by Neil Plakcy
I began teaching at Broward College in Pembroke Pines, Florida (a suburb of Fort Lauderdale), in 2002. Because two of my graduate school classmates were on the hiring committee for my job, there was no need for me to hide my orientation. Once I was hired as a full-time, tenure-track member of the English department, I decided that I was going to be out in the classroom, even though I worried about exposing myself to rancor and hatred.
I tried to be casual—I’d mention that my partner and I saw a particular movie over the weekend, and what he liked about it. Or I’d say, “My partner is a health care risk manager, and he has to do a lot of writing as part of his job.”
But each time I said something like that, I worried about how students would react. It is a truism that coming out is not an event but a process, and when you have 125 new students each term, you come out over and over again. (My teaching is five courses in the fall and five in the winter, with a maximum of twenty-five students in each class.)
Some incidents were nerve-wracking. I remember one young woman who wanted to write her research paper arguing against gay marriage. My heart started to beat faster. I thought about what I was going to say.
I told her that this was an issue that was very important to me, and I didn’t feel I could be objective about her paper. So I’d ask my department chair to read and grade it.
She quickly changed her topic!
Some incidents were heart-breaking. A young man approached me after my first semester ended. He told me that he was gay, and that when his father learned, he was kicked out of the house and lost all financial support.
My heart broke for him, but I was glad that I was able to be a role model for him. In subsequent terms over the next few years, I heard similar stories. A South American student was living with his sister, and she kicked him out when she learned. Another young man had been in an abusive relationship and finally gained the courage to get out.
I had been writing seriously since finishing my MFA in creative writing in 1992, and my first published novel came out in 2005. Mahu is a combination mystery and coming out novel about a gay homicide detective in Honolulu who is dragged out of the closet while investigating a dangerous case.
Much of the book was about the negative impact on his life—a media explosion, suspension from his job, and so on. I made him thirty-two years old, closer to the time that I came out myself, because I knew it would be even more difficult for him if he was younger.
For my first M/M romance, I also chose to write about an older protagonist. In GayLife.com, Brian Cohen is twenty-eight, and he’s gone through the angst of coming out, and is ready to find love. His boss and love interest is thirty-two and a successful entrepreneur. The book is set on South Beach, which was “gay central” at that point. I wanted them to have survived the problems I saw among young men.
Over time, things started to change, in the world and at Broward College, and students became more open about their sexual orientation. In my Intro to Mass Comm class, a student announced his career goal was to be the “Gay Oprah.” He got no pushback from classmates, just encouragement.
As I saw them change, I began to write about younger men. I had a story in an anthology called College Boys that showed guys embracing their sexuality at a younger age, and so I wrote my own collection of these stories called Three Lambs. (The fraternity where the guys live is called Lambda Lambda Lambda.)
During those years, I regularly showed the movie Much Ado About Nothing to my freshman composition class. I loved it when Emma Thompson was on her swing, shouting, “Benedick, love on! I shall requite thee.”
I was very fond of the brothers from Lambda Lambda Lambda and wanted to write more about them, so I used that phrase to inspire a line of gay romances.
I began the “Love on” series to explore what happened to them after graduation. The first was Love on Site, based in part on my own experience in construction. There is still anti-gay prejudice in Manny’s world, though. Part of the climactic action is Manny being outed to his family and his employer by a co-worker who spots him on South Beach.
There are now six books in the series, and gradually coming out gets easier for each of the guys. I think this transition authentically represents what I’ve been learning from my students about their lives.
There is still homophobia in the world, and many young men encounter resistance when coming out. Many still feel angst and depression.
In the last couple of years I’ve become fascinated with historical MM romance, and have written two of them. I want to show everyone, my students included, that we’ve always been here, and show the happiness behind the history.
My newest hero is a gay private eye in Miami Beach in the late 1960s—an era I’m having great fun exploring. The first George Clay story, “Cabbage Key,” came out in February in Cupid Shot Me, Valentine Tales of Love, Mystery and Suspense. The story “Oyster Creek” will be in this year’s Mystery Writers of America anthology, Crime Hits Home, due in mid-April. And the first George Clay story I wrote, “The Heir Apparent,” about Cuban émigré politics, will be in this summer’s Groovy Gumshoes: Private Eyes in the Psychedelic Sixties.
I hope I am modeling a career as an out, cisgender gay male who is a successful author. I want today’s young people to know the good and bad from the past. And I want to continue to tell good stories! For more information on George and all my heroes, check out my website at www.mahubooks.com.
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