Thursday, 21 January 2010

And in the “Oh you did not?!” files

Both [personal profile] mjules and [personal profile] dharma_slut pointed out this particular fail of epic proportions and I’ve also seen it floating around. At the time I put it on the back burner because of the random stuff of stuffness to deal with that would have been better handled without seething anger. And, really, after Lambda (with cries of segregation, pink triangles, and closeted straight people) I thought I had seen privilege at record breaking ickiness.

But, having some mental space, and needing some righteous anger to clear away some vague depression I opened the link and read in detail. No, the people who sent me the link were not mistaken. It really is as bad as they said.

It seems that author, S. J. Pennington (ohhh, lookie there, an initialled name to hide gender. And they have scrupulously avoided any use of any kind of gendered pronoun. I dearly dearly hope this person is genderqueer and doesn‘t identify as either gender because the language they have used on their website is grossly appropriative if not and even a little dubious if they are) has decided that they know how to be gay better than... Adam Lambert. An actual gay man.

Now, best case scenario - SJ is a gay man and is engaging in some very unpleasant policing of his fellows That I don’t approve of and think we should all be very careful before trying to force our fellows to conform to tight standards to be ‘acceptable’ to heteronormative culture.

The middle ground would be that SJ is a member of the GBLT community but not a gay man - still extra fail for telling a gay man how to be a gay man and deciding they are the one to tell a “gay man’s story” but not as bad as the worst since saying what is damaging to the GBLT community is within their remit.

The worst case scenario? SJ is a straight person - who thinks they can give us a “love story for all gay
men” and “get our story out into the public awareness…” Who has written this book because “Gay men don't get their stories told often enough.” and is telling a gay man he’s doing it wrong AND deciding what is best for the GBLT community. I hope this isn't the case, because, yeah, that would be privilege on such an epic scale.

(Can I also add how much I don’t like the term “sexual preference?” It’s such a vague term, implying slight inclination. “I have a preference for beef, but am happy to eat pork.” “Do you want this car?” “No I’d prefer that one.” It implies choice, it implies something vague and unimportant, it implies something you can pass over or work through, it implies an ideal but not a requirement. It bothers me it does.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Some more poking of the m/m genre

Since this is still flying around I feel the need to add some more general points from my random point of view

The prejudiced crap people do to you, does not excuse you doing it to us
How many times does it have to be said that just because you are a marginalised person doesn’t mean you have a right to stomp all over other marginalised people? The fact that straight men have been exploiting and fetishising women since year dot does NOT justify women fetishising gay men. Just because they did it to you doesn’t mean it’s hunky dory you doing it to us.

Is Women writing gay male fiction inherently wrong?
I’ve seen this around. Sometimes it raises good points - but most of the times it has been said have, frankly, been major attempts to derail from legitimate criticism.

However, we need to clarify some terms:
“Gay/GBLT fiction/romance” straight and cis-gendered women cannot write this and claiming to do so would be dishonest. To me, ‘gay/gblt fiction/romance’ implies a gay/gblt author. Just as if we saw ‘black fiction’ we’d expect the writer to be black.

“M/M fiction” again, what do we mean? Do we mean just fiction with gay male characters (in which case, see below) or do we mean fiction with gay male characters where the primary focus is their relationship (and is ‘relationship’ a euphemism for ‘really hawt mansex’?) Fiction focusing on gay male relationships can be dubious because you’re skirting the line where it’s not just a book with gay characters, but a book where gay characters are presented for titillation, arousal and OH YEAAHHH YUMMY purposes. And this is especially the case when a book is primarily about sex or strongly sex driven (the “add 4 more sex scenes” school of m/m fiction). Because here we have gay men being used as sex toys. They may be well written sex toys, they may be non-stereotypical sex toys, they may even have been written to try to make them respectable - but they’re still sex toys, they’re still being used for others to get their rocks off. Sure, a non-stereotypical, attempted-to-be respectful sex toy is infinitely preferably to the stereotypical, disrespectful and plain awful sex toy. But it’s still a sex toy.

“Fiction with gay characters” not only am I happy for anyone to write this, but I’d desperately encourage it. We need more good, respectful (emphasise on these 2, note) representations of gay people - all GBLT people - out there. If we confine such characters to books written by GBLT people only then we are inherently reducing the portrayals to a very small fraction of literature. I want to open a book and see me. I want to be able to shop in any section of any book shop and know that there will be a me in one of those books of that genre. I don’t want the only place I can find another gay man to be in the GBLT section (assuming a book shop even has a GBLT section). I don’t want the very idea that GBLT exist to be a niche genre or a specialist work. I don’t want us to be invisible or rare. And yes, these stories can include sex - if the plot and characterisations demand it then it SHOULD contain sex - because the meme of gay characters being rendered sexless to be palatable for straight audiences has been done and it’s very very very tired. But sex should exist as a tool to advance the stories and the characters - the stories and the characters shouldn’t exist to provide sex. Sex is a part of the plot, not the reason for the plot.

I want us to exist in fiction - but I also want us to be real. I want us to be treated as people - not sex objects, not caricatures, not stereotypes. I want people to acknowledge we exist and be happy with that - but not use us and not appropriate us. So, writers need to constantly remember they are writing the other and that their depictions have consequences. I want them to write us, but remember us at the same time, remember what they can do with us, remember they are using us, remember that we are vulnerable and remember that we are people deserving respect and consideration.

This is a topic on which I am rapidly losing my patience because there has been so many frankly facile attempts to derail and distract and justify one of the most extreme examples of appropriation.

I am not against pseudonyms as a concept. I was not born with the name Sparky. There are many many good reasons why writers choose to use a pen name. There is nothing inherently wrong with that nor with using different pen names for different genres, books etc.

HOWEVER when you use a MALE pen name (and, to a lesser extent, but still very telling, a gender neutral or initialled pen name) in the m/m genre you are doing so in a context where authors do try to fake being gay men for the sake of “authenticity”. When you use a male name in the m/m genre you are implying that you are a gay man - you are implying knowledge and life experience you do not have, you have not suffered for and you have NO RIGHT to claim. This is an appropriation of our identity and is one of the most grossly disrespectful parts of the m/m genre. Women using pseudonyms in the Romance genre don’t feel the need to suddenly use male names - so why do they in the m/m?

Also, yes, women have used male pen names before to overcome misogyny. I support this and agree with this - of course they should to overcome the very real and utterly wrong sexism that exists in many genres. But to raise this in reference to the m/m and wider romance genres is not only inaccurate - but dishonest. M/m and romance are women dominated genres. The readers, writers et al are women to an overwhelming degree. To claim you need a male name to overcome the sexism against female writers in these genres is as ridiculous as claiming you need a male name to enter a WI meeting. Anyone making this comparison and argument is either grossly ignorant of the m/m and romance genres or (and, frankly, far more likely) attempting to dishonestly derail and distract away from the homophobia. And THAT is also part of the problem - the reason the m/m genre is seen as exploitative, privileged and homophobic is not just because of what authors do - but the fierce defence so many raise when their problematic behaviour is challenged.

If it’s not you, you’re writing the ‘other’. EDITED
This means if you are not a gay man (whether cis or trans) you are writing the “other” (with all that implies) when writing about gay men. It doesn’t matter if you face Othering yourself in other genres, it doesn’t matter if you are marginalised, it doesn’t matter if your marginalised group has also faced othering.

I’ll also say that this INCLUDES lesbians, bisexual women, trans women and heterosexual trans men. You are still writing the other when you write about gay men. If a bisexual or gay man wrote a gratuitous f/f scene for heterosexual porn, it’d still be gratuitous, fetishistic and appropriative, he is still writing about the ‘other.’ It’s not AS ‘other’ as a heterosexual and cis gendered person writing it, since, as a member of the GBLT community there is a degree of shared experience - but it’s still ‘other’.

Have lesbian, bi, trans and genderqueer writers been overlooked in this discussion? To a degree I think - but I also think it's because everything that's been said applies to you as WELL

Yes, there are lesbian, biwomen, trans women and genderqueer writers also using gay men, appriopriating gay men, disrespecting gay men, objectifying gay men

And that's still not ok. Nor is it ok to paint critics as straight women allies who don't understand. But thanks for rendering gay men even more invisible in a genre that is supposed to be about us. Thanks for making a genre that treats us as a subject matter even less about us. And thanks for playing the "gay friend who says its ok" to the writers who will continue to disrespect us, use us and dehumanise us.

It’s misogyny for men to tell women what to write
Your books are about us. This is us, our lives, our community, us that are being represented. Us that will be harmed. Us that have to deal with the fall out of stereotypes. Us that are offended. Us that have to deal with the grossly awful portrayals. Us that that are being used, dehumanised and appropriated.

THIS IS US. We have a right to be critical here. We have a right to be offended here. We have a right to input here. We have a right to be respected here. We have a right to be anger here. We have a right to say what is and isn’t offensive what is and isn’t homophobic, what is and isn’t privileged. Don’t silence us by saying it is misogynist for us to comment on and object to books that focus entirely on us.

Yes, there has been an awful, horrendous history of men lecturing, policing and controlling women. Yes, still today, women are constantly fenced in, judged and controlled by men individually and the patriarchy in general. And yes, some critics have used unpleasant misogyny and sexism in their rants. But that history does not mean we can be ignored or silenced when we are offended, hurt and angered by the way you are using us. The existence of misogyny, male privileged and patriarchy does not justify straight privilege, homophobia and the using/appropriation of gay men.

Edited again to fix date. Silly computer

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

I am not an accessory

Apparently, on average, straight women with gay male friends have a better body image than straight women without gay male friends. Odd how these things work.

See? This is a good way to report on this little news snippet.

Then we have O magazine’s ways to increase your self esteem: “And if you don't already have a few gay men in your circle of friends, you might want to add some” Hey, and pets reduce stress too, so you might want to get one of those. Maybe a new handbag since we’re talking accessories.

Oh, wait, we’re not.

I don’t know when this began but for some reason the meme of gay men being an accessory for straight woman seems to be pretty much embedded.

Gay men as friends don’t exist for the greater glory of straight women. We don’t exist as accessories to a straight woman’s life. We’re not friends because of how it benefits you. We’re people, we have value and personality of our own.

Frankly, I think this trend is not only rather demeaning to gay men, but insulting to women as well - to paint them so shallow and needy and self centred and using their friends this way - is misogynist. To paint gay men as adjutants to another’s life is demeaning.

Or, to put it another way, this fails on many levels.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

More on the M/M genre (because I’m not above flogging a dead horse :P)

Someone referenced an LAWeekly article about women in M/M as relevant to what prompted a previously problematic post so I went looking. this article is the only one I found. It’s possibly my google-fu is weak and there may be another though, so let me know if it’s another article someone is referencing.

I have to say this article annoyed me a lot. I didn’t see any sexism in it particularly as was suggested to me (but I’m not a woman so don’t have the awareness) but disrespectful to gay men? Oh yes. It annoyed me further that it contains so much that is problematic and it fails to acknowledge any of it - and sadly these are many of the things that so annoy me about the m/m genre.

First of all - the article is 6 pages long. Number of gay men in it? Zero. Comments at our complete absence? Zero. Gay men are completely absent in this article, completely vanished from a genre that uses us as subject matter. Really - this needs to be said very loudly - We’re not pose-able action dolls, we’re not objects. We’re not things. We’re people and this article gives us no respect as that. You can’t have an entire damn genre that uses us but not acknowledge us at all.

Secondly, and a major loathing of mine. Some of the authors - straight women using male names to pretend to be gay men (or 2-3 gender neutral names so they can imply they’re gay men). “James” Buchanan even admits she uses a male name to sound more “authentic.” Authentic... I’m sorry, I just had to get up from the keyboard and walk away after that one. Authentic. A straight woman is using a male pseudonym to seem more authentic writing about gay men. Why is this not seen as wrong? Why is this not seen as a gross appropriation? With this deception she is claiming a gay life experience she does not have. She claims our identity with no experience and no life history of it - she claims it for profit yet avoids all the pit falls of prejudice and homophobia. This shows us zero respect and it’s shocking that it was passed by with so little comment.

Can you imagine a young gay man, looking to connect desperately with the LGBT community, goes to a book shop to find gay characters written by gay men - but he leaves with a James Buchanan book, because he has been lied to. Because she feels it’s ok to use us like this, that our identity.

Women - write m/m fiction by all means - but do not lie to us. Do not claim to be one of us. Do not claim to understand what it is to be a gay man. Do not claim gay male identity. Do not imply it, do not try to assume it, do not appropriate our experiences and our lives as toys for your enjoyment or tools for your profit. It’s dishonest and grossly disrespectful.

Then we’ve got some wonderfully shallow stereotypical musing about gay characters “who pitches, who catches” “sweet, subservient beta males” who are the bottoms (What. The. Hell.) and even touching on the gay men acting stereotypically female in these books - yet such ignorant stereotypes are not challenged or questioned. They see and perpetuate this but don’t for a second challenge how problematic they are. Because that may involve treating gay men like people.

And the fetishisation is rampant. Gay men having sex is hawt. Let’s all get together and do some salivating. Oh look let’s see what new things we can come up with - vice cops in chaps? Yay. More in a bed, yes moar moar! Oh and let’s, for some gods unknown reason, dredge up Laurell K Hamilton’s depiction of a woman under a pile of shapeshifters who shift and start licking each other because, hey it’s all freaky sex right? Gay sex and shapeshifter sex? And who cares that we’re evoking the whole “gay sex is on par with bestiality” trope? Let’s throw in some bisexual male elves that rape human women - because Gay and Bi men as the alien and the sexual predator is TOTALLY not an issue. But the publisher wants more sex scenes! MORE SEX SCENES MOAR! Screw the plot, we need 4 more sex scenes in this book! Totally not fetishising gay men though - MOAR BUTTSEX!

And a special bonus prizes to:
but there’s also pleasure lurking beneath the surface, a thrill at almost being caught. A sense of the illicit. It’s hard to say whether these novels would be as compelling if mainstream culture accepted being gay.

Y’know I’m REALLY glad that our oppression is titillating to you. Ye gods this could have been worded better and more respectfully (again, if it could be written with a nod towards the idea that gay men actually EXIST) to treat a homophobic society as a thrill.

“The guy in that story ruins everybody’s life because he can’t accept who he is. It’s just all so horribly painful. If these people only had the balls to be happy.” In reference to Brokeback Mountain.

Now I had many problems with Brokeback Mountain, mainly because I don’t need to see another tragic story of lives destroyed by homophobia (asides from other issues like the differing treatment of gay interactions and straight interactions) - I always thought it was better for straight people to watch and maybe buy a clue than for gay people to watch and be triggered by. However - for a straight woman to summarise coming to terms with homophobia, your sexuality and the closet as “not having the balls to be happy.” Really, no. Seriously no. There is so much ignorant privilege there I can’t even begin to address it. Sorry if depiction of the reality of homophobia spoiled your Happily Ever After.

And a special irony prize goes to
Tamara McNeill is a fan of Buchanan’s books. At the Hustler store reading, she said that she believes formulaic straight romances of the Harlequin type work only when you’re a kid. McNeill is 37. “By then you’ve had life experiences,” she says, pulling her shawl closer around her shoulders. She likes the roughness and complications of Buchanan’s romances.

Yeah, life experiences. But not gay male experiences - but some of these authors feel free to claim they have and appropriate at will.

Frankly, I think the article is a train wreck - deeply problematic and epitomises that in some areas of the m/m genre actual gay men don’t matter at all - we are objects to use not people to be respected.

ETA: I have since learned that James Buchanan is genderqueer and I assume is using an exclusively male name for hir own identities sake. So while the issue is the same the specific in this example is likely inaccurate. I can only assume the "authenticity" comment was a direct fabrication by the article, though I cannot say because there has been no refutation from hir or anyone else quoted in it

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

It’s only fiction!

I ran across, in my internet browsing, someone who was frustrated by all the self-justification from straight women writing M/M fiction (all of it? personally I’ve seen very little self-justification - and a whole lot more appropriation without a second thought. What justification there is from most seems to be more to deflect the “eeew why do you want to write about mansex, you weirdo?!” critics than the “are you treating homosexuals with respect?” concern). Normally I’d just walk on by, but it came to a refrain that I’ve heard in many many places that made me springboard this post. I heard it during Lambda Fail. I heard it during Race Fail. I’ve heard it repeatedly whenever it comes to discussing marginalised people in fiction

It’s just fiction.

It’s made up.

So it doesn’t matter.

Dingding! Privileged check on aisle 3, privileged check on aisle 3!

“It’s just fiction” is a stance that a privileged person can take. But for the marginalised? That book with gay/lesbian/black/trans/asian/disabled etc characters is an oddity. It’s a rarity in a world where such portrayals are only remotely common within narrow genres and are nigh-non-existent in the mainstream.

To the privileged, that takes some grasping. I am currently sat surrounded by my library - hundreds of books and dvds. I can pick up any one of them and KNOW there will be a white person inside. I can pick up about 90% of them and know the main character will be white. I can pick up any of them and KNOW there will be a straight person inside - and, again, 90% of the characters within will be straight.

I would say at least half of them are lacking even a token appearance by a POC and up to 80% have no GBLT presence at all. Add in that of those token characters, I would say as many of half of them are strongly stereotypical or otherwise problematic.

It‘s only fiction. But it matters. It matters that, growing up for so long I didn’t see a single depiction of a gay man. It matters that the first depiction of a man like me I read was written by Ann “you can turn gay by being anally raped by a tent peg” McCaffrey. It matters that I STILL haven’t read a book with a gay main character that is even remotely considered mainstream. It matters because, in the world of literature, people like me hardly exist.

I repeat again that, no, I don’t think straight people should stop writing with GBLT fiction. They should write it - just as I think white people should write about POC. I will never ever say that people should only write about people like them. But there is a huge world of difference between writing the other well (or trying to) and using, appropriating and stereotyping the other.

So, yes, I like it when straight authors write their justification for why they are using gay characters. I like that they’re THINKING about how to portray their characters in a respectful, non-fetishised and non-abusive manner. And, no you can’t assume that authors are. You can’t assume that just because they want to write about gay men or black people or Native Americans that their portrayals won’t be offensive or damaging or insulting. There’s far too much out there that makes it abundantly clear that this isn’t the case. Just because they write something doesn’t mean they care about the people, doesn’t mean they are an ally, doesn’t mean they’ve worked and researched to make their work

So, yes, I like the justification musings. I like the thinking. I like that they may be thinking of the young gay kid looking for someone like them. I like that they’re recognising that portrayals can be damaging and insulting. I like that they are looking beyond their privilege and trying to respect us, rather than use us. I like that they are trying to get it right.

It may be fiction, it may be made up - but that doesn’t mean it isn’t important.

ETA: the origina article that served to prompt this can be found here however, this was more one straw on a very large haystack on an already very broken camel

Sunday, 3 January 2010

How much do we let tactics harm our principles?

This piece originally appeared at Womanist Musings where Renee has very generously allowed my random musings to appear on her excellent blog

How much do we let tactics harm our principles?

This is something I have been thinking of for some time as an activist, a progressive and general all round loud, angry, rambly person.

And there’s something I’ve been recently musing on is how much do we, as activists (and that most CERTAINLY includes the large activist/advocacy groups and movements) think more about tactics than we do principles? In particular - how many times do we cede arguments, compromise and give ground in order to win victories?

Part of this was prompted to some thoughts I had while listening to the Womanistmusings radio episode : Impossible Motherhood . A great interview about a book written by Irene Vilar about her multiple abortions what struck me then, as was discussed then and as I discussed with Renee was how much ground the pro-choice movement had ceded to the anti-choice movement. The pro-choice movement seemed to be following the anti-choice rhetoric that abortion is inherently bad - just adding that it is sometimes necessary and unfortunate and better than the alternatives.

And I wondered how much damage had been caused by ceding that ground? How much damage had been caused by the pro-choice movement ACCEPTING abortion as a bad thing - maybe a necessary thing - but still bad.

And more, what did that mean for the people? Like Ms. how many women were/are still shamed for having an abortion - especially multiple abortions - even by the pro-choice movement? How many have bought the ‘abortion is bad’ rhetoric from the anti-choicers - OR how many are condemning her because she will be used as a weapon against the pro-choice movement. How many will take those tactical considerations over and above the woman herself?

When I first wrote this I continued to use the pro/anti choice movements as examples. But I’m not comfortable with that. I a man and fiercely pro-choice - but abortion MUST be a woman’s issue. I don’t think it’s my place or any man’s place to criticise the pro-choice movement except in very narrow circumstances. So, I’ve re-written it from a gay rights perspective because I’m more secure on my knowledge, experience and standing to comment.

And I see the same thing. Tactics used at the expense of actual people. At its most extreme it is obvious and grossly inexcusable - in the GBLT movement I think this is best showcased in the depressing times when we have been shamefully willing to throw the T under the bus. WE can all see how grossly wrong that is, how destructive and how truly vile.

I’ve seen gay rights movements and organisations tell me I should be patient, tell me we have to compromise. I’m pretty hostile to that idea. I want all the rights, privileges and respect that straight people enjoy. They want me to not exist. Where’s the middle ground here? Where’s the compromise? Do I get some rights? Maybe second class citizen rather than third class? Can I be consider almost human? Allowed to exist so long as I don’t upset the straight people? Do tell me where we should ‘compromise’ here.

I see us ceding ground, settling for half measures, allowing exceptions and exemptions and acting like it’s reasonable. A big example is various hate crimes and equality legislations - in the UK we’re battling over a gross exemption for religious groups. Hate is hate - why are we calling it acceptable because it’s backed by dogma? Why have we ceded that ground? Why have we accepted that hatred is REASONABLE because it comes from the clergy?

But there are more subtle ways as well, ways I realise I have practiced as well.

Whenever there is a crime (ESPECIALLY a sex crime) committed by homosexuals, I’m furious because I know it will hurt us. I know it will reflect on us. I know we will be judged by it - and so I judge them more harshly than I would if they were straight.

I remember when a report came out that new HIV infections among gay men were still high and I was angry. Not angry, as I usually am about the waste and the horror of AIDS, but angry at those men. Angry because I knew this statistic would be used against us, angry because I knew the anti-gay forces would use it against us. My first reaction completely overlooked the real people here and was concerned entirely about tactics and how the haters would see it. I looked at people’s suffering - MY people’s suffering - through the lens of those who hate us.

I have friends who have multiple casual lovers. And, horrifically, I find myself disapproving. Not because I disapprove of ‘promiscuity’ (I have never seen why monogamy is inherently moral so long as no deception is involved) but because I know it’s the stereotype. Gay men are promiscuous, gay men have sex with any man around them. This is one of the weapons used against us, one of the attacks the haters love to use.

But what am I doing? I am judging, even policing (albeit only mentally) my fellows based on values I DON’T EVEN SHARE. For the sake of tactics, I am giving ground, accepting a frame that I disagree with. How much damage does that do? What cost will we pay to win - and will we have won if we keep paying these prices?

And then I look at the flip side. In particular I look at this map on wiki:

And I consider that it was only in 1967 that homosexuality was decriminalised in the UK. It was only in 2003 that homosexuality was decriminalised throughout the US. And I consider the list we draw up every time we plan a holiday. The list of countries where we run the risk of severe persecution (legal or otherwise) if we don’t go closeted. It’s not a short list. It’s a frightening list.

When I look at that I have a sudden urge for victories - an urge to push forwards because there is such a long way to go. Because there are places where our lives are worth little and some where they are worth nothing. I feel the urge to push forwards to fight desperately because there were nations in the western world that kept anti-homosexuality law on the books only SIX years ago.

I can see the need to fight desperately, to do what you can to move forwards - because we haven’t moved far enough forward to risk a movement BACKWARDS.

But if we forget the people - forget ourselves - in order to win the battle then have we really won? Are we winning the battle, but losing the war?