Saturday, September 26, 2009
I would recommend reading Victor J. Banis's post "The Little Lost Lamb(da)s" in full (and, indeed, reading pretty much anything he had written).
I was struck rather viscerally by a quote he gives from his correspondence: “…I don’t appreciate a bunch of homophobic straight women who fetishize gay sex for the titillation of other straight women trashing the work of LGBT writers, editors and publishers, or our history. I don’t appreciate those same women pretending that gay fiction did not exist until they started writing it. They have no idea who you are, for example…”.
As Banis notes, many M/M writers are acutely aware of their place in a tradition going back not 20 years, but clearly to the 11th century and probably beyond. I copy below an article that used to appear on Gaywired.com--my answer to the notion that female authors are "appropriating" gay stories. (As Gaywired seems to have folded this also gives me a place to archive this 2004 article).
Slash Friction Is appropriation ever appropriate?
Slash is fiction written largely by and for women, depicting the romantic and sexual relationships of gay men: “Taking two MALE characters, from a television series, movie, comic, anime, book, etc., and "pairing" them together, usually for sexual acts”. It is a phenomenon that has, until recently, passed under the radar of the gay community. Upon learning about slash many gay men are merely amused – but others are outraged.
This outrage is becoming more noticeable as slash becomes more widely known. Writer Kirby Crow notes “the disturbing trend (cue sinister music). There have been some increasingly bitter remarks posted by male (and some female) readers of Slash fiction. The complaints are that the Slash writer's treatment of male characters is often "wrong".” One magazine in particular posts a blanket ban on slash fiction on the basis that it is appropriation (presumably appropriation by woman of gay experiences).
This sort of ‘appropriation of gay culture’ criticism is periodically pointed at various different art forms from Madonna’s videos (as discussed by author Stan Hawkins in "I'll Never Be an Angel: Stories of Deception in Madonna's Music.") to movies like Priscilla Queen of the Desert as author Alan McKee details in "How to tell the difference between a stereotype and a positive image: putting Priscilla, queen of the desert into history." But before we accept ‘appropriation’ as the signature crime of the new millennium, consider this:
Fiction is, almost by definition, involves experiences outside the writer’s immediate experience. If we have no trouble with J K Rowling writing about the experience of a male child, or Don Marquis writing poetry from the perspective of a cockroach, why is a woman writing about a gay man taboo? If indeed it is, given that a great deal of fiction about gay men has been written by women – sometimes only a few books from their total output such as the Herald-Mage Trilogy by Mercedes Lackey and sometime almost exclusively such as the historical dramas by Mary Renault. It seems that only when this material started to spread beyond ‘respectable’ publishing with a speculative or literary gloss that it was really noticed and condemned. So female interest in gay love may be okay in moderation, but passing through the bedroom door may be a step too far?
I must concede that when a female author writes predominantly about gay men this does suggest that she is not just sampling the diversity of human experience, but express a particular fixation. When the material is romantic or sexual such a fixation could easily be described as a fetish. And one can hardly be surprised when individuals or groups are uneasy about being the ‘object’ of a fetish. Some individuals may have fetishes about fur, stocking or feet – but these are true ‘objects’ and hardly likely to become offended. But material that objectifies women has long been seen as disreputable and objectionable.
And indeed there are similarities in that the women depicted in heterosexual porn are displayed as young, attractive and sexually available. The gay men depicted in slash are typically young, attractive and emotionally available. Both depictions presumably satisfy some kind of wish-fulfilment for the writer or his/her audience.
However, is it really so bad to satisfy the secret or not so secret desire of an audience for certain object of affection? Many modern feminists would say ‘No’. They would suggest that material that revels in the abuse of women may be objectionable – however erotica per. se. is not the enemy. Indeed more and more women are expressing a desire to create and consume erotica of various kinds – including slash. So if erotica is not by definition a bad thing, surely our responses to it should be based on its content not the demographic details of the author?
In terms of content some slash may perpetuate stereotypes, be bigoted or otherwise unacceptable – the mere fact that the female is writing about gay men does not make this the case. Some, probably most, slash depicts heroic men in caring relationships and can in no way be seen as derogatory. That being the case, why should gay men be uniquely taboo – written about only by one of their number?
By condemning all slash, one implicitly states that it is inconceivable that any female could write a worthwhile story about gay men – and that in itself is an extraordinary prejudice. Lesbians have long been aware that pornography for men often depicts woman together in ostensibly lesbian scenarios. The complimentary phenomenon (slash by any other name) has a history just as long -- stretching from homoerotic icons by medieval nuns to science fiction comics by Colleen Doran.
In the end a woman’s fantasy is not appropriation, whether in her head, on her bookshelf or leaking from the end of her pen. Women may use gay men in their fiction, gay men may react and commentate as they wish on any of these works. But the idea that gay men own every depiction of that sexuality is in itself an unacceptable and presumptuous declaration of ownership that would sound ridiculous if extended to almost any other group. By all means complain when a writer perpetuates hate or derision – but to demand silence on this subject by an entire gender is unmistakably a step too far. Gay men need not embrace slash fiction but, I suggest, they should certainly tolerate it.
Recently, the Lambda Literary Foundation instituted new guidelines for its awards
Unpacking the Case Against M/M: Part 3, A Little Perspective
Slash Fan Fiction: Hobby or Vehicle for Social Change?