Saturday, September 26, 2009

Quoth: Lambda Redux

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 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.

See also:
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?


Teddy Pig said...

What struck me about that comment was the label used to characterize the others... "homophobic straight women"

I have met many straight women writing Gay Romance. I have not always gotten along with every author I have met online. I may even cringe at some of the things I have read.

BUT... I have yet to find anyone I would personally accuse of out right homophobia or trashing gay people.

Now maybe I just hate to applying that term to a person because I think it is ultimately a show stopper unlike other people online who seem to use it every other sentence but I know homophobia when I see it and I have not honestly seen it.

So I find it easier to believe the person that made this comment has applied that label in a generalized way to all "women" without regard because much like the Lambda wording it fits that anti-women vibe I am getting from the wording.

That comment is really disturbing in a crappy way.

kirsten saell said...

BUT... I have yet to find anyone I would personally accuse of out right homophobia or trashing gay people.

I've come across homophobia in the m/m reading community, just not homophobia against gay men. Some (not all, and not many, *I hope*) of the most vocal advocates for mainstreaming m/m romance recoil at the very idea of f/f being afforded the same consideration. Because "OMG, what if I accidentally bought one *shudder*. If I came across an f/f scene in a book, I'd rip out the pages *gag*."

I'll grant that I haven't seen that kind of thing among writers--it seems to be confined to a very small number of readers. And I would expect that the women who feel that way are likely the ones seriously fetishizing m/m in ways that give me the squicks, the same way some straight men fetishize f/f in porn, and then do things like vote against same-sex marriage because "all those queers are going straight to hell."

I don't think the hypocrisy of women gobbling up m/m while actively discriminating against gay men is an issue at this point--likely because of the long-standing camaraderie between women and gay men. As the genre becomes more and more popular it might become a concern. But to say homophobia doesn't exist within the m/m community is...inaccurate. Although I'd guess f/f fiction probably isn't on the radar of most m/m readers and writers, so I can understand how they wouldn't have really come across it...

Elle Parker said...

That is a fantastic article - thanks for reposting it.

I've been going around and around about how to do what I do, and explain it, while still being respectful and aware. This helps a great deal.

Elle Parker

Unknown said...

This post has been included in a Linkspam roundup.

Anonymous said...

I tend to think people who fling words like homophobic and racist around at every opportunity just love stirring up trouble. That is their true sexual turn-on.

My problem with online media inspired fiction is when it infringes on copyright matters. If it doesn't, it really shouldn't bother people. And while I don't get into gay fiction, if a woman is writing the gay adventures of Magnum P.I. or penning a hot love scene for Supernatural's Winchester brothers, that's cool - as long as they don't turn around and cry "SEXIST!" if a man writes hot threesomes about Phebe, Monica and Rachel.

Jessica Freely said...

Nicely done, Emily.

I think the fallout from the Lambda decision points up the need for women authors of m/m to speak out about what we are doing, what it means to us and why. To that end, I've started a series of posts on my blog debunking many of the misconceptions about woman authored m/m. Please feel free to add your two cents.

Jessica Freely said...

And where can I find out more about those medieval nuns?

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this entry.

As a 'prepublished' m/m author who has been writing gay romance since the 80s (Star Trek Fanzines anyone?) I feel I am doing nothing immoral, wrong, or even kinky.

As a reader, I know what I like.

As a writer, I know where my passion lies and what I excel at.

In the romance genre, I enjoy reading only m/m. It is no different, than in the mystery genre, I enjoy reading only cozy mysteries. In historicals, I only care for American and Native American histories. In fantasy/paranormal genre, I enjoy only traditional vampires, werewolves and ghosts. And in literature, I enjoy only the Edwardian and the Georgian eras.

I have a fascination with nostalgia stories coming from my childhood and a fondness farm/vet animal stories.


As a prepublished writer, I write only m/m romance stories that have a cozy mystery feel, or an American/Native history feel, or a vampire/werewolf/ghost feel, or take place in from 1898-1920s. I will write farm/vet stories with an m/m perspective and recapture memoirs from my childhood with a unisex slant.

So with all these limitations I use in my reading/writing habits, am I along the ones to be accused that just because I know that I love to read and write m/m = it is a fetish for me?

I think not. I like my feet rubbed - it does not mean I have a foot fetish. I prefer my men older, BIG and hairy - it doesn't mean that I have a fetish with sweet Daddy Bears. And just because I like to be submissive and yet dominate, does not mean I have a BDSM fetish.

In fact, who ever said that was being quite condescending, narrow minded and down write bigoted to throw all who write m/m have a fetish problem with gay men.

Seems to me, the folks that made this out of context observation, are trying to compensate for what they lacking. Or perhaps ignoring their own fetish control of gay men and directing their self animosity onto someone else.

And Em – I wanna know about those nuns too! Nuns are so kewl!