three pairs of lovers with space

A review of All Boys Together edited by Robin Yeo, GMP Publishers, Swaffham, 2000.

 

Sadly already historical  ****

As Yeo says in his interesting preface to this anthology of eighteen stories about the sexual adventures of boys together, there is probably little difference in terms of authenticity between the half of them that are memoirs (but unverifiable) and those that are fictional (but probably draw heavily on personal experience).

One might expect the fiction to be more dramatic and compelling, but if anything I found the reverse. The three best are "The Egg and I" drawn from Jack Robinson's Teardrops on My Drum about two twelve-year-old Liverpudlian lovers in 1933, "Joker's Wild" from Richie McMullen's Enchanted Youth about fifteen-year-old London rent boys in 1958, and "Peter" from James Beresford's unpublished memoir about the escalating antics of a boy aged only six when his playing doctors and nurses first extends to naughtier games.  Perhaps this is an illustration of the saying that truth is stranger than fiction, for while the fictional stories tend to feel familiar, the memoirs depict rarer varieties of experience.

The main flaw with these short stories is that none of them are designed as such, and it shows.  Despite Yeo's claim that they are not what is now understood as erotica because the reader is taken inside the minds of the characters, I found the shredding of context meant this was done inadequately.  The least interesting fell flat, while the best left me unsatisfied and thirsting for more.  Having read Teardrops, I can confirm that it at least is far more satisfying than its excerpt. The stories are fairly graphic sexually, but would have been more erotic as well as moving if one's understanding of the emotions involved had not been so truncated.  A notable exception is the Indian story "Visit to Aunty's" from P. Parivaraj's Shiva and Arun, which does stand well on its own.

Looking at the stories chronologically from the third to last decades of the twentieth century, Yeo observed that before the 2nd World War boys inclined to have sex together got down to it without angst and "until the 1960s, ... it was tacitly accepted that if boys had sex in their early teens (never mind earlier), it was going to be homosex," whereas "today, children are pressed into charades of boyfriend and girlfriend even before they reach puberty, and the sex play among boys that was once innocent and normal now acquires a dangerous 'gay' connotation" and has become taboo.  His devastating conclusion that the place won by gay adults has been "at the expense of the sexual freedom of boys" not only gets far too little attention, but is poorly understood now that self-fulfilling belief in the dogma of early-fixed sexual orientation is so strong.

Even this is not as depressing as the further deterioration since All Boys Together was published by which the sort of harmless and exhilarating boyish fun it depicts has also become criminalised, ruining the lives of ever more thousands of boys who unwittingly or not fall foul of the new puritan regime. Several of the memoirs in this book, most especially "Peter", with its shocking, positive depiction of pre-pubescent incest, would take considerable courage to write and publish today, and it is perhaps as a social history of barely now imaginable boyhood that it is most valuable.

 

Reviewed by Edmund Marlowe on Goodreads.com, 16 July 2016.