"James found that many of the places he wanted to go as a gay leatherman were difficult to get into in a wheelchair, and even if he could get there it was difficult to be there in a wheelchair."
Cole and I met a few years ago when he started drinking at the bar where I worked. In addition to getting trashed there every night (just kidding), he began curating a bi-weekly queer reading series, which also spawned a one-time zine featuring some of downtown New York's prominent literary talents, such as Ishmael Houston-Jones, filmmaker Brian Sloan, and Emanuel Xaviar. Bard was prolific in the '90s queer punk scene, a guru of underground publishing responsible for editing and illustrating such digests as Riot Boy and The Everard Review, as well as his own chapbook masterpieces, Cum and Roses and Fag Sex in High School.
Cole drinks a lot of beer and chain-smokes and has crappy tattoos and speaks with a Baltimore accent. Upon meeting him, you can't help but think of him as a "young Hemingway" (which is a title of one of his stories). When I ask him who some of his favorite writers are, he lists Daphne DuMaurier, Thomas Mann, Herman Melville, and Andre Gide. "But they've had no influence on me," he says. "I like writing flat prose, no metaphors, nothing fancy. I write like a retard."
When asked about his work in relationship to contemporary gay literature, he says, "I think gay literature is over. In a way, my book killed it. That's why I wrote it. That's what I hope to achieve as a writer, to end gay literature."
He continues, "Edmund White, the Frazier of gay writing, has this one story about an American gay man living in Rome. He sees all these cute boys at the school across the street and gets them to come into his apartment and jack off against a two-way mirror while he hides in the other room, leading them to believe that a beautiful American actress is watching on the other side of the mirror.
"There's this story I think of, this first-person story about this little boy, the artist in the making, who finds this older kid who he was afraid of, a bully, dead-like in a field. And he's fascinated with this guy, so he stares at him and pokes the body with a stick.
"These two stories sort of symbolize gay fiction for me. The first-person narration is always supposed to be representative of the writer himself; there's clearly someone he wants to write about, but he can't write about them for whatever reason. Instead, he writes about seeing people through mirrors or poking bodies with sticks. A lot of gay literature is bullshit... this thing that these pretentious people invented in the '70s when they figured out that being gay was no longer taboo, so you no longer had this clique of artists who were more important than all the other artists. The fags had to reinvent this whole snotty elitist world for them to become the new masters of. I mean, who on earth would really consider Edmund White to be an important writer, apart from the fact that he's gay?"
True, most contemporary gay fiction favors first-person autobiographical narrative, subject matter bogged down by the confines of sex and homophobia. Briefly Told Lives breaks that mold by exploring a multiplicity of perspectives, all very real--characters who have been largely neglected by mainstream gay culture: There's Paul Honishiro, the preppie Asian American who is forced by success into living a closeted life; Mark Findlay, a young Irish immigrant who bartends in the East Village while illegally selling imported firearms; and Sean M. McDonald, a young musician who begins an unexpected friendship with an older straight man in the conservative South, to name but a few.
Effectively, Briefly Told Lives makes ordinary people seem extraordinary, evading the over-explored ruts that gay writing seems to be stuck in. I don't know if Cole has killed gay literature or not, but it's refreshing to see someone bring so much life to a wilting genre.