Fan: "Why did you say that Dumbledore is gay because I can’t see him that way.”
J.K.Rowling: "Maybe because gay people just look like... people?"
Maybe that's the reason I feel a bit confused with the genre name "gay literature". I don't have to be be black to read about African Americans, don't have to be a woman to read about a mother or daughter, don't have to be turning of age to read about adolescents. I don't even need to be a halfling to empathize with dwarves or hobbits. Being straight I willingly identify with gay human protagonists and it is maybe not limited to being human myself (well, I'm more of an elf in my heart and a hobbit in my body anyway).
Don't do such things to me when I'm on the train.
One day I was travelling. I usually choose a non-compartment train car for more reading-and-writing-friendly circumstances but this time there was no choice. On my screen appeared Christopher Jackson-Ash's collection of gay-themed short stories. The first story, matching the title topic of shorts and what can be found inside, gently and bitterly smiled to me and left me unprepared for the second one. That one was about a fragile face and heavy boots. It made me cry in front of a full compartment of strangers.
The stories cover all the important topics of the human condition: long and short term relationships, those body-based and soul-based, good and bad bonds between parents and children, puberty and ageing, health and illness, love and loneliness, death by accident and by one's own hand, social misfits, needing to stand out and needing to belong. The characters are shown in a variety of social contexts; some of them can marry in a same-sex union, some marry females to disguise their real identity. Or they face forms of hatred or discrimination. The backgrounds appearing in gay literature, even those furthest from martyrological expression, show that on the field of recognizing gay people as people, even the societies of civilized countries are not even halfway there yet. In the 19th century or earlier, lovers from different social classes or different religions couldn't marry. They also couldn’t if they didn’t have their parents’ permission or if one of them was already unwillingly involved in an arranged marriage. The generations to come will be wondering how “common sense" towards gay people in our time could be so ridiculous and stupid, exactly as we think now about the morals of Jane Austen’s era.
In Christopher's stories the homophobic context, if it appears, is as obvious and transparent as the presence of horse carriages in the Bronte sisters’ novels. We see it even though it's not named and not complained about and it makes the impression way more powerful. Sometimes traumatic situations are described even in a funny manner, which shows the author's mastery in precisely using words for constructing moods and creating simultaneous contradictory emotions. Flash fiction more than any other genre demands this mastery, as the whole story, its protagonists’ personalities, and usually one or more turning points in their lives must be created within 1000 words, usually within 300-500. When written as brilliantly as those collected in "Inside Man's Shorts", flash fiction brings the essence of meaning concentrated to the highest possible extent.
Most stories in “Inside Men’s Shorts” are realistic, but there are also awesome science fiction and fantasy ones; some barely over 10 words, which brings them close to poetry. Great pieces play with other texts of the culture, like "Cinderfella" (guess what replaces the shoe in this fairytale?) or "100 Years From Now", a vision of the 22nd century created solely with future advertising slogans. Some stories are serious, some incredibly funny, some painful; very often moods are combined. Among over 100 stories there are some which make a cycle; each of them is a self-sustaining text but they evoke a wider perspective by showing the same situation from the points of view of various characters.
Unlike a lot of others, these stories bring more than they promise. Shorts about the contents of men's shorts reach far beyond body parts. Mostly they are about what's inside men's hearts. And the way these hearts connect to other hearts and how it affects the rest of their bodies, minds, and other aspects of their personal and social lives. And a sentence from the piece "Foreign Affair" seems to sum them up. "Take some advice from a sad old man; the love of one special person is worth more than a thousand sexual encounters."