I love women.
Okay, I'm bi, so I love love women, if you get my drift. But I also just love women. I love the women who have influenced and raised and nurtured me. I love the women who make up my circle of friends. I love my mother and my sister and my daughter. I love my co-author. I love my woman colleagues, my woman readers, my woman editors. I love disenfranchised women and powerful women and trans women and genderfluid and genderqueer people who honour womanhood by occasionally or frequently presenting or identifying as women. I love queer women and I love asexual women and I love straight women. I love being a woman, even if I don't always love the way I'm treated or represented because of it. I love the experience of womanhood. I'm a big Feminist with a capital F, and there's no "but" dangling on the end of that, either. I own and celebrate my womanhood, while simultaneously respecting (and empathizing with) the right of women to wish they weren't women sometimes, or to use male or gender-neutral pen names to get by in the world.
I love fiction by and for women, and I love romance. In particular I love M/M romance and I love that women make up a big important part of the genre. Is there validity in complaints that M/M by women can be objectifying and hurtful? Yes, absolutely, and that's a conversation we should never stop having, and an issue we should always be mindful of. But let's be honest: when a man makes a "lesbian" porn for men to watch, how many lesbian women does he consult? How many lesbians are involved in the process of creating it? How many lesbians are valued members of that community? M/M has its flaws, but ultimately it's a place that enshrines, values, and welcomes male (and especially gay mens') voices. Personally, I'm absolutely tickled pink if a gay man says "well done" and validates my efforts. That's a measure of respect that says this is something that can be more than bald-faced appropriation.
As a reader and writer in this genre, I read fiction by women and men, and I think I'm pretty representative from that standpoint. M/M stories are nominally about men, but they're also, in their way, about women. About women giving themselves permission to express their sexual desires, their fantasies, their curiosity, and their fetishes. And you know what, that's valid, as long as it's done with respect and due diligence.
Sometimes gay men are used as avatars to express these things in a way that's safe for themselves as women, the same way "bodice-rippers" once allowed women to have female characters expressing their sexuality without appearing "promiscuous". Both of those reasons have problematic aspects, but they're a product of a sexist culture that women are doing their best to navigate. Sometimes authors write gay men because they like the unique narratives and characterization gay men provide, like exploring stories of coming out and brotherhood and masculinity. And that's just two of a million possible explanations or reasons, some good and some troublesome. We're a varied group, so being reductive and saying all women do X for Y reasons is inaccurate at best and offensive at worst.
The reality is, women's fiction has been historically maligned, which is why you're a hundred times more likely to find someone critical of Harlequin category romance vs. Westerns, even though the genres suffer from the same pitfalls. Not that people don't critique literature aimed at men, but there are other things happening when books by and for women are criticized. There's a reason why women in many genres, all throughout history, have adopted male or gender-neutral pseudonyms, and authors in general have tried to disavow themselves of female readers. Why novels and fiction in general were once considered a trash pastime for weak-minded women. Those same issues are at play when female authors and readers of M/M are blanket condemned. That's an entire other blog post, (indeed a whole academic thesis, really) but the following video might illuminate the issue:
The point is, sometimes women are good at portraying gay men and sometimes they aren't. This is an issue of characterization, not gender essentialism. There's nothing inherent to womanhood that says "you don't understand men and never will and you can't write them well no matter how hard you try". If there was, there wouldn't be so many woman authors writing convincingly under male pseudonyms and "getting away with it", as it were. Characterization either works or it doesn't, and that's not an issue of gender -- of the characters or the author. It's an issue of the skill and empathy of the author. There is a difference between men and women: the way we're socialized, the way we're treated, the way we're raised and taught to behave and express ourselves, but that isn't a black and white rule, as any person who defies the expectations of their gender can tell you.
I'm a woman author and I write gay (and bi, and questioning) men. Maybe I do a good job or maybe I don't. I hope I do a good job. I try really hard to do a good job. But if I don't do a good job, it's not because of what I call myself and it's definitely not because of the genitals between my legs (which don't have anything to do with my gender in the first place!). And if I do do a good job, man or woman, you can rest assured it's because I tried my best and have a bit of talent and a good damn editor. Which you can say for anyone writing anything.
So tell me, what are some of your favourite male characters written by women? How about your favourite female characters written by men? In M/M or any other genre you please. I'd love to hear it! And this is a celebratory post, so let's keep this positive, please. We all know there are bad authors and bad characters out there, but let's talk about what's good!