Diving Into the Uncomfortable

>> Thursday, October 6, 2011

There's a saying in writing - "Write what you know." My friend, Darrell B Nelson, says, "Write what you don't know." I'm not an advocate for either approach - both have their benefits and drawbacks - but I'm a strong believer in good characters, strong characters, characters that challenge the mindset of the average (American) reader as they are my most likely audience.

Historically, my characters have been, to an extent, modeled on myself or my husband, on people we know and interacted with, combined with varying amounts of imagination. I'll still do that, but I want to give my characters more depth and an expanded viewpoint from what I have. So, as a lover of knowledge and advocate for research, I have always exhaustively delved into cultures and histories that fascinated me. Since my interests are eclectic, that means I can name most kings of England and not a single one for Prussia, for example (in fact ,that whole Prussia/Holy Roman Empire thing still confuses me a bit). I've read Russian history and studied it for my own edification. I've read about the different Chinese dynasties and histories and the same with Japan. I find it fascinating, noting particularly the differences in how cultures deal with different but comparable issues.

That education in multi-culturism (which is not, by any means, complete) helps me when world building or culture building so I'm not restricted to Western notions of life or right and wrong, etc. I can tailor necessities to the circumstances. Some of what I learned made me more confident pointing out physical differences and addressing those between characters (i.e. characters of different color or, in some cases, species). I've frequently butted headfirst into the stereotypes of men and women as well, using, defying or ignoring them as required to tell a good story.

Well, I've stumbled onto a new area of research that I haven't really pursued before, through a very unexpected source. Smut.

Now, don't get me wrong. I've stumbled over smut before. I have seen a representative smattering of what I tend to think of as man smut (like pornographic films and the like), which has never appealed to me, and more than my fair share of woman smut, usually in the form of "romance" novels but often having no more soul than the average stag film (and frequently objectifying women as much or more than the male counterpart) . I don't object to sex in my novels (or films), but novels or films that are nothing but excuses to parade prurient scenes have never interested me.

Novels that tell good stories that have believable/likable/fascinating characters where sex also occurs, however, I've always enjoyed just fine. Possibly still counting as smut, but not JUST smut. Smut with substance, or is that an oxymoron?

Well, I've found a hitherto untapped selection of smut, different than I'm used to, and I have to admit my interest has been piqued. Just as shoujo manga rekindled my interest in romantic stories by having characters I loved and cherishing people who actually were capable of adult self-control (as opposed to those romances full of "adults"), I have discovered a resource for expanding my outlook on a group of people I'm woefully ignorant of: homosexuals.

Now, if you get the willies just hearing the term or are militantly anti-gay, you might as well stop reading here. And this will probably bleed over into several posts, so you're forewarned. On the other hand, if you want to expand what you understand on this subject, as I did, perhaps you should read forward, even if it makes you uncomfortable.

Now, just because I'm not confident to write a gay persona doesn't mean I don't know any gay people. I do. Quite probably more than I think I do. Nor have I ever had the slightest heartburn with people finding happiness with whoever made them happiest, gender notwithstanding. I have never felt otherwise and don't now.

But I also knew that, as a heterosexual girl, I had very little insight into the world of same-gender romance, lifestyles and interactions. Even where I could speculate regarding girls, I was hopelessly clueless when it came to gay men except what I've seen peripherally in films and such. For that reason, I have really not assayed gay characters. I don't object to them, but I'd want to portray them realistically. I know they're people like anyone else, but they have different issues than many of the rest of us.

Recent, an otaku acquaintance of mine suggested a number of mangas, including "Betrayal Knows My Name" which I'm enjoying. Apparently, there's a yaoi element attached to it (yaoi being the manga term for boy-boy romantic manga, which is popular with girls too, apparently), so bunches of yaoi jumped into my amazon.com recommendations. So, although I'd never been interested in it, I checked some out.

And became fascinated.

Not with the acts depicted (and most are pretty graphic about it) nor about wishing I could indulge. I'm not properly equipped and the flexibility required (apparently) is rather daunting. I became fascinated with the stories, the scenarios, the characters in this or that yaoi.

Now, don't get me wrong, much of it is smut smut, in the truest sense of the word: "stories" and characters brought together with little fanfare as an excuse to show sex. That pales quickly. And, yaoi, even more than man porn but perhaps less than woman porn, lends itself to force and violence more than average. Stories at least skirting the edge of pederasty are also common (at least in the one's I've read so far), so not all good. I don't like rape or child abuse, I don't care which genders are involved. (Note, however, that "child" is a term I'm using loosely since the age of consent in Japan is 13 and everyone is well over that.).

But, I have also found profound food for thought, not only into the challenges and interactions for gays, particularly in a world that stigmatizes them based on their sexual preferences, but also in what they're looking for, how they interact, and both the parallels and disconnects with romantic relationships between men and women. Also, what makes them different from "regular" men and what doesn't.

So, though what I'm learning is coming from manga, where I'll best be able to use what I learn is writing, so I'll be writing about it here.

Starting next time.


  • Project Savior

    First off thanks for the mention.
    Good luck, one thing that I find that hetero writers tend to miss is that how a person has sex shows a lot about their character. Even in stuff that tries not to be smut, a lot of times the characters close the bedroom door and it's like their stunt doubles take over for the scene.
    I've read some stories with gay characters and the big difference I've noticed is their characters and relationships stay the same in the bedroom as they do outside the bedroom. That might be a theme or just the books I've read.

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