One of the questions that I’m asked most often in interviews and in the classes I teach is about gender. Actually, there are a number of questions that get lobbed to me about gender. Sometimes the questions are mere curiosity (if there is such a thing as mere curiosity), some are compliments and others are, in fact, the exact opposite of compliments:
- Do you write from both genders?
- How do you feel qualified to write from a male’s point of view?
- Do people ever tell you not to write from a male perspective?
- How did you get inside that guy’s head so well?
- What gives you the right to write about a gay male? You’re not a gay male.
And on and on. It’s not just gender, of course. It’s race. And sexual orientation.
Those, it seems to me, are the big threes. I can write about being a trapeze artist and no one wants to know if I was ever in the circus. I can write about being killed by my best friend and no one asks how I work the keyboard with skeleton fingers. I can fly to Venice in a story and no one asks whether I got served peanuts on my real-life flight. They cry over my story of the 90-year-old woman, but they don’t want to know how I can imagine being that age.
Today, I’m most interested in the gender issue though. Because I just read Bev Vincent’s fantastic (and scary) essay, “Apparently I Write Like A Girl.” What’s so scary about it is the editor’s comments. She/he (I don’t know the gender of the editor, but for some reason I feel like I get to throw my own bias out there and say she “sounds” female. Ha!) is so very sure they’ve pegged the author’s gender. Which they haven’t. (Bev is a male).
But what if Bev was a woman and the story was the same? All of a sudden, the insights into this male narrator would be discredited, right? Just because as a woman, the writer couldn’t stand up and say, “But wait, I’m male! And these things are really how I feel!” So, instead, this male narrator would be written off as untrue and unrealistic. Which is the scariest part of all.
Gender bias is nothing new — it happens from infanthood in toys and games, during the teen years in clothes and colors, and for the rest of our lives. But the truth is that gender is not a box. It is not a rule. It is not even a guideline. My way of being a woman is different from anyone else’s way of being a woman. And the woman I am right now is not the woman I was five years ago, or even five minutes ago. Tomorrow, I will be someone else entirely. The same is true of my characters (or at least that’s my goal) no matter what their gender, their age, their sexuality, their color.
What a sad thing to go through life thinking that most men do not appreciate the dewy green of nature…
Would I trust an editor who said something about my work like, “The story seems far too personal, introspective and emotional for THIS particular man.“?
Oh yes. It would mean that my character wasn’t fully developed yet, that I hadn’t done my job as a writer to make this man as real, as human, as complex and fully-rounded as he should be in order to be believable. I would get down on my knees and kiss this editor’s hand, and thank him or her a million times over for pointing out my flaws. And then I would go do my best to fix them.
Would I trust an editor who said something like, “The story seems far too personal, introspective and emotional for A man.“?
Oh, fuck no. Not on your life. Not on my character’s life.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.
“Ignorance, inertia and indifference are alive and well in America’s newspapers. Minority still equals inferiority in the minds of many American editors and publishers.” ~Loren Ghiglione
PS — Cool “Same Sex, Different Gender” pix by mebay.