Seeing oneself accurately represented is a powerful experience, especially if your whole existence has often been reduced to a cheap joke or a disposable plot device. For many queer people, the only media in which they feel accurately represented and celebrated is in the Gay & Lesbian literature section (the inclusivity of that title is a whole other debate) on online markets.
After perusing the section for some time, it is obvious that the variety of queer literature can be broken down into two categories: the elegant calligraphy and meticulously chosen colours of the professionally published and the photoshopped, stock photo, free-downloadable typography of the self-published.
The professionally published lure you in with a pretty picture but, as I have often found, leave you with a deep sense of dissatisfaction because almost always someone dies. Going down the rabbit hole that is self-publishing, one experiences a menagerie of sexual proclivities on an every other page basis but, these sex obsessed tales always have a happy ending.
Not only that, but these self-published stories have a much larger variety of genres (fantasy, science fiction, historical, dystopian to name a few) possibly because they are unrestrained by the whims of a publisher. But, what is truly fascinating about these low funded novels is that the authors of most of the gay male fiction are middle-aged women.
After quite literally the smallest amount of research done by a person ever, it became obvious that some of the highest rated self-published gay fiction stories are written by authors like Lisa Oliver (5 stars), Gerri Hill (4 ½ stars), Jaime Reese (4 ½ stars) Jocelynn Drake (4 ½ stars) and KJ Charles (4 ½ stars). Some of these women are in a happy heterosexual marriage, have 2.5 children, 3 cats, and a chicken named Bellamy, whilst others refuse to reveal anything about themselves but use ‘she’ as their pronoun in the description section of their bio. Despite their differences, what these women all have in common is that they seemingly love to write explicit gay male fiction.
This bizarre discovery begs the questions: on what authority can a heterosexual woman write gay male fiction? And who exactly is it marketed to? Other women? Gay men? A mixture of the two?
Most queer readers might argue that their take on homosexual romance is simply a heterosexual woman playing dress up with emotions, scenarios, and topics that real people face on a daily basis. They fetishize the abuse suffered and inaccurately portraying sexual relations in a gay context.
Others seem more forgiving of the authors background, arguing that an inaccurate portrayal of sex is nothing new to the world of romantic fiction and the characters and worlds built by these women are never intended to mock or offend but to share an adventure in love and happiness.
As a queer person what I am left with is a deep sense of confusion. I have no definite answer or opinion. I honestly have no idea what to make of this debate. I have enjoyed queer fiction that I had no idea was written by heterosexual women and after having realised that fiction was written by a heterosexual woman, did that change my affinity for the story? Not really. Do you truly know what I was left with after reading those stories?
Somebody cared enough about me to write a happy ending and I can’t begrudge them of that.
Words, Verity Campbell @verityhcampbell