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literature

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Sports Literature: Gay Male  
 
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Vidal's embrace of the athlete as the sign of the acceptability of homosexuality is at odds with his homosexual literary predecessor, Oscar Wilde. Explaining the unacceptability of athletics for young homosexual men, Wilde is reported to have said "football is all very well as a game for rough girls; but it is hardly suitable for delicate boys."

Reflecting the dandyism of his time, Wilde is here giving tongue-in-cheek expression to the positive nature of effeminacy among men. Indeed, it is to that historical image of homosexual men as effeminate that Vidal is responding in his invocation of athleticism in The City and the Pillar.

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Patricia Nell Warren's The Front Runner (1974) is the tragic homosexual love story of a coach and his athlete striving for normal life in a homophobic world. Like The City and the Pillar, this novel attempts to cast homosexuality as normal by appealing to the North American cultural significance of athletics as a sign of normality--a significance that is currently being eroded by the many scandals associated with the professional sports entertainment industry.

Warren's appeal is not so much to the masculinity of athleticism as it is to its relevance as a healthy pursuit. The novel was well attuned to the emerging gay liberation movement of the 1970s, which combatted the medicalization of homosexuality as a psychopathology, trumpeting it as a normal, healthy sexual alternative.

The book was so successful at appealing to such gay sensibilities that it spawned a large international organization of gay running clubs called "The Front Runners," which has member clubs in most large North American cities.

Gay Coming-of-Age Fiction

Gay coming-of-age fiction also exploits the symbolism of athletics. In The Boys on the Rock (1984) by John Fox, for instance, the young protagonist, a swimmer named Billy, is attracted to twins, who are also swimmers. Athleticism here has an ephebophilic appeal. The young male athlete is a boy poised on the brink of manhood, having much of the physical prowess and strength of an older man, but not yet mature.

Here is an appeal that young athletes often embody, a mixture of power and naïveté that inevitably must pass. Although central to any coming-of-age story, because it brings such liberation, loss of innocence is especially delightful for gay adolescents. Billy's desire for the athletic twins is a desire for this adolescent transformation.

The Loves of Wayne Gretsky

Brad Walton's satirical baroque opera, The Loves of Wayne Gretsky, first performed in Toronto in 1990 (the libretto of the first act was published in The Village Voice, March 9, 1993), is the fictional account of the love affair between the great hockey stars Wayne Gretsky and Mario Lemieux, and explores the struggle between Nature and Nurture in homosexual desire.

From a formal perspective, it is a meticulous neo-baroque work, orchestrated for baroque ensemble, with traditional baroque vocalizations and dramatic structure. But its marriage of baroque form with late twentieth-century concerns about the construction of homosexuality and its evocation of popular sports figures make it a gay post-modern work.

Gay Erotic Literature

The homoerotic desirability of athletes and the masculine world of sports is important to the gay literary heritage. The "hot jock" has become a staple of gay erotic literature. Because the composition of the objects of homoerotic desire, such as the "hot jock," gives expression to trends in the social construction of homosexuality itself, these are indicative of the nature of homosexuality in a particular historical setting.

Sports and the athletic body appealed to several influential aspects of late twentieth-century "mainstream" gay male culture: (1) a preoccupation with masculinity and the gay eroticization of it; (2) the broader cultural fetishization of youth, the athlete being typically youthful; and (3) the body understood as a plastic, malleable object that can be made to conform to erotic ideals--athletic training is the means by which bodies are made into hyperreal objects of homoerotic desire.

Gay literature, therefore, that invokes athletic bodies and settings also invokes such gay sensibilities surrounding masculinity and the body.

A plethora of gay pornographic magazines feature pictures and stories of athletes, sports settings, and athletic paraphernalia. This includes magazines with titles such as Jock, Drummer, and Inches. There are also collections of "one-handed" short stories that will often feature the "hot jock"--with titles such as Flesh, Guys, and First Hand. (Boyd MacDonald was very influential in the development of this genre).

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