I saw a play the other night, a new play about a family in crisis over a question of forgiveness. Can they forgive the man who murdered their daughter? This led me to consider whether a dramatist could write that kind of drama about a gay family. Say, two gay men and their children, home for the holidays, forced to deal with whether to forgive a man who had murdered a daughter of the family.

What makes this problematic is that the two gay men and their children live in a bigoted world. At almost every turn, the attention of the audience would be drawn from a sharp focus on the grief or anger or sorrow or confusion that one or the other member of the family is feeling, onto feelings called forth by the character’s life in a bigoted culture.

In the drama I saw the other night, the surviving daughter brings home a man she has met, who, it turns out, is a cop. For a time, the audience wonders whether the cop is going to discover crimes other members of the family may have committed. But he slides into an inconsequential place in this family in crisis. I couldn’t imagine the daughter of two gay men bringing home a cop without first having vetted him on the issue of two gay men. If he was OK’d by the daughter, he would become known to the audience not as a cop but as a progressive cop, altering the dynamic of the narrative the playwright had been building. There would be no danger from this cop.

I think it’s hard—it may be impossible—to write a story about a gay character without dealing with his or her context. This person can’t serve in the military, can’t get married in most states, until fairly recently was liable to being arrested for violation of the sodomy laws, is being preached against by preachers all over the country, is seven times more likely to commit suicide as a teenager, etc., etc., etc. And once you start dealing with these issues, or even introduce them, they take over the narrative, and whatever you had wanted to write, about grief and sorrow and anger and confusion resulting from a murder, gets subsumed under the bigger effects of homophobic discrimination and abuse. Writing a story about a gay character is just very, very hard to do.  Of course, if you push the gay character off to the side and make him or her ancillary to the principal characters, then you can fully describe the gay character’s life in America without having it overwhelm the narrative of the principal characters.  The point here is that, because of our culture, writers in America don’t have the same freedom to create stories around their gay characters that writers have around their straight characters. This is another consequence of the bigotry in our culture.

We don’t deal with the effects of bigotry on our characters because if we dealt with any of it, since it’s so overwhelming, we couldn’t deal with anything else. It is somewhere among these factors that we find the causes, I think, for the literature gay people have. If we are going to write novels or plays about gay people, and put them front and center, there is only one story to tell, and that is the story of bigotry and its effects. This is terrible, and it’s going to stay with us until we change the culture we have. But until then, this is our story.

Check out my website, www.adrianabooks.com, and see for yourself.