Edmund White, in an interview with Salon, says one of my favorite things ever about same-sex marriage:
In the past, when gays were very flamboyant as drag queens or as leather queens or whatever, that just amused people. And most of the people that come and watch the gay Halloween parade, where all those excesses are on display, those are straight families, and they think it’s funny. But what people don’t think is so funny is when two middle-aged lawyers who are married to each other move in next door to you and your wife and they have adopted a Korean girl and they want to send her to school with your children and they want to socialize with you and share a drink over the backyard fence. That creeps people out, especially Christians. So, I don’t think gay marriage is a conservative issue. I think it’s a radical issue.
I adore White’s books for so many reasons, and I think the fact that I read five of them this summer has influenced a lot of my thoughts about the history of gay men these past few months. He’s got some wonderful prose, and he writes candidly about gay culture and being gay—that’s a strikingly rare combination, and a risky undertaking in a literary world that tends to ghettoize gay writers. The last few pages of The Beautiful Room Is Empty, in which he has this sort of dadaesque description of Stonewall, are some of the best writing I can think of, for example—not only is the prose just glittering in its surreality (I find it really difficult to describe why good prose is good; you’ll just have to take my word for it), it’s a great way of turning the conventional riotous watershed OMG-Judy-Garland-died-and-now-we-have-a-revolution-on-our-hands kind of narrative on its head.
The NYT reviews of White’s two memoirs, My Lives and now City Boy (I’m still waiting for my copy of City Boy to arrive from Amazon; I’ll report back when I read it) seem profoundly on edge about the frank discussion of sex that pervades them. I mean, this is the Times we’re talking about, so it’s not too surprising; the paper hasn’t always been the most with-it on gay stuff. But even I, who am utterly unshockable, remember looking awkwardly around to see if anyone on the bus was looking over my shoulder while I read what the Times facetiously calls “that S-and-M chapter” in My Lives. Even I was glad that, unlike a lot of other books I’ve read with a lot of sex in them, this one’s cover was discreet.
But I think we have to be profoundly thankful to White for writing literary books in which the narrator acknowledges his sexuality with at least the mannerisms of honesty (even if he’s applying creative license to what actually goes/went on in his head and his life). It’s an increasingly common thing, but it still takes a high degree of courage and literary acumen.
Oh yeah, and he teaches fiction at Princeton. What could be better?