I’m going to the UK GLBTQ+ Fiction Meet in Bristol this weekend. I love these events, but I think this one may be a little more edgy and challenging than usual, because lately there’s been a resurgence of the argument that says women (of whatever orientation) can’t or shouldn’t write romance featuring two male characters.
If the argument is that we aren’t able to write these stories convincingly, then it’s easy to dismiss because it’s like saying that no writer can write from the point of view of a character of another gender. No Harry Potter. No Poirot. No Anna Karenina.
And if you continue down that path, writers couldn’t write about people who are older than we’ve ever been, or done a job we’ve never done, or lived in a place we’ve never lived . . . so in the end you reach the point of saying that fiction shouldn’t exist because writers can only be convincing when they’re writing about their own lives, i.e. we can only write autobiography.
But the “own voices” argument is a little different from this. It says that LGBTQ writers have been silenced in the past, refused publication if they wrote about LGBTQ characters or made to “fit the mould” by writing only sad stories. And that if straight people dominate the LGBTQ romance market now that these stories are being published, that’s unacceptable appropriation.
The “own voices” point of view is hard to argue with except that again, it would limit what writers are allowed to write about. A straight white male able-bodied writer from a comfortable background in a wealthy country wouldn’t be left with many characters that were different from himself . . . unless he pretended to be somebody else. So I think we’d end up with more and more catfishing.
Long term, I think we’ll all be better off if we accept that it’s okay for anyone to write any kind of fiction. The own voices will still be heard. Readers will seek them out . . . and they will be able to do that much more easily if nobody feels a need to set up a fake identity in order to write the stories that appeal to them. (I’m not talking about pen names here, but situations where writers have presented another real person’s identity as their own, having someone act the part of their writing persona.)
Maybe there are some writers or publishers who are putting out male/male romance simply because it’s become a popular market that they want to dominate. But it’s nothing like as popular as mainstream cisgender heterosexual romance with the classic strong hero and beautiful/quirky/feisty heroine, so I don’t think the financial motivation will last.
There’s also been some criticism of women who write male/male romance specifically for women, fetishizing gay men in their books—like the “girl on girl” porn made for male viewers that has little in common with real lesbian sex. I don’t know if there are writers consciously doing this. I certainly don’t see my own books that way, or the books I enjoy reading.
But I have no drive to write about anything but men who fall in love with men—at least, not when it comes to romance. So why do all of my stories feature gay men?
I don’t identify as male. I struggle to identify with other women sometimes too, but I’m okay with having a female body. I just don’t feel very feminine. And for some reason that I don’t understand, writing gay male characters is the way that I seem able to express myself best.
I write male/male romance because I don’t enjoy either reading or writing straight romance, and never have. It’s not that I never write female characters. I could write a mystery with a female detective, for example. It’s just the romance. Those Harlequin heroines don’t resonate with me at all.
I remember once in a writing group somebody asked me why I didn’t write about straight people falling in love, and I said, “Because it’s not what I like reading. It would be weird to write that kind of story.”
And the person came right back at me with “It’s you that’s weird.”
Well, maybe it is. But when I look around the LGBTQ+ fiction reading and writing world at events like the UK Meet, I do know that I’m in good company 🙂