Embracing a Gay Identity: Gay Novels as Guides

Embracing a Gay Identity: Gay Novels as Guides

Embracing a Gay Identity: Gay Novels as Guides

Embracing a Gay Identity: Gay Novels as Guides


This work presents a psychological analysis of the process of "coming out" for gay men in America since 1950. Koponen looks at the process as a series of steps in a hero's journey progressing from initial denial and anger to guilt, bargaining, and depression. The stages of acceptance and integration of a gay identity represent the goal of the quest. Providing the common ground on which to analyze the "coming out" process, Koponen uses gay male relationships portrayed in six important American novels--Falconer by John Cheever, City of the Night by John Rechy, Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin, The Beautiful Room Is Empty by Edmund White, Dancer from the Dance by Andrew Holleran, and Taking Care of Mrs. Carroll by Paul Monette. This book not only is literary study, but also is intended to help gay men reflect on their shared lived experiences. Self-help exercises on identifying and examining the stages of coming out are provided throughout the analysis.


Gay to me always meant coming out--and out and out, a continuous process of self-realization.

--Mark Thompson, The Evolution of a Fairie, Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning 297

Coming out means to form and to acknowledge a gay identity. By coming out, gay people accept their sexuality as an intrinsic, and ultimately valuable, part of their self-identity. The struggles, difficulties, and obstacles encountered on this usually long and frequently difficult journey are chronicled in the gay American novels published since World War II. For decades, people have turned to gay novels to understand what it means to be gay, although only recently has gay fiction begun to receive serious literary and critical recognition and analysis. The coming-out stories gay people tell in the narratives of their own lives define and shape their adult identities. Gay novels also help gay people to find a sense of self and a feeling of belonging in the world. Yet none of the full-length studies of gay literature has focused on the crucial process of coming out. This work is the attempt to honor the centrality of coming out both in the lived experience of gay men and in the realistic gay novels that reflect and shape that experience. (This work makes no attempt to cover the journey that lesbians take in coming to accept their sexual orientation. Lesbians are able to speak and write for themselves, and they have done so. The stories they tell, though parallel in some ways to those of gay men, are different in many respects.)

Three categories of male-male sexual desire may be found in literature, as in life: homoerotic, homosexual, and gay. The term "homoerotic" has . . .

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