When it comes to love, you’ll sometimes hear gay guys compare their romances to Romeo and Juliet or some other fantastical straight couple, because not many gay couples exist in literature. It’s true; a combination of homophobia, heterocentrism and anti-obscenity laws have long kept same-sex romances from appearing on the written page, which is why we felt inspired to research five fictional same-sex couples to compare your real-life romance to. Not all of them have happy endings, but hey, neither did Romeo and Juliet.
1. Michael Tolliver and Ben McKenna from Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City (2007)
Eighteen years after Maupin published the sixth installment of his beloved Tales of the City series, he published a seventh book which, unlike the previous ones, featured first-person narration from 55-year-old gardener Michael Tolliver (a thinly veiled version of the author). In the book, the HIV-positive character starts a relationship with Ben McKenna, an HIV-negative “humpy 33-year-old furniture maker” who is, according to The Guardian, “impossibly devoted, endlessly good-humoured, drop-dead gorgeous.”
After meeting on a website, the two get married, deal with the challenges of age-difference and eventually have a torrid threesome with Tolliver’s hairdresser. While the book got mostly warm reviews, many readers knew that the couple merely mirrored Maupin’s real-life relationship with Chris Turner, a man 30 years his junior.
2. David and Giovanni from James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room (1956)
While the couple in James Baldwin’s novel is deeply tragic and dysfunctional, they’re also incredibly romantic in all the best and worst ways. Giovanni is a hunky Italian bartender who works at a Parisian gay bar; one night he meets David, a charmingly but painfully closeted American who has come to Paris to find himself. The two hit it off and start fucking and living in Giovanni’s room (a room without curtains that works as a metaphor for their secret passion and David’s closeted life).
David ends up royally screwing everything up as he leaves Giovanni to be wth his fiancee Hella. When he finds out that Giovanni will be executed for murdering his employer, David gets so depressed that he goes out and fucks some random sailor; Hella discovers him mid-coitus and leaves his two-timing ass. While David’s deluded self-loathing seems tiresome in our modern age, his love for Giovanni shines through even if he doesn’t want it to.
3. Sammy Klayman and Tracy Bacon from Michael Chabot’s The Advenures of Kavalier and Clay (2000)
Tucked into Chabot’s 639-page World War II-era novel is Sammy Klayman (aka Sam Clay), the lead writer behind an anti-fascist Batman-esque comic book superhero called The Escapist, and Tracy Bacon, a handsome actor who voices The Escapist on the radio. When Tracy gets hired to play in the film adaptation of The Escapist, the two move to Hollywood and begin a life together.
Sadly, their romance gets cut short when the FBI and local police raid a private dinner they attend with other gay couples at a friend’s beach house. While Clay evades arrest, he also gets sexually abused by FBI agents and decides that he can’t live with Bacon under the constant threat of anti-gay harassment. Clay ends up playing straight with his cousin’s estranged wife, that is, until Clay gets publicly outed as a homosexual. While the romance isn’t too cheery, it does reflect the homophobia that plagued America during and after WWII.
4. Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar from Annie Proulx’s Brokeback Mountain (1997)
You knew we had to include this couple, especially since Taiwanese-born film director Ang Lee immortalized them in an award-winning 2005 film adaptation of the same name. Twist and del Mar are Wyoming cowboys who meet and fall in love while working as sheepherders on Brokeback Mountain.
They part ways and marry women, occasionally meeting for trysts over the next 20 years. You can tell that they actually want to be together, but del Mar can’t bring himself to do it. Their unrequited passion culminates in a heartbreaking scene where, Twist utters, “I can’t make it on a coupla high-altitude fucks once or twice a year! You are too much for me Ennis, you sonofawhoreson bitch! I wish I knew how to quit you.”
The story ends tragically with Twist dying in a gay bashing and del Mar sniffing his shirt and weeping, thinking of the life they could have had together, but it provides a hard-bitten lesson for anyone running from love. Also, if you loved the film, you should read Proulx’s short story—it’s available in a small 58-page version and has a lush lyricism and elegiac tone that Lee’s film could only hint at.
5. Maurice Hall and Alex Scudder from E.M. Forster’s Maurice (1971)
You’ll be happy to know that of all the horribly depressing same-sex romances in this list, this one actually has a happy ending. Maurice (which is actually pronounced “Morris”) is a gay stockbroker living in London’s East End, but he doesn’t really want to be gay. After visiting a hypnotist to cure himself of “congenital homosexuality”, he realizes you can’t cure teh gay and then goes off to stay with his ex-boyfriend’s family. There he meets Alec Scudder, a young lower-class under-gamekeeper who picks up on Hall’s longing gay desire and literally climbs into Hall’s bedroom for some nook-nook.
In a dramatic twist, Hall freaks out and Scudder counter-freaks out and threatens to blackmail Hall, but when the two meet later on to discuss the details, it’s obvious that they both still want each other. So they knock boots and Scudder invites Hall to give up his financial success and social standing to move with him to Argentina. After initially declining, the two miraculously find each at a nearby boathouse and pledge that they “shan’t be parted no more”. Ahhhh, romance!
Even though Maurice was published a year after Forster’s death, he originally wrote it sometime around 1913 or 1914, he revised in 1932 and then revised it again near the start of 1960.
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