Do We Need More “Happy” Queer Stories?

Ryan Douglass
Feb 1 · 5 min read

Navigating an industry structured around the sensibilities of the Cishet White Woman feels like walking a tightrope of barbed wire, where every other step will impale me.

The Cishet White Woman — singular — is an institutional property, just like “whiteness” itself. She represents an ideology, a power structure, rather than a person, or persons, themselves. You do not have to physically be a cishet white women to be serving the Cishet White Woman.

The Cishet White Woman to the Black Gay Man, is an oppressor. Her first mode of action is to separate his “Blackness” from his “gayness”, so as to fracture his identity.

On one side? A fetish, a danger— something to fear, and something to desire. On the other — an accessory, as a makeup mirror or lip stick she can remove from her purse as she needs, and throw out when it’s old and used up.

All pieces, all directions, all roads, lead to erasure and dehumanization. Considered together, I’m a caricature of her creation, talked over, and around as a prop to serve her needs.

When I consider myself in relation to the hateful institution of publishing, I question the Black writer separately from the gay writer. In order to thrive within this institution, I have to understand how its hive mind thinks, and what must compel someone to dehumanize another for their own benefit.

In questioning myself as a gay man, alone, I find my struggles aligning in certain ways to those of the White Gay Man — a property the Cishet White Woman also seeks ownership of.

In questioning myself as a Black man, I examine the cascade of effects that come with the White Gay Man feeling his power removed by the Cishet White Woman and the Cishet White Man. The biggest consequence is the White Gay Man’s coping mechanism, which is to fling his pain at the Black Gay Man, so as to locate the place where he does find privilege (in race), and use that to empower himself in the face of homophobia.

This kind of chain reaction of oppression is found in every community that the Black Gay Man is expected to be a part of. His gayness disqualifies him from acceptance in the larger Black community and his Blackness disqualifies him from the mainstream LGBTQ establishment.

And so, battles are fought, and lost, and won, over his head. Questions are posed, argued about, and answered separate from his input, as if the complications of his identity make him inherently less capable of engaging with any of them, or embodying any of them, or embodying anything at all that could be recognized as human, and alive, and standing right here.

Do we need “more happy stories” to counterbalance a disproportionate number of tragic ones?

Maybe, but we also need to look at how heavily we consider the straight gaze.

White queer people are given drastically more representation than Black queer people (even though they, themselves, may not perceive it to be so). Their questions force the entire LGBTQ community to pay attention to and validate what’s been written about them, on top of them, by people who are not them, and to also assume that representation as our own.

I am therefore required to pretend that the Cishet White Woman and her fetish for gays is valid in some way, and not just a big culture vulture gawking at the tragedy of someone else’s existence.

To have this conversation, I’m required to occur to myself as I occur to them — a politicized object of straight, white fascination.

But that is not what I am, and the Cishet White Woman nor the White Gay Man have any right to label this conversation a “queer” problem without considering the entirety of the LGBTQ community.

Where do queer writers who deal with darker aspects of queer existence come in, if those aspects are true to life? Who helps us work through bullying, workplace discrimination, toxic masculinity, racism, and internalized homophobia, when the onus is on reversing the harm done by straight writers rather than simply claiming our ownership of our stories?

“Happy stories” is to publishing culture what “gay marriage” is to gay rights — it engages with queerness from a straight lens, and heralds us into acting in accordance with certain cultural values and aesthetics that occur more naturally to straight people.

It asks us to shrink our range to match theirs.

Where do queer writers who deal with darker aspects of queer existence come in, if those aspects are true to life? Who helps us work through bullying, workplace discrimination, toxic masculinity, racism, and internalized homophobia, when the onus is on reversing the harm done by straight writers rather than simply claiming our ownership of our stories?

The truth is that books can break hearts and repair them within the same 300 pages, and to think it can’t happen — to pose a “happy vs. tragic” debate in the first place, is to limit the space we’re allowed to take up in favor of a false dilemma that gives too much attention to our oppressors.

Race matters. Socioeconomic background matters. Ability matters. Poverty, homelessness, and lack of safe queer spaces affect our people. Forty percent of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ, despite us taking up five percent of the population. We are not ready, as a society, to say we’re beyond representation of queer pain, or to question whether these depictions are equally valuable to ones of queer joy. No more than we’re able to say the society we live in is post-racial. We will get there when queer writers are given opportunities that have been stolen from them.

And besides, humor grows from tragedy. Resilience grows from pain. Joy blooms brighter when depression has been felt. Some pain is integral to culture. Sometimes pain, in the collective body, is integral to true representation.

Sad queer stories are not inherently tied to the institutional property of misrepresentation. Sometimes they’re just true. And what I “should” or “shouldn’t” do in response to the dehumanizing whims of the Cishet White Woman is irrelevant to me, as I am not the property of that property.

Our freedom ought to be the bottom line, whether it means leading readers to swoon or break down in tears. Either is fine, so long as it accurately portrays the truth of the queer writer’s story and culture, regardless of how any oppressor has tried, and failed, to do so before.

Ryan Douglass

Written by

Frequent writer, occasional talker.

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