Over the last few years, I’ve come across a number of discussions debating the role of women in gay or male/male romance fiction and erotica. There’s no question this genre has grown a lot in the last few years, due in large part to women readers and writers. I was surprised to learn quite a few people are not happy about this.

The phrases I’ve heard tossed around are things like “culture appropriation” and “gay fetish” to describe the interest (presumably) heterosexual women have in gay romance. I’ve held my tongue when these debates have happened, partly out of self-interest (as a writer, reputation online is more important than ever these days) and partly because it’s difficult to weigh in when I see both sides of the issue.

Of course, I don’t feel like I personally fetishize gay sexuality. I like to read and write about all kinds of things, a great many of them having nothing to do with sex. But I can imagine how gay men feel when it comes to women looking at pictures and videos of men together and reading their comments. To be objectified like that, even if it’s not about you, feels dirty. I’ve read comments that made me want to distance myself from the woman who wrote them. I’ve had women give my books low ratings because there wasn’t sex on every other page, or what sex was
there was tame compared to a lot of other books out there. It’s disheartening to realize there are people who come across like that’s all they’re interested in – many of them may not even realize it. Naturally, this results in men who hate how women are taking up such a large part of “their” world – to the point of being openly hostile to readers and writers just for being a part of this group. Some of them feel any woman who reads or writes gay romance or erotica is wrong, just because.

I liken the situation to the major political parties in the US. There are extremes on both sides who feel strongly about their position and they can be the loudest when it comes to disagreements. But, as in politics, even people within the groups sometimes don’t agree with how the extremists represent the whole.

I’m not an innocent when it comes to this particular issue. I’ve done and said quite a few things I’m not proud of and I can’t imagine the kind of impression I’ve left on gay men I’ve spoken to, either online or in person. I used to say things like “that’s so gay” because I was young and silly and it never occurred to me to question why I or others said it or how it may make someone feel. I’m more aware of how I speak to people now and I’ve largely changed the way I think. I’m cognizant of how connected I am to the world around me and the world I’ve aligned myself with, not because I’m a woman most presume to be heterosexual, but because I sometimes still feel I’m on the outside looking in. I want people to respect me and my opinions and know when they speak to me I am genuinely interested in them and not attempting to correlate them with a gay stereotype in the media. I don’t know if thinking this way now makes me more mature or less self-absorbed. I like to think it makes me more open to getting to know people, across the board. I like to think it makes me more attuned to how people respond to me. I like to think my attitude will allow people (read: gay men) to get to know me as a person and not assume I’m a hetero woman ogling them as entertainment.

But I’m just one person. There are millions of other women out there with their own variation of this story. I can’t speak for any of them.

Where am I going with this?

A little over a year ago, I got an idea for a story about a woman who gets to experience what it’s like to be a man for a day. Naturally, because of what I write, I thought it would be fun if she tried to have a sexual experience with another man. I asked around and the majority of women I spoke to agreed: If they could do it, a lot of what they’d want to experience would be sexual, either by themselves or with another person. Once I knew I was going to write this story, I realized I couldn’t do it without linking it to a larger argument: What would happen if this woman had a lot of preconceived ideas about gay men that were challenged by her firsthand experience?

http://sarawinters.net/envy.htmIt was difficult writing this story. There were a few times I flat-out quit because I was putting so much pressure on myself to get it just right, to prove certain points. I suppose I was writing it in lieu of responding to all those arguments I kept seeing online. I pushed myself and finally wrote a story that explains, in small part, how I think some women feel when they’re reading and writing these stories. This is by no means an excuse for some comments and behavior. It’s just one possible version of reality for some people wrapped in a story.

Is the main character Jamie really me? No. Sort of. She’s a more extreme, sillier version of the me from three years ago. I learned a lot of the lessons she has to learn in the book a long time ago and I’m better for it.

I don’t expect people to love this story. I expect it to get people talking, for better or worse. I’m still trying to convince myself I’m doing a good thing. It’s not a romance. It’s…general fiction/fantasy, for lack of a better description. I think I’m prepared for the various reactions the story will get. Maybe.

This is not an easy to read story. It’s social commentary. It’s a thinly disguised critique of my social group, groups we interact with, and a segment of our environment. I may hurt feelings. I may hurt my chances of selling books in the future.

I care about those things, but I still had to tell my story. If you’re curious how I did that, click here to read the beginning and find out where to get a copy.