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The Rehashing

November 22, 2013

While I understand that the original post itself didn’t actually mean women didn’t belong in gay fiction, that the question was even asked… and that some of the comments in response were problematic, I still have to make a small post about it. What am I talking about?

Do women characters belong in M/M romance? To what extent?

I am going to rephrase that question just to show how absolutely ridiculous and wrong it is.

Do black characters belong in M/M romance? To what extent?
Do autistic characters belong in M/M romance? To what extent?
Do disabled characters belong in M/M romance? To what extent?
Do male characters belong in F/F romance?
Do gay characters belong in het romance?
Do trans* characters belong in cis romance?

For that matter:
Do cis characters belong in trans* romance?
Do het characters belong in gay romance?

I understand that the author was asked this by a reader, but that it even needed asking is the problem. Of course female characters belong in gay romance! In my opinion, so long as the primary romance is between two gay men, the supporting cast and their gender is of little consequence to what that romance is labeled.

The trouble is, there are people–a lot of them–who will answer ‘no’ to at least one of those questions. The problem is, as soon as you make the statement that “X-type characters have no place in a Y-type story”, you’re on shaky ground, whether you’re a member of X, Y, or neither. It’s always indicative of some level of internal prejudice. If you think less of a character–and by extension, the story and/or the author–because of some fundamental characteristic like race, gender, gender identity, sexuality, etc., then that’s on you. If the X character (woman, for example) were replaced by a Y character (gay man) with no other alterations, would you accept them more readily? If so, what is it about them that makes you uncomfortable? Why does such a superficial difference turn an otherwise good story into a bad one?

It boils down to the baggage you bring to the table. If you have some chip on your shoulder about female/male/trans*/het/gay/whatever people, you’re likely to turn your nose up at their appearances in fiction that you enjoy reading. You’ll find yourself saying things along the lines of “I really liked that story, but why’d they have to make the waiter gay?” or “I was enjoying it right up until the fireman said he was bisexual.” And it means nothing more than the fact that you have some kind of problem with whatever group you’re disparaging, not that such characters don’t “belong” in that type of story. (Note that I’m assuming that the character is otherwise well-written regardless of their vital statistics; writing a poorly-stereotyped version of a character is frequently worse than not including them at all.)

One of the biggest problems with even entertaining these types of questions is that the discussion can shift all too easily into replacing “characters” with “authors” and end up debating the pros and cons of excluding an entire group of people from even participating in that particular genre. It’s not a large step from insisting that no one should write women characters in M/M romance to insisting that women shouldn’t write M/M romance at all. I know because I’ve seen it happen over and over again. Both are exclusionary tactics borne from the same root of ignorance and prejudice. Such questions should be the sole province of flame-baiting trolls, and the fact that they are ever given serious thought and discussion is a sad state of affairs, to my mind.

So, the answer is yes, women belong in M/M romance and the extent of which should be utterly determined by the author in order to tell the story they’re trying to tell.

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