WHOSE TALE TO TELL? | Pocketmags.com

5 mins


For years now, many queer readers have been focused on the ‘issue’ of presumably straight women writing books about, specifically, gay men—though the argument is also levelled against any supposedly non-queer person writing about the queer experience.

In some ways I can understand the argument; non-queer folks can never fully comprehend the lived experience of queer folks. As such the worry is that the depiction of queer characters in books written by straight authors will either be inaccurate, offensive, or even potentially dangerous to queer people in the real world. These concerns, in their own right, are valid.

However, readers and internet trolls alike turned the prosecution of cis-women-who-write-gay-stories into something of a witch hunt on TikTok and Instagram, and in 2020, things came to a head for one author in particular. Becky Abertalli, the author of the 2015 novel Simon Vs The Homosapien Agenda, which you might know better by the title of its 2018 film adaptation, Love, Simon, was forced out of the closet by angry fans. In an open letter to fans and critics alike, Abertalli wrote: “I’m 37 years old. I’ve been happily married to a guy for almost ten years. I have two kids and a cat. I’ve never kissed a girl. I never even realised I wanted to.

“But if I rewind further, I’m pretty sure I’ve had crushes on boys and girls for most of my life. I just didn’t realise the girl crushes were crushes.”

Abertalli explained that she felt compelled to come out about her bisexuality after being continually berated by readers who claimed that she’d intentionally exploited the LGBTQ+ community and their experiences for profit through the sales of her book and subsequent film and television franchises.

The YA author, who said her own feelings of queerness started to reemerge as she began writing her novel Leah On The Offbeat, a love story between two women, clapped back at fans for their vitriol.

“This doesn’t feel good or empowering, or even particularly safe,” she said. “Honestly, I’m doing this because I’ve been scrutinised, subtweeted, mocked, lectured, and invalidated just about every single day for years, and I’m exhausted.

“And if you think I’m the only closeted or semi-closeted queer author feeling this pressure, you haven’t been paying attention.”

I believe part of the reason why we need to move away from this mentality that only queer authors can write queer stories is that, like Abertalli, the pressure to come out before they are ready may well keep some authors from writing stories that might not only be pivotal towards their own journey of self-discovery, but that could be the difference between queer kids feeling seen as opposed to invisible.

Furthermore, if you think that straight women writing gay stories is anything new, then, to borrow Abertalli’s phrasing, you haven’t been paying attention. While it can be assumed that women have been writing as long as literature has existed, and that queer relationships, however explicit or not, have been the subject of literature for just as long, the trend of cis-het women dominating the world of gay (MLM) literature can be traced back to the 1970’s.

According to Camille Bacon-Smith’s 1991 book, Enterprising Women: Television, Fandom, and the Creation of Popular Myth, male homosexual storytelling gave women an outlet to explore their own sexuality in a world where female desire was so frequently oppressed and censored.

But that was the ‘70s and today, while I won’t go so far as to say that female sexuality isn’t oppressed, it should, in theory, be less oppressed than it was 50 years ago—so why are so many straight women still writing gay stories, and why are people so upset about it?

Part of it goes back to the fact that, until very recently, queer representation in media of any kind, but especially literature, was something that was only hinted at, or that was otherwise relegated to erotic sub-genres and therefore only accessible to certain parts of the LGBTQ+ community, as well as only reflecting a sliver of our lived experience. In recent years, however, queer characters have been abundant in literature, though not always in the way we might have hoped for, and almost never as representative of the entire LGBTQ+ community as it ought to be.

It’s unsurprising that queer stories have been particularly popular. Queer readers are desperate to see themselves on the pages of the books they read and so, as these stories become more readily available to all readers, they fly off the shelves. Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper graphic novel is an amazing example of this, all four volumes of which have just topped the New York Times Best-sellers’ list.

As queer stories become more popular, it’s inevitable that some people are going to assume that straight authors are simply attempting to capitalise on the ‘trend’ for a quick buck. And I’m not in a position to say that, in every case, this isn’t potentially true. The publishing world, as much as it is about telling meaningful stories, runs on revenue, just like the rest of the world. But it’s vital to remember that, as all writers strive towards creating a more inclusive literary canon for the next generation, they are going to have to venture from their own lived experiences for the purposes of storytelling.

Some of the best-selling, and best-written LGBTQ+ novels have been written by presumably straight authors. Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles and Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name come to mind immediately. Love them or hate them, they have made a massive impact on contemporary queer literature, and they have both been written by, presumably, heterosexual authors.

This doesn’t mean, however, that all authors don’t bear the burden of responsibility to accurately represent characters with different sexual orientations, gender identities, races, nationalities, etc, that are different than theirs to the best of their ability and with input from members of the community. For example, an author who has never met or spoken to a Trans person, probably shouldn’t be writing a story centred on a Trans character. This is true for authors within and outside of the LGBTQ+ community though.

At the end of the day, the influx of queer stories, regardless of the identity of their author, is an amazing thing, especially for queer youth who are now able to grow up with access to a library with all kinds of representation. It’s something I could have only dreamed of as a kid. So this Pride month, instead of worrying about whether the author of that queer novel is actually queer or not, spend your time reading more about people whose experiences are different from your own. It is through this and this alone that we will be able to start to break down the barriers of ignorance, even such ignorance, like the coerced outing of Becky Abertalli, that happens within our own community.

This article appears in 372

Go to Page View
This article appears in...
Go to Page View
Welcome, dear reader, to the very special Pride edition of GCN!
What are you most looking forward to about being able to celebrate Pride together this year?
NXF in conversation with Misha Tumasov
Give the Gift of Pride
As Pride gets ever closer, many of us are looking forward to reconnecting with friends and marching the streets once again surrounded by rainbow flags.
Preserving Our History
Over 34 years, the lives of LGBTQ+ people, their stories, successes and struggles have been captured in the pages of GCN magazine.
Trans Equality Together
A coalition working to create an Ireland where Trans and nonbinary people are equal, safe and valued will be officially launched this month.
As he takes the reins of the much-beloved LGBTQ+ community space located in the heart of Dublin, Oisin O’Reilly shares with Ethan Moser his vision for the future of Outhouse.
I still find it hard to locate my 'queerness' at times. I genuinely worry about it. Is it at the bottom of a pint in the gay bars or clubs I frequent? Or did I leave it in my house next to my keys?
The work to disregard historic convictions of gay and bisexual men.
This month, our beautiful green country celebrates every colour of the Pride rainbow. Pride has become a glorious country-wide annual occasion full of festivities, fun and jubilation.
In light of plans to open a new pub in The Liberties, Keev Boyle Darby caughtup with John Keelan, a beloved ally and bouncer on Dublin’s LGBTQ+ scene to chat about his addition to the city: All My Friends. Portrait by Hazel Coonagh
Non-binary Lesbians: Identity Based on Inclusion
Lesbianism has an intricate and mixed history, particularly when it comes to gender identity and presentation. Many modern views on lesbianism, however, appear to be attempting to erase this. Leighton Gray and Em O’Connell discuss that, whether done consciously or unconsciously as a means of defence, current views on the community are becoming far too simplistic and stagnant.
The Beat Goes On!
There are icons and then there’s Cher. Conor Behan got a tour behind the scenes of a new must-see stage musical based on the life of one of pop’s greatest stars.
Battling the myth that Disabled People are unhappy, Alannah Murray speaks to friends to find out what sparks joy and how they celebrate their community.
DISSOLVED GIRL : Learning to Live Without Compromise
In a quarantine hotel room in Hong Kong, Nat Mak finally decided they were void.
With Pride season upon us, Saoirse Schad spoke to Matt and Róisín about their experience of being ‘hidden’ during this most colourful and rainbow-filled time of the year.
With over 40 years of support for LGBTQ+ rights in Ireland coming from the Trade Unions movement, Beatrice Fanucci looks back on a lesser known ally for our community.
Making an exhibition
In February 2022, a report in The Journal highlighted the awarding of a café and services tender to Aramark by The National Gallery of Ireland. Artist Brian Teeling explains why this struck a nerve across the country.
Despite many queer women representing Ireland on an international sporting level, the lack of openly queer men has raised questions about whether the male sporting sphere is inherently homophobic. Alice Linehan takes a closer look
“Just two gay lads having a cup of tea and talking shit at the kitchen table.” That’s how PJ Kirby described to Peter Dunne the show he and Kevin Twomey have created. But while it may have come from humble beginnings, I’m Grand Mam has taken the podcast world by storm and shown that nothing brings us together better than laughter
In 1982, Declan Flynn was murdered by a gang of five homophobic men in Fairview park. The tragedy sparked outcry from the LGBTQ+ community, and is seen as a key moment in the development of the country’s queer rights movement, including the emergence of the Dublin Pride parade. 40 years on, as Alice Linehan describes, it is abundantly clear that Pride is as necessary as ever as Ireland is experiencing an alarming rise in homophobic violence.
Dating and Difference AGE
Dating based on demographic status is nothing new. It is nowhere more prevalent than the online dating world. Granted, for the most part, this world mostly stays away from problematic selection processes that may be deemed discriminatory (disability, economic status, etc), though this is an ongoing evolution. Race, for example, has only been removed from the Grindr search filters within the last few years. But almost all dating platforms will ask what age range you’re willing to date within; this, apparently, is more acceptable, describes Adrian Colwell.
Life After Life
Tír na mBeo - The Land of the Living is a new documentary film highlighting LGBTQ+ people in Ireland during lockdown. Its creator, Pradeep Mahadeshwar, shares the journey of making a window into queer lives during a troubled time
Absolutely no regrets
The monumental new photobook by the incredible Niamh Barry, No Queer Apologies, questions the ways in which queerness exists, permeates, and even reshapes the space around us. We are delighted to share its beauty.
Chemsex, also referred to as the After Party scene, has inspired many a conversation amongst the queer community. Naturally, a scene involving drugs and sex will provoke certain perceptions to those who don’t partake, but there is more to it than an easy judgement would suggest. Brian Dillon spoke to the queer creatives looking at the scene head on in a potent new show.
In recent years, the visibility and representation of Transgender people has increased. Across pop culture, sports, politics and the news media, Trans people are more seen and talked about than ever before. This of course, doesn’t come without its downsides, as Ezra Maloney discusses.
It has been 20 years since Eddie McGuiness, his then-partner Paul O’Connor, and artivist and designer Will St Leger launched a brand new publishing venture: a glossy LGBTQ+ culture bible in B5 format called FREE! Magazine. Alan Kelly looks back at a magazine that proved so popular it expanded into the world of telly, extended its reach to the UK, and featured Westlife in their first-ever interview for a gay magazine.
For years now, many queer readers have been focused on the ‘issue’ of presumably straight women writing books about, specifically, gay men...
There is a thriving community of LGTBTQ+ creatives in Ireland making amazing, diverse and inclusive books for children. Just in time for Pride, here are a few suggestions to fill you bookshelves.
‘My Own Personal Sligo’ will be forever rainbow-strewn
Izzy Kamikaze shares a personal journey through the LGBTQ+ agony and ecstasy of a town that could be any town.
Crushing on Queers
It can be exciting when we meet people who buzz off something creative in the same way we do. It’s like a fast-track to some sort of immediate bond. Adrian Colwell shares how this feeling led to the creation of the new social event, Queer Crushes.
The founder of QAPI, Pradeep Mahadeshwar, shares why the organisation is necessary and how to get involved.
From rocks carved into penises to steam-powered vibrators, Louise Blake gives just the tip on a brief history of sex toys that will leave you yearning to know more.
Sports & Fitness
Inspiring the LGBT+ community to be active
Exploring LGBTQI+Healthcare in Ireland
Dr John P Gilmore is Assistant Professor in Nursing at University College Dublin. He is also the recipient of the prestigious Fulbright HRB Health Impact Scholar award which will support him to travel to San Francisco next year to research models of community-led LGBTQI+ healthcare
Highlighting LGBTQ+ Creatives
Fans of queer comics may already have come across the work of Floatyspacecat. For those who haven’t, here’s the perfect introduction. Jacob L awrence, the artist behind it all, caught up with GCN and shared their journey
Highlighting LGBTQ+ Creatives
Daniel Mooney is the illustrator behind Mundomoo and this U=U artwork which he made in collaboration with Veda and the Poz Vibe podcast
Looking for back issues?
Browse the Archive >

Previous Article Next Article
Page 102