Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Living What You Write

A few months ago an interesting drama unfolded in the m/m fiction writer world. A popular m/m author, who claimed to be a gay man, was outed--as a woman. The author had evidently even hired a gay friend to impersonate her at signing events. She also published autobiographical pieces on her life as a gay man.

Can a woman write gay m/m fiction? Sure. To broaden the discussion: Must an author have provable cultural provenance to write about that culture? Such questions have been posed for hundreds of years. Controversy still whirls around William Shakespeare, for example. How could the son of an illiterate glover have created plays about kings and courtiers? Was he a fraud simply because he wasn't a king or courtier? Nope.

I believe an author who has absolutely no real-time experience with a culture, character or gender can write credible fiction. A stand-up guy can write convincingly about a psychopathic serial killer. A great-grandmother who has never ventured outside of her little town in Arkansas can write a war novel. A woman can write stories about gay sex. A non-scientist can write SF. A vanilla man can write hot BDSM novels from the sub's point of view.

Writing outside of experience is possible with enough research, imagination and empathy. In fact, I always distrust BDSM fiction authors who trot out their kink cred at every opportunity ("my Master approved this story", and "I live the lifestyle".)

What about the author who hires an impersonator for a signing event? I think that's fine, too. Writers invent. Why shouldn't they be able to create an identity at odds with real life? Most authors pretend they are more good-looking than they really are. Writers attempt to project glamor, thinness, intelligence, success. An author who hires a gorgeous, edgy model to sign edgy books is just giving the readers what they want. It's performance art, not fraud.

But it's a completely different story when is comes to fakery in non-fiction. If readers are looking to an author as an expert, the author had better be one. Authors who get confused between autobiography and story-telling are cheating. An author shouldn't blog about her firsthand penis experiences--when she doesn't have one. It's unethical, especially since real life m/m frequently involves two.

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