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