I don’t know if having a Conservative Prime Minister has got everybody in an overly nostalgic mood, but there do seem to be an awful lot of outings in the press at the moment. At the start of the summer, MPs, spies and X Factor finalists alike were gaily walking about, for all the world as homosexual as Jimmy Dean or Albus Dumbledore. Tis the season, though, and turn, turn, turn, the newspaper presses have spun out a strangely concentrated stream of ‘found to be of the tender persuasion’ shockers.
And buzzing irritatingly round these already quite depressing stories, the disconcerting phrase: ‘GAY SLURS’. As if the idea that a chap might feel deep emotional attraction to another chap (or at the least, enjoy touching his knee) was in some way worse than the idea that said chap had lied to his electorate, to his friends, to his fans or even his spouse for the sake of a quiet life. As if the secret – if it really is kept – is worth being kept.
It really is a good time for a prize you can only be eligible for if you’re comfortable with your sexuality!
I remember, as a teenager in the nineties, haunting the gay section in our local library in South London. I asked my boyfriend if he had anything like this in Cheshire in the 1980s and got quite short shrift. He didn’t have the fun of sliding James Baldwin and Robert Rodi under his bed to avoid detection, or flipping through the Penguin Book of Gay Short Stories looking for the rude bits.
There were all sorts of things in that section, though it was in slightly too open territory for my liking at the time. I used to have to patrol the area, pretending to be interested in the Jane Austens and the carousel of Westerns – then dive in there and whip out whatever bedswapping comedies or classics of coded erotic restraint looked good. If somebody mis-shelved a book about easy seafood dishes I could easily scoop that up as well by mistake. (I’ve noticed that the gay section is now a freestanding bookcase of its own, easily positioned for strategically diving behind when you really must grab that copy of The Joy of Gay Sex.)
I see the Green Carnation prize as a celebration of both the gay section of and all the Harry Hoofters writing in other genres who don’t get shelved there. It’s not about making a song and dance about who you fancy or what you do, or the stereotypical – just the simple openness of acknowledging that not everyone’s the same, that homogeneity isn’t an ideal to strive toward. Giving us new and surprising and even startling stories about the world, and going into the secrets that really matter, that can’t be kept: the secrets that keep us.
Nick Campbell, Green Carnation Judge