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Old gay fiction stories and "gay sex" hidden in language


W_L

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Just an observation:

A lot of classic gay authors in the distant past were afraid to describe gay sex, relying on euphemism and metaphor to describe something that kind of take for granted in our modern stories. Some folk think it's more poetic to describe gay sex by metaphor and allusion, I get that after a bit of Mary Renault, James Baldwin, and E.M Forster.

Yet, I find metaphors/allusions lacking. I understand why early writers couldn't use certain words or openly talk about what comes naturally to us. That beauty some see in older gay fiction through the use of language rather than detail came from a time of prejudice and censorship, it's like laying beautiful flowers on a grave, it brightens up the picture, but it doesn't change some bleak facts. The flowers are vibrant and alive like the gay characters, but the subject must remain buried like their acts. (I can write metaphors, too :P 🕶️)

In modern gay fiction, many people write about hand jobs, blowjobs, and positions of anal sex in graphic details. It's no longer a grave and the flowers are blooming.

I'm curious after reading classic writers and modern writers, when did the shift happen? Who began the trend to normalize descriptive gay sex in our fiction?

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8 hours ago, W_L said:

A lot of classic gay authors in the distant past were afraid to describe gay sex,

No, you are wrong. Have you not read the beat generation? William Buroughs, as an example, he wrote explicit sex and he was of the same period as Mary Renault. Actually, if you read some of these other authors, Ginsberg, Kerouac, you get the alternative POV of the 1950's, 60's, drugs and sex, and gay sex. Sure, it wasn't like today, it was subversive and anti-convention, illegal, and anti-government. That was the underground beat of the 50s and the swinging 60s. There is no point where authors shifted to explicit sex although it was given a huge boost by the internet in the 90's. Sex and the internet go hand in hand, and given the internet started as words (text only) the sex and writing was explicit. Porn authors had a field day, then things quietened down. A few pioneers realising readers wanted a story to accompany the sex on the internet.

PS. Not a criticism of you, I joined here to reply, because I felt strongly that the whole picture be displayed. I can completely understand your thinking, except it is not complete. The Soft Machine by William Burroughs (borrow it free from the electronic library)

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7 hours ago, James K said:

No, you are wrong. Have you not read the beat generation? William Buroughs, as an example, he wrote explicit sex and he was of the same period as Mary Renault. Actually, if you read some of these other authors, Ginsberg, Kerouac, you get the alternative POV of the 1950's, 60's, drugs and sex, and gay sex. Sure, it wasn't like today, it was subversive and anti-convention, illegal, and anti-government. That was the underground beat of the 50s and the swinging 60s. There is no point where authors shifted to explicit sex although it was given a huge boost by the internet in the 90's. Sex and the internet go hand in hand, and given the internet started as words (text only) the sex and writing was explicit. Porn authors had a field day, then things quietened down. A few pioneers realising readers wanted a story to accompany the sex on the internet.

PS. Not a criticism of you, I joined here to reply, because I felt strongly that the whole picture be displayed. I can completely understand your thinking, except it is not complete. The Soft Machine by William Burroughs (borrow it free from the electronic library)

Just an observation: The underground narratives of the 1950's-60's are descriptive, but lack empathy to connect characters that modern gay fiction creates with characters, plots, and themes.

William Burroughs' writing in particular was banned for a while in general publication, which is also corollary to my initial observation. Some writers lay flowers of language over a grave to obscure the subject, but if you unearth the subject of gay sex, it's not something people were willing to see.

When you unearth the subject by describing all the details, but without the context of human interaction, it's merely a visual of shock value rather than something to explore as a reader. Many of the counterculture famed writers sought to explore things through shock value, essentially ignoring the subject in context to reality by describing the mechanics.

Also to answer your question, Yes, if it's not obvious, I have read the work. I know from reading Naked Lunch that his storytelling was graphic and dealt with drugs, sex, and violence. it was a disjointed narrative structure, sort of like a stream of consciousness or altered state of reality to be honest. In his more straightforward gay fiction, it was even harder to get people to acknowledge. Queer for instance was written in 1951 and would have predated Baldwin and Renault's books, but he didn't get it published in the US until 1985. France of course had a wider latitude for gay fiction at the time, Baldwin published several of his works there rather than in the US, Burroughs went the same route.

It's just a thought from reading these old authors and the code they use to lessen gay sex compared to modern gay fiction.

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@James K Just so you know, I started writing gay book reviews and have just been expanding my reading across the various generations of published gay authors, I have a bunch of reviews on GA right now :) It's just my observation on gay fiction differences from the past and present.

Edited by W_L
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15 hours ago, W_L said:

I'm curious after reading classic writers and modern writers, when did the shift happen? Who began the trend to normalize descriptive gay sex in our fiction?

First of all, I find the term Classic Author open to interpretation, but I guess that is another discussion. Okay... I will just say I know what the classics mainly include, but for me, personally, I believe the gay community does have a classic gay author who breaks the mold of the most common definition. He is one who is often criticized, mostly because his characters were often the epitome of male beauty(and his books were explicit), but you asked the question of who began the trend to normalize gay sex in fiction. I'm no expert, but in my opinion the answer would be Gordon Merrick. At the same time Mary Renault was publishing "The Persian Boy", he was penning and publishing his "The Lord Won't Mind" trilogy. His earlier works were much less erotic, but with this trilogy, he didn't hold back. They, and the books that followed were incredibly descriptive with regards to gay sex. 

The thing was, for me, despite the obvious romanticism and sexuality of his books, there were some very deep and relatable themes that I don't think he gets credit for. I have no skin in the game, but I don't have a problem with how he chose to represent gay culture. The fact is, beauty has always been a part of it... and to ignore that fact may be PC, but it is also the equivalent of burying your head in the sand. Objectification isn't a gay or straight thing... it is prevalent in all aspects of all cultures, only now showing signs of at least broadening the definition through diversity.

Merrick was an accomplished author. Born in 1916, a contemporary of a lot of so-called classic authors, he studied French Literature at Princeton. After being an actor on Broadway for a time, he became a reporter for such papers as the Washington Star, Baltimore Sun, and the New York Times before becoming a spy during the WW2. He wasn't a hack. His first novel, "The Strumpet Wind", a book about being a spy with very light homosexual themes, was a great success, making him a lot of money. He had a style, and he had courage. I've read all his books, and always thought he was being punished for some reason by gay folk with their noses up in the air. Recently, I discovered his most famous trilogy has been in some form of movie production for quite a number of years, so maybe he will finally get the recognition he deserves. So yeah, my answer to your question is Gordon Merrick. Cheers!

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I remember when, in my home town, books began showing up in the middle-to-late 1960s what some of us guys called "yellow cover books" began showing up in the local drug stores (there were not any regular book stores in my town).  The "yellow cover books" were outright porn, mostly straight porn, but sometimes with bi, gay, and lesbian porn included.  The books were not classics at all, but sometimes included some fascinating sexual descriptions -- especially fascinating to those of us teen boys were were ages 11-17 and going through puberty.  Around 1969 the obvious "yellow cover" books stopped coming to town, and I predict that many guys were disappointed.

Just as male-female sexual fiction has become more obvious and graphic over the years and centuries, so has bi and gay fiction.  This is not always a good or bad thing.  Sometimes language such as "he positioned his sizeable organ at the entrance and attempted entry" has been sometimes replaced by "he put his large (sexual term of the month) at the opening and pushed hard.  He got in maybe half an inch before the big head became too wide to continue into the (sexual term of the month for the receiving aperture).  He backed up, pushed much harder, and broke (into, in, through, or other terminology).  Some of the language of two to four centuries ago almost makes me chuckle now, and sometimes the language was well disguised and/or romanticized, but usually the meaning shone through.

Thanks for starting this topic, @W_L.  The comments by @James K and @Headstall are interesting, as well.  I look forward to seeing more thoughts from others.

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3 hours ago, Headstall said:

First of all, I find the term Classic Author open to interpretation, but I guess that is another discussion. Okay... I will just say I know what the classics mainly include, but for me, personally, I believe the gay community does have a classic gay author who breaks the mold of the most common definition. He is one who is often criticized, mostly because his characters were often the epitome of male beauty(and his books were explicit), but you asked the question of who began the trend to normalize gay sex in fiction. I'm no expert, but in my opinion the answer would be Gordon Merrick. At the same time Mary Renault was publishing "The Persian Boy", he was penning and publishing his "The Lord Won't Mind" trilogy. His earlier works were much less erotic, but with this trilogy, he didn't hold back. They, and the books that followed were incredibly descriptive with regards to gay sex. 

The thing was, for me, despite the obvious romanticism and sexuality of his books, there were some very deep and relatable themes that I don't think he gets credit for. I have no skin in the game, but I don't have a problem with how he chose to represent gay culture. The fact is, beauty has always been a part of it... and to ignore that fact may be PC, but it is also the equivalent of burying your head in the sand. Objectification isn't a gay or straight thing... it is prevalent in all aspects of all cultures, only now showing signs of at least broadening the definition through diversity.

Merrick was an accomplished author. Born in 1916, a contemporary of a lot of so-called classic authors, he studied French Literature at Princeton. After being an actor on Broadway for a time, he became a reporter for such papers as the Washington Star, Baltimore Sun, and the New York Times before becoming a spy during the WW2. He wasn't a hack. His first novel, "The Strumpet Wind", a book about being a spy with very light homosexual themes, was a great success, making him a lot of money. He had a style, and he had courage. I've read all his books, and always thought he was being punished for some reason by gay folk with their noses up in the air. Recently, I discovered his most famous trilogy has been in some form of movie production for quite a number of years, so maybe he will finally get the recognition he deserves. So yeah, my answer to your question is Gordon Merrick. Cheers!

@HeadstallClassic was just a personal word choice open to interpretation, since Ancient reminds me of open gay sexual explorations by Greek/Romans/Chinese/India/Japanese writers of the per-Modern European era. Points noted and acknowledged :o :D

You actually picked out my favorite book of Renault's to compare against :P (Someone asked me about The Charioteer in my review of EM Forster Maurice and I told them, while I found it good, I prefer another of her books more if I were to review something from her, which is The Persian Boy, the 2nd book in her Alexander the Great Historical fiction Trilogy). I like that book for its 1st person narrative and the fascinating relationship.

Gordon Merrick's books are not on Audible, so I can't easily read them. Kindle reading takes a bit of time sadly for me nowadays, but I like the premise of Lord Won't Mind. Explicit gay sex is a plus and being published in 1970 might be a good point to draw a line, LGBT community saw a lot of change in the world with the rise of Gay Liberation movement and Stonewall at the end of the decade. I like your concept.

As a side note: Merrick was not mentioned among the top names of American "Gay" writers, like you said due to some critiques about his character. Honestly, if you enjoy his writing and I will give him a chance as I like the concept, why do other opinions matter? I write reviews to express my opinions, not to convince others to believe my words are Canon. Sometimes I think mainstream critics forget that critiques are just personal opinions.

3 hours ago, ReaderPaul said:

I remember when, in my home town, books began showing up in the middle-to-late 1960s what some of us guys called "yellow cover books" began showing up in the local drug stores (there were not any regular book stores in my town).  The "yellow cover books" were outright porn, mostly straight porn, but sometimes with bi, gay, and lesbian porn included.  The books were not classics at all, but sometimes included some fascinating sexual descriptions -- especially fascinating to those of us teen boys were were ages 11-17 and going through puberty.  Around 1969 the obvious "yellow cover" books stopped coming to town, and I predict that many guys were disappointed.

Just as male-female sexual fiction has become more obvious and graphic over the years and centuries, so has bi and gay fiction.  This is not always a good or bad thing.  Sometimes language such as "he positioned his sizeable organ at the entrance and attempted entry" has been sometimes replaced by "he put his large (sexual term of the month) at the opening and pushed hard.  He got in maybe half an inch before the big head became too wide to continue into the (sexual term of the month for the receiving aperture).  He backed up, pushed much harder, and broke (into, in, through, or other terminology).  Some of the language of two to four centuries ago almost makes me chuckle now, and sometimes the language was well disguised and/or romanticized, but usually the meaning shone through.

Thanks for starting this topic, @W_L.  The comments by @James K and @Headstall are interesting, as well.  I look forward to seeing more thoughts from others.

Sad that those books were taken away from you :( The internet has made a lot of things easier to get and have in relation to information and ideas, but back in the days of print, it was hard to impressionable young LGBT kids to get a hold of even the barest information.

Gay sex is by no means universally equal or good in gay fiction, I've read enough stories where it's just a scene of two guys tearing off clothes and putting things in different orifices under a thousand words. I agree, it's the message that counts most to the audience.

Edited by W_L
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5 hours ago, Headstall said:

Gordon Merrick. At the same time Mary Renault was publishing "The Persian Boy", he was penning and publishing his "The Lord Won't Mind" trilogy. His earlier works were much less erotic, but with this trilogy, he didn't hold back. They, and the books that followed were incredibly descriptive with regards to gay sex. 

If we take a ride on the Way-Back-Machine-of-Life you would, during the late seventies (before I got my driver's license at nineteen), find me at Walden's Books the small bookstore at the closest mall. When the family would go shopping, I made my way there. I didn't buy Merrick's books, I couldn't, but I slowly read that trilogy in the book stacks. Every time someone would come near, I'd hide the cover and slip into the next aisle so they wouldn't see what I was reading. I never had too much time. There were other books that I read in that store, but with the exception of The Joy of Gay Sex I can't remember the authors or the titles.

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I remember back in 6th grade when I read Anne McCaffrey's books going... wait, green dragon riders get "proddy" and aren't those females...? The holders look down on them for their "licentious behavior"...? 🤨 😲I had already read a bunch of books with sex in them owned by my stepsister's stepmom, and TV wasn't censored in my household, so I was more intrigued than shocked. It was just later that year when I read Outlander with the m/m rape scene. The contrast of how oblique one was to the other always felt of an aspect of genre and author style than era and age of the author. Of course, I'm talking early 90s, lol, which is a far cry from the publishing era of the 70s but I was raised in a tiny town of under 1k with a bookmobile access only in the summer (unless I went to visit my mom on the east coast) with a dad who was strictly redneck anti-EVERYTHING I knew to keep hidden about my sexuality. He didn't even like me watching Fried Green Tomatoes, much less reading it. 

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I'm of two minds on this.  I enjoy a well-written, imaginative sex scene.  But, on the other hand, the fact that there are only so many ways to insert Tab A into Slot B means it is all too easy for explicit descriptions of the sex act to become repetitive and conventional.  As someone who has had abundant experience with tabs and slots, how much explicit description do I really need?

Writing about sex without getting explicit can be as much of a challenge as expressing anger without resorting to profanity.  As a high-school English teacher once explained, the reason we don't use profanity in polite conversation is not so much that it's offensive, but that it's boring and mindless.  Using it is too easy.  It's when we can't use profanity that we really start to think about what we mean and how best to put it into words.  I wonder if the same isn't true when writing about sex.  On the other hand, I have to admit that Verlaine's collection of poems, Femmes/Hombres, demonstrates that graphic language doesn't always have to be boring and mindless.

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On 10/7/2021 at 6:13 PM, W_L said:

I'm curious after reading classic writers and modern writers, when did the shift happen? Who began the trend to normalize descriptive gay sex in our fiction?

I think Nifty may have had some impact on the shift from emotion/allusion to physical/messy in the description of gay sex.

Some fiction on that site is simply text p0rn. In fact, you have to do a lot of shifting to separate the wheat from the chaff. If you read much of it, I'd say it will desensitize you somewhat.

However, there is some incredibly good writing there if you can find it. There are a few lists of pointers to good stuff on Nifty.

The only one I know of is the one at Awesomedude. It's old and hasn't been maintained for some time.  Best of Nifty and the Web

 

Edited by jamessavik
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