Right-wing religious nuts are evil, right? That’s the first thing I think of when I hear “right-wing” and “Christian right.” Hateful beliefs we should have grown out of long ago, if had at all. Hate everyone that doesn’t fit into this tiny little box.
Then I read Gossip by Christopher Bram, which left me confused and whirling. And I liked it.
What initially drew me to this book was, of course, gay scandals in politics. That’s the most I read from the synopsis before diving in.
Ralph, the protagonist, finds himself in a face to face meeting with a man he had only just met on the online gay chatline, Gayworld. Thinking it was just a one time fling, Ralph sleeps with him, and only afterward discovering that he was a political journalist writing a book.
Oh, and he’s a Republican. But it’s okay, because it’s his private life. He said during Bill Clinton’s presidency.
But Ralph is willing to accept that there are other points of view back by rational arguments. And it’s just a fling, that develops in more than one night spent in Bill’s arms. Bill even takes Ralph to a convention he was speaking at — a conservative and Christian conference.
Ralph enters incognito, expecting the worst. Still tangentially involved in the petering AIDS activist movement, he tells himself that he’s scouting out the enemy. Learning directly what his friends can only gossip about. And I’m right there with him, afraid of what will happen if they find out Ralph is gay, and afraid of the hateful and derogatory lies that they espouse.
But… there’s none of that. Ralph walks through the booths, and finds a book table. They’re even selling books by gay authors. While Ralph is checking out the collection, an older man approaches him, as friendly as can be.
Is this… a pickup? A closeted gay? Ralph thinks to himself.
No, the man is happily married, bringing his wife over to help recommend books. They even encourage him to join them at the main lecture, with republican politicians appealing to pro-family values.
Again, nothing derogatory to other people. Just appealing to keeping families safe.
Then the typical right wing nut breaks onto the stage, despite the organizer’s best efforts. Now here is the what I typically think of. The man espouses a belief that the gay agenda is to encourage women to abort their babies (women being so lacking in will that they do what anyone else tells them to do) because they can’t have children.
Uneasiness spreads through half the crowd. The other half are hanging on every word.
The man who was so kind to Ralph agrees with the sentiment. The politicians are too soft on gays. Ralph asks how any of that makes any sense. Oh, because they can’t have children themselves, they hate families.
Ralph reveals that he’s gay. He readies himself for hatred, he readies himself for violence and contempt. I’m shifting uneasily as I read, waiting for that too. To see this nice man turn ugly.
The man replies that once he meets the right lady, Ralph will settle down. In the proper way.
Ralph is stunned. I’m stunned. While not being hostile, the man effectively treated Ralph’s sexuality as if it was simply a matter of hijinx. Something he would grow out of. It’s harsh, but disconcerting, and not what I expected.
I expected… worse? But what could be worse than treating one’s identity so lightly?
This is the side of the world that Bram explores. We enter with our preconceived notions, we leave feeling… confused.
No one side of this conflict is entirely good. No one side is entirely bad. Everyone makes mistakes, no matter what side of the spectrum they’re on. And everyone is doing what they think is best, even if it’s in an entirely twisted way.
Bram effectively demonstrates how we think of ourselves, how we appear to others, and the stories we tell about ourselves. Even in a printed article about Ralph, the main character, Ralph is misrepresented, even idealized, some for the sake of political goals and some simply because what other people see in us isn’t actually… us. And what we see in others isn’t always who they are either.
I use this in my own writing. Seraphin in God Cursed, for example, believes in two things: a) a vampire can only be evil, so he is evil and must be punished, and b) Alexis is always at fault. Because he doesn’t believe he can be good, he pushes Kayto away to save him. Meanwhile, we’re screaming at him, of course you can be good! You already have been kind to him!
On the other hand, we’re drawn to charismatic Alexis. Alexis believes he loves Seraphin and that all that he does is for Seraphin’s good. But in reality, he’s trapping Seraphin in a hell of abuse and self-loathing. But even if he realises that, even if he regrets when he goes too far, he’s happy when he has Seraphin, so he won’t change.
Flawed characters are why I read books. And I love stewing in misconceptions, where two characters just can’t get together because they each believe two different things. And Gossip has that in spades.
If you’re in the mood for an enlightening and confusing read about political scandal and murder at the height of the Clinton administration, you should read Gossip.