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Female authors, m/m romance, and cultural usurpation

June 8, 2011

So I’m a woman, and I write m/m romance.  Now that my writing is out in the public eye, I have to wonder, is that…okay?   Humans all share the same emotions, the same love and fear and lust and embarrassment and anger and excitement.    Is it egotistical to think that I can successfully create believable gay men in my fiction out of that shared human experience?  And even if I can, is it exploitative to take the public challenges and the private joys and pains of gay life and turn them into lightweight fiction mainly read by women?

I don’t usually check the gender of authors when I read a book, even a romance.  And there have been plenty of straight romances written by gay authors (including two gay men who wrote under a female pseudonym; I remember reading an interview where one of them commented he had to rewrite a sex scene after his partner reminded him that women don’t have a prostate.)  But in those cases, at least the authors are one of the genders represented in the romance.  Women writing m/m are stepping completely outside their own experience.

Of course, if we only write what we know, it would eliminate a lot of good fiction (including all historicals.)  I could never write about a military character or a police officer.  But perhaps the world of gay male romance feels more vulnerable because it is still so marginalized in real life.   When half the hetero world is challenging the right of gay men to even have any romance, it might irk them to see a bunch of women turning that hard-won world into the stuff of fantasies.  Especially when we represent them in ways that feel wrong.  (The term chick-with-a-dick has been used to describe a male character whose words and actions feel unrealistically feminized.)  Most female authors have to base their gay male characters on what they in turn have heard and read (unless they are fortunate enough to have gay friends  willing to edit their work.)  Since most writers in the genre are now female, we run the risk of reading each other’s work and perpetuating and aggravating errors like some literary game of telephone.

Perhaps gay men can take heart in the idea that these books may be garnering them allies on the political front.  How many straight women (and men) read Suzanne Brockmann’s Troubleshooters series, moving from an occasional glimpse of gay FBI agent Jules, to the June 2011 release of the m/m romance story When Tony met Adam?  And how many of those people became convinced along the way that love is love, in all its wonderful forms, and that all should be given the same rights and respect?

I’m enormously grateful to the male reviewers who have given my books positive reviews.  It encourages me to think that I can use universal human experience to write stories that are more enjoyable than exploitative.  I try to make my characters real people, within the context of a culture I find inspiring but will never personally experience.  I write to entertain, and if people get a couple of hours enjoyment from my work then I have succeeded.  Hopefully the men who live the lives that make my work possible are mostly okay with that.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Christie permalink
    June 9, 2011 9:15 am

    Well, it’s not just female authors writing m/m romance, it’s female readers buying m/m romance. What’s the percentage there I wonder? I remember that sometime during the run of the cable show “Queer as Folk” that Showtime did some sort of survey to see who was watching the program–and women represented at least half the audience, if not more. Apparently this was some sort of surprise although I’m not sure why. Hot men participating in hot sexual encounters with each other–and not just in a porn-type way? What’s not to like. (I’m catching up on reading your blog, so excuse the endless comments.)

  2. June 9, 2011 12:54 pm

    I read somewhere that both the authors and readers for m/m romance are now about 90% women. There’s nothing wrong with liking what you like. But I hope that it doesn’t feel too much like stalking or exploitation to the men. My goal would be to write well enough that the men reading the story wouldn’t even think about the gender of the author as they read it.

  3. Randall S. permalink
    June 24, 2011 9:40 pm

    I am a gay man and I enjoyed Life Lessons very much. I look forward to reading the sequel when it comes out in August. I have to admit that I do look at the sex of the author when i am looking at gay fiction. I find that some women can’t get the sex scenes right. Even if I don’t know the gender of the author, I can tell if a man or a woman has written it by how the love scenes are crafted. I really like your writing style though and I will probably read everything you write. You do a really good job with the sex stuff. I am glad you are writing more about these characters. I found that I care about them and am curious to see how they progress in their relationship and how you will advance the storyline. Really good job!
    Oh yeah, do you have a list I can get on to be notified when the sequel comes out?

    • June 25, 2011 9:32 am

      Thanks so much for your comments. It is really nice to hear that you are comfortable with my characters. I don’t have a notification list for “Breaking Cover.” Right now it is on the way to lines (proofreading), and I’m hoping for sometime in August or maybe even late July. It will appear on the MLR Press site and on Amazon and other retailers when it comes out, (and here of course). In the meantime, I hope you noticed the short-story sequel, “And to All a Good Night,” here on my website. I also put that story on Smashwords for a free download if you hate reading on the computer. Just a taste of how the guys are doing, until the novel comes out. I really appreciate you taking the time to give me your opinion (especially since it encourages me to keep writing.)

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