Female authors, m/m romance, and cultural usurpation
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.