Friday 12 December 2014

Red wire / green wire - choose wisely

Because it bears repeating - every so often, the whole "women writing m/m" thing pops up - thankfully, the discussion now seems pretty much decided along the lines of "authors can write whatever the hell they want", so we're making progress on that front. 

However, I do want to submit the following on the topic. When people describe m/m as "gay romance written by straight women for straight women, with a few gay male authors in there", they might do that with the best of intentions, but I think it's over-simplified to the point of uselessness. This does not sum up our genre, nor does it reflect where it's going, and I hope that that cliche dies a fiery death as soon as possible.

Personally, I don't feel attacked when/if people mis-gender me - I'm pretty much at peace with my identity, and it takes more than (often well-meaning) ignorance to shake me up. I've been called "tranny" behind my back by some cis-male gay authors in the genre, but I'm OK with that. It's their ignorance/malice rather than my identity. 

What is so much more important is that we really don't know the gender identities/sexual orientations of people in this genre. To my knowledge, there is no hard data that's truly representative. Also, the genre is changing.

I'm basing my observation largely on anecdote, and I understand that the plural of anecdote isn't "data", but it's the best I have after 6 years inside the genre. 

For example, I personally know at least 3 trans*/genderqueer people who'd look "straight & female" on their profiles or outward presentation, and at least about as many as that who are fluid in one way or other. I also know a number of bisexuals who appear "straight", but have or have had same-sex relationships and who haven't come out. Some don't because their families don't know, or because they rightly fear repercussions at the work place. Sometimes, it's safer to be and stay in the closet or communicate only to the people who have an actual stake in their orientation/gender identity - namely the people they live/sleep with.

Some of us don't communicate non-cis, non-straight identities because it's simply extremely private and people prefer to keep their innermost identities protected - not all of us enjoy our orientation/identity to spark off discussion/controversy on the internet; we're writers, not celebrities. Our performance is (ideally) our work, not who we sleep with or where we fall on the male/female spectrum. Basically, we're not Kanye West. We also don't have his bodyguards or his PR strategist who carefully times every mini-scandal to maximise album/ticket sales.

Lastly, I've done a (very informal) poll of readers/writers inside the genre during my keynote speech in Bristol mid-2014, and asked an audience of about 150 people directly whether they identify somewhere on the queer spectrum. Out of 150 people, 60% raised their hands, so in my book, m/m/queer romance is a genuinely queer genre, written and read by predominantly queer people of one shape or other, while straights/cis people are welcome. (And hopefully feel welcome.)

I'd be about as careful when talking about "straight cis-women writing/reading m/m" as I'd choose the red over the green wire when dis-arming a bomb. Wrong choices get people hurt.


  1. Well said! Also? I'm SO done with hearing "straight woman" as a pejorative.

  2. There's a reason I read your books and follow your blogging Alex. Thank you

  3. Thank you, Aleksandr. Very well said.

  4. Spot on, strange what people assume sometimes. Myself included !

  5. (From Kate Pavelle) "We're writers, not celebrities." Consider rephrasing that: "We're writes and we want to become famous for our writing, not our gender orientation." Because that's what the whole push toward full-time writing is about. About the substance of your post, well said. No, you can't tell. No, it's not your business anyway.

  6. Very interesting and I totally agree with the good points you make. If I could add, perhaps the reason M/M fiction is read by mostly women is because women read lots more than men and they read more romance than men. Readers, like myself, are looking for good stories, good characters, well written, whatever the genre.
    For me, as a bi woman & feminist, although I like M/F sex/erotica, to read M/F romance mostly doesn't appeal to because of the inequal gender roles in our society that inevitably exist in the pages. For example, we couldn't simply re-write half your characters as female and have the same stories as M/F, the story wouldn't work. It's a reason why I like SciFi, we can reimagine gender roles and "normality". ....And now I'm thinking in your SciFi books the genders could be changed,.. mmm.
    Another point
    Of course, women (and men) of any sort should read M/M is thy want to. As a reader it is great to read outside of things we are familiar with, that is one of the pleasures of reading fiction.

  7. Im still very young and dont know where I should chategorize myself ,and somehow I never felt I should.
    Bi or gay or transgender and all. What I want to say is,that when I read a good romance book I prefer the well written ones.No matter if the main character is straight or bi or gay or transgender.I want to see /feel their sufferings,the fights they are having,the insanity of the human mind and heart ,I like it when its deep and dark but I also like to read funny and light stories. I dont think I should care about who the author prefers in their bed and I dont think if I want to sleep with women as a woman I shouldn't read straight stories ,a good book is a good book no matter what gender it is chategorized. I think it would be too simple to say that straight woman reads only straight novels/books,and gay ones read only LGBT themed ones, too simple and not true at all.
    Well,after reading your this post of yours and your wise words I thought I will share my opinion.Maybe some people wont agree with me but thats life ,everybody has a nose two eyes and ears but still we are all different ,and thats what makes life interesting and beautiful. We would be sooo very bored if everybody were to like the same books/movies/music.Or gender .LOL
    Im not saying liking a gender is like liking a book,but when somebody says Im supposed to read only straight books because I have boyfriend ,it translates roughly to that. And I cant agree with it.
    Kisses and hugs for you(sorry for the mistakes) ,I hope nobody feels offended!

  8. Wonderful blog ... when will labels be dropped from stories ... readers ... authors? Just label it a well written book!

  9. They mis gender you. HAHAHAHA. Honey you must have certain male anatomy parts to write Special Forces. I'm a woman and let me tell you if Ai no Kusabi is the gem of Japanese based BL romance and yaoi, Special Forces is the gem of Western based m/m romance. I haven't read anything similar to it. Here I'm referring to the angst, enemy in love and the honesty of every situation. Man do what man do, even if that is attending peace conference for providing useful information to warlords or abandoning his family for greater cause. Not even Fireheart by Gloria Giroux - my second favorite in the enemy-in-love bookshelf is enough deep and epic.
    My only wish is to see more books like them and filming them in tv-series.

    1. I agree with you!Special Forces should be made into movie series!!!! Its so epic!My forever favorite book!

  10. FWIW, before discovering m/m i had long disbelieved the hoary old notion that BL/yaoi is written by straight women for other straight women, but not knowing a lot of japanese authors/readers (and the subject being rather more taboo than here) has left me unable to test my hypothesis beyond western readers. that supposition actually has a bit more traction than the same statement made about western slash and m/m (it's still transgressive, but somewhat differently so because of japanese cultural constraints).

    my own anecdotal evidence from getting to know the denizens of various fora comes down just about 50/50 straight/queer for slash and m/m (and things still being what they are, that means queers will be underrepresented in my assessment). the number of trans authors who have come out, or have at least been less carefully hidden over the last few years has been mindboggling. that's quite buoyed me up, despite the ever-present underwear police. it is becoming safer to come out, and we are becoming less invisible.

    thank you much for your contribution to that growing feeling of more safety.