chapter
Fiction
Pages 9

Minority literatures typically distinguish themselves from works that merely represent the minority. For example, Jewish literature distinguishes itself from literature about Jews, and African American literature from the more general representations of blacks. But making such a distinction has been particularly difficult for gay fiction, both theoretically and practically. In general, heterosexuals have preferred to remain silent about homosexuals; consequently, most of the writing that explicitly represents homosexualseven when that representation is hostile and stereotyped-was written by homosexuals. Moreover, if we consider the narrowest definition of gay fiction-fiction written by, for, and about gay people-we can immediately see the theoretical problems. There is first the problem of defining gay and whether it is a synonym of homosexual, sodomite, and queer . Can we rightly speak of people or fiction before the second half of the nineteenth century as gay or homosexual since the medical concept of homosexuality had not yet been constructed? For example, is The Satyricon by Petronius (c.27-66), in which samesex relations and affections are explicitly related, to be considered a part of homosexual fiction when the characters organize their behavior along a very different model of sexual desire? There is also the problem of defining fiction , since much of recent gay fiction is highly autobiographical. But even if we put aside these theoretical questions, there are the practical issues of how do we know whether an author has engaged in homosexual relations, how can we determine whether a work was intended for a gay readership, and how can we decide-short of an explicit erotic scene-whether characters and actions are homosexual? These issues are more problematic for gay fiction than for Jewish or African American fiction because the stigma of such labels was greater, government suppression was greater, and consequently the tactic of hiding and encoding such identities was so much more highly developed. Moreover, because so few authors until after World War II represented explicitly homosexual characters or scenes, there was all the more reason to conflate fiction about homosexuality with gay or homosexual fiction.