Date of Award

Spring 5-2024

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Joanna Levin

Second Advisor

Ian Barnard

Third Advisor

Justine Van Meter


The gay male bildungsroman can trace its origins to E.M. Forster’s posthumously published Maurice (1971) and Edmund White’s A Boy’s Own Story (1982), among other examples. While nested under the umbrella category of the queer bildungsroman (and, more broadly, the bildungsroman), the gay male iteration particularly explores integrational challenges related to the extant tensions between hegemonic masculinity and the male protagonist’s sexuality and gender identity. The subgenre—often conflated with the “coming out novel”—has faced a range of criticism in its roughly half-century existence. Scholars have accused it of banality, often relying on a limited range of well-trodden tropes; lacking diversity, centering characters who are white and/or monied in a manner similar to the historical bildungsroman; or politically regressive, shifting the point of conflict from the political forces that construct the “closet” to the queer individual. In analyzing four contemporary examples of the genre—On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (2019), Swimming in the Dark (2020), Rainbow Milk (2020), and Young Mungo (2022) —I argue the gay male bildungsroman to be far from a mere banality, or agent of complicity. Rather, as supported by the subgenre’s modern intersectionality of race, gender, sexuality, and class, the gay male bildungsroman genre retains a critical role in subverting heteronormativity, mirroring in its execution the historical elasticity of the primary genre.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Available for download on Wednesday, December 31, 2025