January 24, 2015

Interview with Javier Sedano

Javier Sedano (Torrelavega, Cantabria, 1961) has talked to spanishgayfiction.blogspot.com about his first novel, Tras las puertas del corazón. The reader will find in this interview the pleasure of a contentful conversation, discussing issues such as nudism, sexuality, protest theatre, lack of values, hippie-style life, the historical development differences between Spain and the USA—Hope the reader enjoys Sedano’s speech as much as I’ve done.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Tras las puertas del corazón has many speeches. But perhaps one of the most obvious is its defense of naturism. Up to what point nudism is important in your life? Do you think that it tends to be misunderstood? Many people—especially gay people—view nudist locations as strictly sexual meeting places.

JAVIER SEDANO: Nudism is a way of living in harmony with your environment, and that is the way I enjoy it whenever I can. It makes me feel alive and free, and of course those who have not been in contact with nudism tend to think that this is a way to be provocative and show off—far from reality, indeed.
And your last statement is true. Many gays find in nudist areas another place for sexual encounters, something that cannot be prevented. That was one of the reasons that led me to write Tras las puertas del corazón among many other motives: showing nudism as a normal thing that has nothing to do with sexuality.

SGF: If I am not wrong, Tras las puertas del corazón was your first novel. How was the experience not only to write it, but also to find a publisher?

JS: It was my first published book, but I had already four books completed and was writing the second part, Preguntas sin respuesta (“Unanswered Questions”). The experience was exciting, as I was facing a long, major story for the first time. The idea of publication came from my friend Raúl, who was the first one that read the novel and told me keenly that I had to send it to a publisher.
Odisea[1] answered before a month’s time. They found the story very interesting, and some months later the novel showed up in bookstores.

SGF: Your full name is Francisco Javier García Sedano. Some of your novels are published under the name of ‘Javier Sedano,’ and others by ‘Frank García.’ What are the reasons of choosing one name or another?

JS: Let us say that those books by Javier Sedano are more conventional, more romantic; novels where I immerse the characters in historic moments of our society, and the language is more precise. On the other hand, those by Frank García are more erotic and sassier as style is concerned.

SGF: Alex is a Spanish guy who travels to the USA in the mid-1960s, and lives through a series of experiences certainly impossible for him if he had remained in Spain. How much of your experience is there in Alex’s story? And how much of fantasy about the way you would like your life should have been is there in the life of Alex?

JS: I gave to my characters—not only Alex—the best of me. There are many true moments of my life and the lives of people who have surrounded me in the best moments of my existence. I gave to every one of them a part of my personality and then, of course, the freedom of fantasy that enriches all the characters even more. Regarding situations that I would have liked to live, they would not be Alex’s precisely, but Ray’s. Ray enjoys that restless spirit in me. The freedom to do whatever he wants and offer all his best to the others—I have never achieved that, nor even got closer to this.

SGF: Would you say that the hippie movement in the USA is for you the closest thing to an earthly paradise in contemporary history? Do you think that this philosophy is still alive in our times?

JS: The hippie movement as such was not so idyllic. They sought to live in harmony with life, with nature, with the environment wherever they were in and, above all, respect to your neighbor and the cause of peace. Anyway, as I see it, there was one problem: drugs. And in answer to your second question, I feel that this philosophy of life could be perfect and, in fact, there are some colonies and small towns recovered where many young people are living this way. The return to Nature…It would be perfect to live all together, creating a community without drugs, since I believe that they do well to no one.  

SGF: If I had to criticize the plot of the novel, it would be in relation to Ray’s and Alex’s roles as fathers. I still have reservations about the reasons why they kept themselves in the shadow of the lives of their children. It is just astonishing that two guys that give off so much love moved away from their own children. Use this moment to defend their motives, Javier...

JS: Neither of them is proud of this separation, this distance, but it was a way to show the readers how many mistakes you can make just by saying, “I will be there tomorrow…,” “Next week by all means we will meet…,” and so many other things over your life. If you realize, in this novel there is much criticism on social conventions and even situations we all have gone through or seen others making mistakes easy to solve if we take our time for ourselves.

SGF: I find curious that in your descriptions of open relationships jealousy rises up never. To what extent do you think that this is viable beyond fiction? Do you think that an open relationship where jealousy never arises is possible? Have you ever lived such a relationship?

JS: I am the sort of person who thinks that there is no room for jealousy if there is sincerity from both sides in a relationship. Jealousy is caused by mistrust and lack of self-confidence from oneself. If a half of the couple hides a situation, whatever it may be, from the other—in the novel this is also taken into account—, it must be done what I believe it is fair between two reasonable people: find the moment and talk about it. (It happens between Ray and Alex in one scene by the lake). And yes, I have lived a similar situation and it worked; the problem was that we had to break up for reasons that had nothing to do with jealousy. Today we are great friends.

SGF: Speaking of the sexuality issue…Ray and Alex are bisexual. Some people take for sure that bisexuality does not exist: you are straight or gay, but never both at the same time. The truth is that, though Ray and Alex can love women, they never love women as much as they love each other. Do you think that one can love with the same intensity both a man and a woman? And do you think it is possible a communal living as Ray and Alex making up a foursome with their wives who, by the way, love each other as well?

JS: In this novel I had the problem of trying to picture all kind of feelings and emotions that human beings can ever feel, as well as our ethical and moral codes. According to many readers, I achieved this. That was the main goal, and bisexuality—so punished by straight and gay people—had to be highlighted, just to show that love has nothing to do with labels, and you can certainly love a man just like a woman, or even love a man and a woman at the same time. Why not? I knew a relationship similar to Alex and Ray’s some years ago.

SGF: Alex’s story is clearly divided into two parts: the first one happens in the USA and the second is set in Spain. Both seem to work like the yin yang theory. It is obvious that the positive events take place in the first part, and the reader bumps into the most dramatic side of the story in the second part. Alex himself finds out his dark side as well. Did you have in mind this yin yang philosophy when considering the two-part construction of the novel? Could the reader consider a political reading of your choice?

JS: I feel that my characters live hard situations in both parts of the novel. We must bear in mind that the reason why they pack their bags and go to Spain is, in my opinion, one of the most shocking moments of the whole novel, though it is true that they will face the greatest difficulties in Spain. These are social and mainly emotional clashes. If you stop to think, you will realize nothing happens for the hell of it and, on the contrary, their lives will be in constant struggle with everything around them. They are two very lively beings, living day-to-day. But as I said before, I wanted to show all the human feelings, good and bad, and among the bad ones there are anger and hate, which blind Alex in a particular moment.

SGF: What do you remember of Spain in the Transición period?

JS: I was very young, but I remember some crazier years when everything taught as wrong in the past was viewed as something natural then. Many people were afraid of this. It was a vivid cultural, social, and political time. As Alex says, the winds of freedom blowing in Spain were the same as the ones they had got to know in the USA years before.

SGF: One of the aspects that I find most remarkable is that a great part of the narrative is based on conversation, which is unhurried, thoughtful, and respectful. Did you do this as an example of what should happen in real life, as a way of defending a positive attitude in the exchange of opinions in a world where this feature does not seem to be in vogue precisely?

JS: Yes, in my novels I want to give a great importance to conversations, as each and every one can express the way they are, think and feel. As you say, most of today’s problems actually arise out of the fact that people do not talk; they do not sit down and speak calmly and, worst of all, they do not listen to the others when they are speaking.
We could say we live in the Age of Individualism, something that has been very stealthily instilled in us and we are unaware of this. We can see people who are not speaking but yelling everyday on TV. Politicians do not listen, but even insult each other. Courtesy, greetings…all that is rot in oblivion. Everyone wants to impose their law and way of thinking, and even people on the streets or terraces do not chat, but text message.

SGF: You can also guess some didactic intention in many of these conversations. Nelson Mandela said: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Have you ever considered that Tras las puertas del corazón may change the reader’s life philosophy?

JS: It was unintentional, though other people have told me the same. Tras las puertas del corazón is a novel straight to the heart of the reader’s brains. I sought to make flesh and blood creations, not ink and paper ones. I wanted to show the reader positive values that we are losing in favor of pointless criticisms, desire for power, unachievable ambition, contempt for contempt’s sake, despising what is surrounding us…Above all, human beings are able to achieve their goals without needing to step on anyone; on the contrary, the point is sharing.

SGF: It is quite odd that a gay couple does not endure homophobic attacks throughout their relationship during the 1960s, 70s, 80s, 90s…Homophobia appears occasionally in two moments of the novel: the mention of the Stonewall riots, and as a feature in the character of Laura. Keeping Ray and Alex’s love story clear of homophobic conflicts, was it a voluntary choice from you? If that is so, why? 

JS: I did not delve into the issue of homophobia as I did not feel it was necessary in the story, though it is subtly mentioned. I was sure that the time for a deep treatment in a stark, shocking novel would come up someday, as it happened when completing the trilogy with Corazones en libertad (“Free Hearts”), where the main topic is homophobia.

SGF: Ray and especially Alex are really committed to the theatre world during their stay in both San Francisco and Barcelona. Long time ago, theatre was a means of making the audience socially aware, protesting against abuses of power, breaking the social mold. What is your relationship with theatre? Do you think that there is still this sort of theatre, or is it pretty light in our time?

JS: I discovered theatre when I was a child, along with my mother, through  “Estudio 1” on TVE;[2] I later had my amateur efforts when I lived in my hometown, directing short plays by me or some friend. This is one of those passions, together with cinema, that I am always willing to live intensely whenever I can.
And in answer to your second question…Yes, that independent drama defending a theatre closer to the audience, created by small companies and performed in small theaters, is back. The economic crisis has stimulated imagination again, and today there is no need for a big theater to see a good play. There are wonderful plays in small theaters.

SGF: What are you working on now? What are your most immediate projects?

JS: Now I am promoting my new novel, Al filo de la pasión (“On the Edge of Passion”) an erotic novel. The female protagonist, high class thirtysomething Carmen, a passionate, intelligent, beautiful woman, meets León, a 20-year-old boy anxious to discover sexuality in full. The two of them will live the most intense sexual experiences, with continuous surprises throughout the story. It is published through Amazon, and under the pen name of Javier Sedano. [You can buy the novel here.]
In a few days Macho Alfa (“Alpha Male”), a gay erotic novel, will also be published—through Amazon as well—under the pen name of Frank García in this case.
Apart from that, I am working on a play, and very soon I will start a series project shared with a friend, an extremely modern comedy.

[1] Odisea Editorial: Spanish publisher devoted to LGBT-themed literature.
[2] TVE: Televisión Española (“Spanish Television”): this is the public national TV channel in Spain; “Estudio 1”: a very popular TV series, showing from 1964 to 1984, in which a celebrated play—national or international—was performed in each episode (e.g., Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, José Zorrilla’s Don Juan Tenorio…). This program format was recovered in modern times, though unsuccessfully.

January 21, 2015

Arcadian Americana

On Javier Sedano’s Tras las puertas del corazón (“Behind the Heart’s Door”)

Definitely, one of the books that has shocked me most in recent times. This novel is a box full of surprises!

The main plot of this 2009 novel tells the story of Jaime, a young, inexperienced journalist in charge of writing the memoirs of Alejandro, the bigwig of the newspaper Jaime is working for. Jaime does not know much about Alejandro: he is a dark individual, a wealthy, grouchy man who shut himself in his faraway manor long time ago. Those who are now picturing in their minds a creepy, stooped over man with a long white beard, leaning on a twisted stick—cannot be more wrong. First surprise: Alejandro is actually an attractive silver fox.

So—what is Alejandro’s story? Quite an enthralling one, indeed!

In the mid-1960s, Alejandro—from now on he will be called Alex—, a college boy from Spain, lands in New York to get a master’s degree. Alex was born under a lucky star as his roommate happens to be Ray, a hot, likeable nudist. Ray acts as his cicerone in the City at first. Little by little, he will become his best friend in America until he finally, after a short period of secrecy, brings up his bisexuality. What is Alex’s reaction then?, the reader asks. Well—Let us say love is in the air.

Claiming that the thing between Ray and Alex is a great love story falls short. Ray does not only become Alex’s lover, but also his closest friend, his confidant, his spiritual guide, his coworker, his travel companion over his life…And the reader is a (widemouthed) witness to every stage of this relationship. Both Ray and Alex represent the physical stereotype of the perfect man: slender, muscular alpha male—but brandishing an exotic feature: a sexy, silky long hair. This info would be just by the by if it did not come together with a groundbreaking life philosophy. (I am afraid this is not only in the 1960s, but also nowadays.) Ray and Alex live in communion with nature, a point that makes them into human beings with special sensitivity. This leads them therefore to deal with their private lives and jobs—they work as journalists: Alex as a reporter, Ray as a photographer—in a rather receptive, spiritual, artistic way. Thanks to Ray, Alex discovers a new face of his sexuality, an original way of living, and also a different family standard. Ray, along with his sisters Star and Moon, make up a trio of siblings truly sympathetic, open-minded, tolerant, and caring. When Ray confesses to the family that he is gay and loves Alex, they first fall silent after the stunning announcement, but it will not take too long before they all give him a hug and say it is okay. Remember, in the 1960s!

Do not think of Ray and Alex living in the woods, ignoring the mankind. Sedano frames their story in the latest events of that moment. There are references to the Vietnam War (Ray, as you may guess, avoids the fight), the 1967 Summer of Love, the New Communalism, the Stonewall riots…Ray and Alex are totally cut to fit in the hippie movement: free love, nudism, life in commune, human-animal bonding, attachment to natural energies—A series of issues that will delight not only those who long for the hippie times, but also those who could not live it. Nevertheless, there is a point Sedano does not seem to agree with: experimenting with drugs. He even condemns tobacco, so Ray and Alex scarcely smoke grass from time to time.

There in San Francisco, the two of them fall in love with a pair of women, get married and become fathers. But they never stop loving each other. And their wives know it and respect it, as they love each other too. No wonder these four bodies ooze happiness in full…Still, a couple of setbacks make these two men fly to Spain to cover the booming Transición Española[1] in the mid-1970s. This will mean the end of their American Dream. Up to this point, Tras las puertas del corazón has been a kind of Arcadia, a quasi-pastoral novel where the protagonists have discussed the highest spiritual issues, and lived the most rewarding experiences. The second part becomes dirtier. Spain is the land where this couple will face the crudest events of their lives (here we get to know why Alex, that kind-hearted man from the past, eventually turned into a kind of tormented hermit); thus, America symbolizes the Paradise they should have never ever fled from. Never mind...Every story has a beginning and an end. And the end of this novel brings more than one surprise to Jaime as well as the reader.

Javier Sedano is not a sophisticated, style-obsessed author. However, his narration, so direct, so genuine, so meaningful, is capturing us at every turn.  There is one particular sex scene between Ray and Alex when in Barcelona that I enthusiastically recommend to all the potential homoerotic fiction authors: this is not only a high-energy sex scene, this is also affectionate, romantic, visceral… heartfelt. The reader can easily sense the feelings between these two characters while—it cannot be expressed otherwise—making love. Yet, do not think of Tras las puertas del corazón as a mere homoerotic novel: I should call it a novel of education, but even this literary label seems to me quite simple to put into words what Javier Sedano pictures in his work.

Anyway, trying to explain this novel seems to me a complete waste of time: this is just an impossible task. In 1939, when Metro Goldwyn Mayer company released its comedy masterpiece Ernst Lubitsch’s Ninotchka, the audience could read on the film posters: “Don’t pronounce it—See it!” Regarding this tagline, and as Tras las puertas del corazón is concerned: Don’t pay attention to my review—Just read the novel! It is experience that really counts.

[1] I have already mentioned this period in Spanish history in my previous entry Interview with Paloma Pedrero, footnote number [3].

January 15, 2015

Interview with Olivia Ardey

The nice, gentle author of Bésame y vente conmigo, Olivia Ardey, has talked to spanishgayfiction.blogspot.com. We have discussed interesting issues such as romance fiction, the role of social networks in the current literary world, or gay characters in chick lit by straight female authors. Hope this appealing author will not leave LGBT themes behind in her future projects.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Was Bésame y vente conmigo your first approach to LGBT themes in your fiction? What attracted you to this issue?

OLIVIA ARDEY: Until then, I had noticed—especially in American narrative, where homoerotic fiction is very appealing—that there were gay romance novels and straight romance novels. And in the latter, if there was a gay boy, he always was the main protagonist’s funny friend, but his love story was rarely told. Then I said to myself, “If in real life we are all together, why not in the novels?”

SGF: What is the difference between Nico and other gay minor characters in romance fiction?

OA: The only difference between Nico and Álvaro, the male lead, is that the one likes men and the other likes women. Nico’s somewhat divo personality arises from his TV stardom as a popular cook, and not his sexual condition.

SGF: Have you ever met any Nico? Or, is he rather an idealized mental projection? Where did Nico arise from?

OA: Yes, I have met more than one. Men who are the way they are with absolute easiness, with neither secrecy nor fuss. This character grew out of my imagination. I imagined a handsome, famous chef. I found funny he could drive women crazy when he was into men.

SGF: What do you think the recurrent presence of gay minor characters in straight romance fiction is due to? Is it just a nod to the homosexual reader?

OA: In contemporary comedy, I feel it is somewhat a reflection of films and TV comedies. I do not think that this is just a nod. As I said before, when I read several novels with gay guys, I got bored as they were always in the same roles of the girl’s confidants, perfect friends.

SGF: What has been the response of gay readers to Bésame y vente conmigo? Do you have many followers from LGBT groups?

OA: The truth is they have never got in contact with me. Romance male readers are a minority.

SGF: Regarding the impressive development of homoerotic literature by heterosexual writers and for heterosexual readers in the English-language narrative, would you say that Spanish literature is light years away in comparison? Or, are there already many examples in the current Spanish literature?

OA: It takes years to reach the levels of publication and audience reception of the homoerotic romance genre in the USA today. I do not know many Spanish writers devoted to this. As for Spanish publishers, I also know very few.

SGF: In the group of Spanish female authors who write homoerotic fiction, who are your favorites? Would you highlight any work in particular?

OA: I have read very few examples of homoerotic fiction, and even less written in Spanish. Mi favorite is Aeren Iniesta and her novella Segundas oportunidades (“Second Chances”). I was also fascinated by Rosana Briel’s story “Como un torrente” (“Like a Torrent”).

SGF: The ending of this novel would have been impossible ten years ago in this country…

OA: If you said eleven, I would say so. But just ten years ago the Spanish regulation handed this ending to me on a silver platter.[1]

SGF: Keeping with modern times, what importance do you assign to social networks and other digital platforms in the current literature and, more specifically, romantic fiction or chick lit?

OA: Loads of romance novels are published…In some months, there are 70 new releases. Romance readers are truly faithful and read a lot. For writers like me, the presence in networks is essential to be in the spotlight. This is an excellent way to put yourself on the map, and that helps daily communication with readers, interaction, and word-of-mouth.

SGF: May fans support become an imposition? Are you afraid that, if you were riskier as for themes, you could lose your readers’ support?

OA: I am so fortunate that I have the support of readers, whether I write historical romance or contemporary comedy. They eagerly welcome a novel set in Italy, New York or Teruel[2] in the same way, and that allows me not to be pigeonholed but write freely.

SGF: As far back as I can remember, I have always heard that two women having sex is one of the heterosexual men’s typical fantasies. Interestingly, many romance female novelists are showing that two men making love is a very recurrent erotic fantasy for heterosexual women. To what extent do you think that romance fiction by women has been relevant to develop, conform and give social visibility to female sexuality, so obscured and repressed over history?

OA: I think that this has at least been useful to speak about sex and our likings naturally. Many prejudices have fallen. Years ago, readers wrapped up the covers of romance novels. Today, romance books are recommended, discussed, and can be the main subject in conversation.

SGF: I am not the only one that sees in Jane Austen the unintentional founder of our times’ chick lit. Virginia Woolf said through one of her fictional characters that Austen was the author she liked most as she never tried to hide the fact that her narrations were written by a woman. What importance do you give to classic authors as influence and inspiration for your novels?

OA: Thanks to the 18th and 19th pioneer female authors, there is a current narrative of emotions told in a female way. I am not particularly crazy about Jane Austen, but that is just a matter of taste. Anyway, I think I made up my mind and write romance novels given how much I loved Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre in my youth. It is still my favorite novel.

SGF: In my view, the ultimate aim romance novelists are seeking is making your readers live, through your works, great love stories. And it is more than likely that, in many cases, these stories will happen only in their imagination. In that sense, romance literature makes people feel less lonely. It has a therapeutic value. Do you agree with me?

OA: The value of romance novel lies, in my opinion, in the happy ending. The good times you enjoy while reading help get away from daily concerns. The satisfaction you feel when closing the book with a smile and a sigh is just great.

SGF: Concerning the previous question, romance authors usually depict relationships so idealized that they can lead to think, “This only happens in romance novels.” To what extent do these unreal aspects get romance fiction connected to fantasy fiction, or even considered as a subgenre within fantasy fiction?

OA: You would be surprised if you heard the real stories that readers tell us—they are really stranger than the fiction we write. Even I have asked for permission to include some wonderful moments that they personally told me in some of my novels.

SGF: The evolution of our society, a relaxation of censorship…Many elements have led to the current situation in which romance fiction and erotic fiction (even pornographic, sometimes) may walk hand in hand. In Bésame y vente conmigo, your descriptions of sex between Celia and Álvaro are explicit and detailed. However, when it comes to Max and Nico, you seem more restrained. I have the feeling that Olivia Ardey is a straightforward author who does not mince her words. What prevented you from being more descriptive in homosexual sex?

OA: First reason, Nico and Max are not the main couple. The love story between Álvaro and Celia is the central aspect of the plot and I just wanted to focus on this. In fact, there is another straight couple, Susana and Javier, and their sex scenes are as less explicit as the boys’. We can see in both cases the before and after…I saved the during for the protagonists.
The second reason is that I wanted to transmit the fidelity of feelings, the unique love that remains despite time and difficulties. And to achieve this, I considered I could reach the readers’ hearts more deeply by showing the emotions in the reencounter. I needed to bare Nico’s and Max’s souls. Sex was secondary.

SGF: What are you working on now? What are your most immediate projects?

OA: I am working on the last corrections of the novel that Ediciones Versátil[3] will publish in February. Set between London and Scotland, it is a contemporary comedy, full of both laughter and tears as life itself. And soon I will embark upon my next story, which takes place in New York and Boston in the 1920’s.

[1] Just to remind the reader, same-sex marriage was approved in Spain on June 30, 2005.
[2] This is the Spanish region were Olivia Ardey sets the fictional village of Tarabán in Bésame y vente conmigo. A charming way to remind us all that Teruel exists.
[3] A Spanish publisher devoted to romance fiction mainly.

January 13, 2015

Don Julián: A Nineteenth-Century Positive Depiction of—Homosexuality?

On Emilia Pardo Bazán’s The House of Ulloa (“Los pazos de Ulloa”)

As the reader of Charlotte Brontë’s unforgettable masterpiece Jane Eyre can remember, this is the story of a young, not particularly nice-looking governess who enters the Gothic, intimidating universe of Thornfield Hall, a place where she will have to face the darkest secrets of her rough but eventually captivating master.

In this 19th century Spanish novel (first published in 1886), Doña Marcelina “Nucha” Pardo, a weak, homely, sweet-tempered damsel, marries her cousin, Don Pedro de Moscoso, a coarse but seductive marquis from the countryside. After the wedding, he takes Nucha to live in his beat-up, shady manor. There, she will progressively realize the true nature of her husband, as well as his troublesome life before meeting her. In this case, there is a bastard son. The mother, you ask? Not a madwoman locked in the attic, but the Marquis’ maid, who happens to be his wild, cunning steward’s daughter.[1]

Up to this point, you are probably missing a very recurrent element the 19th century Spanish authors used to introduce in their works every now and then—a priest, of course! Let me introduce him: He answers to the name of Don Julián Álvarez, and this young, mild-mannered clergyman is quite a particular case in this literary period.

Don Julián is presented as an idealistic—at the border of ingeniousness—inexperienced young man. He is also described as a tactful person—a noteworthy feature in a decadent world of crude, abrupt, aggressive, short-tempered people. His delicacy is understood as effeminacy in such a context.[2] The old abbot calls him Mariquitas (“sissy”) because of his cleanliness. During the partridge hunting scenes—the perfect moment to show one’s manliness—this faint-hearted priest makes a fool of himself due to his clumsy technique.

Nevertheless, he is not portrayed in vicious terms (remember Don Fermín de Pas—the master priest—and the whole pack of clergymen presented in Leopoldo Alas’s La Regenta), and his faith does not mean an obstacle at all—contrary to the love story between the lady and the seminarian depicted in Juan Valera’s Pepita Jiménez. Moreover, we can even say that Don Julián comes to be the true hero of the novel, rising up as the (ineffective) protector of the traditional values of civilization in a barbarian environment.[3] In other words, he is just a good man in the lion’s den.

Portrait of Emilia Pardo Bazán
Don Julián loves Nucha, but this love lacks of any sort of carnal aspect. He appreciates so much her fine moral virtues—on such a bleak spot—that he even compares Nucha to Virgin Mary. Then, an effeminate man whose feelings for a woman are merely platonic—is homosexual? Not necessarily. However, we can find an evidence of Don Julián’s arguable homosexuality in the morbid description of Don Pedro’s body, with special regard to his bare chest, detailing the fine hair around his nipples. (Note the story is mainly told from Julián’s point of view.) Even his admiration for the cherubic beauty of the Marquis’ son could imply a repressed pedophilia. Don Julián seems to have a problem with sexuality: he is not proud of his own body, and feels awkward every time the maid shows invitingly her shapely figure every time she drops in his room without knocking—

Whatever Don Julián’s sexual orientation is, he acts as the heroine’s perfect gay friend—as we should say regarding our contemporary chick-lit trend—during his stay there: Julián is Nucha’s closest, intimate confidant, feels sorry for her after confirming the suspicion of the Marquis’ cruelty to his feeble wife, and even tries to save her from tears hiding (as much as he can) the bastard secret.

His precipitous exit from Ulloa is the result of a misunderstanding: the Marquis scented Julián and Nucha were having an affair. This event will trigger Nucha’s tragic ending. Well, at least she could benefit for a while from the joys of having a gay friend Madonna has always devoted herself to praise.[4]

[1] This novel has countless connections to not only Jane Eyre, but also Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. The same can be said on its second part, La madre naturaleza (“Mother Nature”.) The similarities are really impressive in both cases.
[2] I would like to point out here the affected, sensitive, subtly ironic performance by the formidable actor José Luis Gómez in the role of Don Julián, in the 1985 TV mini-series adaptation directed by Gonzalo Suárez, one of the most personal, avant-garde Spanish filmmakers ever.
[3] Emilia Pardo Bazán (La Coruña, 1851 - Madrid, 1921) was a countess, and a devoted Christian believer. She used to represent the aristocracy favorably in her work, an abject idea in intellectual liberalists’ eyes. Note that Don Pedro, the harsh, bullying husband, is a fake marquis, as he makes illegitimate use of the title; and his wife—who shares the same family name with the author—embodies the traditional virtues of a true lady: devotion and faithfulness. Anyway, the most negative portraits are among the Marquis’ serving staff: the steward, Primitivo–quite a descriptive name—and his daughter Sabel. They are depicted as devious, Machiavellian villains.
Furthermore, one of the most important aspects of Naturalism is Determinism, while Doña Emilia, as a Catholic, believed in the possibility of choosing the right path. These conservative attitudes did not help her win the sympathies of other naturalist novelists, such as Clarín or Émile Zola, whose progressive philosophy is reflected in their literature.
[4] In La madre naturaleza we can find Don Julián back in Ulloa as the old, reserved parish priest. Almost a hermit, he is a faithful devotee to the memory of his late beloved friend. He rejects the presence of any woman in his house, so he lives only in the company of his servant Goros, who is depicted as a man with special skill with traditional feminine house work. Pardo Bazán even states this couple is a compatible same-sex match. 

January 8, 2015

My Best Gay Friend’s Wedding

On Olivia Ardey’s Bésame y vente conmigo (“Kiss Me and Come with Me”)

What would be of gays and lesbians worldwide without our times’ bestselling literary subgenre which is helping so much in the question of visibility—? Of course, I am talking about chick lit!

We are so familiarized with this ultra-entertaining fiction that frequently skip the point that it may be the most recurrent genre in LGBT themes because of the usual presence of gay characters. For instance, I remember the well-known Bridget Jones saga (by Helen Fielding), where a gay man—a 1980s one-hit music wonder—is one of the heroine’s best friends, and a young, extremely beautiful colleague of Mark Darcy’s is a lesbian ardently mad about our favorite soppy, hopeless, foul-mouthed Brit girl.

The eternal duality confused straight girl/understanding gay friend has been carved out through the years. In this novel, we find a curious situation: Nico, the name of this time’s gay friend, is both a woman’s (Celia) and a man’s (Álvaro) most coveted supportive confidant. The three of them have been friends since their childhood, and share the same godfather. After his death, they find out that this dark, reclusive man’s last will states that all his possessions—which include an appealing vineyard—would belong to the one of them who gets married first. Just think that this same situation, years ago, would instantly get the gay character out of competition—unless he were ready for a big cheat, indeed!—Nowadays, the gay character can hit the jackpot as fairly as the others. Normalization is the rule in here.   

Far from the marginal pattern, Ardey presents her character in a completely social adaptation. In fact, his description is just mouth-watering: Nico is an attractive alpha male type (at last in appearance, for I would say your gaydar may detect certain irony, quite revealing, in his speech—), successful workman (he is one of those popular in cooks on TV shows), into sports (he devoted his healthful, athletic body to play amateur soccer—yes, that rough, manly activity)…, nice, funny, helpful, charming man—So then… why is Nico still single?

As it happened in the cloak and dagger drama of the Spanish Golden Age, no positive character can eventually end up unmarried, so the author has saved for Nico a fairy godmother in the shape of Celia’s good natured grandpa: the only one who can see through Nico’s flawless façade just to find a concealed broken heart. Nico could never forget a love from the past, and his godfather—you can guess this old man stands out as the forces of the most archaic tradition—secretly ruined any chance of reconciliation.

And this time it will not be the straight girl who will lend a helping hand in Grandpa’s plan to make her gay friend happy, but Álvaro. He will be in charge of bringing Nico’s beloved, Max, together with him. If you want to figure out how Max is like, just imagine a dead ringer for Nico—but with a delightful French accent! The existence of these two perfect affectionate alpha men proves Heaven does not want angels to be alone—And, of course, the wedding bells toll for this cute, desirable gay minor characters. 

A step forward would have these two guys as the main protagonists of an erotic-romantic novel—but that would be another novel. Let’s be content with the lovely little village Olivia Ardey has created for us in the Eastern part of Spain, her own Innisfree,[1] where Celia and Álvaro, the straight leading characters, finally melt—after a series of misunderstandings—in each other’s arms, and a gay couple can make the vast fruitful vineyard their own private Paradise and live happily ever after.

[1] Innisfree: A fictional small town in Ireland, the idyllic setting for John Ford’s superb masterpiece The Quiet Man (1952). If you still have not seen the film, do it! John Wayne along with Maureen O’Hara show love is really a battlefield—and how!

January 2, 2015

Interview with Paloma Pedrero

Here you have an interview with Paloma Pedrero (Madrid, 1957) discussing her play Lauren’s Call…, as well as essential issues such as education, sexuality, relationships, social prejudices, and her next projects. I keenly invite you to enjoy the wisdom of her speech.

SPANISH GAY FICTION: Maybe what attracts me most about Lauren’s Call… is the title. Why did you choose Lauren Bacall among all the stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age? Did you consider her the epitome of femininity? Or, on the contrary, did you find her ambiguous?

PALOMA PEDRERO: She was very feminine and also very masculine. She had both sides.

SGF: By the time the play was first staged, the power of its language was highlighted. Nowadays we are used to listen to the actors expressing this way on the boards but—by then, was it a daring speech?

PP: In 1985, a woman speaking about male sexuality with a really female look was revolutionary. I think today it is still revolutionary.

SGF: What encouraged you to write a play dealing with sexual ambiguity as not only a personal problem but also a social one? Is it an issue you still find interesting?

PP: Yes, I still do find it interesting, for we still behave under very strong social prejudices. I feel we are educated to be heterosexual. But—what if not? I believe that, if we were freer, we would enjoy many more possibilities in relationships. We could play different roles in the heterosexual relationship and make it more creative. There would also be more bisexuality, which means wide outlooks and experiences.

SGF: Did José María Rodríguez Méndez’s play Flor de Otoño (“Autumn Flower”), premiered a few years before, have any influence when you wrote Lauren’s Call...? In your opinion, what is the difference between your approach to transsexualism/transvestism and Rodríguez Méndez’s play, or any other play of that time?

PP: Honestly, I do not think so. The play by the great author Rodríguez Méndez deals about male homosexuality. Lauren’s Call… raises another issue. It discusses the limits that society puts on human relationships, especially marriage. I think that a couple has to be first and foremost the story of a great friendship…Sexuality should not be the center point, but communication, tenderness, understanding—The acceptance of the other’s differences, even his/her pathologies. In order to enjoy a calm and long-lasting relationship, a couple must create, reinvent itself as something unique. Society is still castrating in this sense, setting strict rules that emerge from old, untrue ideas. For example, the way each sex must behave in the relationship. This leads to continuous failure in marriages.  

SGF: Do you remember the premiere of the play?

PP: Just imagine…My first premiere as the author, as well as the female lead, in a hostile context. I really did not know at the time the huge responsibility I was taking, the risk I was running. Anyway, I think that, if I had realized, I would have done the same. I also did not know play and staging could generate so much controversy. I viewed Lauren’s Call… as a great love story, performed with great affection by all the artistic crew. However, the critics and some part of the audience reacted with hostility towards us. I just could not believe it then. I later understood what had happened.

SGF: They say that it was quite controversial in Spain back then. It has been several decades since the premiere, and the play has still been producing. What is the audience response in our days? Do you think the play is still shocking for the majority?

PP: I think it depends a lot on the staging. If I were the director today, surely it would still be shocking. There are so many things we do not know—dare to face—that we even do not talk about them.

SGF: And abroad? What is the reaction to Lauren’s Call… in other countries?

PP: As I have mentioned before, I think it has always depended on how daring the mise-en-scène is.

SGF: Certain negative criticism the play received on the premiere denotes not so much a problem with your work as a playwright but rather some hostility towards the homosexual issue. The play was premiered in Madrid in the mid-1980s—Would you say that there was still a vast homophobic social mindset at the time?

PP: Yes, and it still does exist. But, as I said before, Lauren’s Call… in 1985 did not focus on Pedro’s homosexuality. Alberto Wainer, the director, made a broader, richer interpretation. Why can’t this couple love each other, as this is the case, and be happy? It could be possible if we accepted love in different ways.

SGF: I consider this play is ahead of its time. So ahead that it seems to me that today’s society has still not absorbed its moral teaching. Let me explain—I still see parents who bring up their little children doubtlessly certain that their sexual behavior will be heterosexual when they will grow up. Boys will meet girls, girls will meet boys—They never think about the fact that their offspring may have a different sexuality since childhood. I think that is the reason why, the time they grow up and come out or admit they feel trapped in someone else’s body, some parents still find it so hard to accept. What is your opinion on this matter?

PP: This is a very complicated issue. We would need a congress to talk about this and would not achieve final results. But yes—I do feel we still have not improved at all. People believe that tradition (the usual…, the learned behavior) is the right thing. The normal thing—And this is false. Mankind has lived and written with crooked lines. What is normal? There is no normality. There are different humans with different bodies, genes, substances, brains—That is why behaviors cannot be the same. For example, how can you find normal that half of humanity has set itself up as superior to the other half? There are so many things that we do not know. We live in ignorance, but delightfully, when the only thing that makes sense in life is making a path of knowledge and consciousness. In order to do that, we must leave opinions and prejudices behind and start by looking at ourselves, with no fear to know us. This is the only way we can see the others, accept them, understand them, and even love them.  

SGF: The play leaves a bitter taste indeed. The understanding and generosity that Rosa displays at the end imply a great sorrow and sacrifice—If you had written this play today, do you think that you would have written the same ending?

PP: I would make Rosa realize that it is possible, that Pedro could go to the Carnival party alone and she could sleep in peace and joy. Or she could also go to the party. In the 1985 version, this is suggested. Rosa, when she is left alone, puts on Bogart’s hat and tries to play and accept. But I still might be unsure by then—as she was—Today, even with the same words, I would make her realize that it was possible she could transform herself.

SGF: Do you see Rosa and Pedro, each in their own way, as victims of strict education on sex roles in the past? Could it be made a political interpretation, taking into account that this play was staged in full democracy after several decades of dictatorial regime?

PP: Absolutely. They are victims of that strict, castrating education. But today’s education has not changed as much as we feel. It is still strict and castrating. I have recently published an article in La Razón[1] in this regard. Here you have, just if you want to include it:

by Paloma Pedrero

More laws, few considerable changes. We always do the same without thinking twice, not daring to let the true thinkers take the reins of such an essential issue. Almost all of us agree that education is the basis on which mankind rises up. The world to come is growing in the school: an ignorant place, seized by foolish power struggles, or a space where its inhabitants are working to become wiser and better. So, to make this path we must teach our children (apart from Maths and English) to know themselves in order to know the others; to leave prejudices behind, to understand and respect other ways of behaving and feeling. For a good teaching, you have to set love first. That feeling must cover the classroom, the playground, the gym—To respect deeply and let the teachers be independent. Practice what you preach. Teaching the hardest thing for the human: being free, thinking by one’s self, running risks, making efforts to find one’s talent. Transmitting your pupils that every joy comes from one’s own effort. Educating is a sublime act, since good people result from good teachers. People who understand that knowledge is a lifetime task. That is why education must be reconsidered from different angles, less materialistic and more focused on vocation.
Science, indeed—But together with Poetry and Spirituality. The school as a place where you can find the gift that allows to give our best to the others and the world. There will be no room for male chauvinism, mistreatment of the different, or the shame of any kind of violence.[2]

SGF: In the original staging, in which you had the leading role, the so-called fourth wall was used as a mirror. According to the play, both Rosa and Pedro get naked before the mirror. I mentioned before the homophobia issue but, what about nudes? The Spanish audience, after the Destape[3] age, was ready to see clothless players on the boards? Or was it a controversial issue as well?

PP: It is always a controversial matter. Nudity is a very touching thing.

SGF: What are your projects? What are you working on?

PP: My play Ana el once de marzo ("Ana on March 11")[4] has just premiered. Now I am doing some research to write a monologue about Mary Wollstonecraft, a British feminist writer born in 1759. Her intelligence and courage were really impressive. Her life was impressive too.

[1] This is one of the most popular Spanish newspapers nationwide, in which Pedrero usually collaborates.
[2] This is my translation into English. You can find the original text in Spanish here.
[3] Destape (“Nudity”). After Franco’s death, the Transición Española (“Spanish Transition”) began, a period of political regeneration resulting in the current parliamentary monarchy. At that time, government censorship became more relaxed, and the Spanish audience could thus see actresses (and some actors) totally naked in films, as well as on stage, for the first time. This trend is popularly known as el Destape.
[4] As the reader can easily guess, this play is contextualized in the 3/11 train bombing in Madrid ten years ago. It was the fiercest terrorist attack in Spanish history.