Saturday, November 30, 2013

Writing Effeminate Masculinities

A while ago Talya Andor wrote a great blog post about effeminate men and why there are so few in m/m romance. She quite rightly tied it to misogyny and the fact that in our society everything thought of as 'womanly' is automatically labeled as weak or of lesser value.

Before encountering it in m/m romance I had been well aware of the controversy surrounding effeminate masculinity. Within the LGBTQ* community effeminate masculinity (much like masculine femininity) is still a hot button issue.

The image of all gay men as effeminate and therefor bad has long been used by the mainstream to delegitimize the entire gay community.

To make matters worse there is a racial aspect to this as well in the fact that Asian men of all sexualities are more likely to be stereotyped as effeminate (and therefore weak and/or evil.) Stereotypes of effeminate masculinity have been used for over a hundred years to 'prove' that Asian men are not 'real men' or that all Asian men are gay (and thus bad.)

Yet on the other hand rejecting all forms of femininity and effeminate-ness outright and trying to be as stereotypically masculine as possible is also problematic. It tends to reenforce the idea that everything feminine is not as desirable or as valuable as things that are masculine (because masculinity is only ever tied to men and femininity to women according to the prevailing gender binary.)

How much of effeminate masculinity needs to be rejected and what can be salvaged and used in empowering ways is a debate I actually consider myself somewhat versed in because my own masculinity tends to be effeminate.

Writers like Celine Parreñas Shimizu in Straightjacket Sexualities and  Joon Oluchi Lee who wrote "The Joy of the Castrated Boy" hugely influenced the way I think about my own gender presentation. Both argue for re-understanding effeminate masculinity as areas of gender rebellion, possibility and ethical empowerment. 

Yet when I took a good hard look at my own writing after reading Talya's article I realized that I don't write about effeminate masculinities and in fact have shied way from doing so several times out of fear. 

The times in the past when I have written more effeminate or feminine male characters my own masculinity and gender identity has been called into question. In those instances the conversation would swing away from the character and towards me as an author, my ability to write 'convincing men' or 'real masculinity.' These characters were held up as proof that I was too much of a girl, that I could never really understand how to write with a masculine voice. That because I have been more often attracted to cis gender women then cis gender men (although quite frankly most of the people I am and have been attracted to are trans*) what I really wanted to write about were two cis gender women getting it on and that was why my 'men' were so much, too much, like women.

Bottom line: I didn't understand or appreciate the 'real male bodies' or 'real masculinity' enough to be allowed to write about men at all.

When I have chosen to write male characters who were in any way feminine suddenly my personal gender identity, my sexuality and my ability as a writer were all up for criticism and debate.

To this day I still flinch away at the idea of getting phrases like "chicks with dicks syndrome" or "a teenage girl in a boy's body" thrown at my work. Not only do these phrases criticize the kinds of men I want to write about but they are also thinly valued slurs against things I value about my own gender identity (also note that male authors very, very rarely get accused of writing men wrong. So this is almost exclusively something used to de-legitimize women authors or those perceived to be women authors )

So when thinking about writing effeminate masculinities again I seriously asked myself do I want to put my foot back into that hornets' nest? After all I get into enough trouble with my trans* characters and unconventional happy endings.

In the end though walking up to hornets' nests and drop kicking them is pretty much the way I brand myself as an author, so I figured why not? It hasn't killed me yet.

Song of the Spring Moon Waning out in January has the character Liu Yi in it. Liu Yi is a palace eunuch and unlike other eunuch characters I've written he revels in the androgyny his position allows him. Liu Yi is described as physically small, delicate and pretty. A lover of all things beautiful, especially clothing, Liu Yi tends to dress and present himself in ways more associated with court women than men. He is also a skilled musician and scholar. Liu Yi is the chosen companion to many of the court women and their daughters.

He is also the love interest of Wen Yu the main character of the story.

Also up sometime in the near future is Duende: which is something of a prequel to A Matter of Disagreement. Duende's main character is a famed opera singer, Aimé, who I wrote to be unabashedly effeminate, a role he plays and loves both on and off stage. Although not as overt, Aimé's love interest and celebrated ballet dancer, Badri, also has quite a few effeminate characteristics.  

In my large, far-reaching, Russian fairytale WIP the main character is both third-gender/gender ambiguous and effeminate.

In another story I have in the works (also set in the same universe as A Matter of Disagreement, I just can't stop writing it) the main character who prefers to express himself in effeminate ways but must deal with that fact that age makes his preferred femininity even harder for society to condone.   

Although more effeminate masculinity is something I have only recently been able to reconsider for my own work, I hope that it will continue to be a part of the kinds of characters I write about in the future.

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