The Help Desk: Where did my gay literature section go?

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Dear Cienna,

Bookstores and libraries used to have Gay Fiction and African-American Fiction sections. They’re pretty much gone now, but some people miss them.

Okay, fine—I’ll stop using weasel words like “some people” and just admit it: I liked browsing in a section where I knew every author was queer and where heteronormative thinking was nowhere to be seen. It felt relieving, like taking off a pair of tight pants after a long day. But younger people tell me they think those sections were ghettos that kept straight white folks from encountering other perspectives. They think I’m crazy for missing Gay Fiction bookstore sections.

So I want to ask you: Is my nostalgia for the good old days of Gay Fiction sections some kind of base capitulation to the straightriarchy?

Donna, Central District

Dear Donna,

I think your nostalgia proves the straightriarchy is slightly less straight than it used to be. But let me first say, I understand how comforting the urge to compartmentalize is. I often wish there was a section in the bookstore I frequent reserved for vegans who love Carl Sagan – vagans, as I call them. There, they could lecture on seitan and the universe in peace, while I do neither of those things, also in peace. But alas, they are allowed to mix with the normals and something in my face screams "Please tell me about your favorite meat substitute and why you think the science fiction novel Contact is actually more nonfiction than most nonfiction books."

(It is not my mouth, by the way. My mouth has never screamed either of those things.)

But let's break down what you actually miss and why it no longer exists. You miss the sacredness of a space that acknowledges your identity and caters to your tastes, wants, and needs in a world that was at best, ignorant, and at worst, hostile. In that space and time, a lot of the rainbow was closeted and "gay fiction" was a niche genre.

But now there are queer authors who write about everything; there are queer authors who write about queer experiences; and there are authors who don't identify as queer but write about queer experiences (straight women LOVE to write historical gay erotica, FYI).

What would your ideal section hold – all of them or only some? Where would you put a book like the Pulitzer-Prizewinning novel Less, which is about a gay man written by a gay man but has huge mainstream appeal?

Times change, and bookstores change pretty fast with them because book people are among the most empathetic individuals in Sagan's big beautiful universe. Fortunately for you, queerness has become more mainstream. Unfortunately for you, as the stream has widened, more people are going to wade in.