Years ago I was in an improv class at a community college. Two guys were doing a scene which in some way involved a vacuum cleaner. One of them opened the scene as a very stereotypical, femmy, “straight guy doing a gay guy” bit.
The teacher stopped him, and tore him a new one. I wish I could remember everything she said. Because she then had them restart, and it was the best scene ever. The guy became a real person who was passionately attached to his vacuum cleaner. It was unique, and funny in a way the first scene could never have been.
I love that that kid reached down inside himself and found an authentic way to do that scene, after being publicly told off. He listened, and he learned.
Hub and I were having lunch today and I noticed four college-aged kids nearby, an Asian guy sitting with a white girl and white guy sitting with an Asian girl. And I immediately started wondering about why they were all together. Were the two Asian people siblings? They didn’t look ethnically similar…
And then I realized I’d caught myself being totally racist. And in a way that’s particularly egregious, because there’s so much of that kind of racism/heterocentrism/ableism etc. in the book world. “Why are there black people in this historical?” “Why is this couple lesbians when it’s not important to the story?” “Why does there need to be someone in a wheelchair — it’s just pandering.”
Why does there need to be any kind of story about four friends or coworkers or whatever eating in a restaurant, just because two of them aren’t white? Because I’m a white person and I’ve absorbed a lot of shit and I may never get rid of it all. 😦
There’s a huge controversy going on in Romancelandia right now, about a RITA-nominated book featuring a romance between a Jewish woman and a concentration camp commandant. I’m not writing here about the book, which I haven’t read, but about my personal reaction to the controversy itself, which is bringing up some things for me.
One is that I have a huge regard for truth, i.e. facts. This is likely my less than neurotypical side revealing itself: I get extremely perturbed by people getting facts wrong. It bothers me a lot that false assumptions about the book have solidified into fact; it bothers me a lot that I’m the only person who seemed to be bothered by that. (Though you’d think I’d be used to it by now.)
No, I’m not saying that everyone needs to read the book to have an opinion about it. There are quite obviously major concerns with it on a very basic plot level, particularly in the appropriation of Jewish faith/history for Christian purposes. But I do think critiques need to get their basic facts right, if only to have credibility.
And the other is that I have a huge regard for truth, i.e. personal truth. Take The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers, which I named one of my best books of the year. It’s a book that many people with disabilities found very offensive, and with more knowledge and experience, I can see why they did. It’s deeply wrong that people with disabilities are so often used as props for the stories of the abled. But the thing is… that story told my truth. I didn’t see the disabled person in it as a prop because I wouldn’t see my own child as a prop. I felt heard and validated by it and that meant a lot to me.
And I think we have to be very careful to leave room for interpretation. There’s a young adult book — I forget the title — which many readers strongly critiqued as sexist and misogynistic. Then a well regarded critic (one of The Book Smugglers, I think) wrote very convincingly about it as an indictment of sexism and misogyny. Which is right? I don’t know! Even if I read the book or spoke to the author, I might not know! I would have my own interpretation and opinion based on what I had read or learned. But in a way it’s Shroedinger’s book. One person’s attempt at social satire can often be another person’s huge offense.
A while back I wrote about book reviewing as a form of journalism, requiring honesty. Today I’m reminded how much I value truth, both in regard to actual facts and in regard to personal meaning.
(This post is not meant as a swipe at Jane; it’s really just about me and my own feelings.)
As a reviewer, I’ve been scared on the internet for a long time. Scared of being doxxed. Scared of offending people. Scared of making enemies. It’s never stopped me reviewing honestly, but I can’t say it’s never shut me up, much though I wish I could. I’ve been sitting on a lot of my real opinions, so as not to rock the boat or offend people I care about.
And I finally reached a line I couldn’t cross. And the amazing thing is, now I don’t feel scared any more. I would much prefer not to be doxxed or harrassed, of course. But if I am doxxed people will discover… that I’m exactly who I’ve always said I am. Right now I can’t think of anything I’d rather be.
You know that theory about m/m romance not having gender bullshit, that always pisses everyone off? At the risk of pissing everyone off… I kinda see it. Of course, it’s not true that m/m romance doesn’t have gender bullshit… but when you read a lot of m/f romance and get so much repetition of certain scenarios, m/m can really feel like a relief.
I’m on D for the alphabet challenge, and tried to read Dangerous Lover by Lisa Marie Rice. I don’t think the book ever had a chance, to be honest — who wants to read violent romantic suspense when you have to fear sending your child to school? But I was also extremely underwhelmed by the standard Rice relationship dynamic: her the seemingly unattainable feminine ideal, who makes everything smell nice, him the rough, underclass guy who worships her.
You can have the class issues in m/m, certainly, and wealth disparity. One aspect of Strawberries for Dessert that I didn’t go into was Cole offering to support Jonathan so they could travel together — Jonathan’s outrage in turn outrages his friend, a stay-at-home mom. So the gender issues around working and not working were discussed, though a major factor — the basic insecurity of such a situation — was never mentioned. (Too unromantic?) In the end, another solution was found, letting Jonathan keep his pride. (I was kind of impressed when Ava March wrote a story in which one man did agree to be supported by his lover.)
I doubt there are many romance tropes that can’t exists in m/m as well as m/f, with the exception of the secret baby. (The m/m D book I’m currently reading appears to have an abusive lover scenario, with perhaps a rescue element.) You could certainly have an m/m story in which one partner is better at making a home nice and the other is a rough type. But it wouldn’t feel gendered — or rather, it would feel gendered in a different way.
Maybe it just comes down to the fact that I’m a woman, and so while I may care greatly about the characters in the m/m stories I read, what goes on doesn’t feel so much right in my face.