Hello everyone, today I’m back with another discussion post! This topic is a pretty common one to discuss, so I figured it’s time to add my voice to the masses! Let’s talk about women who write about gay relationships! This topic’s a pretty complex one, and there’s a lot of different factors to consider. I’m not trying to say I have all the answers, so I would love to hear your opinions too!
So, what’s the deal with women who write about gay men? Why are you talking about this, Bertie? I think it’s fair to say that the majority of Achillean representation in books, especially within the romance genre, comes from women authors. There are many reasons why women might want to write about queer men, but the issue often highlighted is whether they’re fetishising them. That’s the crux of what I wanted to discuss today, so let’s get into it.
Are All Women Who Write About Gay Men Fetishising Them?
My answer to this question is: no. I don’t think every woman who writes about queer men is being fetishistic, even if there’s sexual content in their work. There are many reasons why someone might want to write about queer men that isn’t fetishistic. One of the largest ones we need to consider is writing them as an exploration of queerness. For sapphic authors, exploring their queerness through the use of queer men can feel like a safer option. A queer woman who writes about queer men is exploring a form of queerness that’s removed from her gender identity. It can be a place where questioning and closeted people can explore queerness with a safe distance from their own identity. A woman who writes about Achillean relationships is less likely to be thought of as queer than a woman who writes about sapphic relationships.
Queer women who are open about their identity might be interested in writing queer men to explore another form of queerness. Maybe they want to write about them because they have shared experiences as people who fall outside the realm of heteronormativity. That’s not to say that queer women can’t be fetishistic, but I’m giving an example of a non-fetishistic reason a woman might be interested in writing about queer men. There may be more I haven’t touched on, or perhaps you completely disagree with me. I’d love to know your thoughts.
Can straight women write about queer men? Well, straight women may want to explore queerness for a multitude of reasons. An exploration of gender identity, gender norms, or wanting to move away from cis-heteronormativity could be a part of it. I believe, when trying to figure out whether the representation is bad, you should be looking at patterns of behaviour, and the content of an authors work. You shouldn’t completely ignore identity, but it’s often a lot more complex than you might think.
Non-Binary People Are Not Women
You may be saying, obviously non-binary people are not women. Why are you talking about non-binary people? Well, people who critique women for writing about gay men often do the same for non-binary people. I’ve seen non-binary authors be described as women by people who haven’t looked into it or don’t care. So I thought it was an important point to bring up here. Authors may have complex gender identities, even if they look cis to you, even if they’re not out. Writing about queer men as a trans or non-binary person is a completely different experience. The gender identity of the author might be linked to men, perhaps they’re exploring masculinity, perhaps they once identified as a gay man, perhaps they’re a gay trans man and not out, perhaps they just want to write about queer sex and romance. People who critique women for writing about queer men need to make sure they’re actually talking about women. How can you do that if some people aren’t out? There’s no easy answer to that.
You Can’t Tell If An Author Is Queer
The fact is you can’t tell if an author is queer, trans, or LGBT+ unless they say so. Some people will forever be questioning, some people will never have a label, some people want private lives and don’t want to talk about their identity, some people might not be safe to come out. There have been LGBT+ authors who have felt like they needed to out themselves to justify why they write queer stories. That shouldn’t have to be the case. We have to balance the fact that we can’t know someone’s identity with wanting our community to tell it’s stories. This isn’t to say that every woman writing about queer men is queer (or trans!) themselves, but we should consider the possibility.
Being queer or LGBT+ does change the context of stories. Some things are okay to say if you’re inside the community, but insulting from an outside perspective. I don’t have the answers of how to balance this with the understanding that we don’t know author identity. I do think that saying all women who write about queer men are fetishists is not the answer. We need to recognise there is a multitude of reasons why gay sex and romance is written. We need to not put pressure on authors to come out to justify themselves. We need to critique work and people on their actions and not their (potential) identity. Again, I think it’s important to note that queer women can be fetishistic, and although I’ve highlighted reasons they may not be, we should still be critiquing their work with care and consideration.
But More Men Need To Be Writing About Gay Men!
You may be saying, but Bertie, these women are taking away opportunities from men! We want men to write their own stories! And I agree, we should be supporting and highlighting the stories written about queer men by men. We need to pressure publishing to take on stories written by men, we need to buy the stories written by men to show that they do well commercially, we need to uplift the voices of men who write about queerness. There’s a lot of work to be done in this area.
There’s a lack of men writing romance generally, and publishing companies that do romance are less likely to accept men’s work. That’s something we need to critique. Perhaps this is a topic better aimed at publishing, rather than individual writers. Do you have any ideas about how we can best support these men? I think we’re taking steps in the right direction, I am seeing more queer books written by men, but it’s still too few.
So How Can You Tell If A Woman Is Fetishising Gay Men?
Okay, so let’s say that not all women are fetishising queer men, that queer women write from different viewpoints, that writing about queer men can be useful and fun. How do we tell when a woman is fetishising queer men? When should we be critiquing them? I don’t have all the answers to this, but I can tell you what I pick up on.
I will generally avoid women authors who only write about gay men. You might have seen them, the super prolific authors who have written about forty books, and they’re all about gay men. I don’t read them. I completely understand why women may want to write queer romance, but only writing queer romance has my alarm bells going off. Romance authors who write about a range of different relationships feel safer, and more worth supporting.
I know I’ve been describing these relationships as featuring ‘gay men’ when there’s a lot of Achillean men who don’t identify as gay, and there’s a reason for that. I side-eye authors who don’t acknowledge other representation under the LGBT+ umbrella. I’ve seen authors who love their gay romance, who simultaneously share biphobic, transphobic, etc. views. An author who has gay men in bundles, but the one lesbian or bisexual man is treated horribly? That’s a bit suspicious.
This should be obvious, but if the book’s homophobic, maybe don’t support it. There are tons of little homophobic things in gay romance. I dodge any book that seems to focus very heavily on how sinful and forbidden a romance is, especially if the only thing that makes it forbidden is they’re both men. I’d also say, pay attention to the women in the book, if there are any. Is she being weird to the couple? Pushing herself into their relationship? That’s a huge red flag for me.
Is the relationship purely sexual? Are the men well developed? These are all questions it’s worthwhile keeping in mind. Does the way the book is written give you the wrong vibes? Then hey, don’t read that book! If you’re unaware of homophobic tropes, I’d make have a look into it so you know when to spot something that doesn’t look right. As readers, we should be thinking about the content of these books. We especially need to be listening to OwnVoices reviewers that these books aim to represent.
Is fethishism the only thing we need to be aware of?
Gay romance has been, and continues to be, a genre of mostly women writing for women. That’s something that we should critique. Historically, gay romance was the only form of queer literature that women had access to; it’s where a lot of queer women began their journeys. I’m happy to say that sapphic literature is becoming a lot more common; gay romance isn’t the only LGBT+ representation out there anymore. We’re starting to see good rep in every genre, every age group, romance to non-romance, sexual to non-sexual. That’s so positive, and I’m hoping that’ll lead to the demographic for queer books lean more towards OwnVoices readers/writers.
Women who write gay men will often struggle to write their experiences authentically. It’s a problem with every book that highlights an identity that the author doesn’t share. If the author is writing for women, and women are reading the books, then how can it be an authentic, accurate representation?
The big thing we should take away from this is that we need to pay attention to queer men who review books, we need to pay attention to queer men who write books. We need to trust in their judgement of what is authentic, what’s problematic, and what’s good. We need to make sure their work is getting the credit it deserves and that they have the platforms they need.
You are 100% welcome to disagree on any of my thoughts here, and I’d love to hear what you think. It’s such a complicated situation with a lot of different factors that we need to think about.