Monday, March 30, 2009

Should I Call Myself a Gay Poet or a Poet Who Happens to Be Gay?

How does one happen to be gay?

A bad haircut happens. A drug problem happens. A monsoon happens.

Being gay does not happen. It’s a curse from birth. Or a blessing. I don’t know. It all depends on what kind of mood I’m in.

There’s no choice about it. We’re gay poets.

If you pretend you’re something else, you’re doing something bad.

To be a homosexual in America is to be part of a nation that wants to kill you. What else can you do but privilege your queerness above everything else?

Think about all the suicides. Gay-bashings. Murders. Proposition 8. A proposition that denies gay marriage, tells us what people think of us. This is what they think of us: we do not exist, we do not matter, or quite simply: Get away from us, you cocksuckers.

At the same time, people hate poets. “Have you ever been published?” they always ask. Trying to make us feel bad about ourselves. Delegitimize us.

It’s like when I told someone I was gay in college. “So you have had sex with a man before, right?” As if I needed to cross everything off a checklist before I could say I was. Of course, I must have tried out homosexuality. What eighteen year old hasn’t?

This was the truth: I hadn’t. Touching another guy scared me a little. I got nervous. It seemed gross. I took my time. What can I say?

Here’s another truth: young straight jocks, my friends, who later got married, tried out homosexuality before me. They thought it was OK. But it didn’t change their lives.

I still think homosexuality is just OK. What can I say? I always hope a pleasant amount of self-loathing is a kind of maturity.

There are some things I hate about poets who happen to be gay.

Poets who happen to be gay think there are a lot of other interesting aspects of their identity. And they don’t want to hide any of them by highlighting one in particular.

Trust me: no one is that interesting. Poets especially. That’s why they write. To create something that transcends their dull minds.

They also always say: I don’t want to appear in a gay male-only anthology. I don’t want to get pigeon holed.

My advice: Put your poems in whatever anthology you can. In this economy, no one is getting ahead. And definitely not poets. Or gay men. Even the cute ones who will never sleep with me no matter how much I beg. We’re all in trouble.

I’ve heard a poet who happens to be gay say: My sexuality is fluid.

That’s gross. Coca-Cola is fluid. The Erie Canal is fluid. The water from your busted toilet is fluid. Let’s face it: Everyone wakes up some days and realize they don’t want to be who they are. Because who they are pretty much sucks. That’s not fluidity. That’s called being human.

The idea of sexuality being fluid is leftover from the 1990s. When people started giving a damn about homosexuals. Those academic culture wars. When sensitive people were nervous about possibly hurting another sensitive person.

All of that is gone now. So we have no choice but to use the other leftovers. Like out, loud, and proud. Like I am a gay poet. That’s the truth. If we say that, there’s no way we won’t win in the end.


  1. I have no qualms about calling myself a gay poet-- I'm quite happy to do so.

    I can understand why someone wouldn't want to be known solely for being a gay poet. I see it as about the same as actors being type casted. People want to see themselves as more than one thing.

  2. Thoughts on this:

    ~I had this conversation with a colleague yesterday and said many of these same things.

    ~One of my teachers said something about "the gay sensibility" in poetry, and I said, "There's only one?"

    ~I may be a gay poet, but my poems aren't necessarily gay. Sometimes they're about gay experience in subject, sometimes not. But I think that no matter what, all of my experiences of the world are viewed through my gay glasses. I don't have the privilege of taking them off, or pretending like they're not there.

  3. Steve Fellner, what's up!!

    Great post. I want some lesbians to weigh in on this.

  4. I'm not a lesbian, but, from my female, hetero, fiction-writing point of view, I wonder if an insistence on self-identifying as a gay poet or a gay (or straight) anything over-sexualizes people (is there such a thing as being oversexualized?). For example, often, because I am a woman, many men examine my body parts and think sex. The glazed eyes, etc. and the fact that they haven't heard a thing I've said. Bla bla bla, I might as well be saying. Why would anyone want to put themselves in that place?

    Or perhaps what I'm saying, Steve, is that you and I are so much more than just who we want to sleep with, right?

    Why put ourselves in any more little boxes than the world already does?

  5. Charlie Jensen-- You write poems about the show THE HILLS! Your poems are like totally gay. (I was trying to channel a valley girl there.) OK-- I had to tease you!

    (Steve-- forgive my teasing/rambling on your post.)

  6. Hi Dustin and Charles,

    I love rambling and teasing. That's what I hope this space to be. An immature playground. And sometimes we're a little rough. Hopefully. And when my students click on the links to your blogs, they'll immediately like me more because you both are cool.


    I'm pro-sexualization! I think it's different for a straight woman than a queer male. Take porn for example. A lot more gay men do it because it's fun. Straight woman have to make a difficult choice for a variety of reasons. But I'd love to be objectified. My life can be over once that happens.


    I hope you're publishing like crazy. You are talented, I'll never read your book because you're not a queer male, but I'm sure I'll hear good things about it.

  7. I happen to be gay, but all of my writing does not necessarily focus on the subject. I'm fine being identified as a "gay poet" or "gay writer," not that I can really do anything about it. People of all sexual orientations will put you in a box whether you want to be there or not. Being gay is only part of who I am. I'd still prefer to just be known as a writer or poet. That's another piece of equality we should be working for.

  8. The problem with this question is that this is a no win situation. If you only come out as a writer, plain and simple, no titles attatched, then you have to consider that you may lose an audience that you are seriously trying to reach. If you want to make a connection, or (knowing you) want to impress another gay writer and show them how awesome you are, is that possible without coming out and saying, "Hey, look at me, I'm a gay poet!"
    You have admitted yourself to being drawn to other gay poet's writing. You can't be the only one, so if you don't adapt that title, who's to say another gay man would pick up your book and read it? Then again, who's to say he wouldn't?
    On the other hand, by shouting to the world that you are in fact a gay poet, you are boxing yourself into a hole. However, as we discussed the danger of names before, this is going to happen no matter what. You can never be only a "writer". You're either a gay writer, a women's lib writer, a fiction writer, a non fiction're soemthing, and in having that label you will ultimately push away several potential audiences, no matter what.
    So I say, if you're out, loud, and proud, proclaim it! But be prepared to take the good and the bad that come with it.

  9. Steve-- "And when my students click on the links to your blogs, they'll immediately like me more because you both are cool." I totally want this as my tag line. :-) Thanks!

    CK-- "I'd still prefer to just be known as a writer or poet. That's another piece of equality we should be working for."

    I understand what you are saying. But, in a way, to be gay and acclaimed, and for people to say gay poet, well, I think there is something to be said it. Something said for people having to say a gay person has done something noteworthy. This might sound odd for some people, but I live in the south, and outside the city of Atlanta, well, we are behind the times.

    When Doty won the National Book Award for Poetry, I was stoked for two reasons. (1) I adore the work of Doty, and he is such a kind soul. His success has NOT polluted his attitude. (2) Doty is very out and proud.

    I love it when gay win awards, etc. It gives LGBT youth role models. When I was growing up and trying to distance myself from being gay, I can't remember anyone alive that was a role model for me. I love that so many LGBT peeps are successful--- kids who are in nonaccepting homes can point and say, I want to be like Mark Doty. I want to be like Kay Ryan. These kids have people of role model quality to point to when their parents want to point at the bathhouse types as what their kids will become.

    OK-- I'm in super ramble mode, and I'm going to blame it on the headache medication.

    Hopefully, I have made some sense.

  10. I tend to think of myself as a poet who happens to be gay, an artist who happens to be gay and who as a photographer works with the male nude a lot, and a musician who happens to be gay.

    But I don't mind if people think I'm a gay poet, gay artist, etc. I've been called all those, and it doesn't bother me at all. "Gay poet" is a label that puts one in very good company. And I readily admit to being influenced by gay poets such as Cavafy, Whitman, etc.

    The one realm, interestingly enough, where it doesn't seem to come up, or bother anybody, is "gay composer." There's a whole list of good and great composers, and composers who completely changed music via their inventions, who were gay; but we still tend to think of them as composers who were gay, rather than as "gay composers." Maybe the closet is deeper there, as some have opined. But perhaps it just doesn't matter as much, because is more abstract, less verbal, less overtly erotic in a gendered way. Music can be VERY erotic, but it seems like everyone is able to respond to it equally, whatever their gender or preferences.