Friday, November 16, 2012

Feminism and Heterosexual Romance: Strange Bedfellows?

In 1992, in the interdisciplinary scholarly journal Centennial Review, feminist Barbara Ryan noted a common belief expressed by those unfamiliar with feminism: a fear that "feminist women cannot allow themselves to love men, or that, if they find themselves falling into this patriarchal 'trap,' they would earn feminists' scorn for following where their hearts lead" (464*). Ryan suggests that this misconception isn't entirely the public's fault; feminists, she notes, seem oddly reticent when it comes to discussing heterosexual love, especially "when you consider that many, many of us go right on looking for AHL (adult heterosexual love), and many believe that they have found it" (464). Mother/child love, sister/sister love, homosexual love, friend/friend love, lesbian love—feminists rarely feel constrained to discuss any of these love relationships, but mention heterosexual love, and the silence can be deafening.

Ryan acknowledges that theorizing "companionate intimacy" should not be feminism's primary goal. Yet she cautions that feminism's failure to engage with the issue leaves many feminists embarrassed or ashamed of their heterosexuality. It also leaves potential feminists feeling shut out or ignored. "If we do not manage to bring AHL within feminism's purview, then we agree to denigrate some of straight people's most significant activities" (466), Ryan argues.

Christopher Tietjens and Valentine Wannop (BBC Parade's End)
After exploring some of the reasons why feminists shy away from discussing AHL, Ryan concludes by encouraging feminists to begin talking about what a positive vision of heterosexual love might look like. Interestingly, both of her models are from works of literature (although not from romance literature, alas). The first is from a  story by Simone de Beauvoir, "The Age of Discretion," which tells of a couple in their sixties negotiating a difficult situation with their only child. What interests Ryan is the depiction of the couple's relationship: in it, adult heterosexual love is constructed as "an ongoing conversation in which both lovers speak and listen": "He takes care of her, and she takes care of him; they get cross, and time passes, and they talk it over, and the relationship emerges strengthened" (471). Ryan's second model is a quote from Ford Maddox Ford's Christopher Tietjens, in Parade's End: "marriage is justified by two people's desire to go on speaking with each other" (471).

Ryan's brief article ends with a call to other feminists to begin a conversation about "what comprises a truly feminist AHL" (471). Yet a search on the citation tracker Web of Science reveals not one subsequent scholarly article or book makes reference to Ryan's essay. A search of the Harvard Library catalog using "feminism" and "heterosexuality" as subject terms revealed only 12 works, 4 of which were in languages other than English, and few of which discussed the two terms in a mutually positive light. Clearly, academics have failed to acknowledge, never mind accept, Ryan's invitation to envision a positive, feminist, heterosexual love.

Perhaps this would be different if more academics begin to study romance writers and their works? Many romance writers have been attempting to envision and depict just what a positive, feminist, heterosexual love might look like over the past two decades since Ryan issued her invitation. By analyzing their work, might feminism finally move "beyond embarrassment" when the topic of heterosexuality and love comes up for discussion?

* Barbara Ryan, "Beyond Embarrassment: Feminism and Adult Heterosexual Love." Centennial Review 37.3 (Fall 1993): 471-74, 477-86. Reprinted in Susan Ostov Weisser, ed. Women and Romance: A Reader. New York: NYU Press, 2001. 464-73. Quotations are taken from the Weisser volume.

Photo/Illustration credits:
• "Lone Wolf" cartoon: Katy at
Parade's End call sheet #11: Partner in Crime
Who Needs Feminism?

Next time on RNFF:
Steampunk Feminism in 
Meljean Brook's Iron Seas


  1. I love this post so much. Like, a lot.

    I think about this all the time in relation to my own (romance) writing. It's difficult to come to anything conclusive, except that it's a powerful thing to see feminist, heterosexual relationships depicted in romance.

    I recently decided that a heroine who was originally going to carry a series-arc romance won't end up in a relationship. I want her story to be a self-romance, so that she comes to a place of self-knowing and independence. It worried me that she would go through this journey only to be "rewarded" with a man. But it worries me too that my most powerful vision of female self-hood *can't* include a man. (I'm hoping it's actually just specific to that character.)

    Thanks for the wonderful, thought-provoking post!

  2. Thanks, Anna. I, too, find it powerful to find feminist heterosexual relationships depicted in romance -- sharing my pleasure with others who enjoy them, too, is one of the main reasons I started this blog!

    Can a self-romance story be labeled "romance"? Or would it be women's fiction? Or do you think publisher/bookseller categories aren't adequate for naming what you plan to do with your heroine?

  3. She'll never have her own book - I had planned to have her romance going on in the background of all the other books, and resolving in the last. If it was a stand-alone book, I suppose it would have to be women's fiction. But I want her to very much have the heroine's journey and a romance structure. And I do not doubt my writing hands will throw lover after potential lover at her, because secondary characters are going to find that sort of self-sufficiency irresistible :-).

  4. Interesting (and quite feminist) idea, that self-sufficiency would be an irresistible romantic draw for men...

  5. I love that idea too, Anna. It really is encouraging to see feminist relationships in romance, and I think Jackie said aloud what a lot of readers have been looking for and a lot of authors have been trying to write/negotiate. Thanks, Jackie!

  6. For some reason this reminds me of Mary Balogh's novel "No Man's Mistress," in which the heroine is a former prostitute and the hero is a virgin at 27. Of course, she didn't choose her profession but was forced into it to help her family. But the result in the story is to have a sexually experienced heroine and a totally inexperienced hero--an exact reversal of the typical situation, especially for a historical, and a Regency at that.

    I don't claim that this is an ideal "feminist" heterosexual relationaship, only that it's interesting to contemplate the different directions that thinking outside the box can take us. For example, what would a heterosexual romance be like if the heroine had been a sex worker by choice? Or still was?

    It also reminded me of Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick's account in one of her books of the disaster that ensued in a class she was teaching when she "apologized" for not being a lesbian. I wasn't clear if it was the apology that was the problem or the fact of her heterosexuality. I can't remember which book it was, but the whole thing struck me as very, very weird.

  7. Wow, I don't remember that particular Sedgwick story. What about it struck you as weird? Would love to get a reference...

  8. I've found it! It's from the preface to the 2008 edition of Epistomology of the Closet. On p. xvi, Sedgwick asks what it means to be talking/writing primarily in the first person about issues of sexual orientation and identity. How does an author reveal her own sexuality if it's not one of the LGBTQ categories?

    Sedgwick refers to a women's studies class she taught at Amherst in 1985: "...introducing a section on lesbian issues, I apologized that as a non-lesbian I felt somewhat at a disadvantage in understanding the material. A trio of students turned up at my next office hour ... and told me firmly but ... kindly that ... I musn't do *that* again. By their account, however carefully I might have chosen my words, the meaning that came through to them as gay women was the clangorously phobic (in effect) disavowal of being one."

    What strikes me as "weird" is that (and of course this incident is from 1985) somehow heterosexuality has become "closeted." Revealing oneself to be heterosexual, even preceded by apologies, is taken by queer people to be an assertion of homophobia or of superiority. And perhaps it is the "apologetic" aspect of the statement that is the root of the problem. Surely, I ask now, almost 18 years later, if all sexualities and identities are accepted and equal, a person should not have to hide her heterosexuality or apologize for it.

    As a woman writing from what I call "the third perspective," the woman who doesn't merely accept but *prefers* a bisexual man involved with one or more male partners of his own, I feel I, too, am walking a narrow line between honesty and offense. Writing about female bisexuality, as a woman, is great! Three cheers! (So I imagine the reaction of most of today's readers.) But writing about desiring bisexuality in "the other," my fictional heroes, is problematic. The fact that the fiction accurately reflects my real, Ann-Herendeen-private-human-being desires is where all these issues come together in a very complicated mix.

  9. Oops! I'm so old these chronologies are getting too hard. It's almost 28 years later, at least a whole generation of queer and feminist scholarship.

  10. Thanks, Ann, for taking the time to track that reference down. I asked because it reminded me of teaching a class on (what the university called) "multicultural" literature as a white woman, and the need to try and fight the urge to apologize for my racial identity while so-doing. Sexuality isn't always "read" (or assumed to be known) as quickly as race often is, though, so the situations are in many ways quite different.

    The "closeted" nature of heterosexuality in the passage is quite interesting. White guilt I've heard of, but perhaps "heterosexual guilt" is coming in to play here, as well as in feminism's reluctance to engage with heterosexuality except when pointing out heteronormativity?

    1. In the reference, Sedgwick goes on to talk about a rally for gay rights in which various speakers offered support while feeling the need to make it clear they were not gay. That was a case where the term "phobic" seems accurate.

      And that's why the date of 1985 seems significant. How many people really care today if society/strangers assume they are "gay" or queer? Some, of course, but it's not the same big deal it was then.

      What is much harder is situations, like teaching or writing, where the teacher or author's sexuality and orientation may seem relevant. Is it relevant? I don't know--and every day I change my mind about this a dozen times. People tend to assume I am bisexual because of my writing. And I have publicly identified as bisexual on many occasions. It feels easier to be bisexual than hetero in this situation. But the "reality" for me is so complicated that I don't really identify as anything. None of the categories is an exact fit for me.

      As a writer, I would prefer to be invisible as a person and only engage the world through the fiction. But that just isn't possible in today's world of required author photos on books, not to mention Facebook, etc. And as it happens, I'm the kind of writer that adores public speaking, reading from my books, doing comedy--and all of that entails the adoption of a persona with a sexuality of some kind. Whether that persona is "true" or not, there has to be one.

      In terms of feminism, I remember writings or ideas from the early days that equated all heterosexual activity with rape. Is that thinking still there? It's hard to evolve to a feminissm that recognizes heterosexuality as a reality for lots of people if that's your only way of looking at it.

      In terms of my writing, I've also found that some people have a hard time understanding that a bisexual man who enjoys sex with men and loves men can also be with a woman by choice--that is, that his heterosexual activity is very different from that of a gay man who will have other motivations like "passing" or practical marriage if he becomes involved with a woman. Here, heteronormativity is seen as the controlling factor, when in fact ordinary feelings of love and sexual attraction are at work.

      In other words, we as feminists have to accept that sometimes a man and a woman are attracted to each other not because society says they have to be, but because they want to be.

  11. Ann:

    I know that the strain of feminism equating all heterosexuality with rape was definitely a part of second wave feminism. I'm not sure what critics/writers espouse it today, though; I see another research project pending!

    Heteronormativity is definitely a strong, and often a limiting, force in our culture. But it's not the only one, as you so rightly point out. When writing about a text, a careful reader/author needs to alert to all the different strands, rather than allowing one paradigm, one theory, to guide a reading and blind one to the existence of other factors not accounted for by said paradigm/theory.

  12. Late to the party here, but as someone who am only now beginning to read about and dip into traditional het romance (by which I mean the trope-tastic hero/heroine genre paradigm with an HEA) after realizing that the slash fanfic I write is a form of romance, I have so far found them all to show the woman having more at stake in the relationship, and more to lose if she didn't succeed in overcoming whatever obstacles were between them, than the man. I do not consider this in the feminist, and outside of menage or genre-breaking, boundary-pushing works, this looks to me to be true of the entire genre.

    To give you an idea of where I'm coming from: I generally find a story that focuses on the development of a relationship between a man and a woman to the exclusion of all else. I have read better written, better observed, and all around better romances in mystery novels, classic literature, and epics -- for example, Jane Austen's books, particularly Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility, Dorothy Sayers' Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon, and Doctor Zhivago. And I like well-written m/m romance.

    I too think there's a lot of confusion about what a feminist AHL looks like. I've always seen Sayers' books as role models, but those are probably not the only ones. And with so much societal confusion (I think we know better what it isn't than what it is), is it really possible to write a feminist AHL? Because without it, there's not much hope of producing a feminist romance except as a fluke.

  13. Hi, Lawless, and welcome to the discussion!

    You bring up some interesting issues here, and some great models. I, too, love the relationship between Dorothy Sayre's Harriet and Lord Peter. But I think similar relationships can be found in *some* romance novels, with both partners having a deep emotional stake in the success or failure of the relationship. What romances have you been reading? Can we point you in the direction of better ones?

    True, romance typically tightens the focus to the development of a relationship to the exclusion of all else. I think of this less as a sign of failure in a romance writer, but more as a convention of the genre. And isn't this true of m/m romance, as well as heterosexual romance?

    Fabulous writing is not a key component in most romance (alas, says the former English professor). But there are some great prose stylists in the romance genre. Have you read any Judith Ivory, or Laura Kinsale?

    What are your favorite m/m romances? It's an area I haven't explored much yet, but am eager to think about and read.

    1. Whoops, that's Sayers', not Sayre's...

    2. I've read Sarah Mayberry's The Best Worst Mistake, Jackie Barbosa's Hot Under the Collar, which didn't make me wince until the end, when it kind of got ruined for me, and Grace Callaway's Her Husband's Harlot. I would not reread any of them.

      I've also read female-positive het erotica by my favorite m/m author and not loved it. With one exception (Mia Downing's The Spy Games: Lethal Limits), the only het I've liked has been menage BDSM erotica and/or had no HEA for the main pairing (also BDSM with a female dominant).

      I'm more than happy to be pointed in the direction of better het genre romances. In the great tide of het genre romance novels, it's difficult to find the good ones (by this definition) because even the ones that get positive reviews on sites like Dear Author don't interest or satisfy me. I guess I'm looking for something different from most of their readers. (Or, in other words, some, although maybe not all, of my problem is with the genre.) I am, however, interested in reading Georgette Heyer, as I understand she wrote books that are as much an examination of the manners and mores of the time as romances.

      I haven't read anything by the authors you mention as good prose stylists, although the names ring a bell.

      M/M is different because there's no gender politics and more equality, particularly of physical strength, although sometimes personality, age, weight, and height are used to determine who's the top and who's the bottom in stereotyped ways.

      More to the point, not only do most of them have something else going on beside the development of the relationship, whether it be BDSM, suspense/mystery, or business and family situations, many of them deal with one or both characters coming to terms with their sexuality. The continued societal disfavoring of gay relationships and sex provides warm fuzzies at seeing the characters overcome such barriers that simply are not possible with het romance. They can also explore kink and infidelity and engage in rough and semi-public sex in ways that would be considered outside the pale for a het heroine. I hate that word, btw. Falling in love does not a heroine make.

      P.S. - This is Lawless. I'm showing up as anonymous in the preview.

    3. Favorite m/m romances? You'll regret asking. BTW, historical m/m doesn't generally work as well for me as contemporary; I am also not big into paranormal, but oddly enough, some of my faves are paranormal.

      -Just about anything by Jordan Castillo Price; most of her stuff has a paranormal element to it.

      -Just about anything by K.A. Mitchell, but especially No Souvenirs, But My Boyfriend Is, Bad Company, Life Over Easy, Not Knowing Jack, and Hot Ticket.

      -Sarah Black's Marathon Cowboys, Lawless/Faithless, Sockeye Love, Murder at Black Dog Springs, Memories of a Colorado Sky, and Border Roads (the last one has a het pairing too). She is inconsistent, but is the best pure writer in m/m, to the point where some of her stuff (Marathon Cowboys, Murder at Black Dog Springs, Border Roads, Memories of a Colorado Sky) would qualify as literary fiction if it weren't m/m.

      -Josephine Myles' Boats in the Night and The Hot Floor.

      -Z.A. Maxwell's ePistols at Dawn

      -Adder by Ally Blue

      -Truthful Change, Bound and Determined, and The Square Peg by Jane Davitt and Alexa Snow

      -Bonnie Dee and Summer Devon have done a number of historical m/ms, some of them regencies, that are a lot of fun; my favorite is the first one, Seducing Stephen.

      -Just Ask by Mia Downing

      -Harper Fox's Scrap Metal, Driftwood, A Midwinter Prince, All Roads Lead to You, and Last Line. Scrap Metal also could qualify as literary fiction if it weren't for some (relatively fleeting) explicit content.

      -Kaje Harper's The Rebuilding Year, Unacceptable Risks, and Unexpected Demands. The last two are paranormals (werewolves).

      -Amy Lane's Chase in Shadow, Dex in Blue, and How to Raise an Honest Rabbit

      -Josh Lanyon's Adrien English series, Holmes & Moriarty series, Fair Game, Lovers and Other Strangers, and The Ghost Wore Yellow Socks

      -Pricks and Pragmatism and Hard Tail by J. L. Merrow.

      -Love & Loyalty by Tere Michaels.

      -The Boystown series by Marshall Thornton, but I don't think it qualifies as a romance until the second book. I like books 2 and 3 (out of four) the best.

    4. As for Sayre's, I knew what you meant. :D

    5. Thanks for all the recs, Lawless. So exciting to know there's a whole subgenre out there waiting to be explored. I've kept away from m/m in part out of worries that women and/or hetero authors writing about gay love might be problematic -- the dominant group colonizing the "other" for its own ends, and not accurately reflecting the others' truth (as many authors of color have claimed many white authors have done). I really want to read some theorizing about the hows and whys of m/m romance and write about it in future blog posts.

      As for potentially better hetero romance, I review romances that I think contain feminist elements every Tuesday. You can check previous posts for recommendations for books that might for you better than the ones you mention above. (the only one I've read is the Mayberry, which I enjoyed, but didn't find particularly feminist). I'd also recommend books by Jennifer Crusie if you like contemporary comedy.

      If you end up reading any books recommended here, I'd love to hear your thoughts on them.

    6. Oh man, have you hit on a hot button there with your worries that women and/or hetero author writing about gay love might be problematic. There is a vocal faction of gay men, both readers and writers, who say the same thing in a way that sounds more like men telling women what they can and can't write, like, and imagine when no similar standard is applied to men.

      While there are probably more women, both single and partnered IRL, who view themselves as heterosexual and write m/m romance than women of other sexual identities, the number of writers who are lesbian, bisexual or the variants thereof (omnisexual, pansexual), transgendered, genderqueer, or some alternate identities (I know slash fanfic writers who are asexual; it's possible some pro m/m writers are as well) probably equals the number who are het. In addition, there's an argument, and I would make it, that writing and professionally publishing an m/m romance itself requires a queer sensibility. It's too much work and there's too much social stigma attached to it for it to be something women do on a whim or because two hot guys are better than one. Many writers couldn't and wouldn't write het romance to save their lives.

      I'll address the appropriation/lack of accuracy issue later. I think the issue that has the most merit is authenticity, but it's kind of hard to write authentically without having a gay man as a beta reader who's not going to impose his own experiences and background on the material. I think it may also be a matter of authorial voice and what kinds of things the author is interested in exploring. What a gay man writes may resonate more with gay men than what a woman writes, and vice versa. It certainly works that way for me in the mystery/detective genre.

      I've want to read some of the books you've reviewed and have bookmarked those pages accordingly, but most of them wouldn't be considered genre het romances as that term is traditionally used. It turns out that an LJ friend of mine just finished Courtney Milan's Unclaimed and is sending it to me. But I wonder: what about the other books in the series? Are they worth reading as well?

      Thanks for the recommendation of Crusie. What about the authors you mentioned earlier who write well? Worth my time or should I avoid them as likely to induce rage or boredom? And what's your opinion on Georgette Heyer, keeping in mind I can tolerate more from a historical? After all, Austen, who I adore, nevertheless in her books espouses the concept that men and women exist in and excel at different spheres in ways that are sometimes sexist.

    7. Wow, so much to respond to here, Lawless.

      First, re book recommendations. I'm a big fan of Courtney Milan, and would recommend almost all of her books. Though not all of them have as explicit a feminist message as UNCLAIMED does, they all strike me as compatible with a feminist sensibility. Some younger romance writers just feel to me as if they take feminism as a given, and write it into their novels not as a deliberate agenda item, but just as part of their own world view.

      I'd also give Kinsale and Ivory a try. They're both great at constructing complex characters, both male and female. And as primarily historical romance authors, you might cut them a bit more slack (as you say you would do with Heyer). Not that most of their books require it, I'd say.

      I really enjoy Heyer, but more so her later books than her earlier ones. She writes a lot of silly but charming young girls in her early books, and I'm not a big fan of books where the laughs come at the expense of the heroine (especially when the hero is much older and much smarter). But a lot of Heyer's later books feature more mature women, smart, thinking women. My favs are THE GRAND SOPHY and VENETIA.

    8. Now, for the problematic aspects of m/m romance. Could you point me in the direction of gay male authors/readers who have written about what they find objectionable about hetero women writing m/m? I'm curious to see how their objections compare to those made by writers of color about white authors co-opting their stories.

      I think anyone should be allowed to write anything he or she wants to. But if an author decides to write about a character or group that is oppressed, and that author is from a comparatively privileged group, that author better think long and hard about why s/he chooses to do so. Is it to perpetuate stereotypes (even positive stereotypes) that help keep the dominant group at the top, while keeping the oppressed group from gaining power and privilege? A lot of our fantasies about "others" are stereotypes, alas.

      Also, what authority does the author draw on, to ensure his/her depiction is accurate rather than misleading?

      Such writers should also be prepared to be criticized by those from the oppressed group if s/he doesn't get things right. And to listen with understanding, rather than aggrieved privilege, to such criticism.

      Feminists in the 1960s and 70s spilled a lot of ink protesting male depictions of women in literature, depictions that they felt were demeaning, or reflected male fears and fantasies more than actual female lived experience. As a feminist, I think I should be open to listening to similar critiques from gay male authors today.

    9. Lawless, re Heyer, I'm not sure whether you feel the same way about racism as about sexism in books by older authors. So just in case, this is a warning that The Grand Sophy includes a secondary character who's an anti-Semitic stereotype.

  14. To clarify, the orientation of men who write mystery/detective novels isn't an issue, but because books about gay male relationships are not of interest to straight men, it amounts to pretty much the same thing. That leaves bisexual and trans women out in the cold, but the world of gay fiction at large and m/m romance in particular contains a lot of bisexual anyway and almost always ignores trans issues.

    1. Whoops, meant "bisexual erasure." The edit function here isn't very helpful.

  15. I typed a wonderful partial response to your question about appropriation and just lost it while previewing it. Argh. Suffice it to say that I haven't forgotten, but hunting for the links you requested is going to take awhile. Some of them date back to 2010 and 2009. I think, though, that when you see them, you'll understand my reaction better.

    Also (and the comment I lost didn't address this) I think the accusation of appropriation, exploitation, and fetishizing is more justified when aimed at amateur slash fanfic than at pro m/m romance. But slash fanfic is written for enjoyment purposes, and it seems to me a bit hypocritical to criticize it for fetishization.

    Does this mean that gay erotica written by amateurs for free and posted somewhere on the internet is entirely free of fetishization? I doubt it. The real objection here seems to be what's between the writer's legs. The idea that it's an insult to gay men if women get off on or appreciate them erotically strikes me as another attempt by men to dictate what is proper for women to feel and experience.

  16. Thanks, Lawless, for taking the time to look for those links for me. It will be interesting to see how the intersection of privileged and oppressed identities (male, homosexual) play out in individual writers' responses...

  17. Here it is; you may regret having asked for it. It's in several parts due to length.

    The most notorious criticism of women writing about gay men started with Cintra Wilson’s smarmy reporting for Out of an 'interview' with writers Alex Beecroft and Erastes, which was then used as the basis for a Gawker article on Why Are Straight Women So Obsessed With Gay Sex (ignoring the fact that although Alex Beecroft is a married to a man, she views herself as genderqueer, and that Erastes considers herself bisexual) and an even more egregious article, The Fetishizing of Queer Sexuality: A Response by Victoria Brownworth in Lambda Literary.

    That last article came in for the most lambasting because it amounts to a gay woman deriding other (presumably straight) women writing about gay sex as fetishizing by comparing it to men writing lesbian porn when (a) many m/m writers are lesbian, trans, bisexual, or genderqueer, (b) she herself has written m/m porn, and (c) she shows a lack of familiarity with the genre (for one thing, “rape as romance” is almost never used, although occasionally rape is part of a character’s backstory; I’ve only seen “rape as romance” in works by gay men such as Elliott Mackie’s Captain Harding’s Six-Day War and Captain Harding’s Men). When the largest and most vocal source of criticism is from gay men who feel their experiences are being appropriated and fetishized, why does Lambda Literary feel it appropriate or necessary to turn to someone who doesn’t have as much of a stake in the issue and doesn’t know what she’s writing about?

    These posts occurred in the midst of an outcry over the Lambda Literary Foundation changing the criteria for its literary awards so that only GLBT authors could receive them, which makes Lambda Literary’s coverage without disclosure of that aspect of things a bit disingenuous, to say the least. Here’s an article about the change, the discussions of it, and their relationship to the world of slash fanfiction. A quote:

    Discussion ensued as to whether such fiction was appropriating gay male culture and offensive to gay men, or whether the backlash against m/m erotica written by women was just another instance of women’s sexual expression being policed by men, as it so often is. A round of Oppression Olympics ensued, with women on one team and gay men on the other; both groups are in the right, being similarly subject to the kyriarchy and privileged (or not) on different axes, but few commentators approached the debate from this perspective in the early rounds.

    Here’s a useful reflection on the change by a queer woman. Here’s a collection of links about the controversy that itself became controversial.

    It was widely speculated at the time that the change occurred to prevent presumably heterosexual women from walking off with major awards, specifically, so that Alex Beecroft’s False Colors wouldn’t win an award. The terms of the awards have since been changed so that anyone is eligible for the category awards, but there are awards for authors at various career levels that are limited to LGBT candidates.

    For a less confrontational take from Lambda Literary on the same issue, see this piece by Dick Smart (yes, that’s his name; I’m guessing it’s a pseudonym).

  18. Second part:

    Here’s a link to the first version of “straight women should be very careful when writing about gay men to avoid appropriation and fetishizing” that I ever saw. It’s from a gay male author who tried to couch his post in helpful terms but– surprise! – it’s of no use anymore because he and his allies (mostly Ann Somerville, who I think considers herself a writer of gay fiction, not m/m romance) have deleted their journals.

    From what I remember of his post, other than his exhortation to do one’s research (and how one does that without a gay male friend to beta review, I don’t know), included an utterly ridiculous attack based on the possibility that some confused teen might run across one’s story and take that for gospel. While I know fiction has the ability to change people’s lives, saying lack of realism or errors in stories about gay men written by people who aren’t gay men is going to ruin some young man’s life is a straw man argument. It’s fiction, people! If you’re looking for advice, read advice (i.e., non-fiction).

    Here’s a couple of posts on this issue by women who write m/m:

    Alex Beecroft, which has addresses the issue of exploitation in some depth.
    Kaje Harper

    And, finally, a post by Stuart, a gay man who writes reviews for Reviews by Jessewave, an m/m romance review blog, in which he (in my opinion) takes his own experiences and makes them a paradigm for all gay men and criticizes what amounts to bad writing as if the writers did it for political reasons. There’s a lot of criticism of “chicks with dicks.” I’m not sure what that is (although I have some ideas), and I don’t know that female authors are the only ones writing them.

    The best response on this issue I think I’ve ever seen? Jeff Erno’s in a subsequent post on Jessewave.

    There are quite a lot of gay men who read, and we can debate the hows and whys, but I like to think of it as one more thing that we have in common with women that most straight men don’t. However, there are a lot of gay men I’ve encountered who are literary snobs. Reading a romance of any kind, or any story that even hints at sexual activity, is beneath their dignity. They consider it literary porn. I think they are generalizing, making assumptions about what an m/m romance book is based upon what they know about the material that is published elsewhere (like the nifty archive).

    He goes on to mention how hypocritical this is when many gay men hide their preference for one-handed erotica behind the unread literary fiction on their bookshelves.

    The post he’s commenting on also makes the point that women vastly outnumber men when it comes to book purchases and reading, which in itself means that most gay fiction is likely to be read by women and therefore the development of m/m or gay romance as something that appeals to women should surprise no one.

    In some cases, the majority of reader feedback a female m/m or gay romance or lit author receives is from gay men who identify with what she’s written. In other cases, female authors receive conflicting feedback from gay men, with some praising it for its realism and relevance and others dismissing it as unrealistic.

    Gay men are as varied as any other group out there, so there’s a wide variety of ways to portray them. As long as authors proceed in good faith and with some degree of artistry, they’re going to hit the mark for some subset of people, including those in the group they’re depicting.

  19. Wow! Thanks so much, Lawless, for this exhaustive list of articles and blog posts tracing the history of the controversy of heterosexual women writing m/m romance. I know how much trouble it can be to try and track down citations and pointers; I really, truly appreciate your time and efforts.

    I'm going to carve out some time next week to read and think about these articles/posts. Perhaps another post here spring from said reading...

  20. You're welcome! Putting the links together in some context, and remembering what each one said without reading it again (I reread them all when I found the links), was probably more of a challenge than finding them was.

    Also, I tried to comment on your post on Alex Beecroft's Blessed Isle and it got eaten. Not sure if my browser or the website was to blame. Anyway, the comment had another link I hadn't included here. I may try to reconstruct it tomorrow.

  21. I was wondering if you'd had time to look at any of those links and if so, what your reaction was.

  22. It's on my to do list for Friday (unless I have to spend the day shoveling snow...). Will let you know my thoughts soon!

  23. We're expecting snow Friday night into Saturday. I hope neither of us gets blasted too hard.