Novel about queer people in tv series: heaven is for traitors

The main character in Stephan Phin Spielhoff’s debut novel is writing a series with queer protagonists. And fails to sell it.

The LGBTQ scene is still fighting for its rights. Here on the streets of New York Photo: ap

One would have to change there only a few "small things" in the script of Fitz, then everything is in the box, think Thorsten and Yvonne of the TV station. "A gay main character is quite simply not feasible on the German market." It could be a headache for the management that … what? Fitz cuts them off: "… you want to produce a series with a gay sow in one of the three main roles." Fitz fights back tears. "He wonders about the pain. He’s not used to that kind of shit anymore." The series Fitz wrote is based on his life. His rural life as a teenager. Above all, it revolves around a traumatic breakup: Theo, his school friend and lover, once disappeared overnight.

Now Fitz is in his early 30s, living in Berlin with his friend Marek. He quit his job to write the series. A fantasy series, by the way, that you can think of as a slightly grotty German version of the demon series "Buffy," but set on Kotti in Kreuzberg, Berlin.

Finally, in Stephan Phin Spielhoff’s novel "Der Himmel ist fur Verrater" (Heaven is for Traitors), this Fitz lets himself be pulled over. The gay Daniel in the script becomes a straight Lara. The series becomes a hit – and Fitz a B-list celebrity, overwhelmed by the press, social media and his betrayal of his own story. Of course, he realizes how important it would be for young queers to see their own emotional world on the screen from time to time, alongside all the heteronormative stuff. Love is love? Yes, but then why do straight people have such a hard time identifying with queer love? In the novel, Fitz’s control of his self-definition slips away, and others are now writing about it, even in the present.

Stephan Phin Spielhoff, born in 1983, studied philosophy and worked in a porn store, according to his publisher’s vita. Spielhoff’s language is unpretentiously simple, with perhaps a few too many Anglicisms; now and then (for a drug trip, for instance) he playfully sabotages the boundaries of grammar with streams of thought. Particularly exciting is the construction of how the novel itself makes the invisible and the invisible very visible, but without idealizing: For unlike the viewers* of his series, we as readers are given the gay episodes of his past and present.

Stephan Phin Spielhoff: "Heaven is for traitors", Albino Verlag, Berlin 2019, 232 pages, 18 euros.

Yet Fitz is a guy you don’t have to like very much: He can be narcissistic, self-centered, egotistical. He is not a charming, smooth poster prince, but a real-life human being.

Spielhoff’s novel comes at a time when one must indeed finally ask oneself: Where are they, the young queer characters in German series? In England, they exist in "Sex Education," in Spain in "elite," in the U.S. in "Stranger Things" (albeit not until Season 3). It must really be the gatekeepers, the culturally conservative TV editors, who prefer to turn gay Daniels into straight Laras, as if on an assembly line.

The novel scenes, in which Spielhoff teasingly describes how much German TV editors play it super-safe, are so good precisely because they take a lot of things to the extreme in a revealing way without clumsily caricaturing: A sincere close friendship develops with Sandra, the showrunner who transforms Fitz’s scripts to make them suitable for the mainstream. All in all, this debut is a refreshing page-turner, which amuses, touches, and also entices overdue debate with its 232 pages, on which tears and bottles of wine flow.