Gay-Washing & Trans* Erasure
This post might tick off a few people, but I feel it’s important, so I’m making it. I do apologize if this hits on topics where we disagree with one another. It’s certainly written without an intent to offend, but I’m admittedly very upset about what I see going on.
I’ve been seeing trans* fiction pop up a bit more frequently these days. This? Oh, yeah. This makes me do the happy dance. I’ve been wanting to see more trans* fiction out there for ages, and I’m still formulating my own contributions as one who identifies somewhere along the trans* spectrum. I know it doesn’t really impact how well I write or what genre/sub-genre I choose to write in, but I’m coming from the point of view of someone who presents female, identifies closer to male than female, and expresses myself as generally queer (since there isn’t a better label for it). There isn’t really a label that describes me, even in the broader canopy of trans* terminology. I don’t mind too much, though it makes things weird to explain when I feel compelled to explain to someone.
The problem I have is that the majority of the trans* fiction out there is basically getting gay-washed. I hate using that term, but it’s the only thing that comes to mind. Like when people complain about their ‘non-white’ characters being white-washed, I feel like a huge percentage of trans* fiction out there is being gay-washed in an attempt to appeal solely to the M/M fiction community.
I’m the Marketing Director of a press, so I get that you want your fiction to appeal to the broader audience, and there’s definitely an audience in the M/M community. I totally get that, and I’m not afraid to say as much, but there’s also a conflict there, in my mind. The authors and the publishers behind this fiction are, for the most part, setting it up and marketing it as M/M fiction. By labeling it that way and having authors go about preaching that trans* is somehow just another part of M/M fiction that everyone should love and accept is doing a disservice to trans* fiction, trans* people, and the identity of trans* itself.
By selling ONLY the trans* fiction that can appeal to the M/M fiction (gay fiction) community, you’re basically sending the message that there is only one acceptable kind of trans* identification, expression, and orientation: the one that makes you look, sound, feel, emote, and express yourself as a gay man.
Saying “Yay! This character is a trans-man in a M/M romance!” is problematic on certain levels. Can’t people see that? You just erased that trans* quality in favor of keeping it within the M/M genre. While the two aren’t mutually exclusive by any means, this sort of stance of it just being an extension of M/M as a genre is so very infuriating to me! (For the record, a trans man can certainly identify as a gay man; being trans* doesn’t make him any less of a gay man, but the labels and the expectation behind the use of the simple gay or M/M label in this community isn’t often kind to trans men. It’s a sad reality, and while I hate that the label has to come with that expectation, it’s what drives the genre and has to be considered at this point in time.)
And to top it all off, people are acting like trans* fiction hasn’t been around at all, or that these pieces are the first ones worth picking up in the genre. Storm Moon Press, the press I started with my co-author and friend, S.L. Armstrong, started acquiring trans* fiction three years ago. We were the first in this genre to actively seek trans* fiction… and now everyone is doing it like they’re the innovators. But… not, because they’re only looking for the trans* that can be marketed easily to the M/M romance community. I can’t help but shake my head because it’s frustrating to see all the other flavors of trans* continue to be erased. It’s not that the other publishers shouldn’t be producing trans* fiction or that the trans* fiction shouldn’t be out there. I’m SO thrilled that there is more trans* fiction out there and that trans* is getting a little more time in the spotlight. But when a publisher or author boils trans* down to only being worth their time if it’s cock/male-centric… This is just unacceptable to me.
I also find it problematic when anyone claims they wrote something for the betterment of the minority they wrote a character identifying within. “I did this for the trans* community!” is just like saying “I did it for the gay community!” or “I did it for the Latino community!” While this isn’t always untrue, I do admit to finding it annoying when an author of any background (whether they’re part of that minority themselves or not) claims to speak for any community that happens to be featured in their work. I write a lot of gay and bisexual fiction. I also love to write BDSM. While I do try to do justice to the material I write about and the communities in which my characters identify, I never make any statements about it being “for the ___ community”.
An example within my own work would be Catalyst. The book is dedicated: to anyone who ever felt like a pervert for wanting what they need. My co-author, S.L. Armstrong, and I were trying to write a story that might connect with those who struggle to accept their own needs and desires. The story might have centered around a lot of BDSM practices (and questionable ones on the part of troubled characters), but we never once claim to have been writing it “for the BDSM community” or to give voice to the BDSM community, as if our novel were a beacon of reality that would teach everyone about all those people who practice BDSM. No matter who inspired or encouraged the making of that novel, it wasn’t meant to speak for the community, and I feel like any author who makes that kind of claim is taking on way too much responsibility. No one can speak for a whole community of people; we’re all too different to be encapsulated within the confines of any one story. Some will be able to identify with your characters in that community (hopefully) while others won’t connect with them at all, and that’s part of writing and publishing fiction. Your story can’t speak for everyone, or it would be universally praised, y’know? (And as awesome as that would be… yeah. Not happening. XD)
Besides all that, if an author is speaking for a community they don’t identify within while simultaneously making a dime off of them, that’s plain old appropriation. If any author were truly writing it for the trans* community, then they wouldn’t be making money off of it for themselves at all. Instead, they’d be donating all proceeds to a trans*-centric cause. I have very little problem with people making money or money being a large reason behind fiction being written. Just be honest about it.
I just feel like telling a lot of M/M authors who write a single trans* story (and the publishers who are only marketing said trans* fiction as M/M fiction) that they haven’t done anything special. They haven’t pushed the boundaries of the genre. They haven’t done anything new. Slapping the trans* label on something that is then marketed to the M/M fiction community, not to the trans* community, doesn’t—for the most part—expand any readers’ minds or hearts on the issue of trans-phobia. There might be the rare M/M fiction reader who feels that they’ve found a new respect for trans* characters through reading a book, but that’s exactly what they are: rare.
I wish there were more readers who have those amazing moments while reading a book and expand their definitions as to what is acceptable and what is beautiful in the way of gender and sexual identity, expression, and orientation. I wish that so very much! But, coming from a marketing perspective, I know that a lot of M/M fiction readers are going to be pissed off about a trans* story being marketed simply as M/M. If that trans* character is a trans-man who hasn’t undergone reassignment surgery and, therefore, has female genitalia, I guarantee you there will be a good number of readers caught off guard and angry that they weren’t warned it was trans* instead of what they would normally define as “normal M/M”. Like I said, it’s a sad state, and I hate it to the point of rageface >:O and angry dancing, but that’s how a lot of readers are. The labels are there for a reason in fiction. We may not like those reasons—I certainly don’t—but they serve their purposes in so much as finding the best audience possible for that book. I hope more readers pick up trans* fiction and find that they love it, but I want people who read it to know up front that it’s trans*, even if it looks, feels, sounds, and even tastes and smells like M/M fiction.
For those looking for trans* fiction, I can definitely steer you toward several titles, and I’m really proud to say that no matter how the characters identify across the QUILTBAG spectrum, their fiction has always had a place at Storm Moon Press. We are and always will be an all-inclusive press, and we hope many authors join us in our mutual love for the QUILTBAG community.
Trans* Titles to Check Out:
|Pearl – by Kelly Rand
This short story surrounds a cis-gendered woman and a trans-man as they strike up a romance in 1920s Canada. It’s a delightful little period piece and the first trans* title SMP put out. 🙂 What I loved most about it happens when the characters run off for a night away from prying eyes, and the main character sees gender fluid individuals for the first time.
|Milk & Cookies & Handcuffs – “The Gift of Self” – by Kathleen Tudor
This anthology contains GLBT+Het stories with a common theme of holiday BDSM fun. Kathleen Tudor’s story in particular follows a trans-woman through her self-discovery and her search for acceptance with her partner and Domme. I just finished re-reading this, and I can’t recommend it enough. The character development for Jeff/Jessie is wonderfully complex while also hitting the hot erotic notes that BDSM lovers will enjoy.
|Legal Briefs – Charity Anthology
Three of the six short stories in this anthology are trans*, and all the proceeds go to Lambda Legal. “Honest Lawyers” by Kelly Rand features a post-transitioned trans-woman working as a court reporter. “His Best Defense” by Blaine D. Arden is a lovely story where the trans* dynamic is more subtle (the trans* identification is a non-issue for the MCs). And there’s “Double-Cross” by Salome Wilde, a hard-boiled detective story complete with a queer femme fatale. All three trans* stories take different approaches to trans* and show diversity in the label. Trans-men, trans-women, and all things queer right alongside gay and lesbian fiction.
|Sinews of the Heart — by Cody Stanford
While this book isn’t out yet, it’s going to be a fantastic trans* young adult novel that incorporates trans* anthropomorphic characters in a post-apocalyptic coming-of-age story. The release is slated for late July at the moment and will be through our Budding Moon (QUILTBAG YA Fiction) imprint. Something to keep an eye out for, if you want trans* YA fiction!