All this is central to novels, and, I think, to my own novels. Whatever else is going on, one of the main things these books address is this: What was it like to be gay in America in the last half of the twentieth century? How it felt, and how it made a man think, and what it made a man plan to do.
There are, I guess, as many reasons for writing a novel as there are novelists, but one of the principal reasons is to tell what it was like there—in Atlanta in 1864, in Meryton in the early nineteenth century, in Yoknapatawpha County in 1928. What was it like for a particular young woman in Rouen during the third and fourth decades of the nineteenth century? For an Irish advertising canvasser in Dublin in 1904? For a beautiful and beautifully educated and mannered young man named Anthony Malone on the lower East Side in New York in the early seventies? What was it like to be the people they were where they were when they were? A novelist may have formal concerns or want to attack the Romantic movement or seek to examine the effects of time on memory, but at some point the novelist always seems to attempt to answer the question, What was it like there? Not so much What did you do? or What happened? but What did it feel like to be you in that place, in that time? What was it like to be young—thirty years old—and male and gay with a lover, at two o’clock in the morning on June 28, 1969, in Greenwich Village in New York? What concerns did he have? What pictures did he like? What posters? What movies? What Broadway shows? What did he think of? What was he afraid of? What was he not afraid of? How did he feel, seeing Boys in the Band? How did it feel to walk west on Christopher Street, going home at six to have sex with Joseph? What was it in all this that brought this thirty year-old man to the point where he was willing to fight the cops, to wade into the riots on Christopher Street, his fists clenched together, and to swing them back and forth like clubs at the cops?