Tuesday 20 November 2012

Same old argument

Seems the old discussion about "women exploiting gay men and making a buck" is going as strong as ever.

Megan Derr delivers a most excellent slapdown of that nonsense here.

To which I add: describing the genre as "straight women writing about gay men for straight women readers" is wrong and ignores the variation and richness of our genre.

We, the writers, are straight, bisexual, asexual, lesbian, gay, queer, omnisexual/pansexual. We are women, men, transmen and transwomen (same thing to men and women, really, just adding us as "trans" to be absolutely clear). Of the trans people, some choose to adjust their primary sexual organs, and some don't. Others might do so later. We're genderqueer, just plain queer, defy description, resent being put in a box. Some of us are intersex. Some are intersex who transition. Others are bigendered/two-spirited.

The people we write about are straight (granted, very often not the Main Characters), bisexual, asexual, lesbian, gay, queer, omnisexual/pansexual. They are women, men, transmen and transwomen. Of the trans people, some choose to adjust their primary sexual organs, and some don't. Others might do so later. Our characters are genderqueer, just plain queer, defy description, resent being put in a box and fight us, theircreators, when we try to put them there. Our characters may be intersex. Some might be intersex who transition. Others are bigendered/two-spirited.

Our readers - oh, the lifeblood of the genre, our patrons, our critics, our customers, our friends. They are  straight, bisexual, asexual, lesbian, gay, queer, omnisexual/pansexual. They are women, men, transmen and transwomen. Of the trans people, some choose to adjust their primary sexual organs, and some don't. Others might do so later. Our characters are genderqueer, just plain queer, defy description, resent being put in a box and ask us, their authors, to not try put them into a box. Our readers may be intersex. Some might be intersex who transition. Others are bigendered/two-spirited.

Ignoring any of these, and creating an artificial - dare I say "elitist"? - "community" of "pure gay men, born with a penis, engaging in TEH REELZ GAYZ SEXX0RS" (implying there's a "real experience" that is universal), while kicking out everybody who doesn't get a membership pass based on their birth/genetic biological sex and their AUTHENTIX TRUE REELZ GAYZ EXPERIENCE and calling them exploiters or fakes or implying they aren't part of the community or have no "right" to write about "gay men" or may only do so in a certain way - approved by the REELZ GAYZ MENS CLUB - is, frankly, counter-productive.

It ignores that the genre isn't that simple. It tries to marginalise women in a genre that THEY are driving. It tries to limit the strong, gushing river to a stagnant pool - purely on the virtue of what the writer has in their underwear.

Similarly, gay rights were won by gays. Yes. They were also won by their brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers and children, their colleagues, their friends, their allies. Telling them they don't "belong" ignores the varied and diverse community that real-life rainbow people interact in. My trans* status has made everybody around me more aware of gender and trans issues. Surely that's a good thing. If somebody chooses to write a story with a trans character, surely that's a good thing, if its done respectfully. And even better if the trans character has a happy ending.

But not only does that thinking slap everybody in the face who doesn't fit into an unworkable definition (as it has been reduced to a level where it's patently absurd), ignoring real life for the sexist preconceptions that seem to be pervasive. For example, I'd comment on that post with "you're not speaking for me". And "by your definition, are we trans* writers males or females? Are we allowed to write m/m? CAN WE PLEASE BE ALLOWED TO WRITE M/M? PLEASE? Can I have the license from the TRUE REEELZ GAY MEN to follow my muse and tell stories my readers want to read? Where do I apply? Where's the Reichsschriftkammer where I get my m/m licensed?" Will non-conforming text be burned?

But not only does this not reflect, by any stretch, the diversity of the authors, but it also doesn't reflect (or honour) the diversity of our characters OR our readers. It tries to draw a line in quicksand. These categories do not exist. Where they are artificially constructed, they aren't helpful. I know, it may comes as news, but even a gay man does not live on Planet Gay. We aren't islands. (Though some people desperately try to be Moruroa).

This is that ugly "purity" argument raising its head again - now just regarding authors or how authors may engage with their material. More importantly, it also does not reflect all gay men. I have plenty of gay male-born readers who enjoy what I do and how I do it. And they are open-minded and educated and have a diversified range of friends and family. In short, they are usually mature, understanding individuals who will not drive a perceived "gay agenda" by being hostile to other colours of the rainbow or trying to exclude straight people. Also, they tend to know what a good book is and what a bad book is, which, you know, is still the most important thing.

Well, in short, Megan Derr covered it. Also check out the comments, especially by Alex Beecroft. 


  1. Because no one ever stops to ask me how I identify - just assuming from my photo I must be a cis-gender straight woman. Not to mention that I have lived a public life passing as a cis-gender straight woman - I often end up arguing from that perspective. I wonder if it might be more useful to stop doing that and start asking "and what about us gender-queer asexuals? Where do we fit in? And my bisexual and lesbian and trans* author friends, and family, how about them?"

    This is a diverse community. I always used to be aware of that. But somehow all these posts turning it into a battleground between gay men and straight women seems to have disappeared everyone else. And I don't want to do that, so thank you for this post, which has reminded me not to do it. I shall have to change my tactics in future.

    I actually agree with him about many of the things he doesn't like. I don't like them either. I just wish we could argue on a level of 'this is bad writing because [writing relevant reason]' and not 'this writing is bad because it was written by a girl.'

  2. Alex -whatever feels true for you. I wish I didn't have to use the "but as a trans* writer..." argument, because I see myself as a writer first and while the other aspects of my identity inform this, they don't shape or subsume it. Personally, I don't believe you have to define yourself - just making the assumption that you're female, straight and cis based on a photo is short-sighted. If we treated each other with more respect and kept an open mind that our simple boxes are too small even for a moderately complex human being, we'd look pretty good overall as a species. :)

    I do agree about stuff, too (I haven't read the original article because I refuse to direct traffic to a website that excludes trans people) - but from what I understand it's an ill-informed, short-sighted rant that throws one reader's pet peeves into a box and then blames it all on the evil vaginas making a quick buck out of a poor suppressed minority. And THAT is pretty gross oversimplification and does more harm than good. But I guess there are things some people do just for traffic.

    1. our simple boxes are too small even for a moderately complex human being

      That's pretty much it. I've almost-but-not-quite fitted into many boxes in my life. As a result, I'm well aware that people are complicated. And yes, the OP is right to dislike feeling as if writers are representing his real life with stereotypes in which he can't recognise himself at all. I just wish he wouldn't react by stereotyping me in return.

  3. Thank you so much for this. I am so tired of seeing this argument keep coming back, and especially tired of seeing myself not even *exist* by its terms (well, I suppose by its terms I've been defined adequately by my XX chromosomes. ugh). This community is so much more complex and varied than any crappy binary opposition acknowledges, and I'm so grateful for your willingness to speak out -- as a high-profile writer -- on behalf of the entire rainbow.

  4. Oh, is it time for this old argument to rear its ugly head again? It's so frustrating. I'd like to think that someday, we'll be judged on the quality of our writing rather than on what's in our pants or who's in our bed. (But I won't hold my breath.)

    Great post. You and Megan rocked it. :-)

  5. Such a great post...honestly, from a reader's perspective I just don't get why this is such an issue. I mean, I get the underlying, big picture "why" but as a READER it all comes down to IF YOU LIKE IT THEN READ IT. If you don't then just put it in the DNF pile and move on. Not every book/author/story is going to appeal to every reader every time. Not every book/author/story has to drive the bigger political conversation all the time (that's a very heavy burden to place on anyone.)

    I'm a middle-aged, straight woman in a long term marriage so does that mean I have to feel guilty if I read M/M written by the "wrong" author? Since I won't be reading about the "authentic experience"? Uh, NO - hello, it's fiction people!(based in reality, most of the time, but still!)Gah! This drives me crazy.

  6. I'm curently editing my first (historical) M/M novel and have to admit that I have been affected by reading this argument on and off since I started writing it. I have felt what I am doing isn't valid at times because listening to this undermining stuff can be so easy. Thank you for writing this it helps!

  7. Thanks for this thoughtful and personal response to the issues the original post on Jessewave raises. I read Megan Derr's blog and the comments but also Thorny Stirling's response on Chicks&Dicks http://www.chicksanddicksrainbow.com/ His final statement sums it all up "...You want to support gay men? Acknowledge the fact there's such a rainbow of characters out there that everyone gets a story, even if it's not the story you want to read..."

  8. I just found his blog and found its subject matter interesting.

    My only question would be; why is it that so, so often TWO MEN (or more, but still men) are the ones written about and lusted after if this is truly such a diverse genre of all sexes?

    Half or more of the time you see these macho men written about who have no actual GAY friends or connections (trying to make them appear as straight men...who just so happen to love sucking cock) -- and if an effeminate male character is used by a male or female author, many of the female readers will comment and say he's a GIRL WITH A DICK. Yeah, that's extremely progressive, isn't it? HELL NO!

    Not all women writers and readers are like this, but too many are and you know what, I reserve my personal right (considering I'm an actual gay man) not to freaking like it.

    Doesn't mean they can't write their stories, but I'm very cautious with all gay genre authors (male or female) because they often have the tendency to try to make all GLBT people alter their personalities so they can neatly fold into what is perceived as NORMAL by the hetero-majority. I'm not into it as a reader or an individual human being just trying to get through life with a finely creased smile on his face from day to day.

    1. Hi Kyle - I agree that there are authors who could do a better job of reflecting actual GLBTQ experiences.

      I think the trick is to find the ones who work for you and ignore the ones who don't. Like in any genre, there are good writers and bad ones and those who do their research and those who don't. In many ways, it's a self-education process, too, and I feel the genre has made strides in the right direction overall. I see a lot more interest in various gender expressions, for example.

      That said, there are still transphobic/misogynistic/bi-phobic groups and sites around, and certain expectations (alpha males, no cheating) that will still take quite a bit of work.