Pride month brings up calls for #ownvoices, but why?
June means pride month, not just my birthday. And already, just six days into this year’s June, we have great news from the European Court of Justice, and the Bermudian Supreme Court, along with a Salomonian verdict from SCOTUS. Congratulations, we all get what we deserve!
Pride and #ownvoices
Pride month always means a lot of people talk about #ownvoices. I’ve always been a skeptic of that concept, not just because I often write about minorities other than my own (blacks, Sami, Latinos, disabled people, etc.) but also because I disagree with the whole concept of #ownvoices as a matter of principle. This has gotten me into the hot seat before, with hateful messages and threats on Twitter because I wouldn’t promise and LGBT Maori to never, ever, write about them in one of my books. I refused, for two reasons: a) it is my right, protected by the constitution of Sweden (and New Zealand), to express my thoughts freely, without prior censorship. Freedom of speech is an important right many of us have died for and still do, in countries where speaking your mind can get you killed. Why would I give it up freely just to please someone else, someone who isn’t hurt in any way shape or form by my voice? No, thank you. But more importantly, I believe that b) a great author must be capable of writing about any person, any group. How else could Shakespeare write about Italians? How dare he, Englishman as he was? How could Stephen King write about Annie Wilkes in Misery? Clearly, with the strict #ownvoices argument, a man can never write about women. It couldn’t be #ownvoices.
The (futile) hunt for #ownvoices in LGBT fiction
The struggle for love never ends, and it is in these the darkest of times, that our resolve to love is tested the most.
#ownvoices is a foreign concept to me, even though I’m currently (read “Pride month”) featured on a daily level on Facebook and Twitter by readers and fans as one of many #ownvoices with regards to gay fiction. But let’s look at this for a moment: does the fact that I, a gay man, write gay fiction, make me a better writer than the hundreds of straight women who do the same? Or is it the fact that 90+% of what most consider LGBT fiction out there has NOTHING to do with the reality of gay men? “M/M romance” was never meant to be about gay life, and gay authors are told again and again: “m/m are stories from str8 women for str8 women and you [i.e. gay men] better know your place and shut up! (Not my words, but I, along with many other gay writers, have been told so on numerous occasions.) It’s a genre so filled with preconceptions, prejudice and false assumptions about gay men that I have long ago stopped taking it seriously.
Some readers (men, women, gay and otherwise) understand that, and they look for “realness” (thank you mama Ru!), for genuine stories about the lives we live, to celebrate LGBT authors during Pride month. To find those stories is hard, impossible even, given that we’re just grains of sand on a vast beach. The proverbial needle in the haystack.
Is #ownvoices not fiction?
In one of those discussions, I came across this passage from a straight female author:
I also do not write #ownvoice stories. I consider my books to be fiction.
This had me puzzled because #ownvoices is fiction, unless it’s a biography (and even then… We’ve all read those, and often enough, they seem more fictitious than based on reality.) So wtf did the author mean by that? Is it the fact that she doesn’t do her research into her “male/male” characters? All those “gay for you”, “May/December”, “mpreg” and other stomach-churning sub-genres out there? Or is there actually a deeply held belief somewhere that gay writers only write about their own lives? Or something else? I honestly don’t know. What I do know though is that the only difference I can spot between a writer who writes about his own minority and a writer who isn’t a member thereof is the amount of research that may have to go into a book. And let’s be honest: in real life, things are a lot more complicated. A South Korean who grew up here in Sweden, adopted by Swedish parents at birth, is no more Korean than I am. He simply looks like one, while I don’t. Does that make him more #ownvoices if he had written my latest novel? Of course not. On the other hand, a European who’s spent his life in Korea would (at least in my book) be considered a more qualified expert in the field than either of us, my adopted Korean pal or I. What we are, who we are isn’t so much a function of our DNA (I’d say), but of how we are raised. The difficulty lies in how we are treated by others, how they view us, but that again, is per definition, racism. An entirely different post.
So what’s wrong with M/M and why isn’t it ever #ownvoices
This is just a guess, of course, and one that is very specifically related to the LGBT community, and gay men in particular. Romance as a genre has a bad reputation, always has. This is, of course, a result of the lack of women’s choices being attributed equal value to men’s. Most literary critics don’t take it seriously, and you’ll never see a Harlequin (let alone an m/m) win a Pulitzer, a Man Booker or a Nobel Prize. Duh!
Not that there is anything wrong with Romance. I could’ve said the same thing about Thrillers, Sci-Fi, Horror or Fantasy, which are more “male” genres, even though, all in all, women are–by far–the biggest reader category. Clearly, Romance is popular. It’s the world’s biggest genre with more books published in one day than the world probably produces in literary fiction in a year. Readers around the world love to get lost in a world where there is still good to be found and where happy endings reign.
The challenge lies in the rules of romance. As a genre, to be crass, it’s porn for women who read. While guys usually turn to RedTube or Pornhub these days, as they did to Playboy, Penthouse et al before the arrival of the Internet, women get off reading their books. And just as vanilla porn nor longer does it for many guys, many women are no longer content with damsels in distress being fucked to the high heavens by their long-haired alpha males from the eighteenth century. “Two men are better than one” promises better reading and happier endings (literally!) M/M, as are all trad romance novels, is littered with sex. The problem lies with the stereotypes, false or even dangerous, propagating the image of homosexual men as sex-crazed beings who think of nothing else but the next fuck. This isn’t our doing. we didn’t label ourselves. Str8 people did that to us.
So wtf is this desire to read #ownstories all about?
The rainbow flag heralds love and inclusion. It’s the main reason I love it so much. Yet as humans representing the rainbow, we’re not always as loving… We are, in effect, merely human.
And while we may be more sexually openminded than the het majority (or so we believed), that doesn’t mean that we don’t relish the ‘mundane’ aspects of life, that we don’t take our jobs seriously, love our children. But when romance authors describe how we abandon children to fuck our latest love interest, you not only write fantasy, you perpetuate a dangerous stereotype. Clearly, that author did not do her research (or she is simply latently homophobic.) When anal sex is depicted as the gold standard of gay sex, the author has no fucking clue what she is writing about. How could she? Gay porn is clearly not a good source of information.
I use “she” with regards to those authors on purpose because that’s where I think the demand for #ownstories stems from, a desire to read stories that are truly well-researched, stories that showcase men who are “real” men (not merely girls with a penis*), where the sex serves a purpose and is depicted realistically (I could tell you stories…)
BUT, and this is an important but: women, straight women, as well as (gay) men can write those stories. I know so because I’ve read amazing stories written by straight women. They may be romances, following many of the typical norms of the genre, but the characters are flesh and blood, they feel real, even to me as a gay man. And no, they’re obviously not #ownvoices. Who cares?
But in a world, where it is so damned difficult to find the good stories in a sea of “not so good ones”, I can understand that gay men, at least during Pride month, ask for #ownvoices. Because we all know, come July, it’s hetero world again, and the straight women will tell us to shut up and know our place again, for the next eleven months, where we still don’t matter, can be ignored and discriminated against, where it’s okay to appropriate an entire literary genre to once again make a minority invisible.
My beef with “M/M” isn’t primarily about the reduction of human beings to letter combinations, from mm to mmmmmm to mf or mmf etc. It’s not even about the fact that women label the het variety mf rather than fm, putting men first (that says so much…) My beef with “M/M” is how it suppresses gay fiction, how some authors and readers (far from all, just to repeat that!) are trying to push gay men (readers and writers) out of the genre, as stated above.
I don’t think that happens anywhere else. No, women did not invent gay romance. It’s been around for eons. Some women were simply clever to rebrand it. The result we see today. And while I applaud the hundred thousand plus stories out there, as a treasure trove for young LGBT kids to delve into,
I’m also aware of the pitfalls, how we are once again threatened of being expulsed from our own spaces, as so many times before in our history. That is worth thinking about during Pride month.
Hans M Hirschi
Author of Gay Fiction
*I know that trans-, genderfluid, and gender queer people read this. The expressions “real man” and/or “girl with penis” do not, in any way shape or form, relate to the TQ+ aspect of our community, but simply to characters so badly developed that you’d think the author simply changed names. There is of course nothing wrong with female, male, masculine or feminine attributes unless you’re trying to depict something else entirely. I felt it was important to clarify this here. I could go into a lot more detail, but that would mean another post.
Racism in publishing: if you believe Riptide is the outlier, you’d be wrong
Another scandal in the LGBT publishing sector. After cat-phishing, it’s sexual harassment and racism. Make no mistake, the LGBT community ain’t no different than the rest of the world. We are as guilty as every other community of white-washing, racism, and all those other inherently human flaws. Why? Believe it or not, we are human, too (despite what Mikey Pence and his cronies will have you believe.) The problem with racism in publishing isn’t that it is so common, that it is as institutionalized, as structural as it is in the rest of society. No. The problem is that we, as intellectuals, as artists, who are supposed to see through this shit, expected to lead the way, to be that painful stick-up society’s ass, aren’t more aware of this. We should be mirrors to society, not of it.
The typical reaction
The statement from Sarah Lyons on POC on Riptide covers. She clearly indicates the financial reasons for it. No excuse, but sadly a valid explanation. From Xen’s post.
When Xen’s rightfully angry blog post hit the air-waves, Riptide almost instantly pulled the plug on the editor which had made those racist remarks on their behalf, and later issued statement after statement after statement about how sorry they were and that they would do better, somehow, someday. I for one don’t really believe they’ve really thought about the underlying issues, but are scrambling to save a business, anyway they can. That’s fine of course, I just hope they ‘really’ do their homework. But the comments I’ve read online about Sarah being a racist and that she’s to blame for all this? NO, that’s making it too easy. It’s letting Riptide off the hook and it’s assigning way too much blame to an employee.
An editor doesn’t get to make decisions about a publisher’s corporate policy about what goes on a cover (or not). She merely informs authors of her boss’s rules. Ms. Lyons transgressions in the department of sexual harassment are an entirely different thing…
I challenged myself to go through Riptide’s covers, to see how many POC they actually have on their covers today. The e-mail to Xen was three years ago. Do the same, and you’ll see that very little has changed since. I found five “diverse” covers before I got bored, five out of maybe 100? Now go do the same for other publishers, from the big five to M/M romance behemoth DSP or any other publisher. Just for fun (I haven’t.) You’ll see a very similar thing, everywhere. Minorities are grossly underrepresented everywhere.
It’s not just Riptide…
The problem with structural racism or white privilege (two sides of the same coin) is how it is affecting every aspect of society. When a character in a book isn’t described in terms of ethnicity, we automatically (subconsciously) assume them to be white. If we don’t say they’re gay, they’re assumed to be straight. If we don’t mention they’re Jewish, they’re assumed to be Christian. Even minority readers fall into that trap because that’s what they always see, read, watch. There’s that nasty thing called socialization. It takes a conscious effort on behalf of every individual to overcome that bias, it’s a lot of hard work, and you’re never done. It sits so deep within us that it’s become invisible, like muscle memory.
I could say the same about homophobia. Even as a gay man, more than halfway through my life, I am a homophobe, subconsciously. I still react negatively (instinctively) at seeing a camp man, I find feminine behavior in men (and vice versa) difficult to reconcile at first, and I really, really have to consciously make an effort to keep my mouth shut and to smile and treat that human being with dignity. I’ve been raised a homophobe, and it’s difficult to get that shit out of your system (which makes coming out so fucking difficult for so many of us.) By now I think I’ve got my brain under control and people don’t see/notice, but I still do, every time, and it’s painful.
I’ve seen racism at play, and it’s utterly disgusting. I tend to forgive though because most people aren’t hopeless. I want people to have a second chance. They’re not evil. They’ve been raised that way by society. I’ve come to understand why we are the way we are, and I’d much rather have a conversation to show that person their erroneous ways than to shout from the rooftop just what an amazing person I am (not really), compared to the rest. On Twitter and Facebook people scream, yell and are all high and mighty. They pretend to be holier than thou, but yeah, that’s easy, because there’s no one to point a mirror at them, point to what they really feel, deep down. How they act. Nobody to force them to look at their own privilege.
White privilege is almost invisible to those who have it
Sometimes white people will ask you “how am I privileged? I’m poor, I have less money, fame, and success than a lot of [insert minority rep of your choice]” Privilege is hard to pin down when you’re inside the bubble. Money is a sort of privilege, of course, so is education. A rich white person is obviously more privileged than a poor white person. But they’re still both white. Just as I pointed out in the blog post linked above, white privilege is only visible to POC. To a white person, seeing six Star Wars episodes with only white actors in the lead doesn’t raise any eyebrows. It’s natural. Normal. But boy did those same people raise hell when one of two lead humans in episode seven suddenly wasn’t white. That would be racism. The former is white privilege.
When an innocent white person walks down Broadway toward Times Square and meets a police patrol, they feel safe. When an innocent black person is in the same situation they’re thinking about what might happen: will I be stopped, abused etc. When a white person walks into Macy’s to buy make-up, they don’t notice that all the models have fair skin. A black person looking for makeup will most likely have to frequent a specialty shop to find make-up for their skin tone. Same thing for hair products. Or even band-aids. Skin-colored band-aids are light beige. I’ve never seen anything that wouldn’t scream loudly on a person from South India or Africa. That’s white privilege. But most white people don’t think about this ever. It’s just normal to them. But it’s painfully obvious to everyone else.
Black Panther? Heard of that blockbuster movie from Marvel? That is so very much the exception to the rule that it is a slap in the face of the black populace of the world, just as Lando Calrissian was in Star Wars. From the first short Superman movie in 1941 to 2017, that’s seventy-six years without a black superhero in a major film. White privilege. There is a painfully well-written (and played) episode in Star Trek DS9, Far Beyond the Stars, where Captain Cisco is dreaming about being a black comic author, essentially inventing “Captain Cisco” and facing the ridicule of the time. If you haven’t seen that, watch it. It’s on Netflix. It explains this all so well.
So what can we do?
Willem is one of the very few whites left on Earth. Everybody else is black or brown. In this story, Willem is the POC.
First of all, forgive. Second, seek a conversation, a dialogue. I remember back in late 2014 after I had begun work on my novel Willem of the Tafel, only a chapter or two. I sent a message to my New York publicist, excited about my coming novel about a black man in an underground (literally!) culture in South Africa. The message back was a shock: “are you sure you want to do this? Nobody’s going to buy a book about a black hero…” Racist statement? One could also argue that said publicist (a POC!) was trying to warn me of the consequences of pursuing such a story. He simply pointed out that I sell most of my books in America and that most people buying books in America would not buy a book about a black hero. That’s also what’s at the core of the Riptide decision (at one time) not to feature POC on their covers. Most readers of LGBT books are white, they are economically privileged and have the money to buy books (another aspect of said white privilege.) And most of them are not interested in POC. Putting them on the cover would be an automatic signal to move on.
It’s also the reason why there are over 100,000 M/M novels out there and almost no F/F. Simply because most straight white women (who are the dominant reader base) don’t get moist when reading about two women forking. Publishers, editors, and authors are in the business of making money, and therefore follow the money. There’s money in M/M, but not in gay fiction. There’s money in beautiful, handsome, white men, but not in POC. There’s money in healthy characters, but none in disabled characters (my friend Tracy says “we’re invisible” about her condition. Sadly, she is right about it.)
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t
There is another complexity to all this. Writing about POC, minorities etc. is hard work. As an author, you need to do your research properly and get it right. And there are those out there who will still put you through the ringer no matter how hard you worked to get it right, even if you did get it right. It’s a thing, a dogmatic belief in some that only members of a minority should be allowed to write about that particular minority. I don’t subscribe to that, but it shows that even if you try to write diverse stories, you can’t please them all. Their main argument? Privilege; majority privilege. They don’t have the privilege to write those stories because they have to work, or because they don’t have the connections to publishers etc. They do have a point, of course, but forbidding others to write while basking in self-righteous pity only makes their minority more invisible. And thus deny their minority the chance to become popular in fiction.
Not everyone is in it for the money…
I make $500 bucks a year (give or take) in royalties. I don’t make a living off my writing. I get to write the important stories, the difficult ones, along with some other amazing authors who don’t (have to) care about money (or compromise their creativity to get it.) We care about the stories that need to be told. And we are lucky to have found a home with publishers who indulge us, who also don’t put money first. Or they increasingly self-publish, thanks to modern technology.
When I got the original feedback on Willem, I was scared. Scared of sales losses and what it might do to my reputation. I was still new to writing and quickly decided to change my approach, and I killed my intended main character in chapter two in an accident that gets Willem’s story rolling. I thought long and hard about how to tackle the subject. In the end, Willem of the Tafel turned out to be a big middle finger up white privilege’s ass, as Willem is literally white as white comes, but the rest of his future Earth is almost 100% POC. I reversed racism, thrust it in Willem’s innocent face to showcase how ugly racism really is. Hopefully some lily-white asses were appalled by how miserably Willem and the few remaining whites are treated, and hopefully, one or two realized that Willem is, in fact, a mirror of our world, set 500 years into the future. Willem is indeed a POC.
From Willem to Martin
My coming novel, Returning to the Land of the Morning Calm (sign up for the newsletter, top right, to be the first to partake of the cover reveal this Thursday), features a black, main character. Martin is amazing, and I am very proud of him and his life. I’m no longer afraid. So what if no one buys the book? The ones who do will like it, and they’ll like Martin. I’m sure because the story is a beautiful one. Martin has taught me a lot, particularly about the country he longs back to, Korea. The second main character is a Korean. I consciously try to paint my characters in different colors (pun intended.) I’ve included various aspects of disability, ethnicity, religion, and gender regularly, mind-fucking my readers (I once had a proofreader question why a man would take his wife’s last name, to just state one example!) As an author, I think this is my responsibility. Make people question their assumptions about what is (right) and what isn’t.
Publishers have a responsibility, too. Encourage diverse stories, from a diverse authorship, but even from the (existing) mainly white authors. Last not least, readers have a responsibility, too, to engage with diverse stories, just as those of us who are “diverse” have been forced to engage with mainstream stories in school, books, TV, the movies ever since our childhood. We need to talk about this. We need to have a discourse about racism, not attack each other on Twitter and pretend to be flawless. Because we’re not. None of us are. They who cast the first stone… Just saying! So let’s not judge Riptide too harshly. Yes, they fucked up, badly, but a) there are very good (as disgusting as this may sound) business reasons for them to have done so, and b) they’re not alone.
Author Hans M Hirschi, here with his oldest feline friend, is a member of multiple minorities and sadly all too familiar with racism and discrimination.
They just happened to be the first one caught in the cross-fire. Hopefully, they’ll learn their lesson and will find a way to combine making money with embracing diversity, fully, and honestly. Either that or quietly disappear into the darkness of oblivion.
Famous last words…
Let’s talk about this… I’m curious to hear your points of view. Mind you, I monitor all comments and if you’re not civil in tone, I won’t approve it. As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram.
Have a good week. And be forgiving.
Silent Terrorism – a book that is difficult to read, and a slap in the face of those who believe in the West’s moral superiority
I’ll admit it. I’ve read an early draft of this story, over a year ago. There were discussions about how the story might be perceived in the light of the U.S. elections, Brexit and the alarming increase of Islamophobia around the world. I’ve been allowed to read it again, in its final version. The book is published tomorrow. Silent Terrorism had the same effect on me as it did when I first read it: disgust (at some of the descriptions of violence and torture, and – frankly – some other scenes) but also a feeling of deep respect for the author and the publisher, for writing and putting this story out there. Some will not like it, neither in Saudi Arabia nor in Sweden (representing the western world, as the author states in her afterword), but this is a book that deserves being read.
The telling cover of Silent Terrorism.
In a way it’s sad the book was delayed by a year. We now have a crown prince in Saudi Arabia hell-bent on modernizing his country. Women get to unveil, drive cars and leave the house without a male guardian. What’s the country coming to? Civilization? Alas, even crown prince Mohammed doesn’t ever talk about LGBT rights, because, and this is expertly explained in Ms. Novak’s Silent Terrorism, Saudis believe that they don’t have any LGBT people in their midst. It’s supposedly a Western thing (odd given that we all descend from common African ancestors, but alas.) Against the backdrop of current events in Saudi Arabia (which includes both the secret police and the religious police forces), reading the novel showcased the research done by Ms. Novak. Impressive!
A fast-paced political thriller
The story as such is very high pace. There is hardly any downtime, the characters are chiseled out as they run, hide, leap, yell at each other or suffer torture. But they are, all of them, very much real-life human beings, very believable, credible. The only caricatures are the Swedish politicians portrayed in the novel, and I can only assume that to be purposely done, as they are indeed to act as stand-ins for much of the Western world and how we kowtow to black gold.
I haven’t read a thriller in a long time, and it was refreshing to indulge in the pace, the complexity of the plot and never really knowing how things end. Ms. Novak certainly does throw more than one curveball to make sure the reader stays on their toes and at one point I had accepted my fate and figured, “okay, this is it!”, but alas, I was wrong, again. Brilliant.
The finer points
Did I like everything about the story? Yes. However, I’ll grant you that I thought there was too much swearing, cursing and yelling. I don’t think I can remember any conversation (except at the very, very end) that does not involve people upset, screaming at the top of their lungs. I’m not a big fan of that kind of language/discourse, but that is, of course, a question of taste, and to a degree certainly warranted given the situations the characters constantly find themselves in. But yeah, sometimes less is more.
Silent Terrorism is like Ms. Novak’s My Name is Ayla, an important book in today’s world. The LGBT community needs dissonant voices. We are grateful for stories with happy endings, stories with fluff and rosy cheeks. But we also need the world to know that yes, there are still 76 countries where being LGBT is illegal, 13 countries where being LGBT carries the death sentence, and the het majority needs to hear this side of the story, too, not just about out and proud gay athletes and actors marrying their sweethearts. We’re not home free yet. I’ve bought the book (after Ms. Novak provided me with a free ARC to facilitate this review) because Phetra pledges to donate 50% of the proceeds to a sadly much-needed LGBT organization.
Silent Terrorism is releasing tomorrow
Silent Terrorism is released tomorrow, March 17th, from Beaten Track Publishing as paperback and e-book and is available on Amazon (for pre-order) and your other favorite sales channels. If you enjoy a political thriller, like exotic places and would like to learn more about the plight of the LGBT community in a country like Saudi Arabia, give this book a chance. You will not regret it.
Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend. I’ll be back on Monday with a post about racism in the publishing industry and how racism is a red thread through much of my own writing…
Cat-phishing: will authors, will readers ever learn? The truth will always come out in the end
I woke up to another story of “cat-phishing”, “fraud”, identity mischief and then some. Not the first and most certainly not the last time. This seems to be a thing in (LGBT) author circles. But why? And why is it so frequent in the LGBT writing circles? I see several reasons: the economy and the stigma still associated with being (associated with) LGBT.
Who is stupid enough to voluntarily put on the LGBT hat?
Right. Right? I mean those of us who are gay, lesbian, bi, trans, queer etc. we can tell countless stories of discrimination, violence, people cutting their ties with us etc. Suicide & homeless rates, psychological ailments etc. are all much higher in the LGBT community than in the straight community. Hardly a surprise when you look at the way we’re being treated at the hands of others. Coming out the first time is life-changing, but we have to keep doing it, every day, for the rest of our lives. You might not believe that, but just telling a stranger about your husband is a coming out. You risk judgment (from a glare to a fist in your face), every time. And for a split second you have to make a decision: lie or be honest, is it worth potentially risking your life?
LGBT people have always written fiction, and some of us did so under a pseudonym or a pen name, maybe because we weren’t out, maybe because our employers didn’t know (reasons vary). When (mostly) straight women decided to start to write love stories about men (M/M romance), they did so under pen names, too. Some even chose male pen names (Some claim that readers prefer male writers; personally I couldn’t care less about the genitals, the gender of a writer. It’s their penmanship I care about.) But they did so because their families didn’t know they were writing “smut” (not my word!), writing about those despicable gays and their anal intercourse.
Many of these women live double lives, with a daytime existence in conservative churches with horribly conservative families, and a writer’s existence where they indulge in butt-fucking stories. Sorry to be blunt. I know that the vast majority of these writers are great human beings who support the LGBT community, some have even come out as LGBT themselves, as bi-, trans or genderqueer. But if your mother in law is a Southern Baptist, or your husband a Mormon, I totally understand why you’d write under a pen name…
It’s the economy, stupid!
Writing has changed, a lot, just in the past ten to fifteen years. With thousands of new novels published every day, readers making statements like “I don’t pay more than ¢99 for anything under 200 pages” etc., making a living as a writer has become virtually impossible. Most of us have day jobs where we work our asses off, dreaming of going home to write. We follow our muse, our passion in our free time, in the wee hours of the night.
Frequently occurring scandals in the LGBT writing community have scared away readers (and some writers), making it even more difficult to make a living. For me, my royalties peaked in 2015. After that, they’ve never recovered, after that first big blow-out on GollumReads. Several publishers have left the industry, too. Many authors are now self-publishing and prices have been slashed even more.
Did I mention that the LGBT community is tiny? Our market share is so small that it hardly registers on the grand scale of the likes of Amazon et al. And as long as our straight allies will say this about my writing (“I can’t read this, it’s not for me. I’m not gay!”), we’ll never be able to really make a difference, financially.
It’s a fine line…
If you don’t make a living with your writing, and if you hide behind a mask (fake or just a pen name), it’s easy to cross a line, accidentally or purposely. These days, you can add a button from PayPal to your website (I’ve removed mine since I never got any donations), or create a Patreon account or a crowdfunding campaign. The latter seem to be particularly popular with authors. I’ve long considered creating a Patreon account myself, to supplement my family income. Right now we live off my husband’s income and a stipend I receive from my father. My annual royalties are less than $500, annually! I say this not because I want anyone to feel sorry for me, but because I have nothing to hide. As a writer of gay fiction, my potential readership is infinitely smaller than those who write M/M.
I’ve felt conflicted about Patreon, simply because the added work that is needed to provide patrons with extra content would be taxing, no matter if you have one or a thousand patrons. And I can see how some might use Patreon or GoFundMe to specifically finance a project. I was thinking about audiobooks. I’ve seen a narrator create a GoFundMe to finance a trip to Europe (he failed miserably), and I’ve seen more than one such campaign to finance everything from laptops to funerals and healthcare. Mind you, these are all American cases, where people generally don’t have healthcare insurance. In desperation, people go to desperate lengths.
Now combine a pen name/alias and a blog post asking about money and a tweet about your health and boom, you’re awfully close to crossing a line. Just saying. The result is nasty. Already I’ve had this huge discussion on Twitter where people were talking about “real gay men” writing… While I’m grateful that some thought my name to be worthy of being on the list, but yeah, I’m not thrilled, because women write as well as men (the irony of this blowing up on March 8?)
Let the witch hunt begin…
After each of these scandals, we lose readers. We lose writers. We all lose. But worse, many among us feel compelled to publicly state who we are, what we are. For me, that’s easy. What you see is pretty much what you get. But what about the wife of the Mormon? What about the daughter in law to that Southern Baptist? They won’t be able to, lest they risk their marriage, their families, their kids! Coming out has real-life implications, even for straight women who voluntarily associate with Dorothy’s friends… Still, to this date, marriage equality notwithstanding.
I for one will never start a Patreon. I was skeptical from the get-go, afraid that the extra work wouldn’t be worth the few dollars a month you get (if any.) But more importantly, I do not wish to become dependent on anyone else, not give anyone (besides my family) the power over me and how I live my life, what I do with my money. Some patrons will always think they can tell you what to do (or not) with their money…
How to support authors…
There used to be a time when authors made a living by selling books. Maybe I’m naïve, but I’d like us to return to that place. If you want to help an author, here’s what you can do:
- buy their books
- if you like a book, tell your friends. Tell strangers, tweet, post on Facebook, upload the cover to Instagram. Review.
- Follow our blogs, subscribe to newsletters, like posts etc. Every little helps.
- Stay away from pirate sites. This is a huge issue for all of us. I pay hundreds of dollars every year just to fight piracy and have been able to get Google to stop showing search results to over 4,000 (!!!) pirate sites. In less than two years.
- Leave us alone. We are human beings and we have a right to privacy. As a reader, you have no right to an author’s personal life, what they do, don’t do etc. So please, don’t pry, don’t stalk. If authors share their personal life, it has to be their choice. (This is, of course, by no means an endorsement of criminal activity by authors, just to make this perfectly clear!)
- Be careful with (or stay away from) crowd-funding campaigns. You will never have a guarantee that money will be used as advertised. Buy an extra book instead, the audio version, or maybe a paperback of your favorite title if you want to support an author a bit extra. Write a nice post about their writing. The more people who buy books, the better, for all of us.
“Fangirling” is fine…
…even for us boys. Of course, it’s okay to idolize someone. I remember meeting my favorite ski star, Ken Read, ages ago when I was just a teen. Had it not been for my Dad who was with me, I’d never been able to get that autograph. I was just too star-struck! And when I stood feet away from one of my great ABBA idols, Benny Andersson, for the first time in my life (aged above 35!), I was completely paralyzed. Ask my husband. He thought it was hilarious.
When you meet us authors, remember that we are human beings, too. We are flawed, imperfect. Authors have mood swings, good days, bad days. We get sick, we fight with our families and friends, and we don’t always weigh every word twice, despite making a living off writing. So give us the benefit of the doubt. Focus your fangirling on our writing, our work, not on us as human beings.
Don’t be disappointed if we don’t reciprocate your love. An author (artist) has tons of fans, and they know us very well, but we can’t keep tabs on our readers. Sure, we’ll get to know some of you better, but it’s impossible to know you all, to be “friends” with you all. And despite what Facebook will have you believe, just because we accept a friend request, we’re still strangers. You don’t know us, we don’t know you.
I’m of course aware that we live in “social media” times, and that there are expectations to be out there. Some of us find that more easily accomplished. Others hide behind avatars, pen names etc. As long as we respect each other, we’ll be fine. Deceit isn’t, ever.
What is your take? Agree, disagree?
These are my personal views, of course. I’m fully aware that taking sides in contentious issues puts the author at risk. Bad reviews, public persecution even. But that is a risk we must take, or so I think. Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great weekend.
Writing and Politics are often on my mind: takes sides or stay quiet?
Elections in Germany, Italy, the ongoing Brexit-chaos in the UK, extremist governments in Poland and Hungary, not to mention the reality show called “The White House”… It seems the world is going nuts. Politicians seem to no longer care about lying in public, quickly having learned from the American President that you can get away with murder (or was that the Philippine President?) It makes it almost impossible for voters to make a sensible choice. Artists have always been right there, in the middle of the vortex, either applauding benefactors or criticizing power. Writing and Politics is something always on my mind. What is our responsibility?
Everything is politics…
I recall the above statement from my college days when we were asked by a professor what politics was. The ultimate answer was “everything” in life, because it is all somehow influenced by the state, by society, and thus, politics plays a role. Which of course makes it difficult to stay away from politics in writing. Even the fluffiest of romance novels is somehow political, as it will have a conundrum at its core, misunderstandings, hinders for the loving couple-to-be to overcome. That conundrum, those hinders are politics or could be. There is a reason to assume that not everyone will agree and that people could potentially take different sides. I’ve noted that in many cases, no matter the question, if taken to the public, people will have a tendency to split evenly, almost fifty-fifty, for and against.
I have no doubt: whatever we write about is politics. I was thinking about a line in my coming novel, where my Korean character openly laments the Japanese occupation in very strong words, while the MC tries to offer a different view. I’ve been thinking about that paragraph again, and again. Leave it there? Take out those two sentences to “diffuse” it? There are other similar examples. It’s difficult to avoid in a novel which plays out against the backdrop of a war that still affects our geopolitical situation.
What is a writer’s responsibility?
A question I often contemplate is this one: do I have a responsibility to take sides? Actively? Many famous authors and artists do, be it Stephen King (who was “blocked” by 45 on Twitter) or J. K. Rowling, who takes sides on a great many issues on her Twitter account. But what about our writing? I often think about this, not just in terms of politics. We have more than one character, and we can allow different characters take different sides. I specifically recall my novel Jonathan’s Promise, where I was exploring the limits of “for better or worse”. No answers, just the question. I wanted to let it play out, not having made up my mind on the issue. One character got to take one side and another the opposing, and I let them work it out.
Is this a workable theory for politics, too? It is the approach I’ve taken with the example above, re the Japanese occupation. Yet sometimes, it isn’t quite as simple. Some questions are more important to me, they are issues where I have a clear view. Let’s take women’s rights or civil rights. Or LGBT rights. In the new book, they’re all thematized. It’s impossible for me to mention e.g. comfort women and not condemn that. It’s impossible for me to not condemn the ongoing institutionalized racism in the U.S. I’d not be painting a very accurate picture of the lives of the African American people, would I? The same is true for the LGBT community suffering a horrendous backlash at the hands of the current regime in Washington.
Silence is being an accomplice
Here’s my take: if you stay quiet, you’re an accomplice. If you mention that a woman worked as a comfort woman under the Japanese occupation of Korea, as a fact, and you don’t say what a horrific practice that was, you’re an accomplice. If you mention how blacks are stopped on the streets by the police because they’re black, and you don’t mention that this is racist, you become an accomplice. I don’t believe that we as writers have the luxury to “not take sides”, not in the long run. At the end of Jonathan’s Promise, I had arrived at my personal POV, and it was instrumental in the resolution of the novel.
The same is my take on my writing in general. I may use my writing to weigh the pros and cons of complex issues, but once I arrive at a stance, I will make that known. Not in my own voice, but through my characters. I am a citizen of this world, and I have a responsibility to work for its betterment, to contribute to a world that is a better place. I understand that not everyone will agree with me. Others may take opposing sides. I may offend, I may hurt, but I may also embolden, strengthen! Each piece of art is part of a discourse.
What is your take? Agree, disagree?
Writing and politics; hese are my personal views, of course. I’m fully aware that taking sides in contentious issues puts the author at risk. Bad reviews, public persecution even. But that is a risk we must take, or so I think. Feel free to contribute! As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week.
Even as a man, I’ve had plenty to learn from the #MeToo debate
***PLEASE NOTE – THIS POST CONTAINS GRAPHIC PORTRAYALS OF SEXUAL VIOLENCE AND SEXUAL IMAGERY***
The #MeToo debate’s awoken some old memories: I was twenty-four years old when I was raped. I never reported him. What would’ve been the use of it? Who would’ve believed a young faggot? Who would’ve cared? The police would’ve sent me away, laughing at me. AIDS fucker! got what I deserved. It was on Ibiza, and it had been consensual at first. But my nos to certain things were ignored, and in the end, I was tossed on the street like a rag doll that no one wanted to play with anymore. I returned to my hotel, showered, cried myself to sleep and spent the next three months in agony until the test results from my first ever HIV test had come back. Color me lucky, at least with regards to that lethal disease, so many others back then were not.
This was me, back then. Young, naïve, innocent. My heart broke for these innocent kids in a home in Romania. I grew up fast, after that rape.
The gay #MeToo experience
As a gay man, I have many experiences I share with my sisters, women everywhere. Men taking chances, not taking no for an answer, or reinterpreting it into a “maybe, if I just keep going”. In the gay dating scene, sex, in one shape or form, has always been pre-understood in most interactions, be it when you meet people in parks, clubs, public restrooms or in recent years, online. It’s no surprise, shunned by society, reduced to sex monsters, predators, we had no other alternative. It’s all we had, and even the most fleeting touch by a complete stranger was like making love to someone you’d been with for years. Rare moments, cherished. It has always been an extremely tight rope to walk, a fine line. Many men crossed the lines repeatedly over the years, but there was no alternative, there was no other story, nothing really that could’ve shown us there was “another way”.
HIV/AIDS changed things…
HIV changed things, in many ways. I’ve always had this nagging thought that the only reason why we are allowed to get married, or “partnered” is because the powers to be wanted us to live safe, monogamous lives, as boring as the rest of them, not because we were like them. No, but to keep us out of the parks. And things did change, for the better, for many of us. I’ve lived in a very happy and stable relationship for many years now. Alex and I celebrate our seventeenth anniversary this year. We’ve also always kept our relationship open to meeting others. That was never a secret between us, nor to the outside. Many don’t get that. That is fine. I don’t understand cheating.
But when you’re out there, meeting people, as fleetingly (and rarely, I might add) as I do, you also submit to the rules of the game, and for gay men, the rules include sex talk very early on in the conversation. No surprise, it’s why you meet. People are very straightforward with their wishes, their dislikes and what not. They will also ask you for very intimate details as early as the first message you exchange. It’s part of the game. I never thought otherwise, until this year.
#MeToo opened my eyes
I’ve always had a lot of respect for my sisters and the shit they had to endure at the hands of (straight) men, and I’ve often felt sad when I was thrown under the bus as a “man”, even though I’d never even look at a woman “that way”… But while I was an ally, unequivocally so, I never felt I had meat in the game. Until the discussions started last spring about unsolicited dick pics being sent to women by men they barely knew. I talked to some close friends about that and joked, that “dick pics” where the calling card of most gay men, and had been, for as long as online dating was a thing.
I’ve sent them, I’ve received them. However, I never sent them unsolicited, that just was never my cup of tea. But as I began to think about it, and the countless shlongs I had to look at over the years, I began to realize that what I really wanted, was to see a man’s face, his eyes. That is what I’m interested in, not his dick. Why? It’s not what I will talk to, not what I will remember (most likely.)
And I began to feel grossed out, really disgusted when I thought back to the days in the past when that was a common occurrence.
An example: even in business…
The latest dick pic I’ve received, pixellated to keep your eyes safe. I never asked for it, and the man who sent it was obviously already ‘done’. Not sure what he wanted from me. To work with him?
A little over a year ago, I was sitting on a ferry, on my way to town. Suddenly I get an alert on Messenger. I use Facebook for work, a lot, and I had met this person through my writing. “Met” is probably an exaggeration. He had sent a friend request. He works as a supplier to us writers and publishers, so I accepted, just as I accept all friend requests. Could be a reader, right? It was 10:28 am my time, and I was on my way to town when I get his message. I look at it and instantly cringe, because, well, this (see left) is what he sent (pixellated to avoid you the worst). But you get the gist, right?
I have never used Facebook for dating, my profile is very non-sexual in nature, G-rated I’d say, with the exception of a four-letter word every now and then. No idea what gave him the impression that I would be impressed by that photo, or that I’d want it in the first place? It was confusing and I told him as much. There was talk about doing more when we’d meet in person. I’ll grant you that I didn’t tell him to take a hike in strong enough words. I did tell him though that it had been unsuitable given my situation (I had people sitting all around me.)
A realization of sorts…
It wasn’t until later when I compared notes with my friends that I realized that I had been forced into a discussion with a potential supplier (!) that I had no intention of ever having in real life. And that is the very hallmark of sexual harassment, isn’t it? You suddenly find yourself in a situation that you have to deal with, a situation you didn’t ask for, a situation you can’t help and where getting out of it can be a challenge. Impossible even. Much later, I met him in real life. It was a very awkward situation, because he never looked at me, didn’t even acknowledge me. All I kept seeing was the above image. I pity the women who have to do this every day.
What can we do about it all?
Don’t get me wrong, #MeToo is primarily about women’s plight, and that is as it should be. Gay men share similar experiences at the hands of other men, men who can be as powerful or feel as entitled as their straight counterparts. There are even Lesbian women acting that way, emulating the “male” way of doing things, and having gotten away with it for far too long. I’m glad that we have this conversation these days. I’m glad that women in more and more places find the strength to say #NoMore, #NoLonger.
Now that I’ve found the strength to say no more myself, not to acquiesce that sort of behavior anymore, I can more actively help my sisters and speak up about the grave injustice this afflicts on millions and millions of women every day. I intend to keep doing that. I’ve said it, time and time again: there can be no LGBT equality without equality of the sexes. I, too, stand to win from this.
Have I been a saint through all this?
We need to do this for our children, girls, boys, and others, to provide them with a better future, free of unwanted sexual attention or harassments. My son Sascha. Photo: private
Gods no. I wish. Have I made mistakes? Have I misbehaved? Probably. I don’t remember. I am sincere in this. There are no recollections in my memory. Normally, I remember my mistakes more than the good deeds, simply because the pain lingers. Had I fucked up so royally, I have a hunch I’d remember. Should anyone I’ve treated badly read this, here’s my sincere apology: I most certainly didn’t mean to. I shall not even try to explain it or excuse it. First of all, it’s impossible to explain that which you don’t remember, on the other hand, it’s of no use.
Where do we go from here?
We need to keep talking about this. It is a vicious circle, and only the victims can break it. This also means forgiving those who have wronged us. For several reasons. First of all, it strengthens us, it removes the stain of being a victim. There is far greater strength in forgiving than in hatred or revenge. Second of all, even the worst of offenders have been raised by men and women, and many have learned that it’s “okay” to behave that way, from both their fathers and their mothers. Men and women alike keep perpetrating these myths of a weak and a strong sex, of how a “proper man” and a “proper woman” must behave.
Forgive and teach others, help others how to be human, just human. But most importantly, to make sure we do not raise another generation of predators. The cycle must be broken now.
As always, if you like my blog, my writing, feel free to subscribe to my monthly newsletter (top right on this page) with competitions and hopefully interesting reading. Interact with me on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and/or Instagram. Have a great week and don’t be shy, chime in, share your experiences. Be respectful.