1997 James James steadied the table as Augie reached into the hazy air to disarm the smoke detector. The hem of Augie’s new sweatshirt lifted away from his stomach, and James glimpsed his hip bones, the bumps…
Many, if not most, of the stories I’ve read that attend to same-sex desire frustrate me with their detailed rebellions against shame. Protagonists break free of, triumph over, and sometimes succumb to worlds and people hostile to their desires, feelings, and identities. Narratives in which queer protagonists succeed at establishing equilibrium (I hesitate to write ‘happiness’) always seem to do so despite the conflict between their sexual orientation, their gender expression, and their culture. But what if shame never entered the equation? In We the Liars, I hope to demonstrate that non-heteronormative intimacies open avenues for radical self-exploration, discovery, and love because of, not despite, their conflict with traditional relationship models and expectations.
I’m also interested in ending the reinforcing cycle of traumatic conflict between sexual orientation and shame. To tell and retell queer stories in which secrecy, fear, and shame serve as the predominate tension, leads us to believe that queer intimacies should deal with shame as an essential narrative component when, simply put, it is unnecessary for an engaging story. Otherwise written, “shame,” is a lens through which queer literature is evaluated to perform the requisite apology to heteronormative readership.
In We the Liars, I attempt to write us out of this trap and to reconsider shame as a necessary expectation of LGBTQ+ fiction. I am not trying to avoid or banish the exigencies of this emotion, which is important, valid, and deeply rooted in religious dogma as much as it is in the mystique of American machismo (think Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner). By situating the narrative in a lower-middle class arena, I shift its inflection points from issues caused by sexuality, though they are still present, toward those of class. By writing against sexuality, I hope to encourage readers to consider how a person’s socioeconomic status facilitates access to relationships and intimacy.
This novel is a selfish thing. Maybe it is true of all novels—that we write them to soothe ourselves and then justify the act by hoping others will see themselves within our stories. To that end, We the Liars is an attempt to heal my regret that, until my father died, my lower-middle-class Portuguese-American upbringing embarrassed me. It is also a message to my past self, who cannot receive its grace or guidance. Shame is a byproduct of accepting the expectations and limitations others thrust upon one another. The feeling is only as real as love or hope or God—more real for some than for others—only as much as we allow.
SAM SIMAS (he/him/his) lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island. His writing has appeared, or is forthcoming, in Copper Nickel, Carve, Foglifter, F(r)iction, Sycamore Review, and other literary magazines. Visit www.samsimas.ink or @simas_sam to find more of his work.