This is a strange assortment of pieces. To someone who doesn’t move in any gay community, the anthology’s chief problem is its fissiparousness. There has to be a distinction between gay writing and writing by authors who are gay. The majority of contributors to Graeme Aitken’s book take gay life to be their subject, but several are included because they are gay, while not necessarily employing gay themes, or doing so indirectly.
The list of works by writers who address universal human topics (which may involve gay ones), and who are either acknowledged as gay or presumed to be so, amounts to a catalogue of world masterpieces. This could include Plato, Michelangelo, Shakespeare, Proust, and Auden, but it would require special pleading to put extracts from these men’s works in any collection labelled Gay Literature. As an aside to reinforce this point: can any marketing director imagine issuing an anthology of Straight Writing? Then again, this Penguin is a male homosexual gathering. Women, straight or lesbian, appear in supporting roles – often as sardonic commentators – but nothing is composed from a female point of view. Before any reader of this review accuses me of making heavy weather of obvious distinctions, I must declare that the most interesting articles or extracts published here are unequivocally about male gay life, and are written with admirable directness and humour. The worry remains: are authors, straight or gay, to be corralled according to their sexual orientation rather than by their style and skill?