Much Ado About Nothing: labelling fiction in the gay/male-male genre
By D.J. Manly
When Bethann invited me to blog…(and I know…I know…I’m becoming a real blog whore); I asked myself what I’d blog about. Then I remembered seeing all this stuff recently about male/male versus gay fiction and I just couldn’t resist. Now don’t get me wrong, I believe strongly in the power of language…hell…I craft words for living and I’m all in favour of political correctness when it comes to human rights…but I sincerely think that this male/male versus gay labelling is Much Ado About Nothing (thanks Will!)
So far this is what I understand…apparently, male/male is considered to be kind of fluffy romance, while Gay is “real serious literature.” Umm. I even understand the motive behind this in a strange sort of way. I believe it’s all born out of some inherent inferiority complex about the genre we write in. Marginalization comes quickly to mind, outside the mainstream. I’m all for reinventing the wheel if it’s empowering and makes good sense.
What do I mean by marginalization? Well, everyone knows that many erotica writers have written under pen names. Anne Rice comes to mind…but now even her vampire stuff seems to have become an embarrassment…but I digress. So, yeah, you don’t discuss your latest book with your great aunt Judie who plays organ in the church because she’d probably be scandalized (maybe she’d surprise you!). Now, add “gay” to your list of descriptors and you again narrow down the list of people you feel comfortable discussing your books with. For some writers, they fear backlash, for others, they don’t hide what they write, but they don’t spread it around either. They know about homophobia and ignorance. We all know about that.
It’s not surprising to me that we would search for a way to create a hierarchy within this genre. We can boost our own egos a little and claim … I write GAY literature…not that fluffy, insignificant male/male stuff. We can imagine it’s like comparing good old William to someone’s first attempt at a cheesy bodice ripper. It’s a way to pat ourselves on the back for a job well done when we are seriously short on hands. I get it. I get it. But to me….it’s off target.
I’ve said this often in interviews and I will say it again just for the record: I look forward to the day when these damn labels of gay, male/male or whatever it’s listed as, disappears altogether. The fact that “straight” stuff doesn’t require labels speaks volumes to me. When books are divided simply by real genres such as romance, science fiction, horror, etc…then…maybe… I will begin to think that we’ve evolved as a species. Until then, it’s irrelevant to me if you say your books are “gay” or “male/male.” If you feel better saying you write ‘gay,” go for it.
If you really want to set up elitist divisions in this genre, then separate books that are well written and deserve the label of literature, and those that are okay…I am using diplomacy here…not well written enough to be published. That’s one label I would support. It’s not what we call ourselves that ‘cheapens’ our genre, it’s the fact that some writers, who previously wrote straight, are now writing ‘gay’ because they’ve heard it sells better. And the fact is, they’re not very good at it. Hell, some have told me that they don’t even like it…and believe me, it shows.
So before we get up on our diva platforms and say….”I write gay, not that other stuff…”let me suggest that we concentrate on writing well written stories about characters who love one another…whatever sex they might be…and make them so damn good, those people who thought they’d never pick up a book where the two main characters are called Mike and Jeff….email you to say …this is no different from when Harry met Sally…except for the equipment. That’s all I want…to make this world a little better, to put all love on an equal playing field. And if you want to call what I write Gay…gee thanks…but if you insist its fluffy male/male stuff…well…damn it, I’ll try and write better!!!! (Grumble, grumble) But you know in the end all I really want you to say…is…D.J…..that was a damn good story!
Anyway, come visit me at www.djmanlyfiction.com