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.