Homecoming queens : gay suburban narratives in British and American film and fiction
Since the early 1980s, an increasing number of British and American stories in print and on screen have offered detailed fictional and autobiographical accounts of the suburban experiences of gay men. The aim of this thesis is to examine these texts, and to assess the position that suburbia holds in the gay imaginary. In so doing, this study will make a significant contribution to knowledge with regards to the interactions of sexual identity, space and narrative. Specifically, it will develop an understanding of the characteristics, functions and implications of cultural representations of suburban homosexualities, which, whilst widespread, have hitherto drawn only minimal critical attention. The thesis identifies and evaluates the various strategies with which gay narratives negotiate suburbia. Each strategy is considered as constituting a particular conceptualization of gay subculture, and as articulating certain forms of engagement with mainstream society. The thesis firstly examines texts which represent adolescent homosexuality in suburban settings through an analysis of the narrative trajectories of, and the characterization of suburbia in, conventional American coming-out novels, recent popular British gay films and American 'New Narrative' writing. Far from simply showing the need for homosexual youth to escape the suburbs, these texts extend the boundaries of gay identity, by recuperating early, disavowed experiences as gay. They also demonstrate the opportunities that such environments hold for gay men: suburbs appear to offer the possibility of greater freedom and authenticity, or constitute places where reconciliation with heterosexual society can be staged. Secondly, the thesis considers representations of adult gay men visiting and living in suburbia. I investigate the 'return' to the suburbs from the perspective of conservative gay critics and writers based in the United States and of radical British and American writers. I show that their respective aims of demonstrating the desirability of an assimilated, 'ordinary' gay suburban life, and of disrupting, or 'queering', heterosexual space, are unrealizable. A variety of fictional texts demonstrate that a more practicable and felicitous tactic is to revisit and reclaim suburban sites with gay subcultural significance.