If you’re a straight cisgender woman writing m/m romance, sorry, you are not striking a blow for equality

Stahp

[Dear people reading this in the Year of Our Lord 2017: I don’t know where you’re all coming from, or why you’re coming here now, but I wrote this literally years ago and don’t give a shit anymore, so please be aware that when you feel the need to register your disagreement with me, all you’re doing is clogging up my inbox with opinions I don’t care about regarding a thing I don’t care about. Which annoys me. Given that, I’m locking the comments. Thanks and enjoy your stay.]

Just to get my argument clear in the headline.

A lot of things have prompted this, and nothing in particular has. The truth is that this is something I’ve been feeling for a while. It’s something I’ve wrestled with a bit, given that two of the novels and two of the novellas I’ve sold have been marketed as m/m romance, though I’m not cisgender, nor am I straight. It’s something I’ve gotten shades of since I started really being aware of m/m romance as a genre, and since I started understanding the uglier side of it, it’s something I’ve come to understand features heavily in a lot of parts of the slashy areas of fandom. In fact, if something in particular prompted this little tantrum – aside from some very self-congratulatory stuff I’ve seen recently about standard m/m romance doing exactly what I said it isn’t doing up there in the headline –  it’s a good recent piece by Jim Hines about the times when something just isn’t your thing to make a story out of.

So when a reader says they don’t want white people writing about their culture, and that they don’t want me specifically to do so, I find myself struggling. And I think it’s good for me to struggle with it. I refuse to write books where I pretend other cultures don’t exist. But I also recognize that there are stories I’m simply not qualified to write well, that no matter how respectful I might try to be, my story wouldn’t be true. (An odd thing to say about fiction, but I hope you understand what I mean.) And I know that sometimes I’m going to screw up.

Here’s something you have to do if you’re in a position of privilege and you’re writing about people who aren’t: ask yourself if it’s your story to tell. Ask yourself every single time. You may not arrive at an easy answer. You may not arrive at an answer at all. But storytelling is very fucking political, and you owe it to you, your story, your characters, and everyone who might ever read it to ask the question.

You may want to tell the story. No one can stop you from telling the story. But at least be honest with yourself about what you’re doing and why. And I cannot escape the feeling – not least while so many publishers of “LGBT” romance almost entirely ignore the L, the T, and frequently shove the B into the whole “menage” category – that the reasons why a lot of m/m romance exists are not tasteful.  To borrow from Hannibal/Thomas Harris, they are not tasty.

Then I found this.

Amy began by saying that “love is redemptive” and if any group needs the redemptive qualities of love, it’s gay men.

are you seriously

Writing about two men falling in love is completely different than the traditional romance. For one thing, both characters are equals, each with his own power.

are you seriously

“In fact, in many ways, I feel like a man,” Josephine stated in her British accent. This realization makes it easier for her to bypass all the traditional tropes found in mainstream romances.

“I’m tired of women’s nasty, mean games, and don’t want to write about them,” Amy added. Backbiting and undermining of friends’ goals and aspirations aren’t often found in gay romance since men are more direct in their interactions.

oh my god

Mary echoed this thought by saying, “I don’t want to write about bitchy women.”

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I should be clear that I don’t know what the sexual orientations or gender identities of these people are. But just. Meoskop at Love in the Margins has a way more coherent takedown of this abomination and I recommend you read it. Regardless, I’ve seen this before, I see it a lot, and it’s this attitude that actually keeps me away from most m/m romance. I write it sometimes, sure. But for the most part I don’t wanna read it.

Look, I know about all the arguments that transformative works – out of which a lot of this springs – allow for queer readings/reimaginings of existing canon and that’s great. I buy that argument, because what I’m buying into is the possibility of it. But in practice, no, and that extends to m/m romance in general. In practice what we have is a tremendous amount of stroke material featuring white cisgender traditionally attractive mostly able-bodied gay men, written by and for the consumption of straight cisgender women. And you can’t claim to me that this is all striking a blow for queer equality and have me take you seriously.

“Redeeming” gay romantic relationships is patronizing. Focusing on cisgender male erotic relationships to the exclusion of other queer identities because you find that stuff hot is erasure. Reducing the significance of characters to gender and sexuality – especially in the interest of depicting erotic sexual activity – is fetishizing. I’m not the first person to say this, but now I’m gonna be another one. And sure, you can do the whole #NOTALLGAYROMANCE thing and you’d be technically correct, but when one of the largest m/m romance review sites clutches their collective pearls over any depiction of sexual activity that isn’t entirely cisgender male dudes with other cisgender male dudes, that’s at once gross and majorly indicative of some deep problems that have direct connections to not only ugly misogyny but to some very toxic homophobia:

The reduction of complex human identities to sex acts is essentializing. It’s dehumanizing. I’m guessing that most of us have heard someone at some point say something like “I have nothing against those gays. I just don’t want them flaunting it or anything.” Which really means I want them invisible. I don’t want to have to confront the fact that they exist because they threaten me.

I get that a lot of us like some porn, and I get that sometimes we just want our porn and we want to not have to perform sociocultural analysis of it before we make use of it. But that’s why I said what I said above. Write what you want. Read what you want. Just please, please be honest with yourself about what you’re doing.

And don’t you dare claim that you’re doing something progressive on behalf of populations to which you don’t belong. Because you aren’t. It’s not your progress to make. And I’m getting really tired of seeing straight cisgender women congratulate themselves for it.

[ETA] Read Writing the Other by Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward. I mean, pretty much every writer should.

10 responses to “If you’re a straight cisgender woman writing m/m romance, sorry, you are not striking a blow for equality

  1. As a cisgender straight male I have to agree in that the fetishistic portrayal of m/m romance doesn’t appear to advance equality in anyway. Instead it merely shifts the discussion from one box to the next just like f/f porn simply shifted the role of lesbians as either wayward women or evil betrayers to the box of fetish/sexual cannon fodder for straight males.

    And don’t get me started on the presumptive violence in some m/m titles. We need to destroy the idea of Men as Predator, ASAP.

  2. Reblogged this on 'Nathan Burgoine and commented:
    Bumped into this today, and it’s well-written and speaks more to that Identity -vs- Pseudonyms thing I was talking about a few weeks go, and says some of it much better than I did.

  3. Storytelling maybe very ‘political’ but no one gets to decide what a person should and should not write about. That’s completely unfair and oppressive. -_-

  4. I’m a gay man. I say let anyone write whatever they want to write without policing them or criticising them for not falling into an ideological agenda.

  5. I really wish you could have stuck to your valid criticism of the sexist attitudes underlying many female m/m romance writers’ stories, without turning it into yet another “don’t write it if you’re not part of that group” argument. The fact that these authors are cisgender straight women doesn’t figure into their ability to write m/m romance well. The fact that they’re sexist does.

  6. I guarantee you that a whole lot of women got sarcastic Wilder face when they read this article. “Oh, hello, Mr. Man. Tell me more about how much it sucks to have other groups fetishize you against your will…”

    Seriously though, it’s not cool for people to act like they’re changing the world with their pornography. But if it makes you feel any better, no thinking person is taking those people seriously. 😛

  7. I think it would help if there were clearer lables, on the content and rating of the books. They did the same thing a few years back with urban fantasy and paranormal romance, you never knew if you were going to get a kissing book, or something you actually want to read. Take for instance a few days ago, I bought a mystery thinking I would get to solve a puzzle and crime alongside the detectives, and enjoy the story with maybe a little romance in the background, what I got was an 80’s bodice ripper staring an all male cast which upset me because there wasn’t any plot to the book.. it was all them thinking about getting in eachothers pants, but my biggest issue was that this book had been labeled mystery, not erotica. I like reading m/m books, because of the different ways they work through the social issues we have to deal with, and it’s interesting to see how each author handles that. I also like how the men seem to genuinely care for eachother, and I can pretend that real love might exist out there some where. Which is one reason I used to read romance, before I got to jaded with the reality of life, anyway off topic. I actually wish there was a bigger ya market, because theres no sex, in most of the books, and the issues are more real. I don’t remember what my point was aside from the fact that things need to be labeled better. I wish I knew of m/m authors that didn’t write kissing books, in the mystery, detective genre, it’s so hard to find anything that doesn’t have sex in it. (To be fair, I don’t like sex in any of my fiction, in case I’m ruffling feathers. And i heckle my t.v. whenever there’s a guy and a girl making out. Just don’t care for it.)

  8. I really appreciate this post, because it is true and addresses some very important topics. In regards to this, I have a question. I am a growing writer, as well as a cisgender, straight girl. However, I found myself writing three m/m stories, none fanfictions, so having nothing to do with canon material. I have been fortunate enough not to deal with LGBTQ+ drama, though I have many lesbian, gay, and bi friends. After reading this, I wonder if I have unconsciously fallen into the trap that is “redeeming” what should not be redeemed. In my stories, I just felt that these two characters were kind of meant to be, from their chemistry. I’m wondering if despite all this, I’ve fallen into the trap?

    If anyone can help me understand, I would greatly appreciate it.

  9. Dear publishers/ writer,
    I’m am an aspiring writer and I have a slight fascination with gay people. It’s not that I think “OMG there’s something wrong with them.” The truth is that I feel gay men or boys are more in touch with there feelings and I respect them. I do not wish to upset you or anyone that believes in that thinks that strate woman can’t write a m/m book. I’m not a homophobic I can understand the feeling of being rejected and I promise to not be a usual female writer trying to perswade the population or anything I’m just want to write about something that interests me. But if you say that I’m in the wrong then I will not write about it.
    If anyone wants to comment on this or get in touch with me saying that I’m an idiot or just creepy, or anything things else don’t. If you have helpful information or helpful suggestions then please contact me at megs.v.tierney@gmail.com

  10. I am a fantasy writer and my main characters are gay. There will be no sex in my books. As to why I write despite me not being a gay person is because I want to write a fantasy book with gay main character. Is that wrong? No, I don’t think so.