MY GREAT AMER­I­CAN IN­FLU­ENCES

Bri­tish erotic fic­tion writer, Jack Ladd re­flects on the sex­ual and in­tel­lec­tual lib­er­a­tions of the USA that have guided his hand.

DNA Magazine - - CONTENT #221 -

Brit-born writer of erotic fic­tion, Jack Ladd re­flects on the sex­ual and in­tel­lec­tual lib­er­a­tions that have guided his hand.

It hurts my heart that when I think of Amer­ica my first re­ac­tion is “guns and Trump”. wish that my thoughts weren’t im­me­di­ately fo­cussed on a cul­ture con­flicted; a proud, colour­ful su­per­power now tainted by wave after wave of tragic, avoid­able gun death. Deaths ex­ac­er­bated by a bored man on a mis­sion to re­mind us that power is far from sacro­sanct.

Then I give my­self a fig­u­ra­tive slap across the chops and force my­self to look past the in­flam­ma­tory head­lines, past Donald’s hap­haz­ard mix of vi­o­lent rhetoric and ir­re­spon­si­ble hy­per­bole, past the pa­thetic pan­tomime that is global pol­i­tics.

That’s when I re­mem­ber the peo­ple, places and ideas from across the pond that have shaped my life and choices. In fact, the more I re­mind my­self that be­hind the or­ange-faced front­man still stands a land of op­por­tu­nity and in­no­va­tion, the more I re­alise how in­flu­en­tial the US has been in my jour­ney through life.

After all (shaky metaphor alert) even the most rag­ing ocean has a world of won­der be­low its tempestuous sur­face.

Some of the best ad­vice given to me came from an Amer­i­can or, as he de­scribes him­self, a “cit­i­zen of the planet”. The wise, worldly friend and former col­league, known to oth­ers as the ac­tor, writer and party an­i­mal, Jesse Archer [former Fea­tures Editor of this mag­a­zine], once told me, “the best writ­ers are thieves”.

Not lit­er­ally. He wasn’t im­ply­ing that mug­ging old ladies got the cre­ative juices flow­ing. Nor was he pro­mot­ing pla­gia­rism. What he meant was that the great­est tool any­one can have in their arse­nal is the abil­ity to be in­flu­enced. To have open ears, eyes and minds and the ap­ti­tude to take an idea that res­onates and make it their own.

Be­cause after all, he ar­gued, what idea is truly orig­i­nal? What story, song or rhyme isn’t in­flu­enced by some­one or some­thing in some way? And while I’m not en­tirely sure there are a fi­nite num­ber of ideas in the world, I agree that learn­ing from our peers is in­valu­able.

Other peo­ple aren’t sim­ply com­pe­ti­tion in a rat race, they are teach­ers: their les­sons are there for the tak­ing.

It prob­a­bly won’t sur­prise you then, as an erotic fic­tion writer, that a great deal of my in­spi­ra­tion comes from the sex­ual ex­pe­ri­ences I’ve had. I be­lieve, to write some­thing well, you must know how it feels and sounds and tastes and smells. But, at the end of the day, my book, Os­car Down Un­der: Part One, is also a work of fic­tion. And while I strive to cre­ate an orig­i­nal story, I can’t deny that my char­ac­ters and their ad­ven­tures have been in­flu­enced by all sorts.

One prom­i­nent source: the great Ar­mis­tead Maupin, au­thor of Tales Of The City, which fol­lows pro­tag­o­nist Mary-Ann Sin­gle­ton as she spon­ta­neously moves to San Fran­cisco to start a new life away from her con­ser­va­tive home town. Maupin is renowned for min­ing his own life for ma­te­rial. He was the first au­thor I’d ever read who gave so much life to gay life. I couldn’t put him down. I’ll al­ways be grate­ful to my mum for hand­ing me a well-thumbed copy of his first book when I come out at 15.

While, at least in his ear­lier sto­ries, there’s lit­tle ex­plicit sex­ual de­scrip­tion (the con­tent alone was shock­ing enough for read­ers in the ’70s and ’80s: gay clubs, bath houses and het­ero to ho­mo­sex­ual in­fi­delity), his open­ness and hon­esty sticks with me.

Sure, his style is rife with com­edy, and some of his char­ac­ters are loud, camp, colour­ful and, these days, con­sid­ered cliched, but Maupin showed that gay men, like ev­ery­one else, are flawed. We can be ar­ro­gant and self­ish and all the un­ap­peal­ing qual­i­ties that come with be­ing

hu­man. But most im­por­tantly, we are hu­man.

It’s this pas­sion for por­tray­ing mul­ti­di­men­sional gay char­ac­ters that helped push the bound­aries of read­ers’ per­cep­tions. It’s some­thing I strive to em­u­late in my work be­cause, at the end of the day, we still need re­mind­ing that sex­u­al­ity is merely one in­gre­di­ent in the mak­ing of mankind.

Like Maupin’s adul­ter­ous Beauchamp, for ex­am­ple, my char­ac­ter Os­car is self­ish, ar­ro­gant and ma­nip­u­la­tive: far from the friendly, gen­tle stereo­type that can still be found lin­ger­ing in dull, mod­ern sto­ry­lines. In my pre­quel nov­els, I at­tempt to ex­plain Os­car’s de­cline from a trou­bled teenager into the drug tak­ing jaded boy he be­comes be­fore leav­ing for Australia. Most gay men have met or know some­one like him: a fuck boy per­pet­u­at­ing his own stereo­type. It was Maupin’s grasp of some­times painful re­al­i­ties set amid vi­brant lo­ca­tions that I fell in love with.

My teenage years were heav­ily in­flu­enced by the screen as well as the page, and one TV show still res­onates like I dis­cov­ered it yes­ter­day, my jaw hang­ing, my heart thump­ing and my mind rac­ing at a mil­lion miles an hour.

Queer As Folk.

Orig­i­nally a gritty Bri­tish TV drama by Rus­sel T Davis fol­low­ing the lives of a group of gay men in Manch­ester, the US ver­sion is ex­actly what US ver­sions are known for be­ing: big­ger, bad­der and brasher. Whether or not the US ver­sion is bet­ter, the jury is out, but there’s no deny­ing writ­ers Ron Cowen and Daniel Lip­man cre­ated some­thing ex­plicit, shock­ing and sexy as hell.

I was 16 when I first watched the Amer­i­can ver­sion. One night when I couldn’t sleep I crept down­stairs to watch TV. As the set flashed into life, there were two men. One older with brown hair and the other younger and blond. Lit­tle did I know I’d tuned in mo­ments be­fore the now-in­fa­mous rim­ming scene. Back then, my mind, like Justin’s arse hole, was about to be thor­oughly opened.

Watch­ing the screen like my life de­pended on it, I was hooked. Other than grainy jpegs on the fam­ily di­alup or the odd kiss in Six Feet Un­der, I’d never seen two men on TV do­ing things I’d fan­ta­sised about for years.

Then the scene changed, trans­port­ing me to a pound­ing night­club, Baby­lon, filled with top­less adonises, and the fan­ta­sises started over. I won­dered, sit­ting alone in the dark, my erec­tion thump­ing, not if but when I would find my­self in a place like that.

Nat­u­rally, cer­tain as­pects and sto­ry­lines were glam­or­ised for TV, but as es­capism goes, I’d found mine. From then on, I’d lie awake dreaming about be­ing Justin or Bryan or Michael one day, be­ing a gay man with gay friends and go­ing to gay clubs a mil­lion miles re­moved from the small, English con­ser­va­tive town I grew up in.

It was only a cou­ple of years un­til I found my­self top­less, sweaty and sand­wiched on a dance­floor, but if it hadn’t been for Queer As Folk, I would never have had the con­fi­dence, in­spired by years of com­pound cu­rios­ity, to go to the big cities and walk into the clubs with ex­cite­ment rather than fear in my eyes.

I could even ar­gue that if it weren’t for that fate­ful late-night view­ing, maybe I would never have had the balls to buy my­self a oneway ticket to Australia all those years ago. Per­haps, with­out my covert in­tro­duc­tion to the he­do­nis­tic gay scene, I’d never have writ­ten my sto­ries in the first place.

The in­spi­ra­tion be­hind my highly graphic sex scenes, how­ever, might be sur­pris­ing. Yes, I love me some Tom Of Fin­land and his Amer­i­can, lesser-known pre­de­ces­sor, Ge­orge Quain­tance: their pow­er­ful, ho­mo­erotic il­lus­tra­tions will al­ways be iconic. And, yes, a mil­lion times, yes, I have watched my fair share of porn from am­a­teur to high-end pro­duc­tions. But what ce­mented my re­solve to fo­cus on writ­ing erotic lit­er­a­ture was the fic­tional char­ac­ter, Jack Reacher.

Cre­ated by Lee Child, an English au­thor now re­sid­ing in New York, Jack Reacher is an Amer­i­can, hy­per-masculine, six-foot-six, ex-mil­i­tary po­lice of­fi­cer and a beast of a man. Blond and blue-eyed, he has all the goods to in­spire gay, erotic lit­er­a­ture with­out do­ing much. But for me, it’s his pop­u­lar­ity among read­ers of all ages that makes me won­der: how can a mur­der­ous vigilante who de­liv­ers vi­o­lent ret­ri­bu­tion unto is en­e­mies be so pop­u­lar?

Why is a pro­cliv­ity to­ward death, gore and tor­ture per­fectly ac­cept­able traits in a best­selling, movie-in­spir­ing char­ac­ter, while a bit of light het­ero­sex­ual BDSM from 50 Shades sent mil­lions spi­ralling [into moral panic]? Surely there’s room for gay, and straight, char­ac­ters who love sex as much as Reacher loves break­ing bones and shoot­ing bad guys?

Now, I’m far from the first au­thor to write sex scenes be­tween two men. From the anony­mously writ­ten, Te­leny or The Re­verse Of The Medal to An­nie Proulx’s Broke­back Moun­tain, the love be­tween men has been a com­monly ex­plored theme. But I be­lieve, right now, at least in Western cul­ture, with so many Jack Reach­ers in the world of lit­er­a­ture, surely there has never been a bet­ter, more ac­cept­ing mo­ment for char­ac­ters to ex­plic­itly ex­press their sex­u­al­i­ties.

The time, as they say, is now.

Which brings me nicely to my all-time favourite Amer­i­can. Some­one who is cham­pi­oning gay and trans rights in a way that is so in­no­va­tive and new… the one and only RuPaul.

Ru has trans­formed the world of drag through his on­go­ing series RuPaul’s Drag Race and, while I’m a huge fan of the show, it’s his work ethic that lights the fire un­der my arse.

Black, gay and a pi­o­neer of New York drag, RuPaul has not had it easy, and you’d be a mo­ron to think oth­er­wise. But ev­ery time I see his flaw­less looks on the runway, his con­stant sup­port and pride in the LGBTIQ+ com­mu­nity and avant garde think­ing, both com­mer­cially and per­son­ally, I smile.

It’s a smile of pride and a smile of out­right envy, but a smile nonethe­less. Es­pe­cially when, at the end of each episode of Drag Race he de­liv­ers his now-world-fa­mous line: “If you can’t love your­self, how the hell are you go­ing to love some­body else?”

This is some­thing I have al­ways be­lieved. But, per­haps, I just needed an Amer­i­can to re-pack­age it with their un­de­ni­ably po­tent brand of charisma, unique­ness, verve and tal­ent.

Queer As Folk.

RuPaul and Drag Race.

Ar­mis­tead Maupin, au­thor of Tales Of The City.

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