The Gay Year by M de F
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
I digitized this book and am selling it, you can buy it here.
Kind of a mixed reaction over this book.
I don’t feel the characters were fully fleshed out, although part of it could be I found it hard to relate to them. This kind of dark, moody pre-Stonewall literature, it seems in some ways as if it was written by a homophobe. If it was written today the person would be considered homophobic, writing a book containing two suicide attempts, one successful, and enough self-loathing homosexuals for a lifetime.
Part of the disconnect for me is that people must have really thought like this. There were suicides, even I at 35 can remember a time when every gay person you met had attempted suicide. In a lot of ways I don’t want to go back there, and perhaps that’s why there is such a mass rejection of pre-Stonewall literature, it’s that we as a group are not ready.
There’s plenty of forties lingo in the book:
It was good to be with Lou having a mug of coffee and chewing the rag. After what had happened to him this afternoon, Joe needed to chew the rag plenty.
But when someone falls in love, it’s instantly in love. It’s melodrama:
Joe sat beside the boy on the sofa. He pulled the sobbing head out of the pillows and slapped Harold’s face smartly.
I find nowadays very few face slaps.
And going back to the homophobia in the book, everyone is always so down:
…tiny, dark, ‘gay’ bars jammed with men and boys who, like themselves, were on the endless hunt for something to bring a little happiness into the bleakness called ‘the gay life’.
“I’ll never go for treatments—none of us ever will. I’d be afraid of what he might tell me—besides I don’t really want to help myself. I’m just weak and stupid and dumb and queer—that’s all. Weak and stupid and dumb and queer—.”
One of the guys meets a woman after trying suicide of course, who thinks she can turn him:
She recognized some of the familiar marks in this young man, but there was present another quality that told her this one was not meant for ‘the gay life’. She wondered if she could help him realize it.
“Joe, you know the story of Lucifer? If God’s brightest Angel fell from Grace, can we expect man to behave more judiciously?”
This equation of a gay life with Lucifer? I just don’t see why anyone would think someone chose to be gay with all these oppressive, negative connotations. Even this is later rationalized away:
Who created homosexuals? Maybe parents who failed to understand their sensitive sons, maybe the boys created themselves, maybe too stringent taboos on natural impulses—whatever it was, Joe concluded, it wasn’t God.
This idea seems popular from the time. To me, if gays were born gay it’s not their fault, if their parents made them gay it’s not their fault, so the answer is to say they made themselves, that way it can be their fault:
If the aggregate ‘they’ he’d hated so fiercely through his youth, had made him ‘gay,’ he had let them. He had given in to them. His coddling family couldn’t be blamed; he had allowed himself to be coddled.
So much self-hatred. It was all overwhelming for me.
And then, at the end of the book, to wipe it all away. As the title suggests, it’s simply a “Gay Year”. Then back to straight:
“I’m not really ‘gay’,” Joe repeated. “I’ve never really been homo. I’ve only been lonely.” It was as simple as that.
Most cases of homosexual love, Joe thought, were closer to bisexual than people recognized. Generally, one of the participants was womanly in his mental and emotional attitudes. If a man should be attracted to such a person, where is the homosexuality?
Yes so it turns out our hero was never really gay at all.
An interesting time capsule but not really a great reading book.
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