I’ve found myself thinking a lot lately about the concept of family. Not the so-called ‘traditional’ family, with a mother, father and 2.3 children, a concept I don’t think has existed in reality since the 1970s. No, I’m talking about the families some gay men manage to find or create for themselves. Not the ‘Modern Family’ family of husband, husband and adopted third-world orphan, but a true extended family with not only a couple, but brothers, aunts and uncles too.
I think I was first introduced to this idea by the “Buddies” series written by Ethan Mordden in the 1980s. In the three books of the series (see below for links), Mordden relates scenes from the everyday lives of ‘Bud’ and his friends in New York. The interconnected short stores are sometimes funny, sometimes bittersweet, and sometimes sexy. There’s not much in the way of high drama here, just gay men living their lives. They have lovers, friends and even the odd old queen that acts like the all-knowing aunt. They take in the occasional ‘stray’ young gay man who lands in New York fresh off the bus from Kansas or where-ever in search of a better life. Sometimes they become lovers. Old lovers sometimes move on, but often remain friends, growing the family circle ever wider.
I don’t think Mordden ever used the word ‘family’ to describe his circle of buddies, but that’s what the books described to me - a group of people you chose to be with, who understood you and didn’t expect you to be something you’re not. I’ve always hoped to one day find the kind of family Bud had for myself, but that hasn’t happened yet. I’m sure some will argue that the “Buddies” books are fiction, but Mordden readily admits that they’re based on his own experiences.
Even if Mordden’s family is fictional, there’s a fair amount of other real life examples you can find, if you know where to look (in other words, if you follow the right people on Twitter). The thing about gay families is that they don’t have to follow any of the rules normally applied to straight relationships. Those ultimate rule-breakers, the kink community, gave me my most recent insight into gay families. First, I saw an interview with Chris Yosef and Tony Buff, in an article about relationships in the porn industry, where they talked about their “polyamorous” relationship, which is not exactly monogamous but not really open either. Basically, they have an extended family of friends and lovers, as Tony described in a blog post back in 2009 (warning: Tony’s site is very much NSFW). Their kind of relationship is probably not for everybody. I’m not sure it would even be right for me, but I do see the attraction.
What does all this have to do with what I’m writing, or reading for that matter? Well, as you would have already guessed, I like the Buddies series for the picture it paints of relationships, familial, friendly and otherwise. But I also like it as a writer for its structure, which is what allowed it to go on for three novel-length books without ever getting boring. While it’s often described as a series of interconnected short stories, it doesn’t read that way. Today’s crop of writers trying to write shorts around the same characters, whom I’ve already ranted about, could really learn a thing or two from Mordden.
When it first became clear that Holding On was going to be more than a short story that I had to get out of my head, I thought it might turn into a Buddies type of book, but then the two main characters, especially David, proved more complicated than I thought. That’s okay, complicated is good, for an author. But I didn’t give up completely on the idea. I had intended to introduce a third character into Holding On, and even had his story outlined, but it proved too much for the plot line. It was enough to get David and Gun through the initial stages of their relationship.
In the sequel to Holding On I’m now writing, with the working title “Baby Makes Three” the main theme is the introduction of a third, younger man to the relationship. It’s still not much, but it’s the beginnings of a family. I’m starting to see how the three men can become four, then five, and so on. It’s early days yet, so we’ll just have to see. I have to finish “Baby Makes Three” first.