reading

Effeminophobia: Why It Hurts

Yesterday I had the best of intentions to write up a post, but I’ll admit it—I flat-out forgot. Mondays are tough, not only for the start of the work-week, but my particular Mondays don’t see me comfortably settled on the loveseat, post-dinner, until around seven-thirty or so. That’s when I begin to catch up from a long day. The evening seems to whiz past from that point, going through posts and emails, checking in with various peeps, until it’s getting late and, being on the West coast, I’m very much aware that many people are already in bed. So even when it’s early evening for me, my Monday posts are still pretty much night blogging.

Besides, I hear a lot of awesome people were at GRL, so it’s polite to allow a day’s margin post con-hangover. Well, it’s not quite a con, but same effect.

This week’s topic is effeminophobia. There are several things that have led me to this topic, but the primary driver is this: hate and fear have no place in my world. They’re destructive forces. They’re the opposite of everything I believe in, and so far as romance and writing are concerned, they may be in the writer’s toolbox of tricks, but as things to be overcome, something to triumph over, not a status quo to be upheld.

What is effeminophobia?

We’re at the first-ever Gay Romance Northwest, and during the panel on Diversity in Fiction, author Rick Reed looks out at the audience, the vast majority of whom are women (authors and readers), and asks the question: “Why aren’t there more effeminate men in gay fiction?”

For about a second, you could hear a pin drop. But then the tides unleash.

An author is the first to speak up. “We’re told that it’s a stereotype, and we’re not supposed to use stereotypes in our fiction.”

“My editor tells me to take out [effeminate men],” another says. “They edit out behaviors, gestures that can be seen as womanly.”

“We don’t want to see men acting like women. We want to see men with men.”

“I’ve had characters like that, but my editor advises me to take them out.”

Another author relates how she was lambasted for having a character who displayed feminine traits while I’m thinking whether to contribute my own anecdote of being accused by one reviewer of writing Bastian as “a woman in a boy’s body” all because he had the audacity to wear nail polish and eyeliner and display his emotions openly—as well as being an enthusiastic bottom.

“Effeminophobia.” Someone finally voices an underlying cause, the answer to Rick’s question.

“Misogyny,” someone else says. Now we’ve hit on the real reason. There’s an uneasy current in the room. We’re women, writing about men who aren’t supposed to act like women. Because that’s bad. But is it really bad, or have we been conditioned to think it’s bad because there’s a larger force in play?

Effeminophobia is fear of the feminine, or womanliness, and the behaviors, gestures, presentation, and identifying traits that are associated with the female gender. It’s far more pervasive than most realize, and it starts young. And it is not limited to men displaying and reinforcing this phobia, as you might think.

“You shouldn’t play with dolls, you should play with trucks.”

“Those are girl toys! You don’t want to play with little girl’s toys, do you?”

“Don’t give the kid an EZ-Bake oven for his birthday. Do you want him to be a sissy? A BB gun, now that’s a good gift for a boy…”

The Barbie and little pony aisle and the Transformers and action figures beside it. Don’t hit like a girl. Blue is for boys, and pink is for girls. What are you, a pussy? Put some muscle into it—are you a man or are you a princess? Take up a sport, we’ll make a man out of you. No, you can’t wear nail polish, that’s only for girls. The boy with pink shoes whose mother was slammed and vilified on Facebook for being such an unfit parent as to let him wear what he wanted. Another little boy who was assaulted by a stranger in the store because his mother let him wear a bow in his hair. You shouldn’t sign up for ballet, only gays and girls are ballet dancers. Why are you crying, stop being such a girl! Boys wear boy costumes, girls wear girl costumes. You’ve got to do better than that if you don’t want all your friends to think you’re a little bitch, son. You can’t take that job, it’s women’s work. Look, girls can wear suits, but if you’re a guy, wearing a skirt is cross-dressing. Let’s all prank that kid because he screams like a girl!

It goes on…

There are two things all of the above list has in common: implying that everything feminine is unmanly; and planting the seed that anything associated with women or girls is bad and undesirable.

Why is effeminophobia bad for us?

These cultural attitudes are so ingrained and pervasive that they’re often invisible to us, both men and women. They’re accepted as things being the way they are, especially by the older generation for whom gender is a clean division, men versus women. This sets up the false paradigm that men can only dress, behave, present, and talk like men, in a masculine fashion, or they are less than men, other, queer, feminine, bad. This is harmful to all men, gay, straight, bisexual, and trans*, because it sets up the expectation that any and all of these men can only comport themselves a certain way. Anything else, and they’re not considered men. Heaven forbid a man wears makeup and seeks out female partners. Lightning strike the man who makes limp-wristed gestures because he’ll get blasted as a sissy and a gay stereotype in the same breath. And men who overtly display feminine characteristics are subjected to violence, or the threat of violence, on a regular basis. You don’t have to be queer to be gay-bashed, after all.

This is also harmful to women across the same spectrum: lesbian, straight, bisexual, trans*, all of us. Conversely, women who display masculine traits are vilified as bitches, uppity, trying too hard, “thinking they’re the man,” having penis envy. Women who dress or act masculine, especially “butch lesbians,” are subjected to violence and the threat or perpetration of rape on a regular, widespread basis. Women who dress in a manner deemed too revealing, or “slutty,” also run the same risk. Women are told to stick to the kitchen in the same breath they’re told we live in a post-feminist world.
Women have the vote! Women rule the world. As long as you act and behave like a “real woman” or a “modest woman” or a “proper woman,” you’re safe, even as rape and domestic violence statistics beg to differ. Women in politics are subject to a level of scrutiny for the way they dress and act in ways a man would never experience. Women actresses are questioned on their diet and their underwear and other intimate details when men in the same film would never be asked the same things. Women are conditioned, from an early age, on what is feminine and coached that we need to stick to those things otherwise “men won’t want us.” And if you dare to toe the line, there’s a queue of people—men AND women—waiting to put you in your place!

When I was a little girl, I did not like the color pink. I rejected pink in all its forms, from clothes to decorations. If asked what color for anything in particular, my answer from age seven onward was “not pink.” My mother asked me what color I wanted my bedroom, and that was my outright answer. She asked if purple was okay. I thought about it and accepted it, dubiously. It seemed like a compromise. Years later, I still fought this battle—my mom and stepmom would buy me pink shirts, hot chartreuse gloves, magenta scarves, and probably wondered why I never wore them. My mom bought me a fleece robe for Christmas and said defensively when I opened it, “it’s not pink!” (I assure you, it was.)

As an adult, I got into nail polish for a multitude of reasons, one of which was there were more options than various shades of pink. And then I found a pink that I loved. And it was girly. And I embraced it. And I started to realize I, educated and open-minded and conscious of diversity and inclusion as I’d thought I was, had absorbed more than a few misogynistic attitudes of my own. It took me longer than I care to admit to realize that gender and sexuality are separate. And however you choose to present, as well as whoever you’re attracted to, is not bad. It simply is. You have the right to exist. You have the right to be who you are, no matter where you are on the spectrum. And you should be represented in fiction.

Not only an author, but as a person, it’s important to recognize there are all kinds of men, from the hypermasculine straight guy who is moved to tears at Evita, to the lisping, girlish-gestured gay boy who can roll up his sleeves and bench press twice his weight.

The lack of tolerance, shutting people down into rigid gender roles, prevents all of us from being our best selves. It keeps us from expressing who we are. It makes us unsafe, misunderstood, leads to bitterness and resentment, as well as withdrawal from the community and each other. It perpetrates violence, verbal and physical. And yes, a lack of safe spaces in fiction for people who present across the entire gender spectrum ties into this lack of tolerance and creates a culture of exclusion in the very places that we feel we should be safe and included.

What’s wrong with effeminophobia? You’re telling effete men of all stripes that they shouldn’t exist. Hell, ‘effete’ by itself has come to have a negative connotation. Isn’t that bad enough by itself?

What can we do about it?

This one is a little harder. A lot of prejudice is disguised as “I like what I like, and you can’t tell me what to like.” At the same time, you can’t make someone read and enjoy your story about an androgynous male beauty blogger any more than I can get into a novel about two hairy bears doing the nasty. (I can’t. I’m sorry. And lovingly dwelling on the hairiness factor and armpit sweat makes me bail faster than you can say ‘furry hole.’) But what we can ask for, nay, expect, is some more tolerance, a little respect, and an attempt at inclusion. I uphold your right to enjoy bears and hairy asses and buff, manly men. Where it becomes a problem is when readers and editors and publishers say those are the only kinds of men, and men in fiction, who should exist.

Tolerance … “I may not agree with what you’re saying, but I will fight to the death to defend your right to say it.” You don’t need to understand everything about someone who’s different from you to tolerate their existence as their own individual person. Don’t vilify effeminate men or try to erase them from manuscripts where they’re presented. Do avoid portraying them as stereotypes; make sure they’re well-rounded people.

Respect … Abide by the Golden Rule, done one better. Treat effeminate men not as you want to be treated, but as they want to be treated. And if you don’t know what that is, ask.

Inclusion … Make them a part of things. Include them in your worldview. Embrace the fact that effeminate men exist—and they’re not stereotypes—by talking with them, not making fun of them. By giving their stories a try, even if you think it’s not your cup of tea.

Do you have to like it? No. But do effeminate men have the right to exist? Absolutely. Can we be tolerant of them? Gosh, I hope so. And you can show them they’re worthy of respect by including them—in your story, on your reading list (if only to give them a try, or support their existence as side characters), and in your submissions and editing process if you’re a publisher. Above and beyond, we can all raise the level of our playing field if we keep an open mind, avoid outright rejection of portrayal of men that’s maybe a little outside the norm, and celebrate men and women of all kinds without tearing either down.

What You Can Do (Yes, You!) to Grow the Genre, Part Two

A couple of weeks ago, I posted about what you, and everyone, can do to grow the gay fiction genre. And really by gay fiction genre I mean the entire QUILTBAG spectrum. You can visit here for a refresher if you need one, but the upshot is to request gay fiction at your local libraries. Yes, even if you’ve already read or own the titles! If you read and enjoyed it, so much the better–because someone else may, as well.

At the end of that entry, I promised to provide a follow up on what more you, and all of us, can do to keep growing the genre. And like Part One, it is almost too simple to be true.

Buy the books!

When you buy them, you’re showing the publishing companies with your dollars where you want to see more product. Do you love m/m romance? Buy more! Do you love genderqueer fiction? Buy it up when you see it! Looking for titles focused on lady-love, or trans* characters? Fork over that cash! And if you can’t spend your own dollars, ask your library to buy it for you. Put it on your wish list. Or get it with your Amazon gift card or birthday/holiday money or tax return.

Spending your money on something, or getting someone else to spend money, on books, results in the publishers turning right around and investing their dollars in more authors that write for that genre. So if you’re really digging post-apocalyptic dystopian fiction with bisexual heros and strong genderqueer sidekicks and you’re lucky enough to see one, snap it up! (And point me to it, I’d read the hell out of it.)

Okay, that’s going a bit far afield, but more generally: do you support f/f? Buy it! Do you want to see more trans* fiction? There’s an anthology coming out next year–buy it! Do you think we need more literature that’s generally inclusive of the entire spectrum? When you see it, buy it!

Supporting what you want to read with your dollars is only part of the equation, though. Because there’s more you can do to spread the word.

Read the books!

Uh, why do I even have this as a step? Isn’t that a given? You would think so, wouldn’t you! But if you’re anything like me, you have a pile of books on your e-reader and a pile of physical books lurking on that shelf over there. And the one over there. And maybe even the one upstairs in the computer room. What? I’m a book pack rat. I have books I bought years ago that I haven’t even read yet.

Hence me including this step. When you buy those books, read ’em! They’re not doing any good sitting there on the shelf–make the time! (Or skip the extra helpings of Cracked listicles. I may or may not have worked that reference in just because I like the word listicle.)

It’s important to take breaks from tasks, whether you’re a writer, a mom, a stockbroker, or a workaholic of any stripe. Take a half hour out of your evening and pick up a book.

Or heck, leave it in the bathroom for that particular daily trip. Only you and the book will know, and the book gets read regardless.

Review the books!

This is where you put your mouth where your money has been. Because there is, indeed, more you can do to support the genre than simply pouring your dollars into it.

Why rate the books?

So other people will see whether you liked them, and potentially get interested in new authors or books they may like, as well!

Your rates and reviews matter. They provide other readers with information that helps them decide whether they’re going to spend their hard-earned cash on someone’s book. People tend to look at ratings, and they also look at reviews as well.

You don’t have to write an essay. You can write a sentence or two. You can keep it simple, so long as you convey whether you liked a book, and what you liked (or disliked) about it. You can let other readers know whether there was something that should have been warned for, and wasn’t; you can let other readers know if there was something especially delightful, or something that grabbed you and wouldn’t let go.

How can this possibly help? By spreading the word! People find out about new books through word of mouth as much as stalking publishers and authors they enjoy. Why do you think Goodreads connects to Twitter? So you can let other people know about your three, four, or five star reviews, of course. (I’m looking at it optimistically, I like doing that.)

So keep calm. Buy the books. See also: get the library to buy the books. And spread the good word.

Because the more they hear about it, the more everyone hears about what we want to read, the easier it gets to buy it. I don’t think QUILTBAG fiction will ever be mainstream, no, but I do think the industry is getting big enough to give other publishing paradigms a run for their money. There is so much more variety, so many more incredible stories featuring non-straight characters than there was when I was a kid. I love that! But I think we can do better, and there’s a ways to go.

Buy the books.

Read the books! (Duh.)

And spread the good word.

Three simple steps to keep our genre growing in a diverse world that’s seeing the face of publishing change every day!

Fantastic free fiction! And a new review.

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Cheaper than a speeding bullet!
More portable than a locomotive!
Able to enter your computer at a single bound!

“Look! Up on the screen!”
“It’s a blurb!”
“It’s a .png!”
“It’s Shousetsu Bang*Bang!”

Do you like superheroes? Do you like super hot guys? Then the latest edition of Shousetsu Bang*Bang, volume 43, is for you!

Once again, Shousetsu Bang*Bang sets itself apart as a purveyor of fine, diverse, and high-quality fiction, available to you at no cost! Except for your comments, and I hope you’ll repay the author’s time if you enjoy their story.

In other happy news, Serena Yates with Rainbow Book Reviews has given A Cut Above the Rest a four-star review. “With characters as colorful as their productions, and the fierce competition and passion between them, this book is a true delight for all the senses.” And if I’m not mistaken, Joyfully Jay will be next… I’ll keep you posted! Check out the great things Serena had to say.

Surfeit for the Senses will be making its debut on the menu July 24th, so I hope you’ve already caught up with the latest in the Appetite series, The Competitive Edge!

Coming next: an entry on the importance of assimilating and working with concrit.

Mega-review: Mell Eight’s Dragon Hoard series

With Melting the Ice Witch, the final installment of Mell Eight’s Dragon Hoard series, I decided it was time to stop procrastinating, and review the first three already. I finished the most recent one on a plane trip to Chicago, but life has been awfully busy this year and I still haven’t managed to roll out all the regular features I’ve intended here on the blog.

In case you were on the fence about buying, or wanted to hear my opinions of the books so far, here’s a handy mega-review of the first three installments of the Dragon’s Hoard series.

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When Prince Leon disappears and his people are unable to find him, they turn to the dragons for help. Nyle is the unlucky dragon tasked with finding the missing prince, a duty he dreads as it forces him into the confounding human world and away from his collection of pretties.

Locating a missing prince should be a simple matter, but if Nyle has learned anything about humans since being forced out among them it’s that they needlessly complicate everything. When he finally locates the errant prince, however, what Nyle finds is a treasure worth all the complications—worth protecting at all costs.

From my review over on Goodreads:

A delightful, quick read in a very imaginative and vivid universe. My only nitpick would be that everything seemed to happen quickly, over an extremely short period of time, where I might have liked to see a bit more depth in the unfolding of events and relationship building. I just loved the shifters, from dragon to wolf, and the sense of family amongst the dragons. Too often we have protagonists that are missing one or both parents, and Nyle had both, however distantly he might “pretend” the familial bond might be. That was lovely.

I enjoyed this story and I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.

To add a bit more to it, Finding the Wolf introduced some great concepts with the different shifter clans, and brought in some long-standing myths about dragons in a way that was fresh and interesting to me. The first story was very much a tie-in and precursor for what comes next. I was definitely intrigued enough to continue.

You can buy Finding the Wolf here.

dragon hoard - 2 shackles

The conclusion to Finding the Wolf brings us to Breaking the Shackles.

Separated and abused by the magi, twins Laine and Baine each swore to do whatever it took to break free and save the other. But when Baine arrives at the werewolf village prepared to rescue Laine and return home triumphant, he soon learns that any plan involving a dragon and a werewolf is bound to go awry.

Breaking the Shackles introduces an interesting magical concept, a pretty unique one I think, where there’s essentially magic transmitters and magic amplifiers. Leaving that aside, the story focuses at first on Laine and Baine, and their recovery process. I enjoyed the fact that the story spends time on this, and shows the different ways that Laine and Baine have been affected by their divergent experiences.

The story moves at a fairly quick clip and relationships unfold for both twins in the first third of the story, but time is spent developing both of those. It’s clear that neither Laine or Baine can jump right into love, though their love interests both seem meant to be. It’s a shifter thing, though, so I can go with it. Maybe it’s a little convenient, especially with Baine being paired off so that he doesn’t drown in his jealousy over Laine having someone when they’ve just been reunited, but it works for the world that Mell has built.

From the beginnings of a fairly straightforward plot, we get some good twists and character growth, so there’s a lot packed into a short space of time. It’s a quick read, but it was satisfying to me because it covered a lot without feeling like it skimped on any one storyline.

As with the previous story, Breaking the Shackles dangles a tantalizing tidbit for continuance, this one even more shiny (in my opinion) than the one before.

You can buy Breaking the Shackles here.

dragon hoard - 3 stealing

Stealing from a dragon’s hoard is never a bright idea, but stealing from a baby dragon’s hoard can lead to tears, sniffles, and smoke in the middle of a busy marketplace.

Jerney, a witch who does work for a well-known thieves’ guild, knows exactly who’s to blame for the brazen theft. With no other choice in the matter, he quickly becomes entangled in trying to help the baby dragon. What he doesn’t expect is that his own heart might get stolen in the process.

This most recent installment in the Dragon Hoard series brings me to two of my favorite characters. Tori, the baby dragon, is delightfully endearing. Due to his dragon nature, at seventeen he’s essentially a child, no matter how adult he looks to humans, and this is conveyed really well in a series of examples and near disasters when others expect Tori to behave the age he appears to be.

Jerney is a talented witch, and yet another interesting spell concept is introduced in Dragon’s Hoard, because there is spell dipping and spell stirring, but I won’t go over the specifics here. Without getting into spoilers, the destinies of Tori and Jerney intersect, and it all turns into a merry mess from there. The concepts of shifters and hoards are elaborated and continued in this story, but a decided family element unfolds in this one.

The heart of this story is the family love amongst the characters, and it pulls everything together quite well. Along the way, a few mysteries are unraveled, and old vendettas are dealt with.

Once again, the story covers a lot of ground but does so without stinting on development. It’s a quick read, but an eventful one. And by the conclusion of the story, I was so very curious about the lure of the ice witches’ story that was dangled like a dragon’s gem leading me on to the final story in the series.

You can buy Stealing the Dragon here.

In summary: it might have been a slow hook at first, but the Dragon’s Hoard is brimming with imagination and characters that will steal your heart. And hearing there’s a white dragon in the final installment definitely piqued my interest.

The Way to Your Heart: Books!

It’s the fourth birthday for Less Than Three Press, and there are so many wonderful ways to celebrate!

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I first submitted to Less Than Three Press during a very emotional, difficult time: my grandfather passed away, and for as long as he’d known I was a writer, he asked every time I saw him if I was getting anything published yet. And for all that time, I continually put him off because my interest was in writing m/m erotica, so there was nothing I could share with my family, or submit to mainstream publishers like Random House.

When he died, it was a serious kick in the pants. All that time, I kept putting it off, and what the hell for?

After confusedly posting this story of my grandfather and how he’d always encouraged me to get published, the lovely Megan dropped me a comment inviting me to contact her about getting published, and said “I think I can help you with that.”

And, oh, wow, did she ever! Not three months later, I was signing contracts and prepping manuscripts for final submission.

My grandpa didn’t live to see the dedication on my novel, From the Inside Out, but he’s still with me, and I’ll never forget what he did for me.

And I’ll never forget what Less Than Three Press and their lovely ladies have done for me, either.

That brings me around, in a roundabout fashion, to the blog tour at last. From April 1st to April 14, assorted authors and associates are hosting entries and giveaways around the theme “the way to your heart.” What’s the way to my heart? I could probably write a half dozen entries…

Today, I’m writing about books.

I became hooked on the printed word when I was ten years old, and discovered a fluent grasp of sustained silent reading. I went eagerly through everything intended for my age group, then kept going. At eleven, I had a vocabulary that was intimidating to my mom and step-father.

Books were my friends, my companion, my escape.

They became a hobby, a passion, a lifelong obsession. I’d go to the corner bookstore across the street and spend hours browsing the shelves, reading summaries and inside cover excerpts, flipping through pages and deciding what was amazing enough to buy with my hard-earned pocket money.

Growing up, my biggest ambition was to be a writer – an author. Such an amazing, lofty goal! The most compelling and incredible thing, to me, was to be capable of creating worlds and characters that people wanted to lose themselves with, the same way I’d done (still do) with the books I became immersed in, myself.

Today I’m going to link you to the Less Than Three giveaways that feature a book. And Friday, I’ll be offering one of your choice from my current catalogue of e-books. Enjoy so many chances to win something I hold dear to my heart!

Megan Derr
Sasha Miller
Julia Alaric
Isabella Carter
Alessandra Ebulu
T. T. Kove
Lacie Archer
E. E. Ottoman
L.J. LaBarthe
M.J. Willow
Mell Eight

There’s more to come! I’ll be making a few more posts on the “way to your heart” theme, and come back on Friday for my giveaway!

Review: Zi Yong and the Collector of Secrets

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Zi Yong and the Collector of Secrets released as part of the Less Than Three Press Kiss Me at Midnight collection, bundle 2. I was lucky enough to win a copy from E. E. Ottoman’s giveaway, and here’s my review!

Every seven years a beast comes down from the mountains to feast upon the youngest children in the village. Zi Yong will do whatever is necessary to protect her baby, but what she doesn’t expect is help in the form of the stranger who appears at her door vowing that she is a collector of secrets and wants only to help. Read an excerpt of the story here.

I really enjoyed this story, from the simple, clean prose to the premise that the protagonist’s strength came not from a background of angst or hardship, but from love and the desire to protect the most important things.

Zi Yong was written in a way that was easy to empathize with, a bit of a loner, and her background came across as very real and poignant. Jing Wei was an interesting enigma from the start, and seemed so ordinary and mundane, I was intrigued to learn more about her. The progression between the two of them from strangers, who Zi Yong would barely invite into her home, to someone welcome to homely tasks like preparing food and taking care of Fāng, was deftly done.

This read like an Eastern fairy tale, complete with fireworks and a ‘dragon’ of sorts, and had some delightful imagery that made a strong visual impression on me. I was enthralled with the story from start to finish and would love to see more of these characters, but was pleased with the stand-alone work.

The rating is very mild, but it suits the story. Anything further wouldn’t have fit the tone or the genre, so I was pleased the focus stayed on emotions and the culmination of a kiss.

It was a short read, and I finished it in about an hour, less I think. I’m happy to make this part of my collection, and it’s very much worth reading when I’m in the mood for a light lady-love tale with wuxia roots.