I may not agree with what you say but i will try my best not to be a dick about it

So there’s been yet another kerfuffle in the m/m community about this post over Dirty Discourse (warning for some NSFW images attached thereto). The post was entitled ‘Gay Men Are Not Collectables’ and in it the anonymous author talks about how uncomfortable the m/m community makes him feel.

In all honesty, it’s … not that great a post. It makes a lot of quite troubling generalisations about the community and the genre, and can’t quite decide whether it’s talking about m/m romance, LGBTQ fiction in general or the community as a whole.  Some of the things it singles out for criticism (like characters feeling compelled to shag in the most implausible and unlikely situations) are, I would argue, conventions of the romance genre rather than illustrations of authors’ perceptions about gay men (although for what it’s worth, I can see that those conventions and perceptions can intersect problematically).

Having said that, I sort of feel that 90% of the responses to this post have been massively, massively worse than the post itself. And, in fact, have demonstrated in glorious technicolour many of the problems the original piece was talking about. Basically we’ve got a pretty much textbook run down of all the annoying derailing nonsense that comes up every time a marginalised person complains about the ways in which they feel marginalised. We got the tone argument, we got “I’m an ally, therefore my behaviour cannot be harmful”, we got “I’m a member of the same marginalised group and it doesn’t bother me, therefore it should not bother any other members of the marginalised group to which I belong” or, even better, “I have a friend who is in the marginalised group and it doesn’t bother him/her/them, therefore it should not bother any other members of the marginalised group to which my friend belongs and anyone who claims it does is a lying sock puppet of the intellectual liberal elite”. Oh, and, of course the “they say it to each other so it’s okay” argument.

Before I go any further, I should say that I think the real problem here is that we’ve only really had the internet for a couple of decades, and people are very, very bad at understanding how communities work on it. It is extraordinarily easy for a genuinely and objectively tiny group of people to look like they represent an entire social group. The writer of the original article seems primarily upset because he’s assumed that the quite small minority who post pictures of eighteen-year-old’s arseholes to Facebook represent “the m/m community”. The people posting those pictures don’t understand what he’s upset about because, as far as they’re concerned, the men in those pictures represent “the gay community”. And I’m probably disproportionately angry about this whole thing because I’m interpreting the one or two people who’ve written profoundly ignorant and entitled responses to the original post as representing the broader community of LGBTQ+ romance readers.

A good illustration of this phenomenon is the way the original post accuses m/m readers of applying a double standard when they salivate over strongly sexualised pictures of gay men but object to strongly sexualised pictures of women. This seems to commit the classic online social fallacy of assuming that everybody who posts in a particular forum (be it a message board, a Fb group or whatever) is basically the same person. Some people, many of them women, some of them perhaps m/m readers, object to lads’ mags and page three girls. There is no evidence at all that those people are the same ones who are posting borderline pornographic images of hot young twinks to Fb.  Some might be. Most probably aren’t.

A big part of the problem here is that both, for want of a less divisive word, “sides” are treating each other as monoliths. It is in no way helpful to make generalisations about m/m readers on the basis of the behaviour of a relatively small number of them. But neither it is helpful to judge the impact of that behaviour purely on the basis of your token gay friend. Or, for that matter, purely on the basis of your own experiences.

Anyway, having discussed the dangers of treating heterogeneous groups as a monolith I’m now going to run through the things I found most problematic about the way “the community” has responded to this post. And, in the spirit of everything I’ve just said, I’d point out that by “the community” I mean specifically those members of the community who have exhibited the behaviours I’m about to complain about. And who I don’t necessarily think are particularly representative of the community as a whole.

On Anonymity

Sigh. A really depressing number of comments on this post concentrated almost exclusively on the fact the author had chosen to write it anonymously. Let me be very clear about this: if somebody does not feel safe interacting with you under their real name, that is your problem not their problem.  I would love to live in a world where we could trust that we could speak freely and share our concerns honestly and open-heartedly without the fear of petty, spiteful or vindictive repercussions from people who disagree with us.

We do not live in that world.

I know for a fact that there are people who do not read my work, who post negative reviews of my books on GR, and who actively discourage other people from reading or associating with me because they dislike my opinions. I recently wrote a post about my issues with the naked butlers at the UK Meet and I got an amazing amount of shit for it. Blogs stopped hosting me, people stopped speaking to me. This community (and, again, I should stress that by “this community” I actually mean “a small number of members of this community”) take it spectacularly personally if you dare to suggest that they aren’t perfect models of supportive LGBTQ+ advocacy.

I can absolutely see why the author of the not very good post didn’t want to put himself through that.

On The Tone Argument

Double sigh. Y’know, I’m not even sure I can be bothered to write about this one. Just please, next time you read a post by a marginalised person who seems angry or upset about something, and you want to leave them a comment saying that they’d be better off expressing themselves differently, Google “tone argument”.

In fact. Here, let me do it for you.

On Objectification

Objectification, like censorship, is one of those words that the internet has morphed beyond recognition and usefulness. Let me run down the list.

  • No, looking at someone and thinking they’re attractive is not objectification.
  • No, looking at someone, thinking they’re attractive and concluding therefore that you would like to have sex with them is not objectification.
  • No, taking your shirt off in public or wearing buttless chaps (or for that matter a short skirt) is not “objectifying yourself.” I seriously can’t fucking believe we are even having this conversation. Or that people might even be suggesting this in the 21st century. For fuck’s sake.
  • Yes, it is possible for an image to be objectifying in some contexts and not others.
  • Yes, it is possible for a particular use of an image to be objectifying even if the person in the image volunteered for it to be taken.

Basically, the problem here is that people genuinely seem to make no distinction between “objectification of” and “sexual attraction to” but they are very different things and, in fact, largely unrelated.  I’ll be fair here (okay, I’ll self-define as being fair here, it’s up to you to decide how fair you think I’m being) and say that I actually think the original post has pretty much this problem as well when it complains about people not finding out the names of the naked butlers are the UK Meet (if nothing else, a lot of people did).

If I had to define objectification, I would say something like: it is when you behave towards a person or class of person in such a way that you deny their essential humanity and treat them instead as an object that exists only for your gratification.  Although sexual gratification is the most obvious form to consider, I think exclusive focus on it has led to this unhelpful blurring of the lines between fancying someone and objectifying them.  The complicated and disquieting reality is that it is possible for any behaviour or set of behaviours to be objectifying or not objectifying depending heavily on the context.

When you snap at a harried waiter for being slow with your bill you are, in a sense, objectifying them. You’re treating them as if they have no existence outside of the function they perform for you. Conversely, if you look at a naked butler and think “gosh, I’d like to have sex with that man” while maintaining an awareness that he’s an actual person with feelings, boundaries and priorities that do not necessarily coincide with yours, that might not be objectifying.  Conversely conversely, you can have a conversation with a naked butler in which you find out his name, personal history and whether or not he’s a drug addict but do so purely to gratify your desire to think of yourself as the sort of person who would have that sort of conversation, and never stop to think whether he actually wants to be talking to you. In which case, in a sense, you are objectifying him.  And to make things even more complicated, in any or all of these situations the person with whom you are interacting may or may not feel objectified by your behaviour and that may or may not correlate with whether your behaviour is, in your own head, objectifying.

One of the most objectifying things I’ve ever seen on the internet (and by on the internet, I mean in a part of the internet that I had, hitherto, chosen to frequent) was on a Facebook group that I quit shortly afterwards for reasons I hope will be apparent. The comment to which I objected was “ooh, plot bunny? :)”. The artefact that had inspired the comment was a video of Kevin Kantor’s performance poem People You May Know. A video in which a young man, obviously close to tears, recites a poem about how he felt when the man who raped him showed up on the “people you may know” tab on Facebook.

And the thing is, I understand where the commenter was coming from. Authors objectify. It’s what we do. We take real things that happen to real people and we turn them into imaginary things that happen to imaginary people, and then we sell those imaginary things to other real people for money. And, when you think about it like that, it’s kind of fucked up.

You do, as a writer, develop an instinct. You will hear a story or an anecdote or a poem and you will think to yourself “possible protagonist, possible opening chapter, possible story for a character to tell in a bar.” I catch myself doing this all the time. There are anecdotes I have stopped sharing with people because I’ve caught myself turning them into fiction and have forgotten that they were real things that happened to real people. And so, yes, when I listen to Kevin Kantor’s poem People You May Know, of course I think “possible idea for a novel, possible idea of an antagonist, possible romantic interest, possible series of shorts.”

But I like to think if I was talking about it on Facebook, I would have shown some fucking respect to the young man who stood up and told a story about how he felt when he found out that he and his rapist had three mutual friends. I like to think that whatever I had said about it, I wouldn’t have put a fucking smiley face at the end.

And, of course, even now I am arguably appropriating and objectifying again. I am taking this man’s experience and the art that this man made about his experience and I am, in essence, using it to score cheap points in an argument on the internet. But at least I know I’m doing it and at least it concerns me.

Do people objectify other people all the time?  Obviously they do. People hurt other people all the time. But that doesn’t mean that hurting people is something we should celebrate. Or that it is not something we should try to avoid. If someone who you claim to care about or who belongs to a group you claim to care about and to support stands up and says “this hurts me” it is profoundly callous to turn around and say “well you hurt people too.”

Which brings us to my next point.

On Being An Ally

I’m going to repeat myself here. If somebody you claim to care about or belongs to a group you claim to care about and to support says you are hurt them, here are a list of ways you should not respond:

  • By telling them at that they hurt other people
  • By telling them about the other people that you don’t hurt
  • By telling them how important the thing that hurts them is to you
  • By telling them that the thing that hurts them isn’t about them
  • By telling them that you don’t care if you hurt them, but that they should also be grateful because of how much you care about them

For some reasons that I can actually understand, a lot of people seem to have interpreted the original post as being about the old question of whether heterosexual woman can “authentically” write about gay men.  I mostly don’t read the post that way. There are a couple of bits where the author says that he feels the ways gay men are portrayed in m/m perpetuate  harmful stereotypes but he never actually said women shouldn’t be writing it. I suspect that part of the reason people have interpreted the post this way is because you’re only really allowed to have one of two opinions about the issue of heterosexual women who write male/male romance.

  1. It is inherently disgusting, appropriative and homophobic and should be stopped
  2. It is inherently supportive and empowering and doing it makes you the allyest ally out of all possible allies

Put simply, neither of these things are true. And, obviously, I’ve exaggerated both of them for rhetorical affect. Nevertheless, the community (and, again, I should stress that when I say “the community” I mean “a small number of people I perhaps wrongly assume are representative of m/m writers and readers as a whole”) continually speaks and acts as if reading and writing m/m is an inherently queer-friendly act. This is as absurd as insisting that reading magazines with pictures of women in them is inherently feminist.

The thing is, I do genuinely believe that the majority of heterosexual female m/m readers and writers really do want to support LGBTQ+ rights and causes, and a great many actively do, and by quite direct means. But the mere act of reading or writing m/m fiction does not, by itself, promote LGBTQ+ rights. Indeed, in some circumstances, it may be to their detriment if the fiction you are reading or writing reinforces harmful stereotypes or contributes to the fetishisation of gay men (which is a real thing) or otherwise undermines the notion that LGBTQ+ people are real human beings with real lives.

I’ve written about this before, but being an ally is something you do moment to moment. In any given instance, either you are behaving as an ally would behave or you are not. And it doesn’t matter what you’ve done previously or what you might do in the future. If a member of a marginalised group tells you they are upset by something and you ignore them, silence them or shout at them for posting anonymously you are, in that moment, not being an ally.

On By Women For Women

This is a tricky one. There are, if we’re being technical, six ways you can respond to the assertion that m/m is primarily written by and for heterosexual women.

  1. It is true and it is a good thing that it is true
  2. It is true and it is a bad thing that it is true
  3. It is true and it is neither good nor bad that it is true
  4. It is false and it is a good thing that it is false
  5. It is false and it is a bad thing that it is false
  6. It is false and it is neither good nor bad that it is false

Essentially the original post asserted (2) and, perhaps understandably, a lot of people came back in the comments and, on their own personal blogs, asserting (1).

I’m personally more inclined to assert either (3) or (6). That is, while I agree that a large number of m/m writers or readers are heterosexual women (and if we’re being complete about it, white, cisgendered middle class heterosexual, American women) I think it’s quite important not to erase, or minimise the contribution of, those writers or readers who do not fit into one or more of those categories. It isn’t a representative sample but of the writers and readers who contributed to Queer Romance Month in October, I’d estimate that between 60 and 70% were LGBTQ+ identified.

And, even if we do accept for a moment, that (white, middle class, cisgendered, American) heterosexual women do comprise more than half of the readership of m/m it isn’t immediately clear to me that this makes it morally desirable to privilege their preferences over those of other marginalised groups who are also within the community. There are difficult issues of intersectionality here because the relative balance of power between heterosexual women and homosexual men is, to put it bluntly, unclearly defined. But I generally consider it unhelpful for a literary genre, especially one predicated on diversity, to celebrate a lack of diversity within itself.

Furthermore, even if I were to accept that it is both factual and desirable for m/m romance to be primarily the purview of (white, middle class, cisgendered, American) heterosexual women it does not follow that these (white, middle class, cisgendered, American) heterosexual women have no responsibility to consider the affect that their literature has on the people it is about. People of colour do not lose the right to be offended by, say, the outrageously racist content of HP Lovecraft’s literary corpus simply because he did not write it with people of colour in mind.

Finally, I am actually genuinely completely happy for (white, middle class, cisgendered, American) heterosexual women who read and write m/m to say that they think it is both true and desirable for these books to be written by and for (white, middle class, cisgendered, American) heterosexual women. I am completely happy for people to say that they don’t think readers and writers of m/m romance should give two shits about what actual LGBTQ+ people feel about their books. That’s fine.

But can people who think that please stop also self-defining as allies. Or, at the very least, stop asserting their ally status in the same damn comment as they tell the LGBTQ+ identified to get the hell out the genre.

On Your Friends and Being One Of The Good Ones

These are two distinct issues that are sort of the same issue. And because I favour elegance of expression over clarity of structure, I’m going to deal with the second one first.

Quite a lot of the comments on the post I don’t particularly agree with are from gay men saying (and I paraphrase) “this is all bollocks, the m/m community is wonderful, I love all you awesome ladies, you are awesome ladies xoxo y so srs”. These comments then get a lot of replies saying (and, again, I’m paraphrasing, though not by much) things like “at last, thank you for being so sensible about this”, “I love you” and “you go girlfriend.”

To put this in the most general terms possible, people who belong to marginalised groups receive enormous validation from people who do not belong to those marginalised groups for declaring that they are not bothered by the ways in which their group is marginalised. You get exactly the same thing with complaints about sexism, in video-gaming, SFF and geek culture in general. A game, for example, will contain something obviously and manifestly sexist (like the way a scantily clad woman was used literally as a flag in the capture the flag mode in Duke Nukem Forever) and people will say “hang on, isn’t this a bit sexist?” prompting an avalanche of abuse and, more often than any of us should ever have to take for granted, rape threats. Then someone will pop up and say “I’m a woman and I find this empowering” or even just “I’m a woman and this doesn’t particularly bother me.” And they will be instantly lavished with the adoration of the community, which will be keen to be praise their good sense, intelligence and perspective. They will then forever more be pointed at every time anyone suggests that a game where you slap a half-naked woman to get her back to your base might have some issues with its portrayal of women.

And, obviously, there is nothing wrong with individual members of marginalised groups not being bothered by things that bother other members of that marginalised group. And there is nothing wrong with these people expressing their feelings. There is everything wrong with the existence of these people being used by those outside the marginalised group as a stick to beat people within the group who fail to live up to their example.  Or, in extreme cases, to deny that those people even exist.

I have genuinely had people tell me to my face that only misguided but well intentioned straight people object to the use of gay as a pejorative. I’ve had people tell me that only white atheist left wing intellectuals are bothered by depictions of the prophet Mohammed.  People will latch so strongly onto any example that absolves them of the responsibility to think about their behaviour that they will literally deny the existence of anybody who expresses an idea they don’t want to have to think about. Only three weeks ago on an episode of QI, Stephen Fry asserted with all the authority of a BBC presenter, as if it were an absolute and uncontroversial fact, that it’s completely okay to refer to Native Americans as “Indians”. He did this on the basis that there is a single institution called The American Indian Council. This would be fucking hilarious if it wasn’t so fucking depressing.

To put it another way, members of marginalised groups are under extraordinary social pressure to say they are not bothered by things. To avow as loudly and frequently as possible that the way things are is the way it is desirable for them to be. And, yes, some of them might genuinely be okay with it but there will be others who just don’t want to make waves.

Which brings us around to the gay friends. And, again, I will say that I am sure there are plenty of gay people who don’t mind gay being used a pejorative. I’m sure there are quite a lot of gay men who quite enjoy being slightly fetishised by straight women because, in a safe space, being fetishised can actually be quite fun, especially if you are (as the post I don’t particularly agree with pointed out) put on something of a pedestal.

But.

Every time I hear someone say that the thing that is being called out as inappropriate is okay because their mate is okay with it I always find myself wondering how honest their mate is being. Because, let’s face it, if you have to choose between spending your whole life explaining to your friends why their behaviour hurts you or just letting it go and accepting a low-key level of pain and discomfort as the price of being friends with your friends you are extraordinarily likely to choose the latter.

I had a friend at university who used to pick up (as in physically lift up) small women and they basically all hated it but he was such a nice guy and would retreat into such privileged obliviousness whenever anybody tried to talk to him about it that everybody just kind of put it up with it for literally years. And, if you’d asked him in that time, he would genuinely not for one second have considered the possibility that he was upsetting people. And if you had told him on the internet that women generally don’t like being randomly hoisted into the air by large men he would, I’m sure, have stridently and defiantly told you that he lifted his female friends up all the time and it was absolutely fine. He did eventually stop but only because he freaked someone out so badly she accidentally kicked him in the head.

As a rule, I don’t like to make assumptions about people I don’t know or to make too many sweeping generalisations but I confess that every time I hear someone say “I’ve got a friend who’s gay and they say it’s fine” I at least consider the possibility that what they’re really saying is “I have bullied my one gay friend into validating my homophobic behaviour and don’t even realise I’ve done it.”

In Conclusion

Wow. This was long.

In short then:

The original post and the replies to it are problematic because they’re both wrong in diametrically opposed ways. The original post significantly mischaracterises the m/m romance community and, I believe unthinkingly, conflates broad romance tropes with homophobic stereotypes. The replies, however, mostly ignore these issues and, instead, take the poster to task for his anonymity, his ingratitude towards his “allies” in the community, and his gender. In the process, the overwhelming message that the m/m community (and I should re-iterate what I said at the start of this post, which is that by the m/m community I really mean, ‘the small number of writers and readers who have directly commented on this and whose comments I consider to send this message, which may or may not be representative of the community as whole, whatever that even means’) sends back to him is: this genre is about you, not for you.

If that’s the message the community wants to send, then that is genuinely fine. But I think it’s something we should at least think about. And if, at the end of the day, we decide “yes that’s our position” then maybe, just maybe, we should stop patting ourselves on the back about how fucking inclusive we are.

romancelandia

41 Responses to I may not agree with what you say but i will try my best not to be a dick about it

  1. E says:

    Quite. And I think your second to last paragraph encapsulates the problem I have with a lot of the replies ot that (admittedly problematic) post, both in the comments, and on other blogs, and on some authors’ facebook pages: it gives the impression that gay men are the object, not the subject. I mean this in grammatical terms: they do not have agency, things are done to them. And if this is what the m/m genre really is, then that’s what it really is. But the m/m community doesn’t get to claim they’re LGBT allies if that’s what the genre really is. Stop telling me you’re my ally while at the same time telling me to shut up about how you depict people like me.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Basically this 🙂

      I’d be far less bothered by this kind of thing if people stopped trying to have it both ways. Either you’re an ally in which case you should damn well act like one or you’re not in which case you don’t have to.

      Backing up, I suppose you could argue that an individual writer or reader may sincerely desire to be an ally while also feeling that m/m romance is a genre distinct from LGBTQ+ fiction that is and should be primarily the purview of heterosexual women. Essentially this would be the equivalent of a fantasy reader trying not to be a racist while also liking the works of Howard and Lovecraft. That is, I think it’s possible to take a fan-of-problematic-things approach to it. Of course the thing about being a fan of problematic things is that when someone points out the ways in which the thing of which you are a fan is problematic the correct response is to listen and to say “I accept all of these things but I still find value in it. I am aware that my ability to find value in the problematic thing is a consequence of my privilege.”

      • Pam/Peejakers says:

        I gotta say, I *really* love how you counterpoint even your own arguments 🙂 Well, I do this too, but I end up wandering off & getting lost 😉

        Hmm. Yeah, of course that’s true, on the way to be a fan of problematic things. But of course, that requires being willing to not only accept but live with an ongoing sense that you are doing something problematic. Which is highly uncomfortable & discomfort seems to be a thing we tend to avoid like the plague. And I genuinely think a lot of people struggle with or outright reject the concept of privilege, or at least that they have it.

        It’s really only something I’ve come to understand recently myself. Like, I used to think, in outraged tones, it’s not “privilege”!! It’s what everyone *should* have! As in, it’s not a mountain top, its ground level, everything below that is in a hole. But I’ve come to realize that isn’t really true, or even possible in many cases. Like, you can’t realistically say, for example, everyone in the world should be able to live like a billionaire or a millionaire, or even, based some things I’ve heard, a modest middle class person – because there are literally not enough resources in the world to support that lifestyle for every human on this earth. Which is really depressing. So if that’s true, it means to some extent everything we have, we have essentially because someone else *doesn’t* have it.

        It’s more difficult to apply to social justice, but I think to some degree the same thing has to be true. Like, it’s easier than it should be for non-marginalized people to, for example, compete for jobs, *because* the ability of marginalized people is artificially depressed by their marginalization. Or something.

        And wow, did I ever go off on a tangent, sorry! And on a comment to a comment, no less. I blame you entirely, of course, you make me thinky 😉

  2. Shannon McEwan says:

    “I had a friend at university who used to pick up (as in physically lift up) small women and they basically all hated it but he was such a nice guy and would retreat into such privileged obliviousness whenever anybody tried to talk to him about it that everybody just kind of put it up with it for literally years. ”

    Great example – speaking as a small woman who was randomly hoisted into the air many times during her teens/twenties by various nice-guy-dicks. I never liked it. Thank goodness I’m older now, and more articulate 🙂

    • Liz says:

      Same! This bit really stood out to me, too, because it’s, well, very vivid and familiar. (I am so glad she kicked him in the head.)

      • Alexis Hall says:

        It is depressing how often this sort of thing comes up. Depressing, but I think worryingly understandable. We are pretty much hard-wired to believe our own behaviour is okay and are very, very good at ignoring evidence to the contrary.

  3. beverley jansen says:

    I’m outrageously pleased that my comments in a group on Facebook seem to match yours here, although as ever you have written, if not more succinctly, more eloquently than I. I have to add that even though the post was wrong in some assumptions and not coherent about others, the unhappiness this person felt in order to post this in the first place, is never taken into account by the commenters. This really distressed me.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I very much agree that the seemingly wilful indifference to the original poster’s feelings was one of the many, many things that profoundly troubled me about this whole debacle.

  4. I seriously hunt through your posts searching for SOMETHING I can disagree with just so I won’t feel like such a total sycophant, but as usual, I have been unable to find anything.

    So – I agree. As usual. Carry on.

    • Des Livres says:

      To quote Kate Sherwood – “I agree, as usual, carry on.”

      • Alexis Hall says:

        Errr, I want to say thank you but it seems a bit odd to say thank you for agreeing with me 🙂 But, err, thank you anyway 🙂

        • Des Livres says:

          Your posts tend to cover the field of any argument/issue you are dealing with, so there is often little to add.

          I went and had a look at the guy’s post and comments after reading your post here, and realised that no comment I could make could add anything of value, here or there, otherwise than to offer support.

  5. Liz says:

    This post is great for many reasons, mostly that it’s incredibly thoughtful and smart. So, just…thank you. I just…really appreciate how you took every argument and weighed it out and put into words what was brewing in my head but I couldn’t articulate. Much like Kate said above, I also thought, look, there has to be something I could disagree with, but…there wasn’t. So, sycophantic head-nodding it is. 🙂

  6. readslate says:

    Very eloquent. I think your read of the situation and response to it is measured, logical, and sensitive. I agree that “allies” need to be aware of the ways that despite probable good intentions and sympathic spirits, that they may in fact be acting the part of the enemy. To make a comparison, I have a friend, a white, upper middle class, American, heterosexual, privileged woman and we have similiar demographics, who often loudly states “I’m black” or “I’m a sista” to young black men. I’ve told her it makes me uncomfortable; she replies I don’t understand because she has a black friend that supports her assertion… Privilege has its burden and blindness. We must be diligent to the ways our privilege shows itself despite education, sensitive, and good intentions.
    Nicely done. Well put. I do like your writing Alexis–fiction and non-fiction.. and I like the way you step calmly into any lion’s mouth.
    Cheers.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Yeah, things like that make me really uncomfortable as well. I find it particularly disorientating when you are literally talking about this person’s one [insert minority here] friend. Like surely my friend who is an [x] is such a cliché that you’d think people in the 2010s (and the mid 2010s at that) would have some self-awareness about it.

      To, again, do my best to be fair to people I think it’s partly that we naturally care more about how things affect those close to us than how they affect quite abstract groups of people we haven’t met. I might also point out that, from a certain point of view, the consensus the internet builds up about what is and isn’t acceptable is almost just a crowd sourced token minority friend. You could make the case that the fact that the internet social justice community prefers Native Americans to American Indians is no more pertinent than the fact that some Native Americans clearly actually prefer the term American Indian.

      And thank you for your kind words 🙂

      • Pam/Peejakers says:

        Omg: “from a certain point of view, the consensus the internet builds up about what is and isn’t acceptable is almost just a crowd sourced token minority friend.” I had to think about that one for a minute, before I got it, but wow. I never thought about it like that before, but that’s just such a really, really interesting thought.

  7. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Well, I thought I *really* probably shouldn’t respond to this with “I love you!” *snort* so I shall refrain 😉

    But, I completely agree. And, sigh. I know, this stuff is really getting old. I thought there were tons if issues with the original post, but I was really disturbed by the fact, here is this person saying, this hurts me, no matter how problematically, & the only reaction is to do the verbal equivalent of throwing rocks at him. I kept trying to comment on the original post, but I realized I would be commenting to the commenters instead & found myself going off on tangents of my own, so I gave up. You’ve said it all (and more) here anyway, & much better. I just hate that it had to be said.

  8. KJ Charles says:

    A thing I have come to realise recently is this: If you’re in the majority group in a discussion about the rights of a less privileged group (white in a race discussion, male in a women’s issues discussion, cis het in LGBTQ issues, etc), and someone in the minority says something that makes you cross and hurt and upset and feel like shouting “No, that’s not fair, I’m not like that, #NotAllPrivilegedPeople”… that is exactly the time to shut up more and empathise harder. Because being an ally isn’t about picking the low hanging fruit, eg bravely condemning the Westboro Baptist Church.

    What I mean is, it’s really easy to agree that, say, American police shouldn’t shoot black children in playgrounds, but it’s a lot harder for a nice well-meaning white person in a liberal publishing house to face the fact that all your colleagues and 95% of your authors and 80% of the main characters in the books you publish have the same skin tone as you, and you’ve done nothing to change that. It’s easy to be upset about gay people being murdered by ‘religious’ psychopaths, but it’s quite hard to say, ‘This thing that I define as a harmless pleasure is in fact felt as harmful by a lot of people and I’ve never even thought about that, and actually I don’t want to change my behaviour now.’

    To be quite honest, the number of people in the m/m romance community who absolutely refuse to acknowledge the possibility that their behaviour might be hurtful to others is appalling. That was very obvious over the naked butler thing, it was obvious again over the slave book thing, and it’s obvious now. Because, actually, even if you believe that naked butlers are great, the slave book was freedom of expression and that blog post was stupid, it is not okay to tell people they ought to agree with your beliefs or STFU.

    I have seen people on FB basically say, ‘I know who wrote that post’ in a threatening manner, with the heavy implication they could reveal his identity if they chose. In a self-defined ‘LGBT+’ community, making implied threats to out someone because they spoke out of turn. I don’t even know what to say about that.

    • Pam/Peejakers says:

      Yeah, my thought is always that, those things others say that make us feel defensive? Personally, I find that that’s often because I recognize a kernel of truth that makes me uncomfortable. Which means, time to step away from an argument; stop shoring up my walls. It’s a time for some honest & unflinching self-reflection, not for knee-jerk counterattacks, or counterarguments that bolster your own point, as if you’re in a debate & the only thing that matters is for your side to win.

    • Kaetrin says:

      Yes, KJ, agree. Shutting up and listening and stilling the knee-jerk reactions – a good response by a person with greater privilege.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Unsurprisingly, I basically agree with all of this 🙂 The point where any ideology becomes valuable is that point where it actually requires you to change your behaviour or your self-image. And it’s — and I’m aware I’m saying this a lot — depressing how many people hold firmly to sets of beliefs which work up until that point and no further. I’m a feminist until a woman disagrees with me. I’m a queer ally until a gay person disagrees with me. I support the rights of disabled people right up until someone tells me I’ve got to saying “lame”.

      Basically people are very good at seeing injustice at a distance and very bad at seeing it close to. To draw a somewhat tangential analogy, it’s rather like meritocracy. An enormous number of people deep down believe that everybody who is less successful than they are is either lazy or untalented. And everybody who is more successful than they are is simply lucky. The system works and flawlessly distributes rewards as they are deserved right up until my level and then it goes screwy and starts handing out stuff for free to losers and nincompoops.

    • jillw says:

      Sometimes it’s difficult to see that you’re reacting defensively while you’re doing so. I fear that if I had read the original post before this article, I might have “poo-pood” that post as well. Thankfully, a friend directed me here first and I was able to step back and think before I started typing. Here’s hoping I remember this lesson because there will be more posts and articles like this with random hateful comments.

      On a side note, I wish I hadn’t read the comments.

      • Pam/Peejakers says:

        “Sometimes it’s difficult to see that you’re reacting defensively while you’re doing so.” Yes, this is so true. I’ve actually kind of managed to train myself to do that much less over the last two years, as a direct result of regularly reading this blog 🙂

    • Erica Pike says:

      I’m probably that one you saw saying that I knew who wrote that post. And I do know who wrote it, but I never said (or meant to say) it in a threatening manner. II haven’t shared the name with anyone and never intended to, like I said I wouldn’t. I said that I knew who it was to make a point that I’ll make here. The thing with this person is that he appears to have a serious problem with women in general. It felt to me that he was writing his post as an outlet to lash out at women. He has done it before and I have no doubt he will do it again. I think this has more to do with him objecting to women stepping on his turf (he’s used those exact words in regard to women writing gay romances, and he’s called them sex crazed pigs (or some such), and other disrespectful things) than him feeling objectified. Had it been anyone else, his post would not have upset me as much and I would have tried to be more understanding about where he was coming from (because he did have a couple of good points). But then there’s also the fact that Matthew Darringer was someone who made a massive objection to women writing gay romances a few years back. It turned out that Matthew was a fake persona who’d spent months and countless hours getting female writers of gay romances to open up to him in private posts. We were very good friends at first, but then I started distancing myself when his posts became more and more aggressive toward women. We never learned his true agenda about why he did what he did, all that catfishing and then revealing things women had confided in him and more. A Twitter comment where he’s joking with a friend (under his real name) suggests that he did it because he simply enjoyed riling up women. I don’t know. What I do know was that he, too, had a serious problem with women. He, too, wrote very nasty things about them in general. Once he was found out, he left behind a massive rift and damage in the m/m community and people sat down and scratched their heads as they wondered what the hell had happened. So the experience with him has left me on guard when it comes to this discussion and I’ll admit that I do get overly defensive. It’s not fair to men who actually do feel uncomfortable with how gay men are represented in gay romances. I try to take Matthew out of the equation, but it’s proving difficult. A lot of female writers of gay romances probably also think “Matthew Darringer” when these debates come up and probably also get unnecessarily defensive (and sometimes aggressive) as a result. Again, it’s not fair, but separating Matthew from the topic is very hard for me. He (and two other catfishers) did a number my trust of people being who they say they are and meaning what they say they mean.

      I tried to be as diplomatic in my comment to Anonymous’ post as I could, but then I saw him fanning the flames on Facebook and I made the mistake of getting involved in the discussions. When I got more irritated I should have just walked away, but I kept on debating (it’s a personal flaw of mine that I’m very well aware of, but usually not until afterward). I still stand by what I said in my comment to his post: Gay fiction and gay romance fiction is not the same thing. Just as hetero romances are often unrealistic, so are gay romances. If we’re to stop writing gay romances because they’re giving a skewered view on gay men and/or same-sex relationships, then we might as well insist that people stop writing hetero romances because they give a skewered view on men and woman and opposite-sex relationships (trust me, many men have complained about their women having unrealistic expectations to their relationship because of romance books). Hetero erotic romances are also choc-full of sex, so it’s not just gay erotic romances. I think that some men don’t understand how romance books work and that’s what causes them to be upset, because they’re expecting more realism. Some (like Anonymous) feel that gay romances should not be written for pure enjoyment (that is, enjoyment of the romance, not necessarily the sex), that they should be written only with realism, and that they should only be written by gay men who have first hand experience.

      That said, I don’t write my books for women. I write them for both men and women (or just anyone who will read them). I find it upsetting that some authors only write with women in mind. I feel it’s even more upsetting that some authors think that the gay romance community is no place for gay men! If we’re writing about gay characters, we should have gay male readers in mind. And if we’re writing about gay characters, gay men most certainly have a massive place in the gay romance community. Some of the comments on Facebook opened my eyes to that kind of closed-minded, self-entitled nonsense that I hadn’t seen before.

      On the pictures and objectifying men: I’m all for removing said pictures. I don’t post them on my Facebook wall or blog and I don’t need to see them. When I do see a picture of a hot man, it’s not the body that makes him hot; it’s always the eyes and/or smile. I’d much rather see fully clothed men with stunning eyes and beautiful smiles than faceless, naked bodies. I do also enjoy artistic photographs of human bodies, of both men and women, young and old, overweight and skinny and everything in between. I think they’re beautiful.

      • Alexis Hall says:

        Hi Erika, thank you for the comment. I’m having trouble knowing how to respond to this. I think we have very different assumptions about the etiquette of online discourse. Because, as far as I’m concerned, if you think you know who this anonymous poster is you should either a) just say or b) not mention it at all. Currently it feels like you’re asking people to change their reaction both to the post and to your responses to it on the basis of information that you refuse to share with them. For the record, I don’t think you should out people who have chosen to remain anonymous but equally I don’t think you should say “I totally know who this person is and they’ve done other things that mean you shouldn’t agree with them.”

        Obviously, because I don’t know the context and I don’t know what else this person has apparently written in venues that only you know about, I don’t really know what the real situation is here (which is why I responded to the post on its own merits). But I will say that – meaning no disrespect – I’m inclined to take your comments with a pinch of salt because my own experience tells me that men who criticise this community tend to accused of misogyny largely irrespective of what they say.

        I know for a fact that, had I written that post (or, for that matter, this post) there are people in this community who would happily say “I know who wrote this and I know he likes to lash out at women.” It was, in fact, one of the criticisms raised when I complained about the naked butlers at the UK LGBTQ Fiction Meet.

        And, obviously, I normally really don’t like it when questions about social justice issues get derailed into arguments about whether it’s appropriate for a particular member of the socially dominant group to be described with a particular adjective – that is, I don’t find it particularly helpful when discussions of race issues devolve into “is okay to call [x] a racist” or discussions of gender issues devolve into “is it okay to call [x] a misogynist”. But what we’re talking about here is slightly different. In that this is, as I see it, a discussion of LGBTQ issues and so the question of whether the original poster has expressed sexist opinions elsewhere seems actively derailing.

        At the risk of appropriating a number of things that don’t affect me personally, it strikes me as the equivalent of commenting on a post about the problematic way in which the western media ignored the bombings in Beirut and Turkey in favour of an exclusive focus on Paris with a complaint about the position of women in Islam. Even if it’s a legitimate comment in a vacuum, it’s not relevant to the point under discussion.

        Also – and this is a slightly tangential point and a really minor niggle – when I talked about fetishising and objectifying people in the main post, one of the things I was quite keen to stress is that, in my opinion, we really need to stop conflating objectification with interest in sex. Obviously your preferences are your preferences, but from my perspective it’s no less fetishising to focus on somebody’s eyes than their chest or their arse.

        I’d even argue that this is why so many nerd boys have such profoundly fucked up attitudes to women. There’s this idea that when you’re talking to a woman what matters is whether you’re thinking about her eyes or her tits when in reality what matters is whether you care if she wants to be talking to you. In the same way, if a person treats gay men as existing solely to fulfil his or her fantasies then, from my point of view, that is objectifying whether those fantasies involve big dicks and bare buttocks or long slow walks in the moonlight.

        I should probably point out that this last niggle was one of my points of disagreement with Anon’s post as well.

        • Erica Pike says:

          No, actually we don’t have different assumptions about the etiquette of online discourse. What I said back then was in a fit of anger at this person, and I never should have said it. It was a dickish move on my part. I wanted to out him, but I felt that was crossing the line. What I didn’t realize until later was that I did cross the line. Like I said, I should have walked away from the discussion.

          Feel free to take what I wrote with all the salt you need. But had I not known who this person was, I never would have claimed to know him. I’ll understand if you don’t believe that. I’m not in the habit of lying, especially about something like this, but since I’m a stranger to you I can’t expect you to trust me.

          I don’t agree that finding someone attractive for their eyes and smile is fetishzing (or at least not in all cases). I think it’s just finding someone attractive. I don’t linger on the image and start fantasizing about the guy. I think that the discussion of objectifying and fetishizing has gotten out of control, because you can’t find anyone attractive anymore at risk of being accused of objectifying the person. I’m not just talking about the gay romance community, but objectification in general. People assume things about other people that they don’t know anything about. For example, people have no idea what goes through my mind when I see a photo of a stunning man or woman. So how can they accuse me of objectifying if I say that I find him or her attractive? It’s not like a porno movie stars playing in my mind starring him or her and myself. No, I just find him/her attractive and move on. Where I’m concerned (and you seem to agree), that’s not objectifying, simply finding someone attractive. I have never imagined any of my male friends (gay, bi or het) having sex. I don’t want to see any of them have sex because it would be like watching a family member have sex. I don’t discuss my sex life with them and they don’t discuss theirs with me. And if I don’t strike up a conversation with an attractive person and instead admire from afar it’s because I lack the confidence to put myself out there to get to know them better. Many, many, many women (and men) are the same way. We respect our male and female friends and treat them like true friends. It’s just that those who truly do objectify and fetishize men are very loud about it.

          I don’t think that how Anonymous has expressed sexist comments elsewhere is irrelevant, because they are very likely the reason behind his post. They were very relevant back when he talked about this on his Facebook wall, about women writing gay romances with such deep disgust that my jaw literally dropped. We talked in private messages after that, where he finally agreed that not all women were butchering these books (and he wrote that allowance in his Anonymous post), but I do feel that his deep disgust of women affects his objection. If he was not so much against women, he might not feel that they’re “stepping on his turf.” I also think that these objections of women misrepresenting/fetishizing/objectifying gay men would be much, much more powerful (and better accepted) if they were written by non-authors, because it would eliminate the possible factor of envy and competition altogether (I’m not saying that envy and competition is always plays a part, but you can’t deny that the possibility of it causes suspicion). But I accept if you disagree with me on this. That’s okay. But that said, I agree that there are many, many books that do misrepresent and fetishize gay men. I’m not saying there aren’t any. I even feel that my first two novels do it. I was so wet behind the ears when I wrote them. I was figuring out my own sexual identity back then so I feel that I went way overboard with the sex. I’m dying to get my rights back to fix them, but I have to wait another year.

          With all this recent talk of fetishizing (which I agree takes place) and objectifying (which I also agree takes place), I’ve begun questioning my part in all this (and this is not the first time I’ve aired these questions) . I thought I was doing good, shining light on LGBTQ+ issues with my books (and there are such issues in every book), but may be that I’m not. I don’t want to be seen as fetishizing or objectifying men. It upsets me and I’m saddened to tears of the idea of quitting, but if I’m truly misrepresenting gay and bi men, causing them discomfort, hurting them, and my works are seen as me objectifying and fetishzing them, then I think it’s best to quit. I don’t want to be a part of anything ugly like that. I will rather focus on my LGBTQ+ community in Iceland (I’m recently out and proud) and do good deeds there rather than hurt the cause I’m trying to help. This is something I’m going to have to think about long and hard. Snap decisions have never worked well for me in the past. It’s part of why I haven’t published anything in a long, long time, I’m so afraid of offending the very group I’m writing about. I’m still adamant about moving LGBTQ+ matters forward, and I sill love writing and reading gay romances (by both men and women), but I think that maybe I shouldn’t write them anymore. Or maybe write them without any sex in them. I don’t know.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            Again I still think we’re talking kind of at cross purposes. When I say we have different perceptions of the etiquette of online discourse, I am saying not only that it is inappropriate to out or threaten to out this guy but also that it is inappropriate to carry on talking about the fact you know, or think you know, who he is. That is, either say who it is or stop saying you know who it is and making statements about his behaviour elsewhere. This isn’t about whether I trust you or not. Either you are going to respect this guy’s desire for anonymity, in which case this conversation is about the post and only the post. Or you aren’t, in which case you’re asking people to consider a wider context in which case you do, in fact, need to give up a name. With this in mind, I’m not going engage with the question of what this person may have said elsewhere on Fb or to you in private because I genuinely think it isn’t appropriate.

            Just briefly on the issue of fetishisation. I wrote a long section on this above and I do recognise that my interpretation of these ideas is actually quite unusual but, again, I would stress that while I agree with you that just finding someone attractive isn’t inherently fetishishising or objectifying it is important to recognise that this is true irrespective of what about them you are attracted to. Again, you seem to be concerned that your books might be too fetishising if they have too much sex in them. But the sex is not really the issue. You can make quite a strong case that the gay best friend is a fetishising or objectifying archetype because it turns gay men into an accessory for straight women. The fact that gay best friends seldom, if ever, have any sex is actually part of what of what makes it problematic.

            As I said in the post, I would argue that objectification exists when you treat a person as if they exist only to fulfil the functions for which you require them (be that function a sexual fantasy or patting yourself on the back about what a big ally you are). I’d argue that sexual objectification is simply one of the more visible forms of it.

          • Erica Pike says:

            When I said I had already crossed a line, I meant I’d crossed it by telling him that I knew who he was. For the third time I’ll say that it was something I shouldn’t have done. The reason I replied to your post in the first place was to own up to what I did and say that I was wrong to do it. What I’ve tried to do here is explain the reason behind what I did (what was going through my mind at the time). But I’m also trying to say (and clearly failing) that it doesn’t excuse or justify what I did.

            I don’t have a “gay best friend.” My best friend is female. I just have “friends” and straight, gay, or bi, male or female or gender queer, I would never discuss personal sexual matters with them or picture them in a sexual way. I don’t think that’s unnatural of me or me somehow turning a friend into a purse or accessory because I don’t picture them in bed with someone. Not everyone does that, and probably most don’t. It kind of feels like you’re saying that if I were to picture them having sex I’d be objectifying them, but if I don’t picture them having sex I’m turning them into accessories. In your opinion, is there no way a woman can be friends with a gay man without objectifying him or turning him into an accessory?

            Now, I’ve said my bit and I’m stepping away from this discussion. For my own peace of mind, I need to learn to keep my mouth shut.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            I’m sorry you feel the need to step away. I just think we’re having a real failure of communication here. And you seem to keep responding to things that I don’t think I’m saying. I’ve certainly never mentioned anything about anyone visualising sex with anyone else.

            On Anonymity: I do, in fact, appreciate that you came here to say that you were the one who’d said you knew who this guy was and that you said it inadvertently and out of anger. What bothered me about your last couple of posts is that much of your position seemed to rely on your re-iterating the fact that you know who this guy is and have quite specific beliefs about him. Essentially I felt like you were saying “I was wrong to say who I knew who he was but, let’s be clear, I definitely knew who he was and the fact I know things about him is very important to this discussion.”

            Basically it felt to me like you were apologising for saying something while saying it again.

            I’m very happy to discuss the contents of the post with you. But what I feel is inappropriate is discussing the contents of the post in the context of whatever additional information you may have about this person.

            I appreciate that on one level you’re just trying to explain that your previous experience with the poster may have coloured your reaction but you still seem to be asking people to take your previous experience into account when responding to the post. And that, again, strikes me as problematic.

            On objectification: I *really* don’t think I’m getting my point across here. When I talked about the gay best friend I was talking about the fictional trope common in the 1990s and early 2000s and still seen today. I was using it as an example of how something could be objectifying without being in any way sexual.

            I absolutely do not care what anyone imagines doing to anyone. What happens in the privacy of your own head is your business. What matters is, to put this in the most general and non-specific terms possible, is when Person A treats Person B as if Person B has no function except to service the needs of Person A. And, yes, this can mean men treating women like they only exist to cook meals and be ogled at. It can mean western people treated other countries as if they only exist to provide tourists with interesting cultural experiences. It means treating queer people as if they only exist for straight people to wank or squee over. It can also mean treating members of a marginalised group as if they only exist to validate the status of other people as allies.

            Again, I’m very confused here because I think I’ve said several times quite clearly that from me (admittedly not terribly conventional perspective) objectification at its heart has very little to do with sex. And a great deal to do with blindness to one’s own privilege and the tendency to treat others as if they’re not fully human. Somehow you seem to keep interpreting this as my saying basically the opposite.

  9. KatieMc says:

    Thank you for this thoughtful post. Defensive response to opinions that don’t match your own is usually an instinctive reaction, and giving counter examples from your own experience usually follow. What you have carefully illustrated is that we need to get over our initial reactions and think more thoughtfully about what is being said. And we need to recognize that our personal experiences (with mm, the LGBTQ community, or whatever) are just that. Just because something has been positive for you doesn’t mean it’s positive for everyone, or worse, it may be hurting others. Honestly sometimes I feel like I need to go back to primary school again to re-learn these basic ideas.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I agree that it’s natural to respond defensively to things that you feel are, well, attacking you and the problem is that not reacting defensively is a skill you have to quite consciously learn. And these are, as you say, basically principles you learn in primary school but I think what this shows us is that some of the skills you learn in primary school are surprisingly sophisticated.

  10. Fiona Pickles says:

    I won’t say that I agree with absolutely every word, but you’ve articulated a lot of things that disquieted me about the exchange. I do feel the anonymous author had a valid point – not very well expressed – about the way some authors seem to objectify/fetishise gay men. (Whether or not these authors are all female, I have no way of knowing.) Nobody who feels they are being objectified should be expected to keep quiet about it, and whether we agree with the writer’s POV or not we should at least listen to it and treat it with respect. Asserting that our genre (whatever we call it) is or should be the exclusive preserve of straight women is naive at best; I’ve even heard the view expressed that gay men reading these books is somehow ‘creepy’. What I think some people forget is that gay authors have been writing straight romances for *ever*, and nobody suggests that there’s anything wrong or creepy about that; in short, we should all be able to share stories equally – and the quality of the writing should really be the only point at issue.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think that’s very fair. As you said, I think the thing I found most troubling about this was that somebody who had taken the time to explain why he felt harmed by something was essentially being told to shut up and go away.

  11. Dianna says:

    I am sorry that you received such a nasty response to your Inclusive Spaces post, I thought it was very interesting and thoughtful. I hope you don’t receive a similar response to this one.

    Social media is very enticing but it is a scary and hurtful place where it is easy to be a bully. Although most people do use it responsibly, some seem to forget or to ignore the fact that the person behind the blog or post or comment is a real person who can be hurt and should be treated accordingly. The things some people say online are horrific and/or totally insensitive and just make you wonder what these individuals are like in real life.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I suspect in real life they’re basically fine. Or at least their behaviour is problematic in ways that don’t particularly overlap with the ways its problematic on the internet. Hilariously, it strikes me that quite a lot of pointless hostility this post attracted seems to have been grounded in the told fallacy Anonymity Is The Problem With The Internet. When it, frankly, isn’t.

  12. Dianna says:

    On a complete tangent, the link to type in a search for someone is new to me, and is a bit scary!

  13. Wendy Clements says:

    Thank you. A really good post, with a lot to think about.

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