Thursday, August 19, 2010

Our big gay M/M kerfuffle

That's male/male, as in male/male romance novels--but these are M/M romances written for women and mostly by women. Straight women. (Maybe.) It's a sub-genre I was barely aware of until several sources pointed me to this article in Out magazine, and, fast on its heels, this angry critique on the Lambda Literary Foundation website. Which in turn quickly resulted in a hot exchange of even angrier ripostes in the comments section.

Romance being so not my cup of tea, it took me until this eruption, now heading toward the vituperative, to catch on to the growing popularity of these M/M books, as well as to the obviously widely disparate reactions to them among LGBT readers and writers. In her LLF piece, lesbian novelist Victoria Brownworth characterizes M/M as "straight women fetishizing the lives of gay men." She places this phenomenon squarely in the camp of the privileged viewing the oppressed as other, as exotic, and at the same time claiming the right to speak for them, interpret their lives, appropriate their experiences and mold/distort/use them for their own purpose, in this case to titillate and entertain straight people.

Hold on, though, say some of the writers and their admirers. It may not be so clearcut a case as outsiders, as unoppressed, claiming to speak our truths. Perhaps there's a queer eye at work in M/M novels. What if a writer identifies as queer in one way or another? Which seems to be what some of these writers are saying, in the Out article and the comments.

Then there's Lizzy Shramko's slant in yet another LLF piece, to which Brownworth's is apparently at least in part a response. It's complicated, she says. But isn't it a good complicated if the straight-ish world turns out not to be quite so straight?

All of which in turn leads to more chewing over the issue of the recently revised criteria for eligibility for a Lambda Literary Award. This is the big annual prize that goes to LGBT books in various categories. All us LGBT writers dream of one day winning one. If I understand it correctly, until recently books could be nominated if they had LGBT content. This past year the gender orientation/identity of the author was added as a criterion--that is, no longer can it be a great gay story by a straight writer, it has to be a great gay story by a great gay. LLF explained this as serving its mission of supporting and advancing the work of LGBT writers.

Identity is such a fraught and complex question, oppression so painful and multidimensional (and, oy, the commentary is so riddled with academese--I mean, okay, I can figure out what "heteronormative" means but it's not a term you hear much out here in real-queer-world ), that these issues about who owns whose stories are necessarily difficult, and of course ours is by no means the only oppressed community whose writers and readers are grappling with them. I have no great wisdom of my own to add at the moment but will continue to follow the kerfuffle with interest, and report here on any further noteworthy developments.