As writers we do a lot of things to get to know our subject matter. We call it research. For some books that might mean delving into the case files of serial killers, for other books that might mean learning about scuba diving and in some cases that might mean watching a few live action flicks just to make sure the position in our heads is physically possible.
Don’t look at me like that. That’s bona fide research.
There are some things we will never understand and some mysteries will be held by those who actually do the things we write about. Case in point, only a serial killer will really know what drives them to kill and how they feel after.
I think the same is true with the gay culture. I write about gay men and no matter how I live my life or what I do in my life, I will never be a gay man. I recall my faghag days and try to pull upon that, but that would force most of my stories to be about drag queens. I can call my friends and talk to them. I can listen to their coming out stories and their reasons for not coming out. I can go to Lambda books stores and observe the customers. All of that will give me some tangible things to use in my writing.
It does not make me a part of gay culture. I will forever be on the outside looking in. That’s not so bad, really.
As I stand on the outside of the rainbow circle, I come to learn things. I come to see these men and women for what they are—people. Just people. People with the same fears, desires and needs as anyone else. They’re not so different. They worry about their kids, jobs and lives. They’re just people like anyone else.
People—I know. Fears—I know. I can write this. I may not know the nitty gritty details of the hankie code. I may not fully understand how a drag queen feels when the final stroke of make up is put on. I may not deeply comprehend what it feels like closet yourself and try to at least look interested in that cute chick while your frat brothers look on.
But, I know about not feeling like I belong somewhere. I know about feeling the need to hide and the repercussions of hiding. I know what it’s like to hear religious rhetoric slice away at what I hold dear.
Write what you know. That’s the biggest piece of advice passed down from author to author. Maybe it’s not a matter of writing what you know, but knowing what you write. Recognizing that although we may differ in labels, skin color and all sorts of other ways, we really are the same. Deep down inside, we’re the same.
And that’s rather comforting.