Once again, the question “should women be writing MM” came up over the weekend. And once again, I feel I need to use my “gay male” voice to chime in on the issue, even though anyone who has so much as glanced at my Facebook feed undoubtedly knows my stance on the matter.
The drama occurred as most drama does these days—on social media. A gay man happened upon a new release (a young adult gay romance story) by an author using a gender-neutral pen name, and his exact comment read as “A woman pretending to be a man to exploit gay relationships? Nothing new here” which said author replied to, stating that she was open about her new pen name being her from the start (and she later posted about her frustration with the incident after the gay male made it clear he didn’t like her reply.)
Before I tackle and reiterate my thoughts on the matter, I first want to stress the fundamental differences between a pen name and a catfish. A catfish is defined as someone who lures others in using a fictional persona, they usually assume someone else’s physical appearance (steal photographs) and create eccentric backstories for themselves, looking to garner affection and attention. Meanwhile, a pen name is simply that. It’s a name…used for the pen (or keyboard these days) and it serves as a way to protect someone’s identity if they’re uncomfortable with the author spotlight, or even to separate works if the genres and content of the author’s books are vastly different to one another.
Simply put: a catfish actively deceives in order to claw their way up whatever ladder they’re climbing (romance/wealth/attention/etc), and a pen name is something akin to a title or a brand. And I firmly believe that even if the author hadn’t disclosed that her new pen name was her, she still wouldn’t be crossing any lines as she never actively sought to deceive anyone. She was simply placing a barrier between her mature content and her YA content. (This makes it more recognizable for readers to know what to expect from each work, and also would give a clear indication to parents which books may be suitable for their young teens to read)
Side note: We’ve had plenty of instances of the pen name-turned-catfish in the MM community, where various females have taken on the persona of a man and created a life story for themselves. This is when the line is crossed. They’ve tried to get involved romantically with people, and also told sob stories to further their careers. Seeing as this has happened more than once, I can see why pennames have a bad reputation, but pennames are way bigger than our MM community, and have often helped marginalized people get taken seriously by a classist, racist and sexist society.
With that out of the way, lets take a look at the “exploitation” part of the man’s comment.
Now, this is something I really resent people tossing around lightly, as we’re currently living through (what I assume is) the most politically charged time in existence. With the advent of the internet also came minorities finding their voice—and with it, their strength. Being able to connect with other queer people like myself is the reason I’m the man I am today, and to think that someone would “exploit” my struggles to find my place in an indifferent (and sometimes intolerant) universe makes my stomach turn. However, the issue that this man is having can’t simply be one of females writing gay relationships, can it? If so, is he prepared to exclusively consume gay white media? Can he never write a female character? A black character? Can he not venture into fantasy or sci fi for having not lived it himself? No, that train of thought is absurd, so what I have to assume he meant is that the female author is profiting off gay male relationships while being able to live her life unburdened by any of the struggles a gay man might face.
This is where I believe “intent” is key. If a female authors “intent” is to put more LGBT media into the world. If her “intent” is to increase the number of LGBT protagonists in media, and to share her views that two people of the same sex can find love against the odds, then how is that exploitation? Is it because she’s getting paid for her work? Well, of course she should get paid for her work. That’s just how the world works—time equals money, and in order for any author to continue their career, they need to be able to pay their bills.
Intent is what allows us to love a character like Buffy the Vampire Slayer despite knowing she was created by a straight white male—because his INTENT was to showcase strength in femininity (PS: he fucking nailed it, go watch Buffy) and likewise, it’s the intent of these female MM authors to showcase love and/or lust between two men as something not to be ashamed of. And sure, sometimes the stories are nothing more than two men frivolously fucking, but that exists in straight media, so why not have people toss more of it into the LGBT pile? It’s all in good fun. It’s all with good intentions.
To me, exploiting the MM genre would be someone who was Anti-LGBT in real life, yet continued to “EXPLOIT” the market, readers, and the stories for the money they provided. But I have yet to see that happen, and I regularly see MM authors being vocal about LGBT rights across all platforms of social media.
These women aren’t exploiting anything—they’re celebrating us.
And as I bring this article to a close, I ask that you try to imagine how much LGBT (and more specifically, gay male) representation we would lose if not for the women in the world taking the time to make all this content? Can you imagine young gay men not having the variety they have today because someone, somewhere decided that ONLY gay men could write that stuff? Those stories could (and I bet my left ass cheek, do) help LGBT people, regardless of who penned them. Hell, that straight white male who created Buffy also created my favorite LGBT character in media too (Willow Rosenburg. GO WATCH BUFFY)
Recommended read: This week’s recommended read is “Silence of Winter” by Avery Blake (Jaclyn Osborn)
Blurb: Normal is overrated. At least that's what Oliver Cromwell tells himself when he's being bullied for being different. He's a lover of all things paranormal, and when his nose isn't shoved into his sketchpad, drawing haunted houses and monsters, he and his best friend Bailey hang out in abandoned buildings and take long—very non-romantic—walks through graveyards looking for ghosts.
Everything changes when they actually find one.
Freaked out because he seems to be a sudden ghost magnet, Oliver befriends Mrs. Glass, a psychic who lives in the Victorian manor at the end of his street. With her help, he discovers his special bloodline and uncovers abilities that allow him to begin helping the ghosts move on. As if being sixteen wasn't already complicated.
When Oliver meets Victor, the charming and mysterious boy who lives with Mrs. Glass, he finds himself falling and falling hard. Chasing ghosts is a lot less nerve-wracking than falling in love, though, especially when the person you fall for has secrets of their own.
The sleepy town of Iris Hollow has plenty of spooky legends and history that entices tourists from all over. And Oliver is about to find himself in the center of it all.
This is a young adult paranormal LGBT story with magic, ghosts, and heartwarming romance. Guaranteed to make you smile, laugh, and maybe sleep with the light on.
Trigger Warning: this story contains material that may be sensitive to some readers, including bullying and self-harm