inclusive spaces: ur doin’ it rong

So there’s been a flood of photos on Twitter and Fb from the UK LGBTQ Fiction Meet dinner and an awful lot of them seem to include, well, naked dudes. I have several things I want to say on this subject but they all basically boil down to the title of this post.

First off, let’s be clear that I have no problem with nudity, strippers, pornography or any other form of self-expression.  I’m a grown up and I’m fully capable of editing my interactions with the world to include things I like and exclude things that bother me. The issue isn’t so much naked dudes as the identification of naked dudes with LGBTQ fiction. I’m fine with sexual titillation in its place, but I don’t think that place should be at a convention supposedly celebrating a category of fiction defined by the identities of its protagonists rather than the explicitness of its sexual content. If I was at a BDSM convention or an erotic romance convention or, hell, even a hen night I would have no problem with seeing entirely or mostly naked dudes wandering around. But I wouldn’t expect to see any at, say, the launch of a cookbook or a cast party for a production of Wicked or, for that matter, at RWA or RT.

As always, this is going to get onto shaky ground because I’m going to draw analogies here with gender issues. But basically this is exactly the same problem you get with booth babes at videogaming events and with Page 3. (Brief note for American readers, who may not be aware of this, there is a convention in UK tabloid newspapers, especially The Sun, of having topless models on the third page. There’s a relatively strong campaign to abolish this practice). At its core, the issue is this: when you associate your product, service or event with the strongly sexualised image of a person or group of people you send the clear message that your product, service or event is for those who find that person or group of people sexually attractive and not for anybody else. In fact, it’s not even that because it’s not like Page 3 girls are there to appeal to lesbians. So you’re really sending the message that your product, service or event is for the demographic most conventionally and uncritically assumed to be attracted to the person or group of people in question, while even excluding other demographics who may coincidentally find that person or group of people attractive.

Now there are times when “this is product, service, or event is for those who find this person or group of people sexually attractive” is exactly the message you want to send. If, for example, you’re advertising porn or a dating service. Or even, more callously, products, services and events with a heavily gendered market. For example, the presumed market for video games is white, heterosexual cisgendered men between the ages of 18 and 35. And if your only goal is to sell video games to that specific market then flagging your products as being for them and not for anyone else is probably good business, even if it is alienating and offensive to a lot of people who don’t fall into the magic demographic.

Being told, even indirectly, that something is not for you is upsetting. It’s even more upsetting when that thing is something that should be for everybody. The strongest complaint people have about Page 3 is that pictures of topless women really don’t belong in anything calling itself a newspaper. And probably the only thing worse than being implicitly excluded from something that should be universal is being implicitly excluded from something that is explicitly about you. And, obviously, one can generalise that gay men are probably into naked dudes just as much as straight women are (although, again, I don’t know that many queer women who feel welcomed into gaming by the presence of booth babes) but even this highlights a huge number of really problematic associations that I find profoundly troubling.

So troubling that the only way I have to handle them is with a numbered list.

Association Number 1

LGBTQ means gay men. If you’re trying to create an environment that welcomes people across the spectrum of sexuality and gender-identity, how on earth can you think it’s appropriate to privilege the sexualities of the most represented LGBTQ identity and the group of heterosexual people with whom their preferences overlap? It is as unacceptable to use a naked man to stand for the sexualities of all queer people as it is to use a heterosexual white dude to stand for all of humanity. And, yes, I know we’ve doing that for centuries but could we maybe please kinda stop?

Association Number 2

LGBTQ identity is overtly sexual. Somewhere along the line, that nebulous and ill-defined entity we call mainstream culture got the idea that the defining feature of an LGBTQ lifestyle was being all about sex all the time. Never mind that many would argue that asexuality is a legitimate LGBTQ identity. Or that LGBTQ people have struggled for years, and continue to struggle, for their relationships to be recognised as being as valid, as nuanced, as varied and as complex as heterosexual relationships. And, obviously, it’s complicated because people whose sexualities have been historically repressed can be quite militant about expressing those sexualities but there is a world of difference between individual LGBTQ people choosing to behave in overtly sexual ways and hiring a bunch of naked waiters in order to make your book event seem gayer.

Association Number 3

LGBTQ fiction is erotic romance. Again, I’d point out that even romance events don’t normally include naked dudes but I could just about accept naked waiters at a literary convention if that convention really was about erotic fiction. I’d be happy to accept all male naked waiters if that convention really was about erotic m/m fiction. But unlike Ronseal Quick Drying Wood Stain that’s not what it says on the tin. There is no way you can possibly argue that a genderqueer SFF writer or a lesbian YA author are in any way represented by a bunch of naked men. And I don’t mind if people want to have conventions in which people who like to look at naked dudes and read books about naked dudes want to get together to talk about naked dudes while naked dudes serve them drinks. That’s absolutely fine. But then please don’t call it an LGBTQ Fiction Meet. Because it’s, well, not one.

Association Number 4

Gay men are the sort of people you’d like to see naked. Again, I don’t want to speak for people that I’m not, but I suspect part of the reason that I’ve never heard a lesbian come out in favour of booth babes is that when you try to sell your product, service or event using highly sexualised images you’re not just telling people who aren’t attracted to those images that they’re unwelcome, you’re also telling people who might see themselves reflected in those images that those images represent the standard to which they are held. Even if you fancy women, being told that, in this environment, women are expected to have a 32 inch waist, a DD cup and visible underboob is off-putting. Even if you fancy men, being told that, in this environment, men are expected to be tall, well-built and constantly flashing their taut, fruit-of-your-choice-like arses is also kind of off-putting.

Association Number 5

Gay men are for sex. And, obviously, it’s really difficult to talk about the objectification of men because of literally millennia of social and cultural context and this gets into really deep intersectionality issues but it is not okay to a treat a group of people as disposable sex candy. Or to assume that a group of people treats each other as disposable sex candy. At the risk of over-generalising, pretty much all social justice issues come back to the simple fact that it is terrifyingly easy to forget that other people are real. There is nothing wrong with liking to look at hot, naked dudes, but there is something deeply wrong with making hot and naked your default portrayal of any group of human beings.  Because it can and does lead to treating that group of human beings like they can be expected to get hot and naked on demand.

I sort of feel I should have a conclusion for this but I’ve pretty much said everything I have to say, some of it twice. Yet again, I’m not anti-sex, I’m not anti-nudity, I’m not anti-fun. But I’m quite anti the idea that “naked waiters” and “LGBTQ fiction” are two great tastes that go great together.

angst, musing

139 Responses to inclusive spaces: ur doin’ it rong

  1. jeannie says:

    it’s the kind of image that leads to the “backs to the wall” comments when people talk about gay men. The assumption that just because someone likes men they want to score with ALL men regardless of any attraction. It doesn’t happen with women for some reason – well, not that I’ve noticed…You’d think an organisation supposedly knowing better would – well, just know better (OK its sunday and the coffee hasn’t yet infused!!) .

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think that’s one of the many reasons I find the strong hot naked dudes focus of some of the m/m community so difficult to deal with. And, obviously, as Lloyd points out elsewhere on this thread it’s complicated because people whose sexualities have been oppressed have been very defiant in expressing their sexualities and for a lot of people this is very important. For some people, it is genuinely liberating to be able to say I’m a dude and I like dudes and I’m going to surround myself with hot, scantily dudes because I can damn well can.

      I think the double standard about men and women is understandable not in the sense of being reasonable or sensible but in the sense of aligning with centuries of similar double standards. Male sexuality is seen as aggressive and active and, well, penetrating. While female sexuality is seen as passive and yielding and, in extreme cases, non-existent. I’m not a 100% certain how true this is historically but it’s often said that lesbianism was not made illegal in the UK because Queen Victoria could not imagine women would do such things. I should also point out that I very much don’t want to speak for queer women and I don’t actually know how to what extent women who are attracted to women experience “bums to the wall” analogues when dealing with their female friends. If I had to guess, I’d say it varies a lot from person to person and social circle to social circle.

  2. Shannon McEwan says:

    I’m not sure I’d even be good with this at a hen party – is that gender-cringe? (The best hen party I ever went to started at a Japanese Bathhouse with lots of nakedness of the real and personal kind, and wound up at a Japanese Restaurant with lots of Sake, and with everyone taking it in turns to tell stories of love-found.)

    There were buff semi-naked men at the RWAustralia conference dinner this year. Their job was to schmooze up to people to collect money for an important cause (Indigenous Literacy Foundation). I didn’t attend the dinner, but I was uncomfortable the next day (despite the cause) hearing (cackling) references to the men. I didn’t say anything about my discomfort. Reckon I was concerned about being perceived as humorless – not able to enjoy the ‘joke’ of reverse objectification. Ain’t that the way it goes.

    Which is all to say, I appreciate your blog post. Thank you.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think very often people who find this kind of thing troubling worry about a lot about being seen as humourless or prudish or policing of other people’s sexualities. I sort of feel that once again this comes back to historical context. I think a lot of the condemnation you get of people who prefer their sexualities to be understated is a backlash against the very repressive attitudes that came out of the late 19th century and early-to-mid 20th centuries.

      We’ve spent so long as a culture being told it wasn’t okay to like or talk about sex that when we finally allowed ourselves to accept that it was we lost the sight of the fact that it is also okay to not like and not talk about sex.

  3. Lloyd Meeker says:

    As a point of clarification, my understanding of objectification requires the absence of respect. Last night my experience of the naked butlers was a celebration, and all the interactions with them I observed were happy and respectful. As you say, you don’t want to speak for people that you’re not. Thank you. You don’t speak for me. And others who were present may well draw different conclusions from yours.

    Next time you attend a Pride Parade, you might notice a few nearly naked men. You might notice topless Dykes on Bikes. Is that no longer acceptable? Our literature, regardless of erotic content, and indeed all LGBTQIA+ issues are inescapably about acceptance of gender expression, sexual orientation and claiming authentic identity.

    Being offended by the presence of four nearly naked men at a dinner which you didn’t attend seems remarkably inauthentic to me. I’m sad that you could not accept this particular expression of celebration without taking offense. Isn’t there room in our celebration of queerness for them as well?

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think you raise several good points, although I confess I feel a little condescended to by your apparent “sadness” at what I am personally bothered by.

      To start at the beginning, the relationship between respect and objectification is really complex because there’s actually a very fine line between respect and fetishisation. Again, to take a women in gaming example, a lot of men who have quite creepy attitudes towards women will also often talk a lot about how they ‘respect them.’ You get a lot of people who fetishise Asian and especially Japanese culture (often to the point sexually assaulting Asian women) who nevertheless define as having a profound ‘respect’ for that culture. The fact you feel respected and included by something does not alter the fact that other people may feel disrespected or excluded by it. A lot of Page 3 models say they find being on Page 3 empowering. But that doesn’t change the fact that a lot of other women feel that Page 3 is disempowering as an institution.

      As for what there’s room to celebrate, I am very, very nervous of any celebration of any group of people that is filtered through an outsider’s perspective of what that group is like. Now I admit here that I was not at the UK Meet and I have no idea whatsoever how the dinner with the naked waiters was arranged but I would bet reasonably good money that they were not a bunch of dudes who all decided to spontaneously express their sexuality by taking their clothes off. I’d also be willing to bet reasonably good money that whoever organised it was at least aware that a large part of the expected audience for that kind of event is people (not all of them gay men) who like to look at naked men.

      The problem with celebration is that it can very easily become one-sided. Was there another gala dinner where the wait staff were all butch lesbians? Or one that celebrated non-binary gender identity or asexuality?Your question about whether there is room to celebrate the kind of sexual identity that you felt the naked waiters celebrated strikes me as rather disingenuous. My whole issue with the naked waiters event is that it was yet another reinforcement of the idea that only one specific kind of queer sexuality is worth celebrating. This whole thing exists in the context of an industry that presents a vanishingly narrow image of sexuality. And one that is often not designed with the people it allegedly represents in mind. This, for what it’s worth, is why Pride is not a good analogy. There is a world of difference between gay men flaunting their sexuality to defy mainstream culture and to titillate it.

      I am glad that you felt supported and celebrated by the naked waiters. I personally don’t and I suspect a great many other people don’t either. I strongly feel that if you’re attempting to create an inclusive space then you need to make certain that your celebrations are as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. I might also part out that part of the reason I did not attend the dinner with the naked waiters is because I don’t come to these kind of events because they’re so often full of this kind of thing. Unless the absence of naked waiters is as off-putting to you as their presence is to me then their addition necessarily makes that space less inclusive.

      That’s fine if you don’t think inclusivity is a valid goal or if you think that celebrating the kind of sexual expression that you identify with is more important than recognising the kinds of expression that you don’t.

      But at the very least I think it’s kind of important to have the conversation?

      • Lloyd Meeker says:

        I think inclusivity is a very valid goal, and it’s one of the core values of the organizing committe for UK GLBT Meet. For those who stayed this afternoon for the debriefing and suggestions for next year, we began by revisiting those values. Does inclusivity need to be demonstrated by having butch lesbian waiters next year? I don’t know. It’s an interesting question. But I know for sure I’d be asking the participating butch lesbians directly how they envision a relevant demonstration of inclusiveness, rather than just plunking every hue of the rainbow into a wait staff role. I expect that kind of feedback will come from the event participants.

        I agree with you that the dividing line between celebration and objectification can be a subtle one, perhaps known only to a single individual human heart. I should have said that I saw no behaviors that I interpreted as disrespectful objectification, rather than insisting there was none. I was in the room, and I had no way to peer inside the hearts of others. At even greater distance removed from the event, I think it’s terribly risky to assume the presence of objectification — except perhaps as homage to the projection of one’s own.

        It’s tough to create enough gala dinners in a two-day event to honor every manifestation of our QUILTBAG family. Perhaps you could discuss this issue with the organizers, and help by attending and contributing next year. But in calmer perspective, the gala dinner was a very small part of a positive, inclusive event. Nothing gained in throwing the baby out with the bathwater. It sounds to me like even though you might have to avoid a gala dinner with naked butlers because attending would offend you, you would have something valuable to offer the larger gathering. I believe there will be a panel addressing issues of diversity next year. That might be a great place to volunteer.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          I think we actually disagree less than it seems and I’m sure you are, in fact, aware that I didn’t literally mean we need to have every conceivable queer identity represented among the wait staff.

          Obviously I’m very glad that the organisers of the meet consider inclusivity to be important but I think it’s valuable to realise that this is one of those situations in which it is unhelpful for decisions to be made by those who turn up. I absolutely accept that you did not see any behaviour that you did not interpret as disrespectful or objectifying and it is very possible that no-one at the Meet observed behaviour that they interpreted as disrespectful or objectifying. But this in part because people who are inclined to find the atmosphere that is often present at that kind of event disrespectful and objectifying self-select out of those events.

          Sort of my whole thesis of this post is that I feel that the naked waiters thing is a contributory element to a broader culture that makes me personally feel unwelcome. In essence, this post is my direct contribution to the discussion and it is me saying ‘I would personally feel more welcome if you didn’t do this kind of stuff’. I am particularly troubled by the suggestion that I need to go into an environment where I feel unsafe in order to make the observation that I feel unsafe going into that environment.

          For what it’s worth, I also can’t help but read your position as suggesting that because the Meet doesn’t have the resources to celebrate every identity it doesn’t matter if the only identity it appears to celebrate is the only one that ever gets celebrated. Again, I’ll reiterate this isn’t literally about waiters but it feels a little bit disingenuous to me to suggest that it was, in essence, a coincidence that the queer identity the gala dinner chose to celebrate happens to be the one that is perceived to be most appealing to mainstream m/m readers.

          • Lloyd Meeker says:

            I also get the impression that we basically agree, and I’m grateful for that.

            About resources, that’s not what I’m saying about the Meet’s resources at all. I’m saying the organizing committee is very open to suggestions and feedback, and the resources of the event are, as far as I can tell, allocated primarily according to attendee feedback. Your perspective would be an important addition. I hope you attend next year. I plan to. It would be good to meet in person.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            Again, I think we’re a closer to being on the same page here than we have but I think where I’m still tripping up slightly is that I feel that an event which evolves purely on the basis of attendee feedback runs the risk of only getting feedback from the people who have self-selected to attend.

            Again, I don’t particularly want to attend an event I worry I would feel uncomfortable attending simply in order to earn the right to tell the organisers why I don’t feel I’d be comfortable to attend it.

  4. KJ Charles says:

    There was a discussion of this today and a number of people who attended the dinner did express their discomfort. I’m one. (Speaking as a cis het woman, to be clear.) Many people enjoyed the waiters, obviously, but I think this kind of event would be more appropriate as a non-central event that’s completely opt in. (The dinner was opt in but it’s also the big social centrepiece of the Meet.)

    It is to me a real shame if a good, inclusive event with a wide range of attendees ends up typed primarily by the naked bums on social media and it would be a crying shame if that made anyone feel the Meet wasn’t right for them. Because that really wasn’t all it was about. But it’s what social media is all about, and that decides what people see and the impression they get.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think the difficult thing about social media is that, as you say, it can attract focus to things that are unrepresentative. But I’m not sure that something has to be representative to be indicative. It’s kind of like, well, the subject of my last blog post. The vast majority of the books on this year’s RITA shortlist didn’t include Nazi protagonists but the fact that one of them did suggested that Romancelandia as a whole felt that Nazis were appropriate romantic heroes.

      And, again, it’s complex because there is a strong history of gay men expressing their sexuality in a naked waitersey sort of way but the idea of your event’s social centrepiece being something that could be seen commodifying the sexualities of the people you’re supposed to be celebrating troubles me no matter how small a part of the overall event that was.

      • Mel says:

        Reading through all the comments, I thought it was remarkable for me that the only pictures I’ve seen on SM were indeed from the waiters and the waiters posing on pictures with woman. So this might be actually only a small part of the meet but it seems to be at least a part to brag over or one that indeed was important to people.
        And that is telling.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          That was my impression too. And I would agree it’s telling. Although obviously mileage varies and part of it is just that people are more likely to share pictures of things that are unusual or striking.

          • KJ Charles says:

            This is it exactly. And I agree that it’s not the less troubling because it was only one thing. This is starting to remind me of the joke about the old villager. (“I’ve been a carpenter all my life. Do they call me Bob the Carpenter? I’m a great singer, they never call me Bob the Tenor. But *one lousy sheep*…”)

            People absolutely can judge events without experiencing them–that would be what people do *all the damn time*, for example when doing their jobs, reading books or listening to news–and they judge on the information they’re given. So if the information flooding out is 90% ‘woo naked cis men’, I don’t think anyone should be criticised for drawing a conclusion from it.

        • It’s kind of like going on vacation and taking pictures in front of the temples, or cathedrals, or whatever makes an area famous. The pictures of women (especially cis, het women) at an event with naked gay men strikes me the same way. They’re a prop, a tourist attraction. “Look, I’ve been to see the gayz!” It’s something to show off in the same way you show people your vacation pictures to brag about where you’ve been. This isn’t respect. I don’t know that it’s fetishizing either, but it’s dehumanizing and reductive. And I also grasp that it wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. The men were in on the joke, but it’s still making a joke of their very existence. I mean, who takes a playboy bunny seriously?

        • It’s kind of like going on vacation and taking pictures in front of the temples, or cathedrals, or whatever makes an area famous. The pictures of women (especially cis, het women) at an event with naked gay men strikes me the same way. They’re a prop, a tourist attraction. “Look, I’ve been to see the gayz!” It’s something to show off in the same way you show people your vacation pictures to brag about where you’ve been. This isn’t respect. I don’t know that it’s fetishizing either, but it’s dehumanizing and reductive. And I also grasp that it wasn’t meant to be disrespectful. The men were in on the joke, but it’s still making a joke of their very existence. I mean, who takes a playboy bunny seriously?

    • Susan Ford says:

      When looking at the pictures of UK Meet, I saw more naked bums than I did author and fan pictures. That was disappointing to me. I want to attend UK Meet next year, and I like a naked bum as much as the next person, but I don’t want the bum pics to overshadow the rest of the event, which it appeared (on social media) to have done this year. Now I am sure that had I been able to attend this year that the 2-day conference would have been amazing and the bums only a small part.

      But the appearance from the outside in is also important in the greater picture, isn’t it? What impression does the UK Meet want to leave?

  5. Antonella says:

    Today at the end of the Meet we had a kind of survey about this. Charlie asked people uncomfortable with the presence of the four half naked butlers to raise their hands. Like KJ I was one of the some 20 – out of 150 – who did.

    I share many of your views. Still, this is not a deal breaker for me because the event is a very good thing for readers, writers and publishers. The organisers do each year an incredible job and should be praised for it.

    I’d also like to point out the difference between the Meet and similar US conventions. From what I’ve heard or seen at US conventions this phenomenon is considerably worse there. I think that the naked bums interaction at the Meet was at the much lower level.

    A point you didn’t consider is unwanted contact *from the half-naked men*. At a US convention a woman I know was *jokingly* grabbed from behind by a stripper: that would be unacceptable for me, even though I can defend myself perfectly well. At the UK Meet the butlers approached only people who clearly wanted to take pictures or be near them.

    I think that to discuss this points is important, so thank you for sharing your thoughts.

    Ciao

    Antonella

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think part of the reason that I was so bothered by this is because I had heard that the UK Meet was better and therefore felt a little let down.

      Having read your comment I’m also a little bit embarrassed that I immediately pounced on the issues to do with objectification and appropriation and failed to recognise that there might be some people who find the presence of naked dudes legitimately sexually threatening. I think, ironically, I probably fell into the same difficult mindset that the organisers might have fallen into in treating naked men at an LGBTQ themed event as sort of intrinsically “gay” and therefore intrinsically “safe”.

      Thinking about it, this is particularly difficult since it’s likely that waiters were just models or hired catering staff and were therefore probably quite likely to have been heterosexual. I’m not sure but I think a bunch of naked straight dudes at a romance convention could been as profoundly threatening by at least some of the attendees. And, again, I find it troubling that it all becomes sort of playful and in good fun once you stick a queer label on it.

      • Pam/Peejakers says:

        Yeah, that occurred to me too, that the waiters might well have been heterosexual.

        The behavior Antonella describes at the US conventions horrifies me. I am completely uncomfortable with stuff like that, for myself. I’d probably be completely freaked out & just . . . leave & go home, no matter how much money I’d paid to attend, if someone approached me that way. And even though the guys at the UK Meet were apparently more respectful of personal spaces, I think it would make me nervous, wondering if that sort of thing was going to happen. So, yeah, there’s that too 😛

        • santino says:

          I find the comparisons of UK Meet and GRL interesting because they’re marketed as totally different events.

          UK Meet = UK MEET – GLBTQ FICTION
          GRL Con = Gay Romance Literature Convention

          Based on the name, I am going to expect GRL to cater to representations of gay males and M/M fiction, and also to focus on romance/sex because that’s a big part of romance conventions and romance in general. The words “gay” and “romance” don’t even make it into the UK Meet title or their mission statement/story. Which is why I made the assumption that it… y’know… wasn’t that way.

          I’m also curious about the US vs UK stuff I’ce seen around (not just in above comment) because GRNW is in Seattle and is a super classy event. GRL isn’t the only US-based queer lit event so this nationalism stuff is kind of disconcerting.

          And on another note, I also find it interesting that there’s this repetitive theme of “you weren’t even there so you can’t judge” (not in the comment I’m replying to but elsewhere in general). An event or a movie or a book or a TV show is going to be judged based on reviews from other people and comments made on social media. It’s just what happens. It’s usually how I know to not read a book or watch a movie–because someone else has and mentioned it contains triggery topics or things I don’t agree/like with in some way. That’s how the internet works. UK Meetup isn’t exempt from this.

          If you have naked dudes hanging out at dinner, it’s going to be much talked about and it’s gonna ward some people off who don’t want to hang out with naked dudes. This doesn’t mean I think the organizers of Uk Meetup are AWFUL PEOPLE and the entire event is TRASH. No way. Similarly, I don’t think E3 is an awful event or trash (I love gaming and it’s a big gaming event so I still watch it to see what news will come from it), but I also find the practice of equating video games with naked dolled up booth babes to be sexist and in poor taste. Which is why the other gaming convention, PAX, doesn’t allow it.

          One practice doesn’t, in my eyes, make an entire event a waste of time but people should be aware that sex sells and gets the most attention and now UK Meetup is equated with sex and some people aren’t into that. And some people may find it objectifying or insulting that LGBTQ is almost always equated with sex. Even superficially based on social media. Social media is promo and the main promo I saw was naked asses. I like ass just as much as the next dude but maybe not at dinner.

          I’m surprised this is surprising.

          • Pam/Peejakers says:

            <3 Yes, really good points. And I'm thinking about yet another aspect of the naked asses at dinner thing. Like, it's been mentioned that it was opt in. I wonder if it was made abundantly clear, though, in advance, that this would be a feature of that dinner? So that people not cool with this, for whatever reason, could at least make an informed decision about going? I'm not gonna assume it wasn't made clear. But *if* it wasn't, if there was an assumption that by attending this convention at all you're implying that you're okay with this sort of thing, that would also be very telling. Hopefully that wasn't the case, though.

            What you said here "This doesn’t mean I think the organizers of Uk Meetup are AWFUL PEOPLE and the entire event is TRASH." Right. I think people can just get so defensive when anything they're associated with is criticized & see things in this very black & white way, as if you have to be either 100% behind everything they do, or you are the enemy. There can be a tendency to sort of shut down & stop listening, which makes it difficult to change things. But then again, sometimes people go away & think about stuff after they cool down.

            Well, at least I hope all this discussion has raised awareness of this sort of thing as an issue 🙂

          • Mel says:

            Pam wrote:I think people can just get so defensive when anything they’re associated with is criticized & see things in this very black & white way, as if you have to be either 100% behind everything they do, or you are the enemy. There can be a tendency to sort of shut down & stop listening, which makes it difficult to change things

            That’s what I was thinking, too. And that is such a shame because when people go on the defensive they have this mechanism of not even trying to understand an issue. It’s so easy to find reasons why you don’t even have to listen. Like, yeah, Alexis wasn’t there, so how dare he and others having an opinion?? Or jumping to the conclusion that Alexis or someone thinks this whole thing is crap or that he is picking on a specific person or whatever.

            No one really tries to listen. Just listen. And try to understand what someone’s problem actually is. The knee-jerk reaction is always: No, and let’s (subconsciously) find a reason while someone’s opinion is not valid or offensive. And yeah, always assuming the worst…

      • Antonella says:

        Thank you for replying. I never talked about feeling threatened, especially not concerning the UK Meet, and I really don’t think that anybody felt threatened.

        And concerning the US conventions: if something similar to what happened to my friend would happen to me (grabbing), I would feel pissed, not threatened. But I can imagine this could be threatening for someone.

        By the way another question asked by the organisers was if the presence of the half-naked butlers was a deal breaker. Maybe one person raised her hand, as far as I saw.

        I also wanted to comment about that the title of your post. If i say ”This is not ok” or ”I’m annoyed with…”, I make a statement about my feelings, if I say ”You are doing it wrong” I imply that I want to tell other people what to do, and that I know better than them. It’s obvious that this statement will be automatically perceived as an attack. After training with Nonviolent Communication I’m getting better at these things ;-). See http://www.cnvc.org/

        • Pam/Peejakers says:

          I don’t know. I see what you’re saying here, but at the same time, how do you comment on a situation where you do, in fact, feel like things were done wrong, without saying that? Its hard for me to see how it’s not, quite objectively, wrong, when something that is supposed to be inclusive, does not, in fact, feel inclusive to some of the people it’s very specifically intended to include. I feel like the point of the post *wasn’t* merely to say “I was personally upset by this” but *was* in fact to say that the event did something wrong, for the reason I just stated. To me, it’s a little bit like, if someone had a racial diversity event & then featured people performing in blackface. I think there are legitimate reasons to say in that case, not merely “I find this personally offensive” but to state “this is wrong”. And while people may *perceive* it as attacking to have it pointed out that someone feels they have done something wrong, I don’t think it actually *is*.

          As far as feeling threatened, I do think there is more than one way to feel threatened by this sort of thing. Like, your example of what happened to your friend at the US convention, for me that would not have felt threatening in a physical sense, but would have felt intensely violating of my personal space, so I would process that as psychologically threatening, in a sexual way. Perhaps, as you say, no one felt threatened in any sense whatsoever at the UK event. But I also think it’s *possible* to feel vaguely violated in a sexual/psychological sense by the mere presence of people or things that are sort of overtly sexually titillating, esp. when there is partial nudity. It’s not that the people involved are literally threatening you, but the *situation* could feel threatening to some people. I suspect I would be one of them. But again, if people were able to opt out of the dinner with foreknowledge that these waiters would be there, that makes a big difference.

        • KJ Charles says:

          I agree it wasn’t at all threatening for me. But I have seen several people say they stayed away because they would have found it threatening. I can imagine very easily why looking round to see an unsolicited naked male two feet from your face would be pretty upsetting for a lot of women (and, indeed, men). Even though, as you rightly say, the butlers were very respectful and professional.

          Having read through a lot of these comments, I’ve decided this will be a deal breaker for me next year. I very much hope it won’t have to be, though.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          Sorry I didn’t mean to imply that people felt threatened – that was, indeed, my language rather than yours. I just felt a little ashamed because it wasn’t even a possibility I’d realised. I wasn’t in any way suggesting that it had happened.

          For what it’s worth, if the deal-breaker thing was the only way the question was phrased, I’m a little bit concerned. It doesn’t feel like a neutral question to me, and for what it’s worth, I’m not convinced a show of hands is an especially safe way to ask people about things they might be uncomfortable about either.

          Finally, re wording. First of all, I’ve never really worried too much about coming across as non-confrontational. From a purely linguistic standpoint, however, I’d argue that the pragmatics of the ‘ur doin’ it rong’ meme are such that they suggest only that you consider something to be inherently flawed, not that you claim some special or superior authority.

          As it happens, I think including elements that you reliably predict some people will feel excluded by is, indeed, the wrong way to create an inclusive space. I don’t think this is particularly controversial. And pointing it out isn’t attacking anybody.

          • Antonella says:

            Just for your information: there were two questions, one about feeling uncomfortable and one about the presence of the half-naked butlers being a deal-breaker. Maybe a show of hands wasn’t the best method, but it was good for a quick assessment, especially considering that often people don’t respond to surveys after an event.

    • mary gresham says:

      I don’t know about the other events, but the one I go to yearly has always had male dancers and I have never seen any of them try to grab, even jokingly, anyone, female or male. Honestly, it was the other way around. I have seen guys have to remove people’s hands, mostly women, from their person.
      I personally do not see anything wrong with having male dancers and as far as I know, none of the people who attend this event, see anything wrong with it either and that includes lesbians and trans people. No one has ever complained about it, at least not publicly. I am a heterosexual, married female and my husband attends every convention I go to. This does not bother him either, he even dances with them sometimes.
      While I have no problem with those who don’t want to see half naked men and women, at our convention, the dance floor is always large enough that if they don’t want to see, they don’t have to and they can still have a good time dancing or even talking with others.
      And this year there is even a two choices, the dance in one room and karaoke in another. The meals are always served by hotel staff.
      As for the UK meet, I didn’t attend and I never will, simply because of the cost of going overseas. But even if I had, seeing naked butts would not have bothered me or my husband. If that was the case, he wouldn’t go with me to gay clubs in New Orleans, where the biggest portion of the dancers dance completely naked. And you know what, I’d say 80% of the dancers are straight, but they enjoy what they’re doing, otherwise, they wouldn’t be doing it.
      I’m sure several of you won’t like what I’ve said, but that’s okay, I didn’t care for some of the stuff you said either. So, we’ll have to agree to disagree on this subject and I won’t be responding to anyone.

      • Alexis Hall says:

        Hi, thanks for commenting Mary.

        I’m not sure what to say to this except I don’t think much of it is relevant. You aren’t bothered by it, great, More power to you. I am. And while we can agree to differ on this, it means you’d rather look at naked butts or give a damn about whether I’m comfortable.

        Again, fine. No harm no foul. As long as we’re clear where everyone’s coming from.

        And, once again *again*, I’ll just re-iterate it’s not naked butts I have a problem with, it’s naked butts presented as an instinct part of a literary event.

      • Mel says:

        and I won’t be responding to anyone.

        Is this a new cool thing I haven’t heard about?

        Because going to a place and stating an opinion and saying right away that you won’t respond afterwards, just sounds like such a convenient thing to do.

  6. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Okay, I tried several times to post this before & it was messed up & made no sense, so anyone who saw those versions before Alexis deleted them for me, please disregard. I’m crossing my fingers it works this time, so here we go:
    ***************
    Sigh. <3<3<3
    As usual, my dear, you’ve hit the nail squarely on the head. Yes, to all of this.

    I think that at this point it’s unfortunately still sort of lip-service to call some of these events LGBTQ. I think it’s more wishful thinking, they are really, still basically m/m: The name has been changed for PC reasons, but the reality is lagging far behind.

    I think it all relates back to the trajectory of how a lot of readers (& writers) originally came to m/m romance. A route which either originates in or leads right through erotica, & I think that’s what’s led to all these disturbing associations you’re talking about here.

    I could be making this up, but my personal feeling is that m/m romance evolved out of women exploring their own sexuality & sexual identities through literature, along a path that goes something like: Tame romance > Sexier romance > Erotic romance > Erotica > Kinky Romance > M/M romance. There’s a lot of linkage to stuff like slash fanfiction & even yaoi manga, but those are all basically parallel courses leading to the same thing. The common factor is that it all leads to this idea of a woman being sexually attracted to the idea of man-having sex-with-man as a *kink* to be accepted, embraced & celebrated like any other. Which, I guess it is a kink from the standpoint of the women in question. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that in and of itself, & since that’s essentially the path I originally followed to m/m romance, I have to hope there’s not.

    But I think that can be easily conflated with some idea of it actually *being* kinky or erotic to be a queer man. And there’s simply no denying that’s sexual objectification. In absolutely *the same way* it is when men view women as fundamentally erotic in nature. And if that’s not already clear, all you have to do it switch things around a little. Like, what if this was a het romance convention, with a large number of male authors & fans, and the waiters were naked *women* . . . ?

    The problem is, I think this sort of thing persists in part because it can be genuinely difficult to get your head around the idea that the way fictional characters are treated in books has anything to do with real people. And that it’s all too easy to feel defensive about the things you like to read or write. I remember having exactly those reactions when I first heard words like “objectification” “appropriation” & “fetishization” in reference to m/m romance, because I just didn’t get it.

    It wasn’t until I read something you wrote here last year that it all suddenly clicked. That what it has to do with real people is how reading those things makes them *feel*. That it *hurts*.

    And later I also got the part about how it can harm in other ways, by influencing the way others think about & treat those same real people. I think I was sort of still in denial that this was actually likely to translate to real life. But this situation makes that pretty undeniable.

    So what you say here: “pretty much all social justice issues come back to the simple fact that it is terrifyingly easy to forget that other people are real.” Omg. Yes. That’s exactly it. Also, I want to hug you. Even more than usual 🙂

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thanks for you thoughtful comment 🙂 To use technical language this whole set of issues is hella complicated.

      I’m always very ambivalent about the characterisation of m/m romance as coming out of erotica or slash of yaoi because, although I agree that it is the experience of a great many people who read and, I suspect, write it I’m conscious that it’s also often used in quite a dismissive way. People have a tendency to write off m/m (and slash for that matter) as “just” a bunch of straight women writing stories about pretty men bonking. Similarly, there’s this really complex line to walk between accepting that something might be a legitimate and problematic feature of the genre and erasing people for whom that feature is not descriptive. There are queer women and trans* people and gay men and asexuals who write “m/m” (even more so when you move beyond that category into more general LGBTQ fiction).

      Similarly I very much agree that the fact that some readers and some writers have followed a path like yours (coming to m/m as a means of exploring their sexuality through romance, erotic romance, and kinky romance) is a contributing factor to the problematic way in which eroticism is treated as intrinsic to LGBTQ fiction in general and m/m in particular. On the other hand, it is also important to recognise that for some queer people eroticism is an important and powerful way to express their sexual identity.

      Where it gets problematic (and for what it’s worth, I think this is an issue in a lot of social justice contexts) is that you often find there are some ways in which marginalised people express themselves that are secondarily appealing to people outside of that marginalised group. This then leads to a complex situation where one means of expressing an identity becomes sanctioned or privileged relative to other means of expressing that identity. Worse, that can often lead to a backlash in which the sanctioned mode of expression becomes seen as false or destructive or letting the side down. Which then leads to the alienation or marginalisation of people who are just being basically being themselves.

      This goes through almost noticeable phases. So there was a time when the socially acceptable way to be a gay man was to be camp, swishy and non-threatening. And now there’s something of a backlash against that and people who are very camp or very effeminate can be condemned for being the wrong sort of gay. There’s currently a very difficult symbiosis between the mainstream m/m readership (however you wish to characterise that) and certain ways of expressing gay male sexuality.

      To put it another way, pretty much any stereotype that someone complains about will be reflecting the identity of someone else who doesn’t like being called a stereotype.

      so yeah … basically it’s complicated … and there are no good answers.

      For what it’s worth, and from what I’ve seen, it does seem like the UK Meet is doing a bit more than paying lipservice and I’m actually quite impressed that seem to have addressed the issue of people being made uncomfortable by the naked dudes thing. I think, as always, the problem is cultural change comes really slowly and really unevenly.

      • Pam/Peejakers says:

        Oh, yes I know, & I’m probably over-identifying my own path as the perceived evolution of the genre. Even if it’s true, it’s obviously expanded far beyond that now. And/or maybe sort of merged with another tributary that came from queer fiction. I’ve definitely seen that perceived origin treated dismissively too, which I don’t agree with, so I probably should have expressed that slightly differently. I guess I just meant that, if you *have* traveled along that particular trajectory to m/m, there can be potentially problematic associations attached to that which can contribute to the sort of thing your post was about.

        Also, yeah, I completely get what you’re saying in your 4th & 5th paragraphs up there 🙂 Yikes, yes, hella complicated indeed. It’s actually scary, makes you realize that when you’re in a privileged majority, the mere fact of giving your attention to any particular thing that people in a marginalized culture are doing has this peculiar distorting effect, whether you’re being approving or disapproving, with ripples that reach into the marginalized group itself. Though I guess to an extent when the majority gives its attention, positive or negative, to *anything* it has a similar effect . . .

        But also, I probably shouldn’t have said lip-service, that sounds sort of mean :/ I just think it’s a still evolving thing & that sometimes the labels we give to things change before we change, or fully change, our behavior. But maybe that’s a necessary first step.

        Anyway, yay for the UK Meet taking these concerns seriously, that’s really encouraging 🙂

    • Susan Ford says:

      That is a huge trajectory of how many women come to read m/m. I came from the science fiction/fantasy and even gay literature angle, so the erotica and slash history is lost one me quite a bit.

      • Irene says:

        Susan – I agree.

        I came to LGBT and m/m from het romance, and not the particularly kinky kind.

        When I started reading/writing gay romance I had no assumptions that it would be different from any other romance – either more kinky or more sexualized, or whatever. I assumed there would be the same range there is in other romance. I’m a little sad that perception for many people seems so narrow.

        • willaful says:

          Same here, coming from het romance. I’m just interested in love stories with happy endings, and the steam level isn’t as important as the story. (It was neat to read Witt/ Ann Gallagher’s “clean” m/m inspirational because I think she wasn’t just providing for readers who prefer a less explicit story, but also showing that yes, there are men who like to move slowly and have deep emotional commitments first. And we do see those characters less often in romance than I would like.)

          • Mel says:

            Yeah, so… I came from erotic het romance to M/M erotic romance. I like to read about erotic romance because that’s a part of many relationships and I just find it odd when this part is not shown. So basically I was and still am all for sex in my romance books.

            It’s a preference.

            Does that mean that I am not interested in anything else in the book? No. It’s just one part. But a part that I think is important, too.

            Do I think their might be people who only look on the sex? Yeah. I do believe it was the same, though, when they were reading het erotic romance.

            I see why that maybe in this new constellation (cis woman reading about gay dudes fucking) might come across as objectifying. And I think it’s great to raise awareness. But it’s also good to see where people are coming from and why they read what they read.

      • Pam/Peejakers says:

        Yeah, I was really over generalizing based on my own experience & general impressions. Sorry, I guess that’s basically”Pam-normativity” or something 😛 I should have said, that *for* those people whose path to m/m has been somewhat similar to mine, I think that x-y-z *can* be a thing 🙂

        • Irene says:

          Oh, Pam – that wasn’t directed at YOU. (eep) It was directed at the General Public (and possibly some more specific places that aren’t you).

          Honestly, I should think before I type.

          • Pam/Peejakers says:

            Aww, thank you Irene! <3 I didn't really *think* so, but I was slightly worried I sounded bad, so *hugs*!!

  7. EE Ottoman says:

    Look I write GLBTQA fiction. For me the idea of male models at an event is incredibly off putting and also does not represent who I am or what I write.

    Defining GLBTQAness with cisgender male models who look a certain way and are sexualized in a certain ways erases every one — our understanding of gender, our ways of understanding sexuality. It also mimics a kind of gender politics that is used routinely to exclude trans people (along with bisexual, pansexual, asexual people and others) from both straight and queer spaces. That concerns me, the idea that this would be done without thoughtful input on how it might look to a more diverse adduce concerns me. What concerns me most of all though is that this happens a lot. I’ve seen similar things go on at GLBTQA romance events that have a strong m/m leaning.

    The likelihood that I will attend the UK GLBTQA Fiction Meet is slim to none. This isn’t an issue I think with just one meet, this is a problem that goes across the board when it comes to GLBTQA (especially m/m) writing conversions and quite frankly GLBTQA with a strong m/m leaning spaces in general.

    And to be very, very clear this is not about my personal preferences, what people think I may or may not approve of.

    There is a real tendency to make GLBTQA writing spaces and meets all about m/m and then in term about people who like looking at certain kinds of cis male bodies without any kind of recognition, of a wider spectrum of GLBTQA authors and readers.

    Even if the entire event/space was all about the queer dudes and only queer dudes I would still not say this was acceptable. Because it still makes a distinction between acceptable and attractive vs. not acceptable and unattractive queer dude. Even if that was never the intent that’s what it looks like from the outside. That one part the body politics I was talking about. Even if it doesn’t affect some people it affects others.

    I also think it’s worth noting that even if the majority of people wanted something like the naked waters or the Cockwalk and Sausagefast at GRL is it really alright to put their desires over that of a less privileged, less mainstream minority? Is it alright to have conference that is open to diversity expect for this one dinner?

    I think there’s some real questions we have to ask. I personally am very uncomfortable by the number of nude dudes pics that get passed around in the m/m community. I am even more comfortable by the number of m/m authors that I like and respect who have, within the last year, made it every clear that as far as they are concerned the most attractive and important part of a man is his dick. On the other hand 90% of every person I’ve talked to about this has made it very clear that this is them enjoying what they enjoy and my discomfort has no place in that. While I do think people should enjoy what they want to enjoy, I also think that my discomfort, as a member of that community, is also important.

    How do we navigate that?

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thank you for this comment. As you say, this is really hard to navigate and I don’t think there are clear hard and fast rules about any of this stuff. Other than maybe people should think about things before they do them. And, as always, you have the problem that for pretty much anything someone finds offensive there’ll be someone else who not only doesn’t find it offensive but will be loudly and publicly offended by other people’s offence. The problem is kind of compounded by the fact that in all of these analogous situations you can get easy and massive social validation from not being bothered by things. The “sensible” women who aren’t bothered by sexism in gaming. Or the “reasonable” queer people who don’t object to using gay as a pejorative.

      I think, for me, the issue is one of, for want of a less provocative term, intellectual honesty. I don’t mind that there are people whose only really interest in LGBTQ fiction is in m/m. I don’t mind that there are a lot of people out there who like to look at hot dudes. I just think it’s important that people are clear and honest about what it is they’re going for and what it is they’re into. I like to think that the organisers of the UK Meet really are interested in inclusivity and really do want to organise an LGBTQ event rather than a people-who-like-to-look-at-cisgendered-white-dudes event. But if they are serious about that then they need to think seriously about this kind of issue.

      I absolutely don’t want to make any assumptions about the organisers or what their plans are for next year but my fear is that it’s very easy in this kind of situation to dig up a broad range of people who represent a broad range of identities and will say they’re fine with whatever you’re doing. There’s the obvious danger of doing the institutional equivalent of continuing to use gay as an insult because you’ve got one gay friend who says it’s all right.

      And, of course, even this is difficult to navigate because honestly it’s not easy to say categorically who you listen to. At the Meet, they asked 150 people how they felt about the naked dudes and 20 said it made them uncomfortable. Now to me, if you’re avoidably making 13% of your audience unhappy, you should probably do something about it. But it’s just as easy to go the other way and to say ‘well, 87% of the people there were fine with it.’ And it’s quite possible that the 87% included trans* people and lesbians and pansexuals, and that therefore it’s a non-issue.

      In the end it can come down to this quite pissy numbers game. Well this member of minority X said it was offensive, but this member of minority Y said it wasn’t. And I asked 20 people and 2 of them said they didn’t like it. And I asked 30 people and 4 of them said they did.

      On an institutional / structural level, the big problem with this kind of issue is that it’s phenomenally easy to convince yourself that you’ve considered it thoroughly and from all angles, when all you’ve really done is selectively reinforce your own preconceptions.

      • Lloyd Meeker says:

        You’re right, Alexis — there are so many ways to look at the pissy numbers game. One set of numbers that should be kept in mind is the demographic of our genre literature. By far the majority of books featuring “dude on dude” graphic sex are written by straight women. By far the majority of those buying those books are straight women. As a cis-gendered gay man I’ve made my peace with that set of numbers and am comfortable being a statistical outlier at events I attend. At UK Meet I was one of maybe a dozen or fifteen presenting as male, out of 150. In the context of this discussion, I think this proportion is significant even if no longer contentious. Who or what is driving the focus on physically beautiful gay men in our literature? I think the butler controversy is directly tied to the current state of our literature, and its images.

        I write stories featuring cis-gendered gay men, because that’s what I am. I would never attempt to shine the light of story on the inner journey of a trans person, or a lesbian. I’m far too sexual a being to pretend I can write an asexual protagonist. I’m inclined to not include on-page sex in my work unless the story unequivocally demands it. I do, however, happily celebrate the sexuality of my protagonists, since my own experience of spirituality and sexuality are passionately entwined.

        I also clebrate diversity in our literature, shouting out to my friend and powerhouse of lesbian fiction Lori L. Lake, and Christopher Hawthorne Moss or Thorny Sterling who write multi-faceted trans or gender-fluid protagonists. There are many others and I applaud them without knowing their work. Alexis, I believe you are doing your part in that, too. Bravo. I met a fascinating woman at RainbowCon this July, Heather Rose Jones, who is working on a non-fiction project, the Lesbian Historic Motif Project. Courageous, articulate, fierce, tenacious, innovative. Without a shred of complaint. The evolution of queer literature is inarguably underway. Anyone who doesn’t believe that should look at the list of categories for submissions to the Lambda Literary Awards.

        It may be that some are offended by the real-life presence of male bodies (BTW, in the case of the butlers straight men’s bodies, I’m assured) similar to the likenesses of countless covers in our genre, and to the bodies of the protagonists in the significant majority of our stories. Can one be offended by the real thing but accept the fiction with minimal complaint? I ask myself if so, why. I will reflect on that.

        Does our literature desperately need stories represtenting the full spectrum of our complex tribe? Certainly. Should the evolution of our stories, currently dominated by dude on dude romance, and all the familiar images associated with those stories, including naked butlers, be criticized? I don’t think so. There are fine authors called to broaden the kind of stories we read and remember. Please don’t attack the huge number of women and a significant number of men who write dude on dude romance and erotic romance. Please don’t attack your allies for celebrating the beauty of traditional male bodies. They ARE beautiful, even though they are far from the full definition of beauty.

        I will respectfully withdraw from this conversation with a request: queer stories will always be outnumbered by straight ones. That’s not injustice, but a statistical reality. We don’t need to attack writers of straight stories because we think there should be more of ours. We just have to write ours as we can. The market will probably decide our sales.

        Within our own community, maybe the number of published stories about cis-gendered gay men will always exceed the number of other protagonists on the queer spectrum. That might not be injustice, but a statistical reality. The market will still probably decide our sales. Let’s not attack those who are on our side, but add our own voices to what they are already writing. Let your allies use the images and ideals and tropes that they choose to employ. Let’s just write the stories we each are given to write and trust the evolution of consciousness about people like us. Look how far we’ve come in the last ten years. With persistence, I believe that evolution over the next ten years will amaze us all.

        • Pam/Peejakers says:

          “Attacking” – ?! Omg. Sorry-not sorry, but, seriously?! *claps hands over mouth really hard*

          • Mel says:

            lol, Pam 🙂 And yeah… It’s great to leave such a comment only to bow out and announce it at the beginning.

            I’m not so good with clapping hands over my mouth, I think 😉

        • EE Ottoman says:

          Hey Lloyd, I’m not really sure what’s going on here but could you point me to the place were you feel either Alexis or I attacked people who write m/m?

          I will say that I see a big difference between criticizing something, or criticizing it as being problematic and attacking it. Yes there are a lot of things that go on in the m/m community that I think are problematic. I’m not going to hide that and pretend transphobia doesn’t happen every day in the community. But if I didn’t think the community was capable of change for the better I wouldn’t bring it up. I also trust the people who are my allies in that community to hear what I have to say without taking it as a personal attack. I hope you would too.

          “Please don’t attack your allies for celebrating the beauty of traditional male bodies”

          I would never “attack” someone for celebrating traditional male bodies. I would/do absolutely bring up issues when that celebration infringes on people seeing me and my characters as also worth celebration. Because saying the only good part of a man is his dick is not celebrating the male form as much as it is defining it in away that is narrow, exclusionary and hurtful. I’m not suggesting people stop finding cisgender men attractive, I am suggesting people be mindful of the ways that can be weaponized against even more marginalized people.

          I’m just lost to understand where you’re coming from with your comment. I would love have you explain it for me.

          “It may be that some are offended by the real-life presence of male bodies (BTW, in the case of the butlers straight men’s bodies, I’m assured) similar to the likenesses of countless covers in our genre, and to the bodies of the protagonists in the significant majority of our stories. Can one be offended by the real thing but accept the fiction with minimal complaint?”

          As I’ve said in my original comment I don’t think this is a matter of just the waiters or just male models in person. I think this is something with deep roots in the entire romance community and in society in general quite frankly. I am highly critical of this same body politic where it is at play in covers, the way we market books and the way bodies are represented in those books. I absolutely do not accept any of the body politics of this genre with minimal complaint. Instead I am very loud on these issues, just ask anyone who follows me on social media 😉 For me this isn’t a matter of picking on one issue, this is so much bigger.

          I guess at the end of the day what get’s me about you’re comment is that it’s easily interpreted “well if you don’t like it write what you want to see yourself.” Of course me and Alexis do write what we want to see in the genre. I think another side to that activist is the talking about it, loudly and stridently. Not because I want to attack anyone but because I want things to change.

          I do think I, as a trans dude, writing about trans people for a queer and trans readership can be mainstream. It’s going to take change from without as well as from within though, and the first part of that change is talking about it.

          • Pam/Peejakers says:

            <3

          • Lotta says:

            “I guess at the end of the day what get’s me about you’re comment is that it’s easily interpreted “well if you don’t like it write what you want to see yourself.” Of course me and Alexis do write what we want to see in the genre. I think another side to that activist is the talking about it, loudly and stridently. Not because I want to attack anyone but because I want things to change.” – Yes, this, so much!

          • EE Ottoman says:

            Lloyd’s response and a couple others seem to be making the point that the problem is somehow less problematic because the models in question were in fact straight. I’m really at a loss to understand how the models probably being straight makes it less problematic.

            Making space at an GLBTQA event for yet more normatively attractive cishet men seems like it would b worse actually. Along with the idea that straight man can “stand in” for a gay men as long as he’s scantily clad and higher sexualized also seems to make it worse.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          I know you’re bowing out but I do want to respond to a few of these things.

          Firstly I find your repeated use of the word ‘our’ really troubling for a number of reasons. Most basically, as I said in my original post, and as you said in your original comment, neither one of us wants to be talking for the other. I’m very, very conscious that people often feel excluded by the unthinking assumption that they are part of a group which they feel alienates them. This is just my personal preference but I am much happier referring to to ‘my’ books and ‘your’ books without ever assuming that either of us is representing any of us except ourselves.

          More generally, I feel like you’re arguing two contradictory points here. Either you’re saying that the subgenre this community calls LGBTQ fiction is actually basically stories about gay men written by and for straight women and we should just kind of accept that and stop making waves. Or you can say that this genre is aiming to be inclusive. I suppose to be fair you could be saying that the genre is aiming to be inclusive as long as inclusivity doesn’t involve the perceived majority compromising in any way on anything that they like. Much like videogaming aims to be inclusive of women as long as it doesn’t involve in any way giving up on its tits, panty shots and creepy sexualised violence. The thing is this doesn’t strike me as a particularly helpful way to be inclusive.

          Like EE Ottoman, I do not feel that I am attacking anyone here but I very strongly object to being told, in essence, to shut up and be grateful. Maybe I’m doing it wrong, but when I’m trying to be someone’s ally I don’t flip out and tell them they’re attacking me when they respectfully point out that I’ve done something that they find offensive. Somebody who is only your ally as long as you don’t object to their behaviour is not your ally.

          Again, I come from a nerdculture background but I find it quite staggering how closely your augments parallel the arguments people give in support of the distorted, sexist and overly sexualised portrayal of women in, well, pretty much all nerd culture. We’ve got “it’s what the market wants”, we’ve got “it celebrates the beauty of (appropriate-gender) form”, we’ve got “I deeply respect the group of people who I am insisting must be sexualised for my pleasure”, and at not point do we ever have any response to or acknowledgement of the fact that these portrayals are alienating and excluding to a lot of the people who you are claiming to want to support.

          Again, I have nothing against people wanting to celebrate the beauty of the conventionally attractive male form. Write a poem about it. Make a movie about it. Do an intense and in-depth photographic study of a guy you think is attractive. But don’t directly equate images of conventionally attractive cisgendered white dudes with the totality of queer literature and then expect people to be grateful because you let some other stuff in round the edges.

          • Pam/Peejakers says:

            <3

          • Lotta says:

            “Again, I have nothing against people wanting to celebrate the beauty of the conventionally attractive male form. Write a poem about it. Make a movie about it. Do an intense and in-depth photographic study of a guy you think is attractive. But don’t directly equate images of conventionally attractive cisgendered white dudes with the totality of queer literature and then expect people to be grateful because you let some other stuff in round the edges.”

            OMG I love your comments. YES!

          • That last paragraph. Hell yeah!

  8. I’m really glad you made this post, and I’m glad people have been making thoughtful comments in response to it.

    I didn’t attend this con, and I don’t see myself attending any similar cons, even though I’d love to have a chance to meet some good internet friends in person, and my reluctance is largely because of the discomfort you’re mentioning. I mean, I’m a cis, het woman, so these waiters were right up my alley, but I’m just not comfortable with… something. I think the commodification of sexuality, for one thing – I’m fine with nudity at Pride events because I feel like it’s complete free choice and completely expected. But paying men to get naked? I’m not saying it’s wrong, and if other people want to be part of it, that’s their thing, but it’s really not mine.

    I think another hesitation comes from my general desire to see m/m be more than erotica. And I feel like when we’re marketing the genre this way (or, obviously, when we’re marketing all of queer lit this way) we’re really limiting its potential. To some extent I guess we’re following the market, following the money, and I’ve certainly given in to editors who suggested my books would be more marketable if I upped the heat level. But I absolutely think the genre could be so much more.

    So… I don’t know. Thank you for saying this, and for saying it better than I could have. I think sometimes the best blog posts don’t have answers, they just have good questions, and I think the questions you’re asking are excellent ones. I hope we can all keep talking about them.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I’m not opposed to naked dudes either or even paying dudes to get naked, it’s just, as you say, when it reinforces this simplistic idea that queer = m/m = erotica. And it does get complicated because quite a lot of people with a wide range of identities do invest heavily in this sort of thing.

      And now I feel bad because you wrote this very thoughtful response and I don’t have much to say except yes, I agree with this…

      But I do 🙂

  9. Rhys says:

    I don’t know who you guys are friends with on social media, but pictures of the naked butlers were not the only ones that appeared on my feed and they certainly weren’t ones I posted. Sure there was a buzz and lots of people took pictures with them and they wanted to share them. But you forget, or perhaps are unaware, that the gala dinner was an entertainment entity to the UK Meet. It was completely optional, a lot of people did not attend, but since the Meet manages to create such a strong sense of community, a lot of people wanted to go so as not to miss out on another experience with new and old friends.
    Now another thing that you don’t know, because well, you weren’t there (and that’s not scorn, it’s basically, in my opinion lack of research which is a result of your non-attendance), was that the gala also had a beautiful choir singing, dancers and a magnificent drag queen. And a lot of people posted about that as well. Sure pictures were not as prominent, because in the gala room it was a feast and a cabaret style of entertainment. But a lot of people had a chance to snap a memory of this communion at the exit from the room where the butlers actually were. They were not there to serve the food, they were not there to flaunt their asses to the eating populace, they were standing a little further from the doors for anyone who wanted a picture; and guess what? Everyone who did go to them snapped a picture, there was no weird, creepy touchy-feely incidents. And you know why? Because it was the chance some got to snap a memory of this very inclusive meet. Also, whoever said these guys were gay? Uhm, not to burst any bubbles, but these men were actually straight, and like to do this thing. And whoever didn’t want to snap a picture, well, didn’t. The guys and their naked bums weren’t shoved in your face. In fact if you had any idea how they were placed in accordance to the floor plan, you wouldn’t have snapped to the decision that this was full-on objectification and whatnot. So there’s that.
    Is there space for more inclusivity? Sure. There always is. Could there have been women? Yes, who wouldn’t love that? But then again we’re going into the purpose and the origin of this Meet. When you don’t have enough literature to represent all aspects of LGBTQI spectrum, you will get a group of attendees leaning towards a certain kind of niche/genre and a lot of the attendees are LGBTQI and most importantly Straight Allies who, and let’s not hide behind our thumb, we need if we’re gonna have acceptance in our writing community, but also in the wider one.
    Your blog post’s name Inclusive Spaces: Ur doing it rong, but how would you know that we’re doing it wrong if you weren’t even part of the inclusive space you decided to talk about? Were you a delegate who was disappointed with the format, organization and execution of the event, please be my guest. Did you feel the need to research the panels and the topics for discussion in the actual convention? No. I haven’t seen more authors talking about such a diverse array of characters ever before and there were people there to support them, hear them and find out new books to read and indulge in. Did you hear any of the keynote speeches? No, so you wouldn’t know how funny, heartwarming and heartbreaking they were and how they touched us all with their soul and heart.
    I’m truly sorry you couldn’t be here to be part of this loving community and experience it in its entirety and I do hope you and others who are considering coming next year and the year after, do come and see that it is not what you might find browsing on your social media pages, but that it’s a wonderful union of like-minded people and not a hyper-sexualized, gay-centric, objectifying fuckfest.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I’m really not sure how to respond to this comment. I would say that I’ve seen a lot of people telling me how inclusive this event is but (and I should stress that apparently the organisers have listened to people’s concerns and are trying to address them, so it’s not really the organisers I’m talking about here) if you are serious about creating an inclusive event, I don’t really think you should respond to people who tell you they feel excluded by telling them they’re wrong.

      I’m also profoundly bothered by the fact that you explicitly said that straight allies were the ‘most important’ part of the Meet. Again, one of the things that really upsets me about the butlers is that it feels like they represent the privileging of the preferences of ‘straight allies’ over the comfort of LGBTQI attendees.

      Once again, I’m very confused by who ‘the community’ is here. Or, again, who ‘we’ are in this context. It almost seems like you’re suggesting that whether or not LGBTQI writers are accepted within the community of LGBTQI fiction is up to straight allies and, um, that’s kind of really problematic? Again, maybe I’m been doing it wrong, but I’ve never felt that being an ally gives you the right to police or validate the group you claim to be allied with. I’ve always understood that being an ally is supposed to come from a position of humility, not one of authority. Apparently I was mistaken.

      As for whether the butlers were gay or not – this is basically immaterial but I’d point out that the suggestion that they might have been mostly came from people who were arguing that taking your clothes off and flashing your bum around was a legitimate form of gay male self expression that the Meet should encompass. That they are essentially a bunch of heterosexual strippers, again, makes their inclusion an LGBTQI event all the more suspect.

      Essentially I understand that you still believe that because I did not attend the Meet I do not have sufficient authority to decide whether the Meet is the sort of thing I would want to attend or whether it is a space by which I personally would feel included. I will, however, say that pretty much everything you have just told me reinforces my belief that the Meet is not a space that I would consider inclusive or feel included by.

      • Rhys says:

        I think you read my message in the wrong way and honestly it’s what happens with written word. But then again I didn’t to go on a long tirade, hence the shorter, perhaps more ambiguous comment I posted. My problem wasn’t your view of what is uncomfortable and what isn’t and what is inclusive or isn’t but the fact that you judged an entire event on a 5% of the entire weekend. Because frnakly, the buttcheeks were only that small part of a larger event.
        My comment on the straight allies wasn’t trying to say that the straight allies are the most important part of the event or pleasing was the supreme agenda. I was trying to say that since the literature is still predominantly M/M fiction it is bound to attract the audience of that literature. And a big audience of that literature are straight allies and gay men. So I’m not saying that it was a necessity to please them but since this was the entertainment part of the event having something amusing to the majority of the audience was part lf the evening’s gala. A. Lot of people said sure it was a bit tacky, but they had been so well-taken last year that they thought people would be pleased to see them again. There was also Bristol’s gay and lesbian choir singing as well as other parts to it that ai mentioned before.
        My point was if we get more diverse literature maybe we will attract an even more diverse group of attendees. Plus the entertainment changes every year, or attempts to, anyway.
        If you don’t want to attend the UKMeet based on this tiny portion of a whole weekend, then that is absolutely fine. But you cannot discourage people who might want or even need to discover this event, just like i did this year, then you’re doin it rong. And I’m sorry you feel that way, but some people really look forward to every meet because it makes them feel accepted and safe.
        So to conclude, the community that I was referring to in my original comment was sense of community that that the Meet creates in this weekend and beyond it. I’ve made new friends and met up with old ones. Imve discussed with people completely different to me and I learnt something new. I helped people discover books new books and people and others have helped people find my books. There is magical energy that surrounds the delegates that stays with us for the entire weekend. It’s no wonder a lot of us felt hangover and sad to leave our friends and the beautiful discussion we had, behind. Of course not everyone feels the same way, but the majority of the people I’ve talked to felt more or less the same.

        • Pam/Peejakers says:

          I have to disagree on this: “you judged an entire event on a 5% of the entire weekend”. No, this post, as I read it, is not judging the entire event based on this 5%. But it is identifying this 5% as being problematic, and the 95% good does not negate the 5% that was problematic.
          But that’s not to say that 5% can’t make an event intolerable, even if 95% is good. If I were Jewish, for example, and 95% of an event was lovely people & 5% was waiters dressed in Nazi uniforms, I think it’s a pretty safe conclusion that the 5% is going to unacceptably taint the other 5%!
          Also, you may not have intended it that way it sounded, but you did actually say these words “most importantly here: “you will get a group of attendees leaning towards a certain kind of niche/genre and a lot of the attendees are LGBTQI and most importantly Straight Allies who, and let’s not hide behind our thumb, we need if we’re gonna have acceptance in our writing community, but also in the wider one.”

        • Alexis Hall says:

          At the risk of sounding glib, if you didn’t want to suggest that straight allies were the most important people, then maybe you shouldn’t have used the words ‘most importantly’.

          I also continue to be rather confused by your assertion that m/m is the majority of queer literature because I sort of don’t think it is. As I think I said in my comment to Matthew, I think the issue we have here is that m/m as a genre seems (and I think this is very positive) to be trying to be broader and more inclusive, but it seems to be doing this in a way that completely fails to recognise that there’s a whole tradition of LGBTQ literature out there that doesn’t have much to do with it. There’s an entire catalogue of f/f from Broad Strokes Books. There’s a rich cultural tradition of queer literature going back literally centuries. The current poet laureate is a lesbian. I’m made profoundly uncomfortable by the idea that the only future for queer fiction is for it to be granted access rights by what used to be the m/m community.

          I still don’t quite understand where you’re coming from as regards the waiters. Your position now seems to be and I’m quoting you directly here that they were there because it was necessary to have “something amusing to the majority of the audience” where, as far I can tell, by the ‘majority of the audience’ you mean straight allies. But you’ve also gone to great lengths to explain that there were other entertainments available. What does it say about ‘the majority of the audience’ if those other entertainments that you have described apparently didn’t appeal to them, such that they required a bunch of straight male strippers. Again, this is getting into a very odd definition of ally if what we’re saying is that these people who are attending a dinner at an LGBTQ themed event will not be satisfied with a gay choir and drag act.

          It sounds like you feel very strongly about the Meet and that it means a lot to you and I’m sorry if you feel that this post might dissuade people from attending an event that you think they might enjoy. But there’s at least one person on this thread who has attended the Meet and felt out of place there, and several others who have said that the presence of things like naked dudes makes them feel excluded. And the thing is, I don’t care if it was only 5% of the event. If 5% of the event makes me uncomfortable, then I spend the event feeling uncomfortable. Especially because it makes me acutely aware that I am at an event with people who care more for their own titillation than for other people’s discomfort.

          Put quite simply, I would not have strippers at a literary event (unless it was specifically an event about pornographic literature or erotica) – no matter how much I thought the socially dominant members of the guest list might enjoy them. It is completely equivalent to having female strippers at a sci-fi con and justifying it on the grounds that you expect the majority of your audience to be heterosexual men.

          The other thing I do not understand at all is that if you really feel the UK Meet is this marvellous accepting experience that you want as many people as possible to share why on earth are you not receptive to people who tell you that the elements it currently contains dissuade them from sharing in it? To me, a key feature of an inclusive space is that it constantly strives for ways to be more inclusive. It doesn’t get defensive when people suggest it might not be an inclusive as it wants to be.

    • Rhys Ford says:

      Rhys, you might want to add your last name to your comments as I’ve been fielding questions about a comment by “Rhys” without having any idea about what is going on. Now I’ve found the instance, I shall point them in this direction. 😀

  10. Lotta says:

    Thank you for your very well argued post and comments. It’s quite easy to see how much this upsets and angers you, and I agree (how could I not? This is your life experience we’re talking about). There’s a world of difference between nude waiters and people chosing their dress (or lack thereof) for Pride. Letting people know that something makes you feel excluded in a certain situation is not the same as being offended. It’s interesting to see entitlement and privilige at work.

    I am so grateful that there are people like you, and EE and others who are so articulate and outspoken, for people like me who is generally shit at doing that (and also hate getting in arguments or even disagreeing with people I don’t know super well).

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thank you for this 🙂 For what it’s worth, I do often express myself forcefully and I do actually see that there are other arguments here. Basically I think it’s important that we have the discussion and – to give them their due – the organisers seem to agree.

  11. Matthew J Metzger says:

    Unfortunately this problem plagues the LGBT Fiction genre as a whole: it is too heavily equated to gay men having sex. There is a widespread problem of erasure of other sexualities, genders and identities that aren’t white, cis, male and gay. I’m currently trying to branch out and start these discussions in my own work, but sadly too much of the genre is dedicated to only white, gay, cis men, preferably shagging.

    I went to UK Meet in 2014. As a trans, asexual guy, I felt like a total fish out of water. I felt incredibly uncomfortable, was referred to by the wrong pronouns on multiple occasions, and opted out of the drag act planned for the entertainment as, by the time the evening rolled around, I just wanted to leave. I didn’t go this year.

    I hope the UK meet team will take your comments on board, Alexis, because they work really hard, and many parts of the Meet last year would have been so much more fun if I hadn’t felt like I’d wandered into the wrong place and into a gay m/m convention instead of an LGBTQIA one.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I’m really sorry you had a negative experience. I agree the organisers work really hard and I do think it is sort of difficult because the event obviously exists within a context that it can’t really change. That said, I do think there are things that could be done to address these issues, it’s just that I think there’s quite a significant lack of awareness out there and also this massive disconnect between what LGBTQA+ means to different people. There are some for whom it really does just basically mean m/m and while on a personal level that’s probably okay on a broader scale it becomes deeply exclusionary.

      I can’t help feel that its hearts in the right place but its execution very much isn’t. As Santino points out above, calling it an LGBTQ fiction event make it seem like it’s, well, predominantly an LGBTQ fiction event with as much space for queer-friendly children’s literature or essays on the works of Oscar Wilde as for, well, cis dudes shagging. Whereas, by contrast, GayRomLit very much signals m/m con to me — and therefore I’m much less inclined to be disappointed by cock walks and sausage parties. In a way, it’s almost like the event is a victim of its own good intentions. I’m not really sure what the origins of the Meet are but, everything I’ve seen, it feels to me like it’s basically an m/m con that is trying to open itself up to a wider audience. I think this is quite different from being a general LGBTQ fiction event from the outset.

      • willaful says:

        I think this may be the heart of it. People want to be inclusive, but just changing the name isn’t enough. (I recall my disappointment over the forward for the Another Place in Time anthology — lovely collection, some wonderful stories, but it was all m/m romance, and that’s not new or inclusive.)

        • Pam/Peejakers says:

          “just changing the name isn’t enough” – yes, exactly!

        • cleo says:

          I was pleasantly surprised by at least one of the UK Meet anthologies in terms of diversity re sexual orientation and gender identity – it had ff as well as mm and a couple trans* characters. (do I remember the name? No, of course not).

      • Matthew J Metzger says:

        Agreed — if you call yourself an M/M romance convention, then it would be silly to say ‘well, that’s not inclusive of lesbians.’ No, and it’s not pretending to be or marketed that way. But calling it LGBT implies a certain amount of balance between those identities that’s sadly missing.

        Yet there’s so much potential to change that leaning. When you actually talk to these authors and attendees and push the issue of ‘alright, so, let’s forget about gay men for a minute, who else in the spectrum have you written about/read about/what to see/identify with?’ there’s so *many* people who suddenly open up about their genderqueer characters, their trans* characters, their bisexuals and pansexuals and everything else. Many of the authors are not cisgender; many are not straight. Many have books under their belt, or books planned, with main characters who aren’t white, cis or gay. Many say they’d like to write other identities, but haven’t got the confidence or done the research to feel comfortable doing so. That diversity is already there, it’s just not being channeled.

        Someone said above that the Meet is crying out for more diverse literature and stories — well, cry out, then. Emphasise that when setting up panels and workshops, decide you want panels on this identity or that issue. The literature’s *there*, the attendees are *going*, it’s just…not forming into a properly inclusive convention at the end of it, and this m/m = lgbt fiction issue starts all over again.

        I would love to feel confident enough to go back, but sadly I don’t see it happening, especially seeing some of the responses to your post from the con’s faithful!

        • willaful says:

          “there’s so *many* people who suddenly open up about their genderqueer characters, their trans* characters, their bisexuals and pansexuals and everything else. Many of the authors are not cisgender; many are not straight. Many have books under their belt, or books planned, with main characters who aren’t white, cis or gay.”

          Yes, this!

        • Suki Fleet says:

          Matthew, I didn’t go to the event last year but I did go this year. I too am really sorry you had such a negative experience. I would love to see more diversity brought to the event, and one of the final things people were discussing before I left was having a diversity panel–which is a really positive step.

          So I’d urge anyone who feels strongly and wants to see more diversity included in this event to be part of that change. Email the team of organisers, let them know your thoughts on how the event could be more inclusive.
          If we all agree but do nothing, what changes?

          Thanks for your post, Alexis.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            Thanks for your comment. Just an aside to say, I’m really pleased that people seem to be taking this issue seriously. I think a diversity panel is definitely a step in the right direction.

          • Jay Rookwood says:

            I’ll almost certainly be on the diversity panel next year (there’s a shortlist of five names; panels are usually no more than four) and I’ll be taking notes on what’s said on this thread for the panelists to consider – unless there’s some way for you to email the comments to me in a week or so, Alexis? I’d really appreciate it!

          • Alexis Hall says:

            Um, sure. I mean, I think the discussion has largely died down so what you see is what you get but I’m happy to email.

  12. I find it interesting how quickly and often the argument her gets reduced to these particular baked butlers. Were they tacky? Were they gay or straight? Were they threatening? Were they…were they…were they? When the point seems to be inclusion or lack there of, of which the butlers are just a single symptom of a larger problem (which is what I believe AH was trying to point out). And though I don’t think anyone is purposefully reducing argument to specifics in any attempt to sabotage meaningful exploration of the subject matter, it kind of has the same result. As long as we’re discussing THESE BUTLERS we don’t have to address the lack of inclusion and diversity in LGBQT literature (and cons) that they represent, let alone the community or society as a whole. In a matter of speaking, it’s an effective silencing technique.

  13. I don’t know if this is a constructive post or just throwing fuel on the fire, but…

    I think at some point we should also take a look at just what we mean by “allies”. I write m/m, I read m/m, and I support gay rights, but I also support rights for indigenous people, people living in poverty, and pretty much anyone else I think is getting a bad deal in the current society. I’m not so much a “gay ally” as I am a generally liberal person. I don’t honestly think that reading or writing m/m is sufficient to qualify a person for “ally” status.

    There are certainly m/m readers and writers who do a hell of a lot more – people who march, and protest, and make sacrifices in order to advance the cause of gay rights. Those people, to me, are “allies”. The rest of us? Aren’t we just kind of… generally decent people who enjoy m/m?

    So the connection to the current issue, I guess, is that I’m not sure there’s a real social justice or political movement involved every time some m/m fans get together, and I think that’s totally fine. It’s fine to just have fun sometimes. But when we start using the term “ally”, it maybe politicizes something that didn’t need to be political, and then things get held to a higher standard?

    So, to me, two big concerns about some LGBT literary events – one, I think they may sometimes be mislabelled, if they’re really m/m romance events (as clearly discussed and elaborated on above) and two, I think they may sometimes be automatically treated as being about the LGBT movement, LGBT rights, etc., when really maybe most people involved just thought they were about meeting some friends and sharing some book-love. Neither perspective is right or wrong, but the clash between them may result in at least some people being disappointed or uncomfortable?

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Once again, I’m just going to be basically agreeing with you here 🙂

      For what it’s worth, I don’t think in marching in protests or writing letters to MP or whatever is a necessary criterion for being an ally either and, to an extent, I tend to feel that being an ally is as much about what you don’t do as what you do. Also I’m not wild about the term in general. This is just my personal preference but I don’t like to self-identify as anybody’s else ally. If people feel I support them, great. But I’m very leery of investing too much in that as part of my own identity.

      I do think it’s very important to recognise that reading and writing m/m are completely orthogonal to being an LGBTQ ally. I’m not one of those people who think it’s innately appropriative but nor do I think it’s innately supportive. And, as you say, I think a lot of confusion arises when people assume that m/m readers and writers are de facto allies.

      And like you say, having a book event (or any other event) that is explicitly for people who like m/m and just want to enjoy books is fine. I think it gets a lot trickier when you start trying to broaden the scope. As I said above, I do feel a little sorry for the UK Meet because I almost feel it has been a victim of its own good intentions. Again, I’m very much speaking for myself here but I kind of feel that being an ally is (and, to an extent, should be) hard. In that almost by definition supporting somebody relative to whom you have privilege involves doing your best to give up some of that privilege. It means if you want to be a feminist ally in gaming you might have to give up your right to look at hot chicks in bikinis whenever you want to. If you want to be an LGBTQ ally you might have to give up using gay as a pejorative no matter how harmless you feel it is or no matter how much it’s part of your everyday lexicon.

    • Jay Rookwood says:

      ” I think at some point we should also take a look at just what we mean by “allies”. I write m/m, I read m/m, and I support gay rights, but I also support rights for indigenous people, people living in poverty, and pretty much anyone else I think is getting a bad deal in the current society. I’m not so much a “gay ally” as I am a generally liberal person. I don’t honestly think that reading or writing m/m is sufficient to qualify a person for “ally” status.

      There are certainly m/m readers and writers who do a hell of a lot more – people who march, and protest, and make sacrifices in order to advance the cause of gay rights. Those people, to me, are “allies”. ”

      In the early 19th century the campaign to end slavery in the British empire was waged (in part) economically. An informal alliance of Quakers and evangelicals formed a network which ensured that consumers could get goods produced without the use of slaves. Every person who consciously chose to buy through that network was an ally of the slaves, just as surely as were those who ran the underground railroad in the US, or campaigned in the Houses of Parliament – yet all they were doing was buying sugar or cotton cloth. The people who ran the slavery-free trade network could never have achieved what they did without the support of a huge number of consumers.

      Ask yourself these questions:

      If you’re at the polling booth and choosing which candidate to vote for, would you base your choice on their stance on LGBT issues?

      If you saw an LGBT person being beaten up for their sexual orientation or gender identity, and you were in a position to help – whether by stopping it or giving them a way to escape – would you intervene?

      If you heard of a teen who’d been thrown out of his/her/zir home by his/her/zir parents for being LGBT, would you open up your own home to them, even if only temporarily?

      If you were working with disabled or elderly people and discovered that one was LGBT, would you work a bit harder and/or advocate on their behalf to ensure that their needs as an LGBT individual were met?

      If an LGBT co-worker who was being isolated by other colleagues, would you go out of your way to befriend them?

      If you answered “yes” to any of those questions (and it’s far from an exhaustive list) I would consider you to be an LGBT ally, and I think most other LGBT people would agree. You don’t need to make a loud noise to make a difference, especially for those who are most vulnerable – the young, disabled or old. In fact, making a loud noise can make it harder to help in some situations because you’re more easily identifiable as an ally, and so more of a target yourself. So don’t discount yourself simply because you’re not doing more high-profile stuff. There’s loads of other things you might do in the right situation, and probably some stuff you’re doing already without even thinking about it.

  14. Beverley Jansen says:

    I’d like to contribute something from an email Ulysses Dietz sent me this morning, as I think it encapsulates this debate rather nicely…

    …it wasn’t the nudity per se, but the fact that nudity became the meme for the event, thus making the event look like a Las Vegas bachelorette party, and not a gathering of like-minded literary folk.

    Simples.

  15. Jody-Anne says:

    God I love reading your blogs, and all the comments that go with them. I have to think about what my position and thoughts are, and WHY. From your original blog, this discussion took on a life of its own and has covered some broad ground. I really just wanted to make a comment to your original post.

    First up I am a cisgender het white female. I love m/m romance and I love sex on the page, not off, as for me I think you get another layer of the characters personalities and a level of intimacy that you don’t find out of the ‘bedroom’. That’s a whole other post, & just my background for coming into this discussion. I’m not a writer, I have never attended a convention.

    If I were to attend a convention for gay romance and saw Naked men my first thoughts would be Hohhot, cute! But then they would be ‘why?’ And why here. Just because there is erotic content in the books does not mean that it needs to be paraded around at a convention about said books and authors. I do not think that it is relevant, just titilating, or a gimmick. As an avid reader of the genre, therefore spending my money on these books, the gimmicks would be marketed at me though, wouldn’t they. Some would love it I am sure, and that’s fine. But, not really.

    As you pointed out about the page 3 babes, and the barely dressed gaming girls, it is objectification. Just because motorcycles cannot be sold with out a busty lass with leather shorts up her yingyang, racing car drivers apparently can’t walk to their cars without 2 busty lasses to assist them, and God forbid pretty much any female making a music video in anything more than some mesh with stratically censor friendly fabric strips does not mean that this objectification is right or normal….and man, let’s just have more……and with MEN!!!!

    Moving that aside. If I were to attend a LBTGQI convention, then I would be expecting to be seeing, hearing and experiencing such in all of its diversity. Naked men, again ‘why?’. I do not think lesbians – butch or otherwise – transsexuals, bi, ace/aero, and the colours of the rainbow in between being naked either is the point. The point is ‘what is the point’ of it at all. From the comments, I got the impression from some that it was for the main demographic of the conventions participants as either readers or writers of the predominant genre….m/m. If that is the case then it was a G convention. I think it was Rhys who attended and said this was a very small thing at one dinner in one part of the convention, and that the choir and dancers etc where seen by way more people. Awesome. Could the G gimmick not have been several gay men hand in hand in gorgeous or edgy or funky outfits moving about the space (it is late, I cannot create under these conditions! Think of something better, please!!!). And if that was for G, then what was for the LBTQI?

    We are in the 21 Century people. Sex is great, bodies are great. We all have one! Some are gorgeous, some are ok, some are not so great, but we all have one. It’s time it was stopped being used to sell everything under the sun, or as ‘just a bit of fun’, and for the Meet of this particular blog the question remains of ‘why?’, what is the point? Find a better/different, inclusive and non sexual gimmick.

  16. Hi Alexis,

    I have been unsure whether or not to post a comment here.

    We’ve had a few really interesting conversations in the past, I respect your opinion and this is a very important, but controversial topic and I am afraid that my words will be misunderstood or taken negatively.

    While I think that it is not quite possible for you to talk about the UK Meet as a whole or even just the Gala Dinner, without having attended it, in a way I am thankful that you spoke up.

    There were a few people who felt uncomfortable there, because of the ‘butlers in the buff,’ and I’m not sure any of them would have mentioned it, if you had not talked about it on your blog. It is difficult to speak up against something that a majority of people enjoy, but it is important for everyone at UK Meet that the experience there is inclusive, safe and fun for everyone.

    Still, I also saw the fallout from the post and how it affected the last day of the convention. A lot of people there felt like you were pointing fingers from the outside (not having attended), saying ‘ur doing it rong’ and judging people.

    There is much we still need to learn and discuss and it is unfortunate that many people have missed important and strong arguments you have used, because the event and many people they know and love were negatively affected by the post and the timing and tone of the blog post felt off.

    The wonderful organization team at the UK Meet did a great job responding to your blog in the last part of the event and has already found a way to make the Gala Dinner more inclusive next year, but from the moment the blog was published, there was a dark cloud over the event that overshadowed the many amazing moments we were fortunate enough to share in together.

    As a bi-curious gay man, I felt very welcomed at the event. Last June was the first time I attended any convention and for the first time I was able to be me and didn’t feel judged. It affected me so much that I decided we needed something similar on the European mainland and the Euro Pride Con was born. I wasn’t able to stay away from the UK Meet this year, either, and enjoyed it just as much.

    A small, but significant part of that feeling was due to ‘the butlers’. They were part of the UK Meet last year and it was announced that they would return by popular demand and delegates were able to see pictures of what they could expect and make an informed decision on whether or not it would be a deal breaker for them and whether they wanted to book the opt-in dinner. I also think that while the choir was very moving, neither photos nor event videos could do justice to them. Nor could a photo have really captured the energy of the drag queen performance and everyone was aware of the people with white lanyards (who did not want to be photographed) at the tables and on the dance floor, so pictures of attendees and the event itself were kept to a minimum. Of course, with the butlers offering photo opportunities that were fun and special to most of us, many such pictures were posted on Facebook.

    Having said that, KJ Charles was right to point out that the Gala Dinner, while optional, is an important social gathering and no one should feel unwelcomed and uncomfortable there and you were right to point out that Facebook might have been oversaturated with ‘butler’ photos, albeit for a reason and only temporarily.

    Personally, it felt incredibly liberating for me to approach half-naked men and ask them for a photo with me. They were incredibly nice, respectful and approachable.

    It might have been the first time I told a stranger that I was gay. They helped me create a hot photo to make my boyfriend a bit jealous and they asked me about him and how we met. They were so friendly and open minded – and yeah, I thought they were really hot. One of them was bi and really loved that these authors were writing LGBT characters and asked for titles to check out. The others were straight, but completely non-judgemental and they had fun with us in the room and loved our group.

    This year the guys were a bit more outgoing and were dancing with the drag queen and with everyone who wanted to. It was easy to see how much fun they were having; they were practically beaming. Especially when one of them started to really rock out to his favorite song.

    One of the guys was doing this job to pay for his wedding. His fiance, family and friends knew what he was doing, but none of them minded. They were proud of their bodies, were respectful and treated respectfully from our group and to me it was not just a lot of fun; it was an experience I will never forget.

    It is easy to dismiss these guys as sexy eye candy, but some of us were actually having interesting, funny, surprising and sometimes even deep conversations with them or having fun on the dancefloor. No one had to approach them and they left you alone if you did not want to be close to them. I found it not only really hot to look at them, but very rewarding and liberating to talk to them. For me it was the perfect ending to an amazing evening with a gay choir that moved some people to tears and a drag queen, who rocked the house.

    I do think it matters that it was an opt-in instead of part of the convention itself and that I never saw anyone cross the line and behave disrespectful and I also think it is important to get feedback from people who did not feel comfortable with it and find better ways to include all colors of the rainbow in a more effective way in all parts of the UK Meet.

    I firmly believe that you could have taken this important issue and turned it into something positive and constructive. Instead of saying ‘ur doing it rong’, you could have said ‘let’s work together to make it even better and more inclusive’.

    You are a great debater and I think you feel passionately about this issue -and rightfully so. Unfortunately, however well-intentioned your words were, they have become part of the problem instead of the solution.

    It is great that you were able to speak up for those who felt uncomfortable and raised important questions, but I have also seen the people at the meet who cried because they felt judged or misunderstood after reading your blog post.

    The UK Meet was such a great event and having hosted the first annual Euro Pride Con, I know how much work goes into an event like this. There were so many people who felt accepted and cherished and loved and welcomed by open-minded people for the first time in their lives.

    There were so many interesting panels and funny and touching moments. Amazing keynote speeches, great books, awesome new authors, …

    …and it was all overshadowed by the post and the discussion about the butlers.

    I am absolutely certain this post never was intended as an attack, but it hurt a few people to feel so misunderstood, when they were trying so hard to built an inclusive and safe space. After the post was released, there were people who suddenly felt dirty and judged (from within their own community) in what should have been and previously felt like a safe space to them. Even the timing of the post could’ve been better….

    Events like the ‘UK Meet’ or the ‘Euro Pride Con’ might not be perfect, but I firmly believe it is good that we don’t close these events off and make them exclusively ‘Gay Romance’ events as you have suggested. That might make things easier for us, but we are actually trying to take the rocky road, to open these events up to people reading, writing, publishing and living on any and all parts of the rainbow.

    We want diverse books and authors and keynote speakers and panels and people. We want input, experience, we want to learn and to exchange and to keep making events that get more inclusive and welcoming every year.
    We don’t need anyone to point out what we are doing wrong, we need and want people to help us do things right. I really hope this is taken in the sincere way it is meant and that we can stop turning against each other and start helping each other to create events, where everyone will feel comfortable and welcomed.

    Greetings from Munich,

    Marc

    • EE Ottoman says:

      Hello Marc, ::waves:: you probably don’t know me and I don’t want to speak to your entire post because most of it was aimed at Alexis. I do want to speak to the parts were you talk about the tone of the article. I’m really troubled by your assertion that if Alexis had been “nicer” he would have been part of the “solution not the problem”

      I absolutely question the idea that anyone need to be nicer or more reasonable or more quiet in order to get change to happen here or anywhere else.

      Look the stuff that Alexis talks about here are not new. The only new part of this blog post was the fact that he was specifically talking about the UKMeet.

      I’ve personally discovered when working around these issues in the GLBTQA lit community and the GLBTQA community in general being nice is not the answer, people don’t hear that. they respond to brutal honesty and genuine anger and discomfort.

      I don’t think you can say if Alexis had been nicer if he had come at this with a softer tone more change would have happened. I think change is going to happen at the UKMeet and probably because Alexis didn’t mince is words.

      I’m not sure I actually get why you think a softer tone would have done more good.

      From a personal stand point naked models are kind of a staple at a lot of writer/romance writing events and I’ve chosen not to go to them because of it. For me naked models and everything that goes along with them is a deal breaker for me. I know Alexis has said he doesn’t see a problem with them at m/m events but I do. I think things like male molds at writing events sends a message of “you’re not wanted here” to people who aren’t attracted to buff cis dude and don’t write about them. It can also say that making sure (supposedly) straight women and cis gay men have a good time is more important then having the rest of us there at all. As far as I’m concentered that holds true for m/m or any other GLTBQ lit. It makes me feel marginalized all over again. That’s my feelings on this.

      • Sure, no one HAS to be nice in anything they say to bring across their points and maybe even to force a change. We are talking about building safe and inclusive spaces though and for me the end goal in that can only be an event where everyone feels comfortable and welcomed in a warm and open-minded community.

        Sure, you can be brutal and not mince with words, but I genuinly don’t think that Alexis aimed at making others at the UK Meet feel dirty, judged and misunderstood. The UK Meet and now the Euro Pride Con are two LGBTQ Fiction Meets that lean towards M/M Romance, but are open to fiction, writers, readers and publishers from all over the spectrum. As EPC event organizer, I know how important it is to every organizer of an event like this that everyone feel comfortable. There were asexual, trans, lesbian, bisexual, genderqueer, gay and straight attendees at Euro Pride Con; some of them lived monogamously with a partner, some were in an open relationship, single or a menage relationship. Those were just the people I personally knew and I am really glad that they felt comfortable there and will be back next year in Berlin.

        There are so many different colors in the rainbow, it is important to welcome them all to an event like that and make them feel comfortable. We would LOVE to get more interest from those not as strongly represented to not just attend, but become involved with the convention, become a panelist, help usmake it more inclusive, educate people. There are many stereotypes and prejudices that we could fight together and our community would become stronger for it and I’m sure we would then see more diversity in books as well. Of course, no one has the duty to reveal anything private and/or become involved. It takes a lot of courage to open yourself up and make yourself vulnerable in front of a crowd and not everyone can or wants to do that. The fact is, though, that we need help to make these events more inclusive. It won’t really help if people stay home, because they don’t believe anything can or will change.

        Perhaps I am too much of an idealist, but I honestly believe it is better to become a part of something that obviously has its heart at the right place and try to make it even better from within, than to try to force a change from the outside.

        Yes, I think that the UK Meet will change as a result to the blog post, but it is a somewhat forced reaction. I have gotten to know the organizers as incredibly open and approachable and I am absolutely certain that they would have listened. I actually think it was important for Alexis to say something, when about 20 people felt uncomfortable with it and didn’t dare to say anything until he brought the issue up. But the timing was bad and the words were harsh and felt accusatory to many and while they brought change, the blog post hurt people and made them feel judged and dirty and in that the blog post was unsuccessful in helping to create a safer space.

        Harsh words can bring forth change, but they can also rile up people and pit them against each other. I know Alexis never wanted people to cry and feel bad and unable to enjoy the last day of the convention. And I know many of the people who commented in an agressive way, without really taking in some of the strong arguments Alexis made, would have been more open to his comments if they had not seen how it affected the event and the people they loved. I am glad for the changes and I am glad that we are now having this discussion, but to me it happened in a negative way.

        Soft words can be just as powerful, if not more so. If we want to create a safe space for EVERYONE, we need to unite people instead of piting them against each other. It is possible to be more inclusive to a group of people who have been unintentionally marginalized in a part of the convention that aims to be inclusive, without making the others feel sad, judged or angry. It has to be and remain a safe space for them as well.

        • EE Ottoman says:

          Hello Mac and thank you for your thoughtful reply to me. I want to preface this by saying I don’t want to speak for Alexis at all, I don’t want to include him in my methods either 😉

          To speak to your point “Soft words can be just as powerful, if not more so.” I think this depends very much on the situation. I think that their are situations were softer words are more affective, I’m not convinced with is one of them, but I do agree with that. I also think though that there is a time and a place for stronger language. To be clear I don’t mean being cruel, but to me their is a difference between being purposefully hurtful and speaking a truth, even a hard and possible hurtful one, in no uncertain terms.

          Again I don’t want to say if Alexis did or didn’t do that, because I don’t want to speak to him.

          I do want to say (and I wanted to say it in the my first comment but maybe I wasn’t being clear) that I take issue with the blanket statement that I felt you were making, which was basically if you don’t use soft language to get your point across than you are the problem. I a) don’t think that’s true and b) I think that adds a culture where people who have real criticism of the community don’t speak up.

          I am also not sure I agree with the idea that the only way to make a space safe for more diverse GLTBQA people is to have them attend. Because that could very well be asking them to put themselves into a situation where the feel unsafe and uncomfortable. I don’t think it’s fair for more diverse people to have to be the ones to make the change happen. I think that has to be a group effort, and it may mean giving up things like naked male models at conventions.

          I’m not encouraging others to put themselves in situations they feel uncomfortable with unless I’ve seen change from the majority too. That should happen regardless of hurt feelings. Quite frankly I haven’t seen that from the majority in this situation aka people who love the male models at their events. Mostly what I’ve seen is people yelling angrily at those of us who bring up our feelings.

          Seriously what would you have me say to people like Matthew in the above comments who was misgendered, or sexual abuse survivors who might be made to feel unsafe by the male models.What about authors like who are made to feel even more marginalized by it? Should we go anyway? Field angry comments and subtweets if you speaks up? Listen to be people tell us how them wanting to pose with a naked model is more important? Make sure we speak softly lest someone take offense?

          I’m not trying to be snaky here, these are real thinks I think about, issues I think need to be taken into account when we are talking conference as safe space.

          • Hi EE,

            you are right. There is a difference between being purposefully hurtful and saying things that hurt. I don’t think that Alexis was purposefully hurtful, but I think he could have found a different way to get to the same result. For me, the purpose of this blog post seems to have been to fasciliate a change and get people in this community to re-evaluate how welcoming and inclusive the LGBTQ events they create or participate in really are.

            You can of course point fingers from the outside and use harsh words to tell those attending the event that they are objectifying the ‘butlers in the buff’ and creating and unsafe and unwelcoming space. Any good organization team will of course have to investigate such concerns, which they did and found several people uncomfortable with the butlers.

            The reason why I am certain that soft, positive words would have better in this case is that said organization team would have investigated any such concerns addressed to them, was actively looking for input and is continuouly working on and looking for help to make the event as inclusive as possible. All the judgement and shame and anger and hurt could have been skipped and I am certain the discussion could have been more respectful and constructive in both ways for it.

            I do believe that if someone says words that will unneccesarily hurt people and split the community, instead of uniting it, that will be inherently problematic, especially if the goal is a safe space for everyone.

            We need to talk about the difficult subjects, we need to look in the mirror and check if are living and teaching the values that are most important to us through our words and actions. Criticism is very important and needed, but it can be constructive criticism and it can be phrased in a positive way and still be incredibly powerful.

            If my parents told me not to do something, I instinctively wanted to rebel against that limitation they put upon my personal freedom. If they explained to me why I should not WANT to do it in a way that made sense to me, I was not forced to comply, but listened to them out of my own free will.

            I think trying to dictate a change from the outside can never work as well as becoming a part of the solution, explaining to people why it is neccessary and beneficial to change things and encouraging a change from within.

            Sure, as a community we are flawed. We still have stereotypes and prejudices in our heads that were passed on to us and we are misinformed or wrong about certain subjects. But there is such a positive energy in this community, a will to change and become better. A will to learn and grow. The reason soft words can bring forth a change in this community is that a majority of the people in this community are open-minded, empathic and want to understand and improve.

            As I have written repeatedly in my comments, the need to change things if anyone is uncomfortable is undeniable. I never meant that if those underrepresented in events like the UK Meet or the Euro Pride Con won’t attend, we would not try our very best to still make it as inclusive as possible and deal with any issues that are brought to us.

            Actually, I firmly believe that there is much more diversity even within the group of female writers within the M/M genre than many people assume are all straight. The closer I get to my friends within this community, the more I see the beautiful, diverse colors of the rainbow they represent. I know female authors of M/M fiction who identify as lesbian, transgender, bisexual, demisexual, pansexual, asexual or genderqueer, even though many just see them as straight women writing housewife porn. That is so very unfortunate, unfair and untrue. Still, I absolutely accept and respect that not all of them want to talk about their private feelings and sexual identity openly, feel honored that many have entrusted their personal story to me and I try to support them in any and every way possible. This tight-knit community we have – with all it’s flaws and all it’s love- is something very special we need to protect and something we need to improve together for our common benefit.

            Still, while we can work on making these events the most accepting and welcoming events possible, I cannot and would never presume to speak for any group that I do not belong to, however underrepresented it may be, at a panel or anywhere else. I don’t even think that someone belonging to that group can speak for everyone in that group, but I think that this community would benefit from learning more about these groups through shared personal experiences.

            Next year in Berlin, Aleksandr Voinov and L.A. Witt/ Lori Gallagher/ Lori A. Witt/ Ann Gallagher will share a keynote speech and I couldn’t be more excited. Not just because Aleks is a trans man and Lori a bisexual woman and they have created a vastly diverse cast of characters in many different genres. They are honest, authentic, brave and so funny that they will bring down the house. We work hard to select diverse panelists, keynote speakers, panel topics and make everyone feel as safe and welcomed as possible. But we need help from those who are underrepresented, because no one else can speak for them. We can do our best and be inclusive, but there are limits to what we can do without the help of those we are trying to include. It IS a group effort.

            I think people have been so angry, because it was not neccesary to make the event less of a safe and non-judgemental space for some, only to point out that it wasn’t a safe space for others. The vast majority of people had absolutely no problems with finding a more inclusive solution for the Gala Dinner, especially after about 20 attendees said they were uncomfortable with them. Actually, I cannot think of a single person who has a problem with the organizers looking for a way to make everyone happy and comfortable. People were pissed off, because the issues were phrased in a way that made people feel judged in what should have been a safe space and hurt feelings. The organizers are always open for constructive criticism and would have handled it in the same wonderful way they have now, had it been brought to them in a different way, but it would have remained a safe, non-judgemental place in every other way as well and no one would have been hurt or pissed and the changes would still have occured.

            I seriously don’t believe that anyone purposefully misgenders another attendee. As a blog owner who is in contact with hundreds of authors, readers, bloggers, publishers, etc in our genre, many of whom have become genuine friends to me, it is still incredibly difficult to never use a wrong pronoun or not to hurt someone in a completely unexpected and unwanted way. I never thought about how the use of clean, instead of negative, for example, could make some people feel unclean and it is such an easy change to make, once someone points it out.

            While I know that pronouns can be a very important way to take charge of one’s own identity, I usually try avoiding pronouns altogether, unless I am completely certain which pronoun a person wants to be used. It can be a very difficult minefield to navigate and I am not saying it should be easy, because nothing worth doing ever is. But there is a learning curve and we still have to learn a lot. We can only do that if we work together and are honest and respectful. It does not help if we create hurt feelings and anger on both sides. Saying that I enjoyed the ‘naked’ butlers, does not mean that I am unwilling for the organizers to find a different solution that works for all. I do have friends who were victims of sexual abuse and were inappropriately touched by the strippers at GRL and could not tolerate that, even though they would not have minded to watch. I am glad that there will be two entertainment option at GRL now to deal with the stripper issue. Everyone is different and has different limits and there are lines that cannot be crossed. We have to be mindful of others in our wonderful community and make sure they feel included and comfortable.

            We all have the same goal and we should work together to reach it.

          • EE Ottoman says:

            Not to be hostile but I don’t think you’re in a position to say whether a trans person is purposefully misgendered or not. I get that getting pronouns right is tough but at the same time I also feel like you bringing this up now is derailing and ignoring what I was trying to say. I also feel like you are trying to contractive the lived experience of a trans man about his own pronouns in order to protect a space were you feel safe but he didn’t. Please don’t do that.

            Let me be blunt, it’s easy when we are in a position of power in a community that is supportive to us, to them wrap our heads around that this same place may not be safe for someone with less privilege. There is also a level of politics involved with turning the problem of inclusion around to the oppressed minority and saying “it’s our fault, why don’t you try hard, why don’t you reach out,” which is in fact what you are saying. I don’t think that’s what you mean but that is the bottom line.

            I’m also going to say that using soft language and being listened to and taken seriously is also a privilege. It comes with assumed authority, and I won’t speak for Alexis, but authority I don’t have, lot and lot of people don’t have. There are lots of us who have to shout at the top of our lunges in order to even be heard and most of the time we’re still not heard, still not taken seriously. Maybe you can use soft language but that comes from a place of privilege I would love you to own instead of tone policing.

            Look I’ve worked in the m/m and queer romance community for a long time. I know these issues, I know how the diversity situation is, and if I thought this community didn’t have the ability to be great and rise above the issues I wouldn’t be here. I am in the inside, I am in the trenches. Because I do believe changing a community from the inside is important, but I also think it’s interesting that when I take the unpopular side of a community argument suddenly I’m the outsider that needs to be taught about m/m from those obviously smarter than me.

          • EE Ottoman says:

            If the conversation about this post has shown me nothing it’s that this “We all have the same goal and we should work together to reach it.” Is far from true.

          • EE Ottoman says:

            okay I am going to address a few more thing in the clear light of day.

            “The reason soft words can bring forth a change in this community is that a majority of the people in this community are open-minded, empathic and want to understand and improve.”

            Are you talking about the m/m community here? Because if you are that has in no ways been my lived experience for the all the years I’ve been a part of this community. I think there are definitely open minded people willing to change in m/m but they are not the majority. The majority like the status quo, that’s why they are in the community because that status quo works for them. They don’t care about people who are marginalized in the community, not even a little bit and they are willing to protect the status quo at all costs. That is my experience of the m/m community over the years I’ve been a part of it.

            “Actually, I firmly believe that there is much more diversity even within the group of female writers within the M/M genre than many people assume are all straight. ”

            The m/m community runs on an assumed straight majority lost of people think accurately represents the demographic who is buying m/m. It might not be true but the genre revolves around the assumption which might as other comments have suggested be the reason for the naked models everywhere. That has nothing to how the community is actually set up or how actually diverse it might or might not be.

            I’m also not really sure why you brought it up? Are we diverse enough? is that you’re point? Do you think the fight for diversity is less important because we are already somewhat diverse? Are you trying to prove I’m somehow an outsider in the community I’ve been a part of for years and wouldn’t already know this? It seems to be that that paragraph was largely saying that our community is incredibly diverse, we have “every shade of the rainbow” so our work is largely done. Do tell me why you think that instead of just eluding to it.

            Then there is the name dropping of Aleks, you know an trans author who rights m/m. Congratulations. I know Aleks too, lots of people do. I don’t get what your point here was sides from name dropping a trans man author.

            “We all have the same goal and we should work together to reach it.”

            As I mentioned last night not only do I think this is not true, but I think it’s missing the entire point. The transphobia in m/m isn’t a blip on the radar that happens every now and then in a group of accepting people. It is systematic to the genre. The made models and how common they are show that. They are their to celebrate the cisgender normatively attractive form above all else, and they highlight the fact that this is by and large the only acceptable body to portray in m/m. One only needs to look at pretty much any common m/m cover or the graphics people put all over their websites to know that the cisgender male body is privileged to the point of only having that be what is allowed in the genre. That’s not related to how many authors leave comments like “eww” on pictures of men where their penis not present. Or say things like “the best part of a man is his dick” which absolutely constructs maleness as for people with cis-dicks only. Or how many people say that only cisgender men are allowed in any m/m any book with a trans man isn’t real “men.” Or how many review sites won’t review these books. People have told me terms like male/male itself or even “gay romance” only apply to cisgender men and books with trans men are not welcomes in the genre. People say that it is their right to find trans people unattractive as if the point of a trans book is to shove trans attractiveness down their throats. People have said because the genre is only straight women and gay men (there worlds not mine) trans people don’t belong in the genre. Gay men have told me that I’m somehow infringing on their right to be gay by asking them to not be transphobic, and lot of people have come to their defense every time because that is by and large what the m/m community things about this. Trans inclusivity is great as long as it’s not fringing on their right to say men without dicks aren’t real men or worthy of being written about.

            I don’t have to go back into the dark-ages to find these things either, a can look just a few weeks ago, or a few days, or at most a few months.

            This is why I would say “”We all have the same goal and we should work together to reach it.” or The reason soft words can bring forth a change in this community is that a majority of the people in this community are open-minded, empathic and want to understand and improve.” is bullshit.

            At the end of the day I think we have vastly different goals. You keep talking about a “safe space for everyone,” and how we need to open up a safe space that already exist without threatening it in anyway.

            That’s not my goal. My goal is to lift those of us who are marginalized in the community to the same level as the majority. I want to make spaces and event that were closed to us, open instead.

            This will absolutely come that the cost of the majority giving up power and that process of giving up power is never fun, or safe, or comfortable. I suspect that the majority are going to have to give up their safe spaces before they can give up their power.

          • Pam/Peejakers says:

            *applauds you* and also *hugs*

          • EE Ottoman says:

            seriously dude? What kind of message do you send when you can lecture me and Alexis on our tones but refuse to respond to me calling you out on your privilege? How are we on the “same side” when you’re allowed to criticize what I say but I can’t criticize you?

          • Alexis Hall says:

            I don’t what to put words in anyone’s mouth, but I think it was getting pretty obvious that the discussion was dragging on painfully and productively for everyone, which I think is why Marc has chosen to stay away rather than respond directly.

    • Beverley Jansen says:

      Marc, I have been your friend for quite a while now, and we both met in person at UKMeet last year – it was a highlight for me to give you great hugs and receive them. We both met the Butlers last year, and had a great time at the Gala dinner

      At first my emotions about the post, which concerned a memory I hold dear being, seemingly, negated by dear friend, overwhelmed me. However, he is right.

      I won’t address all of the points you raised, but a few I felt I must. I am so sad that people felt judged for enjoying the Butlers. Alexis’ post was actually the reverse of a judgement – it was a call for inclusion and sensible discussion. I initially, resorted to explanations similar to yours below –

      ‘…They were so friendly and open minded – and yeah, I thought they were really hot. One of them was bi and really loved that these authors were writing LGBT characters and asked for titles to check out. The others were straight, but completely non-judgemental and they had fun with us in the room and loved our group.

      This year the guys were a bit more outgoing and were dancing with the drag queen and with everyone who wanted to. It was easy to see how much fun they were having; they were practically beaming…’

      Who or how these men were is not the point. Would they have been less ‘hot’ if they had been fully clothed? Would they have been less friendly? Less interesting? No, of course not, but they would not have caused discomfort for some delegates, and they would not have become the meme for a supposedly inclusive literary event.

      Last year there were pics, but the overwhelming number of photos were of excited people meeting and hugging and smiles – that’s what I want to represent me and my community.

      My response has to reiterate, what Alexis has been saying over and over again…Is it right for people to ignore the discomfort of the minority for the entertainment of the majority? No one was judging those who enjoyed this small part of the gala – I enjoyed it last year! However, I was not aware of how uncomfortable and judged some people were by these gentlemen’s attendance. Alexis brought this to my attention.

      Alexis’ post was never a commentary on the organisers’ abilities or hard work – We all know how hard that team works and I am very fond of the organising team.

      You have to admit Marc, Alexis succeeded in getting a discussion going. Any alterations and emphasis on diversity will be in part be because of him.

      I understand why the ‘events’ that occur at GRL are just seen as fun, although they highlight the sex side of gay culture and limit attention on the um…literary. However, GRL is marketed more as a fun gay event. No one is against nudity or nude fun – AT THE RIGHT EVENT. I doubt it would be somewhere for me but never say never.

      UKMeet is, and always should be, an inclusive, literary, celebratory, safe place for all the LGBTQAI community in all its diversity. This means that the few who may be uncomfortable, for whatever reason, MUST be heard and catered for.

      One last thing – you and several others have mentioned that Alexis could not speak of his discomfort because he was not there…Please –there are many things that make us all uncomfortable, which we hopefully have never experienced personally. This is not a reason to reject Alexis’ post and points.

      • Hi Beverly,

        thank you for your reply.

        Yes, I believe that without having attended the convention, Alexis is not really able to talk about the convention he has not attended. Even your experiences last year were not quite the experiences you would have made this year. There were four waiters walking around to every table and asking every person if they wanted a picture. It was a respectful approach and if a person did not want to take a picture, they moved on. I felt like this was a response to some people last year being too shy to approach any of the waiters or approach the waiter they wanted to take a photo with. In fact, I talked to some people who for the first time dared to make such a picture with a half-naked man. There were more people who felt comfortable taking a picture with the butlers, because of these changes and given how respectful people were of those with white lanyards and how the other entertainment options of the evening had to be experienced in person, it is no surprise to me that there were a lot of butler photos after the event. As you pointed out in your initial post, these photos got some immediate attention, but photos of the event itself and of meetings and interactions between attendees had a much longer shelf-life and are more representative of the event itself.

        The Gala Dinner seemed to be a safe place for some of us to be open about our sexual orientation or attraction. I think it was unfortunate that those of us who felt safe enough in this group to make themselves vulnerable to a new and special experience, now felt judged and dirty. While I don’t think that was the intent of the words and Alexis wanted to make the event more inclusive through his blog post, it is easy to see how the tone, word choice and timing could have and did have that effect.

        Alexis CAN talk about how the oversaturation of ‘butler’ photos might send out the wrong message about the UK Meet, how some people might not feel comfortable attending because of it and that the organizers should make sure that every attendee of the Gala Dinner was comfortable with the presence of the butlers. And I think it was important that he did bring those issues up. Without his blog post I am certain those uncomfortable with the naked butlers would have remained silent, because the vast majority loved them.

        I strongly disagree with you in one point. I think it is tremendously important who or how these men were. As it would be unacceptable to disregard those feeling uncomfortable with the butlers it is also unacceptable to make people feel judged and dirty, because they enjoyed them. Again, I don’t think Alexis wanted that, but I was there and it did happen. It is important for me to underline that not only were the butlers respectful to attendees, the attendees were respectful to them as well and did not see them as mere sex objects. They were normal human beings, who happened to be scantily clad to earn a few bucks and looked hot doing it. Attendees were able to both appreciate the bodies the butlers worked hard for and were proud of (if they were attracted to them) and could also have interesting conversations with them and fun with them on the dance floor regardless of their own sexual identity and orientation. They never made me feel bad because I did not look like them and am overweight, they never made negative comments about me being gay. They were friendly, respectful and open-minded and I think that is very important for this conversation. Not because it makes the concerns that have been raised less important – it is clear to me that if not all attendees feel comfortable with the butlers at such an important social gathering, some kind of change is neccessary. But because I firmly believe that we can talk about ways to make the Gala Dinner more inclusive, without making those who enjoyed the butlers feel bad.

        And no, I don’t think the men would have been less friendly if they had been fully clothed. But probably less hot to me personally, because as you might remember from last year I really appreciated the view. And while their personal stories and personalities would not have been less interesting, having clothed straight men at the gala dinner would have been kind of pointless. I don’t think that would be a good solution to the problem, but of course some kind of solution has to be found and as far as I know has already been found.

        I was also unaware that there were people who were uncomfortable because of the butlers. That might in part be due to nudity not being a big deal to me or in my culture. In Munich, there are quite a few public areas like our big park ‘English Garden’, where nudity is absolutely acceptable. We also have the biggest sauna in the world, where my boyfriend and I encounter naked people of every sexual identity, body type, age, race or gender. Some have piercings (even intimate ones), some have tattoos and while everyone looks, no one stares and no one is judged (as far as I have observed and experienced). If I would not have found the guys attractive, I would not have been bothered by them either – even if they were naked. Now that I know that others feel differently, and again, I am grateful for Alexis for that, I am all for finding a more inclusive way that works for everyone.

        Of course, if you talk about one small part of an opt-in event and how it shows that the event is not welcoming or inclusive that can be problematic. While even such a small part of the overall event can make some people feel uncomfortable or discourage people from attending (like the number of people who mentioned they would not attend the event after reading this post – which I personally find very sad), the butler problematic can be easily fixed. The organizers instantly checked to see how many people felt uncomfortable after they read the blog and worked on a way to change things. I KNOW they would have done the same if these concerns had been raised to them in a different way, because making a safe and welcoming event for everyone is one of their core goals of the organization team and they work very hard towards that goal.

        Of course Alexis succeeded in starting a conversation and that is important and good. But as someone who has seen the way these words affected the delegates at the convention, I really don’t think it was successful in uniting everyone in one common goal. From Saturday at lunch until Monday when I landed in Amsterdam and said goodbye to a friend, the blog post was almost the only topic that was talked about. Seeing their friends cry, because of the way this issue was raised, seeing them hurt by harsh words from someone not at the event and how they were misunderstood and felt judged, pissed off a lot of people and tainted this important discussion and the wonderful UK Meet with anger and hurt feelings. While there is a discussion because of the post, people are so angry that they can’t see the important arguments Alexis has made.

        I am not saying that we should have never had this important discussion, I am saying that it should have been phrased in a less hurtful and confrontational way and with better timing. As someone who was there and personally experienced the fallout from this post, that I am certain Alexis did not intend in this way, I must confess that I am deeply unhappy about the rift in this community I love so much. A rift that this post did not cause, but that was deepened through it. There is so much anger and hurt from what many felt was an attack from within their own community and I did not get any satisfaction from their angry comments that ignored important issues Alexis raised nor from the way the blog post affected the last day(s) of the event and the people there.

        I did not comment because I rejected Alexis’ posts and points, but because I did not think he realized how the post had affected the event and some people there and why it was taken so negatively and agressively. I don’t think he could have neccessarily anticipated this, but I do think we can learn from it and try to find solutions together.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          I’m sorry to hop in and to double post but I sort of want to flag something up on the issue of “being there.”

          I’ve sort of mentioned this elsewhere but my general feeling is that if knowing a particular thing will be at a particular is sufficient to cause you not to attend that event I do not think you wave the right to explain the presence of the thing causes you not to attend the event.

          I also want to reiterate that I am genuinely sorry that people felt so hurt by this post. I thought I made it very clear that it wasn’t the nudity I had a problem with it was the context of the nudity. It’s not people enjoying naked bums I have a problem with, it’s naked bums being seen as inseparable from LGBTQ literature.

          • I think you have misunderstood me in this aspect, Alexis. You have every right to say that the presence of the butlers is an aspect that would have contributed to you or others you know not to want to attend. You do not waive that right at any time and as I have said before, it was important that you made the organizers aware of this issue. They realized that if it was an issue for you, it might have been an issue for others as well and asked the attendees who were there and had invested in the Gala Dinner and the event.

            I did take issue with you talking about the event as showing LGBTQ and naked bums as inherently inseparable and about objectiving the butlers and not seeing them as persons. I think the atmosphere at the event was very different and I experienced that aspect of the Gala Dinner in a very different way. If you had attended the event yourself, you might have seen the inclusion of the naked butlers less critical and I must agree that the events were misinterpreted by you, which I strongly believe is caused by you not being there.

            I can accept that the mere presence of the ‘butlers in the buff’ can be problematic in the right (or rather wrong) circumstances. It was handled in such a respectful way that for me it was not problematic, though. I am not sure anyone who did not attend should neccessarily try to evaluate or judge the experience we had as attendees.

            That said, it of course becomes problematic the moment we realize someone in attendance does not feel comfortable. As long as it is genuine discomfort and not just someone not wanting to be in the same room with a guy who undresses for cash or something like that – which is not the case here but which I feel the need to include, because in other events my presence as gay man might make someone feel uncomfortable – there is absolutely no one I know from the event who would object to finding a way to make everyone happy and included.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            I think this is very fair and I agree with a lot of it.

            While I have no issue with people taking their clothes off for money and that in itself would not make me uncomfortable, I think my issue with the butlers is that I saw them as as specific instance of a wider trend that bothers me. Pretty much all of the things my post says the butlers reinforce are things that I feel *can* be present in LGBTQ fiction community (especially the m/m community) in general.

            As EE says there is this a very strong and quite normative on a certain kind of white cishet dude and, for what it’s worth, I know a few authors who have had some uncomfortably sexualised comments from or interactions with fans. I’m sort of writing against the background of a community where (not to go into too much detail) some readers think it’s okay to talk about wanting to perform intimate acts on authors or ask very explicit questions of them. Which, obviously, some authors might be fine with and obviously is not meant in malice (which is part of what it makes it difficult) – but it does create a certain atmosphere that some people can find alienating.

            Similarly while it is very possible I’d have responded differently to the butlers if I’d been there I like to think I have quite a good sense of how I react to stuff, and I just don’t think from everything I’ve heard and within the current context that it would have been an environment I felt accepted by. But equally I can equally understand that other people, well, did.

    • Pam/Peejakers says:

      I honestly find it genuinely heartbreaking that some people at the convention were so hurt & upset reaction to this post. But I really think that’s due to a complete misunderstanding & quite frankly in my opinion, an unconscious distortion of what was said. And I don’t believe the fault for that misperception lies with what was said in this post or how it was said.

      The post wasn’t directed against people attending the event. It wasn’t judging those people for what they like or read or find hot. And there’s certainly no reason for anyone to feel *dirty* about anything. There seems to be some completely bizarre interpretation that any of this has anything to do with prudery or propriety or sex or nudity itself, despite the fact it’s been clearly stated that it does not.

      I believe the nudity issue is a huge red herring here. Can we just take that out for a moment?

      Because to my mind it doesn’t really matter *what* the nature of the objection or concern was. What matters that A CONCERN was raised, that *SOMETHING* at an event intended to be inclusive of LGBTQ people, caused some LGBTQ people to feel excluded & uncomfortable.

      This is absolutely no different than if you held an event advertised as racially diverse & someone of minority race felt excluded or disrespected by something that occurred at said event. Whether they are there or saw photos of it is immaterial.

      And you can basically sub in ANY marginalized group & ANY reason for feeling excluded.

      So when people from a marginalized group raises an issue like this, it in no way automatically implies that other attendees at such event were somehow at fault because they didn’t feel the same way or guilty for having enjoyed themselves.

      I can well understand that people tend to identify strongly with an event like this, that they feel part of. This can make criticisms feel personal when they actually are not. But the fact is that criticism of one aspect of an event is neither a condemnation of the entire event, nor of its attendees, any more than criticism of a specific law of of a country equates to condemnation of the entire country or all its citizens.

      And to respond to a marginalized person who has said that something made them feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, unsafe & excluded, etc., with immediate dismissals as irrelevant or unqualified to comment because non-attendee, or minority opinion, to condemn what was said as an “attack”, argue against them defensively, or disparage on social media, as I’ve been seeing, I find reprehensible.

      I applaud the event organizers as they do, seem to be taking steps to improve things. And it’s unfortunate that it does sometimes take strong words to shake up the status quo.

      But, while I reiterate that it makes my heart break to think of people feeling so upset & hurt in response to this post, people need to understand that there is GREAT hurt on the other side of these kinds of issues .

      I’m not speaking for Alexis here. I’m just saying that, ANY time a person feels excluded or alienated, particularly from something you thought you were supposed to be part of, it *hurts like hell.*

      And for marginalized people, I know it’s a lifetime of hurt that happens over & over & over again. I’m not a marginalized person. Well, I’m a woman, but I’ve been fortunate to have never experienced these kinds of deeply hurtful exclusions due to my sex. I have, however, experienced them on a more personal level & it’s a black hole of hurt I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Yet I know stuff like that doesn’t even *begin* to touch the kind of broad & deep & pervasive life-long & essentially default exclusions that marginalized people can experience on a daily basis. That these exclusions are sometimes unconscious or unintentional doesn’t make them feel any less horrible.

      And sorry, I don’t mean to imply that you are unaware of this; clearly you are.

      But, forgive me if when I weigh that against people not having a good time at a party or having hurt feelings over perceiving themselves judged for things that they were not, in fact, being judged for, the scale weighs a lot heavier toward the former than the latter.

      Also, I think you provide some important perspective here. But at the same time, your comment seems to end on a note of sort of wanting to make Alexis feel shitty, basically for having felt shitty about something in the first place & for having expressed it as he saw fit.

      There is a real tendency, when people raise an issue concerning something you identify with, to get upset & defensive & turn the whole thing around so that in essence you are now blaming the person who has been most hurt for having been hurt & making you feel badly by telling you about it. Then somehow the whole story becomes all about you.

      Believe me, I’ve been there, I’ve done that. I used to feel somewhat similarly about the fact that some LGBTQ people were upset about certain aspects of m/m romance, a genre I read in & to some extent had started to identify with for many reasons.

      But at some point, I got it, that there are real human beings HURTING behind those objections. And I once I realized that I couldn’t allow myself to dismiss that or set it aside. It doesn’t mean I don’t read what I like to read, but it does mean that every choice I make is now an informed one, with regard to the fact that my choices impact other people. What I do based on that awareness is my decision; what other people do based on it is theirs. But I think the awareness needs to be there. And I think this situation is very similar to that.

      I just wish the people who are all caught up in their personal hurt feelings in reaction to this post could take a couple of steps back & look at the larger perspective. Or, actually maybe what they really need to do it take a couple of steps closer. That old cliché of trying to step into someone else’s shoes is a cliché for a good reason.

      • Pam/Peejakers says:

        Ack. Marc, I’m sorry, the more & more I think about what I said here, the more I have comment remorse. I sincerely hope I didn’t come across as a jerk to you. If so, I apologize, I may have been a little upset :/ I did mean what I said, but I’m not sure I expressed it very well. And there I am going on & on about marginalization to person who identifies as bi-curious gay. 🙁 I’m a little afraid that might have crossed a line & been inappropriate or disrespectful or just, jerky. If it was I’m really sorry.

        • Hi Pam,

          don’t worry – no hurt feelings here. I pretty much agree with most of what you have said and I think a well-balanced and respectful discussion can only help.

          I must say, though, that even after re-reading the initial blog post, there are a few things that I still find very problematic. The associations did feel judgemental to me and I know a few people who felt judged and it hurt them especially, because they love Alexis as an author and respect him. I have my own reason for experiencing the ‘butlers in the buff’ as something personally rewarding and I experienced the whole Gala Dinner as an amazing, unforgattable event. I don’t think anyone has the right to judge me or others for that and having talked to Alexis I know he did not mean to do that.

          It does not change the fact that the words still feel like that to me or many others who have read them, but at least I know that they were never meant in that way now and I hope others will read Alexis’ latest comments.

          For me it boils down to this: However much the majority of Gala Dinner attendees enjoyed the ‘butlers in the buff’ for whatever reason, there is not a single one I know who would object to changing something in an effort to make all attendees feel safe and welcomed at the important social event – especially after several attendees said that it did make them uncomfortable.

          There is no one I know of who wants to ignore that some people felt unwelcomed and uncomfortable, the objection are to the words and tone used and the effect they had. I did not say that to make Alexis feel bad and I am glad that his recent responses show that he carefully read, considered and responded to my comments.

          For me and many (if not all) others I am sure, it was never up for debate to continue in a way that made some people feel uncomfortable and made others feel unwelcomed at the event. Whether it was through a blog post or through a personal message to one of the event organizers, I am sure they would have reacted the same way. They asked attendees in the feedback section of the convention if any of them did feel uncomfortable, as the issue had been brought to them. They saw that some were and have been successfully working on a solution.

          I think the harsh words and hurt feelings and anger were completely unneccesary. I think we need to put more faith into our community and work together to overcome issues together.

          • I’m torn – I don’t want to double post, but I definitely want to give a “yes, exactly” response to Des Livres below, at the same times as saying to Marc…

            I’ve interacted with you elsewhere, on a group you run, and I have to say – I think you seem like a genuinely nice person, but I’m not very active in the group you run largely because you seem to have a “let’s keep things pleasant, no matter what” perspective on things. And that’s a fine perspective, and it’s absolutely your right to enforce it in the group you started (and where your co-mod seems to have the same approach) and I think you’ve produced a lovely, supportive environment in that group… for people who all mostly agree with each other.

            The problem, of course, is that people DON’T always agree with each other. And I don’t think the “keep it pleasant no matter what” approach works very well in the face of genuine disagreement. Alexis’ post focused on the decisions and behaviour he felt were problematic – he didn’t attack individuals, he certainly didn’t say there was anything “dirty” about the event or the attendees – he didn’t really mention the attendees at all. To me, this was a fair approach and created a well-expressed, clear critique of a problematic issue. I think softer language would have obscured a message that did not deserve to be obscured. (The timing is unfortunate – I honestly didn’t know this blog was prominent enough to get attention from people currently attending a conference – maybe Alexis is a victim of hos own success?)

            One of the reasons I really enjoy following this blog is that it feels honest, thoughtful, and passionate. Of course people will sometimes disagree with elements, and that’s fine. Disagreement is fine. On your site, I think you’re trying to create a sort of “safe space” environment where you’re careful about tone and make sure things stay pleasant. I think safe spaces are really important and lovely for times when someone needs that, but I’m not convinced they’re the best place to really exchange ideas and work toward change.

          • Beverley Jansen says:

            Kate Sherwood – yes I totally agree!

            Des Livres your post is not simplistic, but clear and coherent and yes – things look brighter today. Thank you.

          • Well, this is awkward – I went and checked the other place I thought I knew Marc from, and it turns out he wasn’t the mod I was thinking of. Sorry, Marc!

            I think the general principle still applies – there’s a time for safe spaces, and there’s a time for open, honest debate. I definitely still value this blog as a source of the latter. But possibly Marc isn’t quite as dedicated to providing safe spaces as I believed (although I’m sure he’s still a genuinely nice person!).

            Apparently I looked at this thread and thought – you know what’s needed? Some confusion and misidentification! That will make everything better! So I stepped up and provided. Yay, me?

          • Pam/Peejakers says:

            Kate, lol 😀 Also *hugs*

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I know you’ve been talking to EE and I don’t want you to feel dogpiled at all but I did want to reply to you.

      First of all, I was really pleased to read your comment and I think you made a lot of very good points. I’m also very grateful that you took the time to explain the context because it illuminates a lot of the bewilderment I have been feeling lately as a result of people’s reactions.

      To start with the butlers, experiences like yours are to me a much more positive argument favour of the butlers than some of the arguments I’ve seen that seem to focus on their value as entertainment for straight allies. Or emphasise that they were only at the dinner or apparently just there ‘for fun’ – which obviously dismisses people’s legitimate alienation. I’m genuinely glad you had such a positive and meaningful experience, and of course that is not to be dismissed either.

      As for tone and timing. While I in no way intended for anybody to feel hurt or judged, I think it’s very important to recognise that it can be innately upsetting to be told your behaviour might be harmful to other people. I admit that I express myself forcefully but … firstly it’s the way I habitually express myself and secondly I do find it to be the best way to get people to listen. Timing-wise, for what it’s worth, I didn’t think anyone at the Meet would notice this post so I’m frankly a bit stunned to learn it had an affect on the actual event. If I had, I would probably have waited. I didn’t actually want to impinge on people’s enjoyment so much as raise an issue for discussion. Although, now I think about it, my ill-considered timing did mean that people who felt uncomfortable at the event had an opportunity to say so.

      The tone issue is more complicated. For what it’s worth, this is a really well explored topic in social justice circles and there is a bit of a division between those who think you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and those who think you catch even more with those blue zappy electric things. I think, for me, a big part of the problem is that unless you’re a complete douche bag it’s upsetting to know that you’ve upset someone and, therefore (I appreciate I’m going to use the word upset about five times in this sentence) it is borderline impossible to tell someone they’ve upset you without upsetting them.

      I am genuinely sorry that I made people feel unsafe in a space that had previously felt safe for them but I feel I essentially did that by pointing out that they’d created a space that might not be safe for others. I think it is inherently uncomfortable to be asked to change your behaviour in order to accommodate the discomfort of others and so I very much feel that if we try never to make anyone feel uncomfortable we will simply be left with the status-quo discomfort wise.

      I think the other thing I’d say is that, as you point out yourself, there were people at the Meet who did, in fact, feel uncomfortable with the butlers (and yet more people who didn’t attend the Meet precisely because they’re uncomfortable with that sort of thing) but felt that it would not be tonally appropriate to say anything. I don’t want to over-generalise from a small sample size but if twenty people on the ground being polite and soft spoken and, however many people not attending being polite and soft spoken, didn’t get these issues raised … that sort of suggests to me that a polite and softly spoken approach is not the most effective one to take in this situation.

      And I appreciate you could see this as a false dichotomy in that, in theory, there are options between “say nothing” and “express yourself forcefully” but the fact that nobody took them indicates that they are at the very least non-obvious. To take one example, if someone had brought it up privately with the organisers they would taken the fact that only one person had mentioned it as evidence that it was a minor problem or a non-issue.

  17. I saw butts.. Booty everywhere on social media.
    But- hehehhe- Ulysses captured that issue perfectly in an above statement.
    Is it propriety we’re asking for? I have to tell you, I’ve not made it to a con or an event yet, stateside or otherwise, but my husband walked behind me while I was whittling away the hours and saw a bunch of man ass.
    ‘Whats that?’
    I grimace. ‘Its a author retreat in the U.K.’
    ‘Oh.’
    He goes to walk away and then comes back. ‘You want to go to that?’
    I do want to go and meet up with everyone. But – hehhehehee- I want no naked people there. And my husband’s sort of the same way. And if that’s what’s being blasted all over Social media, perception or not, I’d have a hell of a hard time convincing my spouse that it wasn’t.
    Maybe propriety and professionalism should rule the roost? And then for those who want to find a stripper bar later could go?

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Obviously,I kinda agree. I have no issues with naked butts in their place and an after-party where people who wanted could go clubbing or, even to a strip joint, strikes me as perfectly reasonable. And, of course, social media is distorting but that was kind of all I heard and saw about the event myself.

  18. Des Livres says:

    I hope the below comments don’t seem simplistic – I am simply recounting my reaction to Alexis’ post.

    I am an old school feminist, who came to m/m after reading much m/f for a long time. I read these books for love stories, likable characters, a world I can immerse myself in, and a nice ending.

    Moving into the m/m internet world, I automatically apply my visceral test around images of women (rule: don’t do to other people what you would not like done unto you, or your “kind”), to images of men. For instance an author’s website has an image of a pretty naked man at the top. Intant discomfort – the same discomfort I would have if it was an image of a sexualised naked woman. When I read Alexis’ post around naked male butlers, I instantly transposed that to naked woman butlers – instant discomfort – NO. One website sends weekly pics of (I assume, I haven’t opened the email) briefly dressed/naked men. If Women?- instant discomfort – NO.

    Dykes on bikes at the Mardi-Gras? Great! As are briefly dressed gyrating young fellows. They are all celebrating themselves and their identity, for themselves. Very different from being the object of a Gaze.

    I have felt uncomfortable from the get-go at some of the objectification/attitudes in the m/m romance world. I just avoid the stuff I don’t like. I’m not into porn or erotica obviously, so I just avoid those works, and cease reading stories where the characters feel objectified.

    All you can do is treat people, who ever they are, with respect, and help them if they are in need.

    • Pam/Peejakers says:

      Omg. Thank you. Yes, yes, a million times yes. Someone else who gets this; I could cry *hugs this post* <3 <3 <3

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I just wanted to say thank you. I don’t think it’s simplistic at all – I personally find ‘do unto others’ (or the ethic of reciprocality if you want to be wanky about it 😉 ) is a surprisingly good baseline for day-to-day reasonable behaviour.

  19. Mel says:

    Maybe everything that needed to be said has already been said… But I have two points I want to make:

    1) I strongly believe that no one wanted to hurt anyone. No one at the Meet and not Alexis. And while there are arguments both for and against tone and timing, I think this is actually a moot point and another one that takes the focus off the actual point that needed to be discussed. So if and would and could… I dunno but it seems rather not as relevant to me, because we’ll never know, and I think intentions are more important.

    2) These naked men at the meet… The problem is that they are a personification of what I have come to understand is a general issue in the community—and therefore it does not matter if someone attended the Meet or not to be able to say something about it; it’s about the fact that they were there. The naked men at a literary event show the strong, and probably too strong, emphasise on sex in the genre. No one is against sex or nudity. The problem is the objectification of gay* men and sex.
    Another issue that plays into that is the kind of nude men that were at this event. They were beautiful, normatively so. They show what kind of body is deemed attractive and worth showing off and swooning over. It does not matter how respectful everything was. It just underlines beauty norms. It underlines self-consciousness when your own body looks different. It shows you that you are not seen as attractive by a majority.

  20. Catherine says:

    Some people may roll eyeballs at my analogy, but I recently attended a training where my sorority gave a talk about how social media (and all Internet related marketing, PR and other online media) has an instant and lasting impression and the ability to change, for the better or worse, our perceptions.

    Said sorority works very hard to be taken seriously. A lot of philanthropy work, hours raising thousands of dollars for charity, top grade point average of ANY social organization on campus, many new and diversified policies on inclusion, zero tolerance on hazing activities, ground-breaking policies on sexual harassment, a leader in campus safety education. All of these things are wonderful and important, they have made it their number one goal to change perceptions of the campus community (and local community) about Greek Life and specifically this sorority. Hours of time and a lot of money spent to bring a positive image and help educate their members on the importance of this.

    One online image of a member in a short miniskirt and tank top while doing a shot at a bar and that’s what gets posted – no one takes them seriously because that is the image that is used to describe this group. People go out and party and then those pictures are online too. People don’t pay attention to the pictures of them studying at the library or helping out at the AIDS Walk, or passing out food and blankets to homeless veterans.

    People want to see the images of the hot girls in tank tops – just like they see the hot butts at the conference – so much more interesting to look at than authors sitting at panels or eating dinner together. So stereotypes get reinforced and those who want a professional image or to be taken seriously are undermined.

    You cannot control other people’s online postings – you cannot change what people want to see or associate in their hearts and minds about your group. You can share your opinions and make people think and discuss the subject though. Just as someone can post images of things that they want to – you have a right to say you do not agree with it.

    • Beverley Jansen says:

      I didn’t roll my eyes Catherine. You make a lot of sense and show a far more mature attitude than many have. I agree with your post and thank you.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think this is a slightly different situation. I’m British and so I don’t really understand how frat/sorority life works but what you seem to be talking about is a social media image of a person who happens to belong to an organisation not an event specifically organised by that organisation. This is would be more like if the sorority you were talking about had organised a wet T-shirt contest. It wouldn’t matter if it was only 5% of what they did, it could still reasonably be seen as somewhat incompatible with the rest of their ethos.

      The scenario you describe is (to me) problematic for a different reason. That’s just an image of a woman expressing herself which has been co-opted to reinforce some very old and very tired sexist notions. Not least of which is the idea that wearing a short skirt and drinking shots is in any way incompatible with being a professional and well-educated young woman.

      If people at the Meet had posted themselves dressed however the hell they wanted they dress, drinking whatever the hell they wanted to drink, I wouldn’t have cared.

      • Catherine says:

        Well, my take on it was this – you are frustrated with a group that you are part of and feel should be a inclusive and safe community, and you are bothered by events that occurred at the group’s function and the images seen online, and these activities made some people uncomfortable. Then the pictures, and subsequently your blog post, made a much larger audience part of the story.

        I am saying – that not everyone in your group was uncomfortable by this (as evidenced by the fact that these activities were planned) and by sharing it all on social media the stereotypes are reinforced, and therefore both frustrating and damaging to some people and maybe even to your group as a whole.

        I guess my point was you have the right to speak your mind and I support that you did. I am not saying that I agree with you, I am only saying that you have a right to be heard. I also think that people are going to do whatever the hell they want to, and social media makes it all so much worse because stuff gets shared very quickly and spreads rapidly throughout ALL communities not just within your own group. That is what my point was – it’s an instant world-wide spread nowadays, but you too have a global platform to speak your concerns.

  21. Jill Sorenson says:

    Hi Alexis! I haven’t read all of the comments but objectification of men (not necessarily gay men) is an issue at RWA and RT as well. There have been many discussions about male models at cons. We talk about the sexy covers and naked posters etc etc. I don’t have a problem with nudity or objectification in many cases. I sometimes view men and women as sexual objects and I can’t say I feel bad about it. I guess I feel like, as a woman, I’m not an oppressor. I don’t belong to the group that has historically treated women as lesser beings. That doesn’t mean I get a free pass out of sexism or whatever, but it does alleviate the sense that I’m hurting or belittling someone with my gaze.

    This doesn’t really apply to gay men or gay romance, but I imagine that some m/m readers feel the same way I do, that they aren’t hurting anyone. What I’m wondering is how conference organizers and attendees would feel about nude *waitresses* at this event. Someone above said “NO” but wouldn’t that be more inclusive? Would the presence of naked females make people uncomfortable and put a damper on the fun?

    • Alexis Hall says:

      First off, quick clarification just because I slightly mis-expressed this in my original post and I don’t want to let misconceptions stand. The butlers weren’t actually serving food, they were standing around to have photos taken.

      Obviously can’t tell how people would have felt about the female equivalent – which would have essentially been strippers or bunny girls. But I suspect most people wouldn’t have liked it. To be fair, there is a slightly different context here in that I think buff shirtless men fall into a tricky intersection between (for want of a better term) hen party culture and gay male self expression (as Lloyd and others pointed above – you have a lot of shirtless dudes at pride and a lot of shirtless dudes in clubs). I think female strippers don’t overlap in the same way because in the present cultural context they are so overwhelmingly associated with a form of entertainment targeted at heterosexual men.

      I’m very hesitant about codifying hierarchies of marginalised-ness but i think it’s fairly uncontroversial to say the power disparity between heterosexual men and gay women is more clear cut and manifests on more axes than the disparity heterosexual women and gay men.

      So, yeah, generally, I think if your aim is to make as many people as possible feel as comfortable as possible at an event more naked people is probably not a route to be going down.

      • Jody-Anne says:

        Amen.

      • Des Livres says:

        Amen.

      • Jill Sorenson says:

        I was thinking more along the lines of burlesque. That kind of show is less associated with hetero dudes only and can be very female-positive with a wide appeal. I understand that most straight women and gay men would rather see naked men, so I was considering the perspective of bi and lesbian women. I don’t see any comments here from that perspective or any comments that even MENTION them. In a post about inclusion, the emphasis is still on gay men. Anyway, I get that your stance is that any kind of nudity is unprofessional for a conference + some other issues. Part of my point was that if it’s uncomfortable for attendees to imagine naked waitresses, maybe it’s not a great idea to have naked butlers. But I don’t know if I would personally be uncomfortable with either because I have a fairly celebratory attitude toward nudity and sex. A lot of m/f writers talk about the overemphasis of sex in the genre and criticize the sexy covers also, and I’ve never been in that camp.

        • Shannon McEwan says:

          Getting slightly off topic here – but – I really don’t see the bare-buff-male covers and the whole shirtless-buff-male body at a romance writing conference as being celebratory of sex and nudity. I see it as promoting a restrictive notion of what types of sexual attraction and nudity are worth celebrating – a restrictive notion that does not speak to my experience. Or fantasies 😉

          I say this as a heterosexual woman who reads and writes heterosexual romance.

          • Jill Sorenson says:

            Just wanted to clarify that I didn’t mean to imply that those who are critical of or offended by the overemphasis on sex/nudity are prudes who CAN’T celebrate sex and nudity. I didn’t say that well. I just feel that sexuality is an important part of the romance genre and it should be celebrated, not downplayed or hidden away, so I’m trying to imagine what an inclusive sex-positive GLBT romance writing celebration would look like. That’s why I mentioned burlesque as an alternative, because I thought it might appeal to men, women, gay, straight, bi etc. And I’m going to be quiet now. 🙂

          • Alexis Hall says:

            For what it’s worth, I do understand they did have a queer burlesque troupe a couple of years ago but people didn’t like it because they thought it was ‘sleazy’. Obviously I wasn’t there that year either so I have no idea how sleazy it was or it wasn’t, though I’d point out that being slightly sleazy is kind of the point of burlesque. I’d also that these instances together highlight the main thing I’m uncomfortable about here. When the event included a specifically queer celebration of sexuality, it was apparently deemed inappropriate. Whereas when it included a celebration of a very narrowly defined type of attractive cisgendered man performed by a troupe whose main target audience is heterosexual women it was received extremely positively.

            Basically I think you have to be really careful with celebration. Because it’s very, very easy to only wind celebrating the things that least need to be celebrated.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          For what it’s worth, and I hope this doesn’t sound defensive, but I’m slightly confused that you say the emphasis of this post is mostly on gay men. I mean, I suppose it is in the sense that one of the things I’m concerned about, and say I’m concerned about, is that I thought the butlers reduced LGBTQA+ identity to a specific kind of gay male identity. That was kind of my first point. Maybe I didn’t make it explicit enough but sort my whole concern here is that this is alienating to anyone who isn’t that specific kind of gay man – and, yes, that includes some types of gay men. But it does also include, well, everybody else. Also, for what it’s worth, we’ve had trans people and asexuals. And for that matter several women whose sexualities I didn’t ask about because it’s kind of none of my business 🙂

  22. Des Livres says:

    To the above post – I’m not sure where it is, but it turned up in may inbox…

    I have always felt deeply uncomfortable about the briefly dressed men at RT and RWA conventions. I get the same NO as I do at the notion of briefly dressed ladies. The difference is that I also feel a sense of physical threat from briefly dressed men. I will automatically avoid anywhere that involves that sort of objectification. (it’s been reading this blogpost and the comments that I noticed in myself the automatic avoidance thing I have where I won’t even think of going to those romance functions (although a long time romance reader ) because of all the images disseminated of the briefly dressed people. My autoreaction is This Is NOT For Me)). Wow. 3 Brackets. Quality writing right there.

    You know what I would like? Drag Queens. I love drag queens. I think, in part, because they play with and engage with objectification and the Gaze. RuPaul is one of my heroes.

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  24. Ijeoma says:

    It would be a great pity if people stay away from the UK Meet because of this. I was at the Meet this year and at the gala dinner. I also attended last year. We were not told that the butlers would be at the dinner last year or this year but last year their appearance was kind of muted. This year it did get noisy very quickly and quite simply that kind of entertainment is not for everyone. I work alongside LGBT Africans and I think most of them would have been offended for various reasons which I wont go into here. These kinds of images might be harmless here in the UK not so elsewhere. So for me the butlers have nothing to do with being LGBTQIA. I think it was supposed to be a surprise and entertaining but it would be a pity if the ‘butlers’ become the defining moment of the event.

    The overriding principle of the UK Meet is that people should be able to opt in or out of activities but the gala dinner is a high point and I think should be inclusive, welcoming and safe for everybody and fun as well. A simple solution would be to move the butlers to an ‘after party’ kind of event for those who are interested then everyone will still be able to attend the gala dinner and feel welcome and safe.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      This seems entirely to reasonable. Again, I have no problem with nudity in designated nudity zones. Also I’m interested to learn that the presence of the butlers wasn’t announced beforehand which, again, makes the ‘it was opt-in’ argument a little disingenuous.

      I didn’t write this to put people going off to the UK Meet. If anything, I wrote it in the hope that it would give someone confidence to raise this with the organisers in order to help the event become more inclusive.

  25. Kelly says:

    I haven’t read through all the other comments here–joining that discussion would feel a bit like attending a party two weeks after it finished (how embarrassing). But I did want to say: this is a really thought provoking post. On the one hand I’m reading it and nodding and thinking, you know, you have a REALLY good point here. On the other hand–I’m blushing. Because I’d have admired the guys and not stopped to think what it might mean for a gay man, or as a very thin and flimsy (and perhaps offensive) representation of an entire genre.

    Your post also brought to mind several book covers that do the same thing, and I am so bloody glad none of mine fall into that trap, even though I do write romance. Because you’re right, just because something is gay, doesn’t mean it has to be sexy. (Unless it is, in which case… yeah.)

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