In the creation of something that represents so many people who get overlooked, what really stands out?
A: I have high hopes for what readers will take away from the entire book, not just the fiction, autobiography, and performance pieces in the first third of the anthology. I’d like them to appreciate Blue, Too at 360 degrees, so to speak: read it for the excellent creative writing in the first part; use the reader’s guide to deepen their interaction with the stories (and perhaps do some of the writing exercises or research projects, either in a reading group, with friends, or in an informal way on their own); grasp, consider, and argue with the essay’s analyses of the way social class is seen in and from the standpoint of “queer” media, literature, pop culture, and politics; and let the bibliography of more than 500 items guide them in future reading, viewing, study, and thought. The Lambda Literary Review critic very kindly said that Blue, Too was, “without a doubt, the authority on working-class queer writing in the English language.” I wouldn’t boast that much on my own, but to make the book an authoritative resource on this topic was definitely my intention all along.
Q: What has been your most memorable experience regarding this book?
A: This is something that happened nearly ten years ago, when I went to the Center for Working Class Studies Conference in Youngstown, Ohio, along with a couple of the contributors to Everything I Have Is Blue, to present the book officially. Neither the conference nor the Center exist anymore, unfortunately. In any case, the evening after our panel, we went out for a drink at Moe’s Martini Lounge in the Holiday Inn in Youngstown, which is just this decimated rust-belt town with one of the worst economies in the country. The bar was pretty empty, and the bartender was adorable and flirty, and we all started talking. Before we left, we signed and gave him a copy of the book. That, for me, was one of the best moments in this whole process because it was like saying, “Here, I did this book for you. Please take a copy.” Given the way that book reviewing works nowadays, and the fact that FourCats Press can’t afford to buy publicity, and the near impossibility of getting an indie book into brick-and-mortar bookstores, my fear is that many of the queer people who should encounter this book are never going to know about it. If I had all the money in the world, I’d rent an RV and drive around to all the small-town fag, dyke, and tranny bars in the U.S. and just give copies away.
Q: How do you see this book influencing GLBTQ literature?
A: Leaving aside for the moment that I feel as though I long ago lost track of what “GLBTQ literature” actually is—given that the vast majority of reading material produced for queer people these days is self-published genre fiction—I would hope Blue, Too would have some impact on readers and scholars who care what our literature has to say about the cultures and communities we live in and feel we belong to.
In that context, my hope is that Blue, Too will have some influence on two levels.
The first and, to me, in some ways the less important of the two, is also the most immediately obvious: bringing attention to writing by, for, or about working-class queer people and treating that writing as the serious literary production that it is. In other words, as writing that deserves not just to be read, but studied for the light it sheds on working-class and queer realities.
There’s a long history of working-class writing in the U.S. (and in the world); there’s a long history of what we call “gay and lesbian literature” in the U.S. Well, there also happens to be a long history of working-class queer literature, though we rarely identify it as such. Maurice is a novel about class as much as it’s a novel about trying to manage a same-sex male relationship in turn-of-the-last-century England.
I say in Blue, Too that Rubyfruit Jungle was the first post-Stonewall working-class gay novel, but the ‘50s and ‘60s were full of working-class queer writing, including not a small number of the pulps that were written for gay male or lesbian audiences. Much of that, too, isn’t identified as working-class writing.
A great deal of the work by black queer writers is working-class writing, but it gets shelved, so to speak, elsewhere. John Rechy doesn’t tend to be identified as a working-class writer. Rigoberto González, whose story “Men Without Bliss” is in Blue, Too, is a poverty-class/working-class writer, though I think most people would tend to say he was a Chicano writer first. I’m not sure what he’d say.
The material realities of transgender people, and transwomen of color in particular, are so clearly foregrounded in Janet Mock’s gorgeous memoir, Redefining Realness, but the gender issue has been the entire topic in all of the reviews I’ve read. And yet what Mock has to say about being poor and queer is outrageously “real,” to borrow her term.
Continuing with the present, I was interested, as I read some of the many lovely and deeply heartfelt articles and blogs written about Leslie Friedman following hir death, by the number of people who wrote about the impact of Leslie’s work on their lives as women, as lesbians, as butches, or as non-gender-conforming people, but I can’t recall seeing anyone who said that Leslie’s work, and Stone Butch Blues in particular, influenced him or her as a working-class person or working-class writer. And yet for me, that was the main impact of that novel.
In fact, I read Stone Butch Blues in the late 1990s, literally in the same week that I read Frankie Hucklenbroich’s A Crystal Diary, and those really were the genesis for the idea of doing a project that involved working-class queer lit—and especially for focusing, as Everything I Have Is Blue did, on what seemed to me to be a distinct gap in queer working-class writing by and for men. Which suggested it was also a gap in the gay male writer’s imagination.
As I was first starting to work on Everything I Have Is Blue, in fact, I corresponded with Leslie (ze was still on email then). I wish I could find the email now, but basically hir basic first message was: Why would a gay man be interested in this book? Not an unreasonable question, but also telling—in the sense that maybe even Leslie had a hard time, at first blush, seeing gay men as allies around class, if not brothers/sisters in gender. It’s not where people really expect us to be, for all kinds of reasons.
But here’s the second level and more important level. Blue, Too contains writing in which the realities of poor or working-class queers are foregrounded, and so it becomes easy to put it into a box as “writing about class.”
The conversation I’d really like Blue, Too to inspire, however, is one in which we look at queer writers today and ask: When are they ever NOT writing about class? Do they think they AREN’T making work about class?
As I read them, every Edmund White novel is about class. Every David Leavitt story or novel is about class. Ditto Alan Hollinghurst or William Mann or David Sedaris or Augusten Burroughs or Michael Cunningham or Paul Monette, whom I hope people are still reading. (And those are just the men.) Most of the queer fiction I read in the Lambda Literary Review or the Gay & Lesbian Review or elsewhere is about class; the books they review in those publications are, quite often, about class.
The really important question then becomes: What class are those writers writing about and why? My perspective is that writers—and queer writers—are always making work about class—and mostly they’re making work about the ruling class.
So it’s not that Blue, Too has carved out some special niche for classed writing; it’s that class is one of the most blatant features of our literatures. When literature is set within the “normative” class, moreover, we take class so much for granted that it becomes invisible.
I could make almost exactly the same argument about race, by the way: As most critics and scholars and, perhaps, even readers seem to see it, black and Latino writers write about race; white writers write about life. Working-class queer writers write about class; LGBTQ writers write about being queer.
For me, the “elevator quote” about Blue, Too is that “literature is the propaganda of a culture.” I’d like readers and reviewers and academics to be turning their eyes on our whole vast body of literature, and especially on contemporary writers, and calling those bourgeois perspectives into question. The notion that there is something inherently natural or ordinary or unremarkable about being in or from the middle- or upper-class deserves to be decentered.
I don’t argue that the job of literature or pop-cultural production is to reflect some sort of demographic reality, but it’s worth saying that working-class people constitute the majority of the people in the U.S. and, therefore, the majority of queer people.
At the same time, the conversation that starts out “Why don’t we have more working-class writers or characters” isn’t very interesting to me. The one that starts out with “What compels American queer literature and pop culture to elevate to such a high profile the affluent, the prosperous, the home- or business owner, the fully employed, the graduate of a “good school,” the well-connected?” – that’s an interesting conversation.
Editor’s note: All language as originally used by the author.
Blue, Too: More Writing By (for or about) Working-Class Queers is available at fourcatspress.com.
Images and quoted text used by permission of the Editor.
See original review here.