A Gay Playwright, or a Playwright Who is Gay?

by Alan Gordon

I am a gay playwright. A playwright who is gay. A man who likes writing plays and also likes other men in the more-than-friends-kinda-way. Whatever way you want to spin it, it's who I am, and for that very reason, I was asked to write about the playwriting experience in whatever form I saw fit, to celebrate LGBT History Month, or February as it is known to many. I could write (and plug the Hell out of) the new LGBT play I am currently working on with the amazing support of Playwright Studio, Scotland. I could write about all of the great queer influences I have gained from gay writers who have trailblazed the way before me. I could spend a page discussing how Tom Wells can write the beejesus out of a gay character or how Stef Smith is basically a genius (because trust me, she is). I haven't done that though. Sorry 'bout it. I tried to, honest (there were, like three drafts), but in doing so, I realised something that I have been too complacent to notice before, and that is just how closely entwined my gayness and my writing have always been.

You see, I knew I was a playwright before I knew I was gay, or at the very least I accepted I was a playwright before accepting I was gay. People who knew me? Not so much. I have had people question my sexuality since I was old enough to know what it meant; from concerned mates who wanted only the best for me, to less-concerned peers who shouted less-than-cultured obscenities at me in the street owing to the fact I had opted to jazz up my shirted look with a dapper bow tie. Funnily enough, folk were far more interested in the gender I swayed towards than the dramaturgy of the first script I'd written, (a cutting-edge episode of Saved by the Bell since you asked.) No matter the circumstance however, whenever I was questioned on my apparently glaringly obvious gayness, my answer always remained firmly the same, a curt 'no'…or the less mature, 'eh, shut up'.  It was just utterly ensconced in my head that, come lusty thoughts watching Gary Lucy on late night Hollyoaks or an unbridled love for the Steps back catalogue (seriously, I could lip-synch Better Best Forgotten in its entirety), I was unwaveringly heterosexual. I still don't fully understand this abject refusal. I never suffered severe homophobia, I didn't have to wrestle with in-built religious beliefs, I've always had the support of my family and I managed to surround myself with theatre people who are basically the most accepting wonderful weirdos you could ever ask to meet. The simple fact was; I just couldn't hang with the idea of being the one thing I'd decided I definitely didn't want to be.

That's a lot of self-denial and deflection right there, so having an output to get my subconscious out of my head and onto paper was essential when it came to clearing away the dark clouds that tended to form in my tiny confused mind. Playwriting was just that. Eventually, 23 years into being me, it would be playwriting that lead me from the glorious depths of Narnia, through the closet and out into the light of self-acceptance and the darkness of one or two Edinburgh gay bars.  On a particularly dark December night, battling against a barrage of insomnia and self-loathing, I took pen to hand and I did the one thing that came most natural to me, I wrote. A monologue. One draft. And just like that, sleep came. Upon waking, I read the previous night's stream of conscious monologue only to have the inner most recesses of my mental make-up race past my synapses. And the last line? 'I am gay.' It was the first time I ever allowed myself to say it, coming as both an utter shock and an inevitable realisation. That monologue became the emotional climax of my first produced play, Fetch; a story of a country boy returning to his roots and forced to confront the sexuality he had always repressed. Sound familiar? Turns out, that a bit of honesty had unlocked some untapped creative potential.

Through telling friends, acquaintances, and one poor soul who sat next to me on the bus, about my grand revelation, one quote startled me. When a lecturer from my uni course was enlightened with my coming out they simply replied, 'I know. I've read your plays.' What? I didn't write about 'gay things'. My plays were well butch, they were like the alpha male of plays, in fact, my plays were such lads that people need only glance at Scene One to find themselves pregnant. Or so I thought. This simple response sent me on a journey of exploration through my back catalogue of work and it was like turning on a long dormant light. Turns out every play I had ever even started, was chalk-full of lost wee guys, repressed beyond reason, and well, not very good.  I'd once considered that if I was gay then I simply wouldn't be, just keep it all down and ignore it like an impending deadline.  How much damage could it do? Turns out loads. Because being gay isn't just about gender and love and sex…it's a fundamental part of who I am, and actively ignoring that part of me involved putting up blocks from one end of my brain to the other. Now, anyone who has ever tried to sit in front of a blank Microsoft Word document and type creative words onto it knows that you need every single corner of your brain you can muster to get from inciting incident to resolution. Playwriting aint for softies! Coming out for me was freeing, as a human obviously, but just as importantly, as a writer. I had new stories I could consider, new characters to pick apart, new themes I could tear open for exploration and an unclogged brain to process it all. You can literally chart a graph between the depth and quality of my writing and my coming out. 

Alan G Post

Alan Gordon

Teach Me

Teach Me by Alan Gordon
Photo Credit: Ivon Bartholomew (Courtesy of Strange Town)

The Wall

The Wall by DC Jackson
Photo Credit: Douglas Robertson 

Mancub L-R Sandy Grierson , Paul J Corrigan Small

Mancub by Douglas Maxwell
Photo Credit: Tim Morozzo

So here I find myself, a gay playwright now proud enough to blog about the experience of being a gay playwright. That's growth right there. So what now? Well, that leads me to one last quote regarding my writing, a quote that didn't send me on a journey of self-exploration but made me realise the importance of my voice as part of the LGBT community. Upon viewing a play I had written for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, a former colleague (who shall remain nameless) said, 'I really loved it, but I don't understand, aren't you gay?' The play,Teach Me, is a sex farce that deals with first loves and first times between a younger guy and an older woman, and therein lies the rub. It seems my colleague was confused as to why I, a gay man, would or should write about a straight couple and the sex they did or didn't have. This got me to thinking. Was she right? Should I write what I know and leave the rest to the folk who knew better? In a word, no. There are great LGBT themed plays out there. Absolutely classics.  Take Tony Kushner's Angels in America or Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart, both great but neither my personal favourite play. My favourite plays had nothing to do with LGBT life, they were Douglas Maxwell's Girvan-set wonders and D.C. Jackson's small town comedies, because those plays feel like they are speaking to me. And that's the thing about playwriting, it's not about just putting your particular experience onstage, but rather about your personal voice. Coming out and being honest with myself undoubtedly freed me up to write plays that dug deeper and worked harder. So whether I'm a gay playwright, or a playwright who happens to be gay, the responsibility I feel I have to the LGBT community isn't to write exclusively about the gay experience, but rather just to write, as me, just the same as a man who likes women in the more-than-friends-kinda-way would.

Alan Gordon is a New Playwrights Award recipient for 2017.

Written by Alan Gordon at 00:00

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