Women writing M/M

There’s a subject I keep seeing all over the net recently, and that’s about people who are not gay and lesbian writing gay and lesbian fiction. Some people find it annoying, some people even find it offensive, a lot of people seem puzzled by it.

Myself, I’m puzzled why people are puzzled.

For me, writing fiction isn’t about who are actually are – and that seems such an obvious statement that I am staring at it wondering that I actually had to write it down. If writing was about who I actually was, then all I would write would be very dull work stories, or perhaps some wild-child fiction, or even horse stories. God forbid.

I’ve seen it argued that women can’t write gay men. Granted I’ve seen some excruciatingly girlie boys in gay fiction, but hell – that doesn’t mean they don’t exist, or that people (men and women) don’t like reading about them. In my personal life, I’ve met gay men and lesbians which encompass just about every range (well, DER) from squealing girlie boys to bears with grease under their nails and men more beautiful and yet more masculine than a lot of heteros, despite being gay gay gay. And actually – some of the most girlie men I’ve read in the historical genre have actually been written by men. You can’t deny that Duncan from The Master of Seacliff, or Robert from Gaywyck are rather feminine in their attitudes, complete with bouts of tears on a regular basis.

So a particular woman might not write your cuppa tea when it comes to gay men, but you can’t write off all female writers of the genre off just because you’ve read one you didn’t like. I know of some women who write porn more basic and just as downright filthy than any wank book I’ve read available at Starbooks or Alyson.

It seems to me that it’s only in this corner of the writing world that this problem raises its head. No-one cares who writes crime fiction. No-one cares particularly who writes Historical Fiction. (There is, in the latter genre, some discussion between “what men like” (“battles”) and “what women like” (“queens and shit”) but it’s still generalisation. It’s like ALL girl children playing with Barbie and ALL boy children playing with Action Man/GI Joe. It doesn’t happen. Some men will read a story with a romance, and some women love the stories that are battle heavy.

Even with Romance, no-one really cares that much. I know a few male authors writing it, although they usually use a pseudo, there doesn’t seem to be the “you are a man, you shouldn’t be writing this.” campaign.

Why then, is it annoying to some that women write gay fiction? Is it because a lot of it is erotica? I suppose I can relate to the fact that gay men might find the objectification of their bodies to be offensive, and that they feel that they are being exploited in some way, but can we say “puhleeze” people? Women have been treated in this way since women were invented – us doing it back is not revenge after all, it’s a sign of our feminism (perhaps) that finally we can write erotica – buy and read it – without shame and without having to buy Playgirl or ask gay friends for loans of magazines.

For many many years (and still to this day) men smirk, fanaticise and wank at the thought of two women in bed together – I cannot see why women finding two or more men in bed together a beautiful thing is something that raises eyebrows.

But when it comes right down to it, fiction is fiction. An author, be they male or female, writes PEOPLE. Whether the author is good at their job is another matter.

There are a lot heterosexuals writing bad romance, erotic or otherwise. There are a lot of gay people writing bad romance erotic or otherwise.

I can’t, despite my plumbing and “it’s got a pulse?=SHAG” mentality, write a m/f or m/f/m scene to Save My Life. It would be unconvincing and would probably end up on Weeping Cock. However, gay men, lesbians, bis and straights of all types have read my stuff and while it’s not universally popular, I hit the spot (as it were) or so I’ve been told.

As for non-erotica, perhaps the feeling stems from “you have no right to write about our struggle if you haven’t been there.” I can see this point of view too. I’ve seen anthologies which won’t take stories from people who aren’t gay men, and this makes me sad.


Because when did I need to prove what I was to submit a story to anyone? Despite the fact that my appearance is female, how does the editor know what I consider myself to be. This, I thought (unless I’ve got the whole thing terribly wrong from start to finish), is what I thought the essence of gender was all about. Not what you SEEM to be, but what you are, what you consider yourself to be.

So when am I allowed to submit? When I start on the hormones? Or after the surgery is completed? When will I will gay enough?

(Incidentally, I exclude real-life memoire submission calls, I would never submit to one of those, as that would be dishonest – they are not fiction and do not declare themselves to be)

Consider this. Do I need to be black to attempt a story about slavery, or segregation? What if I were to write a story about Rosa Parks, would I need to prove I was black? I don’t know. Possibly. It would depend if I got it right enough for the readers and didn’t lessen the impact.

Part of the reason I write gay historical fiction is to show people the problems gay men had in times before ours. I think it’s important to remember – obviously – and there seems to be a preponderance of text-books and articles on the subject, but very little historical fiction. Not enough stories, and there must be a million stories untold.

Should I be Irish to write about the famine, or the troubles? Should I be Chinese to write about the Boxer rebellion?

Or what about – like Anna Sewell or Michael Morpurgo – I were to write a story from a horse’s pov? Is that right? Is it just because the horse can’t say “oh, that would never happen” that we consider it to be literature?

Or a robot?
Or an alien?
Or a hobbit?

Yes, I know, I’m getting facetious but my point remains the same. It’s up to the author to write characters and for the reader to be (or not to be) convinced by them. That’s all. Whether the name on the cover is Janet or John – as long as the story is good –does it matter? Discuss:

14 Responses

  1. Amen and absolutely! I could not have said it better myself. Readers who gripe about women writing M/M fiction probably would have told Dostoevsky not to write Crime and Punishment because he wasn’t a murderer, or Kenneth Grahame not to write The Wind in the Willows because he wasn’t a toad.

    All the best,
    Val Kovalin

  2. For many many years (and still to this day) men smirk, fanaticise and wank at the thought of two women in bed together – I cannot see why women finding two or more men in bed together a beautiful thing is something that raises eyebrows.

    Exactly. Why is it all fine and normal for straight men to get off on two women, but it’s disgusting and deviant and WRONG for straight women to get off on two men? That’s ridiculous.

    I can understand that some female writers might not get all the nuances of a gay male character. I’ve been told by some gay men that they enjoyed my stuff, but I’m sure there are any number of gay men who don’t. Fine. There’s nothing weird about that. There are plenty of straight writers of het romance whose stories I don’t care for for whatever reason, but that doesn’t mean those people shouldn’t be writing. I don’t read their stuff, but other people do.

    For every woman writing a girlie-man with a weeping cock, there’s a Caro Soles who writes hard smut with the best of the gay male writers, and satisfied plenty of the gay male readers while writing under her male pseud. (Which isn’t a major secret anymore but people can go look it up for themselves.)

    To me, it’s not about who you are. It’s about what kind of a job you do. There are writers who are very similar to their main characters who do a lousy job with them, and writers who are very unlike their main characters who do a great job. And vice versa of course. The only valid question in my opinion is whether a writer did enough research and found the handle that let them do a good job. If so, great, and if not, then that sucks. There you go.


  3. Amen. To every word.

    And then…you’ve got us transfolks, the red-headed stepchildren, right along with the bi-folks. *shrugs* I write what I feel in my heart. And the gender of the author, when I read a story, doesn’t matter in the least.

  4. Yes, Mychael, it’s strange that, and that’s probably why I find the whole thing baffling. It doesn’t occur to me to think of the author at all. i don’t CARE about the author, if I think about them at all, it’s the dead ones, I’ll go and look at their lives, perhaps and think “goodness, how did they manage without the internet?” but while I’m reading a book, I had no connection to the reader at all.

    It’s odd.

  5. I don’t understand the mentality either. 😦 Fiction is fiction, but I’ve seen people gripe about the authenticity of the writer time and again. Not just with gay fiction, either. ‘Culture misappropriation’ is something I’ve heard writers being accused of when they tackle subjects outside of their ethnicity. Apparently, only Amy Tam can write fiction about Chinese-American women, and I hope to God JK Rowling is a wizard otherwise Harry Potter won’t be half as good anymore. >_>

    I wonder how many writers of m/m romance feel they have to assume the guise of a gay persona for credibility. I’m not talking about using initials or a name that’s gender-neutral; I mean someone who blatantly tells readers, “I’m a gay man”, when they’re not…just because they’re afraid admitting the truth would somehow discredit their writing. The idea alone sucks. 😦

  6. Hi Anne,

    I think that it certainly was worrying to authors to try and sell stuff admitting you were a woman, once – there’s still some resistence, but not as much. I chose a gender neutral name not because I worried about not getting published (that was a dream I didn’t think would happen) but if I WAS published, I didn’t think that gay men would buy a book written by a woman. Because I was writing specifically for men, or I thought i was because I realised that there wasn’t any Mills & Boon historical stuff for men. I was soon aware that women were also into it, and that’s great.

    I felt a little odd about representing myself as male in my bio, but my publisher said that was quite acceptable – lots of people do it, famous people too, so I didn’t worry too much. I decided to make it an open “secret” because I was unhappy with readers thinking I was male, it just seemed dishonest – but it had nothing to do with the writing.

    I was talking to an author yesterday and she said “well, I’m writing this WIP and I know for damned sure I’m not a templar warrior, a muslim princess or an 11th century woman!” which sort of sums it up.

  7. “I was talking to an author yesterday and she said “well, I’m writing this WIP and I know for damned sure I’m not a templar warrior, a muslim princess or an 11th century woman!” which sort of sums it up.”

    *chuckles* Well, God knows I’m not a Templar or a Crusader, but I’ve still got a book set during the Third Crusade that’s burning a hole in my Muse. (Okay, so I’m procrastinating here and there on it, but still…)

  8. Amen! I used to think it curious that a number of women who write m/m romance use male pen names or, even more boggling to me, men who write m/f romance using female pen names. Then I saw the wankage out there in romancelandia criticizing authors who cross genders in their writing. And, like you, my first and only question was: why?

    I haven’t (to my knowledge, anyway) been criticized for writing lesbian and bisexual female characters. I have never publicly stated my sexuality nor do I see a reason to. It’s not a secret, but neither do I think it should be a basis for judging the quality of my writing.

    Talent is talent.

    End of story.


  9. I utterly and entirely agree – but you know that!!!


  10. Hi. I hope it’s okay that I comment on this. From my experience working at a New York publisher, working at a chain bookstore, and talking to authors and readers, I think you’re mistaken when you say that m/m erotica is the only area where the gender of an author is an issue. There is gender prejudice in a lot of genres. It’s not as easy to sell Patricia Cornwell or Tess Gerritsen to the average male customer as Michael Connelly despite the fact that their just as gritty if not more so. And as you mentioned, romances by male authors won’t sell unless their written under a female pseudonym.

    One big issue is, as Writers Digest noted, men are just not buying books that much anymore. The result is something experienced by my best friend’s colleague, a male mystery writer. She says he was told by his New York agent that male protagonists aren’t selling anymore and that generally male authors have become a much harder sell. There’s not really any reason to be bitter about it in my opinion. If women are the only ones buying books, it goes to follow that they often prefer protagonists of the same sex similar to the way I sometimes like reading protagonists who are gay males. I’m sure women don’t want women protagonists all the time, but enough that its making publishers change what they acquire.

    As far as women writing m/m, I’m all for it. I’m a big fan of Caro Soles’ work as a matter of fact. I recently blogged about the call for submissions that wanted gay-male identified authors and felt that seemed wrong. Basically the best stories should be published no matter who wrote them, don’t you think? On the other hand, readers have told me that I should be writing more for a women’s audience (as they are probably the primary buyers of m/m e-books) by being more “romantic” and should perhaps change my pen name as they’d rather read m/m from a female writer. I’m guessing the situation is completely the opposite for print anthologies. So frustration and confusion from gender bias sometimes goes in both directions. But what can you do if you’re writing to get purchased by the only people buying books?

  11. I can’t help but think that there are people who really treasure the thought that their gender is opaque to people from the opposite side. I mean men who believe that women cannot possibly understand what it’s like for a man, and that men cannot possibly understand the inscrutable mystery that is women. Equally I’ve heard an actual published writers saying that she doesn’t bother with deep characterization for her men because men aren’t deep.

    I’ve always felt that all it took was a bit of imagination and thinking about the issues involved, and a good writer should be able to imagine themselves into anyone’s shoes. But possibly there are people who are bitterly uncomfortable with the thought that gender might be fluid and understandable, and would rather believe that it’s some sort of absolute gulf that cannot be crossed.

  12. Agree with every single word. The gender of writers has never bothered me; half the time I couldn’t tell you what gender they are – and I bet more than a few aren’t what I think they are. 😉

    I can perhaps understand some concern if a woman tried to write a gay textbook/self-help book, or a ‘true life’ confession, because there’d be an element of ‘cheating’.

    But, er, guys… this is *fiction*. You know, make-believe? LOL

  13. I liked this, Erastes. I don’t think women who write m/m are exploiting so much as worshiping in a way their love of male beauty. I know for myself, worship is very much the case. My book His Beautiful Samurai was recently used in a gay/lesbian literature course at a college and in the class discussion, one of the men in the class said he appreciated that a woman had written it. So I thought that was cool.

  14. Of course, it is not just women writing m/m that crosses this boundary. Remember that JK Rowling was published under that name and not under Joanne Rowling because the publisher believed that “boys wouldn’t read Harry Potter if they knew it was written by a woman”.

    Some of the best erotica I have read has been written by virgins. I don’t feel that they “shouldn’t” be writing it because they can’t have experienced it. My writing has covered all sorts of sexualities (f/f, m/f, m/m, f/m) and I don’t feel my own gender OR sexuality is anyone’s business but my own.

    Writing should be judged on the standard of writing. Is that so outrageous a concept?

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