Where’d those gay characters come from? They keep popping up in my books almost unconsciously. The first was in A FOREVER KIND OF GUY. A pro football player in love with a pro wrestler. I don’t think there’s been one since, but I have two WIPs and there are female gay characters in each.
One is a Hollywood actress who’s somehow never been outed. Partly because she’s had relationships with men over the years. She fears losing roles and also fears the judgment of others, but in the course of the story, she publicly announces that she’s gay.
The other is a porn actress who’s out and proud. She doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her and often provokes thought by her behavior and so she can study and analyze the reactions of others.
I don’t know if the gay characters are a reflection of the culture in which we live. In my day job I’ve encountered lots of gay people over the years. The company I work for prides itself on embracing diversity. My brother was gay. I wonder if I’ve resolved my own issues through my writing and I’m now moving on to try to resolve his.
I was 19 or 20 when Kevin told me he was gay. I’m not even sure I knew exactly what it meant. (I was sheltered and naïve.) As a kid Kevin was always different. He loved to garden. When he was maybe 8 or 9, he sent away for gladiolus bulbs from the back of a cereal box. He planted them and they bloomed. He was always fussing over them, patting down the dirt path between the rows of plants. He loved animals. He raised mice and gerbils, guinea pigs and rabbits.
He struggled with depression in his late teens and early twenties and subsequently for his whole life. But at that time, it was due to his struggle with his sexual identity. He’d been born into a family of devout Roman Catholics and his parents were of a generation who would, to put it mildly, have trouble accepting a homosexual child.
Eventually Kevin moved to LA. I think he thought his life would be easier there, that his lifestyle would be more accepted and he’d be less persecuted. I suppose in some ways it might have been easier for him, but in some ways it was probably harder. Kevin contracted AIDS in the early eighties. Again, after one of his friends died from it and he told me he had it, I really didn’t know what it meant.
For Kevin what it meant was losing everything he’d worked for. He’d finally finished nursing school and got a job at a children’s hospital in LA. But he didn’t work there for long.
AZT was the only drug available early on, and what followed was years of bouts of illness, hospitalizations, the loss of his eyesight, his teeth. Addiction recovery. Social Security Disability.
He lost control of his body and his life. More of his friends died from AIDS-related illnesses, yet like the Energizer bunny, Kevin kept on ticking. There were days he couldn’t get of bed. Pain. Psychological counseling. A plethora of pills he had to take daily. More procedures. Heart problems. Suicide attempts. And tears. Oh, so many tears.
In the end, Kevin died alone. His body was discovered the next day when my uncle broke into his house to find out why he didn’t answer his phone or the door. Kevin’s dog was huddled in the corner.
Kevin’s death was beyond sad, but I never really cried. I think I’d used up all my tears for him while he was alive. There were so many times I thought, this is it. He’s going to die this time. My sadness for Kevin was that he was so immensely talented but he never really had a chance to reach his potential. I’m not sure he ever found anyone who truly appreciated him for who he was.
At Kevin’s funeral at the country church my dad had attended since birth, I gazed out at the surrounding fields where cattle grazed and the wind blew and I thought, “Finally, Kevin’s at peace.”
That’s what I want for my gay characters. I want them to be who they are and live in peace.