Writing about someone you’re not

There is apparently a kerfuffle going on in the m/m world right now. A well-known author who has used a male pen name for years has finally decided to let it be known everywhere that she is female. I have not seen any of the negativity myself, and I don’t care to. Don’t even know where it’s happening. But I’ve seen a lot of positivity – most of which comes down to the idea that good writing is good writing (or, in this case, superb writing), regardless of whether you’re male, female, or other.

I saw one commenter who said that as a gay man, he prefers to support gay male authors. I get that completely. When you have limited dollars to spend and want to support a particular person or group, go for it.

Back in the day when the author in question began writing, it was very difficult for a woman to get published in the gay press. So she made the decision to use the male pseudonym. She’s always been very up front about the fact that the name was a pseudonym. A lot of people already knew who she was, including me, and it made no difference whatsoever.

Shakespeare. Not a Roman emperor.

Shakespeare. Not a Roman emperor.

I have seen comments in the past by gay men that they don’t want to read books about gay men by female authors because they’re not authentic. That’s their choice, but they’re missing out on some great literature – The Charioteer springs to mind.

But the idea that you’re not allowed to write about someone you’re not doesn’t hold up. If that was the case, the only thing that would be published is autobiography and memoir.

No one – no one – really knows anyone else, regardless of whether they’re in the same gender identity group or not. Besides – this is fiction. Jamie Brodie is who he is because I created him, and I know him better than anyone. Did I do my research? I did, and I still do. I read everything I can get my hands on by and about gay men, because I want to get it as right as possible. But no one gets to tell me that I shouldn’t write about Jamie because I’m not a gay man.

‘Nuff said.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Writing about someone you’re not

  1. Sharon Cox

    My first requirement when choosing a book is a good story which is well written and the author in question always gave me that. The idea that this author decided to publish under a male is not a new one – think George Sand and George Elliot – so I hope that she doesn’t lose many readers by going down that path.
    I do like to read gay stories written by gay men but I don’t rule out a story because it is written by a female. A look at my ereader will convince anyone of that. What I find is that a male writer and a female writer will approach a story from a different angle and I like this.
    I wish the author luck and I will continue to buy and read her stories.

  2. Sarah Crocker

    As for me, I am disappointed. I don’t think the issue is writing about someone you’re not, I feel hurt by the willful deceit that has taken place. Josh Lanyon is an excellent writer and I am sure I will continue to read her books, but as a follower of her Goodreads group I can tell you that the deceit went far beyond a pen name. Even on the Josh Lanyon website her good friend LB Gregg refers to her as him. Many female M/M writers use initials and names that could be masculine or feminine, but I haven’t seen any of them go so far as to create a male online persona. Again, I am hurt and disappointed, but truly I have no vested interest in who the real John Lanyon, (or Diana Killian or Diane Browne etc…) is, but still I feel a sense of loss.

    • I understand that. Marshall Thornton wrote a well thought out piece on his blog about it, and he had a very interesting perspective, as someone who actually is a gay man. There is more to it for many people than simply the writing.

      • Sarah Crocker

        Thank you. I just read Marshall Thornton’s excellent blog about this. He was able to verbalize a lot of my thoughts better that I could. I think the way this has been handled has bothered me more that “the secret” itself. I have seen nothing but giddy support for Josh over at his Goodreads group and it really bothered me that the elephant in the room was being ignored. I see from the names of some of the commenters on Marshall’s blog that the moderators on Josh’s group must be deleting anything they construe as negative. I think they are ultimately doing Josh a disservice by doing this. Remember when Hugh Grant made his giant mistake? I still respected him as an actor because he came out and took responsibility for his actions and never tried to paint himself as a victim. I am sure Josh is being attacked and is responding (understandably) defensively. I now understand why people hire publicists.

      • I remember Hugh Grant’s incident…Jay Leno asked him, What were you thinking?? I agree, it could have been handled better. I’ve been a long-time lurker at the Goodreads group, and now you’ve got me wondering about deleting comments. Hm. They are extremely protective.

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