As I've already stated on this blog, AN OFFICER AND HIS GENTLEMAN was sold to Alyson Publications this past month. It's official. And I'm proud, humble, and very honored. As a gay reader, I've been a fan of their books for a long time. It also leaves me to believe that they saw something in the book they liked. And for that I'm thankful.
But this post isn't about the book or the sale. It's about interpretation and social responsibility. I recently read a review of AN OFFICER AND HIS GENTLEMAN by a book reviewer who refers to herself as "Book Utopia Mom." Here's the link to the review http://bookutopia.blogspot.com/2009/06/officer-and-his-gentleman-by-ryan-field.html. I've passed the review on to a number of my gay friends who've read this book, and they were both shocked and confused. Not because it wasn't a great review, but because she's so far off with respect to certain facts that still exist within the GLBT community.
Here's a quote from the review that makes no sense: "Never really believable for him to be in the situation he is, it’s hard to feel sorry for him when he doesn’t look at options."
First, you have to wonder how much explanation she needs in order to get the point. He doesn't think he has options, and that's pointed out clearly in the book. He's certainly not living this way because he likes it. At least this is what I've heard from all the gay readers who have read the book. Just the idea of "options" leaves me wondering what she's thinking. Some people don't know they have options. He doesn't have support from anyone.
The plot revolves around a good looking young gay man who is tossed out of his home when his family discovers that he's gay. He has little education, no money, and he's all alone in the world. All he has are his looks. So he finds employment and a place to live with an older gay man (who is in the closet and couldn't care less about gay rights) who takes advantage of his vulnerable situation by forcing him to walk around naked after work. There's no sex between them. I could have done that. It happens all the time with older gay men and younger gay men who need some kind of support. I've witnessed it happen, and I've always stepped in to help the younger gay man out of the situation. I actually had a friend who was brought to this country by a wealthy, older attorney. The attorney "kept" him as his lover and he became an emotional hostage. The guy didn't know he had choices. So I helped him get into school and out of his self-destructive situation, and he became a nurse in Atlanta with a thriving career. In the book, I did the same thing with the main character. Someone comes along, offers him a choice, and his life changes.
My point in the book, and in this post, is that there are young gay men who don't think they have choices. They allow themselves to be taken advantage of all the time. This is why so many of them wind up on the streets. Part of this is low self-esteem, because they still haven't learned to love themselves as gay men. And part of this is fear of living on the street. Because there's not much opportunity out there nowadays without some kind of support. And in case any of these book reviewers haven't noticed, we're not all equal yet. The GLBT community is still fighting, daily, for the same equal rights everyone else takes for granted.
I've learned to take all reviews quietly and move on. AN OFFICER... has had some great reviews and I'm thankful for them. I'm eternally thankful to my agent and publisher for helping get a book like this out. But when a book reviewer questions a fact (not to mention my experience as a gay man as compared to her experience as a straight woman), and doesn't understand that there are young gay men out there suffering from abuse who don't know they have choices, I have to say something. Because now it's not about reviewing books. It becomes a social issue that goes way beyond that. And as a gay man I simply can't sit back and allow it to happen. I want to be able to sleep at night.
I'm sure this book reviewer didn't mean anything personal (I hope anyway), and I truly do believe she wrote the review because she's not aware of certain situations that still occur in the gay community. But ignorance is not an excuse when you decide to make public statements about what I consider a sensitive topic.
If anyone is interested, especially the gay readers of this blog, you can click onto the reviewer's link above and place a comment on the reviewer's blog if you agree with me. I want all my books to be sexy, romantic love stories with a happy ending, but I also want them to be socially responsible and real. I've been writing GLBT fiction for a long time, I've been published by all the gay presses, and I've worked for free for many publications to help get the message out. I take it very seriously when someone makes light of a serious GLBT issue that's happening all the time.
I like to add that since I wrote this post I've spoken to this reviewer. She was very kind and very gracious in mentioning that her intentions were not meant to offend anyone. I believe her and don't think she meant any harm. And I think we both learned a few things.