Authors can’t expect the LGBT community to rally to their side based on faulty expectations
Let’s talk about author drama, shall we? It’s been a sad couple of weeks around me. A suicide, a (potential) suicide attempt and yet another author who decided “enough is enough”. The suicide and the author are not directly related, yet they are, in a way, as the author claimed they quit because of a lack of support and help from the others in the industry, plus a general rant about how disappointed they were by the lack of inclusiveness from what they’d thought was an “inclusive” group, the LGBT book genre. So allow me to rip off this band-aid once and for all and clarify two very important things, which people seem to get wrong:
Authors don’t owe other authors shit… We only owe readers.
Writing is a trade for most, a form of art for some. But to pay bills, we must make money. While I don’t think this necessarily makes us competitors (because I do not believe the writing cake to be finite), it is a business: we pay for cover art, editing, proofing, and we’re being paid for each sold book. Some (more and more) of us self-publish, others use intermediaries in the form of agents and publishers and share some of the profits with them.
As authors, our allegiance lies with our readers, they are our customers. And they should lie with our suppliers and co-workers within a publishing house. We are no different than any other “company”. Yes, we should be civil and respectful of each other, and we should help each other because that is how we build a better world. However, and I can’t stress this enough, 1) we can never expect others to reciprocate and 2) we most certainly shouldn’t help others with that expectation. Even my four-year-old son has already learned that lesson: you do good because it makes you feel good, not because you want good to be done back. After all, the golden rule says: treat others the way you want to be treated. It doesn’t say “treat others well to be treated well back”…
We do owe our success to our readers, whether we have one hundred or one million. They buy our books, they praise us, review us, and keep us going. They don’t owe us anything (except civility), but we owe them everything. It’s as simple as that, and if you aren’t absolutely clear about this, you need to read up on business 101.
Writing LGBT doesn’t make you LGBT
This is a bit trickier. And it has to do with the fact that the vast majority of LGBT literature is written by heterosexual women. And for the umpteenth time (before anyone gets angry and upset), there’s nothing wrong with that, per se. As a writer of […], you are a member of the […] writing guild/community. Writing a novel about black people doesn’t make a white person black, and writing romance about two men fucking their way to their HEA doesn’t make you a member of the LGBT community. Sorry if this comes as a surprise or shock, but it doesn’t. So to rant about a lack of support and how disappointed you are by the lack of inclusiveness is pointless. Allow me to exemplify: last summer, after publishing my book about a gay Sami man and his journey back to his roots, I expressed interest in attending a Sami Pride event in Finland. I was ready and willing to fly there on my own expense to participate and learn more about where the Sami LGBT community is at and where it’s heading. I wasn’t welcome. I’ll grant you, that stung quite a bit at first, but I understand. I’m not Sami, and they wanted a safe space to be among others who have the same experiences, the same background.
The LGBT community is not more inclusive than any other group
This is hopefully not coming as a shock to anyone, but it needs to be said out loud every now and then. Being gay, Lesbian, bisexual, trans, queer or intersex doesn’t make us better human beings. It makes us a bit different than most others, but neither better nor worse. Just different. When people think that we should be more inclusive just because we’ve evolved to include more letters over the decades, you’re naïve at best. I’d probably use different words to describe such an expectation. Because it shows a level of ignorance about not even knowing what got yourself into writing about us. The LGBT community has always been at each other’s throats, just as any other group that comes together to fight for a common goal: G’s fighting with L’s over partying v political activism, G’s and L’s fighting with B’s over having it both ways (literally) and not making up their minds, G’s and L’s accusing T’s of treason to their own kind, and giving in to the het majority. This is a coarse oversimplification to make a specific point, but all of these arguments were used at times before we realized it was a lot more complicated, and long before we huddled together after we had realized that only together were we truly strong. We’re human beings, flawed, learning, making mistakes.
We still fight, we still struggle, and we still don’t agree over whether e.g. asexuals and aromantics are part of the community. We struggle, we fight. A lot. And like any community, we need borders to exist, to define what we are, and what we’re not. It’s the very core definition of a community. And therefore for as much inclusivity as we show, and while I agree that the rainbow flag is a symbol of universal love, not everyone can be part of the community, and heterosexuals just aren’t. They’re the oppressors, they’re the ones who put all the legislation on the books making us illegal, putting death sentences over our heads, discriminating against us. Can they be supporters? Absolutely! Allies? Yes. But not part of. Hopefully, one day, we’ll no longer see discrimination, then we may no longer need the LGBT community. We’re not there. Far from it.
Writing gay romance doesn’t make you LGBT
So, in closing. If you write about two boys going at it in your books, that is great. If you do so with an open mind, do your research and don’t write (physically) impossible sex, you can keep your phantasies of HEA, of Santorum- & pain-free anal sex, of Mpreg, gay-for-you, monogamy and whatever else you think will tickle the bones of your readers. But no, unless you are LGBT, you’re not a member of the LGBT community. There are more and more LGBT members writing our stories: trans men, trans women, gay men and Lesbians, bisexuals and intersex individuals. For the most part, their stories will invariably be different, over time, focusing on the grim reality of our existence, and they may not always have a HEA.
So why does this creep up again and again?
Over the years, I’ve met quite a few authors and readers of “gay romance” who felt victimized, felt as if they didn’t belong to the “het majority” for many individual reasons. Some actually turned out to be LGBT and have since come out, some struggle with mental disease, some struggle with self-esteem & body issues, and they all have in common that our society, as a whole, isn’t very forgiving if you’re not a size two or smaller, with huge pointy breasts and a Stepford wife behavior. To read is an escape, to read fluffy romance is a great escape, to read about two hunks humping a great way to get your rocks off. I know of people who read gay non-con (aka rape) erotica to exert some sort of mental revenge on their own male assailants. They relish the pain, the anguish unleashed on those poor fictional boys, over and over again. I understand all that, and I think it’s great. Whatever helps. Certainly beats unleashing that revenge on real boys…
But you’re still straight, you’re not illegal. You don’t risk jail or a death penalty for loving who you love. You can get married (or not), your choice. You don’t risk losing your job, you don’t risk being turned away from a business or a hospital because of who you are. You can go to the bathroom without being jailed or ridiculed. You don’t need to be sterilized before having sex reassignment surgery. Because of all those risks, mental health issues are rampant within the LGBT community, suicide rates a lot higher than in society in general. Our gut reaction when we first realize we’re “not like everyone else” is depression, anxiety, fear. We want to change, we strive to change, would give almost anything to change, to be straight, to be like the rest. To belong. Been there, done that, carry the scars. For many of us, depression and suicidal thoughts are going to be constant companions throughout the rest of our lives.
Straight people suffer from mental disease, too. They suffer from horrible losses and have their lives thrown for loops, too. The reasons may be different, the reactions similar. Now picture this: LGBT people have that, too, on top of everything else. Our parents die, our siblings fall sick, friends have accidents etc. And we suffer even more, on top of everything else.
As authors, LGBT or not, as fellow human beings, we offer our sympathy, we help our friends, but there is only so much we can do for colleagues in the industry, readers, people we barely know. As authors with thousands of “friends” (which aren’t real friends, make no mistake) online, we can only do so much. We have our own families, real friends, our own lives to look after. You just cannot expect help. That’s society’s task. That’s where you need to get help.
I’m sorry if people in the LGBT writing space feel disappointed that the LGBT community doesn’t rally to help them in their time of need. But the change needs to happen elsewhere. You just can’t expect an oppressed minority to carry the weight of the world, you can’t. It’s not fair, not to you, not to us. Instead, build a support system around you that is based on real friends, people you can rely on, no matter who they are.
What is your take? Am I wrong? Let’s hear it. This is something I’ve struggled with myself for a long time, and I finally had this “epiphany” over the weekend, about why there are so many misconceptions within the LGBT writing (I refuse to use the two-letter acronym) industry. Am I onto something or is my brain out on “thin ice”? It would hardly be the first time… LOL
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