 2004)
Our Lady of the Flowers (written 1942, pub. 1943, trans. Bernard Frechtman 1963)
Gore Vidal – The City and the Pillar (1948, revised 1965)
Yukio Mishima –Forbidden Colors (1953, trans. Alfred H. Marks 1968)
John Rechy – City of Night (1963)
The Naked Civil Servant [memoir] (1968)
GAY FICTION AFTER STONEWALL
Larry Kramer –Faggots (1978)
Derek Jarman – Blue [film as literature] (1993)
David Plante –The Catholic (1986)
David Rees The Milkman’s on his Way – for gay teens, caused quite a stir when it was published
21ST CENTURY & POST-GAY FICTION
Scott Heim – Mysterious Skin (1995)
Abdellah Taïa – Salvation Army (2006, trans. Frank Stock 2009)
Patricia Nell Warren