Today is the day that Stonewall, a UK based charity which is the gay equivalent to Amnesty International (my words not theirs), launches #RainbowLaces. This campaign hopes to give footballers and their supporters a new and safe environment to be who they want to be, not who they think they should be because of the prejudice suffered. I'm doing a bit here to support them but I also want to share my thoughts on writing about gay or bi-sexual men.
When I first began writing Lancelot and the Wolf I didn't think it would ever be published, therefore I didn't really worry about whether I had the right to write about male gay relationships. I am a card carrying member of the female gender, I don't have much of a choice in that regard as my husband definitely isn't gay. ;-) By the time I wrote Lancelot and the Grail I didn't really care what anyone else thought but then I published Wolf...
One of the most nerve racking things I've ever done in my life is know that a gay man is reading something I've written about their territory. For goodness sake what right do I have as a woman to write about and try to empathise with, gay men? Gay men in the their thirties who are 'coming out' nonetheless (not that Lancelot ever really thinks in those terms until much later). Oh, and when those reviews started about Lancelot not being properly gay because of his relationship with Eleanor de Clare, I wanted to hide! This - despite the FACT - that the whole point of the love affair with her and then Arthur is to demonstrate it's who you love, not their gender that's important to Lancelot, but maybe I was bit too subtle on that score...
Anyway, back to my point (stop using this as a forum to moan about reviews, Sarah), my point is, writing about something completely contrary to your own understanding of the world is important. As a woman it's a wonderful challenge when a character comes into your life who makes you really think about your world, your preconceptions, your way of life. I've been around alternative lifestyles since I left home so I am lucky to have a wealth of experiences to draw on but the challenge for me was finding a strong male voice inside me that could seriously explore some difficult emotional situations without sounding like an episode of Friends.
Empathy is the key. As an author I have plundered the depths of my imagination, my emotions and my personal experiences. Can I know what it's like to be a six foot knight making love to his King? Well, technically no, but... Being a writer means exercising the muscle that is my imagination and putting myself into that world completely. Submerging myself to point that when I stop writing I'm surprised at the time and the fact that I'm sat staring at a computer screen rather than holding a bloody sword after some mighty battle.
I don't write clever treaties on what it is to be a gay man, I write from the heart. I write what I know I would feel if I saw my lover in bed with someone else (been there - wasn't a stretch to know how that one can feel). I write what it's like to be so profoundly in love with someone, nothing else matters in the world but them. I write from the male perspective because the heart and mind of a man is actually quite complex (don't laugh ladies). The pain of hiding the vulnerable heart that lies in the chest of a man is a personal muse and nemesis to me.
I guess what I'm still trying to say, and say it badly here, is this - we are all basically the same, men and women hurt when they are betrayed and feel joy when they are safe. Do I know how to be a gay man? Hell yes, because the heart of the matter is the same as all those weird and wonderful life experiences I've had a woman. I'm five foot five but I've held a bloody sword in my hand - I know what that feels like at least.