Written by Lois Kennedy
Gay characters don’t take up a lot of room in Stephen King’s many books, but they are notable in their depictions, which can be negative and stereotypical, or positive…and stereotypical. They can be quantified into five types: the Mannish Lesbian, the Trauma Victim, the Weakling, the Predator, and the Well-Adjusted. What follows is a documentation of every queer character from King’s bibliography, spanning the breadth of novels, short stories, teleplays, and screenplays.
Note: I decided not to include characters who were suspected of being gay but were not definitively proven to be, such as Douglas Posey from Rose Red, who is described by “family legend” as having a “thing for cowboys,” or a pair of barflies in The Dead Zone who are characterized by the sour bartender who is angry at them as “diesel dykes.” I am also not including male characters who prey on boys or other men but are not classified by King as gay, for example Dick’s grandfather in Doctor Sleep or The Sisters in “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption.”
One: The Mannish Lesbian
Of the three kinds of gay women King presents, the mannish lesbians are the ones who seem to not only want to be men but virtually are men.
The story “Big Driver” from the collection Full Dark, No Stars (2010) is about a writer named Tess who is the victim of a plot to rape and murder her, perpetrated by a callous man and his macho mother, Ramona. Ramona never outright admits to being a lesbian (in my opinion a photo of her standing intimately with another woman is enough to go on), but Tess assumes she is based on her appearance and mannerisms. Ramona is “broad-shouldered,” with a “Marine haircut,” and a “take-no-prisoners handshake.” Tess is amused by her masculinity: “Instead of wishing Tess a very good morning […] or complimenting her on her earrings […] she asked a man’s question: had Tess come by [highway] 84?” Tess goes on to characterize her as a “black-coffee type of chick” who is “probably in Doc Martens on her day off.” While Tess programs her GPS, Ramona is “watching with manly interest.” As can be expected, Ramona is also shown as immensely unattractive: “The man-tailored blazer made her look as wide in the chest as a pro football tackle. Her shoes were ugly brown flatboats.” She is wearing “too-tight gray slacks” that emphasize her large thighs. When she appears again later, she is wearing an ugly housecoat and men’s shoes.
Mr. Mercedes (2014) concerns a murderer named Brady who is being hunted by a retired police officer named Bill. Brady works with Freddi (who, typical of King’s gay characters, has a name associated with the opposite sex). When Freddi is introduced, she is telling Brady an anecdote about her encounter with an anti-gay Christian, whom she tells, “Gays are born gay, I mean, hello? He goes, That’s simply not true. Homosexuality is learned behavior and can be unlearned. So I can’t believe it, right? I mean, you have got to be shitting me. But I don’t say that. What I say is, Look at me, dude, take a real good look. Don’t be shy, go top to bottom. What do you see? And before he can toss some more of his bullshit, I go, You see a guy, is what you see. Only God got distracted before he could slap a dick on me and went on to the next in line.” This causes Brady to consider how easily Freddi could be taken as a man: “she looks like a girl about as much as Brady Heartsfield looks like Vin Diesel. She’s togged out in straight-leg 50s motorcycle skids and a plain white tee that hangs dead straight, without even a touch of tits. Her dark blond hair is butched to a quarter inch. She wears no earrings and no makeup.” She also has “nonexistent boy hips.” Like many of King’s gay women, she is large—Freddi is estimated to be at least 6’2”. Continuing her story, Freddi says that the man told her, “There are plenty of young Christian women in our church who could show you how to fix yourself up, and if you grew your hair out, you’d look quite pretty. Do you believe it? So I tell him, With a little lipum-stickum, you’d look darn pretty yourself.” In the end, she and the man go to coffee and have a real conversation. Freddi disappears for most of the book, until the end when she helps with Bill’s investigation.
This type of gay woman is presented stereotypically. Freddi’s comment about God forgetting to give her a penis seems to posit that she was meant to be born a man instead of a gay woman and is therefore unnatural. However, Freddi (and Ramona, to an extent) is comfortable and proud of who she is. Freddi fiercely believes that people don’t choose to be gay, a conviction King does not always endorse, particularly in the second type of King lesbian—the Trauma Victim.
Two: The Trauma Victim
The second kind of gay woman in King’s novels are lovely, traditionally feminine women who choose to be gay because they are traumatized by men either physically (by abuse) or socially (by being pushed to become a radical feminist in order to gain control over their lives), or both.
In The Stand (1978), the character Dayna chooses to be gay in college; as her friend explains, “she got dragged along to a couple of female consciousness meetings by her roommate, who was this big libber type.” Dayna then transforms herself: “First a libber, then a lesbian.” However, time has passed since college and Dayna has decided “She’s bi now.” Dayna, characteristic of the King bisexual, has eyes only for the opposite sex, focusing her attention on her friend Stu and in the name of espionage sleeping with villain Lloyd while considering a female acquaintance someone she would want to be best friends with.
The novel Insomnia (1994) features a housewife named Helen who is beaten on a regular basis by her husband. After a particularly savage incident, she leaves him. She meets Gretchen, also a formerly abused woman. Ralph, the protagonist, inwardly moons over both women. He thinks of Gretchen, “She was, quite simply, a woman you couldn’t not look at, couldn’t not think about, couldn’t not speculate about.” After noticing longing looks in Helen’s direction, he ascertains that Gretchen is a lesbian. Meanwhile he thinks of Helen as “pert and pleasantly sexy” as well as “the prettiest woman on the west side of town.” Nothing romantic happens between Helen and Gretchen, but eventually Helen surrenders dating men; she wears a pink triangle pin and spends a lot of time with Melanie—who of course shares her interest in feminism. As Helen says after returning from a baseball game, “I guess I just don’t have much patience for men and their balls these days.”
Doctor Sleep (2013) concerns the continuing story of Danny Torrance from The Shining. As an adult, he’s faced with monsters who eat the essence of people with abilities similar to his. Andi is one of these monsters as well as a man-hater. She was raped by her father as a child, and initially is making a living by robbing men who take her out on dates: “she liked movies but she didn’t like men.” Andi sees herself as asexual until she meets the main antagonist, Rose, who is stunningly beautiful. Rose indulges her in a one-night-stand but predictably enough has a boyfriend she is devoted to. Andi instead falls in love with Sarey, a fellow monster. The two are one of the few gay couples King depicts, and are actually quite happy and even functional until Andi is killed. Interestingly, when Rose loses her boyfriend she immediately turns to Sarey for help, knowing that Sarey is thirsty for vengeance as well; their respective losses are treated as equal. When Andi is attacked by protagonist Dave in an attempt to kidnap his daughter Abra, Andi responds that she doesn’t care about Dave’s right to defend his daughter: “To me he’s just another swinging dick. Even the Pope of Rome’s got one, and not one of you care where you put it. Fucking men.” Andi’s next to last dying words are, again, “Fucking men.”
In Revival (2014), the main character Jamie is reunited again and again with Jacobs, an enigmatic preacher from his childhood—one who practices healing magic with dangerous aftereffects. As a teenager, Jamie has a girlfriend named Astrid. They grow apart and lose touch. Astrid reappears later in the novel; she has cancer and Jacobs claims he can heal her, if Jamie does a favor for him. Astrid is now engaged to a woman, a nurse named Jenny. Astrid is depicted as incredibly beautiful, until she is ravaged by cancer, and then restored to beauty by Jacobs. Jenny is “pretty, dark-haired, mid-fifties.” Astrid as a teenager is very enamored of having sex with Jamie and upon seeing him again asks for a kiss and fondles his groin. Astrid and Jenny’s relationship is never explained beyond their bond as “divorce buddies,” but if Insomnia is any indication of how seemingly heterosexual women become lovers, they were traumatized by their husbands. Astrid makes brief mention of a miscarriage, so possibly she has sought out a partner who could never get her pregnant. Like most of the people exposed to Jacobs’s curative tactics, Astrid goes crazy, killing Jenny and then herself.
Most of these devastated characters seem truly happy with their same-sex partners, regardless of how the relationships came about. However, this type of character validates the counter-productive idea that sexual orientation is a choice, one that only accompanies terrible experiences.
Three: The Weakling
Many of King’s gay men are shown as weak and girlish—they are dainty and often have names associated with women. They have low self-esteem, and heterosexual men view them with equal parts of pity and disgust—or flat-out disgust—or murderousness.
The Shining’s (1977) main antagonist/ghost is Horace Derwent. Predictably enough for a King bisexual, he prefers the opposite sex. (When he pops up again in Doctor Sleep, one of his first statements is a complaint of how long it’s been since he was with a woman.) However, he is lusted after by his former lover, Roger. As Derwent is described by an acquaintance: “He’s AC/DC, you know. Poor Roger’s only DC. He spent a weekend with Harry in Cuba once…oh, months ago. Now he follows Harry everywhere, wagging his little tail behind him […] But of course Harry never goes back for seconds…not on his DC side anyway, and Roger is just wild. Harry told him if he came to the masked ball as a doggy, a cute little doggy, he might reconsider.” Meanwhile, in the background Roger “capered grotesquely on all fours, his tail dragging limply behind him. He was barking.” After jumping for a treat Derwent holds over his head, Roger falls on his back and hits his head.
In a book written under pseudonym Richard Bachman, King wrote Blaze (written in the ‘70s and revised and published in 2007). Blaze and his friend George survive by finding ways to manipulate people. A con that Blaze and George use to extort money from “closet queers and AC/DC swingers” involves the two of them pretending to be a gay couple. George poses as a cheater while Blaze plays the enraged boyfriend who finds George in bed with a victim. “At that, he would heave his three-hundred-pound bulk at the bed, where the mark quivered in horror, by that time usually wearing only his socks.” The act goes on, provoking “Terrified squeals from the marks […] The mark begins to plead for his life and his sexual equipment, not necessarily in that order.” Blaze then threatens to call their wives. “At that point, most marks forgot about their lives and their sexual equipment and began to concentrate on their sacred honor and neighborhood standing instead.” When the victim gets his wallet back, “Poorer but wiser, he creeps away, probably wishing his balls had never dropped in the first place.”
In a scene from It (1986), Don, hysterical over his boyfriend Adrian’s murder (Adrian having been tossed off a bridge by punks and subsequently eaten by Pennywise the clown), is being interrogated by Officer Gardener: “[He] recognized the reality of Don Hagerty’s grief and pain, and at the same time found it impossible to take seriously. This man—if you want to call him a man—was wearing lipstick and satin pants so tight you could almost read the wrinkles in his cock.” The incident starts after Adrian makes a suggestive comment to teenagers who are insulting him. Don and Adrian are also linking arms and kissing in public. At first a police officer intervenes but loses his patience with Adrian’s cocky retorts to his tormentors, calling him a “candy-ass.” Before Adrian is attacked, he loses his brave front: “Adrian was wheezing with fright, almost crying, looking from Unwin to Dubay with terrified eyes.” He is likened to a rabbit in a snare and a rag doll.
The story “Sneakers,” in King’s collection of stories Nightmares and Dreamscapes (1993), features a timid guy named Georgie, who is subservient to his boss Jannings. “If Jannings began to rant, Georgie would slip through [the door].” Georgie is reminiscent of a deer: “sensing that the storm had passed, Georgie Ronkler crept back in.” Georgie is childlike: “Georgie raised his hands, trembled them beside his peach-fuzzy cheeks, hummed a few bars of the Twilight Zone theme, and tried to look ominous. This was an expression he was incapable of achieving.” When asked why he puts up with Paul’s nasty temper, “Georgie lowered his head and the tips of his ears turned a bright red […] ‘Why not? He takes care of me.’”
Rose Madder’s (1995) dangerous antagonist Norman is trying to track down his wife Rose, who left him for being abusive. (But since she’s the main character she won’t turn libber or lesbian). Norman finds Ramon, the man who stole an ATM card Rose left in a garbage can. Being a police officer, he arranges to meet him for questioning. Norman knows Ramon is gay, and to assert how menacing he is, he begins rubbing Ramon’s crotch: “He slid his hand in a gentle clockwise motion, his palm moving back and forth and up and down over the little patch of flesh which had more or less run Ramon’s life ever since two of his father’s buddies—men Ramon was supposed to call Uncle Bill and Uncle Carlo—had taken turns blowing him when he was nine years old.” (Ramon is King’s only male gay trauma victim—only he apparently enjoyed the experience.) Ramon is terrified but still gets an erection and manages to appreciate the caresses—at least until Norman squeezes him so painfully Ramon blacks out. Having gotten his information, Norman leaves him.
In King’s teleplay for Storm of the Century (1999), a trio of men are called out by the villain Linoge for their attack on a gay man. Linoge, while mocking them, conveys sympathy for the victim. However, the depiction of the man is hopelessly stereotypical; his sister makes him a paisley eyepatch to cover his injury, and the men are secretly attracted to him because he is extremely feminine: “he had that swishy way of walking…and that lisp…and you guys kind of liked the way his hair looked, all around his face like it was.”
“A Face in the Crowd,” a story King wrote with Stewart O’Nan collected in Field of Fantasies: Baseball Stories of the Strange and Supernatural (2012) features a main character, Evers, who begins witnessing people whom he knows are dead on T.V. attending baseball games. Evers sees his former business partner Wheeler, which causes him to exclaim, “You controlling son of a bitch!” Evers hated the man, and recalls being satisfied at his funeral. Wheeler is either gay or bisexual; he is married with two children, but “Leonard Wheeler had a taste for the occasional young boy. Oh, not young young, not jailbait, but college age […] Wheeler was partial to the lifeguard type.” Leonard is arrogant and not at all likable, but he is strong in ways King’s other victimized gay men aren’t: “Wheeler, [Evers] sometimes thought, had been the steel in his spine.” When Wheeler refuses to let him out of their business partnership, Evers blackmails him by threatening to bring Wheeler’s boyfriend to a shareholders’ meeting.
King’s story “Obits,” collected in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015) gives brief mention of a celebrity who commits suicide after he is photographed being fellated by his wife’s brother.
King’s kittenish, helpless gay men have thankfully died out over the years. Even the fellow from “Obits” is described with a few lewd details that surely King wouldn’t have dreamed of including in the ‘90s, and while Leonard is a loathsome character, he has some dignity. Also, though his sexual orientation is used against him, it is not done out of homophobia per se—Evers was desperate and saw no other way out.
Four: The Predator
King’s second gay male character, the Predator, is not helpless and self-hating. Instead, he is calculating and loathsome.
In “The Library Policeman” from Four Past Midnight (1990), the main character Sam is haunted by a childhood memory of being raped by a man claiming to be collecting a fine for a late library book. The policeman is described as a pedophile and not gay, but he has a stereotypical lisp, calling himself a “poleethman.” In addition, Sam later thinks about his motives for dating his coworker without much conscious decision—because normal people date: “If you didn’t date, people…some people, might think you were (a poleethman) a little bit funny.”
In Needful Things (1991), there is one character who is a pedophile, the high school principal Frank Jewett, who does not claim to be gay. He is friends with shop teacher George T. Nelson, who does identify as gay but is also a pedophile. Nelson is characterized as putting on a hyper-masculine act that is a lie: “George T. Nelson, who under his bluff, macho exterior, was just as gay as old dad’s hatband. George T. Nelson, with whom Frank Jewett had once attended a sort of party in Boston, the sort of party where there were a great many middle-aged men and a small group of underdressed boys.” When Jewett and Nelson become enemies, Jewett moves his bowels on a picture of Nelson’s “sainted mother” and kills his parakeet, Tammy Faye. Nelson discovers the bird and becomes hysterical, crying and screaming “TAMMMYYYYY FAYYYYE!” When the two decide to settle their differences by having a duel, they shoot at the exact same time and both miss. Fortunately seconds later they are killed in an explosion.
Revisiting “Sneakers,” (1993), the protagonist John Tell is befriended by his boss Paul Jannings. John respects him and enjoys his company: “Paul Jannings was just one of those rare men to whom he found he could talk, and for John Tell, talking really was akin to magic.” However, while the two are out having a drink, Jannings is all of a sudden massaging Tell’s penis. “Tell moved away so violently that the candle in the center of the table fell over, and Jannings’s glass of wine spilled […] Tell stared at Jannings, his eyes wide and shocked. ‘I’m sorry,’ Jannings said, and he did look sorry…but he also looked unperturbed. ‘Jesus Christ, Paul!’ It was all he could think of to say, and it sounded hopelessly inadequate. ‘I thought you were ready, that’s all,’ Jannings said. ‘I suppose I should have been a little more subtle.’ ‘Ready?’ Tell repeated. ‘What do you mean? Ready for what?’ ‘To give yourself permission to come out.’ ‘I’m not that way,’ Tell said, but his heart was pounding very hard and fast. Part of it was outrage, part was fear of the implacable certainty he saw in Jannings’s eyes, most of it was dismay. What Jannings had done had shut him out.” Later, Tell has a nightmare about being groped again. Not surprisingly, he and Jannings part on unfriendly terms.
King’s predator characters are scheming and manipulative; they are sociopathic and don’t care who they hurt as long as they get sexual gratification. The fact that they are gratified by their own sex is used to make them more creepy and terrible. Thankfully, this character died out after the early ‘90s.
Five: The Well-Adjusted
Despite some negative depictions of gay people, King has shown more tolerance with many characters. They aren’t weak (all the time), they don’t grab crotches, and they aren’t traumatized. But as can be expected, the men are often small and gentle and cry more than heterosexual men, and the women are large and hearty.
Returning to Insomnia (1994), Ralph’s best friend is Bill, an elderly, overly dramatic gay man. He’s occasionally presented as a likable character (he even has King’s second-favorite profession—teacher) but more often depicted as a coward or even ugly; Ralph thinks of him as “scrawny” with oversized dentures, and at one point sees him as resembling a Gila monster. He has “oddly delicate” hands. Bill is weak and fearful while Ralph is strong, such as when Ralph confronts Helen’s husband and Bill cringes. However, he is accepting of his identity and even comes across as pompous, condescending, and with an “inflated ego.” He acknowledges the prejudice he faced as a young man: “‘In those days,’ McGovern said, ‘if you were from central Maine and not one hundred per cent heterosexual, you tried like hell to pass for it […] Back then, the idea of ‘coming out of the closet’ was ridiculous. For most of us the closet was all there was. Unless you wanted a pack of liquored-up frat boys sitting on you in an alley and trying to pull your face off, the world was your closet.’”
In Cell (2006), Tom is a brave guy. He fights an apocalypse of people turned to murderous zombies by their cell phones (phoners) along with his heterosexual buddies Clay and Alice. However, he’s very small, a fact King mentions repeatedly, especially before he tells Clay his name. Tom is a “short man,” a “little guy,” a “little fellow,” a “very short man.” He also starts crying after a phoner breaks his shoelaces. However, Tom is resourceful, easygoing, and kind. As many times as Tom is shown as smaller and weaker than Clay (“He had already realized that Tom didn’t have great reserves of stamina”), they are also shown as close friends and equals. In one scene Clay is overcome with worry about his son, whom he is separated from, and Tom comforts him: “Tom reached across the table to him and Clay took the other man’s delicate, long-fingered hand in both of his […] he could feel his mouth moving and the tears that had begun to fall from his eyes. ‘I’m so scared for him’ […] ‘It’ll be all right,’ Tom said.” Tom also mentions prejudice he faced: “‘I don’t have the world’s best relationship with Scottoni, the guy who lives on the other side. He has no use for ‘fellas like me,’ as he’s told me on several occasions.’” Tom is also shown to be sensitive but tough. After a friend dies, Alice tries to sew him a shroud and is failing. Tom “took over, pulling the tablecloth taut, doubling the seam, and sewing it closed in quick, almost professional overhand strokes. Clay thought it was like watching a boxer work an invisible light bag with his right hand. ‘Don’t make jokes,’ Tom said without looking up.’” As far as the reader knows, Tom actually lives to the end of the book.
The story “A Very Tight Place,” published in Just After Sunset (2008), features King’s first gay main character. Curtis’s orientation is revealed subtly and isn’t referred to repeatedly: his masseur tells him “You need to get laid,” but “he didn’t offer his own services.” Curtis is a stock market millionaire mourning the death of his dog Betsy. He is also embroiled in a land feud with his neighbor Grunwald, who secretly hates him and has been plotting against him. Grunwald tricks Curtis into meeting with him and then imprisons him in a tipped over Port-a-Potty. Grunwald accuses and taunts him repeatedly, calling him a “gay witch,” a “gayboy,” and a “faggot.” Curtis is no helpless victim; he loses control of his emotions a few times, but he gets himself out of his situation with strength and wits. Instead of being small, he is “athletic” and “slim.” He gets his revenge in a way that encourages the reader to root for him. In one amusing line, he mocks Grunwald for his uninformed opinions about gay people: “Us gay guys rarely bathe alone. Surely you came across that fact in your Internet researches. And gay witches? Never!”
11/22/63 (2011), is about a man named Jake who travels back in time to prevent the Kennedy assassination. While he’s in the past he falls in love but has to meet with his girlfriend carefully to avoid scandal. He takes her to Candlewood Bungalows, a bed and breakfast. As his friend Deke tells him, “It’s run by a couple of retired schoolteachers from Arkansas or Alabama […] Retired men schoolteachers. If you know what I mean.” One of the retired men schoolteachers shows up in person later to deliver a message: “He was a small man in a threadbare bathrobe.” Then the two characters disappear for the rest of the considerable length of the book.
Going back to Revival, (2014) Jamie’s brother Conrad, also known as Con (and of course Connie), is gay. He loses his voice in an accident and is helped by Jacobs. He is small as a child but gains more muscle when he abandons folk singing for football, which Jamie states he is much better at. As Jamie says, “Con didn’t care for girls then and never would.” Con’s orientation isn’t overtly discussed until much later in the book, and it doesn’t overshadow his character. At a family gathering, Con brings his boyfriend, a man Jamie describes as a “dark-haired hunk of handsome.” Con’s family is open and accepting. When their brother Terry scoffs at Con’s partner, Jamie thinks he’s being homophobic, but Terry explains, “Oh, I don’t mind that, who marries who ain’t none of mine, but partners ain’t what that guy is, no matter what Connie may think.” Con, influenced by Jacobs’s magic, tries to kill his boyfriend and then himself. He is committed to a mental hospital, but Jamie holds out hope for him, and visits him regularly.
In Finders Keepers (2015), the sequel to Mr. Mercedes, the villain is Morris, a felon who is looking for loot that he stashed before being imprisoned. His former friend Andrew is a pompous intellectual not unlike Bill in Insomnia. Andrew is prissy and condescending, and as Morris thinks, has an “I’m-so-smart-I-bore-myself smile.” However, unlike most of King’s gay men, he is large—obese, in fact. Andrew was Morris’s only friend, and the two often used to have long discussions about literature over coffee and lunch. Morris figures out that Andrew is gay when a waitress “smiled at Andy. He returned a pained grimace, at the same time drawing away from her […] He’s a homo, Morris thought wonderingly,” a sentiment he repeats frequently. In a first for King, he writes from a gay character’s point of view. Andrew eyes his favorite waiter; he has “Longish dark blond hair, clean and tied back at the nape so his elegant cheekbones show.” Andrew is in his early 60s, so he does not have an active love life, but he enjoys looking and flirting.
King’s story “Mile 81,” collected in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams (2015), concerns a malevolent creature posing as a car. One of its victims is Julie Ann. She is established as a respectable character, a Good Samaritan who believes that “Strangers were also neighbors.” She’s a big strapping woman, but she also wears a skirt. She has pro-gay and pro-feminist bumper stickers, but she’s not a rabid libber. She also “had no interest in making any man a good wife. She was as gay as old dad’s hatband and proud of it.” She has a partner whom she loves. She recalls an instance in her past as a mud wrestler when a heckler calls her a “dyke.” She and her sparring partner flip him off, to the applause of the audience. Julie is summarized thusly: “She had grown up knowing you cared for the one who had fallen and couldn’t get up. She had also grown up knowing that you ate no shit. Not about your hosses, your size, your line of work, or your sexual preferences.” Also, “She was brave, and she was kindhearted, but she was not stupid.”
In “Herman Wouk is Still Alive,” also collected in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, two poets are having lunch and encounter a terrible car accident. The woman, Pauline, is going to a convention with her former boyfriend Phil. Although she has had “lovers of both sexes in the dozens,” at this point in her life she is very interested in revisiting her past with Phil, a point which is mentioned more than once.
In the story “Mister Yummy,” also collected in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, two residents of a retirement home, Dave and Ollie, encounter death as a figure from their pasts. Dave knows that Ollie is gay before he mentions it out loud: “‘Was it the ascot?’ It’s the way you walk, Dave thought. Even with a cane. The way you run your fingers through what remains of your hair and then glance in the mirror. The way you roll your eyes at the women on that Real Housewives show.” Ollie feels comfortable telling Dave sexual details about his past, and Dave is comfortable hearing them. The two men are continuously equated with one another, as are all gay and heterosexual men. As Ollie says, “In that way [being young]—there are others, I’m sure, many others—gay men and straight men are the same.” In his notes about writing the story, King states, “What I wanted to write about was the brute power of the human sex drive. That power, it seems to me, holds sway over those of every orientation, especially when young. At some point, on the right or wrong night, in a good place or a bad one—desire rises up and will not be denied.” Ollie points out, “People are only beginning to grasp the magnitude of that tragedy [AIDS] now that most folks understand gays don’t choose their sexual orientation […] They died in gutters, in cold-water flats, in hospitals, and the indigent wards, all because they took a risk on a night when the music was loud, the wine was flowing, and the poppers were popping. By choice? There are still plenty who say so, but that’s nonsense. The drive is too strong. Too primal.”
In the poem “Tommy,” also collected in The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, King relates that Tommy is based on a person that he used to know in the ‘60s. Tommy wanted to be buried wearing his “I’M HERE AND I’M QUEER” button; his mother obliges him, but hides it under his vest. Tommy and other hippies are compared favorably to Indian, a mutual friend who sold out: “These are soldiers of love who never sold insurance […] Here’s to Tommy. Drink to the motherfucker.”
I’ve given old Steve what-for about his outdated notions of gayness, but he has made a lot of changes over the years. He went from insensitive, hateful depictions of gay characters to insightful and positive ones. King even manages to tell stories from their point of view, something he likely couldn’t have done at the beginning of his career. (He’s likely been helped along by his daughter Naomi being a proud gay woman [cough cough libber] who is married to another woman.) As King himself said about writing “Mister Yummy,” after a friend told him he couldn’t write about AIDS, “Especially as a straight man.”: “I hate the assumption that you can’t write about something because you haven’t experienced it […] It also suggests that some leaps of identification are impossible. I refuse to accept that, because it leads to the conclusion that real change is beyond us, and so is empathy.”