The burden of authors to express themselves in ways both captivating to audiences and marketable to publishers, and to do so without compromising integrity, vision or authenticity, often complicates the creative process.
But for LGBTQ authors who, for better or worse, write under the specter of mainstream media and popular culture’s assumptions about queer characters and lifestyles, the challenges of bringing a book to the marketplace can be especially daunting.
At “Diversity of Desire: Writing Queer Perspectives,” an April 13 panel discussion at Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse, four Los Angeles-area LGBTQ authors shared their experiences as individuals and artists who sometimes conflict with heteronormative expectations.
Stand-up comedian and entertainer Erin Judge, whose debut “Vow of Celibacy” was recently released by independent L.A. publisher Rare Bird Books, guided the talk as moderator.
Joining Judge on the panel were Catie Disabato, a Chicago native and author of 2015 detective novel “The Ghost Network”; Dan Lopez, a former Orlando resident who debuted his psychological thriller “The Show House” in December and Martin Pousson, a Louisiana Bayou poet and author who will discuss his second novel, “Black Sheep Boy,” at the L.A. Times Festival of Books this Saturday.
A small audience listened as panelists recalled the influences of their hometowns and their first encounters with pop culture images of same-sex desire. Stories followed of Mick Jagger and David Bowie, an episode of “Star Trek” and Oscar Wilde’s “Portrait of Dorian Gray.”
Pousson remembered visiting a B. Dalton bookstore when he was young and discovering adult magazines and gay-themed novels on the shelves.
“I took them, left a wad of money on the shelf and walked out,” he said. “I think I was 8 years old — I read them all cover to cover.”
The authors talked about “outing” queer characters in their books, and how stories about young people coming out as gay or transgendered tend to be categorized by the publishing industry as separate and distinct from traditional (read: heterosexual) coming of age tales.
“I’ve got very complicated feelings about the coming out narrative,” Disabato said. “If you’re a queer person, you go every day looking through that lens. That’s just the way that you see the world, and those things become part of your observations so you just include them in.”
Lopez said he and fellow LGBTQ authors sometimes feel pressured to act as standard bearers, guiding readers into another world with the beacon of some special knowledge.
“Actually, you are just as blind to these larger things that are going on as everybody else,” Lopez said. “With the coming out (narrative) we also have to bring this extra vision and wisdom. And part of that is a narrative that is largely whittled by a straight sensibility.”
The authors discussed how the integration of LGBTQ characters and narratives into mainstream culture often leads to oversimplification and stereotyping that force authors into leaner and leaner categories.
Judge acknowledged that being a woman adds yet another layer of complexity to writing about relationships, queer or otherwise. Male authors are often the subjects of their sexuality, whereas women are still largely portrayed as objects to be perceived as desirable by another.
“There’s socialization around femininity that’s not about desire. It’s not about the subject of yourself,” she said. “Once you have that subjecthood you have the ability to think, ‘This is what I like, and this is what I want,’ not just in relationships, but also in life.”
After the talk, Pasadena writer Gabrielle “Ri” Lee said the viewpoints and experiences shared by the panelists provided a lot of food for thought.
“As a writer, I’ve been getting more interested in identity and representation,” said Lee, who attempted her first book at age 11. “I definitely have been talking and thinking about these kinds of stories for a while now, but have never been brave enough before to write them.”