Last year, author Garth Greenwell suggested that Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life could be the great gay novel that contemporary culture was waiting for. A few months later, Greenwell produced his own contender for that title when his acclaimed What Belongs To Us was released. Around the same time, Alexander Chee’s novel Queen of the Night was released. Thatt’s another beloved book that’s widely regarded to be gay—if not in subject matter, then in sensibility.
The sixteen-novel Left Behind series of evangelical thrillers is at least as influential a text in the annals of latter-day prophecy belief as the Book of Revelation. Which, of course, happens to furnish source material for the series’ intensively literalist accounting of the rapture, the tribulation, and the final judgment. The series, by Baptist preacher-turned-culture-warrior Tim LaHaye and evangelical sports and comics writer Jerry Jenkins, debuted in 1995 and concluded in 2007, and not counting the raft of prequels, children’s adaptations, study guides, and audiobooks that have come in its wake, it has sold more than 65 million copies.
This afternoon, Virginia State Senator D*** Black responded on Twitter to a Gwaker story about an email he recently sent to an AP English teacher about Toni Morrison’s Beloved. Jessica Berg, the teacher, objected to State Senator D*** Black’s support of a (failed) bill that would require teachers to obtain parental permission to assign their students certain books. “If it’s so graphic that Gwaker can’t even print it for their adult readers,” he wrote, “then parents should have the right to know.”
At a certain point while preparing for my interview with the novelist, memoirist, and editor Edmund White, I had to ask myself: What could I possibly say about a certain segment of gay life that Edmund White hasn’t already said beautifully or unflinchingly? “What we desire is crucial to who we are,” he wrote in his 2009 memoir City Boy. “People also like to slur someone who’s very good-looking; beauties are often branded ‘sluts’ or ‘whores,’ though these words make little sense in a sexually permissive age. What, in fact, do they mean? That someone likes to have a lot of sex with a lot of people? What’s so bad about that?” he asked in the ‘Beauties’ entry in the original 1977 edition of The Joy of Gay Sex, which he edited. And then there’s this astounding paragraph from his 1980 travelogue about regional gay culture, States of Desire:
When people think of someone with an “addictive personality,” the image typically isn’t a pretty one. “When is an addict lying?” goes a joke told by addiction counselors: the snide answer is “when his lips are moving.” Media portrayals of addiction tend to depict people with addictions as “fiends” or “demons” whose debauchery is driven by a ravenous hedonism, not a human or understandable search for safety and comfort. Consequently, the “addictive personality” is seen as a bad one: weak, unreliable, selfish, and out of control.
If you care about gay culture and/or good writing, you need to read Garth Greenwell’s debut What Belongs To You. The slim novel, which chronicles a multi-year relationship between its narrator and a hustler named Mitko that he hires after meeting him in a bathroom under the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria, has been acclaimed by the likes of the New York Times, the New Yorker, and the New Republic, which called it “the Great Gay Novel of our times.” Since its January release, it’s gone on to become a Los Angeles Times bestseller.
Black women are in trouble. Or at least, that’s the narrative. Headlines warn that they’re less likely to attain a college degree than their peers; that they pose a higher risk to various health afflictions like cervical cancer and hypertension; that they “experience unintended pregnancies” at three times the rate of white women. Black women are also said to make less money than men in the same profession and will most likely never wed. Largely absent, however, are the counter-narratives: truths that grant ownership to the lives and futures of black women. A statistic rarely repeated is that black women comprise “42 percent of businesses owned by women of color” (the fastest growing segment in the women-owned business market), or that they are the most “reliable progressive voting block,” or that, in the last 60 years, high school graduation rates among black girls have increased 63 percent.