Saturday, November 29, 2008

Internalized Homophobia

Many years ago, before I met the Jewish American Prince of Darkness and settled down with him, I had a single date with a clinically depressed psychologist named Abe. I remember talking with him about the book I was writing at the time, which became Mahu Fire.

I told him that the big early action in the book was a bomb going off at an event celebrating gay marriage, and that I was going to have my hero's best friend, Gunter, killed in the blast. I wanted Kimo to have a real motivation to solve the crime.

Abe was horrified. He kept insisting that it was my own internalized homophobia that made me want to kill off a gay character. No matter how much I argued about character development and plotting, he was adamant.

That was our only date, but it did make me reconsider killing off Gunter. I was thinking about Abe the other day because I'm working on the fifth book, and once again, Gunter has an important role to play.

I'm glad, now, that I didn't kill him off. But Abe's comment does make me wonder, sometimes, if I still have any remnants of that internalized homophobia. I know, for example, that my early dislike of effeminate men was rooted in my own issues-- if I was friendly with such a person, would others think I was "like that" too?

Today, I admire those guys, because they were the ones who could never hide who they were, and had to be strong just to be themselves. I've tried to give Kimo that admiration and respect as well.

And if you're out there, Abe, hope you're feeling better.


Victor J. Banis said...

Great story, Neil. I agree with you about those effeminate gays (and drag queens) who always had to be tough. As to internalized homophobia - well, I suppose it could be, but I would still say the book/story takes precedence. Truth is, sometimes you let a likeable character die to make an impact, or move the reader to tears. Bad things happen, in books as in life. But, it has to develop out of the plot, which is to say, as a result of the characters actions and (more importantly) makeup. I haven't read Mahu Fire, so I can't say, but your reasoning sounds valid to me, in terms of Kimo's motivations.


Ken Summers said...

No offense to Abe, but I think he may have issues separating reality from fiction! As writers, we look at the word differently and create/destroy characters to tell stories. If I kill off a Latino character, it doesn't mean I have some inner racist trying to escape. In one manuscript (which still needs to be competed), I have a psychologicaly damages closeted gay man hurling horrible homophobic statements while attacking another person, but does that mean I hate myself for being gay? Heck no! It means I use these statements and actions to show the character for his conflicts and inner problems.

Although I'll admit, some things we dream up would frighten most psychologists. But being warped is so much fun in the safety of writing. Good work is intended to make you think or react strongly. But do the actions of our characters reflect pieces of us? Sometimes, but not always. More often, they reflect the world we see every day...

Edward C. Patterson said...

I didn;t come out of the closet until I was 42, and then came out like a fucking Murphy Bed. (I;m 61 now). I was closeted for all those years, although I poked out now and then and then ran back in. However, what kept me in was internalized homophobia. I memorialized these feeling in a brave stance, but writing and publishing a novel called Surviving an American Gulag, which relates my own experiences as a closeted gay man with a big dose of internalized homophobia when I was in the Army in 1966-68. When I was President of the Gay and Lesbian Information Network (GLISN) at Dun & Bradstreet, I would lecture to gay and straight alike that dangerous homophobia is internalized self-loathing by closeted people. I also describe the closet is our own personal terror machine which sometimes bubbles over and hurts others.

Edward C. Patterson

Neil Plakcy said...

I agree, the story takes precedence. So far I haven't been able to kill off a character I really like-- but we'll see. I have read other authors who've done so and I've really HATED that!

Edward C. Patterson said...


I tried to kill of a major charctr in The jade Owl series, but my beta-readership ganged up on me. The beauty of fantasy is that you can almost kill and resurrect - but the downside is now I need to write 2 more installments at reader demand. Ah, but my readers are my boss and I am bullied by my charcters. Povere me. An author's life for me. If you create the snow, be prepared for the bob-sled run.

Ed Patterson

Edward C. Patterson said...