Straight Women, Gay Romance: Bridging the Gender Gap?

There isn’t a name for us (yet) but we’re out there.

I discovered my inner gay man four years ago when I began writing literary fiction. It wasn’t a “choice” to write about certain “subject matter”: he was just there. And I liked him, sometimes more than the woman named “Jendi Reiter”, that persona assigned to me by biology, life circumstances, and the strange sense of humor of the Lord.

However…not only am I not “Julian”, I am not even a real gay man writing about “Julian”. I don’t want him to sound like a chick with a dick. (No offense to my intersex friends.) And I worry that when he tells me what’s in his heart–when he admits to caring about something other than casual sex and sarcastic put-downs–our readers will say to both of us, “You throw like a girl.”

Until recently, I didn’t know there were others of my obscure species, apart from the slash fanfiction subculture (you know, Kirk ‘n Spock in luv). But apparently, according to this Dick Smart column on the Lambda Literary book blog, we straight female writers of gay male romance/erotica even have our own publishing niche, “M/M”, with specialty presses and everything.

On one level, this is encouraging. I’m relieved that I haven’t been afflicted with a unique (and unmarketable) kink.

At the same time, I feel a little sad that traditional male-female divisions persist even in queer culture. Some editors quoted in Smart’s article suggest that the difference between gay male fiction and female-written M/M is that the latter is more romantic and sentimental. Men who want lasting love, who talk openly about their emotions with and for other men–are these still mainly a female fantasy, scorned by other men regardless of sexual orientation?

It wouldn’t surprise me if, in a sexist and homophobic society, gay men police each other for not acting macho enough. I would be more depressed if I had to accept that the difference is innate–that even among gay men, there will always be someone of lower status, namely me, who gets the low-prestige job of doing the emotional work for both genders and is excluded from the boys’ treehouse by virtue of that “weakness”.

There are many reasons why I write M/M. I’ve posted about the more high-minded motives on this blog: I’m proud of my queer family, I believe in radical equality, blah blah. Yeah, and I also think naked men are hot, and the more the merrier.

But, to get back to the high-minded stuff for a second, I have an agenda for everything I write. Spiritual, political, ethical–it’s all of those. I believe (or at least hope) that people are more alike than they are different. We all need an intimate connection to God and to one another. We all need dignity and a safe place to be honest about who we are. I believe that gender roles that restrict our emotional range (men get lust and anger, women get empathy) are oppressive illusions. I want to dispel these illusions by writing in the voices of characters outside my demographic, and reaching readers outside that demographic, too.

17 comments on “Straight Women, Gay Romance: Bridging the Gender Gap?

  1. Hugo says:

    Great post, Jendi. I didn’t know how many women there were who wrote this material either, though certainly I have a strong group of straight women in my GLBTQ history classes who have a deep identification (too complex to caricature) with gay men.

    Injecting emotion isn’t inappropriate; it’s real and authentic. And sometimes, we need an outsider’s perspective to help us understand the best and fullest aspects of ourselves. Would love to read more!

  2. Steve says:

    When I compare family and friend’s stories over generations, I detect a gradual broadening of emotional spectrum expected or “allowed” for each gender. Now, in recent years, we are even getting gradual acceptance of additional nuances and combinations of gender itself. I find all of this hopeful, and a trend that is likely to continue (it certainly has a distance to go, and knowledge will continue that journey).

    I believe art, like yours, is part of what pushes awareness, and gives examples and “permission” to be different than previous generations, or previous role models. And I think art, being created by people who reach across one or more of the apparent gaps in our gender and emotional positions, can have a unique impact in this effort.

    I’m glad you are writing what you are writing. I hope you never let anything or anyone prevent you from finishing.

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