08 July 2009

New Short Story: "Dirty Laundry"

I was up until 3:44 AM writing "Dirty Laundry," and it took me nearly an hour and a half to finish typing it. It is easily the longest piece of fiction I've dashed off in ages. I actually considered breaking it into two pieces, as there are really two stories being told. The first half focuses on Jimmy discovering that Jon has been cheating on him; the second part follows Jimmy to his sister's apartment, where he bears grudging witness to Bruce's mistreatment of her. There's a lot going on in "Dirty Laundry," so if you'll follow along I'll try to predict your questions.

Why did I write about a gay character? One thing that irks me about the gay marriage debate is that too often I read or hear people reduce gays and lesbians to just that singular dimension of their identities, as though that's all they are is just a homosexual. The truth is, their sexuality means no more or less to them than a heterosexual's. Some of us obsess over that part of ourselves, while for others it's almost a nuisance to even consider. We're people, not machines, and that means there are all kinds of dynamics in play with each of us. Jimmy is vulnerable, and I think vulnerability is universal. I liked that this guy is frank enough to admit that his reaction to Jon lacked dignity, and that he didn't care. I could relate to Jimmy in a lot of ways, and I hope you do, too.

Why the mature themes and language? I wanted you to loathe Bruce, and the only way I could do that was to make sure you knew just how vulgar he is. So, at every opportunity, Bruce says something that makes me just want someone to do something to shut him up. We all know people like Bruce; people who got by on being intimidating for so long they become arrogant about being a bully. These are the kinds of people who make jokes about their victims and gloat about their every demonstration of hostility. I cannot stand such people, and I hope that, by the story's climax, you're just as desperate for Jimmy to fight Bruce as Jimmy and I both were.

The title, "Dirty Laundry," refers to both the anonymous lover's navy blue briefs, as well as the dynamics of Jimmy and Shannon's family. We never meet Mom and Dad, but I think we can extrapolate what they're like. Dad subscribes to much of the same macho code as Bruce, which is why neither is comfortable with Jimmy and it's why Dad tolerates Bruce's mistreatment of Shannon. One suspects that, once upon a time, Dad confronted Bruce and his prospective son-in-law out-bullied him. Ever since then, Dad has acquiesced to the younger, stronger bull and essentially sacrificed his daughter's happiness to maintain his sense of how men should be.

Mom, as so many mothers do, has tried her best to maintain a healthy relationship with her children, but has been browbeaten by Dad enough that she employs passive-aggressive techniques to get her way. She never really fights any big battles, but believes that she does because that's what gets her to sleep each night. While Dad goes to bed knowing he's done wrong by both of his children, Mom deludes herself into believing things between Shannon and Bruce, and Jimmy and Dad, will work out in the end. She never really considers the negative impact her own role in these affairs has had, because she knows she's stayed out of things too long.

Where did I get the names? Jon simply came to me as I began writing. I thought he was young enough that his parents would have spelled it without an "h." Jimmy went unnamed for the longest time, as I deliberately postponed having to give him a name until I found one. I wanted something informal, something that would be a nickname rather than a birthname. I nearly named him Sammy, but then I decided I would give that name to the sister because it's unisex. I figured Dad was macho enough that he would want to believe each of his babies would be born a boy, and he would resist a feminine name for his daughter. When the time came to actually write the name for her, I realized I'd written Shannon, instead. Since that was also unisex, that's what she was named.

Back to Jimmy, though, after Sammy I almost went with Timmy. Jimmy rhymed with Timmy, though, and I liked the idea of Jon and Jimmy as a couple. It seemed like the kind of thing that would get a couple of young gay guys teased, and make them a tad self-conscious. I figured friends of Jon's probably called them "Jonny and Jimmy" and his family probably treated them like kids, denying the true nature of their relationship. This is manifest in Jon's insistance that he's uncomfortable with public displays of affection; one suspects that he's not as comfortable being out as Jimmy. Of course, we also learn that the impetus for their moving in together was Jimmy's family shunning Jon; the ensuing confrontation likely forced Jimmy farther out of the closet than Jon.

So, these are some insights into "Dirty Laundry" from its author. I hope I haven't shattered any illusions you created for yourself while reading the short story. If so, then please disregard any contradictory statements by me and refer instead to your own interpretation and insights. They are, certainly, more valid than any speculation I might offer. If you have not yet read "Dirty Laundry," I would sincerely appreciate it if you would take the time to do so. It can be viewed on Google Docs here.

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