A Boxful Of Ideas
I was eighteen when male homosexuality ceased to be a crime in the UK. The old law was harsh, and prescribed jail sentences. Back in history, the death penalty was applied. No wonder the law was called ‘the blackmailer’s charter.’ The point is that I grew up in a world where homosexuals were criminals. As a schoolboy, at an all-boys school, it was difficult to question attitudes to homosexuality. If one did, suspicion was cast upon one’s sexuality and that could result in loss of status, friends and being ostracised. The wicked law reinforced the power of the bigots. I cannot remember having a sensible discussion on the topic, although our RE teachers, for example, were fair, open-minded men who I respected. I assume, they had been told the topic was off-limits.
Many friends were homophobic, although the word didn’t exist in common parlance. They were also openly racist. It was common to see a rider at the bottom of adverts, ‘No coloureds.’
Five years after repeal of the law, I had a holiday job and with it came a colleague called Vic. He was old enough to be my father and had an unusual hobby that would have scandalised my father. He went round the pubs and clubs known to be frequented by gay men, and photographed the police beating up the men as they left at closing time. He then offered the pictures to the assault victims, should they want to complain. His offer was rarely accepted. What was the point?
In many families, it was difficult for a woman to leave home before she married. Put another way, many women married, so that they could escape from home. Vic knew a lesbian cinema manageress. She provided him with free cinema tickets and late night taxis, in return for lesbian couples using his flat in order to have a few hours to themselves.
Why mention this? Sometimes it is more important to look at, ‘distance travelled,’ than ‘where we are at’. One must encourage the LGBT community to keep chipping away! Things are improving, and I need to mention how pleased I was to be asked to review ‘A Boxful Of Ideas – Poetry and Prose by LGBT Writers’. It means someone has recognised the distance I have travelled in 50 years – as a straight man.
The book is beautifully produced, has a huge spectrum of stories and poetry, showing that the contributors and editors have serious talent. I haven’t done a count, but many of the stories deal with gay and lesbian relationships. Is that right? There is more to a person than just their sexuality. But, we all know how important sex and relationships are in our lives and it is justified of the editors to try to highlight the problems and joys gays and lesbians experience. There are more hetero stories in this anthology, than we would find gay stories in a similar hetero-anthology.
Another problem is, as a straight male, I feel like a voyeur when I open the pages. When does interest become morbid curiosity? Would I hesitate to take this volume off the bookshop shelf to buy, because I feel I’m intruding in a world where I don’t belong? Probably – and that is a problem, for me and the publishers.
For me? It reveals I still have hangups when dealing with this topic. Why? It is a subject about which rational thinking is a common casualty. You can’t kick all the negative influencers of your youth. For the publishers? They need to sell books, and to straight men and women, too. That defines a problem for the future. How can we make gay and lesbian life inclusive, not just for gays and lesbians? Books like this tackle that problem, without it ever being in their mission statement. Perhaps I’m trying to say, it should be in their mission statement. I want to be told, ‘It is OK Clive. You can be with us, without being us.’
Was this why, when I received my review copy, I immediately turned to a story, written by someone I know, who I think of as a friend? Probably, because she, like all gay men and women I have known, keeps me from her personal sphere in a way that heterosexual friends don’t. Do gays and lesbians do this because they think I will be offended, disinterested, or it may break the friendship? I shall never find out, but I did read her stories with extra interest. I could sense a semi-autobiographical leaning and it let me gain insights she had hitherto kept from me. Or was I being a voyeur, delving places I had no right to be? Did writing a story allow her to tell me and other friends, things she couldn’t talk about face to face?
I can’t answer any of those questions, but the discussion around them clarifies the ‘raison d’être,’ discussed in the introduction to the book. Do we still need books dedicated to work by gay and lesbian writers? I think so. It remains the best way to put and receive a point of view on the subject.
The first poem in the anthology reflects the same idea as I tried to impart in my poem ‘Let Time Be A Game,’ recently published by New London Writers. ‘By The Book,’ by Michael Hart is (annoyingly) much better than mine! Thus, I return to quality. Take a risk with this volume. These writers are good! In any anthology, there will be stories and poems, which a reviewer favours or finds less interesting. That is not relevant. Taste is not worth arguing about. I can testify however, if I started a story I finished it. The last short-story collection I said that about, was from Katherine Mansfield – the doyen of the short story. Greater praise I cannot give.
That is why I look forward to the LGBT opinion on my new novel ‘Losing Longings,’ due out in February 2017. The locomotion for my plot is provided by an older woman’s desire to get a much younger woman as her lover and the machinations in which she engages to achieve her end. I’m not going to apologise for using a theme about which I know nothing (as a straight male). Novelists have to ignore that problem, otherwise all crime writers would have to be criminals, and J K Rowling would need a broomstick licence, but I will be happier when the first lesbian has told me, ‘That’s OK. Well done!’ I shall submit to Paradise Press for comment.
I decided not to pick out particular stories for in-depth review. It would have been easy, but would give a false impression. The spectrum of thoughts, emotions, and happenings in this anthology, is so vast that it is impossible to review a few stories, and then generalise, without misleading prospective buyers about the content. Take a chance – buy and read. Count that as a recommendation.
A BOXFUL OF IDEAS. Poetry and Prose by LGBT Writers
Edited by John Dixon and Jeffrey Doorn
Foreword by Nicholas de Jongh.