Why Auntie M doesn’t write more dudes: I’m not a dude.
— So there was this discussion on my friend Bill’s Facebook, right, and somewhere toward the end of it, my friend Curt mentioned that he doesn’t write women because he knows he’s terrible at it. Also that he had read women who could not write men to save their lives, because apparently men do not have inner monologues about their penises. Who knew?
All right, I’m not that bad at writing men, but I don’t occupy their headspace very comfortably. Maybe I am insecure about my inability to write them. I completed a novella something like twelve years ago now, from the perspective of a gay man, and I’m pretty sure it was terrible, but I was a hardcore fangirl at the time, which is all that needs to be said of that.
I didn’t know men very well at all when I wrote it. I had friends who were male, but the closest ones were still very far removed, if that makes sense. They had to be. I was a nymphet; unlike Lo, I took my sweet time outgrowing coltish girlhood. Humbert would’ve gotten a kick out of me well past menarche. So I had any number of wonderful uncle-brother men (between my dad’s age and my peers’). I just couldn’t become privy to what made them tick. Before Eleven, when I wrote men, I wrote the Doctor — Seven, no less, very alien — or I wrote the boys from Koko wa Greenwood, roughly the manga equivalent to the girls of St. Trinian’s. Even then I got the Doctor wrong, though I feel as if I nailed the Greenwood lot.
I got a lot closer to humanity in general. I enrolled in community college; it gave me more than an A.A.S. I had socialization to make up, in the developmental sense of the word. I didn’t know how to be people until at least age twenty-one. I’ve kept very few friends from before 2006. What I learned of characterization, I therefore learned from other sources — and fanfiction made it easy. Canon and fanon laid out how the men should act. You can tell when I wrote a canon I didn’t know by heart.
But when I knew a canon well? I think the one I’m proudest of is the Smash/Firefly crackover, where River Tam and Derek Wills run away together. I got Derek right (and by the time Smash aired, I was good enough at characterization that I could tell when the writers got it horribly wrong). I wrote the Derek Wills I saw, and where he deviates from canon — well. I was confident enough to call bullshit on most of the second season of canon. Still am.
Now I’m creating canon. I’m discovering who in that canon I know well enough to write. I am playing in a fantasy canon right now and I’m best able to tell this story from two points of view: the healer who had to fight her disgrace of a father for her birthright, and that healer’s granddaughter, fighting major cultural changes in order to seize the same.
When I worked in dystopian canon, my point-of-view character was the scrappy survivor who could have curled up and died of all the sorrows in her life — but didn’t. When I set my hand to something fluffy and more realistic, I couldn’t actually write straight teenage love affairs. The girls were all more into each other than boys their age. Note that I never did get the hang of boys; I always craved men, and for millennials, the definition thereof doesn’t hang on age alone.
So even now I am writing what I feel I know. I guess there’s something to the adage after all.
. . .
I’ve learned how not to hate on authors whose representation of certain characters is low by comparison to… well, something resembling the author’s demographic. Is it privilege that I can say “I’d rather have none of me than someone getting me badly wrong?” I mean, there are probably a lot of kinksters wishing EL James had never written Fifty Shades of Complete BS.
I had something much more crude there.
Everyone is nuanced. Everyone’s got a context. If I see someone getting my nuances and context wrong, and that person has never experienced either in her life, I’m going to make it a teachable moment. Did Not Do The Research is a good reason for a shitty review, especially when it means misrepresenting people who have enough trouble being seen correctly in the first place.
In my fantasy ‘verse, yes, there are black characters. There are characters of all kinds of color. I borrow flavors, not entire cultures. I haven’t expied anything, at least not on purpose. I’m working within one country with varying ethnic groups, who have been part of the same nation for a thousand years and have developed a collective cultural identity above who they were prior to the unification of their city-states. Other authors I have read do borrow entire cultures, and if they haven’t got a reason (see Darkover), they try to Do The Research (see Tortall; Circle of Magic is a lot more blended, though there’s still Yanjing).
It’s just not in me to blame someone else for getting it right by omission, is my point. Because I keep asking what’s better: no representation or shoddy representation? It’s sin in one hand and wish in the other, and I’ve no wish to play your games anymore. If you don’t like what I write, don’t read it. If you like what I write, read it. Someday. When it’s done. There are a million of you tackling the kyriarchy and you’re all bloody critics.
I know I’m not going to please even the majority of you so I think I’ll write to please myself!