Sionnach Wintergreen

author of romance and fantasy

Why Gay Men Weren’t in the Closet in 1923

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My latest gay (M/M) romance is set in 1923 in a small rural town in East Texas. A Little Sin is available through Amazon and is FREE with Kindle Unlimited. While researching this historical western mystery romance, I discovered that gay men weren’t in the closet in 1923. No one was. Closets didn’t really exist back then. People kept their clothes in armoires, chest of drawers, and chifforobes (basically an armoire combined with a chest of drawers.) The idiom didn’t exist.

Instead, gay men who pretended to be straight to fit in with the oppressive heterosexual society were said to “wear a mask.” I found this phrase both poetic and poignant. It describes so beautifully what it feels like to have to hide your true self from people. I’m genderqueer, but I am biologically female and “read” female. Most people have no idea who or what I really am. (Even when I tell them, they often don’t really understand.)  I wear a mask. The stakes, of course, of someone discovering my true identity aren’t as high for me as they are for my protagonists in A Little Sin. Still, the idea that they were wearing masks made me feel very close to them.

There are so many things we take for granted in modern America. In the world of Avery and Garland, indoor plumbing and electricity have not found their way to rural areas. There are no antibiotics. “Okay,” one of my favorite words, didn’t exist until WWII (and it was OK). Prohibition made having a glass of pinot noir illegal. In Texas, literacy tests prevented many people from voting. (It was designed to suppress the black vote.) Texas legislators were openly members of the Ku Klux Klan. (At least now they make some attempt to hide it. Yes, I live in Texas. Yes, I’m bitter.)

Although women now had the right to vote, their roles were largely domestic. Even Garland, the more progressive and enlightened of my two main characters, is amazed when his secretary—a black woman—is curious about his work as a veterinarian and wants to read his old textbooks. The fact that she is interested in science blows his mind.

There were times when I felt quite estranged from my protagonists, who are deeply religious Christians (I’m not), drink buttermilk (ugh), rarely curse, and smoke like fiends. (Smoking was okay, apparently.) I kept wanting to put glasses of scotch in their hands or make them use the “f-word.” (Because I do…a lot.) Writing for these guys was like discovering a new world. Along the way, I fell in love with them. I hope my readers do, too.

There are so many things, so many advancements—both scientific and social—that we take for granted. These things didn’t always exist. They aren’t permanent. We need to be wary of people who want to take us back into a dark, oppressive, and often violent past. We need to be vigilant, vote, and keep moving forward. How can we make America great again when the past is littered with injustices and wasn’t too great for children, people of color, women, and LGBTQIA people? I like to write about history; I wouldn’t want to live there.

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