Writing m/m

If you frequent forums discussing m/m fiction, sooner or later you will inevitably see the question ‘Can women write m/m romance (or m/m sex, or gay characters generally)?

The discussion rarely draws any conclusions, mainly because it’s so easy to find evidence of poor quality m/m fiction online. That’s not a criticism; by the same argument it’s possible to find examples of poorly written fiction of any type online, or printed. If there’s a literary genre, there will always be people writing bad fiction within it.

But it’s a curious question.

A list of gay writers:

Walt Whitman
Oscar Wilde
Marcel Proust
Federico Garcia Lorca
Cole Porter
Leonard Bernstein
Tennessee Williams
James Baldwin
Christopher Marlowe
Herman Melville
E.M. Forster
Noel Coward
Christopher Isherwood

Most of these writers, in fact all, had heterosexual characters in their work. And I’d imagine most of them had heterosexual female characters (the horror! The horror!). And yet nowhere, on any blog or forum, have I seen readers/writers questioning the ability of these men to write about heterosexual relationships.

Oh well, but these men lived during a time when they were forced to participate in a heterosexual lifestyle. All too true. And if modern gay writers were therefore criticised in a way their forerunners are not, it would be less surprising. But still no criticism. Nil. Nada.

[Just a note – I’m sure, in the depths of literary criticism, there are many ruminating on this very point. But that isn’t the group I’m talking about. You don’t tend to see them on the kindle forums.]

There is a taint of mysogyny in these attitudes. Of privilege. You’d think by now men would know better than to start out with ‘Women writers can’t write a convincing X’. You’d think we’d all know better than to stereotype any group like this. It harks back to my previous post, about how a majority of men won’t knowingly read books by a female writer.

When I pick up a book my main consideration is whether it’s a good story. Whether the characters are complex, and the motivations comprehensible. I care if the prose is well written, that the pacing is good. But if any of these fail, I don’t flip to the front cover and go, ‘oh, well, a male author, what did I expect!’ There are certainly some genres I have no interest in; westerns have never appealed, and I have read very little horror. SAS-style military fiction leaves me cold. Cosies and religious fiction, too. But a badly written book is a badly written book. A poorly paced book is dull. One dimensional characters are just one dimensional.

As readers we really have to get over ourselves. We have many female writers hiding behind their initials. Hiding their gender completely with careful, gender neutral bios and no public appearances, or writing under a pseudonym of the opposite gender. This is crazy. It’s about the story, people!

The success of the book for me as a reader lies in the writer’s craft – and that has nothing to do with gender.

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