Is Prison Romance Just another Form of “Gay for You”?
The idea of a prison romance has intrigued me for some time, but I hesitated to embark on the project due to a number of misgivings I harbored. For one thing, the very notion of situational homosexuality made me uncomfortable. It doesn’t quite fit within my personal view of sexual orientation and more or less contradicts what I’ve argued for many years—gay people are born gay. You can’t be persuaded or recruited into the “homosexual lifestyle”. Writing a story that depicts a straight person falling in love and becoming sexually active with a member of their same sex felt hypocritical to me. In a way, it seemed like a betrayal.
But in so many ways, this reasoning proved hypocritical. For one thing, “Gay for You” is a very common trope, and some of my previous works could arguably at least border on that categorization. And even more significantly, prison romance is a reality as is situational homosexuality. Rather than denying its existence, wouldn’t it be better to explore it and try to gain a better understanding?
I believe there are two valid explanations for situational homosexuality in a prison setting. The first is that most humans are not one hundred percent heterosexual or homosexual. Regardless how we identify in terms of orientation, few people land in the far outer reaches of the Kinsey Scale. So in the absence of the opposite sex, it makes sense that people who are mostly heterosexual but who’ve entertained homosexual thoughts or fantasies, could be willing to explore those feelings more deeply. If you’re in prison for a long sentence, possibly even a life sentence, wouldn’t you find a way to make the best of your situation?
Secondly, I don’t think sexual intimacy is always about expressing love and attraction. Sometimes, as in the case of rape, it’s about power and domination. In a prison setting, an entirely separate hierarchy exists from that in the outside world. And often it becomes a matter of natural selection where the fittest survive. The most powerful control those beneath them in the pecking order. I can see where a person would submit to the will (and sexual desires) of one more powerful in exchange of protection or other favors.
And then, setting all this aside, I would also add that gay people—openly gay people—do get sentenced to prison, as do transgender people. So it is entirely possible that a gay inmate could fall in love with another gay or bisexual inmate. Or a transgender person, forced to identify as their birth gender rather than their true gender, could fall in love with a person of their birth gender.
In Life Without Parole, I don’t offer distinct, iron-clad explanations for the orientations or genders of my characters. When a happily-married, middle-aged corrections officer receives oral sex from a transgender inmate, I don’t explain if he’s gay, bi, or straight. I don’t explain the motivation of the inmate either. It is what it is. It happens.
And when my main characters, Jeremy and Trey, fall in love, I let the reader decide how to label them. In my mind, this is not a gay for you love story, but I wouldn’t argue with any reader who sees it that way. I wanted to present a genuine love story within a not-so-typical setting and simply let the chips fall where they may. I allowed the characters to lead me into some situations I found shocking and confusing. Some twists and turns occurred I didn’t originally anticipate. But instead of trying to explain the “whys” I simply showed the story as I saw it.
I personally like what happens between Jeremy and Trey. They each broke my heart at different times. They cracked me wide open, made me angry, made me hurt in ways I haven’t for a long, long time. And this is the sort of writing I started out with so many years ago but somehow managed to veer away from in pursuit of approval and sales.
I’m not sure if Life Without Parole is going to be a huge success, and to be honest, I don’t really care as much as I probably should. It’s a story that seemed to find me, and not vice-versa. I had to let go of my concerns that my preconceived opinions would be challenged and simply follow my characters.
I do appreciate all who are willing to give this series a shot. I won’t lie and tell you it’s going to appeal to everyone. I understand in many ways it is controversial, possibly even offensive or capable of insulting one’s sensibilities. Yes, it’s raw and very harsh in some places, but it also contains tenderness and very primal, deep-seated passion. It is both complicated and simple. The multiple storylines of the many characters twist around each other but hopefully in the end all becomes clear. And yes, it has some too-good-to-be-true happy endings, for the most part. But if you know anything about me, you realize I can’t write a story of any kind without an HEA.
I’d like to thank Michele and Gabbi for hosting me and participating in my blog tour. It’s awesome to be back here on the website where it all began for me. I’d like to offer a giveaway prize for those willing to comment. I’m going to give away a gift at each blog stop and conduct a final drawing at the end of the tour for a complete set of the Life Without Parole series. It’s six books total. Please leave a comment or question to enter.
Trey Palmer killed his stepfather three years ago, stabbed him repeatedly with a butcher knife, and now he’s facing life behind bars. He doesn’t deny what he did, nor does he regret it. But he’s plagued with flashbacks of a torturous childhood in which he was abused by this man he finally extinguished. In prison, Trey employs a strategy of avoidance. He becomes a loner and a workaholic, steering clear of the gangs and their drama. His life changes one day, however, when a new cellmate arrives. Jeremy Banks, also in for murder, decries his innocence. With his long hair and angelic face, he’s too pretty for a men’s prison. Though at first annoying and mouthy, Jeremy begins to wiggle his way into Trey’s heart, and Trey starts to wonder if maybe the kid really is innocent. He really does seem like an angel. Their feelings for each other evolve, blossoming into something forbidden yet beautiful. But how can a love like theirs last in a place like this?