Coming out was a difficult and emotional process for all gay guys, and one that no one takes lightly. But because it’s a traumatic process that ultimately resulted in accepting oneself and being better adjusted, many gay guys enjoy reliving the process by reading maudlin, overwritten novels about young men, particularly teenagers (even more particularly teenagers in the South) coming to terms with who they are. Despite the tenderly written scenes of illicit adolescent sexual encounters and unrealistic plotlines of emotionally troubled high school athletes falling in love with the captain of the debate team, many gay guys will insist that these stories reflect their own coming out experiences, and it’s best not to call this into question.
Gay guys like these stories because they take all the emotional high points of their own personal coming out stories (being teased, unrequited crushes, sexual confusion, and eventual acceptance) while glossing over the mundane but embarrassing realities of tearful breakups with ex-girlfriends, awkward memories of college-age radicalism and attempts to shock one’s well-meaning heterosexual family members, and a real-life gay community that perhaps isn’t the parade of emotionally well-adjusted Abercrombie and Fitch models they had hoped for.
The arc of the Coming Out Novel (or its spinoff, the Coming Out Movie) is simple: a young guy, often with a close female friend who may or may not offer peppery wisecracking advice but is probably chubby and certainly doesn’t have a boyfriend, has a hard time fitting in. Common conflicts for the closeted character include emotionally abusive fathers, distant mothers, classroom teasing, and being the most sensitive guy on the football team (in the Canadian variant, the hockey team.) He gradually learns that this discomfort stems from homosexuality, and usually at this point a painfully unrequited crush on a heterosexual friend, classmate, neighbor, or lawn-service employee develops. If he has a girlfriend, the relationship will waste gracefully away, pushing her out of the book forever around page 80. An awkward sexual encounter, often the main character’s first, usually follows, leaving him (and often the reader) battered and humiliated. At this point, help arrives in the form either of the peppery wisecracking female friend or a wiser and generally flamboyant gay guy. The helpful gay guy has to be flamboyant, because this neutralizes any erotic tension between the characters. Newly self-confident, the hero confronts those who tormented him in the first chapter, enters a serious and stable relationship, and the story comes to a close.
Erudite gay guys will say that the first Coming Out Novel was the story of Patroclus and Achilles in The Iliad, made more accessible to gay guys by the 2004 movie Troy which cast an often-shirtless Brad Pitt as Achilles. But the first real Coming Out Novel is Maurice, by E.M. Forster, which you shouldn’t bother reading because it has no teasing sex scenes or fierce teenage girls offering peppery wisecracking advice. Subsequent American novels are generally set in the South or Midwest, two regions seen by gay guys as being culturally conservative (or in gay slang “backward”) and because two of the regions’ main pastimes, farming and football are more erotic for gay guys than, say, investment banking and poker. The South is also favored because it is the cultural home of peppery wisecracking women.
Should one of these books come up at a dinner party, it is important to take the book seriously, especially if the book has been banned in school libraries. Many gay guys wish there had been books like this when they were coming out. You should not conclude that this because the book is written on a vocabulary level more appropriate to a much younger person but instead nod sympathetically and say that you agree that books detailing coming out stories set an Excellent Example for Gay Youth.