Dancer From the Dance, Andrew Holleran
Some years ago, a friend blurted out her opinion to me of what made us so different as queer people.
“It’s obvious when you think about it. You’re a Rainbow Gay and I am a Strap-on Gay.”
I choked on my drink, ungracefully spilling it all over my shirt.
“Ummm… what is the difference?” I asked, almost nervous to hear the answer.
“Well, look at you. You’re all into gay rights and activism shit, so you’re a Rainbow Gay. I just want to have good sex, so I’m a Strap-on Gay.”
I was a little incredulous. I didn’t have the guts to say “But I like having good sex too, I just want to feel safe and human when I have it!” but at the time, I wasn’t having much sex at all, so I’m sure that would have rendered my argument moot. This was at a time before I had learnt how to wear clothes that reflected my own identity. I was young, nervous, and reading a lot of classic queer fiction to learn more about myself (I have always been bookish). Why reading books made me an activist to her, I’ll never know. I wasn’t doing anything else at the time unless I was advocating for gay rights in my sleep. I didn’t even know I was non-binary at the time.
In retrospect, what her point boils down to is perception and image. It’s a hard thing to fight against. I was the vest-and-plaid-wearing baby queer who read books, thought a lot about my identity (having fought so much with my mother over it) and didn’t have an undercut like cool old M who had a hot girlfriend and didn’t think much about being gay.
Image and perception feed so much into our expectations of people. In our February discussion, we spoke about our incredulity that not a single character in this book was revolutionary in any shape or form. With Stonewall just ten years prior and the AIDS crisis around the corner, it was hard to reconcile their laissez-faire, sex-obsessed community with our understanding of gay culture and the need for advocacy at the time.
For a book fit to burst with the sweet nectar of hedonism, the main topic of discussion for us focussed on something far more altruistic: activism. We spoke about it for over an hour, perhaps longer. In reality, the closest the characters came to activism was the charitable act of having sex with someone with a small penis (“the leprosy of gay men” according to the novel).
With the book club circling around this topic for some time, we eventually acceded that activism is a burden at the best of times, especially if you have “skin in the game”. We also accepted that the queer people we know today who subscribe to the heteronormative ideology of finding someone, settling down, and not “speaking up for the community” are not bad representatives of the queer community, they are simply attempting to live the life that straight cis-gendered people have a right to.
After we decided we could not hold this against the characters, we moved on to discussing the emptiness the characters felt, constantly searching for something forever out of reach. Malone, desperate for love, walked into the sunset at the end of the novel without what he dreamed of. And yet, at the beginning of the novel, he had what he wanted with Frankie, only to find that that was not enough for him. He needed to see the scene before he fully settled down. And once he was a part of the scene, he wanted to settle down. The ultimate conclusion we drew was that it’s harder to get what you want and realise that it’s not enough, as opposed to constantly searching for it and never finding one that fits.
‘Dancer From the Dance’ was an absorbing read, but within the novel, the core of a broken heart seeped through to the very glue of the binding. Fighting for the right to be gay was far from the minds of these gay men, who were already battling the constant loneliness of being in love with themselves.