When I started thinking of writing articles about being young and gay, I immediately became acutely aware of not lapsing into the instances of cliché that dominate young and gay writing.
I didn’t want to be mentioning the “what about kids” question, or the “coming out” saga, or the loneliness. With my intelligence and sophistication (yeah, right), I believed I could rise above that shit. I was beyond that – those thoughts and issues would offer me nothing.
Many groups of people, but none more so than arrogant teenagers, detest clichéd emotional expression. They hate its contrived sentimentality, the meaninglessness of the language teenagers use to describe their feelings. They perceive the poems of the two girls who suicided in Melbourne two months ago as pathetic, unintellectual, naïve and immature.
I was one of those teenagers. I believed I had academic skill (although I’m still in high school) and moral sophistication (even though I compromise myself regularly) and experience in the field, even though I’d met just three gay teenagers in my 17 years. To my great embarrassment I still think about these things regularly. You might say I take myself too seriously. I do. But I’m changing.
I began reading Tim Conigrave’s novel Holding the Man. It’s a well-known piece of literature in the Australian gay community, and I’d heard from a number of authorities it was a truly excellent book.
When I opened its pages and found phrases like “if I had died then, it would have been enough” and “my boyfriend and I just lay there” and “little angel kisses” I was immediately turned off by the unimaginative language. Conigrave didn’t posses the magical linguistic skills that justified my reading his book – I had assignments to do. My time was valuable.
But I started to detect an honesty to Conigrave’s words, a powerful simplicity that resonated with my adolescence and my gayness. It wasn’t long before I became completely absorbed. I began to recognise the beauty of the book, and I was shocked that such unoriginal emotional expression could affect me so. The story of adolescent love warmed me and cuddled me through a period of painful loneliness. And my god, did it make me yearn for a high school boyfriend (only five months left … anyone?). The novel succeeded better than any other literature to extract a powerful response from my heart so accustomed to scepticism. If that’s not proof of perfect art, I don’t know what is.
My arrogant resistance to that which I considered cliché was a dangerous one. It closed me off to a wealth of emotional language and artistic expression that had real potential to bring me comfort. This is especially true in terms of my sexuality – that undecided, confused and hazy “thing” that’s tugged in new directions every day.
Any endeavour of creativity and expression has immense value, even if its composer has not the sophistication to move beyond sober romantics and forced expressions. Sophistication doesn’t translate into happiness, security or emotional wealth. Neither does it justify the time spent by a composer on his or her creation – the answer to that is honesty and faith that somebody out there will relate. Anybody prepared to take that leap of faith, who is willing to sacrifice a part of themselves for public consumption, deserves monumental credit, no matter how unexceptional their techniques.
It is those who wage unconditional war on the cliché that we should be worried about. Those who believe emotional expression can only be validated by a standard of what they deem “artistry” are denying themselves a body of artistic possibilities from which they could really benefit.
I think this is especially valid for gay boys and girls in high schools, who are often lonely and isolated from any prospect of a relationship but who might not seek the stories of those who have experienced the same pains. Opening our minds can yield valuable reassurance, and those kids need all the reassurance they can get.
*Adrian Ross is a pseudonym.
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