How to Appropriate by Not Really Trying: An Author’s Guide to Writing Socially Marginalized Communities in Romance
I hate to start a post with a dictionary definition, but this topic needs every card laid out on the table. Let’s begin with the beginning. Appropriation is the act of using something that doesn’t belong to you as if it does.
Authors do this hourly. It’s practically our job: we’re professional pretenders. In my published career alone, I’ve appropriated more than I have time to list, but let’s tick off a few. Long-distance truck drivers. Pawn shop owners. Ballet dancers. Football players. Poker players. Italians.
Drag queens. Practitioners of BDSM. Persons with OCD and autism. Transgender women. Gay men.
Some of these things are not like the other. If a poker player reads Double Blind and feels I got something wrong, their personal injury goes no deeper than annoyance, possibly with a side order of irritation. The same goes for the truck drivers and football players and Italian families. None of these groups currently experience deep prejudice. If I screw up when I borrow them for my work, the egg is on my face alone, and they have every right to call me on it. They will do this from a position of if not privilege, at least a confidence in their semi-comfortable place in our common culture.
If I misrepresent the groups italicized above, matters change quickly. Every group listed have been significantly marginalized by the societies in which they exist, and by simply declaring themselves part of that community, the members experience prejudice, social stigma, and often outright abuse. If I screw up when writing about these groups, not only do I have egg on my face, I contribute further harm and insult to persons already bearing a full plate of social struggle. If they simply hear about it happening, that’s bad enough. But if they purchase my book to see themselves represented in a positive way, and I slap them in the face? That’s bad. That’s very, very bad.
Twitter is the world’s largest receptacle of appropriated persons crying into the wind. I’ve seen Indian-Americans despairing over the appropriation of namaste—I have to admit, it hadn’t occurred to me until they pointed out that namaste, bitches is horribly offensive and appropriating to Hindu culture, but I wince now every time I see a bumper sticker or shirt or whatever else some idiot wants to slap that on. I’ve seen readers who have epilepsy furious over poor research in a novel, where their condition is used as character color and science is discarded because it’s easier if meds and epilepsy worked a different way. (Point of order: I just looked up epilepsy as I typed this, unsure if I should call it a disease or not, and I edited out illness as a synonym too. This took me less than two minutes of Googlefu.)
This morning I was the frustrated person on twitter. Someone rec’d a gay romance, and I was all psyched because I’m always looking for a good book and this person never fails me–and then I read the blurb.
…hiding his sexual preference from everyone…
One of two things just happened. Either you read that little snippet and winced, hissed through your teeth, or were pissed, or you don’t know what I’m talking about. For those of you in column A, bear with me. Column B, come with me.
This is a link to GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide. Revisit it often, because stuff changes and gets added. Germane to our discussion at hand is paragraph three, which I will paste here:
Offensive: “sexual preference”
Preferred: “sexual orientation” or “orientation.” The term “sexual preference” is typically used to suggest that being lesbian, gay or bisexual is a choice and therefore can and should be “cured.” Sexual orientation is the accurate description of an individual’s enduring physical, romantic and/or emotional attraction to members of the same and/or opposite sex and is inclusive of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, as well as straight men and women (see AP & New York Times Style).
When I objected to this on Twitter, it was suggested preference was okay because the character in question was deeply closeted. Actually, that makes me much more nervous. One, that term has zero place in a public blurb. If the character uses that term to describe himself within the story, that’s potentially permissible, but only if he is corrected and his schooling of appropriate terminology is part of the plot. The blurb is a no-go. Because what that ONE WORD did in that blurb was take me from a well-known author of gay romance possibly reading and rec’ing that book to writing a two-thousand word blog post on why that book is probably a very bad idea. That one word tells me the author hasn’t so much as glanced at the GLAAD media reference guide, let alone done any training. That the author is usually an author of heterosexual romance makes me further put on the brakes, because now I’m worried that word was a flag hiding deeper appropriation. That might not be the case—this author might be a huge ally who has done all sorts of research and that word was simply a fart. Unfortunately, all I have is that blurb and that word, and I’m not just failing to bite. I’m running and shunning, and I would actively discourage that book if asked what I thought. Based on one very unnecessary and poorly-chosen word.
I don’t hold the blogger who rec’d the book responsible for knowing this, as she’s a reader, and she’s supposed to be able to read good books and enjoy them. Apparently the book itself is great, and I’m sorry I’m having to pass. The faux-pas is utterly on the author, and it is a faux-pas, and it should be corrected. She should talk to her publisher TODAY about getting the blurb changed TODAY up to and including the backs of print books. She’d do well to submit the book to someone in the gay romance community and say, “Would you read this and make sure that’s the only terminology/community mistake I made? I really want to get this right.” For the record, I would make time to do that reading and would be honest and patient in any education attempts. But honestly, there are a lot of qualified and willing people on the ground. While it’s not the job of the appropriated to help authors avoid missteps, in addition to being generally open to education efforts, marginalized groups often publish media guides and leave easily Google-able clues as to how they’d like to be addressed and dealt with.
Unfortunately, I meant well is not a defense when appropriation goes wrong. I’m sorry is the lead, immediate correction is the next step, and contrition is the path forward. If you’re writing about any group who experiences prejudice, get your ducks in a row and your Google on. The problem is even getting a doctoral thesis in the appropriated community can’t stop some mistakes. I have made mistakes in appropriation. Even being a member of the appropriated community can lead to argument about how the group should be represented–but when we are tourists, we must always, always proceed with respect and prepare to defer, especially when representing them in fiction.
I am a woman. When I write gay men, I am appropriating. There’s no if, and, or but about it. I’m not a gay man. I’ve researched all day long, I mind my Ps and Qs, I have put in months worth of volunteer hours for LGBT causes and have donated to them for a decade, but
I do not have a penis and desire romantic relations with men, ergo, I am not a gay man.ETA: It was pointed out to me one can in fact, be a gay man without a penis. Sorry for my screwup, and thanks for correcting me, Heidi Belleau. See how easy it is to screw up? See how easy it is to correct and apologize?
As an author of gay romance, is my job to be careful and smart, and when I screw up, it’s on me to apologize and correct. I’m quite sure there are gay men who regard me warily, seeing my bio at face value—woman married to man—writing their stories. That’s fine–that’s my work to win them, or to allow them to decline. When I pitch/sell gay romance as a type of romance to women, regardless of their orientation, I am careful about how I speak. When I am interviewed by the media, I cram for hours in advance and if it’s radio, I take notes. Every time I write a gay character, every time I open my mouth or type words about gay romance, I carry the weight of men who have been abused physically and mentally over not only generations but centuries. I forget that at my peril, and at the expense of their experience.
This seems so easy, so basic—do your research. And honestly, that’s the only sin in the blurb mentioned above. Except there’s another elephant in the room when talking about women writing gay men, appropriating gay men, and this discussion isn’t complete without bringing it up: women are fighting their own appropriation. Women are marginalized too.
#GamerGate and #WomenAgainstFeminism are exhibits A and B, see also Gamora’s exclusion from Guardian’s of the Galaxy merchandise aimed at little boys. See basically all of western culture. Writing romance novels of any orientation is a feminist act, because every one is a middle finger at the male-centric idea of romance being silly and stupid and lesser. Men in romance novels fall in love too, profess devotion, and do all kinds of things they’re not allowed to do as freely in our messed up culture. In lesbian romances, the men are secondary characters not required for love and romance.
In gay romances, however, several things are going on. On the one hand, we have beautiful accurate representations of masculinity, of strength and vulnerability. We have gay men with agency. But, particularly when straight women write gay men, or men having sex with men, there is great potential for a subversion element, the seizing of power from men. Because gay men are still men, and men still have the lion’s share of the power in our culture.
It is easy to use man having sex with a man as not a representation of gay men but as a weapon against the oppressor. Subverting the idealized, monstrous, impossible yet socially dominating straight male ideal is a heady rush, and in heterosexual romance, I have to say, knock yourself out. But the second that monstrous man wanders over the line into gay man, everything changes. Gay men know the monstrous hell of that oppression in a different way than women, but they know it. Women wouldn’t like being subverted in gay male-authored novels any more than gay men appreciate it in the novels of women. In fact, even when women write gay romances, the women in the secondary roles are closely scrutinized for misogyny by male and female readers in the community. Some female readers of gay romance will say they only read gay romances because they have been so upset by the portrayal of women in popular literature and culture, including straight romance, that they would prefer to only read men falling in love with men. There’s a lot of work there to be done in romance, to help those women stop feeling so ostracized by their own gender. But absolutely that work isn’t done by subverting the male archetype via gay men without thought or care. In fact, that will only make things worse.
The bitter pill in all this is I want, very much so, for authors of heterosexual romance to include LGBT characters, primary or secondary, in romance. But it’s well-past time we started talking about appropriation, not just in LGBT but in everything. Write outside the lines of your experience, but do your research and your homework. For LGBT romance, it’s a lot more than a few episodes of porn and a YouTube coming out video. It’s reading gay history and volunteering at youth shelters and looking in the faces of girls and boys kicked out of their homes because they dared to declare who they wanted to love. If you want to understand why preference is an insult, that’s an excellent place to start.
But this applies to everything. Any culture or group of persons whose experience does not belong to you—do your research. When you get it wrong, correct, apologize, and learn. Because there really is something worse than having no voice at all. It’s someone using your voice to insult you.
Knowing they’re making a profit from it is a cruel kick in the teeth.
Mercury is retrograde, and so we are all writing and saying and misinterpreting and in general making ourselves and each other upset. This post is one of today’s offerings. (ETA: post appears to have been taken down, but of course there is a screenshot.) Wave at at Reviews by Jessewave is upset because books are submitted for review that contain on-screen heterosexual sex. “Graphic het sex” to quote accurately. This site has made it plain they don’t care for anything but romances featuring sexual contact between two males, and yes, there’s a case here for free speech, personal prerogative, and so on. Anyone has a right to be as broad or narrow in their tastes as they choose. I have no issue there. I might disagree with the tactic, but to each her own, mazel tov, etc.
This, though, I’m taking issue with.
Why are M/M readers treated so disdainfully? Are we not on par with het romance readers? M/M romance has been around for a decade, so why can’t our authors get it right? Clearly we are not respected because if we were this wouldn’t happen, and so often. Would authors insert graphic gay sex scenes in het romances? Not f*****g likely, unless the book is a ménage or a bi romance, and do you know why? Two reasons:
1) They know that het romance readers would not tolerate this and would tell them to put their book where the sun doesn’t shine; and
2) They respect het romance readers so it wouldn’t even occur to them to include gay sex in a het romance. Definitely a double standard.
(The ***** are quotes. I would have cussed.)
For reference before I respond I need to quote this too:
Turn this beat around and do this in het romances and you will get an earful and an angry uprising from your fans because het romance readers wouldn’t tolerate gay men screwing their brains out or other body parts in their romances.
And from comment 8.1, the big, BIG important one:
We have reviewed many M/M romances with het side romances where the sex is not explicit. What we don’t review is M/M romances with full on page het explicit sex (oral, vaginal or anal). I think you will find that any het romance review site would not review books that contain explicit gay sex unless that site also reviews the entire range of erotic romances.
There’s a lot here. Let’s start with the easy misdirect.
Blogs and review sites which review primarily “het romance” do review romances with gay male (and lesbian and bisexual and transgender) romantic leads. I suppose these sites do review erotic romances as well, but it’s absolutely not their focus. Pretty much anywhere that’s a serious, big-time review site? They’re reviewing all flavors of the orientation rainbow.
I write gay heroes, and I have been reviewed in Romantic Times Magazine and The Library Journal, which are incredibly mainstream review sites. The Library Journal in particular is notable because this is the source, as one might assume, from which many librarians take their cue for orders. I’ve been reviewed in many other places as well: USA Today did a lightning review of Dance With Me on the Happily Ever After blog. I’ve been reviewed multiple times at Dear Author, and I’ve been reviewed with Marie Sexton at Smart Bitches Trashy Books, and Marie has been reviewed there twice. SBTB has reviewed several lesbian romances too. K.A. Mitchell has been reviewed in Publisher’s Weekly, which in case you didn’t know is seriously a fucking coup. She’s also been featured in Kirkus via Sara Wendell. K.A. Mitchell has won the reviewing Internet.
I’m a little afraid, frankly, to list all the not-exclusively gay romance blogs I’ve been reviewed at because I fear forgetting one. There have been a lot. You can go to my website and read them all. If you haven’t heard of some of them, you should check them out. Many, many wonderful offerings there. You can also plug in all their websites into the Alexa search tool and see their comparative web scores. I don’t have the full science on it, but I know it’s how publicists check ranks of blogs and review sites. Go ahead and plug in your favorites and see how they stack up.
A sampling of US scores (the lower the better):
Dear Author: 16,958
Smart Bitches Trashy Books: 43,287
Romantic Times Book Review: 46,588 (magazine subscribers are I think 400k, but I’m working from addled memory)
All About Romance: 40,124
Fiction Vixen: 56,121
Joyfully Jay: 422,033
Reviews by Jessewave: 317,480
The Armchair Reader (Cole Riann): 671,619
I didn’t list Elisa Rolle only because somehow she’s reading as in the 5,000s or is #13, depending on if I use her Dreamwidth or LJ and this page is a redirect to her others—I think that must be reading the blog host sites itself. Either that or Elisa, you need to charge for ads and quit your day job!
Those last three listings are blogs which describe themselves as m/m romance blogs. I listed three at random, so please forgive me if I did not list yours. I only wanted to give a sampling—feel free to enter your own favorite into the engine. Yes, there’s a spread of 100k points (that’s points, not people) between each one, but when you look at the rest of the blog world, in general one can say these blogs are on par with one another. These scores also fluctuate, and high traffic like a controversial blog post begins to alter the score, though I admit I don’t know by how much. Please feel free to put in my website and blog—they’re pretty low scores, and I’m totally cool with that, as my sites are there to serve my books not be a social hub. Toss your own in there. What the heck. Play around. Alexa is fun.
The point is, there are a lot of people reviewing romance of all flavors. More and more every day, in fact. I have yet to approach a blog that is not exclusively gay romance focused and receive anything but a warm welcome. Some are even excited. MANY find me before I can hunt them down, and that would include USA Today. I suppose somewhere there is a very conservative website or two that doesn’t want any gay cooties. That’s fine—I really don’t need them, thanks.The people who also want a narrow, focused selection of books can go there, and I hope they and the site owners are very happy together.
Any implication that blogs identifying themselves as m/m only are the only way to get reviews if one writes gay romantic protagonists is horse crap. Do not say, either, that K.A. and I don’t count because we have big names. My second published novel, Special Delivery, was reviewed by Dear Author and Mrs. Giggles. If you don’t know who Mrs. Giggles is, google. A lot of that will be authors angsting about how horrible and mean her reviews are. She reviews EVERYONE and she’s vicious. I found out I had a review because my email and phone blew up from friends freaking out because Mrs. Giggles had loved my book and that almost never happens. I stopped hearing them after “Mrs. Giggles read my book” because I was all flipped out. That was my second book, and it just up and happened. I do not have a magic hoo-ha or magic anything. I wrote my best book and I got lucky with exposure. This means you can do that too. There is no wall to stop you.
There is no wall about reviews, period. Maybe a decade ago. Maybe even five years ago. Not today.
Authors writing books with romantic protagonists can include any flavor of romantic pairings they wish to. I feel kind of silly addressing this, because I feel like I’m the idiot taking an Onion article seriously, but I’m willing to go there just so this is clear. Authors whose romantic protagonists are heterosexual can write side pairings with homosexual on-screen sex. I think you’ll find it’s rare to see, but I do in fact know that it happens. It’s rare not so much because of some cabal but because romance especially in the Big Six market is fiercely competitive and romantic stories with more than one romantic pairing at a time are a hard sell. But gay romance is alive and well in all reading circles, and the big shift to mainstream? It’s coming. The big gay wave is crashing on all manner of shores, even in my little Heartland—anybody thinking the entertainment industry, including books, isn’t trying to figure out a way to capitalize on that right now is kidding herself. Yes, there’s still some resistance, but oh, it’s coming.
Authors whose romantic protagonists are primarily homosexual can also mix and match. It’s called equality and parity and freedom of expression. It is totally okay for a reader or a blog to say, “I only want to read one kind of book.” I stand firmly beside anyone’s right to do this. I think it’s a narrow view, but it’s a valid life choice. Hey, I only read romance. Do what makes you happy. But the authors get the same pass. We can include it or not. We can write heterosexual pairings and homosexual and bisexual and trans* and the whole orgasmical enchilada. Nobody has to read it, but we can write it.
It is not disrespectful of authors to write the stories that they want simply because they are not the stories some people want to hear.
I’m having a hard time responding to this one, because…what else is there to say? The last time I looked, I was not chained to my desk with a penis gun pointed at my head telling me I had to write gay sex and nothing else. That said, I haven’t written any mix-and-match in awhile, but that’s mostly because the Etsey series is hard and the fantasy market is rough, and honestly lately I’ve had so much fun with the college-age gay boys I can’t do anything else. However, if I do write the sequel to A Private Gentleman, yes, readers will either have to endure Penny and Rodger getting together (and probably some additional girls and boys in there too)—or they’ll have to not buy that one. If I write the book with a bisexual man in it, yes, you might have to see some pussy. Or not read that one.
And it’s okay to get mad at me for this, but I’m not putting a warning on any book that says “gots pussy in it.” Ever.
I’ve had publishers that require stringent warnings, and while I’m not a fan, I don’t fight it because there are other fights to have. I REALLY hate Loose Id’s “situations that some readers might find objectionable: male/male sexual practices,” and I’ve wondered a lot if I should have fought for that one to be removed. But not even in the books with heterosexual sex or lesbian sex (Yeah, I did that!) are there warnings about cross-pollination. Because I don’t believe it’s necessary. I believe it’s sexist and crass and bad for our culture. I believe it fosters ghettos and sexism and homophobia and heterophobia or whatever. It’s not good in my book. If you disagree with me, its’ okay to disagree with me. You can disagree with me and still read my books or disagree so much you can’t go there anymore. Your right, your choice.
I will not, though, sit by and have this nonsense tossed around about how you can’t get reviewed if you mix orientations in your book. I mean, obviously this ignores ENTIRELY the whole menage subset, but I know they weren’t meant to be included. This is about somehow all authors of romantic stories with gay male protagonists wearing invisible shackles or being bound by some ritual code. This is ghettoization. This is false truth, false barriers, false reality.
I am not interested in a ghetto where I can only write one thing and am bound by one review site and one set of rules. Holy crap, I started writing gay protagonists because I wanted out of all those goddamned rigid structures. I write romances. The lovers happen to be gay men almost all the time. I don’t write that way because I have to or because of the penis gun. I do it because for whatever fucking reason it makes me happy. I mean, happy, so much so that when my shoulders ache and my neck literally has me seeing double and I can’t walk because my leg has a weird cramp and half of it is numb because my body is an unholy hot mess even on a good day—I write through that not because I have to but because it brings me great joy to do so. I write for people who want to read those stories. I’ve written all over the map, and I assume (in fact, I know) people don’t read the whole oeuvre. Well, some do, but most pick and choose. I’m so down with this in my website redo (not up yet, don’t go look) I’ve included a design feature so one can filter by series and subgenre.
It’s not disrespectful if sometimes I write about two girls kissing or a girl who was born a boy kissing a boy or a girl or both at once. Or if this roommate in the new book doesn’t end up with the girl I’m thinking he might and I decide I want to write him hooking up in his own story—if I do, it’s not disrespectful of me to do that. It isn’t if anybody does it.
It’s okay, though, to get frustrated if you clearly state that your blog only does one kind of book and people don’t follow the rules and submit others. It’s even okay to rant about it on your own blog. Your space. Do what you want.
It’s not okay to intimate to budding authors looking for intel that the other reviewers won’t play nice with them because the write gay, and it’s not cool to imply there are rules. There aren’t. Please pass it on.
I write romance with gay male protagonists.
When I describe what I write to people, I tell them I write romance. If they ask what kind or get interested, I tell them about it, and as a part of that I do explain that I write almost exclusively gay male romantic leads and protagonists. Why do I not lead by saying I write m/m romance? Because I am not different. Because I am not a separate category. I write contemporary romances. I write historical romances and fantasy novels and paranormal romances. I write erotic romances and sweet romances. (No seriously, this one will be sweet. Ish.) I am proud that my heroes are gay, but I am so proud of them that I want them to be compared right alongside all the other couples. I want romance equality up and down. I do not intend to stand along the side of the market and hope people come out and play. I am in that market. I work my ta-tas off in that market. I want readers of all types to come and read my work. Readers who only want to read gay male romantic protagonists are very welcome—90% of the time that’s me too. Nothing else quite satisfies. But yes, I want people who are the reverse to read me too, who only read some gay romance. I would say I want Big Six publishers to pick up gay romantic protagonists, but that has already happened.* The Big Six are very interested in gay romances. Mainstream reviewers are interested in gay romances.
I don’t mind the m/m label–unless m/m is going to start coming with rules and restrictions. If m/m is something limiting, if it is separate from the mainstream, that’s not what I write. If m/m is something that can’t play in the big kids pool, that’s not what I write.
I write romances. I write love stories. I write often very sexy and graphic love stories that take trucker fantasies and make them erotic and sweet at the same time. I write about fisting cowboys and have you emailing me through tears to tell me I wrecked you, it was so sweet and wonderful. I write from my heart and my toes and my eyeballs and anything else I can find to pour in. I write romances because I love them so much I cry when I think about my favorites.
There are no gay ghettos in romance except for the ones we make. There are no rules about what we can and cannot write. There are not walls on where we are reviewed. There is no ceiling on how high we can go—not unless we let ourselves or others put it there. Nothing is stopping me (or you) from being a New York Times bestseller that isn’t stopping a million other authors. Absolutely it’s not because my boys are gay. Is the climb up my professional sometimes a little harder, the road a little weirder? Yeah. But baby, that only makes it sweeter when victory happens.
No ghettos. No rules. Just you and me and our kindles and nooks and paperbacks and good times.
And occasionally pussy.
*I’ve read this book. You need to totally preorder this bitch right now.
Read the full article at Coffee & Porn in the Morning: A Beautiful No: How Richard Herod III Turned a Townhome Rule Into Powerful LGBT Activism.
You may remember the great and terrible brouhaha that came down regarding the Romance Writers of America Oklahoma chapter Romance Writers Ink singling out LGBT entries as no longer accepted in their More Than Magic contest, a contest LGBT romances had won and placed well in during previous years. You may also remember RWA being uncomfortably quiet and cagey during the confusion.
They are quiet no longer. In the minutes from their March board meeting, RWA included are two items of particular note:
4. The Board approved adding anti-discrimination language to the Policies and Procedures Manual as follows: Membership shall not be denied to adults because of race, color, gender, age, religion, national origin, marital status, sexual preference, disability, or political affiliation.
5. The Board urges our chapters to make every effort to ensure that their contests and other services are inclusive. While RWA chapters are affiliated as individual corporations, and RWA Staff and Board are not involved in overseeing chapter contests and other programs, both Staff and Board are available to support and advise chapters on best practices.
Let me begin by making clear this is a huge step forward for RWA. An organization this large never moves with haste, and RWA has a long history of being conservative, not in political flavor particularly but in its desire to embrace change. The fact that this statement came so quickly and easily quite probably is in large part to the public attention the RWI/MTM issue received.
Would I like to see the definition go further? Oh yes. To start, I hope they change the word “preference” to “orientation” as it should be. I’d love to see RWA and everywhere else in the world put down in black and white that discrimination in any form will not be tolerated. I’d love to see equality protection emblazoned everywhere. But I also understand that organizations like RWA have legal entanglements that give new depth to the word “snarl.” I don’t know this for certain, but I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that RWA can’t legally constrain its chapters any further than the above two paragraphs, this might actually be as far as they can go. I can see the legal slippery slope, because that’s always how this goes. One clause nailed down doesn’t just open the door you wanted but thousands of others you didn’t know where there. Or maybe they could be that specific, but this is as far as they’re willing to go for now. We’ll likely never know any further details than those two paragraphs provide.
What I do know is that a lot of chapters and individuals will be upset by this, and not just RWI. Some will be upset that RWA made any nod towards accepting all orientations at all. Some will be upset they didn’t go far enough.
No matter what the background stories are, I know one thing for certain: this new language is a great step in the right direction. I’m grateful for swift action on the part of the national board and hope there is never need for any further discussion on the matter, that inclusion will be the new norm for all RWA chapters. I’m proud of RWA for exceeding my expectations and covering a great deal of my hopes on this issue and with an alacrity I did not anticipate. RWA, I am impressed, and I am grateful, and I am pleased.
Just as I did a few months ago, I encourage you to write the board and blog, only this time I hope you are writing in thanks. If you aren’t able to because in your mind RWA didn’t go far enough, I fully understand the deep and personal cuts on this issue. But I hope no matter what you are able to see that if nothing else this is a gigantic first step for a large, complicated, and I repeat, conservative organization. And as far as my chapter, Rainbow Romance Writers is concerned, this is a victory and an important one.
I hope with all my heart we never have to deal with this again, that this truly is some quiet new dawn. If not, we’ll be ready. But I’m going to enjoy this Pollyanna moment as much as possible. I hope you can too.
Last night I was skimming through my Google Reader feed and stumbled on a Minnesota couple’s video explaining why they will vote yes on a Minnesota amendment to the state constitution banning same-sex marriage. It really upset me, and when I showed Dan, it upset him too. So we sat in front of my computer for a half hour and talked about our views on same-sex marriage and why we love equality in Iowa and why they shouldn’t vote against it in Minnesota. Then I spent the morning editing it, and I uploaded it to YouTube as a response.
This is how it turned out.
I’m starting a blog series about all the many wild and wonderful communities within LGBT romance, and I’m going to start with one of my personal favorites, the M/M Romance group at Goodreads. I interviewed “Moderatrix Lori,” the chief whip-wielder and head moderator.
Tell us a little about the Goodreads M/M group: how it got started, what it does, etc.
The Goodreads M/M Romance group was started on June 14th, 2009 by author Christie Gordan. I joined the group a couple of months later, hungry for someone to discuss my new found love of M/M romance with. There were only about 11 members when I joined and not much discussion going on so I sent Christie a message and asked her if she would be willing to make me a co-moderator of the group. As a busy author she was more then happy to let me have a shot at growing the group. Jen joined me as a co-moderator a few months later and not long after that we added Jase to our team. 2 1/2 years later we have over 5,300 members in the group and have added two more members to our team, Katie and Stacey Jo. Our vision for this group has always been to provide a safe place for people to discuss their love of M/M romance, talk about their lives, discuss LGBT issues, both political and social and find support among a group of people from all walks of life. It has become so much more than we ever envisioned. We have raised thousands of dollars for LGBT charities, self-published two anthologies featuring both established authors and those just getting their feet wet, produced a group video for the “It Gets Better” campaign, and provided a platform for members to question, discuss and get help with issues that affect not only the readers and writers of M/M Romance but the LGBT community at large.
Would you share with us your personal story, why this group is so important to you?
When I stumbled upon my first M/M romance, I was just blown away. I have always been a gay rights advocate but it wasn’t until I joined a LGBT friendly chorus in 2008 that I became a true activist. Now I was reading these books that were opening up a whole new world for me. I had been focusing on the rights and freedoms we sang about and advocated for but I hadn’t really thought about the personal and relationship issues that many of the members of the LGBT community faced. It really hit home for me when I realized my 18 year old son was gay and was struggling to come out. Even with a mom who was fighting the fight, he was afraid. I was so much better prepared to sit him down and talk to him about it because of the books I had been reading and the people I had met in our group. I knew in my heart that when he grieved for a life he didn’t think he could have as a gay man, that I could honestly tell him he could have it. That someday he would find that one special person, he would have that house with the white picket fence and he would have the golden retriever, the children and everything else he had ever dreamed about. It may seem silly to some that a romance book or a group dedicated to romance books could have such a profound effect on a person, but it does. We see it every day. We see that we are not alone, we see that there is hope for a better future and we see that we’re not all crazy for loving books that for some of us is something we can’t share with anybody in our real life. For some of the members in our group, it is the only place they feel safe and welcome and for that I am deeply and profoundly grateful.
What are some of your favorite features/aspects of the group?
Where to begin. The best thing about our group is that there is something for everyone. From the person who never writes a single post to the regulars who post several times a day, there is always some event, contest, reading challenge, discussion, etc..going on that is going to appeal to a member of the group. We’ve had two, very successful story writing events and are getting ready to start our third. Both have produced anthologies that we’re very proud of. Stuff My Stocking: M/M Romance Stories that are Nice and… Naughty and the multi-volume Don’t Read In The Closet anthologies have garnered widespread success. We’ve introduced readers to established authors they somehow missed and given a platform to new authors that may not have been discovered quite so quickly if not for these events. We just wrapped up the first annual M/M Romance Group Member Choice Awards where our members nominated and then voted for their favorite books in over 40 categories. The real-time chat session we had to announce the winners was well attended and so much fun. We are so fortunate that many of our members are authors whose participation in contests, chats and discussions truly make our group a special and unique place. I also love our creative and fun reading challenges which not only help you decide what to read but also help you discover books you may never have found on your own. We have the greatest group of gay men who willingly share the intimate details of their love life in our Gayology 101 discussions. These threads are designed to answer those burning questions we all have and to help authors work out the mechanics of some of those hot love scenes we’re all so fond of. Another very popular feature in our group is Jase’s Discounts & New Releases. Jase spends hours each day scouring the internet, following blogs and newsletters and keeping his finger on the pulse of what’s new, what’s coming up and where the sales and discounts are.
In addition to all that, we’re a family. We have the most thought provoking discussions and honest dialogue of any group I’ve ever been a part of. We treat each other with kindness and respect and we let our members lead the way into areas that matter the most to them. We also have a lot of fun and try not to take ourselves too seriously. Most of all, we have a lot of heart and I think that becomes evident as soon as you join.
Heidi’s personal note: Authors and readers alike—there is no replacement for this group. Discussions have become heated at times, and like all good families we have our dramas, but nowhere on the internet is there a comparable hub of m/m romance discussion and information. I stumbled into it shortly after my first book came out, and somewhere in the archives is my almost tearful exclamation of, “I have found my spiritual home!”
Visit the M/M Goodreads group today and see if it might not be your home too.
It’s such a loaded, nasty word. It’s negative, and no one ever wants to use it. It’s like “racist” or “homophobic.” “Anti-Semitic” sounds more like a clinical condition than a mindset one shares with Hitler, but it nevertheless carries enough context to send people scrambling for higher ground. “I’m not a bigot. I’m not homophobic. Some of my best friends are [insert marginalized group here, hopefully at least without a slur but sometimes not even that].” Distancing oneself from the label isn’t just knee-jerk. It’s self-protective. No one wants to be a bigot. No one believes they are a bigot.
It doesn’t really matter, though, because bigotry is a condition, and it takes an object. A person must be there to house the bigotry, because without them bigotry is just a nasty concept no one in their right mind would pick up.
As an Iowan, I’ve become cripplingly aware of the nature of bigotry, especially in regards to LGBT rights. Between our landmark Iowa Supreme Court case in Varnum vs. Brien (the decision that led to same-sex marriage being legal in our state) and our status as first-in-the-nation Presidential caucus, our state which is more traditionally plagued by nothing more than bad corn and pig jokes is a constant battleground over whether or not men marrying men and women marrying women will bring about the end of the world as we know it. The issue touches my friends. The issue touches my child. And while we have some incredible native champions, I’m here to tell you, the worst part of facing endless waves of bigotry are not the outright nasty bastards but the people you would normally hold the door for at a restaurant, whose children play beside yours in the mall play lots. The worst part is knowing that very good people are caught up in it and that they believe with all their heart that they aren’t hurting anyone at all, that they are in fact the victims.
That’s the lure, the candy coating that helps the bigotry go down. “I’m a victim too!” Last winter I sat on the floor of the Iowa Statehouse and listened to a parade of Iowans explain how the Varnum vs. Brien decision harmed their families and made them homeschool their children, how it pollutes the minds of their children, how it goes against God. Every last one of them believed all the way to their bones they were on the side of right, and their pastors were there backing them up. Not a single individual objected based on anything but religious principles.
Not a single one of them believed they had anything but a divine right to live in a world tailored to their beliefs. To their comfort. To their preference, to their sense of design fabricated from a text famous for holding the line on every civil and human rights issue in Western culture.
At this point in a discussion like this the Nazi references start coming out, when the fire of righteous indignation reaches its fever pitch. That does seem to be where zealous diatribes go distinctly south, no matter who is holding up the placard. But HITLER and NAZI really are the elephants in the room whenever you bring up bigotry and hate of particular social groups. The only thing worse than being a bigot is being Hitler, who made himself Emperor Almighty of All Bigots. Nobody wants to be Hitler. Nobody wants to be a Nazi.
Nazi is the Little Black Dress of name-calling. That’s what my friend Damon told me when we were discussing this, and it keeps ringing in my head. It’s what you call your enemy when you want not to really zing them hard but look cool doing it.
I wonder at what point in the universe we will figure out that we are none of us Hitler and all of us are, both at once. That just like bigotry, Hitler is a name, a condition, and tossing the title around doesn’t do anything but piss people off and how. The bigger sin is being the bigot, being the shadow Nazi, being the Hitler. Whether or not it’s named, the action is what will do the damning.
– Note: MTM will no longer accept same-sex entries in any category.
from the contest rules for the More Than Magic contest hosted by Romance Writers Ink Chapter of RWA
It’s taken me several days to be able to write this blog post, and the worst part of it is that my job isn’t done with this. As president of the Rainbow Romance Writers, RWA’s chapter for LGBT chapter, it’s my job to address the situation. I intend to, but I admit, at this point I keep reading that above line and feeling heavy and tired and depressed. I try to tell myself it’s because I’ve been felled by a pretty impressive cold for over a week and that it’s what’s making me tired. It’s a good story, and I wish I could buy it. But the bald truth is that I read that line, and every time it just hurts all over again.
The membership of RRW has been braver than me. Several members have emailed to ask why the change; one member got a reply. She was told it was a hard decision, but some members of the chapter felt “uncomfortable” with same-sex entries. That word keeps resonating too. Uncomfortable.
Well, I have to say, RWI. Discrimination makes me pretty uncomfortable too.
I just can’t get over the balls of stating, right there in black and white on a freaking website, “no same-sex entries.” No Irish need apply. Whites only. Pick your discriminatory phrase and insert it right there, because they all fit. Does that seem harsh? Probably only if you’re not gay or passionate about the rights of LGBT persons.
Here’s the truth. LGBT romance is growing more and more every day, but don’t let anyone try and delude you it’s anywhere but at the more sunlit alleys in the ghetto of the publishing world. Despite our very good sales within our digital-first houses, we aren’t even on the map for most New York publishers. Anyone within the genre knows too that LGBT romance gets plenty of flack from LGBT literary. It’s the same fight mainstream romance has with the mainstream lit fic genre (much like snotty religions, they don’t think they’re a genre, just the True Disciples of Book) except LGBT romance gets some nice kicks in the teeth for having straight women in the room. I’d point out a whole hell of a lot of us are bi, but if you know anything about arguments within the alphabet soup, you know that gets a lot of sneers too.
So it’s nothing short of a fine slice across the hand to be skimming through places LGBT romances might submit entries for contests, trying to get more exposure and out of the ghetto—this one is for published books and last year an m/m novel won—only to find a big fat NO GAYS sign.
When I asked about this, I was told the board made a ruling on same-sex entries in contests and said basically that chapters could make their own judgments based on genre. The heading of the issue was labeled “same-sex entries in contests,” so there’s no question this is the clause that made RWI feel they could pop that line I opened with onto their website, sigh in relief, and move on with their day. Make no mistake. RWA national said this is kosher.
I don’t mind someone reading my novel and disliking it. I don’t mind entering a contest and not being chosen. I don’t even mind someone seeing that my books have same-sex romances in them and saying that’s not what they want to read. But I do mind someone discriminating on principle alone. I do mind someone telling me that I’m a genre one can just skip but not recognizing me as a genre for the RITA awards, making me compete against people who have no idea what a ghetto looks like and how hard it is to get out of one. But to say “here you’re a genre, you can’t play” and then “here you’re not, so have fun with your teaspoon while everyone else gets a backhoe” is not fair. And not right.
It hurts. And it’s wearing. I’m supposed to be professional and I’ll get there, but right now I’m just Heidi Cullinan, author and reader and very tired person. You know what, RWA? We write damn good stories. We work very hard. Do we have some stinkers in our midst? Oh yeah. And you know what? So do the m/f books, and you know it. You know what, judges of RWI who are uncomfortable reading about same-sex relationships? I’m uncomfortable with you judging my work like that without reading it. I’m uncomfortable with you pasting RWA on yourself and then saying, with RWA national’s blessing, that you don’t want to read that gay stuff.
What LGBT romance needs are more readers. What we need is exposure and opportunity. We aren’t asking for special treatment, and believe it or not, we aren’t even asking for a genre label. Yeah, it’s hell competing against the full press in the RITAs, but we’re okay with doing it. In fact, we’d rather. We’re willing to work. We’re willing to throw ourselves at the walls of ignorance and nose-wrinkling and discomfort because boys and boys and girls and girls are kissing and wearing each other’s clothes and revealing they’re gender queer. Yeah, we’re in our ghetto alleys, but we are here and determined and ready to work to show you how much we have to bring to the table. And we’re ready to do it over and over and over until people listen.
So give us a chance, eh? You’re “uncomfortable” with our pairings? We’ll work hard to change your mind. But you have to work too. You have to let us play. You have to admit you’re taking our dues and calling us full members, and you need to treat us like them. You need to not hang “no gays” signs on your contest windows. And if you do, you need to be called out on it.
Are you an author of LGBT romances? Are you a reader of them? Are you an advocate of LGBT rights? Please write to RWI’s contest coordinator (email@example.com). Please write to RWA. Please don’t yell and throw glass. You can be hurt, but please be civil. One little pebble thrown becomes an excuse to call us the bullies. And you know? I don’t even think RWA or RWI are the bullies. I think they’re not thinking. I think they’re thinking of themselves and keeping things quiet and easy. I think they don’t think for one second saying “no gays” is the same as hanging “whites only” over a toilet.
If you know that’s exactly what it is like I do, tell them. Politely. Firmly. Over and over and over again.
RWI, RWA: Let same-sex entries into your contest. Change your policies. Don’t discriminate.
If you go to http://www.heidicullinan.com today, you won’t get very far. Credit where credit is due: after reading the how-to’s people posted on twitter, I promptly emailed my
brother webmaster and said, “Um? Hans? Help?” He of course had no trouble, and up the module went.
Why? Because I like the Internet. A lot.
It’s true, the Stop Online Piracy Act in theory is designed for me because I’m an author, and I’m pirated every day. But while SOPA would theoretically stop my books from being stolen, it would stop a lot of other things too. Things I like.
- Coffee & Porn in the Morning
- Facebook (well, sometimes I hate this one, but you know.)
- random pictures I post in my blog
- my blog
- being able to watch the TV people won’t let me buy legally
- finding out of print movies no one is willing to sell me anywhere
- watch old commercials
- get music some fool thinks I’m going to pay triple the asking price PLUS shipping PLUS wait a month for the boat to get here
These are the gimmies. But as an author? Here’s the real shocker, and it’s not popular with many other ebook authors, let me tell you that. I don’t mind the piracy of my books even half as much as most people.
I begrudge people who somehow have decided I’m The Man and they shouldn’t have to pay me and upload and download my books from mass sites because this gives them a hardon, being badass. I begrudge them, but I don’t want them stopped, not like this. Pushed to the wall, I want them stopped, maybe, but I’m very leery on the how, and really at the end of the day I’d rather convince people not to steal from me in ways that don’t threaten the Internet. To be honest, I can’t see exactly how that can happen.
The other issue is that I know damn well some people are getting my books via piracy who couldn’t get them otherwise. I’m sure the actual numbers are low, but even two percent would make me leery to cut them off.
- LGBT teens who can’t even tell their parents they’re gay, let alone that they want to borrow the credit card to buy some gay romances
- people for whom even having the book on their hard drive could get them beaten or killed, either by their government or a spouse or someone else with undue authority, people for whom actual purchasing is either too high a literal or emotional risk
Those are the two biggies, really. There are a million cases where I empathize in the abstract but resent in the specific, but even there I’m not willing to shut down the Internet so people don’t pirate my books. Because no matter what the authors of this bill or any like it say, it’s not going to do anything but take the freedom from the individual and give it to a bunch of bastards who sit behind desks and think they should be able to drive the world like a bus.
I’ll be the first to admit I have conditional ethics. No Kant for me. But I try not to be a hypocrite as much as possible, in that if I want the freedom in one media, I can’t be too pissed when the same terms apply in my own. And no, I really don’t believe every one of my pirated books is a lost sale. I think the percentage is incredibly small, because I do believe that in general, if the rules are fair, most people prefer to play by them. Those who can’t or won’t aren’t going to be moved much by laws. It’s the same way with guns. Legislation really doesn’t stop people who truly want to get them. I can only carry that analogy so far because I get murky in the idea of “need guns,” but you know, I also am not interested in telling someone else what their needs are and aren’t.
If you pirate my books and read this blog — well, you’re going to have to make your own decisions. Whatever kind of money you imagine I make, I don’t. I have piles of debt and cats and a child to take care of, and book sales regularly mean I can afford to participate in the alternative health care measures that frequently are the only thing between me and pain. So if you’re just some smug bastard who gets jollies off stealing, enjoy your karma. But I’m not getting tangled in your fuckedness. The universe will sort you out soon enough, because it always does. I just don’t care about you enough to be bothered.
To everyone else, I’m not judging you. If you can pay, please do. If you can’t, it’s your risk to take, your conscience, your decision. On rare occasion I stand up to sites that pirate, but mostly I try not to think about it. Your reasons for pirating are your own, and ultimately you have to answer to them.
As for the personal passing back-and-forth of files, whatever.
For me everything gets so muddy so fast with piracy. Pirates have been around forever, and there are as many pirates who fall into the profession because they feel compelled as those who just like power. I’ve already spoken on the latter. For the former? I don’t know. I’m not in your shoes. I can’t really judge your reasons, or rather, I’m not going to. Plenty of other authors and artists will think I should. They have some great arguments, and I suspect I’ll see them and possibly some outraged yelling in the comments.
The bottom line for me is that I’m not about punishing the whole room for the actions of a few. I didn’t like it in third grade and I don’t like it now. I really, really don’t care for rewarding one set of bastards because they made emotional public arguments and greased the right palms of the lawmakers.
I like the Internet as it is. Warts and all. If you are for SOPA, I respect your right to be so. As for me and my websites, we shall stand opposed.
If you don’t like SOPA and live in the US and haven’t contacted your representatives, please do so now.
Originally published at Accessline Iowa.
I was a Girl Scout. First I was a Brownie, complete with the adorable brown beanie and the knee socks with weird orange fringe things. We met once a week in the basement of the Catholic church in town, which I remember because it felt so deliciously wicked to meet in Another Church. (This was a very small town.) We made crafts and sang songs and put on skits and had outings. We had cookouts where we made “walking salad” (apples with the cores removed and replaced with marshmallows, chocolate chips, and a caramel) to eat while we went on our hikes where we were admonished to take only pictures and leave only footprints. We learned about Indian mounds (It was less PC in the 70s) and how to properly make a campfire. But mostly, whether in the woods or out, we were taught to be respectful.
The individual lessons blur together in hazy memory, but I am very aware that I was taught to be responsible and above all respectful. In Girl Scouts you behaved, not because you’d get yelled at if you didn’t but because that’s what Girl Scouts were. We were good girls not because we sat still but because we did good things. We were helpers and listeners and doers. We phoned our relatives and hocked those cookies because something good happened from doing that. I can’t remember what it was, but I remember believing that selling those cookies was my duty.
Looking back, the Girl Scouts was a heavy partner in the formation of my character, because in addition to that drumbeat of humility and respect, GSA gave me more than a little inner steel. There was absolutely no activism of any kind, but there was definitely the sense that you stood up for things, quietly, but you stood. We wouldn’t have been caught dead with a placard, but we’d absolutely be the Good Samaritans. Put on that uniform and you transformed into a public servant. Service, that’s what I remember most about Girl Scouts. Respectful service.
I can tell you what Girl Scouts wasn’t about. Hate.
In fact, pretty much Girl Scouts in my experience was anti-hate. In GSA you tolerated at worst and accepted and learned and welcomed at best. By the time I was in seventh grade I’d somehow become one of the most-fun-to-mock kids in that tiny little ghetto, but not at Girl Scouts. We were all sisters, and we were all servants, and not one of us would have been caught dead mocking or being mean. Not in front of a leader, anyway. Even someone you didn’t like had to be “gotten along with.” There were no power plays in Girl Scouting and no name-calling, no nothing that even smacked of exclusion and mockery and disdain. A Girl Scout went out of her way to show respect. Read More