Manuel Betancourt | Longreads | March 2018 | 8 minutes (2,170 words)
Confronted by a historical record that mostly excludes and often disparages them, queer communities have long been forced to write their own histories — or, more often, to scrub them clean. After all, such histories can be dangerous to write, and the act of memorializing can sometimes feel like just another burden to bear.
In Feeling Backward: Loss and the Politics of Queer History, Heather Love warns against this, writing that “given the new opportunities available to some gays and lesbians, the temptation to forget — to forget the outrages and humiliations of gay and lesbian history and to ignore the ongoing suffering of those not borne up by the rising tide of gay normalization — is stronger than ever.”
Three recent novels, all of them decades-spanning narratives centered on LGBTQ characters, are attempts to connect recent queer history with contemporary gay life. Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair, John Boyne’s The Heart’s Invisible Furies, and Tim Murphy’s Christodora are each expansive visions of post-war queer life. Set in London, Dublin, and New York City respectively, they tell stories about men and women living in the decades before and after gay liberation, through the AIDS crisis, and into the present. They depict everything from restroom cruising encounters and gay conversion therapy appointments to ACT UP meetings and late-night Grindr hookups. And they ask us to consider how past traumas haunt the 21st century.