Samhain Publishing, $5.50, ISBN 978-1-61922-993-8
Contemporary Romance, 2016
Mark Nugent is gay, but he has become quite comfortable living in the closet. At 39, divorced, he decides to finally become a new man. He’d quit his job as a tax advisor, move to a quieter and more peaceful place with his daughter Fiona, and become a good father to her. Only, alcohol and a hot younger guy named Patrick Owen are going to test his resolution to remain in the closet for his daughter’s sake. Also, sneaky men who want to break these two up, cultural clashes, and social justice hee-haw.
You know, I think Out! is written for a certain demographic of readers who spend all their free time talking and ranting non-stop about gender and sexuality while finding all kinds of perceived discrimination, racism, and other things to be outraged over. I am barely a few pages into this story when I am subjected to a lecture about bisexuality erasure, and Patrick is as full-blown Tumblr social justice boo-boo as they come. The problem with such an approach is that this story is inherently hypocritical. It claims to celebrate diversity even as if peppers itself with stereotypes instead. And you can’t claim to be embracing all kinds of diversity when the main characters are picture perfect representations of the unrealistic definition of male beauty.
The romance genre fits poorly with the concept of social justice because of its celebration of the very body images and values that some proponents of social justice would find problematic. And let’s not overlook the elephant in the room – no matter how much you claim to be a LGBT “fan” or “ally”, writing love stories of gay men when you are a woman – for money, mind you – is a form of mercenary appropriation that those social justice champions on Tumblr and Twitter always rail about. Which is why every time a female author loads her gay romance story with all kinds of rah-rah love-the-gays, hump-a-homo today sentiments, I can only roll up my eyes at all the underlying hypocrisy. The whole thing is ridiculous. Ditch the artificial sermonizing; just give me my story, thanks.
And there is a pretty decent story here, underneath the annoying superficial social justice hee-haw stuff. Mark’s reasons to want to stay in the closet feel real enough, for one, and if the author has developed this aspect better, it may just be a good foundation for a story. Instead, I get a comedy full of superficial stereotypes – camp gay, strident gay, tarts with hearts of gold, the daughter who is far more accepting of daddy’s sexuality than he could believe, et cetera. Predictably enough, the ex-wife is a cartoon portrayal of a straight woman. Meanwhile, Patrick is an annoying stereotype – the one that acts like a know-it-all about gender issues and sexuality; the walking Tumblr, in other words.
The author has a way with humor, but here, the whole thing feels more like a stand-up comedy to appease the Tumblr demographic – a wasted opportunity. A part of me wishes that the author has made Mark even older, because the eldergay-new gay cultural and value divide always makes for interesting reading, instead of just throwing all kinds of superficial stereotyping of marginalized groups at my face. Out! is readable, but I find myself rolling up my eyes or thinking “Oh please!” every few pages. Quite distracting, that.