True Colors of writing gay fiction. #ownvoices post-Pride Month reflections

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Pride month is over. For me, it was relatively uneventful. Husband and I didn’t do a whole lot to celebrate beyond just being, you know, gay and married. A few weeks back, I offered you some insights on my feelings as a reader of gay fiction. Now I will discuss what I believe to be a more contentious topic — being an author of gay fiction in a market driven by M/M stories.

First, I should begin by stating why I write the stories I do. I didn’t set out to be a writer of gay fiction. By that I mean I don’t exclusively envision myself featuring an LGBTQIA main character in every story I will write. For Fjorgyn, Michael falling in love with Clifford made sense. I wanted something more than deep friendship for these two characters that gave Michael and added incentive to heal his heart out in every single conflict. Michael, after all, can resurrect. Clifford cannot. I also needed Clifford to be a man, to highlight the conflict between father and son that might not exist for father and daughter in the world I created, so it made sense for the two of them to fall in love.

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Some readers balked at the idea, saying that Michael being gay doesn’t matter for the story. It really, really does.

For “Steamtown Chronicles 1: The Dark Market,” a Patreon-exclusive novella I will be releasing to my patrons shortly, the main character, Delmen MacDougall, is not in a position where romance matters. He has more-than-friendship feelings for a neighbor but is in no place to pursue them. Delmen is also heterosexual because, well, when I imagine Delmen, he is a straight guy (well…. Dwarf).

In “Don’t Look Up,” coming out this year, Adam Frost is a gay man who flees to Maui to escape an abusive ex-boyfriend. Could his ex be a woman? Sure. But his ex isn’t.  This is because I’m telling the story of Adam, a young gay man. The cast is chosen. The stage is set. This is a story of a young gay man who rebuilds his life after experiencing extreme hardship. Part of this story is method writing. Not the domestic violence bit. I’ve never been a victim of domestic violence. The coming out part, the seeing the world through gay eyes bit, and the trying to belong in a social circle surrounded by straight people bit is familiar to me. In this story, I am writing what I know.

And as a gay writer of gay speculative fiction, I must say, what I write isn’t always what readers want. As I highlighted in my last post, I write to a market that is inundated with stories written by a ton of straight women who are not allies, despite what they say. This is how I feel, and I justify it by reading examples of many of the more popular stories being released today. This is not all women in the genre. This is not even most women authors in the genre, but it is enough to make things difficult both as an author and as a gay man.

Some of these stories include the telling of a sexual assault victim by a partner who films him unknowingly. The video is released to shame the father of the main character, an ex-gay camp leader. The main character then turns around years later and falls in love with his abuser. The ultimate message is “I accept what you’ve done to me” and “It’s okay that my father hurts young gay people because he does it out of love.”

In another story, to remain nameless, you have a gay male character who relishes sexual assault by the “alpha male” of his wolf pack and desires nothing else than to be impregnated by the alpha. Yes. Mpreg and shifter stories combined. I understand why some people like reading Mpreg and what it means to them. But as a writer and reader, I find it difficult knowing their are stories out there that reduce gay male sexuality to raw, animalistic urges. We face enough of that from homophobes. It’s tough to see that coming from “allies.”

I’m not going to list all of the examples I’ve found, but let’s say that the type of storytelling involved in these books is themed. They’re very rarely about the gay, male characters being heroic and multi-dimensional. Instead, they feature stories where the hard focus is on stereotyped sex, where the authors produce work that seems more like the observed exploits of a hen party in a gay club, and the readers, mostly straight women, eat it up.

Jon Olav Eikenes wrote it very well over on Electric Lit:

“Seeing yourself, whether it’s on the screen or on the page, is a powerful experience. So often, though, for queer people, the options are either super whitewashed or rooted in hurtful stereotypes. In gay romance novels, it’s both, and straight women writers are responsible… As a queer, trans reader, I looked forward to seeing myself in their pages. But I was surprised to find that some LGBTQ-focused stories were reflecting not me, but a straight person’s imagination of me… The vast majority of gay romances are written by women. White women. Straight, white women. Straight, white women who, in their “about the author” sections, talked about their husbands, children, cats, chickens, and love of artisanal cured meats. The first time I noticed this, I flipped the book over in my hands, back and forth, looking at the ultra-gay cover art, and then the author’s photo on the back. I couldn’t reconcile the two. I may not be a gay man, but I know appropriation when I see it.”

Now not every female author of gay fiction is like this. I appreciated the stories written by PD Singer and found the characters in her “Fire on the Mountain” relatable, multi-dimensional, and heroic. The story was about more than the two main characters being gay. It was about them working together and discovering one another in a harsh and unforgiving environment, as full-time forest rangers during fire season in the Colorado Rockies. This series has five books. Check it out.

I appreciate female authors of gay stories who take the time to write their stories, develop their characters, and remain true to the subject matter. This post is not about them.

Instead, it is about the GBF-style writer, who use their gay characters as props to deliver sex fantasies to their readers. They paint a portrait of gay men to a swath of voracious readers that is dishonest. These stories come out in such numbers that they often drown out #ownvoices authors. These M/M writers are loud, noisy, and defensive. They take over the space in a way that prevents a space for gay fiction to be formed. They bring hot, muscle-clad gay porn stars to book conventions. They sell penis shaped swag. They hold panels where gay voices are sometimes drowned out. They transform publisher expectations, where gay authors are told their books don’t have enough sex. And, worst of all, they advertise that they’re representing LGBTQIA voices and that they’re doing something good for us. They are not. They’re doing something good for them. And honest depictions of gay men are lost along the way.

So what did we gay authors do? We tried to separate ourselves. We actively avoided using the term M/M to describe our books, deciding instead to call ourselves authors of “gay fiction.” That seemed to do the trick for a while, but some of these authors who I will not name detected what was happening and took the opportunity to expand their M/M bubble. They don’t write for just women, they say. They write for everyone, so they are not M/M authors. They are authors of gay fiction as well.

And the cycle begins all over again.

But this still doesn’t highlight the main problem for me as a writer. I suppose the main downfall of this deluge of M/M fiction is a transformation of reader expectations. I experienced this most bluntly when I was doing critique sessions of a story I haven’t yet gotten around to releasing called “Chivington’s Folly.” This story is about a doctor, Benjamin Montgomery, who takes a position as a village physician for a mysterious island off the coast of Maine. I had my first chapter reviewed by a literary agent. She loved it, but I was in no position at the time to pitch a complete manuscript to her. Then I went on to find some critiques for chapter two from potential readers, where I introduced the love interest, Joshua Whelan. I was told the two characters couldn’t possibly be so flirtatious and intimate right away, that people don’t act like that.

This feedback, echoed by multiple potential readers, contradicted a decade of experiences I had as a gay man. I realized then that authors of M/M fiction conditioned these readers. Reader expectations were set. They were accustomed to reading stories about tamed gay men who flirted more like women in potentially romantic situations. Stories that featured honest and legitimate reactions by gay characters made them uncomfortable.

As an author of gay fiction, I often find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place. The rock is the homophobes, those who don’t want me writing fantasy stories featuring gay main characters. I get slammed by one-star reviews when they stumble on my work. The hard place is these otherwise gay-friendly women who are conditioned to enjoy only a certain type of gay story, where the character hits every item on the “gay best friend” checklist.

It is the combination of all the factors above that form a perfect storm of sorts, that buries #ownvoices stories beneath a torrent of negative sentiments and stereotypes. I often feel at a loss, not sure what I should do. So I keep on writing my stories hoping that one day, things will change for the better.

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2 Comments

  1. Everything you said, brother! I wish there was a firewall we could put up between m/m and gay fiction.

  2. Maia says:

    bloody hell, this was depresing reading. i am feelin bad and it isn’t even happening to me. i came across a lot of mm which are simply porn in book and when i am thinking about it actively, i haven’t read so much of the oposite, really thought through, deep stories. well, there aren’t much of first too because i am hunting in fantasy, not contemporary genre. but it creates sad picture because i kind of imagined the first kind of mm stories too when asked. i will be paying more attention in future but…
    well. stay strong.

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