Gay Male Fiction

Gay Male Fiction Since Stonewall: Ideology, Conflict, and Aesthetics

The conflict between assimilationism and radicalism that has riven gay culture since Stonewall became highly visible in the 1990s with the emergence and challenge of queer theory and politics. The conflict predates Stonewall, however; indeed, Jonathan Dollimore  describes it as ‘one of the most fundamental antagonisms within the politics of sexual dissidence over the past century’. How does gay male fiction since Stonewall engage with this conflict?

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My book addresses this question as its central theme. Arguing that gay fiction is torn between assimilative and radical impulses, the study focuses on fiction by Edmund White, Andrew Holleran, David Leavitt, Michael Cunningham, Alan Hollinghurst, Dennis Cooper, Adam Mars-Jones and others. It posits the existence of two distinct strands of gay fiction, but also aims to show the conflict as an internal one, a struggle in which opposing impulses are at work within individual texts. Two opening chapters place post-Stonewall gay fiction in context: first, a chapter that links this fiction to theoretical and historical developments since the late nineteenth century; and second, a chapter that traces the conflict back to the fiction of Wilde, Forster, Genet, Vidal, Burroughs and Isherwood. The following topics are then discussed in four separate chapters:

  • gay fiction of the 1970s;
  • gays and the family; sexual transgression;
  • gay fiction and the AIDS epidemic.

Taken as a whole, the study finds that gay fiction since Stonewall, as well as marking a significant break with the past, shows a strong continuity with it.

Some quotes from published reviews.

‘In Brookes’ account, the emergence of gay identities is shown to be “riven by ideological conflict”, but this conflict is always productive and energising. Far better to have a world in which we can noisily debate the meanings of (homo)sexuality, rather than one in which homosexuality is that which cannot be named, discussed, and contested. [. . .] Although Brookes’ focus is primarily on fiction, his thorough contextualisation of his material means that his study is also a portrait of gay culture through a period of great change, as well as an illuminating exploration of the theoretical and political questions which have engaged lesbians and gay men so urgently for the last few decades. He is particularly good on the relationship between “queer” theory and politics and a longer history of gay and lesbian theory, and at showing how much queer theory re-worked and re-formulated questions that were asked by earlier thinkers. [. . .] This always intelligent and probing study showcases the plurality and heterogeneity of stories of gay male sexuality, but also makes sense of how these stories shape our queer worlds and our normal worlds today’ – Hugh Stevens, Senior Lecturer in English, University College London.

‘Les Brookes’ Gay Male Fiction Since Stonewall makes an original and highly important contribution to queer studies by contextualizing and analysing a key tension that informs male gay culture and politics, exerting a major influence on their development. This is the division between radical and assimilationist tendencies. [. . .] Brookes’ analysis of the tension existing between these two contrary positions is cogently argued and presented. [. . .] The study is innovative not only in its comprehensive investigation of the division between assimilationist and radical impulses in male gay theory and narrative but also in foregrounding the connections, as well as the differences, between works of fiction produced before and after 1969. Whereas critics generally focus on the differences that the texts produced in the two periods display, and highlight their contrary facets, Brookes adopts a more nuanced and intelligent approach. I recommend his study as indispensable reading for students and researchers working in the areas of queer, literary and cultural studies’ – Paulina Palmer, formerly Senior Lecturer in English at the University of Warwick.