The topic of cis-straight women writing M/M romance blew up recently, and I had some thoughts I wanted to share on the subject. While I’m not a queer man and would not presume to speak for that community, I do know the experience of being in a minority that gets excluded from content about themselves, so I can speak to that feeling.
It sucks. Inaccurate or stereotypical representation does genuine harm, over and over, and needs to be called out when it does. Thankfully, there are ways to avoid that harm.
When it comes to writing a story about a minority group that you’re not a part of, you need to hire a sensitivity reader first and foremost. If you’re not a queer man and your story is about queer men, you need to at minimum hire a professional sensitivity reader who is a queer man to review your work (or if you have a friend willing to do you the favor for free, be sure to at least buy them dinner and a cake after to show appreciation), and accept any criticism you receive. Be willing to make changes. This would probably help a lot with many issues in this type of fiction.
There’s still the problem of publishers elevating stories by straight cis women over queer men when publishing stories about queer men, which does need to change. Queer men should feel represented in and by the media about them, and the best way to do that is to make more room for their stories as told by them. So, that’s pretty straight forward. Don’t push out queer men. Publishers, if you see a queer M/M romance that doesn’t read like a straight romance’s formula, that’s because it’s not. Accept the differences. There needs to be more opportunity made for gay men and acceptance of gay romance as told by gay voices, and books should not be viewed as “more publishable” just because they’re written by cis-straight women following the patterns of heterosexual relationships.
Some of the discourse I see is whether or not straight cis women should be writing all these erotic and romantic stories about queer men at all, as it is essentially fetishizing a group of people. I can’t speak to queer men’s feelings on this. But, I can make a comparison as a queer woman. That comparison is to “lesbian” porn made for men utilizing the male gaze and actresses with long fingernails. Now, you *can* have W/W sex where people have long fingernails if you’re careful… But certain very popular, fun, and pleasurable activities are out of the question and most of the women I’ve met who love other women make a point of keeping nails trimmed short. So basically… those actresses aren’t into it because they like it, they’re performing for men, and it’s obvious to any actual queer woman that we weren’t even a second thought in the creation of these videos, so we’re less likely to enjoy them or seek them out.
As a woman who loves women, I don’t have any issue with the existence of lesbian porn catering to cis-hetero men’s fantasies. I understand many other women do take issue, but I personally don’t. I’m very much against kink shaming and everyone likes what they like. That’s just how we’re wired, to have all sorts of fantasies. So enjoy whatever gives your privates a tingle, I genuinely do not care as long as you don’t hurt anyone non-consensually. What needs to exist alongside that is lesbian content for lesbians, which is a lot harder to find, and that’s a problem. And, of course, there is the bigger issue at hand.
The biggest problem with content like this and with the cis-hetero men who enjoy it is when they take their fetishization away from private viewing and try to push their assumptions and desires onto parties who aren’t interested and have given no indication that those men would be invited. For example, it is never okay for a guy to go up to a lesbian couple having lunch at a restaurant and try to ask for a threesome just because he really likes lesbian porn. It’s offensive on so many levels, creepy, and just all around awful. It makes a couple just out trying to have a nice time together feel objectified by simply existing, and that is wrong.
I think that is a root of the problem with a lot of M/M stories written by cis-hetero women, aside from inaccurate or problematic representation: the overspill of objectification from fictional characters onto real men who haven’t consented to it. I’ve seen some shocking cases of women objectifying queer men in the same way that straight men objectify queer women. Years ago I remember seeing one such woman (sorry, I honestly can’t remember specifics, it’s been a long time) just start posting comments probing for details about a gay man’s sex life when she’d been given no indication that it was in any way appropriate for her to ask. It’s about as tactful as a hypothetical straight cis man going up to a lesbian couple and asking for a threesome. Another woman actually asked someone if gay men ever do anything romantic because she can’t imagine one sitting on another’s lap without immediately getting into a heated and erotic sex scene, so she would only write hypersexual scenes for her M/M characters and forgo any romance. The ignorance on display with that statement is simply… ridiculous. And it would be offensive to claim that representation like that should be good for queer communities. The women who do things like this should be ashamed of themselves.
But, just because some of these women are like that, I don’t think that the whole community of women writing this content should be shamed. I’ve been reading a lot of the discourse on twitter and one very interesting thing that stood out for me was that sometimes the women who write these M/M stories are using their fiction as an avenue to explore their own gender. They might not in fact be cis women, and I think that they deserve a safe space to do this writing and exploration (given that they do so respectfully, of course). You never know someone’s personal struggles and no one should ever be forced to come out publicly before they’re ready to. Attacking all femme presenting writers of M/M fiction could result in harm against closeted or questioning trans men and non-binary individuals.
My personal feeling regarding my own writing for sex scenes is this: if I can’t experience it, I won’t write it. I will never experience sex as a man with a man so I do not feel I’d have the ability to do such a scene justice. If such a scene ever does make it into my writing, which is very unlikely as I’d probably do a fade-to-black and focus on romantic aspects for such a relationship, I’d have a gay friend either edit or maybe even co-write the scene (in exchange for pay, dinner, and/or cake). For now, I’m going to stick to portraying relationships and sex scenes with a minimum of one cis-woman in the configuration.
I’m not going to tell all cis women out there writing M/M romances that they should do this because I don’t have that sort of authority, though I would recommend it. I do think they need to listen to what queer men are saying about the way they’re being represented. If you’re a cis-hetero woman and your audience is other women, you need to accept that you have the same role as a straight man filming and directing “lesbian” porn for consumption by other straight men and do your best to limit the damage you do to queer men by not randomly grilling them about their sex lives or acting in other similarly sleazy manners. That said, literature is more ‘respectable’ than porn is to our society as it currently stands (which, there shouldn’t be anything shameful about sex work and porn, but that is how it stands currently and a topic for another time), giving your M/M romance more mainstream appeal than porn and more weight as representation of a queer community. You need to do that justice. If you can’t because of a lack of personal experience, then you desperately will need a queer man’s input if you choose to continue writing it. You need to ask yourself why you’re writing a M/M story in the first place, what your motivation is. Be honest with yourself about the role of your fiction and make your choices accordingly. Whether that means to take a step back from creating M/M stories, to revise how you tell those stories, or to continue as you are is up to you, but remember the choices are not made in a vacuum and will impact the lives of real people seeking representation. And above all, please do support the voices of queer men writing about and for other queer men.
I reached out to some of my queer masculine friends to see if they had any comments they wanted to share on this subject, and would like to include those comments here:
“As a trans masc person who enjoys M/M fiction, much of this rings true based on my experiences. Before coming out as trans, this was the kind of content I consumed albeit usually about characters within fandoms I liked. One thing I always understood was that these characters are not real and, as much as there were some of the scenarios and scenes I would place myself in, I knew it was unrealistic. When it comes down to this kind of thing, and the same can be said for W/W stuff too, the main thing the reader has to remember is that most of what you are consuming (in regards to porn or erotic material especially) is not real and a fantasy at best, so taking what’s been said in the material and applying it to real life can be and often is very harmful because you’ve built up a perception of ’how things should be’ and conflated it with what actually exists.
You’re allowed to have kinks and fantasies but you have to be aware that the vast majority of people do not want to have your ideals shoved on them, because not only does it make them uncomfortable, but it also makes you feel disappointed that your fantasy was in fact just that because you’ve never spoken to anyone who is affected by the content you’re consuming. It isn’t quite the same, but it reminds me of the kind of people who will call pre-T trans men ‘uwu softboys’ but also then call them gross and disgusting when they start becoming more masculine as they transition. They aren’t looking at you like you’re a real person. They’re looking at you like characters they’ve seen in stories they’ve read about soft, innocent boys who need protecting (often with a hefty layer of transphobia underneath) because they lack that awareness of the trans community and what people have to deal with on a daily basis. At the end of the day, it all comes down to awareness and understanding that content you’re creating and consuming is not always supposed to be realistic, because that’s not why people like it, and as disappointing as real life can be, trying to force your fantasies into the real world on real people is going to cause much more harm than good.” – Kai
“As a queer cis male elder, I have mixed feelings on the topic. There certainly are gay men who want a traditional, monogamous romantic relationship. For them, this sort of media may be appealing and I have no problem with that because for a long time there simply was very little decent M/M erotica out there. But I agree with the rest of the assertion that it’s important to have gay men’s own voices heard too. Many of our relationships don’t fit a traditional (and frankly, heteronormative) structure. So, I think both worlds are good but we need them both represented.
Granted, twenty years ago I might not have said the same thing. At that time, I would have taken far more issue with being fetishized by straight women. But, at this point, I can treat cis gay men as more secure in representation overall, enough so that there isn’t danger of being harmfully objectified. I wouldn’t say the same thing about trans characters in erotica today, for instance; that representation seriously requires deeper understanding.” –Todd
What are your thoughts on cis-straight women writing M/M fiction? Leave a comment!
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