“Waaah! Women authors hijack the gay experience! They make it all romantic! It’s all rainbows and feelings, buttsex and kissing, and happy ever after! Get off my lawn, you people with uterii! Waaah!”
Yup, Old Faithful has cropped up again. There’s a certain won’t-lie-down-and-die view about women writing two men having sex, that says women writers are too hung up on penetration as opposed to other (more common?) forms of sexual release and that we frequently want one of our male characters to act more like a female, including when we describe the way the men react to sexual experiences.
Mmmn. Not a new point of view at all, that women are out to feminise male spaces and infect them with emotion and feeling. Nor is the implied “but they have no right to do this!” that lies behind the complaint in the first place. But obviously, as a woman who writes about male relationships and feelings and all that shit, I have my view too. So I’m going to set out my stall here.
First, western civilisation has done men, gay or straight, a huge disservice in teaching them that emotions are something to despise and fear, and that allowing themselves to admit to feelings somehow feminises and unmans them. And of course, anything feminine is bad, right? There was a piece of research conducted with a group of Michigan twelve-year-olds in 1994 where the children were asked to imagine that when they woke up the next morning, they’d be the opposite gender. The girls were mostly all about grasping an opportunity – “I could be a doctor, rather than a nurse! Or drive a train! Or something that traditionally men have done and women have had a secondary role in!” Very few boys welcomed the idea of change. Most of them tried to imagine a way of escaping such a terrible fate and some even said they’d kill themselves if they woke up female. That’s sad. While more and more women move into traditionally male spaces and are challenging their imposed gender roles, finding new ways to define themselves, society seems to be stuck on the male gender stereotype. That’s terribly sad.
Second, no matter the gender of the writer, the m/m genre is about ‘good storytelling’ and ‘strong characters’ and ‘forget the world and lose yourself for an hour here’. And it is *burgeoning*. It covers every sub-genre you can think of: scifi, westerns, mystery, paranormal, detective fiction, crime procedurals… the lot. Every single genre is written, rewritten and reclaimed through the lens of two male protagonists and the relationship between them.
Does it have tropes and expectations that are getting a little worn around the edges? You betchya. There may be some merit in the complaint that women writers see penetration as the ultimate expression of love and commitment, for example. That’s something I’m pondering, but which will be pretty academic for most of the rest of the Shield series as it moves into its mainly sci-fi mode. Still, it’s good for us to examine critically whether we’re getting into a rut. So to speak.
Does it have excitement, vibrancy, freshness? Again, you betchya. There is a great deal of creativity out there and I’m proud to be a (very tiny!) part of it.
So here’s what I think we writers bring to the table: heartfelt emotion and drama, eroticism, and yes, sex scenes in which the feelings and the relationship matter as much as the physical gymnastics. Stories about love. Stories about loss. And sometimes, stories that are about love and drama and conflict and yet don’t meet the expectations of the romance readers in terms of a happy ever after, but which are still gay fiction and about gay characters. But ultimately stories about people, their lives, loves and relationships.
So yes. Maybe all the women reading and writing in the m/m genre have allowed in a whole host of new ideas, new challenges, new approaches to the depiction of gay men in fiction, and brought with them a whole new audience and a new experience. Maybe we are dancing on the lawn.
But you know, I can’t think that’s a bad thing. Suck it up, sunshine. We’re here to stay.
(For a really insightful post on women writing m/m fiction and their impact on gay fiction generally, read Jamie Fassenden’s “My take on women writing m/m romance.” )