Taken from: The ADVOCATE (Feb. 21, 1995)
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With more gay and lesbian authors successfully launching their writing careers in gay and mainstream book publishing, certain long-term warriors in the battle for visibility emerge. Editor Michael Denneny and book agent Chadofte Sheedy have made careers out of shepherding gay voices into print Aiding the cause, occasionally a successful author such as Clive Barker takes a deep breath and lets the world know he's gay.
|Lord of ILLUSION
Clive Barker comes out
By Charles lsherwood
I think as gay people have more space to dream," says Clive Barker, aptly sitting among the lush fruits of his perfervid imaginings. The monstrous popularity of the British writer's horror novels – Imajica, The Thief of Always, Cabal, Weaveworld, The Damnation Game, The Great and Secret Show, and his latest book, Everville, the sequel to Secret Show has, ironically, landed him squarely in cheerful Beverly Hills, 90210. His Spanish-style Los Angeles house crawls down a steep slope, and like a creature from one of his books, it's mutating: Barker has purchased the house next door and plans to join the two.
But Barker doesn't spend much time at home, figuratively speaking; when he's writing he spends ten hours a day exploring the intangible realms of his novels. "I think there is a gay sensibility," he says, trying to get at the dark roots that link his prodigious imaginative output and his sexuality. "It's shaped by social circumstances, by how different our lives are from the lives of straight people. I don't have the constraints of a family or children to educate and bring up. I am released from social imperatives that are laid down by society, by our parents."
"I'm free, if you will, to invent myself – freer, anyway," he continues. "I have more time to dream. And I maybe have more necessity to dream as well. Because in that liberation, that freedom from structure, lies the possibility of nothing happening: being in a void that you have to fill with parties and poppers, which is a trap that some gay men fall into. If we have nothing to do but service our own pleasure – because society has taught us that's all we're worth and we're exiled from positions of authority from which we could actually shape society – then we just become hedonists. Eventually, despite how great it may look on Saturday night, come Monday morning there's just purposelessness."
Barker, 42, certainly doesn't suffer a want of purpose. When he's not dreaming up novels, he's painting. His large canvases, full of mournful, macabre imagery captured in an appropriately somber palette, are lined up neatly in the living room, waiting for wall space. And when he's not painting, he's directing movies that have been adapted from his work: Hellraiser, Nightbreed, and his newest, Lord of Illusions, set for release in the spring. He has executive-produced several others, including 1992's Candyman, and is doing the same for The Thief of Always, an animated musical adapted from his children's book, being produced by Steven Spielberg partners Kathleen Kennedy and Frank Marshall.
While Barker commands a particularly loyal gay reading audience because of his frequent inclusion of gay and lesbian characters in his books, he's had little success trying to put positive gay characters into the world of horror films. "I've tried to get two gay-themed projects off the ground in Hollywood," he says. "They were both genre pieces – I wasn't asking to make art films. But I couldn't get them off the ground for the life of me. It was very obvious what the objection was. A couple of producers actually said, 'If you make the hero heterosexual...'. Then they'd say, 'The plot doesn't hinge on his being gay' and I'd say, 'That's the point!' But they weren't comfortable with that idea at all."
The irony is rich: The producers were not comfortable with gay characters in a genre that profits precisely by making audiences uncomfortable. But Barker knows that old conventions die hard-perhaps particularly hard in a genre whose appeal remains mysterious and vaguely subversive.
"There's a great ambiguity toward monsters, the staples of horror," he explains. "The monsters act out our rage. They act on their worst impulses, which is appealing to a certain part of us. They get punished for it, but we've enjoyed the spectacle of their liberation."
Barker has mixed feelings about the growing respect for genre fiction, previously banished from the hallowed halls of literary respectability despite – or, more properly, because of – its immense popularity. "We are gradually winning the battle," he says. "My new novel, Everville, got a wonderful notice in The New York Times' book review section. What we've seen over the years is various genres coming out of the cold. First it was spy fiction, then science fiction. By and large, horror fiction is the most difficult to domesticate because part of the point is that it's one step ahead – or behind – everybody else's taste. And I'm not really convinced I'd like it to change. There's something very healthy about horror fiction being always a little bit on the outside. It's the wild-dog genre.
Barker's editor at HarperCollins, John Silbersack, believes Barker uses the horror genre to celebrate what is really good about the human spirit "He's driven to write about what is godlike in man," says Silbersack, "and he dissects that problem by looking at what is satanic in man as well."
As someone who takes pleasure in imagining beings who deviate rather strenuously from ideas of conventional beauty, Barker finds little appeal in the cut-and-dried aesthetic of traditional male beauty. "The immaculate, pumped planes of muscle or face or coifed hair – the Jeff Stryker ideal – that's rather dull. Which isn't to say that Power Tool isn't a great movie," he laughs. "It's jerk-off material, very different from something that really holds your heart.
"As you can see by my paintings," Barker admits, "I'm much more interested in beauty that is won out of something. I'm much more interested in the guy who has something strange or quirky about him – naked or dressed – than the guy who's picked up a copy of Men's Health and said to his trainer, 'I wanna look like that!'"
Amusingly, the one area of gay sensibility in Barker's cosmology that made it more or less intact onto movie screens was his interest in sado-masochism. Hellraiser, Barker's 1987 directorial debut, which has spawned three sequels, contained scenes of vivid S /M imagery. 'The drama of S/M is fascinating to me." Barker relates. "It's certainly part of my life. Does that mean there's a dungeon in this house? No. It enters my private life but doesn't dominate it. The more formalized elements of the S/M fraternity have never really drawn me, but I'm very interested in the power struggles in sexual relation-ships, the dramas of sexuality. I love sex as drama."
Given his daily immersion in apocalyptic battles between good and evil – cinematic or literary – it's remarkable that Barker has any dramatic instincts left to spice up his sex life. And in fact he admits his imaginary life has always cast a long shadow over the real one.
"My earliest remembrances are of things imagined rather than things of the real world," he recalls. And the need to turn his visions into tangible things has evolved from a profitable habit to an addiction for Barker, who says he becomes nauseated if he doesn't write every day. Concerned that when he finishes supervising the special effects for Lord of Illusions he will spend the next few months promoting the movie before being able to return to writing, he soothes himself by looking forward to another collection of short stories and another children's book.
"I like to work. I don't like bars; I don't like clubs," he says. "I like to be at home working. I love my housemates, I love my dog" – a darkly dignified German Shepherd with a sweet nature. "I'm pretty dull," he sums up. "And I do think that the writing of a large imaginative work takes a kind of obsession, an immersion in its reality to the point where the life lived outside its pages seems duller."
But Barker believes that for him – and for all his readers, whom he calls the "cocreators" of his books – the act of imagining is in the end a way of not merely escaping from the world's assaults but of reordering our responses to them and thus changing them, individual by individual. "I don't believe there are any true solutions to the world's various ills without spiritual solutions," he explains. "Which for me means imaginative solutions, means reaching what I think is the divine part of us – our imagination. "One of the things the imagination does is allow you access to other people's lives," he explains. "In imagining another person's thoughts and feelings you better understand them. It's the only way to fight the phobias that are in everybody the only way to fight the animal impulse to view the world tribally, making everybody unlike us the enemy."