Being a Good Houseguest by J.C. Long
There’s an issue I think should be addressed in the LGBTQIA+ community today, one that’s been sort of simmering below the surface for a while now. Well, it’s become an issue I really need to get off my chest, and I figured this would be a good forum for it.
It’s time to talk about being a good houseguest.
This is a matter that comes to bear in a few ways, for me, but I’ll stick to what I know. That means that while what I say definitely applies to every identity under the LGBTQIA+ banner, as a gay man I’ll be speaking on the issue from that perspective. I will say right off the bat: this post, while also being for LGBTQIA+ writers writing an identity not their own, is primarily for author allies, and it might be one that makes you uncomfortable, but I think it’s extremely important to hear, so I hope you stick around through the discomfort.
When you visit someone’s home, you want to do your best to respect their space, right? You don’t treat it as your own home; maybe a small mess you’d let set for a day or two would get cleaned up immediately, or you make the bed promptly in the morning even if you wouldn’t necessarily do it at home, or you make sure everything is left in a better condition than you saw it. Why? Because we want to be good houseguests. We want to show appreciation to our hosts for allowing us into their home.
In that case, is it so crazy to think non-LGBTQIA+ people writing in our space would extend a similar courtesy? I in no way wish to assume someone’s gender or sexual identity, merely point out behavior that I have seen specifically from writers who have identified as cishet. This isn’t a post to say that I don’t think straight women should be writing MM or queer fiction, but I do think straight women writing MM—not to mention anyone writing an identity that isn’t their own, which includes me writing FF fiction—have an obligation to the community. You have to be a good houseguest.
We know what that entails in reality, but what about in terms of writing? Well, it’s pretty simple, actually. First and foremost, it means you should do your research. It’s such a simple thing, really, but there is a surprisingly large number of MM authors out there who seem like they’ve never had an actual conversation with a gay man. You have an obligation to present the lives of people in an authentic way. Gay men aren’t just toys for an author to play with. Don’t reduce us to our sexuality. Do your best to write us authentically. Even in a romance, the fact the character is gay shouldn’t be his entire identity. I’m far more than just a gay man; in fact, I would say it’s an extremely small portion of my identity. The research also applies to sex scenes. You shouldn’t operate under the idea that because you can engage in similar acts you know enough about it to write about it. Also, sex scene research should NOT simply be watching porn. Just like straight porn is unrealistic, so is gay porn. There are lots of resources out there for you to find, and books on men’s sexual health provide a wealth of very necessary information.
Secondly, listen to the people you’re writing about. As a gay man, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been dismissed by writers of MM fiction or the predominantly cishet women audience when voicing my grievances with what I feel is bad rep. I’ve actually seen one author lament “Why are they attacking me? They are lucky their stories are getting told!” No, actually, we could tell our own stories and tell them better. I don’t want to attack anyone. But I do want authors to listen. Just like there’ve been these negative experiences, I’ve seen many authors who DO listen, authors who hear the comments and apologize for their mistakes and then do their best to do better. That is what it means to be a good ally. To go back to the houseguest metaphor, you wouldn’t go into someone’s home and ignore them when they try to tell you how to operate a kitchen that they’ve lived in for decades, would you?
Don’t forget to check your privilege. If you think you’re doing me a favor, that’s probably your privilege speaking. Allyship is ALWAYS welcome, of course, but it doesn’t give you a pass on bad rep. Nor does it give you a right to come into gay spaces, be the online or in the real world, and demand equal standing. Privilege is being a cishet woman who thinks that it’s fun to claim to identify as a gay man. Sure, for you it’s fun, because you’re not. You don’t have to live the marginalization. You can slip back into your “normal” life at any time. Privilege is prioritizing your comfort over ours, though you claim to be an ally. Privilege is being confronted with the opinion of the queer community that might disagree with your perception and then claiming to feel uncomfortable, while not being at all troubled that we might be more uncomfortable. Privilege is going into a gay bar and demanding that the gay men there make you feel at home, make you feel safe. Privilege is staying in my home and demanding that you be treated like you’re at a hotel.
Also, don’t expect praise. Do you think someone should tell you how great you were because you didn’t trash their house while you stayed over? No. That’s just the common, decent way to be. That’s being a good houseguest. You also don’t get ally cookies for believing that I have just as much a right to marry as you do. That’s just the common decent thing to do. Just like I’m not going to applaud you for not destroying my house, I’m not going to applaud you for believing that I’m a human being. If you’re in it to be praised, to be noticed or lauded, then you’re not really coming from the place of a true ally. Allyship shouldn’t be about you, it should be about the community you’re supporting.
Remember that the A in LGBTQIA+ does NOT stand for ally. You don’t share in the experience. We are grateful for your support, but, whether you’re a reader of queer fiction or a writer of it, you’re still a guest in our community. And just like there’s a certain way to do things when you’re a house guest, there’s a certain way to do things here, as well.
J.C. Long is an American expat living in Japan, though he’s also lived stints in Seoul, South Korea—no, he’s not an army brat; he’s an English teacher. He is also quite passionate about Welsh corgis and is convinced that anyone who does not like them is evil incarnate. His dramatic streak comes from his life-long involvement in theater. After living in several countries aside from the United States J. C. is convinced that love is love, no matter where you are, and is determined to write stories that demonstrate exactly that. J. C. Long’s favorite things in the world are pictures of corgis, writing and Korean food (not in that order…okay, in that order). J. C. spends his time not writing thinking about writing, coming up with new characters, attending Big Bang concerts and wishing he was writing. The best way to get him to write faster is to motivate him with corgi pictures. Yes, that is a veiled hint.
Other books by J.C. Long
New Year’s Even Unzipped
Hong Kong Nights Series
A Matter of Duty
A Matter of Courage
Gabe Maxfield Mysteries
Mai Tais and Murder
Hula Dancers and Hauntings (October 2017)
Tiki Torches and Treasure (November 2017)