Right-to-Life Issues in Contemporary Gay and Lesbian Literature
by Jeff Koloze
Note: The post is based on a paper that was to be presented at the University Faculty for Life conference in 2018. The complete paper and bibliography can be found on LifeIssues.net.
Now retired from his most recent position as associate professor at South University, Dr. Koloze continues teaching at various colleges and universities in the metropolitan Cleveland, Ohio area, including Lorain County Community College, North Central State College, and DeVry University.
What is the impact of the gay and lesbian movement on the life issues of abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia? On abortion, I discuss Chelsey Johnson’s Stray City (2018). Infanticide is considered in Angelina Weld Grimké’s “The Closing Door” (1919). On euthanasia, there are several novels regarding AIDS patients and the absence of euthanasia as a solution to the pain and loss of dignity created by the disease. Finally, I offer questions from a right-to-life perspective.
Gay and lesbian literature provides several interesting passages.
For example, Chelsey Johnson’s Stray City is a remarkable deflection from the the aggressively pro-abortion perspective commonly found in the gay and lesbian community. While Angela Morales, the lesbian main character, cannot account for her attraction to the eminently masculine and heterosexual Ryan, she has sex with him enough to become pregnant.
Reminiscent of Hemingway’s famous short story about abortion, the following passages reflect Angela’s anguish in choosing either abortion or carrying the pregnancy to term. In this first passage, Angela recounts her experience with a Planned Parenthood clinic:
The receptionist suggested I bring a friend or partner for support. I said, “I’ll be fine.” I wanted it out, quick. The sooner it was gone, the more over this would all be. I was done with affairs. I was done with faking it. I was done with secrets. It was time to clean up my mess, all by myself. In five days I would expel this last trace of Ryan from my life. He didn’t even need to know. No one did. I would box up the whole weird affair and store it in the farthest corner of the attic. Better yet, recycle it. (italics in original)
In this next passage, a change in Angela’s attitude slowly emerges, when she perceives the barest of fetological facts:
I borrowed Summer’s dog-eared purple copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves. The embryo was probably the size of a lentil or maybe a pea. That was nothing! A mere legume. It hardly even existed. Five days couldn’t go quickly enough. I was seized by the urge to eradicate, eradicate.
Angela reviews her circumstances and reaches an ineluctable conclusion:
That night in bed, I lay on my back and rested my hands on my abdomen. Of course it was too early to feel anything. But I knew it was in there.
“You and me,” I whispered in the dark. Two selves. “Do yu think we could do this?”
Lorna Raven Wheeler has adroitly connected a significant passage in her research on an infanticide short story by Angelina Weld Grimké, “The Closing Door” (1919), with the gay and lesbian movement. Grimké’s short story concerns the infanticide of a newborn whose mother has learned about the lynching of her brother. Speaking of the main character Agnes, Wheeler writes:
While she may be nearly singular in her decision to commit infanticide, her anguish is the anguish of black women in the face of this kind of violence [the lynching of her brother]. Her emotion is read in the staccato of her exclamations
“Yes!—I!—I!—An instrument!—another one of the many! a colored woman—doomed!—cursed!—put here!—willing or unwilling!—for what?—to bring children here—men children—for the sport—the lust—of possible orderly mobs—who go about things—in an orderly manner—on Sunday mornings!”
Arguably, this passage, not the description of the lynching, is the most important speech of the story. Certainly, it is the most emotional. The punctuated outbursts and the use of the dash and the subsequent lower-case phrases present Agnes’ horror and anguish clearly. Even more interesting are Grimké’s words themselves. This passage is the key to Grimké’s take on birth control. She argues, through Agnes, that it is the reproductive “instrument,” the mother of “men children” who, among women, suffers the brunt of lynching. (italics in original).
What’s striking in the gay and lesbian literature is the absence of assisted suicide, physician-assisted suicide (or its more accurate form, physician-assisted death), euthanasia, or any variant. It can be presumed, therefore, that gay and lesbian fiction neither endorses nor suggests euthanasia as a recourse for persons suffering from AIDS. Rather, gay and lesbian fiction illustrates not only compassion between persons with same-sex attraction whose sexual lives are affected by AIDS, but also hope that that the time remaining for the person who has AIDS would be maximized so that the partners would enjoy each other’s company for as long as possible.
One scene in Tim Murphy’s Christodora (2016) illustrates these generalizations well. In the following passage, Hector expresses his anger at his lover Ricky, for not seeking treatment:
“The thing with you, Ricky,” he continued to himself, mumbling parts aloud, “you just didn’t want to live. That’s why I say fuck you, as harsh as that sounds. Because you didn’t even care that there were two people involved, not just you. You put me through that for, unh, what would that have been, from about 1989 when I first knew until ’92. You wouldn’t get tested, you wouldn’t go on meds until they forced you on meds in the hospital and it was too late ….] and then I had to watch you die, like I didn’t have better things to do that year.”
These themes can be applied as questions to any work of literature, especially ones which address the life issues.
- How does the literature treat the pricelessness of human life?
Gay and lesbian literature doesn’t deny this principle. Many narratives support this principle; otherwise, the literature would offer numerous accounts of the degradation and killing of human beings.
- Does the literature recognize that the individual is a being with inherent rights, the paramount one being the right to life?
Most gay and lesbian literature acknowledges the importance of the individual and his or her right to exist. Rarely does gay and lesbian literature speak in generalities about love for humanity; rather, it’s affection, friendship, or love (whether erotic or one of the other categories) of a particular person.
- Does the literary work comport with the view that unborn, newborn, and mature human life has an inherent right to exist?
This can only be temporarily answered “yes” here (see my full paper). More material needs to be investigated to see if the gay and lesbian literature answers this question sufficiently.
- When they are faced with their mortality, do the characters come to a life-affirming perspective?
Persons dying of AIDS must not only face their mortality, but do so often under their own pain and the emotional pain of those who love them.
Some gay and lesbian literature, especially that involving the death of a lover or general reflection on AIDS affecting the entire gay community, often illustrates characters who desire not merely genital activity, but authentic love. This search is a common theme in the literature.