Beyond the usual hype of a book launch, there was something very moving about this event: the honest and frank exchange between the author and host. Both Stuart and Barr are in their mid-40s with experience growing up in working-class Scotland in the ’90s, they also had to deal with being gay with the backdrop of Section 28 – legislation that banned the ‘promotion of homosexuality’ in schools and other places of education.
Accounts from both authors of peeking a look at the underwear section of the Littlewoods’ catalogue to writing to random men through lonely hearts columns were met with laughter. But also made us reflect on the lack of representation in popular culture for people growing up gay.
We have come a long way since the mid-90s. Like popular TV, literature and book publishing is seeing a surge of new and emerging talent representing the diversity of LGBTQ+ voices.
Mohsin Zaidi’s A Dutiful Boy depicts growing up gay in a devout Muslim household, a powerful portrayal of being able to live authentically despite all the odds.
The beautifully constructed, hilarious, and compelling tale of a retired postman in the north of England coming to terms with his sexuality is told by writer Matt Cain in The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle.
And Douglas Stuart’s own Young Mungo depicts the love between two young men in Glasgow, growing up in a hyper-masculine world and across the sectarian divide.
Contemporary gay writers are not only breaking down barriers by telling authentic stories from the LGBTQ+ community, but they are also drawing attention to the complexities of wider societal issues that everyone will face – age, class, poverty and religion, to name just a few.
It is this intersectionality between different social groups that compelled Glasgow-based charity, the Arkbound Foundation, who support underrepresented authors, to embark on its own LGBTQ+ project. Writing Our Space is a collection of personal essays, short stories, poems, and scripts written by members of the LGBTQ+ community.
An earlier interview between Barr and Stuart where they talked nostalgically about Glasgow’s ‘gay chippie’, gave me the motivation to write my own biographical account from the ’90s – The Janets, which appears in the Arkbound anthology.
The Aye Write literary festival is currently underway with a reassuringly strong line-up of LGBTQ+ writers. I am delighted to be chairing an event with two young talented queer writers on 13 May.
Manchester-based Okechukwu Nzelu received a Northern Writers’ Award in 2015 and his latest novel – Here Again Now – depicts the complexities of fatherly love.
Author Jon Ransom grew up in Norfolk. His short fiction has been published extensively and his latest novel – The Whale Tattoo – introduces the world to working-class lad Joe Gunner and his relationship with local fisherman Tim Fysh.
Gay writers’ own narratives of love and loss, of shame and acceptance, are interwoven into these stories and characters giving hope to a future generation of queer kids who previously would have grown up without representation.
(Please note I am aware that there may appear to be a gender bias within this article towards male queer writers. This is not to undermine the brilliant contribution made by women queer writers, trans people and non-binary folks.)
For more details of the Okechukwu Nzelu and Jon Ransom event at Aye Write see www.glasgowlife.org.uk/event/1/okechukwu-nzelu-and-jon-ransom
Mike Findlay is a third sector leader and Chair of The Arkbound Foundation.