Brandon Taylor’s Real Life tells the story of Wallace, a young, gay, black student studying in the rural Midwest. Despite his best efforts to distance himself and keep his personal life hidden, Wallace faces racism, drama and toxicity in the workspace. This coming-of-age novel illustrates Wallace’s fight with society’s standards, along with his internal fight as a young man who has not yet fully accepted himself. While Wallace’s friend group is primarily queer, the conversations involving their sexualities are often avoided and viewed as taboo. As Brandon Taylor’s novel Real Life progresses it becomes increasingly obvious of the overall tension and taboo around homophobia that Wallace particularly feels.
Wallace, Cole and Vincent are openly gay; however, Wallace is confused with his friends’ levels of comfort displaying their intimacy in public. Wallace is confident in his sexuality, but he prefers private relationships and the intimacy that stems from them. Although Cole and Vincent have been together for seven years, when they kiss at the picnic table, “Wallace looked away because it felt too private to watch them” (19). The publicity of Cole and Vincent’s relationship sharply contrasts Wallace’s expectations for one. To him, the relationship should be between two people. Similarly, Miller values privacy and separates his connection with Wallace as a romantic interest and as a friend. Though he is developing real feelings for Wallace, he is still unsure about his sexuality and his involvement with another man. When the two are alone, Miller is affectionate towards Wallace, however as soon as they go into the public, “tentatively, reluctantly, they became separate people again” (42-43). Miller is ashamed of his emotions and afraid to show his friends how he feels about Wallace. The friend group’s complex dynamic illustrates the Bildungsroman literary genre. Wallace and the people around him are continuing to grow into themselves, and this is only possible due to their struggles with sexuality.
As Brandon Taylor’s novel Real Life progresses it becomes increasingly obvious of the overall tension and taboo around homosexuality that Wallace particularly feels. Wallace’s noted examples of alienation and loneliness in the book can be related to the continued physical and sexual abuse he endured as a child, but also to his family’s status on homosexuality and its connection to their Christian faith. In the fifth chapter where Wallace discusses his past trauma with Miller, he shares that his family- specifically his grandfather- was not fond of homosexuals, stating that if “you go out there and you get AIDS… then it’s over, you die”. Miller “didn’t need the lights on to know he was talking about” him. In the eyes of God, many Christians like his family feel being gay is a sin so “unholy” that you forfeit your right to live amongst others in life. You are sent to hell for your sexual attractions towards the same sex. This is easily the most negatively impactful part of Wallace’s past, in that no matter what he does in life he knows his family will not support him in his decision of a life partner, and that no religion or faith could save or protect him, for his family taught him that God would be disgusted at his actions just like them. Wallace was set up for failure by his parents due to their unacceptance of his sexuality, which not only affects Wallace’s social and emotional development in this Midwestern environment, but unfortunately is an all-too relatable situation for many people that deal with issues of sexuality and homophobia.