BLANK For You

I was chatting to a friend on Twitter this morning about Gay For You / Out For You, which is something I’ve been meaning to blog about since I saw this post on Romance Novels for Feminists. Sorry, it’s really old, but it’s a good summary of the key issues.

As with anything, I can absolutely see why GFY (both the term and the trope) bothers some people, and I can absolutely see why others are okay with it. Like many tropes, I suspect a big part of the problem with GFY is with its prevalence rather than its nature. I don’t have particularly strong feelings either way, but I am interested in the debate surrounding it because I think it highlights several important things about both the genre and wider social attitudes to homosexuality and queer identity.

Like always, there are two slightly unrelated lines I want to go down with this, the first being to look at GFY in the wider context of the romance genre, and particularly as it compares to other tropes and trends in het romance. The second is to talk about the GFY/OFY debate, and what I consider to be the problematic assumptions it seems to be grounded in.

So let’s talk tropes.

One of the big objections people often have to GFY stories that is that the GFY character will have experienced no feelings of homosexual attraction until his encounter with the hero. This is inconsistent with a worldview in which people are born either gay or straight , and since – as I will discuss later – this worldview is central to a big part of the debate about gay rights (particularly in America) a lot of readers understandably object to this. But, looking at the wider romance genre, it’s actually very common for characters, particularly heroines, to have experienced little or no sexual desire prior to meeting the hero. Ana Steele is a prime example of this: it’s very explicit in Fifty Shades of Grey that she is not merely a virgin, but has actually never experienced sexual desire of any kind (indeed, its strongly implied in the text that she rarely, if ever, masturbates). It is common for romances, of all flavours, to underscore the specialness of the relationship between the main characters by understating or, in extreme cases, actively denigrating the prior sexual experiences of one or both partners.

Of course, because heterosexual romances tend to be gendered, the denigration of these experiences tends to fall along gendered lines. The prior sexual experience of heroines is limited and unsatisfying. The prior sexual experience of heroes is often significantly less limited, but is equally unsatisfying, although the hero is only permitted to recognise this once he has sex with the heroine and realises what he’s been missing.

I should probably stop at this juncture to observe that one of the problems in talking about m/m is that it inherits many of its tropes from het but because they necessarily manifest differently they become more noticeable. This leads to an helpful style of argument which can broadly be summarised as: “this feature of m/m is problematic” / “that feature of het is also problematic.” There’s a tendency, in both m/m and het, to cite similarities with other parts of the genre, or indeed other genres, as a means to justify things, rather than to illuminate them. When I suggest that GFY is another incarnation of the common romance trope of sexually inexperienced character awakened by sexually experienced character (which you might usefully summarise as Rake & Virgin, although it’s common, albeit less explicit, in contemps as well as historicals) I mean it in a value neutral way. That is, to an extent, if one is problematic, the other one is problematic for the same reasons, and vice versa. And, obviously, context matters, especially when you’re talking about marginalised groups, although you have to be a bit careful here because one of the things that makes marginalised groups marginalised in the first place is the fact that a conversation that isn’t explicitly about those groups is assumed to have no bearing on them when, in fact, it often does.

To unpack that idea a bit more, you could make a reasonable case that R&V in het has problematic connotations for queer people that GFY actually subverts. The core idea of R&V (and of a lot of romance in general) is that there is a Right Person out there who will be the key to unlocking your sexuality and your happiness. But the prevalence of this idea in heterosexual romance reinforces the notion that someone who is not attracted to members of the opposite sex just needs to wait until they find the Right Person.  This actually erases the identities of not only homosexuals, but also asexuals and, for that matter, people with low sex drives. If I knew someone like Anastasia Steele in real life, I absolutely wouldn’t be pressuring her to look for a sexually dominant billionaire. I’d be trying to encourage her to accept that not being particularly interested in sex (or sex with men) is a perfectly valid way to live.

In this context you can almost see GFY as an attempt to balance the scales. We raise children on the idea that no matter how uninterested in the opposite sex they are, they will eventually meet someone who will change that. You can argue that it is valuable to present the opposite case: that it is equally true that no matter how little interest you have your own sex, you may one day meet someone who changes your mind. And, to be very clear, when I say “equally true” I probably mean “not necessarily very true at all” but if the idea of a sexual awakening keyed to a specific person is going to be part of our cultural narrative of heterosexual romance, it needs to be part of our narrative of homosexual romance as well. Otherwise we have a situation where heterosexuality is seen to be something you can come to at any time in your life, while homosexuality has to be established early on for it to count.

This roughly brings me to the next issue which is the GFY/OFY debate, and the question of whether it is especially harmful to present the idea that a person who has not previously experienced same sex attraction could suddenly experience it for one person. And this is a difficult issue because it is deeply grounded in ideology.

Something I have learned from my many years on the internet is that there are many different ways to win an argument, and that the most effective and the most subtle is often to make sure you’re the one who picks what the argument is about. Take, for example, the debate about whether the government should cut taxes to help the economy or increase spending to help the poor. The fact that this debate exists is actually evidence that one side has already won.  If the Left argues that it is more important to help poor people than to improve the economy, it intrinsically concedes the point that rich people are more economically valuable than poor people. In fact, there is good evidence that cutting taxes harms the economy, and increasing spending boosts it (at least at times when there’s a deficit in demand).

In the same way, I tend to feel that the Right, particularly the American Christian Right, has framed the debate on homosexuality in a way that the Left has uncritically and unhelpfully accepted.  A couple of months ago, I watched a documentary called Cure Me I’m Gay in which a gay British doctor called Christian Jessen travels around America sampling various “gay cures”, talking to “ex-gays” and generally revealing what he argued was the fraud of the whole gay cure market.

Obviously, I fully supported the intent of this documentary and I understood the point that Dr Jessen was trying to make, but it felt to me like the entire “experiment” effectively conceded to the Christian Right a huge chunk of ground that I would rather he did not concede. His whole goal was to prove that gay cures didn’t work and, thereby, that homosexuality was not a choice or an affliction and, therefore, presumably that it is not immoral.

The problem with this approach, to my mind, was that it internalised the worldview of the Christian Right. It implicitly accepted that the moral acceptability of homosexuality is predicated on its being innate, biological and unchangeable. This struck me as fantastically dangerous. In fact, I feel this is a massively important debate that we surrendered without even noticing we were doing it. The question is not, and should not be, “is homosexuality a choice?” The question is, “should homosexual relationships be seen as equally valid to heterosexual relationships?”

People who favour Out For You over Gay For You do so on the basis that the idea of a person who has had no prior homosexual feelings suddenly finding themselves attracted to a member of the same sex reinforces the idea that sexuality is a choice or is changeable, and that this undermines the validity of homosexual relationships. But this only the case if you accept the Right-Wing, religiously-derived idea that sexual behaviour must have been encoded by God for it to be moral.

This very, very problematic line of reasoning is encapsulated by Jackie in the post I link to at the top of this article:

Only when responding to the comments to the post, though, did Suede explicitly name the problem with the phrase “Gay for You”:  “GfY is a weird hybrid, enshrining the logic of homophobia in a gay-positive genre.” The logic of homophobia inherent in the trope being the idea that you can turn your sexual orientation on or off with the same ease you do a light switch (and if homosexuality is a choice, why shouldn’t you just choice to be heterosexual?)

It’s the bit in brackets that particularly troubles me. Ironically, I feel that it – far more than the phrase Gay For You – enshrines the logic of homophobia in a gay-positive environment. And, to be very fair, to the original post, I should stress that the blogger is summarising an argument that is not actually her own, so she may not doing herself or the argument justice, but the sheer heteronormativity of suggesting that homosexuality can’t be choice because, if it was, everybody would just prefer to be straight is … almost mind-boggling.

And, yes, I do understand that gay people experience discrimination, and that therefore what the original argument might have meant is “why would someone choose a lifestyle in which they are discriminated against over one in which they are not?” Except, of course, people do. Even if homosexuality is not innate, gay people can get a lot less flack by not being out. Bisexuals do not overwhelmingly choose to be in heterosexual relationships (although there is a certain cultural pressure to go that way). Religion is a choice, and people face discrimination because of it. They do not generally give up their religions as a result. And we certainly don’t argue that everyone is born with a particular religion, and that religions can’t change in a misguided effort to encourage religious tolerance.

If the only argument we can make against homophobia is that sexuality is immutable then gay rights are on very, very unsound footing. Not only are we basing our entire case for equality on a falsifiable biological claim which may prove unfounded, but we’re also erasing large sections of the community who don’t fit into the simplistic, binarist model which we’ve invented to placate the Christian Right.

In this context, there is part of me that feels Out For You is as problematic as Gay For You. For a start, it seems to presuppose that you’re only “out” if you’re actually in a same-sex relationship. If you look at the distinctions people draw between (bad) Gay For You and (good) Out For You stories, the difference seems to be that the OFY characters have pre-existing, acknowledged homosexual feelings they have merely chosen not to explore, whereas in the GFY stories they haven’t. But this is actually wholly unrelated to being out or being not-out. Plenty of people have plenty of gay sex without being out. And plenty of people are out without being in homosexual relationships or, indeed, are out while being in heterosexual relationships or, for that matter, celibate.  So ultimately the argument for OFY seems to be grounded in an ideological desire to reinforce the idea that sexuality is determined at birth, and that it is – in essence – quite simple.

And I can see that this is a politically useful message to reinforce, especially when the debate continues to be framed in terms that conflate what is natural with what is acceptable. If nothing else “Some People Are Gay. Get Over It” is a much better T-shirt slogan than “Human Sexuality Is Remarkably Complicated and Intersects in Difficult Ways With Gender. Get Over It.” But the problem is, that there is a real danger in denying the validity of a narrative merely because it is not politically useful. Not to put too fine a point on it, I have seen Gay For You stories played out in real life in that I have known people with no previously acknowledged homosexual feelings who have fallen in love with, or found themselves attracted to, members of their own sex. And I suppose advocates of Out For You would argue that these people have been gay all along and have only just “realised” it. But this is an unprovable assertion, and needlessly devalues every relationship these people have had previously.

The basic problem is that sexuality is a wholly subjective experience. I, ultimately, have no way of knowing that the way I experience my sexuality is the way that another person who claims to have the same sexuality as me experiences theirs. One of the things I found frustrating about Cure Me I’m Gay is that it basically consisted of two sets of people with utterly closed beliefs about sexuality talking past each other. When Dr Jessen was talking to people who claimed to have changed their sexualities, he refused to accept their descriptions of their own lived experiences because his worldview required their experiences to be impossible. In the same way, a lot of the gay cure specialists he talked to held axiomatically to the view that everyone was naturally straight, and that homosexuality was a learned aberration. But there was no way that either side could prove their case to the other. No matter how unsuccessful the gay cures where on Dr Jessen, the cure pedlars would insist he was just resisting treatment. And no matter how many “ex-gays” Dr Jessen met, he continued to insist they were living in denial.

Sexuality is a complex emergent property of desire, emotion, thought, experience and behaviour. Being gay or being straight is not one thing, and our idea of what it means to have a particular sexuality is, in many ways, socially constructed. Just to be very blunt for a moment, it’s kind of like pegging. An awful lot of straight men will fundamentally refuse to be anally penetrated (by their female partners) in no small part because we culturally define that sort of behaviour as gay. And, by the same token, there are some gay men who don’t like anal sex at all but we as a society tend to forget this.  But the flipside of this is that once you start to recognise that sexuality does not, in fact, consist of specific sexual acts, it becomes very hard to see what it does consist of. If we accept that it is okay for a straight man to enjoy taking it up the arse, or for a gay man not to, and we further accept that our perceptions of gender are culturally created and that many of the physical characteristics we associate with men and with women are more mutable than we willingly admit, it becomes increasingly hard to hold onto the idea of sexuality as something innate, monolithic and unchanging.

As I said at the very beginning of this piece, I suspect the biggest issue with Gay For You is not really its name or its nature, but its prevalence. And if there is a single element of the trope that gives me pause, it is the implication that sexually experienced gay men (like sexually experienced women) are not seen as sympathetic protagonists. I very much do not have a problem with the implication that a person’s perception of their own sexuality could change over time. To me, it is much more troubling to suggest that it can’t.

musing

24 Responses to BLANK For You

  1. willaful says:

    Those are some really interesting points. I have known GFY in real life as well — a formerly straight woman who fell in love with another woman over the internet. The way she put it was, I wouldn’t have cared if she had two heads, she was the right person for me.

    What I was taught in college was that women’s sexuality tends to be a lot more fluid than men’s, but perhaps that’s a lot of outdated bullshit.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I am quite romanced by that story 🙂 I tried to avoid building too much of an argument on what is necessarily anecdotal data and, obviously, I move in quite a queer, liberal sort of circle – but what is essentially the GFY trope seems … not uncommon to me.

      I’ve always heard the “women’s sexuality more fluid” argument (from both men and women) – part of me wonders if it’s a social framework based around letting men look at lesbians 😉 Seriously though and – again, pure anecdotally, based on my social circle – a general impression I get is that women are perhaps *more likely* to experiment with fluidity than men. I don’t necessarily this is because women are inherently more fluid, so much as society finds two girls kissing kinda hot and two dudes kissing kinda gross.

      About 80% of the women I knew at university were at some point in some way experimenting with bisexuality (so much so, that I can remember one friend complaining bitterly that nobody would believe her when she was straight, dammit, straight). Some of the men but it was less prevalent / expected. Of course that women are encouraged to kiss other women at nightclubs is another layer problem… but I think men find it more difficult, both socially and emotionally, to mess around in that sort of way. So while they may be just as fluid, it’s strongly discouraged.

      • willaful says:

        That makes a lot of sense.

      • Anonymous says:

        Re: the friend who was straight, damnit, straight: I’m a straight woman with some ties to the poly/kink scenes in the American Northeast, and I’ve definitely felt various kinds of pressure to be bisexual — basically all of it from men. Women, in my experience, are great — occasionally a woman hits on me, and I say apologetically ‘Sorry, I’m straight,’ and they’re like ‘Oh, no problem,’ and it’s basically more flattering than anything else;. But from men I’ve got everything from (after I had made it clear to him that no I was not interested in playing with him and his girlfriend) ‘It’s REALLY TOO BAD YOU’RE STRAIGHT because it sure would be great to BLAH’ to not-so-subtle insinuations that I must not really be a kinky sex-loving woman because all those women like experimenting with girls to ‘It’s okay you’re straight, but you should really be more flexible.’ And I have been to parties where, when I asked if there were armbands or stickers for indicating sex-of-partner preferences (as there were for various other preferences), I was told ‘Oh, we just assume everyone is bi, especially the women.’ It’s made me feel almost defensive of my heterosexuality, at least in some circles.

        Also, just as an aside, I really love these essays of yours. 🙂

        • Alexis Hall says:

          So glad you’re enjoying the essays 🙂 I think I’ve just about run out of massive issues to charge at now, so I’ll probably go back to talk about my cat and my dishwasher 😛

          One of the general problems with the … alternative sexuality scene (for lack of a better term) is that it seems to a lump together quite a lot of quite different lifestyles and choices and if you’re yes this but no that it can cause a lot of stress – and, yes, a degree of pressure. When I was at university basically goth/alternative/kinky/poly/queer all hung out in the same sort of spaces – and it was awkward as hell for reasons exactly like the one you cite. I’ve mostly got away from those kind of circles these days (thank God) but H and I were a vaguely alternative party a few years ago (kinky, poly, queer) and we got a lot of … not outright hostility, but dismissive sneering for the fact we aren’t particularly poly. One guy – not at all kindly – basically called us ‘smug marrieds’ – which was … y’know … kind of not okay.

          But, anyway, it was mainly just annoying. Whereas obviously having to defend your sexuality in that way is extremely toxic.

          At university, the pressure was (mostly) coming from very aggressively bisexual women … but I suspect that an exception, and I’m not at all surprised to hear it’s, err, man-based in the rest of the world.

  2. Shaheen says:

    Thanks for writing this. I have been struggling with this for years. My aunt has been in a committed relationship for 20+ years. A few years ago she told me that she was really hurt because her partner would never admit that she was lesbian, only that she happened to be deeply in love with another woman. I understood where my aunt was coming from, she has been out to her peers for decades, but I also get where her partner was coming from, she had never thought of herself as gay, but then she fell in love. There are other issues than LGBT identity politics in their particular case, class and age particularly. (This is in England, of course class is an issue). Here in the States, however, that story is almost verboten, because it doesn’t conform to the accepted narrative.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Gosh, yes, that’s a complicated situation – and, as you say, understandable from both sides.

      Sexual identity is … obviously deeply personal, and people should ultimately be allowed to define (or not define) however they choose, but often it can have a real impact on the happiness and identity of your partner. And, again, for some people a label is much more than a label – it’s part of an entire way of living, and feeds into their self-definition. Whereas for some people it really doesn’t. I’d have instinctively put myself in that last category, since the labels I’ve adopted have always been just that, shorthand I’ve adopted to allow people to understand that I’ll probably be trying to sleep with them soon 🙂 And I have changed that label in that past – specifically when a lover told me that my label was impinging on their gender identity – but, now I think about, I’d be pretty peeved if I was with a woman, and she wanted me to start identifying as straight. So … uh … yes. Complicated.

      Something I’ve mildly struggled with in ‘m/m’ is the way ‘in the closet’ is a devalued choice. Usually it’s the evil ex who was too cowardly or whatever. And I agree for many people that for a romance to be viewed as happy/successful/real it has exist within an overt social context. But if your love exists in a non-accepting social context, then there’s an extent to which being in the closet is a legitimate decision.

      And I don’t believe automatically counts as a “non-happy” ending.

      Or at least, only in the sense it is unhappy that we do not live in an equal society yet 😛

  3. sofia says:

    Lots of food for thought as usual Alexis. It seems to me that society needs set rules, guidelines to function and we are left butting heads with it either in our efforts to conform or in trying to be ourselves.

    Ciao
    Sofia

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thank you 🙂

      And, yes, this is shit is complicated, and I don’t think there are answers here, let alone easy ones.

  4. julio says:

    outstanding piece.

  5. HJ says:

    Thank you for such a thoughtful and thought-provoking article.

  6. Megan says:

    The problem with GFY is not that it’s ‘prevalent’ (an argument you mention twice, but never support), or that society has trouble with sexuality as a fluid thing, and some people don’t realize the full extent of their own sexuality until a particular person comes along (which seems to be the sum of your argument?).

    The problem with GFY is that 9.5/10 times, the character goes from straight to gay, discarding all his relationships with women (and all too often there is an Evil Girlfriend somewhere in the mix, or the ex-whatever winds up the know-it-all or sassy friend). The problem with GFY is that it never addresses ANY of these issues. GFY books are rampant with bi-phobia and bi-erasure. I can count on one hand—and still have fingers left over—the books where a character is bi instead of gay (and making them bi instead of gay would not have hurt the story, this is literally a case of helping many while hurting none), throwing women under the bus in the race to get to the hot new boyfriend.

    The problem with GFY is that bisexuality doesn’t exist, and fairly often women are treated like garbage. OFY was, I think, meant to counter that some, more ‘acknowledge my sexuality is not straight because of you’, though it too doesn’t actually fix the problem because again, the characters are always gay. The entire trope could and should be covered by a term that includes bisexuality, but people seem inclined to use GFY. Even your article never really mentions it, just that sexuality is fluid and not set. You never explicitly say they’re bisexual. And neither does the trope, and that is the real reason so many people hate it.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thanks for the comment, Megan.

      I think we actually agree more than you might think. This post wasn’t really about Gay For You by itself, it was about the things people say about Gay For You, and specifically the idea that the trope it problematic specifically because it’s incompatible with the model of fixed binary sexuality that forms the basis of a lot of queer rights debates in the US.
      I would agree that this intersects with bi-erasure bi-phobia, in that you have a lot of stories in which – as you say –men who are previously in relationships with women actively repudiate those relationships and the women they were with as if it is somehow shameful to have been in relationships with members of both sexes. But this is slightly orthogonal to the issue I was discussing, which was the specific preference for Out For You over Gay For You.

      I think the main thrust of my argument is that both GFY as a trope, and the majority of the objections to it, are both grounded in a narrow and reductionist view of sexuality. The reason I don’t mention bisexuality explicitly in the post is that I didn’t think adding an additional label to the mix really helps the situation. It’s actually a gross over simplification to assume that a person who has been in relationships with members of both sexes is necessarily bisexual – they could be pansexual, they could be omnisexual, they could be gay or straight, or generically queer, or their sexuality could be none of our damn business.

      I do agree that GFY can be bi-erasing but I don’t think that’s why so many people object to it. The objections I have seen have been, in essence, based on the argument that it’s wrong to suggest sexuality isn’t determined at birth.

  7. Allison says:

    As usual, a wonderful post. I think our need to label things/people and put them in boxes that we can then point to and say we understand what and/or who is under that label/in that box has a lot to do with this. The idea that gender and sexuality is fluid for most people requires people to think and examine their beliefs, something most people, in my experience, aren’t willing to do.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thank you for the kind words – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I kind of feel that people should be allowed boxes, but not restricted to them, if that makes sense 🙂

  8. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Alexis, damn, what an amazing post! Your thinking here, particularly on your second point, goes well beyond thinking outside the box. It’s more like, who says there should BE a box in the first place? And for that matter, is “box” even a valid concept? I LOVE THIS!

    I think I am pretty much in the same camp as you on GFY or OFY as tropes.

    I’ve always thought GFY, while likely rare, was possible in real life. OFY too, though I agree that can be more problematic for the reasons you mentioned. And presumably “het for you” would be as well. Though I really think those labels are too rigid & confining for a reality that is probably more nebulous & fluid.

    I do think of sexual orientation as a spectrum. Possibly someone could be at different places on the spectrum at a given time. Or, even if that’s not the case, seems to me being at either extreme of the spectrum doesn’t preclude a person 99% attracted to the opposite sex (or same sex) under the right circumstances being attracted to, even falling in love with, the 1%. I don’t think it has to be about meeting the “right” person as in “soul-mate”, more like everything just lines up right for it to happen.

    I really don’t think GFY or OFY are very good descriptive terms, though. GFY sort of implies someone “converts” from straight to gay which, putting aside the question of whether that’s possible, ignores the existence of bi-sexuality or positions on the spectrum other than gay or straight. Also seems to imply it’s a one-way street; that this person will now be gay from this point forward & nevermore attracted to the opposite sex. That seems pretty ridiculous to me, unless the person truly was actually gay all along & merely in denial; but that’s not really GFY then, is it? And OFY, to me, doesn’t describe what it represents, even in books. It doesn’t sound like it should mean someone who’s always been gay but didn’t realize or act on it until they met “the one”; OFY sounds like it should mean someone gay but closeted (whether celibate or sexually active with same &/or opposite sex) who chooses to “come out” to the world due to falling in love. If there’s going to be a literary trope about people being sexually awakened to their true gay or bi orientation by love, it should have a different name. Awakened by you? Epiphany for you? Eh, maybe not.

    So on to the second part of your post:

    Which: Wow! First, your point about the problematic aspects of focusing so exclusively on “born this way” to validate homosexual relationships kind of blew me away. I’ve just sort of unquestioningly accepted “born this way” basically, I think, out of a desire to respect the right of the LGBT community to make that call.

    But it never occurred to me until I read what you said here that the “born this way” campaign was actually a direct response by the LGBT community to being attacked by the Christian Right on the basis of “morality”. I had a real light-goes-on moment. I feel pretty obtuse not to have gotten this before, now the connection seems so obvious.

    Unfortunately I think “internalis[ing] the worldview” of a powerful opponent is common, particularly when in a defensive position, & often unconscious. I see people do it all the time. Sorry to use box analogy again, but it’s like we’re so far inside the box that we forget it’s even there, or that there’s anything outside of it. Like the way people react if someone calls them unpatriotic. Most people either deny this & try to prove that they are, in fact, patriotic. Very seldom does anyone question what patriotic means & whether it’s actually a good thing to be.

    I do think you’re right, it really IS dangerous to, in essence, put all the eggs in the “born for you” basket. And it’s letting the enemy bring the battle to you, then dictate weapons & rules of engagement. But worse, it’s makes LGBT rights conditional. When it should be good enough to just say: “I exist, I’m a human, I don’t have to prove my worth or justify anything to you, I don’t have to earn my rights; I deserve them for the same reason you do, just because I am.”

    Anyway, you say so many great things here that it’s impossible to talk about them all (thank God, you say). But I especially love this: “The basic problem is that sexuality is a wholly subjective experience. I, ultimately, have no way of knowing that the way I experience my sexuality is the way that another person who claims to have the same sexuality as me experiences theirs”

    And this: “Sexuality is a complex emergent property of desire, emotion, thought, experience and behaviour. Being gay or being straight is not one thing, and our idea of what it means to have a particular sexuality is, in many ways, socially constructed.”

    Also, with regard to this: “it becomes increasingly hard to hold onto the idea of sexuality as something innate, monolithic and unchanging” I tend to think nothing should be “monolithic and unchanging”, because that describes an inanimate object, not anything alive.

    I’ll wrap this up: Your thinking is often so wonderfully Socratic & deconstructive. That’s so rare, at least in my little world, admittedly a far less liberal one than yours. On a personal note, I have to tell you that this aspect of the way you look at things reminds me of my late brother M (he died 2 years ago); he looked at everything this way. I try to do this too, but M was much better at it; I so respected him for this & he was a huge influence on the way I look at things. We had these amazing, deep conversations on everything from social issues to the nature of reality, which I greatly miss. But when you talk about complex issues like this on your blog, it reminds me, like nothing else, of those conversations. So, thanks for that 🙂

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I’m so happy you liked the post, Pam 🙂

      And, yes, it’s a complicated situation – I think spectrum is the most illuminating way to think about it, although – as you say – some people can sort of occupy different places on it pretty much simultaneously. And others not so much 🙂 Perhaps someday I shall write a straight for you story 😉 Bwhahaha, ahem.

      I agree that both GFY and OFY are labels that come with inherent and really quite harmful assumptions and problems attached to them. I guess part of what was underpinning this post was the thought that OFY is not, as I’ve sometimes seen it described, simply a “better” (or less problematic) way to describe GFY stories. As I was discussing with Kaetrin (I think?) on Twitter, I think they’re different types of stories – and, like all stories, they can be done well or badly. I think OFY can cover someone who is either closeted OR someone who has previously prioritised same-sex relationships. Whereas GFY is someone who explicitly changes their sexual-identity … catalysed by their love of someone of the same sex. And I guess the problem with both of these that the reality of sexual fluidity (or bisexuality specifically if you want to call it that) gets lost in the rush to Gay. But to me GFY at least admits … more reality to sexual fluidity, than OFY which essentially reduces the whol thing to “oh, he was gay all along, lol.”

      I’m quite digging Epiphany For You, though 😉

      Possibly: Willing To Endure Institutionalised Homophobia For You could be another one.

      Also … the Born This Way / Not Born This Way thing is, well, really, really complicated. It’s something I feel very strongly – in the sense I’m annoyed we’re fighting a war when I feel we’ve already lost significant ground and noticed – but it does not make me a popular guest at the majority of LGBT tea parties 😉

      On a more personal note, I’m so sorry to hear about your brother – he sounds like a wonderful person. But, err, I won’t make you talk about him about my blog – email incoming 🙂

  9. JL Merrow says:

    Very thoughtful post, Alexis.

    I’ve been very anti GFY in the past, mostly because I think the prevalence of GFY in m/m has its origin in early slash fanfiction which, while being about two men in a relationship, still contained troubling homophobia. It seemed to me that a lot of these early stories were taking pains to insist that the heroes weren’t really gay–just overcome with the incredible hawtness of each other. With the implication being that to identify them as *truly* gay would diminish them.

    My views have relaxed a bit lately, because I genuinely don’t think most of the people writing GFY these days are coming from that position any more, and your comparing it to the Rake/Virgin het trope of awakening sexuality helps there. Yes, that idea has its own problems, but it’s a common fantasy – and aren’t we, in the romance genre, in the business of fantasy?

    It does frustrate me, though, that it’s still overwhelmingly called *GAY for you*. As if bisexuality wasn’t invisible/denied/treated as invalid enough already. Like Willow in Buffy going “Hello? Gay now!” it’s really not helpful.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thanks so much for the comment 🙂

      Thinking about it, I wonder if part of the problem with GFY isn’t that it’s very much struggling against its origins. As you say, a major function of GFY is to “justify” a same-sex relationship, to be as you suggest a way of having hot boy-on-boy action without having to write about people who are “really” gay.

      Ironically I suspect the desire to distant yourself from this is what leads to the relative invisibility of non-binary sexualities in GFY stories. Authors are so keen to challenge the homophobic undertones of GFY that they wind up pushing the “these are proper legit gay srs for real” button too hard. Which winds up having the unfortunate implication that a person who acknowledges sexual feelings towards multiple genders simultaneously is somehow doing sexuality wrong.

      I don’t think it helps that the bulk of the criticisms you get tend to come from quite a binarist place. The implication always seem to be that GFY is wrong because you either have to be gay or straight, but I don’t think the answer is assuming that everybody who’s been in relationships with people of more than one gender is necessarily bisexual.
      I don’t actually read that much GFY, as it’s not the sort of story I’m generally into, but – as ever – I’ve seen examples of it done really well, and examples of it done shockingly badly. But the fact that something can be used in an unsuccessful or troubling way isn’t automatically with the trope or the idea itself.

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