Robin has written an excellent post over at Dear Author about power dynamics in Romance. It got me thinking about the vexed and apparently unending issue of why straight women write m/m. The reason often offered is that m/m is free of the gender games of het romances, and yet so many m/m stories merely reproduce the tropes and expectations of het stories. Why bother writing about two gay or bi men if you’re going to write one of them as a woman in a male costume?
There’s also the conundrum that while m/m apologists like to beat the drum that many m/m authors are gay or bi or genderqueer, so they are simply writing about their own sexuality and issues, the fact of the matter is that the overwhelming majority of m/m writers are straight (or live in conventional heterosexual relationships.) In fandom, a good many slash writers of male pairings are lesbians. If the point of m/m was simply to write the queer experience, then why do so many queer women choose to write about gay men?
I think Robin’s essay may provide the answer. While male-male relationship are certainly not devoid of power plays or gender roles, the dynamics are different. The expectations are different. I, as a straight woman, can write about two men without having to have one consider whether the putative lover/life partner will be a good father to his offspring (that’s not to say gay men don’t want to be fathers, but it’s not close to being the same imperative that fertile women who want kids feel.) The issue of status is less likely to be important. Spontaneous sex can happen without any sick feelings the next morning about the possibility of pregnancy and so on (STDs aside.)
Women writing gay men get to explore what the dynamic are like in a relationship where the presumption is that both partners are socially and societally equal and powerful, where their destiny could go either way (and not be presumed to follow the man’s career or wealth). Where both partners often are physically equal and strong, and can experience public responses and safety in the same way (No ‘I don’t feel safe in this group’ – ‘Why? I feel safe’ conversations where the woman tries and fails to explain why she’s feeling fear even though her male lover isn’t.)
This kind of thing is very freeing for a woman to explore, to experience vicariously. Unfortunately, too many of us do it without adequately considering how heterosexual privilege blinds us to the real power dynamics and threats within a gay relationship, within the gay community, and as gay men facing a straight world. That lack of consideration leads to appropriative, exploitative writing. It’s not actually inevitable though, and I maintain that if a straight woman can bear the impact of straight privilege in mind, there’s no harm in her writing about a world she can often only experience at second-hand. Visualisation is a powerful tool for actualisation, and women who can visualise true equality, can help to achieve it.
Apropos to gender roles and such matters, this is an interesting and continued response to an academic who doesn’t seem to understand the difference between sex and gender, and that biology is not destiny. Can act as a primer for those of us struggling to understand issues relating to gender fluidity and transgender.
To change the subject, while still on the topic of power, this thread at Absolute Write is beginning to drive me mad. For a thread about authors not telling reviewers how to review, it’s spending a lot of time doing just that – all because a stupid twit called Eve Thomas is clouding the issue by claiming to be a victim of domestic abuse while yelling ‘bully’ at those who take issue with her egregious behaviour over at Goodreads. This behaviour involves spamming forums with links to her crappy book, then spamming negative reviews with links to a site which promotes stalking, and then claiming the police have taken over her GR account to deal with the harrassment.
Let’s be clear about this – Thomas may or may not have been abused (I’m leaning towards the ‘not’ side because she’s so incredibly dishonest), but she is undoubtedly a foolish woman using a discredited ‘publisher’ (PublishAmerica) to put out her books at a staggeringly high cost, and using the veil of ‘charitable fund raising’ to cover up the fact she’s a badly behaving author promoting in a rude and incredibly annoying manner. That people have made their irritation at her behaviour clear is not bullying. The fact her books have received negative reviews after she badgered people into reading and reviewing them, is not bullying. The fact people are shelving her books in a variety of ways indicating their extreme distaste for her behaviour, is not bullying.
Even the fact that people have contacted the charities she claims to be supporting, alerting them to the fact she’s making them look bad by association, is not bullying. It’s part of being a public persona. The police would not be involved, and do not need to be involved. Ms Thomas is a crybaby and a liar, and really, even if she manages to make some small profit from her crappy books to give to a charity, the harm she does to the cause of anti-domestic violence is much greater. Wrapping herself in Reeva Steencamp’s bloodstained sheets while bleeting about bullying comments is repulsive in the extreme.
The commenters on AW should know better. Reviews are not bullying. An author has no requirement to read her reviews, or to respond to them, or take cognisance of them in any way even if she does see them. If you look at the listings for Lindira and the new Remastering Jerna kindle edition on Amazon, you will see reviews which are nasty and ignorant, written by ignorant nasty men trying to get my goat. Unpleasant? Yes. Bullying, no. I don’t have to look at the reviews, and I won’t. I don’t have to look at Goodreads. I don’t have to follow links back from my referrer stats.
If I choose to do so, and get upset, then I do that in the knowledge that I had a choice not to look at this crap. Unless the ignorant, tiny-dicked men behind those reviews turn up on my doorstep, I am not threatened. I can walk away. I have the power. They have no power over me. Bullying is about inescapability, about power differentials. In an internet interaction I am equal to any of these trolls, just as Eve Thomas is to any of the people commenting on her books. She can walk away. She chooses not to. She’s a fool, not the victim of bullying. People are nasty about her because she’s being a heinous bitch. She needs to climb down off the styrofoam cross and realise in this instance, the victimisation is all being carried out by herself.
Bullying is real. Domestic abuse is a dreadful, serious issue. Harrassment online is also a serious issue. But accepting responsibility for one’s own actions, especially one’s own fuckups, is part of being an adult and fully functioning member of society. At some point, the Eve Thomases of the world need to realise that.