For You

One of the things about being a queer author of short fiction that usually finds itself on the more spec fic side of the street than the romantic is I’m not often a part of the romance culture as I’d like to be. I love romance, and a great deal of the short fiction I’ve written has definitely been gay romance, and even my first novel, Light, had a romantic sub-plot that was almost as weighty to the sum total of the book as the spec fic content was.

Often, this means I don’t often see a lot of the discussions that occur until they’re very well underway, and often those discussions have turned into a lot of anger before I see them at all. Which sort of sucks. I often only see a topic when someone posts a “This is So Damn Wrong!” post, a “It’s No Big Deal!” post, or a “What is Wrong With Everyone?” post.

Romance is a great place, and I have to believe that the hot tempers come from a place of passion for romance to be a force for good. When people feel strongly about something, they react strongly, too. That’s an awesome thing that can also turn a bit sideways. It’s also very, very easy to feel that anything that criticizes something you’re passionate about is an attack on the thing you’re passionate about.

Real criticism isn’t that.

Whether talking about the potential for male pseudonyms to be appropriative in the m/m writing world, or the firmly entrenched systematic racism on display when someone declares they have lines for black and latin romances, and thereby don’t look at those for the main imprints, or someone points out there are major missteps with the author’s representation of native culture, it can be uncomfortable and awkward to stop and say, “Wait. It’s possible something I care about is doing harm.” While I can understand it’s a natural reaction to think, “I don’t feel any ill will to people who are X, and this feels like someone is accusing me of acting negatively to people who are X!” what is really being said is: “this story/process/system is hurtful/stigmatizing/ignoring/erasing/restricting to X.”

So.

Gay-for-you. (Or, alternatively, out-for-you.)

I almost didn’t write this post. Like the post I wrote last year on pseudonyms, I’m a little bit worried about how this could go, honestly. But the pseudonym post went well and people were polite, so here we go.

That trope of Gay-for-you.

Wow, what a mess. Again, I walked into this late, and maybe I missed some of the more moderate discussions that may have taken place, but I’m mostly seeing angry from both sides, or dismissiveness from both sides. And I will say both sides can and indeed do have points that are valid.

Now, I’ve said before I find gay-for-you plots somewhat problematic. Coming at it from a few different angles, here, there are multiple factors that make me flinch. But the first one that I’ve seen a few times is the very dismissive “Gay-for-you is just a trope, like millionaires or big misunderstandings.”

Being queer is not on par with a career or a social misunderstanding. I get what is intended by what’s being said: that this is romance, and themes and plotlines recur in romance, and that this theme: the straight guy who falls for another guy, is a plotline, but saying that it’s a trope is insulting to those of us who’ve lived a queer life (and, often, suffered for doing so) when you’re equating it with the life of a fictional millionaire, or a guy and a gal who just need to stop for five minutes and talk to solve their problems. Unlike that fictional millionaire or a conversation, queerdom is an identity and a minority with a history of being stomped down on. How you portray a member of a living, breathing culture of people is important. And if you do it wrong—in ignorance or on purpose—it can’t surprise you to hear about it.

Like I said, I do understand what was intended by the sentiment: the goal of the gay-for-you story is to provide entertainment and deliver a romantic story for the enjoyment of the reader. And there’s an odd sense that a gay-for-you story can’t do that and still be harmful or painful to queer readers. It totally can. People have enjoyed and loved on things that are reductive or erasing or stigmatizing before, and they’ll do it again. Look at Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

So, no. We queerfolk? Not just a trope.

The incredible vanishing bisexual…

Next, there’s the notion of erasure. Now, most people talk about bi erasure, and I absolutely agree on that point, but I’ll expand a little. I’ve read more than a few stories where the plot of a gay-for-you story never even mentions the word bisexual, and every time it sets my teeth on edge. Straight and Gay (or Lesbian) are labels, and I see a lot of well-meaning people say things like “labels are so reductive” and “we need to move past labels” and “why do we have to label something that means love in the first place”? On the surface, those sound like completely valid statements. I even found myself wondering why it bothered me at first.

But after some thought, it comes to this:

You’ve probably heard of the campaign Silence = Death. That label I see declared unnecessary and shrugged out of existence in the name of love and romance and puppies? That label: gay? (Or bi, or pan, or demi, or ace, or queer, or trans or…?)

It matters.

It matters and has impact in my life all the time. It is absolutely a part of who I am. It’s not everything, no, but it’s a major thing and some times and in some situations it’s the most central thing. Queerfolk have to fight for the right to be queer. To not be tossed in camps, or jails, or beaten to death, or denied marriage, or any number of other things. That’s not finished.

Not saying the words is a form of erasure, period, and it absolutely feeds into the shame and tells those who feel those things shouldn’t be talked about that they’re right. In my life, I have heard so many variations of this.

“Oh, I don’t care what you do in your bedroom, but I don’t want to see it.”

“I just wish you didn’t call it marriage.”

“I don’t know why you have to declare yourselves so much.”

What’s really being said there is “I’d rather you go away.”

I get that it would be lovely to live in a world where labels don’t matter, but the reality is we’re not there yet, I’m not sure we ever will be, and in the mean time? They do. And for bi folk? They get crap from both within and without. Someone who is gay can (and often does) have very different experiences than someone who is bisexual or pansexual, and that matters. The identity, the label, the word. It matters.

It’s how we find each other. It’s how we create our logical families if our biological families slam the door. It’s how we find a sense of who we are.

Words are tools. Labels are, too. And not just the sexuality ones. My husband is exactly that—my husband—and that title (or label) has impact and power from a legal, cultural, and sociological point of view. So does gay, or straight, or bisexual, or pansexual, or lesbian, or transgender, or…

Well, you get my point.

So when an author decides that there’s no point in even dropping the word “bisexual” or “pansexual” into a narrative (or that it’s not important at all), and that a character who is almost entirely attracted to people of a different gender finds someone who matches their gender and they fall in love, and the character continues to self-declare as straight and there are no societal ripples in the narrative at all, it grinds me to a halt and breaks verisimilitude.

This comes up in the queer community quite a bit, where bi erasure is a struggle as well. A bisexual man who is in a relationship with a woman doesn’t become straight by virtue of their pairing. He is still bisexual. If he dates a man, he doesn’t become gay. He is still bisexual. Ditto pansexual folk. I’ve had bi friends reduced to tears when people shrug off their identity because “it’s easier just to think of you as gay” or “well, you’re mostly with men, so I figure you’re straight now” or “whatever, sexuality is a spectrum.” When a story presents a fictional character that reinforces this “he’s straight (or she’s straight) but with another man (or woman)” dismissal, it’s reinforcing something that’s already a problem.

I get that this is romance, and I get that romance is happily-ever-after (or for-now), but as a reader—and as a queer guy—at best I give up on the story, and at worst I can’t help but consider that the author isn’t particularly well informed in queer culture or is actively deciding a sensitive or accurate portrayal of queer culture doesn’t really matter. I love reading stories where queer folk find loving families, acceptance, and love. That story isn’t told anywhere near as often as it should be. Many gay-for-you stories have the perfect set-up for that sort of story, but skip it completely because, hey, it’s just hot if he’s straight.

Y’know, except for with that one guy.

Another side of erasure to consider here may sound a bit silly, but the straight half of the gay-for-you coupling also kind of gets to erase the whole growing-up-queer factor that is a reality for those of us who did exactly that. Coming out (and one of the reasons I certainly think “Out for You” is a better term for what regardless remains a wonky trope if it’s still written as a straight guy finding that one other guy to be with) is way, way more than just “Oh, so it turns out I’m turned on by you. Neat.” And to be fair, in many of the gay-for-you stories I’ve read, the straight fellow in question does seem to struggle most of the time with what it might mean, but this is where those darn labels come in handy in the real-world coming out process.

Because it takes language to work out these things.

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve read a gay-for-you story and the straight character’s thought processes are, “This makes no sense. I know I’m not gay. I can’t be gay! I like sex with women. What the hell is going on?” I want to scream the word “bisexual!” at the book.

My tween niece has more functional ability to categorize and process the sexuality spectrum than these characters, and it’s painful.

Imagine a bi reader with that story. Everything about that moment is right there as an opportunity for the character to invite the reader in and stand in front of a mirror. Instead, the author draws curtains and closes and locks the front door.

But no, I think it’s sexy!

Now, the idea that gay-for-you can be harmful when the people writing and reading the books are themselves totally into the sex being displayed can also seem counterintuitive. One blog I read pointed out that opponents of gay-for-you were basically attacking their allies.

It’s perfectly possible to do damage as an ally. Seriously. And one of the biggest and easiest mistakes to make is to talk when it’s time to listen. As a guy, I want to be the best feminist I can. Being queer gives me a slice of insight into what it’s like to be shoved down for something that shouldn’t matter. But I’m still a guy. I still grew up with access to all the privileges that come with being a man. The biggest and best thing I can do as a feminist is to listen when women tell me about an issue, and then try to boost their voices on the topic as well as change my own behaviour. Now, when I’m in a male environment and there are no women around, and someone says some sexist shit, I’ll call it out. But when I’m in an environment where a woman is speaking to a topic and providing that point of view, my job is to shut up and listen.

That’s a huge part of being an ally. So if you’re a queer ally and you’re taking part in something that a lot of queer people point out isn’t queer-positive?

It’s time to listen.

It’s sexier, because, y’know, straight guys…

Sweat

The whole “straight-acting” masculine thing? Can be toxic. I explored that a bit in “Shutout.”

Let’s unpack a bit why it’s important the character be straight, rather than closeted, or just unaware of their (as yet unexplored and unimagined, or rarely same-gender aligned) bisexuality or pansexuality. Why is that, exactly? I mean, I know I’m stepping into the great unknowable that is desire and what gets folks hot, but there’s something a bit off, here.

Now, there’s the absolutely, well-documented notion of situational homosexual acts. Guys in jail is probably the short-hand. But that’s not what’s being done with a gay-for-you story, right? No, in a gay-for-you story, the straight man discovers actual romantic and erotic feelings for a particular other guy, and then, ultimately, sex and relationships ensue. No one gets out of jail and reverts back to their previous self-declared state. The straight man is now with the other guy, and they are together.

So…why is this sexier than a guy who, when the same scenario starts to unfold, has a moment—which could absolutely still include panic and worry and all the other freak-out moments that come with coming-out—where he thinks, Oh man. I might be bi. Or has a friend say, “Dude, it’s okay. You could be pan or bi. And hey, if you are, I’ve got your back.” Or any number of other easy-to-include-non-erasure-and-far-more-reflective-of-reality options?

I can’t quite help but feel it plays into a sense of masculinity that is not being ascribed to a gay guy (or a bi guy, or any form of a queer guy). Like, somehow, it’s just hotter if he’s straight and he still gets it on with another guy. Because gay stuff, or bi stuff? Not as hot.

And by “not as hot” what I see is “not as good as” or “less worth” or any which way you’d like to translate what amounts to just another version of the same old garbage we spit out about how men are men, and what masculinity is…and definitely isn’t.

It feels like, “I want to get off on watching two guys, but I totally don’t want them to be, like, actually gay or anything.”

There is so much damage done by the notion of “straight-acting” in the queer male community. Gay-for-you plays right into that pile of crap.

Or, put another way, if you’re claiming it doesn’t matter what label is used, why not use the label that would be more inclusive and create visibility? Why actively not do something that would by your own admission be a good thing?

Well, if you just found the right one…

So why does gay-for-you bug me so much? It has got a bit of a “magic fix” tone to it that many queerfolk will find too close-to-home.

I know I’ve received the same message as an attack. Deconstructed, what gay-for-you often reads like is this: He’s a straight guy until the right gay fellow comes along, and then—libido engaged, and praise the magic penis!—eventually willing to go for the guy. They struggle, they win, they end up together. The end.

As a queer guy, you better believe that I’ve had some pretty hateful people tell me I just needed the right woman to come along to set me straight.

How much do you think a story like that would fly? A gay guy who meets a woman, and for the first time feels sexual attraction for a woman, and they get together, the end. No mention of bisexuality or a sexuality spectrum and no labels in play.

What about a lesbian who ends up with the first man who ever arouses her desires. Same scenario, no hint of any label other than she being a lesbian who goes straight-for-him.

As a queer fellow, the lack of discussion and labels and bi-inclusivity in sort of narrative makes me very nervous. Put the bisexuality back in there, and the queer nature of the relationships hold truer to life, and it doesn’t come across like some sort of dark “cure” story. Heck, you can even explore how much crap the bi characters endure from within the queer community. How novel would that be to see?

But hey, maybe I’m prejudging, and a “turns out he’s found the one woman who means he can call himself straight” story might do well and no one would mind, but I’m doubtful, and as a gay fellow, I can and do see the harm that narrative projects.

But it’s my fictional character and I can do whatever I want…

So here’s the part that comes up in almost every post I’ve seen. “Ultimately, it’s fiction, so who cares? It’s made up and that’s how I see the character.”

Okay. You’re right. You totally can.

And people can give you feedback for poor portrayal of real-world, living-breathing cultures.

Here’s where we go back to the start of this post where I talk about how criticism—when done well—isn’t an attack.

I once had a really uncomfortable conversation, face-to-face, with an author I really admired. I love her books. Her mystery series is brilliant, and I was so excited to see meet her for the first time. And when I met her, I was very, very careful to mention first how much I loved her books, because I also had some criticism for her. The criticism was this: “Every gay couple you’ve introduced has had one or the other murdered before the end of the book.” Now, it’s a mystery series, right? Bodies will pile up. Some of the main character’s romantic partners have died, too, over the course of some of the books. And there are obviously not-gay characters aplenty who live and breathe and have romantic partners throughout the series who also lose someone. It’s a mystery series. But as a gay guy, I couldn’t help but notice the gay characters more, and there wasn’t a single couple who survived the length of a single book. If she introduced a gay couple, I knew one was going to be the murder victim. Every. Single. Time.

That was a problem. Whether intentional or not, even just from the basic point of view of giving your reader a mystery to chew on, she had a pattern she didn’t realize that showed her hand before she intended. Toss in the unintentional message, too—gay folk don’t get (or deserve) happiness—and it becomes something more problematic. And that message is one we queerfolk get loud and clear. You don’t have to go far to look at how queer characters are portrayed, so when you write a happy ending and then remove the bisexuality or pansexuality from it, what are you saying, exactly?

These same problems come time and time again across all forms of fiction. The black guy who self-sacrifices to save the white hero. The girl who has sex and then gets killed. The person with a disability who reminds the main character that their life isn’t so bad after all. There are tonnes of these, and they deserve criticism.

I can like the author, and her books, and still politely ask her why she thinks her gay folks never got to be happy. Luckily, she took the feedback incredibly well. She apologized and was embarrassed—which was absolutely not the point and not the end result I was looking for—but since then there are gay characters who are couples who survive from book to book—which was what I’d hoped I might accomplish: adding perspective.

I’ve also been on the receiving end of this kind of discussion. I’ve screwed up, and people have called me on it. It’s never fun. But I try to stop and listen. If the people upset are the real voice counterpart of a character I’ve written? I need to stop, disengage my  defensiveness and possessiveness of “my” character, and listen.

I might still disagree. But I need to listen first, and really, really stop and think. The vast majority of the time, I learn, and vow not to make the same mistake next time. Next time, I try to do better. That’s all I can do.

When the first reaction to criticism is “I don’t see that,” it seems to me the first question on the part of the author (or disagreeing reader) should be “Why don’t I see that?”

I’m willing to bet that very often the answer is “I haven’t lived that.”

Rather than a declaration of opposition to the criticism, and dismissing it out of hand, it’s worth parsing. Every writer has gotten edits or criticism they’ve chosen to ignore. But a good writer knows even those ignored edits or criticism have value, and might point out something worth clarifying or exploring more. If an author didn’t intend harm, but harm is perceived, there’s likely an opportunity to clarify the message to reduce that accidental harm.

But seriously, it’s fiction. I’m not being political!

If you’re choosing to write about queer people, though, the thing is? You are.

Or at the very least, you’re kind of a teacher to your readers. You might not want to be, but you are. I can draw another parallel here, with a turn of phrase I used to see quite a bit in m/m fiction: “I’m clean.”

When I see it, I assume the author doesn’t know the following:

This phrase was absolutely used in the queer community, too. Some still do. It was a shorthand for saying, “I’m HIV negative,” (or, wider, “I have no STDs.”) But the reality was, it had a value judgement attached. Because what’s the opposite of clean? People who are HIV positive? They’re not dirty. There’s a major movement doing amazing and important work in ending the stigma of HIV/AIDS. It’s important in no small part due to how that stigma stops people from being tested, stops them from learning their status, and does lasting harm.

Years ago, I learned of this movement and I stopped using “clean” in my vernacular, and when I hear someone else using it, I point it out. The language used, and the behaviour the language can create, is important.

Now, when I’m at conferences or discussion groups, I’ll bring up the “I’m clean” as a line of dialog to avoid. It’s a teachable moment, it’s important, and it’s something people aren’t going to know unless they’re taught, right? After all, that’s how I found out.

The people telling me this information were the people affected by it. The caregivers, experts and activists, and people living with HIV and AIDS.

So, while I hadn’t used the phrase in anything I’d written, I now knew not to.

If I chose to do so again, I’m doing exactly that: choosing. I’m choosing to pass on something I know has the potential to be harmful.

When you write about queer characters, you have that same potential. And when those who belong to the group you’re writing about tell you in no uncertain terms that they feel harm by a message you’ve delivered, you can’t unknow that. If you keep doing it, you’ve chosen to do so. This works inclusively and exclusively. If you never have a character who isn’t white, or all the trans characters you write are always killed, or the person who uses a wheelchair is a prop to remind your main character her life could be worse, you’re propagating a problem. And you know it. And you’re choosing to do so.

And that’s totally within your right to do so as an author. No one will deny that. I certainly won’t. And I’ve heard authors bemoan that they’re just trying to write fun sexy romantic stories for their readers, and that we queer folk shouldn’t ruin their fun. But if an author chooses to put their reader’s fun over active harm their portrayal of queer characters does, then they’re going to get called out on it.

Don’t be surprised if people point it out, and don’t feel slighted if others don’t suggest your work because of it, or let others know the content included should be avoided by those who aren’t looking for one more reminder of how they’re not worth inclusion.

The difference with the gay thing…

One thing those of you who’ve heard me talk about queerdom over and over again have definitely heard me say before is my usual riff on how queer culture isn’t inherited. It bears repeating. We queer folk don’t inherit our narratives, and our lineages aren’t clear and certainly aren’t taught in mainstream history classes.

What I mean is, we almost never have lesbian daughters being taught about their trans grandparents by their bisexual mothers and gay fathers. We have to go find our history and we often grow up in a home that assumes we are something else until we say so. Coming out is a part of the process (and a process, by the way, that never actually ends. I’m forty-one, married to my husband, and every time I mention him in public with people I’m meeting for the first time? That’s coming out, with all the inherent risks thereof. Again. And again. And again.)

For many of us young queerlings, fiction was the first place we learned anything about ourselves. My first gay anything was a character in a book. My stunned realization about that character was only matched by the horror of that character’s miserable death, presented as an “of course he died, he was gay.”

Think about that for a second: what if the only time you saw yourself represented in the media around you, it was negatively. Or, worse, you just never saw yourself at all. That has impact. It has massive impact. We need the Uhuras and the Ellens and the Kurt Hummels and the Dr. Houses and the RuPauls and as many stories and representations as we can have that show us futures that include people like us.

But tell me what you really think…

Okay. This is way too long and way too wordy and I’m sure I’ll never be happy with what I’ve said or how I’ve said it.

Shortest form possible?

It’s totally possible for a reader to enjoy something and love something and for it still to be something that harms others. If the living and breathing actual real-life counterparts of a group an author is choosing to write about are saying the portrayal of people like them is off, then the author should stop and listen.

Shorter than that?

When an ally doesn’t listen to the people they say they support, they’re not supporting them. They’re silencing them.

 


 

Edit: As part of the comments to this discussion, it was brought forth to my attention that trans* is no longer considered an appropriate term, and that trans (without the asterisk) has the inclusivity that trans* was intended to refer to. So if you saw an earlier version with trans* and are wondering where the asterisk went, this is why

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111 thoughts on “For You

  1. Thank you. I started following your blog after your post on male pseudonym’s. That writing and this today has really helped this old, straight, white reader of gay romance find a balance. I am so looking forward to your new book.

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  2. Very, very, very well put, as always. I’m continually impressed by your ability to sit down and logically present an argument. You, sir, should be a lawyer! Seriously! And reading this has given me some good thoughts for the book I just submitted to Wilde City Press and which I will definitely address in edits. Thank you for calmly touching on all of these items and for continuing to put thoughtfulness ahead of finger-pointing. Cheers!

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    • Ha! The thought of being a lawyer makes me break out in hives. But thank you.

      Finger pointing doesn’t help, I don’t think. I’ve been on the receiving end of that, and it’s so much harder to find the actual wisdom when you’re feeling personally attacked instead of critiqued. 🙂

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  3. Hey ‘Nathan… impressive and well-said post. As a gay author, I am often reminded I also need to listen to what my bi and trans and ace and female and gender fluid friends say about what I write. I know being a gay man really well. The others… not so much. Thanks for reminding us of that.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know I’ve fallen into that trap. I realized having a discussion one day that I hadn’t written a single bisexual character. I was writing for gay anthologies, specifically, most of the time, but it occurred to me that didn’t mean I shouldn’t have bi inclusion. So for the gay jock erotica collection, I took it as a challenge to make sure one of the characters was bi, and started from there.

      I’ve yet to write an ace character, or a gender fluid character. I have a lot of research and listening to do first, but it’s definitely on the list, yes.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m writing my first bi character now and have done a couple trans ones. I try to ask questions and be respectful, knowing this is not my “home ground”. I should try an ace character at some point. Good for you for tackling a bi character. 🙂

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    • You’re very welcome. I think in some ways I was lucky – I bumped into this furore right before I went away for a week. I got back yesterday, so it was enough time to simmer and ponder before reacting, and I consciously made that choice.

      It can and does get exhausting, and it took me a long time to learn there’s nothing at all wrong with taking a “pass” when I’m not in the right place to discuss.

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  4. Great post, ‘Nathan. Thank you. I’m convinced there’s a creative way through this, but it’s going to take mindful discourse to find it. You’ve mad a powerful contribution to that deeper conversation.

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    • Actually, you were the spark. I was directed to something you’d written on the topic, and then I found all the other blog posts and discussions. Then I had to leave for a week, and that gave me time to bubble and simmer.

      So, thank you. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  5. I haven’t been on the internet much this week and have missed most of this. Honestly, I saw one post and totally dismissed it because I just can’t physically keep up with what is going on. Real life is kicking my ass and it’s impossible to see everything. To me Gay For You is a trope because it’s an unrealistic plot device that writers use. It’s not real. What is real is gay fiction that isn’t twisted to fit a device that maybe has run its course and should be put to bed. To me Gay For You isn’t gay fiction it a ‘straight guy turning gay’ fantasy. To me that’s what makes it a trope just like the girl who meets the billionaire. It’s never going to happen. Maybe that’s why authors call it a trope because it’s not real, not because they want to dismiss gay people, instead they are dismissing the plot device.

    As for bi erasure, I don’t see it in the fiction I read. That said, I’m not able to keep up with reading much in the genre since my real life went to hell. I do write bisexual characters and maybe that’s why I don’t see it. The characters fully admit they are bi. Some are bi but hit higher on the scale towards gay, kind of like real life. Some guys I know are bi in attraction but they only want to be in a relationship with a person of the same sex. I try to write my characters that way.

    I did read your whole post, which is actually amazing so kudos for a good post. This is the best rundown of the issue. I wish I could keep up with everyone. Back when the genre was small, I could, but it’s impossible now. And maybe that’s a good thing because a lot of people are reading and writing gay fiction, hopefully they are writing with respect and love. Maybe what I said makes no sense, it really is hard to keep up and I do appreciate an explanation that is all in one place. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re very welcome, and frankly, if you’re writing bi folk, you’re probably right that most of this wouldn’t really be something on your radar. And I hope things tone down for you. I know how awful it can be when you can’t catch your breath. Self-care is huge.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Well said. We don’t write anything but gay men who know they are gay and find their hea, but I’ve asked the gay for you question in so many author take overs that I know without question many, many, many readers love it. It’s a troupe, maybe not real, but it’s a plot device that some authors use. Ella Frank did outstanding in her gfy series. I truly believe she brought compassion and empathy to the entire LGBT community on a massive scale. If you want a good bisexual book, read Sara’s Colorado series. Loved it!

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  6. Thank you for putting everything into perspective. God can you imagine how confusing it is to see bits/ pieces of fragmented arguments and having no clue how everything got so toxic so fast? Special thanks to Kade for posting this as his status. I don’t read blogs but i am so happy to have been led to this one.

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  7. Two points…

    Gay or queer romance and m/m are not the same thing. Unfortunately far too many people are currently treating these two very different genres as if they were the same. Queer romance roots in queer fiction and queer culture. M/M romance however is the child of fanfiction slash and yaoi with some infusions from straight romance tropes. The moment you cease to mix them up you realise that you’re trying to meddle with something which never was conceived for or meant for gay men, never mind that some gay men like reading m/m. Slash and yaoi service completely unrelated needs for a wholly separate demografic (straight women, who want tropes like GFY for reasons unrelated to everything queer romance means). These women mostly won’t read queer romance instead, it’s m/m they want. The main reason the two different genres are currently being mixed and mashed is money. M/M is much more lucrative.

    The other point is that unfortunately for everyone – and I am sure you know that – there actually are straight men who sleep with other men (whether gay, bi or straight), simply because they like to experience sex between two men. Furthermore, there have been a few couples I personally know, over the past 2-3 decades, who have been GFY exactly as the trope wants it. It’s rare, but it exists. The men of neither of these cases would identify as bisexual or pansexual. They identify as straight and having found a partner who just happens to be another man. One single partner, once. Or they identify as straight men who like the sexual activity they can have with another man. They don’t identify as bi, either. Let’s not erase them in our need to combat bi-erasure, please.

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    • I have to amid some amusement that your comment came to my in-box right after someone else was pointing out that gay authors invented the gay-for-you trope. It’s possible that you’re both right and there was parallel development in two streams of readerships that didn’t cross over until recently, come to think of it.

      But to speak to your points specifically, I’m not sure “it’s not meant for you” really excuses harmful stereotypes or portrayals. Disney’s Pocahontas is meant for kids, as a cartoon to enjoy, not as an educational tool. It still has massive powers of appropriation and does harm to the perceptions of the general populace. You could argue that it’s for kids and doesn’t matter if indigenous people point out the harm it does. I disagree. Neither stops the movie from happening or being enjoyed by the intended audience, but the discussion can hopefully educate the general audience to be more aware of the issues at hand. And, hopefully, were a new movie to be made, some of those tropes and stereotypes might be reduced (or, hey, removed) thanks to the discussions that were had.

      I do see the divisions between m/m and queer genres. I get and understand that they’re marketed differently. It’s totally possible for something to be enjoyed by a target audience and still be problematic to a culture.

      Or, put another way, because things aren’t said directly to those they’re said about, it doesn’t mean those words have no power to affect the people they’re about.

      You’re also very right that there are absolutely straight folk out there who do indeed find one person to be with and continue to feel that “straight” is the right label for them, and that’s brilliant. I’m happy for them (though I imagine they have a devil of a time explaining their relationships to others). And that’s not the type of character to which I was referring. As I said above, it’s the character who is conflicted and presented as very much bisexual or pansexual but never given the support that label would provide that leaves me frustrated. I don’t want to erase anyone, but when you’ve got a sea of voices from a group telling you their representation is off, it behooves an author to stop and listen. If an author doesn’t want to write that character, they don’t have to. But if they write a character easily misunderstood and aren’t clear with that characterization, they’ll draw criticism. And frankly, that’s fair.

      If an author writes a series of racial stereotype characters, no one would say, “Well, they’re writing it for white people, so it’s okay.”

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      • I haven’t said people shouldn’t call out a stereotype they consider harmful or hurtful. But for me that’s it. They also have to accept when the other side says: ‘so noted, but we still want what we want.’ What should be the consequence then? Where do you want it to stop? That’s a very slippery slope we’re talking about.

        I’m sure Jamie Fessenden is correct in what he relates, but I am also sure that whatever was written in gay erotica or romance about a straight man being won over, it is rather different from the GFY trope originating in slash and yaoi. That is why I think that without looking closely at which genre you’re talking about, you can’t make assertions one way or the other.

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      • That’s as far as I think the consequences should go, as I’ve stated. That someone knows others finds what they do hurtful and chooses to keep doing so is absolutely something they can do. Totally.

        But I don’t think it’s reasonable for them to say, “I get it, but I’m not going to stop,” and then be upset when the reviews come in or the discussion comes up again and they’re pointed out.

        No, no one should stop writing what they want to write. Absolutely not. But if someone is considering themselves an ally and the group they are championing points out behaviour that’s damaging, I would hope there is a moment of contemplation.

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    • Please don’t erase the queer women and nb folks who write slash. We make up a HUGE demographic of slashfic/yaoi fanfic writers and readers, and I think a lot of us discovered, or partially discovered, our queerness through that venue. If you think that m/m fanfic writers are entirely a group of straight cis women, you’ve been misled by what mainstream considers fanfic writers to be like. And a lot of us write het and femslash, too, ftr. But please don’t discuss ending queer erasure while simultaneously erasing us.

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      • I’m aware of the fact that there is a large enough subset of queer slash/fanfic writers (I’m bi myself), but I wasn’t talking about fanfic. I was talking about m/m, which has derived from slash and yaoi, but also has roots in het romance. While there is, again, a faction of queer and gay readers of m/m, the vast majority are straight women, whether you want that or not. That’s quite obvious to everyone who reads reviews and discusses the genre with others.

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  8. As a gay man who still remembers what it was like when everybody was terrified to come out in the 80s, and recalls some of the horrific things gay men went through in that time period, I will say this about the Gay-For-You trope. We — gay men — INVENTED it. I still have a dozen magazines from that time period with stories in them about a gay man crushing on his straight best friend or neighbor. Eventually they have sex (of course), and the “straight” man realizes the main character is sex on two legs, and he’ll never go back to women. This was a prevalent GAY fantasy.

    While GFY may be unrealistic, this is not about straight women writing unrealistic things about gay men. This is something many gay men have written and still enjoy reading. The thing that angers me about this discussion, whenever it comes up, is this false dichotomy people insist upon, as if this is something gay men don’t like and only insensitive straight people would ever write it. That is not the case, any more than the stereotypical shoe-loving heroine of a straight romance novel (written by a woman) can be separated from the gender and orientation of the authors. It is NOT THAT SIMPLE.

    I generally prefer to write characters who are already out and happy with their sexuality — the coming out story bores me — but as a gay man I find nothing wrong with a character who believes he’s straight realizing he is not. He might realize he’s bisexual. But not necessarily. I’ve known a lot of gay men who insisted they were straight, married women, and then eventually had to admit to themselves (and their families) that those feelings they were trying to ignore couldn’t be ignored. They didn’t end up identifying as bisexual, because they were never really attracted to women. They were just trying to fit into a mold created for them by society. That isn’t “bi-erasure.” It was acceptance of who they really were.

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    • One of the reasons I tried very hard in writing this post to refer only to “authors” was exactly that – I absolutely agree that it doesn’t matter who is writing a piece if they’re writing a voice that isn’t their own. I also agree that a lot of people did (and do) come out of the closet and previously live and identify as straight and do so as gay. That was why I tried to reference stories I was encountering where the internal thoughts of the character in question were presented as very much bisexual or pansexual, but the story jumped to “gay” or remained at “straight” instead. The “but I like sleeping with women, I can’t be gay!” characters.

      Whether or not the notion of a gay-for-you plot was invented by gay authors or straight authors (it’s funny, but a comment I received right after yours claims the opposite, that gay-for-you was born of m/m slashfic written by women for women), I think the point I was trying to reach more was that when you’ve got bi people saying that there’s something off in a trope and zero visibility, and you’re writing a character that can easily be interpreted in thought and emotion as a bi character and actively choose not to pursue that, there’s a disconnect and a potential for erasure.

      I’m not bi. I’m gay. So if I write a bi character, I’m going to pay attention to bi voices. I do the same when I write straight women, or any character that doesn’t align with my own limited experiences. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t write those characters, it just means it’s easier for me to screw it up. Heck, even writing gay characters who aren’t much like myself is something I can mess up. When I receive criticism, I try to disentangle my emotions from it (and sometimes fail) to find something useful.

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      • Regarding which came first — slashfic or gay men writing GFY fantasies — I’ll just say that the earliest recorded instances of the former were by Star Trek fans in the 1970s. So technically, that predates the porn magazines I first encountered in the early 80s. However, the Internet did not exist at this time. So any slashfic going around was being passed around on photocopied pages and didn’t have wide distribution. ( http://www.beyonddreamspress.com/history.htm ) The magazines I recall from my teen years had national distribution by the time I began reading them in 1983. I don’t think it can be argued that slashfic had much influence upon the gay men writing those stories.

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  9. “As a queer guy, you better believe that I’ve had some pretty hateful people tell me I just needed the right woman to come along to set me straight.”

    This has always been my reaction to this trope. It makes me cringe with the implications. Excellent post! Thank you.

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  10. Thank you for this very thoughtful and interesting post! Although I’m a bi woman, and most of the fiction I write is women-centric and reflects my experience at least to an extent (f/f, f/m or f/f/m), it’s always great to see different perspectives and see what pitfalls exist in other types of fiction. And it really made me think about some other possible reasons (beyond “I want to write/read m/m but with straight dudes), based on my experience with such fiction from way back.

    Personally, when I was still a reader of m/m fanfiction (slash), some of the appeal of this or similar scenarios was in the idea of love conquers all working to subvert a person’s preconceived vision of their identity. In other words, love came first, sex came later. That said, there’s no reason for this not to involve coming out / realisation about one’s bisexuality (and it sometimes did). In fact, it would work well with it. I do remember how I felt when I watched Some Like It Hot, as a wee child 😉 The line “no one is perfect” (sic? I watched in translation) which–at the time, me being around 12 (?)–I read as expressing acceptance of one’s beloved regardless of their gender was something that really stuck with me. (There’s elements of the same mechanism in cis characters passing as opposite gender for Plot Reasons stories.)

    Secondly, I’d say part of the reason there’s more writers and readers invested in GFY could be that many of them have a slash fiction background. And with slash, writers and readers frequently work with characters established as straight in the canon. So gay-for-you could be (and I remember it being) a way to try to establish a relatively high level of canon-compliance (something fandom used to care about more back in the olden days, I guess). You weren’t changing characterisation too much if, say, Harry was still straight except where Draco was concerned. So now, writing and reading this trope (even though its existence may precede slash) is something familiar.

    As a side note, I think it would be interesting to see how popular this trope is with queer and straight readers. I know m/m romance has a large following among straight women, but it does seem to me that f/f “gay for you stories” can and do find a lot of interest among lesbian audiences. So what makes it popular for the very audience it could be painful for? I suppose there is a bit of wish fulfillment going on here 😉

    All that said, I fully agree with how problematic, often offensive and potentially harmful this idea is, and how it contributes to bi erasure. Still, I think there are ways to improve such stories while retaining the appeal they clearly hold for some readers, and incorporating bisexuality into it would be a good (necessary) first step.

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    • You know, it occurs to me I’ve never read a gay-for-you storyline with women. It’s always been men.

      Don’t get me wrong, I totally get the “oooh, I wish!” factor with the straight individual. Heck, my thoughts on Idris Elba? Hello. There’s total wish fulfillment going on there, you’re right.

      Being conscious of the characters involved, I think, is maybe the best way to go. I don’t think it’s impossible to have a character be otherwise straight. I think you’d have to be pretty darned skilled to pull it off as a writer, and I think if the whole book goes by and no one even utters the word “bisexual” or “pansexual” then the author has still done a disservice.

      Thank you!

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      • Thanks for the response! 🙂

        I absolutely agree. And I’m not saying it was always done well, or even should have been done. I’m just saying it’s one of the reasons.

        And yes, if bisexual is a word the author pretends doesn’t exist in the world they’re presenting – that’s going to create some suspension of disbelief problems, quite simply. It’s not just weird characterisation, it’s strange worldbuilding. Especially if it’s contemporary 😉

        And if I might set something straight (if that comment above you’re referring to is mine) – I’m not at all claiming slash invented GFY! In fact, my comment specifies that the trope can well precede slash fandom, chronologically speaking (and even if it didn’t, it wouldn’t mean it originated there). All I’m saying is that slash fandom may have popularised it in contemporary m/m romance fandom–because the overlap of slash writers and m/m writers and readers is not insignificant. (And, as I’m contractually obligated to stress, while slash is primarily written by women for women, it’s good to remember those women, in the slashdom, are quite frequently bi or lesbian (or ace), and there are some men, including but not limited to gay men, in slashdom too ;))

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      • “There’s total wish fulfillment going on there.”

        I wonder if that’s where the proliferation of gay porn with “straight” guys in it comes from. Some wish fulfillment that the gay guy can offer sex so amazingly superior, that even guys who don’t find you attractive will still get off on it? I’m not talking “gay for pay” where they at least pay lip service to being “unlabeled”, but the “straight boy Dylan takes it up the butt for the first time and loves it”. I’ve also seen comments on Tumblr from gay guys going “sure I’ve had sex with lots of straight guys” which again, makes me question either their straightness or the mad skillz of said gay guy. All this to say, the appeal of straight guy crossing to the dark side because there are cookies seems to be pretty prevalent out there, I suppose as wish fulfillment? I don’t find it appealing at all, perhaps because it’s not MY wish fulfillment?

        I’m not saying this to endorse GFY full stop. I prefer to at least get some nod to at least they THOUGHT about guys in passing because I don’t really believe a straight straight guy just throws a switch and boom, suddenly you’re gay. But maybe GFY is in part an extension of a culture that fetishizes the GFY idea. Not that porn is a realistic depiction of relationships or even sex, but it’s everywhere you look.

        Hope this made sense and that I’m not piling on the erasure. Just a comment that the straight guy “turning” gay out there in other mediums as well. Thought probably just as misleading to reality.

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      • Totally, and I think there’s a parallel problem with the “ideals” of masculinity we portray that ties itself neatly into the gay-for-you issues.

        I grew up in the same culture as everyone else in my bubble, and that process included a lot of messaging around what was masculine (and, in opposition, what absolutely wasn’t). Queer culture struggles with those same messages, though some of them are a bit easier to smash when you’re already rejecting so much of the standard roles. If something is said often enough, it sinks in, and becomes very prevalent. Part of the work is in undoing those messages when they’re harmful.

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      • “All this to say, the appeal of straight guy crossing to the dark side because there are cookies seems to be pretty prevalent out there”[….]”But maybe GFY is in part an extension of a culture that fetishizes the GFY idea. Not that porn is a realistic depiction of relationships or even sex, but it’s everywhere you look.”

        Right.

        That’s one of the issues that has really bugged me about the larger discussion (not the discussion here on this blog, which IMHO has been fabulous).

        We have gay porn rife with GFY themes, produced by gay men for decades. We have mm romance rife with GFY — and a good number of the most successful mm authors are lesbian women. Yet this uproar got started by people attacking **cis straight women** who were writing GFY, ignoring the many LGBT producers of the same trope. Do we seriously want to get into an “I can write this trope but you can’t” conversation? Or the “you’re evil when you write this trope but I’m not” conversation?

        I agree that there are problems with the GFY trope — and they have been discussed admirably already. But let’s not make the leap from “this trope has problems” to “the people who produce this trope are evil”. That’s a leap I’ve been seeing much too frequently. (And again — I’ve seen this in the larger discussion, not on this blog!)

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  11. I’m teary-eyed and full of all the feelings after reading this wonderful post of yours. Thank you for writing what a lot of us have been feeling in the past few weeks.

    It’s a really thoughtful piece about what’s been a frustrating and uncomfortable situation. Mind you, I’ve only seen bits and pieces of it, but even I got to feel the brunt of negativity.

    *raises her cup of coffee in your honour*

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  12. Loved the post, Nathan. It’s so refreshing to see the issues presented fairly, and without the vitriol.

    I’ve never been a big fan of GFY in general, in part because I also often want to shout at the character, “You’re bi, dummy!” OTOH, we should also keep in mind that the GFY trope isn’t the exclusive domain of straight authors. For instance, gay porn is rife with “seducing the straight boy” and “straight boy in prison” types of scenes. So, while I agree that some of the implications of GFY are problematic, it seems unfair to depict those problems as issuing solely from the straight end of the spectrum.

    And we should also keep in mind that GFY-type epiphanies *do* occasionally happen in real life. For one example, there’s an “I’m from Driftwood” video on LGBTQ Nation from this week that describes a pair of twins, one of whom realizes his sexuality earlier than the other. The second twin says he didn’t have a clue about his own orientation until he was 18, when a guy invited him to go drinking with some female friends and then took him home to “listen to a record”. So the GFY trope is no less likely than, say, the billionaire trope or the Navy SEAL trope or the abused-kid-learning-to-love trope.

    But anyway — nice post. It’s much easier to get people to listen and consider your viewpoint when issues like this can be addressed calmly and without personal attacks.

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    • I’m certainly not just aiming this at one gender or sexuality of authors – I hope it didn’t come across that way. I tried to make sure I used “Author” for that express reason: bi erasure happens just as much from within as without.

      I also think there can be a world of difference between an epiphany (which is still a kind of coming out, and totally happens and can be someone realizing they are gay) and writing a character who is “I’m straight, but I’ll be gay for you.” The latter is tricky, and can accidentally represent a tonne of internalized homophobia or biphobia unless it’s written exceptionally well.

      Danke!

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      • “I’m certainly not just aiming this at one gender or sexuality of authors – I hope it didn’t come across that way.”

        No, not yours. I should have been more clear there — I was referring to many of the attacks in the larger GFY discussion, not to your blog in particular.

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  13. Excellent post, ‘Nathan. I was trying to write up a more in-depth comment, but you know what? Your (and other LGBT voices) are more important on this topic than mine.

    Thank you for writing such a well-thought and well-rounded post. I’m glad it’s getting the attention it deserves throughout the genre.

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  14. Thank you for this, as so many people have already said, in many ways it’s the post that I would have liked to be able to write myself.
    Your comments on ‘it’s not political, it’s fiction’ and about being clean, had me high fiving my screen

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  15. Has it occurred to you that some gay people might not find gfy offensive? Just as many don’t and if people have to take into account anything that might be hurtful or offensive, nothing can be written anymore. Every character you think up can offend someone, be it a straight woman that wants a career and kids, or a stay at home mom. A feminine gay guy, or a butch one. It’s all hurtful to someone…. I cannot be scared to write something that I find a story of love, and what is more loving than falling for someone that is the same gender when you’ve never thought you could be gay/bi/pan? Love trumps gender and race, borders and religion, money and status… love = everything.

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    • It absolutely has occurred to me, and that’s part of why I wrote this piece. I used “author” because there are definitely gay men who write gay-for-you stories that, without clarification, add to bi-erasure. We queerfolk can be out own worst enemies with inclusivity. My point was when you’ve got a chorus from a particular group (in this case, bisexual or pansexual voices), and you don’t belong to that group (be that due to being a straight author or a gay one), that it’s worthwhile listening.

      Put another way, it’s easy for me to have an opinion on gay characters because I live that life. But my husband and I have had very different lives. He’ll often call me on being overly critical of parents of queer kids, and that’s part of my own emotional experience. I’ll often project. He helps me with that, just as he tells me often I help remind him that his near-ideal experience of coming out is by no means the average. Or even necessarily common.

      But neither of us are bi. And when a bi person calls us out on a gaffe, my inclination is to listen and see if there’s a learning moment at play.

      I think “if people have to take into account anything that might be hurtful or offensive, nothing can be written anymore” is over-stating. The issue I’m pointing out is, in one example, that in many the gay-for-you stories, the simple inclusion of even one character uttering “y’know, it’s possible you’re bi,” would be all that’s needed. The story can be told and told well and still be what some would call a gay-for-you. Eli Easton does those stories brilliantly, especially ‘Blame it on the Mistletoe.’ Fantastic story. Straight guy coming to grips with the reality he likes his roommate enough to consider pursuing a relationship. It’s handled with emotional depth, and when the character says to his friend, “But I’m not gay!” His friend replies, “So maybe you’re bi.” Boom. That’s all it took.

      Being inclusive, like any other part of writing, means doing a bit more work, self-reflection, and research. Writing well isn’t easy, but it’s worth it. That story does exactly what you’ve said: one guy falls for someone who is the same gender when he never thought he could be gay/bi/pan.

      But it *includes* the word (and the possibility and identity of) “bi.” That’s the difference.

      It’s fantastic to aim for a world where love trumps gender and race, borders and religion, money and status, as you’ve put it. I’d love to see that happen in my lifetime. But you don’t have to look far to see it doesn’t, and a blanket “well, it’s fiction” can be a disservice.

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      • Very true, all of what you just said. I’m probably a little strange that I do believe in love and not gender or any of the other things I mentioned. I grew up with a racist bigot for a father, and even as a little girl that raised my hackles. I raise my daughter to be true to herself no matter what she is. She is nine and calls herself bisexual. (or asexual since her friends told her about sex and she decided it’s disgusting) I love gfy because it does go beyond gender, I sometimes like m-preg (though not always) because I believe men miss out on the wonder of feeling your baby grow. Mostly I’m a romantic and love the true love/mate stories because it’s so much more than just a falling in love story.
        I don’t consider myself straight even if I’ve never really fallen for a girl, but I KNOW I could. I just never met a girl who touched me more than my husband does. (I met him when I was 18) I love a person, not their gender. I hope this whole discussion won’t blow up and tear this whole community apart.
        Love,
        Marieke

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  16. Thank you for this post. Very insightful and well said. I would hope non of is cisgender straight women writing gay romance are hurting the community on purpose. I, for one, am trying to learn more as I go along.

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  17. Like you, I dislike the Gay For You labeling. It sounds off to me, but I can’t explain why I hate it so much. Out for You is better, but I prefer Falling in Love Regardless of Gender. (which is too long, clearly, to catch on).

    Anyway, your post is thought provoking and very easy for people to understand why some of the situations you posted could be found offensive. Things they probably never realized were offensive in the first place. Thank you for that.

    I personally have seen GFY books with bisexuality mentioned multiple times, but it is probably the exception and not the rule. Just the same, however, I do think it’s possible for someone with no previous attraction to the same sex to fall in love with a PERSON—their mind, their heart, their soul—of the same sex, and not truly be bisexual. It may shock them, it may turn their world upside down, they may even be a little put off at the thought of getting physical with someone of the same sex. But if they truly love that person, they have the potential to come to terms with their affection and turn it into attraction, including physical expression of that love. I understand that this would be very rare in real life, but not impossible.

    On another note, your description of the gay character always ending up dead reminds me of an ongoing theme in the show The Walking Dead. Basically, if you’re black and you’re male, you end up killed. It actually really pisses me off, so I can’t imagine watching the show as a black male and not being flat out offended.

    My conclusion is that we (as the writing community at large) need to be more sensitive when choosing not just words to describe characters (gay, bi, etc.) but also in depicting the MOTIVATIONS of that character. We all know you don’t just flip a switch on your sexuality, so if the story is truly GFY (ugh! I still hate that), the character needs to have the feelings and confusion that would go hand in hand with suddenly finding out he is possibly attracted to someone of the same sex.

    Man, I’m really all over the place. Thanks for your post and for putting up with all the bullshit over and over again.

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  18. This is one of the first blogs I’ve read that hasn’t caused a physical reaction in me, which is a welcome relief. I hope it’s because of your calm, matter of fact tone and thorough and fair treatment of the argument and not apathy settling in. I’ve tried to bring this subject up in my FB group that includes both authors and readers of m/m romance, but we never got very far in understanding each other or listening. Reading this, I’ve learned that there was likely something wrong in my presentation or I used combative language, which prevented the conversation from moving past some of the more peripheral arguments. It was Julio’s review that first opened my eyes to this issue and it took another week of reading blogs, tweets, comments, etc. to come to the most basic of understandings, which in no way equipped or prepared me to be an effective advocating voice. So your blog has been profoundly illuminating in a number of ways. I appreciate this is and plan to reread it as many times as it takes to resonate within me.

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  19. Thanks for this post. You really should come onto our WROTE Podcast Nathan so we can continue this discussion as it is a very valid one to have (and I’ve been carrying that torch on the podcast in my own way). A couple of points: While I get what you’re saying when we “don’t inherit” that POV is changing. Case in point? My granddaughter. I live with my husband and have legally been married since 2008 when it first became legal in CA. We’ve been together for over 20 years. I’ve reared his children and now his grandchildren with him. Our daughter and my granddaughter live with us just north of San Francisco (yeah, we’re in the big gay bubble). The thing is, my granddaughter is self-identifying as bisexual and she clearly points to her growing up in our household, seeing my husband and myself embrace who we are and work to provide, along with our daughter, everything we can for her as only a positive force in her life.

    She sees that inheritance you speak of on a daily basis. We’ve talked about what life will be like for her after my husband and I are no longer around. That strong sense of queer family is very prevalent in everything she does. She knows what taking that queer family history of hers will mean going forward. Her GBF came out to her BECAUSE he knew of her queer family. We were safe. I’ve had other kids in her school see that part of her unabashedly stake her claim as her family having just as much validity long side her straight counterparts in school. So that sideway inheritance you speak of is changing. I certainly never thought I’d be here past the half-centennial with kids and grandkids in the mix and married to a wonderful man as I am back when I was a teen in the 70s. But here I am.

    Secondly, (and I’ll make this brief), I think the issue is the whole gay-m/m romance trope (which stems from its straight/het roots) is part and parcel of why that silencing and the allies going off the rails in not listening to us because they don’t either want to get the “queer” about us, (we’re akin to a beloved handbag or some other quaint oddity in their life), or somehow want to redefine us into the mold they are comfortable with because it’s what makes them comfortable – the same sort of erasure you speak of. Either way, #QueerRomance needs to become a thing. I’ve always championed queer writers writing about us as we are, WITH romance (our form of it – steeped in who we are as a community – which has MANY colors to play with beyond the rainbow flag we carry), in every sub-genre or classification you can think of. But what I think we, as queer writers need to do most, is that we carry our queer banner all we want, but stake our claim with proper equality, we need to stop marketing to our own: the “safe” gay GLBT fiction room’shelves. Our stories deserve to be written and told in the mainstream. We need to stop sitting in the back of the literary bus and like Ms. Parks, sit where we bloody damn well want to – in the mainstream, along side any of the other authors and content creators. Because only if we, like Ms. Parks, demand that equal presence, we aren’t likely to get it. A most excellent post. Glad I took the time to take it all in. Just my 2 cents, worth no more or less than any other. (Sign up for our show!) <— shameless plug

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s funny, I was having a similar conversation with my niece and nephew last week – they see me and my husband, and have inclusion in that narrative and history, which gives them a different perspective. You’re right. I think we’re going to start seeing more of a continuance as a matter of course what with the strides being made in legality and visibility. Things are definitely changing.

      Then again, when I asked my nephew about the pink triangle, after he’d completed his unit on WWII and had visited a war museum, he had no clue what it meant. We’ve still got a way to go, as always, in getting our history into the mainstream, as you’ve said. Our fictions and our histories belong there. Totally. We need to be visible for those looking for us, as well as being present for those who aren’t looking for us so they see us anyway.

      And as for WROTE? I’d love to! That sounds fantastic. Who should I contact?

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    • I agree with you. Queer romance needs to be set back up on its feet and has to be an own and go to genre for queer people narratives including the romance.

      I think we finally are in a better than ever situation to do that, even though a lot of the former queer-centric publishing houses have gone. Self-publishing is no problem these days however, and nothing hinders queer authors from writing queer romance and identify it as such instead of as m/m.

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  20. Thank you for this post. It’s the only one I’ve read where I truly feel as though I have a much better understanding and you’ve opened my eyes to things I had no clue about. We are never too old to learn so thank you.

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  21. First of all I think this is a really good look at the problematic elements of GFY. I am especially glad that you brought up the issue of it being hotter if they are straight and the underlying assumption that straight men are automatically more attractive and desirable than queer men. I think related to this is the assumption that straight men on intrinsically more masculine, dominant, or “alpha” then queer men simply by being straight. I’ve also seen that play out in how GFY is portrayed a lot of the time. I think it’s an aspect of the trope that doesn’t get talked about a lot either, so I’m glad you brought it up.

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  22. Thank you so much for writing this! As I’m sure a lot of the above comments say, I’m bisexual, and the absolute refusal to call a character bi or explore that as an option in queer romance is really hurtful to me personally, and I loved this calm, reasonable discussion of it instead of just EVERYBODY GRAB THE PITCHFORKS. 🙂 Thank you!

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  23. One note: stop using the asterisk after trans. It insults a lot of us.

    My response: Sad. I had to write because no one was/is as queer as me: Black, pan, poly, aro, RA, demi/asexual, kinky, a survivor, genderqueer, intersex, autistic, disabled, afab, atheist, noetisexual, and likely some other things I’m forgetting.

    I was tired of seeing everything I am bifurcated and erased for the sake of entertainment. I create characters at the intersections in my #cuil fiction because the intersection is where I live. But that’s not mainstream because it’s too real. Smh.

    And obviously it’s not just in fiction. I haven’t found any non-mono books that are accurate or applicable, even if they claim to acknowledge groups I happen to be part of. Even most of the fiction is limited in its depictions of healthy and diverse poly. Sigh. I could go on and on. But yeah…this is an excellent breakdown of why possibility models matter.

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    • Gah. Mea culpa on the asterisk. That was the last direction I was given, and I’ve just Googled to see it’s a year or two out of date and drifted from its intention. Sorry. No offence was intended, and I’ll stop doing so going forward. Thanks for letting me know.

      I’m sorry you’re not finding mirrors in fiction, but I’m very, very pleased you’re writing. I’ve got a few non-mono friends who are just starting their writing careers. I hope this changes, and I hope more voices (especially own voices) join you.

      Liked by 1 person

  24. Whether I agree with every single point you make or not pales in comparison to my great relief at how well written and logical, and CIVIL you are in your presentation. What a relief to read something so well thought out. Thank you for that alone.

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  25. Great insights. I can see the merit in your discussion of labels; however, I still find them reductive. I’ve written a couple of blog posts in regard to my opinions-really not a fan. I guess I do imagine a world where they are not necessary, and I write to my imagination, meaning I seldom label my characters as gay or bisexual. They simply are gay or bisexual in the same way that my straight characters are straight. I don’t label them; why then would I label anybody else? Yet, I can see the underlying logic that makes them meaningful to you, and that the feeling of belonging or not belonging, of struggling to assert oneself in a world that is dismissive, marginalizing, or outright hateful could make the need to claim one’s place (to label it) very real. While I might not ever feel comfortable with labels, I fully intend to be more aware and sensitive to the feelings that define and identify a person within the context of a world that seeks to limit or even erase who they are. All while writing and working toward that world of my imagination (channeling John Lennon here) where sexuality is the non-issue I really wish it was. 🙂

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    • I think there’s a lot to be said for writing set in a label-free world—especially in a spec-fic setting, where you can do some awesome exploration of what that might mean. There’s some great potential there.

      I love reading Queer SF for exactly those settings. In my real-world day-to-day, if I want to peck my husband on the cheek in public, I have to stop, shoulder-check, and consider where we are how safe that might be. I don’t get to enjoy an actual spontanous out-in-public quick display of affection, not really. So visiting worlds that don’t have that feeling? Very escapist.

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  26. After reading your post and a few others, I’m really not sure how I feel about the whole GFY trope. Maybe I’m just confused on terminology since I’m just moving into writing original fiction, but I agree that bi-erasier is a terrible thing.

    I come from a m/m fanfiction background and the majority of slash fandoms are formed around straight cis white males because those are what’s mostly prevalent in entertainment. In order to get around that, GFY is used a lot. So it makes sense that when m/m writers jump to original works, they bring with them the kinds of tropes they are used to reading and writing.

    Someone replied to you and mentioned how m/m and gay romance are two entirely different things, which makes sense, but how do you distinguish between the two? Is there a way to make sure people are reading what they want to read? Is that even possible? Do we need better terminology to communicate what our stories are really about? But even if we fix those problems, it doesn’t solve the problem of bi-eraser because that’s something that extends well beyond the m/m genre.

    I believe writers have a responsibility towards the groups they represent in their writing because our stories do not exist in a vacuum, and that extends to ethnicity, race, creed. Our writing influences people, subconsciously or otherwise. I’m pansexual myself and tend to write at least one MC as such because I relate, but not everybody can. A lot of writers tend to write what they know. Sometimes that’s because it’s easier, others do it out of fear.

    Unfortunately, I’ve read a few posts in forums about people afraid to write diverse characters because they fear they’ll mess them up, that they’ll be labeled as racist, homophobic, or accused of using harmful stereotypes if they don’t get it perfect, and I think it really does a disservice to POCs and people of other orientations that people are afraid to even try. Not everyone is as rational and as levelheaded as you seem to be. There are people who would rather attack than educate, so I completely understand this fear, but it’s really a shame.

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    • I often think we misuse the phrase “write what you know” when it should be “know what you write.” I think with research and conversations, you can likely head off most of the accidental issues that sneak in when you’re writing about a group to which you don’t belong. Everyone makes mistakes. I know I do, and will continue to do so, but it’s the listening to the criticisms (rather than hearing an attack) that I think matters the most, yeah.

      Someone pointed out to me yesterday on Twitter that an author has zero control over who reads their books, and that’s a good point, too. It might not ever end up mattering who an author intended their audience to be (I have decades in bookselling, and I remember when the teen and tween market blew up—because adults started reading them). I do think “it wasn’t written for X to read” doesn’t fly as a freedom from criticism card, for sure.

      As for the straight-is-sexy thing, I think that wish-fulfillment comes with a hefty dose of socialization. Even as a gay guy, I grew up with all the same societal messages as everyone else about what masculinity was, what was appealing about masculinity and all the implied (and outright stated) opposites to those messages about what masculinity *isn’t* or *shouldn’t* be. By virtue of being a queer guy, I can see a lot of the garbage in there, but I still look at Chris Hemsworth or Idris Elba and think, ‘Oh. Hello.’ 😉

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      • That’s a very good point about the distinction between “write what you know” and “knowing what you write.” I think we just have to try our best to be as honest in our representation as we can. It’s unfortunately that not everyone feels that way, and some people hide behind “it’s my story, I can write what I want,” but I choose to do the research and put the time into presenting characters that are as real as possible, and I enjoy stories written by others that represent that same social awareness.

        I’m sure we could talk all day about toxic masculinity, so I can understand the whole straight-is-sexy from a social standpoint as you pointed out. But I guess when I think of GFY, I’m already inserting bisexualism into the equation, especially if it’s not outright stated unless the author says otherwise, because I see the world through that lens. Regardless, it would be amazing to see more inclusion in all sorts of entertainment media.

        And I’m not big on Chris Hemsworth myself, but Elba? Hello indeed!

        Liked by 1 person

  27. Thank you for your clear words about bi-erasure.

    As a pansexual woman myself I’ve found the discussion of this topic incredibly frustrating in the past. In this context, bi-erasure often happens on two levels, once in the book, and then again in the literary discussion, which I find even more painful than whatever happens in fiction.

    Not just how bisexuality as such is treated (or rather ignored), but especially how coming to terms with your sexual identity later in life is frequently discussed. It just hurts to see my life experience — and that of dear friends — summarily dismissed as an “unrealistic trope”.

    One more aspect that I think is worth mentioning is that there’s also quite a lot of intersectional misogyny in “gay for you” novels, when women from former heterosexual relationships are reduced to nothing but tools that support the “gay for you” plot. That’s objectification, too.

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    • Absolutely! How I would love to read a story where the ex-girlfriend or ex-wife is presented as something other than a mistake or a “before I knew” or the like. That’s not to say that gay men don’t marry and then, later in life, come out and live a more honest sexuality, but yes, I’m so tired of the presentation of women as the evil ex or the mistake or… Well, I could go on and on.

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  28. Pingback: Going Over the Rainbow: Hot for You | Bran Lindy Ayres

  29. Pingback: Episode 5: Bisexual Erasure – Make Mine Manlove

  30. Pingback: Links To Blog Posts on Writing – March 2016 | Anna Butler

  31. I wanted to follow up and let you know I received my most recent edit from Dreamspinner and fixed a few scenes and sentences to make sure it was absolutely known that my MC was torn between whether or not to identify as gay of bisexual, and did not negate his relationships with women or pretend they didn’t happen.
    Your article did such a good job of bringing things to light that others may not realize could be hurtful, going from ‘straight’ directly to ‘gay’ (do not pass go do not collect $200) without acknowledging there very well could be an entire other path to take, i.e. bisexuality.
    Anyway,
    Thanks again and to Jessica Freely, wonderful podcast.

    Liked by 1 person

  32. Pingback: [WRITING] “For You”: ‘Nathan Burgoine on the erasure of bisexuality | A Bit More Detail

  33. ‘Nathan, I’m reading all these posts from a few months ahead, and I applaud you for writing and posting this! Being Bisexual myself, I ought to be more concerned about erasure than I seem to be. (And being Bi can fool you—growing up I thought I was just envious of buff, hot-looking guys! Sad but true!)

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    • I had a similar thought process when I was young, too—”Really, I’m just wishing that I looked like these guys so I could get the attention they get…” It’s amazing how, without the labels and discussions, we struggle to make ourselves fit into a narrow narrative where we don’t actually belong, eh?

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  37. Holy cow, there is so much awesome in this post, I almost fainted. Thank you so much for writing this, ‘Nathan. And yeah, I, too, have screamed, “BISEXUAL!” in cases like that. I am going to bookmark this post so I can read it again. 🙂

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