A response to "Josh Lanyon"

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Commentary
Title: A response to “Josh Lanyon”
Commentator: Brad Vance
Date(s): September 20, 2015
Medium: online
Fandom: original fiction
External Links: online here; WebCite
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

A response to “Josh Lanyon” is a post by Brad Vance in response to the reveal that Josh Lanyon was not a gay man.

Topics Discussed

  • cultural appropriation
  • sexuality and genre
  • fanfic

Excerpts

[UPDATE 10:20AM 9/20: Apparently Josh has said that “women writers sometimes just…try too hard” and “much of the M/M stuff written by women doesn’t quite ring true to me.” Also, as of this time Josh’s Goodreads profile identifies Josh as Male.]

I was going to say nothing about the recent revelation that “Josh Lanyon,” M/M writer and author of guides on writing M/M, is actually a woman. But the more I think about it, especially after reading “Josh’s” blog post, the more disturbed I am. If you’re seeing this preview on Facebook, well, you’ll have to click the link because I have a fairly long chain of reasoning here.

I know that the majority of readers don’t care that “Josh” turned out to be a woman, for a number of reasons.

First, there is the valid reason, oft discussed in this genre, that there’s no reason a woman can’t imagine man-on-man sex as well as a man can. True. I’ve written female characters, quite a few as “Orland Outland” in fact, and some of my favorite writers can write the hell out of women characters – right now I’m reading Jonathan Franzen’s Purity and his women, the very many women in this book, are insanely deeply felt from the inside out.

Secondly, the fact that the writer is not a man, presenting actual first hand experience of mansex, is not as important in a genre where for the most part, readers aren’t looking for “reality.” They’re not looking for how gay men actually talk and think and fuck, or even act how men really do in general. They’re looking for how they want men to talk, to be. It’s a fantasy. Gay men are no more likely to sit around for three hundred pages talking about their feelings than straight men are, but if you want a world in which they do, there is fiction available for you.

People have said, well, “Josh” never used a male pronoun to describe “Josh.” But. The author’s reviews are full of quotes like this one, pulled from “Josh’s” how to book on writing M/M romance:

“I discovered him in March and by the end of May I had whipped through his complete oeuvre. Whew, this guy can write. When I discovered he had written a how-to, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.”

Silence = assent. Every customer who reviews “Josh’s” books uses the male pronoun. And to use a male name when…writing a how to book on M/M romance…is to set yourself up as the male voice of authority on writing about men. There’s a presumption, and a promise. “I am a man” is the promise that silence in the face of the male pronoun delivers.

And there’s a piece of misdirection in her blog statement about never having really pretended to be a man:

“Anyway, old timers have known The Secret for years–one of my former publishers has made a point of “outing” me at every single GRL–but there are so many new faces in M/M that I guess this week’s revelation does come as news for some.”

We aren’t talking about other writers here. We’re not talking about what insiders do or don’t know. We’re talking about what a reader, walking into a virtual bookstore, sees. Assumes. Has been led to assume. No, Josh did not, in the small and insular world of M/M publishing, ”pretend to be a man.” But on the shelves of the bookstore, Josh did pretend to be a man. Josh did pretend in the eyes of the readers who weren’t one of the “old timers.”

This is where my blood boils.

“Josh” defends herself on her blog by claiming that this genre belongs to women.

“Male writers frustrated because they believe female writers have created a false expectation in the M/M audience…I get that. But these guys still don’t understand that this genre evolved from a different literary tradition and the expectations and tropes were already in place when M/M became an actual marketable genre.”

In other words…turning the argument against women writing M/M on its head…Josh declares that this genre does not belong to men. Because it originated in fanfic, written by women about Kirk/Spock, etc.

It’s not our genre.

We’re the guests here.

And we have no right to complain when an author of books about men who have sex with men under a man’s name turns out to be a woman.

And if this isn’t our genre, if it’s always been a woman’s genre, then…

Why call yourself “Josh” in the first place?

Comments: At the Post

[J. Scott Coatsworth]:
I agree that we need to write for the long game. The proper response to women writing (and even dominating) MM romance is not to rail against it, but to write what we want to see out there, and to do it well.
[Carly]:
Hmmm. Up to this point I haven’t said anything about the Lanyon Revelation. Mostly because I don’t really care. I’m also not a fan of drama. That doesn’t mean that I haven’t been watching from the sidelines as, once again, a genre of minorities divides itself to sling mud at each other. I tend to leave my sexuality at the door when I’m writing because it’s nobody’s business, but it isn’t a secret because I’ve blogged about it more than once.

Fact: I’m genderfluid, anatomically female but identify as male more often than not. Fact: My author profile doesn’t mention any of this. My name and my image are purely female. Fact: Brad could out-write my best work on his worst day… with both hands tied behind his back. He’s simply a better writer than I am. Fact: I’m proud of my work. I wouldn’t write or publish if I wasn’t. Fact: No one and nothing, can force a person to misrepresent themselves to other people.

Does it matter in the long run? Not really… it’s just the principal of the thing that bugs me. An “open secret” that deliberately misled people. Man (or woman) up and take responsibility for your actions. I don’t care why she did what she did, just that she doesn’t seem to be owning her choices. Don’t make excuses. Either a person can write or they can’t and obviously, Josh is a writer who has mastered the art of fiction in more than one way. Kudos to you, Brad, for calling it like you see it.
[Sunne]:
I get that people get upset but I can see nowhere any understanding that Josh Lanyon started publishing 15 years ago. That was another time, with even less tolerance and social media still nonexistent. She did nothing else but using a male pen name. The acceptance for women writing m/m isn’t that old. And in the end, as much as we love to say authors should write for the joy and the wish to tell a story, they also want to earn money. I defintely think that being percieved as a man has helped in the beginning.

Then – when the genre started to grow – JL had already built a “name”. So why changing it? The effect social media would have on the whole author/reader relationship wasn’t even forseeable.

I mean, just the fact that she never attended any conventions, was more than a hint.

The comments about women writing m/m – they could have been made by me, too. And I’m a woman. I can’t interpret them as something to said only by a man.

The use of “him” and “he” by readers? Seriously? You can’t fault an author for not correcting that, especially when using a male pen name (historically based).

And btw. there are enough guys writing f/m romance under female pen names. Even publishers suggest it. Not all readers are openminded enough to realize: You don’t have to be a serial killer to write about one.

Also stating the fact that the m/m genre is very much dominated by women and has Origins in fanfiction isn’t claiming it belongs to women.

I find a lot of this angry argumentation kind of an interpretation of some stuff Josh Lanyon has written over the years with the wish to find it faulty. It can also be interpreted differently. But that is the problem with the written words. It’s never a real and honest discussion, it allways also depends on what the person on the other side wants to read.

To be honest – I find it shocking that authors of a genre that celebrates tolerance are so bound to find something to criticize and are so less tolerant. Well…seems we are all human and make mistakes. Now..throw stones.
[Vance]:
None of this would have mattered as much to me if this author hadn’t engaged in breathtaking cultural appropriation and backhanded gay writers at the same time.... I’m not coming at this from an anti feminist view point by any means. I totally understand having to fight for a spot in a”male” genre… It’s just so surreal to me to be a gay man fighting for a spot in gay fiction…
[sacollins-author]:
Kudos for putting so eloquently and with the precision of a literary scalpel. I’m through with m/mad a genre. It’s a joke. Even if I write about fairies or witches or weres they’ll be rooted in mine or my gay brothers experiences – I just can’t read the rest. I’ll still welcome that voice on our show because I like talking to aurora but I’ve NEVER hidden the fact that as a genre I think it’s terribly fucked up. My personal opinion but I simply don’t find most of what’s there to be above the crap fanfic that it was born of…
[elliad]:
Men dominate EVERYTHING, every aspect of society…and then whine when women carve out a single literary genre for their own? Wow. Just WOW. You’d think that, say, all those books like Two Boys at Swim simply disappeared because a single woman wrote under a pseudonym.