The Discrimination Persists: Gay Fiction Pubs, Promos & Reviews

My entry for the YAM 2012 LGBT Blogathon Event. To read more about it, please visit their website.

As it reflects my own life and experiences, my writing, both fiction and non-fiction, often naturally have gay, bisexual or trans/intergender characters and situations.  But what might be a misnomer to some: they often contain comparatively little or no sexually descriptive content.  For some people, whether regular readers of gay fiction, whether they are gay or straight (or somewhere in between) or they adamantly do not read any GLBTIIQ literature at all, this might seem strange as they equate “gay” with “sex.”

In a former article I discussed: “What Does ‘Gay’ Mean to You: Literary and Political Circles?” Whether anti- or pro-, the persistence of ones ignorantly assuming that those terms are interchangeable may very well fall under the broad category of homo-ignorant, another topic I covered in “Homo-Ignorance: Are You Part of the Problem?”

The reason I bring this up again was because of a recent situation during which I made the advertising and announcement rounds for my latest release, “Silence Is Multi-Colored In My World.” It is a biography written in memoir style of a deaf, gay young Russian, an orphan and former sex worker who beat the odds to find a home, love and finally, peace. It is rated PG-13 for adult situations and some strong language only.

The official description: “This is an imaginative collection of memories and observations written from the perspective of a young man who was orphaned early, who was gay, deaf and Russian. He was simple and complex, light-hearted and serious, whimsical and infinitely strong, and when he loved, he loved with all his heart and soul.

A former sex worker and later a husband, he was an amateur activist and philosopher, a startlingly intelligent, passionate individual able to intensely appreciate even the small wonders of the world and the people for whom he cared.

Part diary, part dialogue, part rhetoric, “Silence Is Multi-colored in My World” is based on actual experiences and is a literary portrait of a man with nothing to hide and everything to reveal. It is a slice into the willing veins of a mental and emotional free bleeder.”

At one of the book blogs that specializes in indie or small press produced books, I read their guidelines again, though I had make requests there before, submitted my press release information and waited for response.

I was stunned by the reply.

Dear Red Haircrow, 

Thank you for sending your announcement to us.  I apologize for the delay in my reply.

Per our FAQ page (http://www.indiesun——-.com/faq/), we do not feature books whose subjects are primarily sex, religion and/or politics.  We are also a PG-13 site, and I did see that there is an adult content warning on this book in Smashwords.

For the record, here is the definition at Smashwords of what constitutes an adult content warning on their site:

“In order to protect minors from viewing inappropriate material, please let us know if this book contains language, situations, or images inappropriate for children under 18 years of age.”

Considering my work is clearly listed at PG-13, plus the description above, plus I am able to read, comprehend and understand the concept of responsibility regarding correct labelling, my only problem with their rejection was that they assumed my work was primarily about sex.

Where in my description does it say it is by majority about sex? Just because the person was a former sex worker, does it mean they always talked about that job? And even if at some point they may have referenced some aspect of the sex trade (the biography does not sexually describe any such thing) there is still no reason to stereotype or generalize the work as being “primarily about sex.”

I didn’t challenge their right to reject anything submitted to their site. Any site has that personal privilege, which I would never dispute. I challenged the arbitrary, completely underinformed judgment and sentence imposed upon “Silence.” I do also believe it was because the biography involved a gay man, and it all revolved back around to the assumption that if a work is about or detailing a gay person’s life, it also sex primary.

I put forth this example to this co-administrator: “If the same description has been about a heterosexual woman who was saved from being a prostitute who eventually found a home, love and finally, peace, and the biography was rated PG-13, with the description above…? Honestly ask yourself, would you have assumed the work as being “primarily about sex?”

It unfortunate few people, especially in that situation, are honest. They basically just want to get rid of you, make excuses and fall back on their policies of being able to reject anything they wish without facing the fact they were discriminatory, biased and in this situation wrong.

But it’s not just sites like that one, for this particular work, I’ve had trouble getting reviews not only because it non-fiction that was about a gay person, and the person/site didn’t read “gay” stuff, but conversely I had review sites that do read gay fiction, non-fiction or m/m works who also passed. They passed because they saw the rating and that there was no sexual content. If it’s non-fiction, and its about a gay man, then they wanted sexually graphic details.

Going farther into that, I’ve actually seen readers or authors in discussions who say they don’t want to read about real gay life or situations, they just want to read gay or m/m fiction with higher heat levels.  Some GLBT review groups were created to provide such “insight” from their followers, so understandably they would choose books to write about that had high sexual content. Otherwise, though I have been both traditionally and independently published, you have other individuals or groups who may review GLBT literature of all levels, but they do not accept indie produced work.

On both counts, it is totally their choice, absolutely and wholeheartedly, but I learned quickly after having one of my books selected for review from a general list from a site that review m/m and gay fiction, and receiving a lackluster review because the reviewer self-admittedly said, “Good story, but I wanted sex, and there was none, so I have to rate it lower.” Only rated lower because you didn’t fulfill someone’s sexual expectations? I’m being ironic but: I only consider that necessary with a partner in my personal life!

The point of my article is basically that you can be “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” in this business of writing fiction and non-fiction that has a gay charcter or person in it.  You have publishers who won’t consider your work at all if it has gay characters or situations and then reference you to a gay or m/m exclusive publisher who then rejects your work because it doesn’t have enough sex or they want you to include more…and for me, that’s not an option. If the story and characters does not need it, I do not include just to have “thus-and-so” number of sex scenes. But I’m straying from my central theme….

I shrugged off these particular type of biases and conundrums reviewers/publishers/promoters give, and since honesty is my basic policy in all things, the next review group I approached I laid it on the line about “Silence” and this was part of my request message:

“I specifically decided to request a review at your site as I have been having difficulties obtaining reviews for this work as either reviewers assume that because it is about a young gay man it is primarily about sex or sexually descriptive in nature, and it is not. Or conversely, reviewers who accept fiction or non-fiction with a gay central character expect it to have sexual material and it does not. A true catch-22. I would greatly appreciate your possibly reviewing this courageous story of a man whose concerns were overcoming disabilities, ending homophobia, finding love and rising above the psychological after- effects of abandonment by his parent.”

I was not only pleased that it was accepted but that the review I received was positive. In part here, but please visit the site to read the full review. It’s at Stagewalker.Gather.com:

“Do not judge this book by its synopsis. Pick it up. Read it. Five stars.

Do not be put off by the people who would pigeonhole this book for their own narrow-minded political agendas. Read it for the insight it provides.”

I appreciated that last statement by the reviewer whether it has been for my book or not. So many people create their own agendas for dismissing and rejecting a work, or even the author who wrote it. One can completely understand personal preferences being involved, but when it is based on discriminatory actions or wrongly labeling work, that’s where it needs to stop. Such behavior and policies based on gender, race, religious belief, politics and others, these are still the things that keep humans divided, and no matter how innocently they can begin, if they continue, they can eventually lead to bias and hatred.

Let’s stop the discrimination of any kind. Promote understanding. Listen. Be honest. Be willing to discuss respectfully.

Don’t judge what you do not know or what you only think you know.  Extend that to people also, whether they are within a GLBT community or group already.  Discrimination and bias can still take place “inside” to push others “outside.”

Red Haircrow

* * * *

For more information about my published works and works in progress, please access the links at the top of this page. My other articles on GLBTIIQ topics on this website are below, but please visit Friendzstop for others:

12 thoughts on “The Discrimination Persists: Gay Fiction Pubs, Promos & Reviews

  1. Interesting — at least to me. I’m always looking into the way things in advertisement work. At times – most of the time – we play devil’s advocate. In your case, it’s a case of “sub-genre” not fit for the mainstream, but modified into something that doesn’t really satisfy a supposed core audience.

    I’m neither. So I’m interesting in checking this out… can I get a PDF to read and review for YAM Magazine? Mind you, I’m not a HUGE reader, so I will probably talk about your book in film-talk hahaha. If it’s a memoir, there shouldn’t be much problems…

    Thanks for writing for the Blogathon!

    • Well, straight away I would cite your phrase “In your case, its a case of ‘sub-genre’ not fit for the mainstream” as being questionable though honest. Using a term like “not fit” would suggest that whatever is being referenced is sub-par to whatever IS mainstream, which is exactly what my article is rejecting or others I’ve written in which people are rejecting labelling anything GLBT as being less or sub to other works.

      It is not a case of sub-genre or even something not potentially satisfiying for core audiences: it is the discriminatory and biased thinking in any audience either supportive of GLBT works or not who label and subsequently accept those desultory labels in some way. I’ve traveled, lived and worked in many societies and cultures, besides being in publishing/writing for over two decades, but it is so very telling that some of the societies that think they are so progressive as compared to others, keep and their society supports such biases and behaviors. And especially that those who pride themselves on being GLBTIIQ or supportive only extend that to certain causes or individuals. That was the point of my post.

      If you read in this very post about the work I referenced, “Silence Is Multi-Colored In My World” is a biography of a young man I was privileged to know, who I loved but who died just a couple of years ago. My own collection of flash memoirs and my full length autobiography is available elsewhere.

      • I didn’t mean to say LGBT fiction is sub-genre – that’s why I quoted it – but the mainstream does label it apart with a LGBT or Gay label instead of having things label simply as Drama, Romance or Biography. In reality, we had been reviewing LGBT things on YAM without tagging it LGBT for a while until SEO and Google came into consideration. We had to make it easier for visitors to find LGBT content on the site…

        But… people have expectations of genres. Especially in America, I think. People feel uncomfortable when a comedy gets too dramatic or a war epic gets too sentimental. In the case of people who read LGBT, to some of them… they read it for the romance or sex scenes, so when an LGBT doesn’t give them enough of it, it makes them uncomfortable. It’s like people who complain they didn’t like a perfectly fine romantic comedy because there wasn’t enough fluffy romance for them. They end up loosing what’s important about something…

        Then there’s the misinformed ones, those who put down or ignore a genre because they know little of it. Like those who say they hate Chinese films because they’re all about Pajama-wearing kung-fu-fighters who fly… or musicals because they’re always goddamn bursting into song.

        I would love to read Silence is Multi-Colored in my World.

      • I know how mainstream labels work with GLBTIIQ characters, I’ve been in the industry over two decades now, and actually its one of the topics I’ve discussed most with clients or those in my writer cooperative. Yes, you’re right but I would add some people have expectations of genres. It is self-limiting, whether it’s their choice conscious or unconscious, but I agree it is fully their choice to make, however.

        If anyone who has read my various works knows, they are not limited by genre and certainly if one expects each to be like the other as far as story type goes: they’ll be surprised. With some, they would be dismayed or even horrified. Those who only want a certain kind of work would definitely be disappointed. I don’t write for genres, submission calls, or to produce work the larger majority people will buy and positively view. Some are dreams I’ve written down in their entirety, or the characters themselves evolved the story from what I intended. Like my personality and reflective of my life, my work is “diverse.” That’s a nicer word for it instead of strange or at best: different. LOL

        And on the topic of America and new Americans, naja. (I could but…) I can’t go deeply into that as I moved back to Germany because of the American society in general, the neurosis and peer driven, narrow-mindedness and lack of objectivity and tolerance had reached a level and become something I did not wish to be a part of any longer. That seeming desire to down anything different than one what personally knows or likes. You have your exceptions of course, and they are very precious to me, but I had to get out and be free.

  2. Dear Red,

    A few months ago you reviewed my “space western” titled Sirian Summer, for which I want to thank you. The prequel to that novel will be published later this year, entitled Asteroid Outpost. Again the protagonist is United Federation Marshal Nick Walker, this time on his first assignment.

    The reason I am writing this is to advise you that for the first time ever, I have included a gay character in the story, not a major character but a fairly important one. Since I wrote Asteroid Outpost, i have included a lesbian character in two more novels that will be up for publication within the next year, Guerrilla Girl and Beyond the Nebula.

    You have to understand, I was raised in a strictly homophobic environment. It took me decades to get past that mindset and begin to understand that wholesome diversity includes gay people along with everyone else. What helped was conversations I had with a first cousin who was gay and died on AIDS in 2002. Since then I have become more aware of the suffering that gays endure in an unforgiving world.

    I don’t know how well I did with the gay character (the readers will have to judge that), but just putting him in the story was a major step for me. I hope that a sympathetic treatment of gay characters by a straight author will help defuse the fear and confusion that straight readers may harbor. If you like, I will notify you when the book is published. I would appreciate your evaluation of my efforts.

    Sincerely,

    John Bowers

    • Thanks for taking the time to write and I appreciate your comments. I actually grew up, on my father’s side, in an extremely strict cult-like Christian group that disallowed any and all things condemned in their book, and that of course included being gay. It was like growing up in the Inquisition, where you might not have been killed, but being beaten every day was a part of it and I was different for as long as I can remember so that’s what I got for a variety of infractions which included not being heterosexual. It is why I feel labels of any kind can be counterproductive because too many people use it primarily as reason to negatively judge others.

      I do understand what you mean, and certainly again, appreciate your reasoning and can agree with it. Not referencing your work, because I haven’t read it, but I suppose what I wish people to understand the difference between adding a GLBTIIQ simply as another person that contributes to the story as a whole, as relevant and or just adding them just as a means to an end, whether that is stereotyping or to sell more copies by getting the attention of a genre reading group or whatever. For example, like having the token Indian in a western film or a minority for PC sake. It’s kind of like wishing to be invited to an event just because you are liked for yourself and are found interesting, and not so you can be a conversation piece or source of entertainment as if what you are is more important than who you are.

      Granted, no doubt this stems from my writing work which may have gay characters or situations but which mainstream doesn’t want because of that fact, and then alternatively having gay specific publishers who say it doesn’t have the sexual content necessary for their house. Hopefully, more people will keep working to break down these barriers that stem from labelling/mislabelling, judging and stereotyping.

      I wish you great good luck with your new novel.

  3. Thanks for your reply, Red.

    It is not my intention to include gay characters as tokens or novelties of any kind, but rather to protray them as mainstream people who just happen to have a different orientation. In the case of Asteroid Outpost, the gay man is a district attorney who works with Marshal Nick Walker to uncover corruption in a mining company. The lesbian in Guerrilla Girl is a soldier who is faced with harassment from an insensitive infantryman who thinks he can “cure” her.

    I may never have a gay protagonist because I don’t think I can do him justice. I don’t write sex scenes from a female perspective for the same reason.

    John Bowers

    • As I said in my comment, since I haven’t read your works to which you reference,

      “Not referencing your work, because I haven’t read it…”

      I clearly wasn’t referencing your books when I expressed the wish of some of those affected to have representatives included as relevant parts of a story for what they bring to it not just because of their sexuality. I gave examples of what has concerned minorities of various kinds, orientation, ethnicity or whatever else, in literature, that might be applicable. I stated my reply was a general comment since anything I write here is for anyone who might happen to be reading, either now or in the future.

      Just to reference a comment I made on a forum thread at literary website about a similar topic: “I believe it is entirely possible for someone who is straight to write a good gay character, just as I believe someone who is not American Indian or African American can write well one of those characters. It is all dependent on the skill, respect, relevant knowledge and responsibility with which they do so. It has been done well before and there will be writers who will outstandingly do so again.”

  4. I’ve been encountering more traditional homophobia. One person read my book and reviewed it on the Apple store and said it would have been a five star book were it not for the homosexuality in it. The person said the homosexuality made what I said in the book “blasphemus”. I actually managed to get the one star review removed stating that it was clearly bigoted toward gays.

    • That is one of the truely frustrating things for me with this issue. Some publishers, other writers and readers, review or promotions groups will take comment from discriminatory readers like that as evidence that any and all fiction or non-fiction that may have a gay character or situations in it must be marked as “gay” even if their sexuality is simply incidental to the story (just like the character having blue eyes for example).

      Secondly, they say “such works” should be published by GLBTIIQ, gay or m/m fiction exclusive or primary publishers so readers can clearly know what they are getting when buying a book. This is irregardless to the fact some books with gay characters or situations are not erotica or erotic works, which don’t fit into the guidelines of such publishers who focus more on romance and eroticism. It is a passive type of support for bias, bigotry and discrimination. It also doesn’t take into account the worthiness of a book simply because of the book itself, but then many publishers are more concerned about sales and worthiness is not unimportant but definitely secondary to the first.

      That comment you received was certainly biased towards those who are gay or books with gay characters. It’s too bad the rating couldn’t have been removed but the comment still left so others can see what kind of bigoted behavior continues to go on and on several other sites allowed. That being said, I would say personally concerning my work, it would be nice to have some “traditional” homophobia instead of those who aren’t gay or even male but still down a work because its not the type of gay they want to read, usually based on sex content. Gays are individuals too, not just stereotypes.

      So in combination with what you term “traditional” and then other types of homophobia such as “homo-ignorance” it’s a kind of a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation. The bottom line is, whether the discrimination, bias and subjectivity is from “inside” or “outside” it’s harmful societally and wrong, and is based on what I believe is a kind of intolerance based not only on lack of understanding, or simply not caring, but also believing that whatever one personally thinks is correct and should be applied to everyone else.

  5. I understood that and took no offense. I just wanted to clarify that my intentions are honorable. I believe there are many people in society who are not respectfully portrayed in fiction (including nerds, the handicapped, gays and lesbians, and many, many others); as I learn more about these individuals, I hope to include them in my stories.

    John Bowers

    • Thanks for the further explanation, and that actually is why some people are mystified that I don’t widely seek out any work labeled as gay or what self-labelled fans of “gay fiction,” especially m/m, read. I personally don’t care who writes about a gay character, or a story or situations that involves them as long as its done well and they are accurately, knowledgeably or respectfully portrayed. I seek out such works, and I read across genres.

      The same applies as you say also: of disabled persons, whether mentally or physically, nationality or anything else. Maybe because I grew up where so many people were scorned, as was I, and where you both saw and felt how painful that was: I don’t choose to do it myself, and it extends to writing.

      I think its all based on ability, and honestly, a kind of humility. When you have writers who says they’ll write whatever they want, however they want it just because they can? Well, sure they can, but even if its fiction it can be harmful in reality if it misrepresents. When you have writers who dismiss any discussion, rationale and examples, or especially see any critique as a reason to attack or as some kind of discrimination? They haven’t understood the issues in the first place or delude themselves as to the source. I find it all extremely unprofessional and indicative of the continued problems of societies as a whole.

      I, too, continue to learn about people of all kinds and always try to incorporate that into my work. Reading back through my work over the years, I can tell where I was lacking in some knowledge and perception and hope to have changed and improved. Critiques, honest and open-minded discussion can help most any writer with that, if they want that help.

      I greatly appreciated in your comments.

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