A warning about fair warning

So today, a popular review site posted a predictable and very, very tired rant about girl parts in m/m romance. Over on my Tumblr, I responded with my own rant calling them out on trans*phobia, biphobia and internalized misogyny.

But what gets me more than anything else is the sense of entitlement. The entitlement of the audience to tell the artist what to create. The entitlement of the audience to claim disrespect and even discrimination for daring to create something some members of the audience might not want to see.

You know, in gaming circles, we get a fair number of rants on that nature, only they go like this:

Dude, the majority of the gaming audience is men and we don’t want to see games about chicks and fags, and omg! if you make a game featuring chicks and/or fags, or if you complain about misrepresentation of chicks or fags, you’re discriminating and oppressing TEH MENZ!

Sounds pretty absurd, doesn’t it? The rational and reasonable response would be “the majority of games feature and appeal to “teh menz” so you shouldn’t begrudge the small minority which represent and include woman and gay players. We would rightfully call the authors of such rants out on their rampant blindness to their own privilege, which allows them to perceive even the smallest step toward representational parity as discrimination and/or oppression.

The majority of m/m romance features dick and only dick, and I’m okay with that. I like that gay men are being portrayed as heroes in books. But don’t trans*folk and bifolk deserve portrayal as well? And how freaking absurd is it to claim that readers of m/m romance are being disrespected and oppressed by the portrayal and/or inclusion of these characters? And why should your trans*phobia, biphobia, and the internalized misogyny that makes you uncomfortable with the notion of female-bodied sexuality dictate who should and shouldn’t receive representation in a book?

Of course, the refrain, the one single attempt at rationality in the rant in question is that it’s about labeling and fair warning. That it’s fine to write those stories, just make sure to WARN the reader/reviewer about the content. In other words, warn the reader if there are “girl parts.”

You know what? No. Fuck you. You warn for things that might trigger your audience: underaged sex, abuse, graphic violence, dubcon/non-con/rape fantasy or roleplay, and character death. (And let me go to say this is a fanfic convention, not a publishing convention, because do you think people who write mysteries, or war stories, or horror stories warn for shit like that? Hell no. But the new wave of small-press genre publishing, which is largely frequented by people who got their start in fandom, do warn for stuff that like.) These things are warned about as a courtesy, not because the author and/or publisher has any moral or ethical obligation to telegraph their punches by telling readers and reviewers in advance what is going to happen.

These things that are traditionally warned about all have one commonality: they can be shocking and/or traumatic, particularly someone with PTSD triggers.

Since when is pussy considered triggering? (spoiler alert: it’s not, this basically all boils down to “eww, girl parts” with a dash of “I don’t find that personally titillating so I don’t want to read it.”)

In either the post or a comment responding to it, someone said the audience has a “right” to know. I think this person has a mistaken concept of what “rights” are. When you buy a book, you have a “right” to exactly one thing: the book you bought. Doesn’t matter what’s in it. You pays your money, you takes your chances. You have a right to dislike the book, but you don’t have a right to demand the author to write something different if you don’t like it. And you certainly don’t have the right to demand that author spoil major events of the book and plot by announcing them in advance.

So, here is fair warning about what I will issue warning for: underage sexual activity whether it’s consensual or not, domestic abuse whether physical or emotional, dubcon/non con (and I’ll even throw in consensual non-consent, i.e. fantasy role play about forced-sex scenarios), graphic violence, and maaaaaybe, if it doesn’t spoil the whole book too badly, major character death.

I will not warn about the death of secondary characters, minor violence, or activities where all parties are consenting and of-age, even if those activities are things that aren’t everyone’s cuppa, like BDSM and “eww girl parts.”

There. Caveat Emptor. Consider yourself warned.

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56 Comments

Filed under Musings, Politics

56 responses to “A warning about fair warning

  1. Reblogged this on machinery faintly purred and commented:
    This post is everything I wanted to say, a thousand times better than I could say it.

  2. See all this? All this stuff you just said? AWESOME!

    Maybe I should be glad that only 3 people in the entire world have ever purchased my backlist of trans fiction, and those readers all happen to be trans. When hardly anyone realizes you exist, you’re never the centre of controversy. heh.

    Actually, this reminds me of when I first started writing queer fiction professionally and most of my stuff was lesbian or female bisexual (my primary attraction is to women–makes sense to me). Most editors were like… no way, kiddo. You shouldn’t waste your time writing this. It was another version of “ewww girl parts.”

    • Well, I know I’m very, very small potatoes in the m/m genre right now, and I haven’t encountered this issue in any of my books YET, because they have been pretty straightforward m/m romances, but people (I believe it was Heidi Belleau, but I’ve lost track of who has said what on this subject so I can’t be certain) made the point on her blog about writing what is true to the characters. and the story.

      I think one very big issue with Wave’s rant is that it makes m/m romance about the sex and not about the story. A book should be a journey, following a character from where they begin to where they end. There should be mis-starts and wrong turns and U-turns along the way. To make it all about the genitalia of who is having sex with whom in the book, you are completely disregarding–and (*gasp*) DISRESPECTING–the character, their story, and their journey.

      If you want fap-fodder with no story, watch porn. That’s not what any romance, no matter the genre, should be reduced to.

  3. marygrz3

    Ditto! I can understand the communication thing but I think accusing authors of disrespecting m/m readers is harsh. My girl bits feel disrespected by the “girl cootie” comment.

  4. Kate Aaron

    I think I love you 🙂

    • *hugs* ❤ you too. I'm way behind on responding to people about this because I am sick and have been lapsing into unconsciousness between rants, but I appreciated your post on the subject this morning also.

  5. therealtbaggins

    Reblogged this on shadesofgay and commented:
    PERFECT.

  6. *applauds* Thank you.

    My WIP includes trans (MtF and TtF), straights (men and women), bisexuals… and I guess Jessewave won’t be reviewing it any time soon. Ask me if I care.

    The world I live in is a fucking rainbow. Their world sounds gray and dreary.

  7. Reblogged this on Theo Fenraven and commented:
    Jessewave is raising another stink. Amelia posts a beautiful rebuttal.

  8. From one Amelia to another: well said! Perhaps I am in the minority, because I enjoy reading about “girl parts” (almost) as much as “boy parts”. I also have a huge problem with the idea that someone needs to be warned about the possible inclusion of female sex/erotic scenes in a book. Honestly, the whole idea that different “varieties” of sex should be separated and labeled is slightly abhorrent to me. Don’t we say that “love is love”? Why does that not apply to everyone?

    Also, in the jessewave post there was a commenter that made a great point, and that was about the terrible stereotypical ways that women in general are depicted in most m/m books. It’s sad and disturbing because it is true.

    I guess the only thing we can do as writers is to “write it right”, and create great characters (male, female and trans*), great relationships (m/m, m/f, f/f), and all the sex our stories call for 🙂

    • I will also add (because I think of things after hitting “post”, ugh) that it’s not cool to use someone else’s exclusionary tactics (the reluctance of het romance authors and review sites to accept m/m sex) as a validation/excuse for your own exclusionary policies.

      • Yeah, the cliche “two wrongs don’t make a right” applies here, however much I hate the triteness of it.

        Again, I think it’s extremely disrespectful of the author and the story to take the character and the journey they crafted for that character and write it off based on the genitalia of one character in one scene somewhere.

  9. Reblogged this on AJ Rose and commented:
    My warning: I write about lots of stuff. It’s graphic. Sometimes disturbing. I am not, and refuse to be, typical. Including limiting myself to one type of character.

  10. Thank you! Amazing.

    The Fandom writing point; good one. It’s not conventional for publishers to ‘spoil’ the whole plot. lol

    Also, one major thing that oft escapes me… I’ll generalise for the sake of say, giving myself as an example:
    I’m a woman, writing my fantasies and using male characters. (I didn’t say gay… I just use men, however i want, be it gay, bi, or maybe straight with homosexual tendencies)
    There’s the HUGE issue of lots of other women out there ignoring the fact that women fuel these fantasies. (For the most part; not ignoring male writers out there, of course.) But a huge number of writers are women, as are readers. Why do people ignore this?
    I’m not righting for gay rights. I’m writing for my own female fantasies. Bugger everything else, lol.

    Why does that point never get brought up? *confused*

  11. Claps loudly! I have reviewed mostly m/m fiction on my site but am always on the lookout for bi/trans fiction, because those stories deserve to be told too.

    • I think you will be seeing more bi and trans* stories in the future because the genre is becoming aware of the lack of representation there, and the inherent hypocrisy of claiming to write about people who don’t get enough accurate representation in fiction, but only doing so when it involves those underrepresented peoples that straight women find sexually appealing.

  12. Reblogged this on Erotica With Snark and commented:
    I’m sure brother muse wanted t say this when he got a review on Mon Frere about girly parts! Great points!

  13. Pingback: A warning about fair warning | Live Your Dreams....Read a Book!!!

  14. I was going to rant about this on my blog, but now I think I’ll just point everybody over here. You said everything I was thinking, and then some.

    Remind me to buy you a drink when (not if!) we meet at GRL this October.

  15. Reblogged this on Steelwhisper and commented:
    Eminently well-said!

  16. Absolutely – could not agree more!!!

  17. Pingback: Goings-on | machinery faintly purred

  18. fefeeley412

    Yeah, I’ve seen this complaining stuff around especially with older more established authors. Good for you for standing up and saying exactly what authors are thinking. Its our job to create a world we see inside our head. Sure we want our readers to be happy, we want them to enjoy the work, but fuck….im not going to produce formula so you can get whatever you get from it. My reply is, “If you don’t like it, don’t fucking read it.” I mean, when my straight friends ask about my books and want to buy them, I thought about giving them a heads up, but if you cant figure out whats going on by reading the blurb at the back of the book or the description on the internet, that’s their own dumb ass fault. LIke what the hell?

    • Even if you CAN’T tell from the blurb on the back of the book, it shouldn’t matter! Sometimes a story has a surprise twist. That’s part of the journey. Go on the journey for the sake of the journey, not for the genitalia of the characters involved.

  19. fefeeley412

    Reblogged this on Author's Corner and commented:
    Straight (and not so much) and to the point. People bitching about het sex in m/m books. Some guys have sex with girls. GET OVER IT!

    • Girl cooties made a reviewer that angry? I write bi BDSM romances with two other women authors. It’s depressing all this anti-girl attitude. We’re going the Mff route because that’s what WE want to write. But we do label it Mff. Not labeling would be asking to have a shitload, as in 90 percent, of reviews saying ewww, I thought this was MfM. Or MMf.
      Even I’m not THAT masochistic.

      I’d rather find the audience that wants this sort of romance. So the disgust expressed here about her disrespect comment, I understand that, completely. The anti-labeling crusade, no. To me it’s commonsense to let readers have an idea as to what they are reading.

      If it’s NOT primarily an erotic book aimed to arouse readers, and let’s be truthful, that is why most people read erotic books…if not erotic, sure, don’t label the sexual combos. But if it is an erotic book, then yes, we should be telling readers at the very least, the main sexual combination.

      However telling them about added girl cooties, or man cooties, (in an f/f ) is up to the writer or their publisher. Is it disrespectful to have them in there, no.

      That said, I would bet my last dollar that not warning of ‘dick’ in an f/f story would lose you readers. So it may come down to sales (ie money, money, money) versus your own beliefs if you don’t label.

      • Sure, but personally speaking, I’ve had backlash from a book which was marketed as bi characters, labelled with scenes of M/M, menage, and M/M/F scenes, and yet readers still raged in reviews “i dont want girls parts in my M/M!”

        So… yeah. *shrug*

        No one marketed it as solely M/M romance, or even standard romance anyway, they’re just assuming that. Where does that leave me? or my publisher? 😦

        • Oh! That reminds me of a Homer Simpson quote: “I swore never to read again after ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ gave me no useful advice on killing mockingbirds. It did teach me not to judge a man based on the color of his skin, but what good does that do me?”

    • It’s not even about het sex! Sometimes, yes, m/m books deal with a gay or bi character’s history which might include sex with a woman at some point prior to settling into the primary m/m relationship, or it might feature a m/f side pairing that includes a sex scene.

      Sometimes,. But this site has rejected books about male/trans*man pairings. Now, if you bill yourself as being a site that features m/m pairings, but then reject m/FtM pairings, the only possible rationale can be that you don’t consider FtM people to be “real” men. Which is so fricking infuriating I cannot even.

      Bottom line: they are committing biphobic and trans*phobic erasure and disrespecting the journey of gay characters who may have had het experiences in favor of focusing on fap fodder about cis-alphamen. It’s disgusting.

  20. Pingback: A Wave of Nausea

  21. LOL – love the rant!!!!

    You are right – if I buy a book I have the right to have an opinion about it – but that’s all. If I get offended by it – so what?

    http://gay-male-art-blog.com

  22. Pingback: the real issue with that jessewave hoopla, imo | ameliabishop

  23. Perfectly stated. Reblogged to lauraharner.com

  24. Have I mentioned lately how brilliant you are?

  25. Now I want to write lesbian novel and m/m romance with girly parts all over the place 🙂
    I’m sure there nothing left to add on this topic. You are great!

  26. Oh, well said. There is really no excuse, as someone noted in the comments to that post, for treating healthy sex as needing a trigger warning. It’s one thing to refuse to review, but to accuse people who aren’t writing to your own narrow wants of being disrespectful is just bizarre. Thanks for writing this.

  27. I hate same-sex warnings on books. I’ve hated them from the first moment I noticed them in the front matters of books. It should be enough to include a warning of adult content/graphic sex. This doesn’t directly have anything to do with your post, but if I don’t warn people about same-sex activities in my books, I shouldn’t have to warn them about “straight sex” in my books (there have only been two instances, but they’ve been behind the scenes, so no graphics, but after a slap on the cheek for that first time I really dreaded doing it a second time but did it anyway).

    Now, if readers or authors/publishers want to add tags to reach the ideal audiences that’s up to them, but I won’t put it in the front matter of my books.

  28. Judy

    You gotta nice way to express yourself, kudos. Warnings on books – the thought is ridiculous. Same-sex warning? I thought it was 2013 …. guess I was wrong. I can hardly believe people demanding anything from an author – you write it, it’s yours, do it the way you please, say what you wanna say, the way you like it.
    And one more thing : people who buy a book supposedly can read, so why not read a review before you buy the book?
    Keep on doing what you’re doing, the way you please, if certain people can’t deal with it’s their problem.

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