Tuesday, November 20, 2012

This Really Needs to Stop... by Thorny Sterling

Recently, I came across comments from readers complaining about too many M/M Romances featuring "chicks with dicks". They claim these books are offensive to gay men because they're demeaning to us and they want authors to stop writing these characters. Based on past discussions and these comments all I can tell you about the criteria for a gay character to qualify as "chicks with dicks" is that you can swap out the pronoun and have yourself a female character. That he just became a she because the reader thinks he didn't behave like a real man would.

For the record, the term "chicks with dicks" is offensive to me and I want the use of it to stop. I'm going to try and explain why.

Since no one ever says which books they believe feature these characters, I can only assume they're referring to gay men who're portrayed as effeminate or "flamboyant" instead of the more straight-acting gay men or "alpha males". I have to assume that's the case since the characteristics of effeminate gay men include things that make them seem more obviously feminine than other gay men. They live all out, hiding nothing, curbing their natural personalities for no one, and attracting attention because of it. Their clothes, hand gestures, voices, and their very personalities are not at all butch.

I admire these men. I see them as some of the bravest in the world and I want to be just like them. I want to be able to be myself without fear -- even when I am afraid. I'm an effeminate and even gender fluid gay man and I'm learning to embrace that fact and love who I am. I won't let anyone stop me from being me.

Those of you who throw around the term "chicks with dicks" need to realize something: You're saying a segment of the gay spectrum is unappealing, wrong, and labeling these men something less than men. You say you support gay men, but just not these gay men?

I'm in that segment. I might flame and I might feel more feminine sometimes, but I'm still a man. Calling me anything else is the act of a bully. Can you see that?

If you don't like a certain type of character in your romance fiction, you're entitled to your opinion and should go right ahead and express it. But putting down those who do like the fem guy and especially putting down those who identify with him is YOU becoming the bully and the phobic personality you claim to oppose.

Do you really not realize that you're trying to influence people to your way of thinking by making them feel bad about their own preferences or identity?

Is the objection to effeminate gay men in romance fiction because they don't turn you on as much as their straight-acting counterparts? Well, now you know guys like me don't do it for you, so put that book down and try something else. Most BDSM-themed books don't do it for me, but you don't see me calling Doms abusive or claiming they portray gay men in an offensive way. I don't say we need to make authors stop writing about them in order to protect real gay men.

You want to support gay men? Acknowledge the fact there's such a rainbow of characters out there that everyone gets a story, even if it's not the story you want to read. And if you really want to be supportive, stop calling a segment of us "chicks with dicks".


123 comments:

  1. Thank you for this article. I think this really needed to be said because I think it's missing from the conversation about the term "chicks with dicks" and effeminate men in general within the genre.

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  2. Excellent Post Thorny! I think Jazz's post, My Gender Fluid Husband, should be required reading. I know cliches are boring but variety is the spice of life. I've enjoyed all kinds of M/M books from 2 alphas in Hot Head to Rodney & Hunter in Fire Balls & everything in between. I've enjoyed them even more after reading Jazz's post. Be loud & proud!

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    1. Yes, Jazz did good with that post ;) I'm going to find this FIRE BALLS book because it's been mentioned a lot now.

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    2. Fire Balls is a fun book and Rodney is a great character :)
      Loved your post - I'm not going to manage a sensible comment - splitting headache so I just can't concentrate on what I want to say, other than I love your blog - be proud of who you are and don't let other people get you down (easier said than done, I know).

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    3. Thanks for the seconding of the rec, Sarah! I hope your headache goes away quickly. {{{hugs}}}

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  3. I've always had trouble with that phrase as I don't know exactly what it means (in theory I do) because the people who complain about it never want to name names. Give me and example and let me know if I agree, because it's never something I've been reading and though "ugh, chick with dick". But I love effeminate flamboyant characters. They are my "thing" when I read. Love them. I'm not such a big fan of the two big strong alpha males who battle for dominance in their relationship, which seems to be admired in the genre as depictions of two "real" men. *shrug* But it's good they are out there, there are men like that who should be represented, but there should also be effeminate men as well. To say that either one is wrong is, I agree, to tell gay men who identify with them that there is something wrong with them. Kind of "Could you just settle down and be "normal" and stop giving us a bad name?"

    When that comes from an outside group, it's bad enough, when it comes from your own "people", I imagine it hurts even more.

    I also think if people start naming names, they'll find plenty of people who say "I disagree, I know someone like that and he's definitely a man." It's all very subjective, what I find too much, others find just right. I'm not sure why as a group we can't celebrate that, rather than insist everyone like the same things we do and do it our way.

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    1. You're right, Tam! Just the fact this term falls into "I know it when I see it" territory means it's completely subjective.

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  4. I've never understood the term either because, like Tam, I've never read anything and thought, oh that's just a chick with a dick. I've always just thought it was a guy being who he is. It's it because he's more sensitive and has a softer approach that makes him a "chick with a dick"? If that's the case, then I wholly disagree. Because I believe we should all have a little sensitivity in our lives, no matter who it comes from.

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    1. I've never felt like how an effeminate gay character was too effeminate to be realistic. He might not be me, but why can't he be him? Maybe I'm way more open to the possibilities. If something's going to push me out of a story, it's more likely to be how the author handles the plot than the characters' actions and reactions.

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  5. Whoooooooo hooooooooooooo! Speak it, my brother! Great post. Thank you for speaking up. I think you're freakin' amazing.

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    1. Thank you, Edmond! And thank you too for reminding me that it was the effeminate and flamboyant who kicked off Stonewall. Talk about heroes...

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  6. What a great post! I love flamboyant characters and also those that are gender fluid, and not just in fiction. In fiction, all well-drawn characters rock. As others have pointed out, I would appreciate examples when articles throw around such terms as "chicks with dicks" so I can see what they mean by it. Do they mean effeminate characters? Or do they mean any male character in a subordinate role who might as well be a stereotypical fictional woman (alpha male-deferential, passive, bottom) for all that they're described as male? In the latter case, I'd want to examine the writer's attitude toward women as opposed to effeminate males. Oh well, off to read more m/m fiction, whatever I may find!

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    1. Or do they mean any male character in a subordinate role who might as well be a stereotypical fictional woman (alpha male-deferential, passive, bottom) for all that they're described as male?

      Even if that's how someone's defining the term, it's still not good because there are men out there who are happy in that role and even prefer it. Why is that wrong? I can think of only one way that would bother me right now and it's if the author forced that guy to bow to the pressures and change just to fit in. To stop being himself and give up would make me DNF that story.

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  7. Wonderful post, Thorny. Like the others, I don't quite understand the term, because, for one thing, it's so limiting. It doesn't allow people to express themselves in the many ways they can. There was a period of time when I wore mostly skirts and dresses and heels. Then a while when it was flats, trousers and the like. I go back and forth right now. Was I supposed to have a different label each time?

    Some labels are useful shorthand to express ourselves - if I say I'm vegan, it's a good starting point for conversation. But labels like this carry an implicit judgment, IMO, and that's just unacceptable. It's not about being PC, it's actually about developing a wider and more reflective vocabulary, instead of relying on hurtful, inaccurate, and dare I say it, lazy labels that don't truly describe the totality of what makes each of us human, and so wonderfully, endlessly fascinating.

    Thanks for bringing this up, and taking a stand.

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    1. Yes, it's the judgement that is unacceptable. Like it or not like it, that's fine, but judging it is where I have to speak up. Thank you, mc :)

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  8. Thanks for the post Thorny! I also had a bit of an issue with this discussion! I commented that I know there is a spectrum and perhaps one area is shown a lot. The whole flamboyant, little bottom and the alpha, tall top is shown a lot. I guess some people object to that. I love that trope which some may say makes me a person that further stereotypes gay men. I call bullshit! As a straight female my experience with gay men in real life is based on my friends. I would say of the 6 men I know really well in my real life 5 of them are "flaming" and one of them is not. So when I see an effeminate man in a romance I find traits of my friends and enjoy it! Yes there are other types of gay men on the spectrum, but I don't know them. To me the effeminate gay man is the one I know and that is what I like! By saying these types of men are being spotlighted in our romance and that it's a bad thing makes me angry. There should be more romances with characters on a wider spectrum, more inclusive. But is still love stories where I can see one of my guys as the MC!

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    1. I like that trope too, Juliana, because it's me and my husband. Works for us IRL so why not in fiction? :)

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  9. I've always maintained that one of the deep-seated problems with gay men declaring emphatically that they are *not* women and *nothing like* women is that it is rooted in misogyny. Otherwise, what's so insulting about the suggestion that any particular gay man might be anything like a woman?

    I often want to ask gay men who moan long and loudly against effeminate representations whether or not their intense rejection of that kind of stereotype has anything to do with the fact that the feminine is looked down on and considered less than the masculine in our society? If women were considered to be equal to men, then I don't think as many gay men would get so fired up about adamantly rejecting any implication that gay men might ever have anything in common with a woman, nor would they call it homophobic for there to be representations of gay men that illustrate them in respectfully feminine/effeminate ways.

    It reminds me of THIS CONDESCENDING WONKA. Only perhaps it would read: "Oh, so you don't appreciate being viewed like a woman? Why? Are women looked down on in this society or something?"

    If misogyny was defeated, then maybe we wouldn't even have to have these kinds of discussions, because being like a woman wouldn't be a bad thing at all. There would simply be no insult to the accusation. Just some thoughts I'm throwing out there this morning. Thanks for this post! I enjoyed it!

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    1. Thank you. I thought no one would ever ask. ;)

      Love the post as a discussion starter, and there's a lot up there that I wholeheartedly agree with. But I don't think we're looking at the whole picture, if we don't include the question of why that term is deemed offensive and derogatory.

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    2. *standing ovation* I think you've nailed the root of the problem.

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    3. I'd say because effeminate men aren't chicks. Flamboyant, butch, quiet, loud, whatever it is, however they happen to be, they are still men who fall in love and have sex with other men. They just happen to be flamboyant, and carry their hearts on their sleeves.

      I have a strong personality. I take charge. I'm a leader, not a follower. All those personality traits have been long attributed to men. But I am a woman, and want to be recognized as such.

      Telling me I am... I don't know, a "man with tits" would offend me. It implies a woman can't be strong, same as the term "chicks with dicks" implies there's something wrong with men being in touch with his emotions. Talk about stereotyping, huh.

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    4. I agree with you that the roots are in misogyny, but I think your focus is misplaced. Personally, I think that coming down against effeminate gay men for not wanting to be called women is victim-blaming. The fault is not in their not wanting to be called women, but in those who use the term "woman" as an insult. Let's put the uncomfortable spotlight where it belongs -- on the people who are *using* the term "chicks with dicks" or whatever insult-du-jour, not on the people it's being leveled at and who are simply bristling at and reacting to the hostility more than the words.

      There are plenty of gay men who do not object to the word "fag" when used affectionately, but would still be insulted if called one out of hatred. By the same token, the reaction we're talking about here is *not* to simply being called a woman, but to the fact that it's being done derisively.

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    5. I don't think my focus is misplaced, I think that you've interpreted a focus that isn't there. That is likely due to some poor phrasing on my part. The problem I have is not with men who don't want to be called women, but with the idea that women is a 'lesser' thing to be than a man. The problem is with our society and with the idea that there is anything insulting about being 'like a woman'. So yes, the problem is with the people who use the word 'woman' as an insult. If you took away anything else from my comments, I apologize for not being more clear in my intentions. I am only saying that if it wasn't considered 'less than' in this society to be a woman, then it wouldn't even be an insult. I'm not blaming the victim for what society teaches us. I'm saying that society needs to change. Again, my apologies if you took away some other intention/meaning from my comments. I hope this is more clear. (Also, grrr, Blogspot at my first, much more eloquent comment. Boo!)

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    6. ...the reaction we're talking about here is *not* to simply being called a woman, but to the fact that it's being done derisively.

      Thank you, Erik! That's what I meant when I said it was insulting to me, but I guess I didn't say it well enough. Someone wants to call me "girl" or "girlfriend" is no problem at all when it's not done to hurt me. No different than if someone calls me "short" or "blond".

      Leta, I understand how this could be seen as misogyny, but that wasn't my intention as I hope what I said above in reply to Erik conveys. I'm really curious what it says about society that the people who throw out CWD as an insult are mostly women, though.

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    7. I'm really curious what it says about society that the people who throw out CWD as an insult are mostly women, though.

      Thorny, I think internalized misogyny is something that women are quite often unconscious victims of, and that is where it often comes from, to a degree. That's just my humble opinion, and I'm sure others would disagree with me.

      Leta, I understand how this could be seen as misogyny, but that wasn't my intention

      Given Erik's comment and now yours, I must have really not come off in my original statements here the way I thought I was coming off, because I saw my comment as largely agreeing with your post, if perhaps taking it a step further. Aside from the one sentence I suggested you change below, I saw nothing misogynistic about your post in the least, Thorny. :) I'm sorry that I must have expressed myself so poorly that you and Erik both saw something different.

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    8. It's OK, Leta. I just wanted to make sure I wasn't doing that because my grandmother and mother-in-law would absolutely murder me if I was.

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  10. Funny that I just had a conversation with a friend of mine about this. What I told her is that "some" m/m romances are accused of just turning a female character into a male one, and they are derided because of it, BUT that the ones that feature effeminate men often seem more real to me because I know way more guys like that than the "alpha male" types that are so popular (and that I love, don't get me wrong!)

    But what I didn't say then is that I seem to have lucked out and never picked up a book that had a "CWD". I thought I was lucky or picking good authors since the phrase was thrown about so often, and maybe I have been. It didn't occur to me that the people that complained about CWD were talking about Cole from Strawberries with Dessert or Rue from One Small Thing. That really offends me!

    I think I'm going to make a point to pick up the next book accused of that and see if what they're calling a chick with a dick is actually more representative of the people I love than me.

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    1. Cris, I thought about looking into friend shelves in goodreads for the CWD label, but was afraid of what I would find in there. I don't actually know if Cole or Rue have been labeled that way, but I really hope not.

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  11. *cheers*. Well said, T! You tell 'em! I love effeminate characters in m/m books and tend to think there aren't enough of them in the genre.

    -Shell H

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  12. Yeah! What you said!! Love it/you and will support it/you wherever/whenever!! {{Hugs}}

    And this brings to mind a guy I met in NY over 30 years ago! (a difficult time then). He was the consumate businessman: professional, strict; totally knew everything he needed to know; could argue you under the table without batting a eye-lid, and knew just how far he could go to get you to change your mind!!

    But, ask him about his tie or cravat, and another person (almost) took over. He would enthuse about it's colour or design; grin with pride if it bore a "name"; list all his suits or outfits it would go with; tell you where you could (possibly) buy one yourself, and even discuss which outfit of yours it would be best with. He shone with sunshine, and fun, and the bestest ever sense of humour you could ever hope to meet. He was flamboyant, flaming, funny, sensitive, acutely perceptive, and intensely loveable - all totally at odds with his business persona.

    But knowing both sides of him still remains a precious possession of mine. Too few people knew of his effeminate side; too few people could reconcile his gayness with the businessman (silly peeps!). Yes, he epitomised the 'gay' man; but he could scare you s**tless in the boardroom!!

    Thank you Thorny for speaking out - I know my friend would do too!

    XOXOXO
    Carole-Ann

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    1. Carole-Ann, that man sounds like someone I'd love to meet, or at least read a book about him ;)

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  13. I can honestly say I've never said that about a book because the thought has never crossed my mind. I assume the character is written as he is intended to be. I know that all types of people populate this world, and just because I may not directly know someone like that doesn't mean that such a person cannot or does not exist. The whole argument makes no sense to me.

    *hugs* You are a beautiful person, Thorny. And definitely inspirational.

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    1. I'm glad you've never had that thought, Adara :) I think you're pretty wonderful too!

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  14. Does reading gay romance or literature in general equal supporting the gay community and lifestyle? I don’t think so but I’m sure many people do. Those may be as well the people who complain about “chicks with dicks” in m/m literature. Supporting the gay community means for me supporting family members, friends and total strangers who are gay in their lifestyle. Necessary equipment: tolerance. The term “chicks with dicks” is offensive and degrading and the ones who use it can’t claim to support homosexual lifestyle.

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    1. I think reading m/m can build support, Annika, because maybe it opens someone's eyes to a reality they never thought about before. I'm always seriously thrilled when someone who reads m/m says they're teaching their kids tolerance or that love it love. Even if they don't do anything else, that's something.

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  15. Preach it, brother! (((((((((((HUGS))))))))))))

    Like what letablake said, objections with men with feminine traits, despite their sexual orientation, screams misogyny to me. What's wrong with acting or dressing like a woman? Badly written books are just that, badly written books. Are there badly written alpha male gay fics? You bet there are, and I've read a fair share of it. Yet no one protests that they demean gay men. Go figure.

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    1. You're exactly right, Cleon: Badly written books are just that, badly written books. {{{hugs}}}

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  16. When I was in high school (and even middle school) a few years back, the absolute worse thing a bully could say to me or any of my other gay friends is this: "You act like a girl."

    Maybe it was the way we talked, or walked, or how we threw a ball, but being called a "girl" was the ultimate insult.

    I realize now that these bullies had two goals in mind. The first was to take away our humanness. In other words, "Because of how you come across to us, you are nothing more than disgusting trash."

    The second goal was to get us to hate ourselves. "Who you are is so bad and disgusting, you should feel shame inside. You're not worthy of our time."

    Being called a "chick with a dick" is insulting to both women and gay men. Thanks for speaking up, Thorny. Your post fits nicely with C&D's theme this month about things we should celebrate. Let's celebrate the WHOLE rainbow -- not just the parts that fit some people's rigid world-view by denying the humanity of the rest of us.

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    1. Isn't it incredibly sad that being called a female felt like the equivalent to being called 'disgusting trash'? And imagine what message is given to women their entire lives given that?

      The problem is internal (how gay men feel about women) and external (the bullies' intentions). If there wasn't a part of gay men that agreed that being a woman was an awful thing to be, there wouldn't be an insult in it. It'd be like saying, "You act like a human being!" and that would be that. The supposed insult wouldn't even sting.

      The larger problem, of course, is our society and how it's programmed men and women to feel about women. Recognition of that is a place to start. Refusing to feel insulted by the supposed insult is another. Educating people that the root of what they're doing lies in misogyny is another. I want my child to grow up to find a world where this is no longer a problem. And if she doesn't, then I want her children to come into that world.

      I truly believe that a large aspect of homophobia will go away when misogyny goes away, and that they are tied together. I think that one would likely not even be able to exist without the other.

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    2. Amen! I couldn't agree more letablake that so much of this issue is deeply rooted in the misogyny in our culture.

      Being a 50 year old woman, I can tell you that the message we received during most of my growing up/young adult years was that we were certainly less than. I started in the workplace in the pre-Anita Hill days, and I can tell you that what we had to endure and how we were treated and disrespected when we were at our most vulnerable has had many long term consequences on how we perceive ourselves. I can't imagine that doesn't color our perception and treatment of others.

      When the Madonna song "What It Feels Like for a Girl" came out 12 years ago, I couldn't believe how well she nailed it. The opening lines tell so much.

      Girls can wear jeans
      And cut their hair short
      Wear shirts and boots
      'Cause it's OK to be a boy
      But for a boy to look like a girl is degrading
      'Cause you think that being a girl is degrading

      And the chorus:

      Strong inside but you don't know it
      Good little girls they never show it
      When you open up your mouth to speak
      Could you be a little weak?

      Until we can root out this underlying cause I think we will be fighting an uphill battle. But continue to fight we shall!

      Sadonna

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    3. You're right, Brad. Regardless of what word they might've chosen to use, the insult was in saying we're different and therefore wrong. I'm right there with you in celebrating the whole rainbow of possibilities! {{{{{hugs}}}}}

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    4. Yes, misogyny exists, but I think that's a separate issue. Calling a man "girly" is telling him there's something innately wrong with him, that he's not the way he's supposed to be. Playful teasing aside, calling a gay guy "girly" is not the same as calling a straight guy "girly". Straight men who have feminine qualities are deemed "metrosexual", which is considered a positive thing. Straight men who have close relationships with their male friends are in a "bromance", which again, is looked upon as a positive thing. It's the pairing of "gay" and "girly" that is meant to humiliate.

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  17. Fantastic post, Thorny! I'm with you all the way!

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  18. "For the record, the term "chicks with dicks" is offensive to me and I want the use of it to stop."

    AMEN! That term has been plucking my last nerve for years. You and Brad perfectly detailed all my objections to it.

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  19. Thorny, I've told you before that you're like a little ray of sunshine to me and today you've added more than a little light to an issue that seems to be stuck on a loop of negativity.

    Your rainbow analogy is enlightening and spot on, and between your daring words and Brad's personal experience comments, this post will be on my mind for a long time. Bravo, my Sunshine, bravo. Love you.

    K-lee

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    1. Thank you, Kool-aid! Love you back :)

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  20. The thing is, these "chicks with dicks" often come with a number of other stereotypes. They're often the weaker, more vulnerable, more emotional guy who constantly need to be saved, especially if they feature in a more action orientated story. And THAT is the kind of character that usually annoys me the most, no matter whether they be girl or guy.

    I think I'd be happy to once see a totally flamboyant/effeminate gay/bi guy (or "chick with dick" so to speak) who has a backbone, a healthy doze of self-respect bordering on arrogance, and takes no sh!t from others featuring in a story. Maybe he can wield a gun or a sword, or something like that (I'm into action/thriller/fantasy/scifi subgenres. ^_^). That'd be most interesting. :-D

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    1. I'd recommend Jet Mykles' "Just For You".

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    2. Then what you have a problem with is an annoying character or bad storytelling, not that the characters are 'like women'. Unless you think that women are annoying stereotypes that always need to be saved? I don't think you actually believe that and I don't think that's what you meant. :)

      Again, the problem is not with complaining about bad storytelling or obnoxious romance cliches, but with associating these things with women. Saying a man without a backbone or self-respect is being like a woman (being a chick with a dick) makes a statement about women that I'm not sure people should really be aiming to make, you know?

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    3. I would recommend Fire Balls by Tara Lain. Rodney definitely takes no shit from anybody. Great recommendation Taylor on Just for You - one of my faves!

      And once again letablake, I'm totally with you. It's sad that we seem to automatically be jumping to the conclusion that "weaker, more vulnerable, more emotional" is somehow associated with being female/feminine and having a backbone and self-respect is seen as male/masculine. These are the very stereotypes we need to be fighting against. A character can be annoying and poorly written but to pin that on perceived "gender-related" characteristics is not helpful.

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    4. They're often the weaker, more vulnerable, more emotional guy who constantly need to be saved, especially if they feature in a more action orientated story.

      Sonny, if a guy like that doesn't grow to be more independent in a story like that, then yeah, I can see how that would be frustrating. I'm willing to go along with him, but only if he eventually manages to save himself because he's a stronger person. TSTL in either gender is just bad writing.

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    5. @letablake @sxswann @Thorny:
      Thnx for the recs!!

      And no, I never meant to say that weak=female, lol! XD I dislike male, female, gay and straight characters equally who don't have backbones. But it's a stereotype that is often present in fiction that female and effeminate gay characters are weak, and it is the stereotype that I dislike... kind of like how I dislike those super-alpha male characters, they're also very stereotypical.

      I think it's mainly bad writers who employ these stereotypes. There are a lot of bad writers out there who seem to think in this stereotypical manner (that female and effeminate gay male characters are weak, etc. and that 'real' male characters must be super alpha, aggressive, dominant, etc.), and even in the 'real gay men' post, this thinking is still present. The writers who think like this will project these ideas onto their characters, which is why we have a lot of stereotypically weak effeminate gay and female characters, and also a lot of those disgustingly annoying alpha-males. Neither character types appeal to me because they only amplify the feeling that we're NOT dealing with 'real' men and women, with 'real' PEOPLE. Instead, we're dealing with a stereotype. REAL people, men and women alike, are hard and soft by turns depending on situation and their own personality. Not one person is the same, and the same should go for the character you write (if you want to write a good character). A gay character may wear lipstick and cross dress and whatever, and thereby LOOK effeminate, but that should not automatically mean that he's weak! And a character that acts weak or vulnerable and sheds tears is NOT automatically acting FEMALE! And a woman who is very strong, emotionless, and ambitious, is also NOT acting MALE!

      As for the 'real gay men' post, that one is in my eyes also absurd. There is no 'real' gay men, because every man out there whether gay or straight is different. Straight men can be weak. Gay men can be weak. Both of them can also be strong. It does not depend on gender or sexual preference, it depends on personality.

      I'm not sure if I'm making sense, but that's how I feel it is... :-) But it's the writers who should first break out of their stereotypical views and expectations before we can stop this enormous flux of stereotypical characters. And the enormous flux IS extremely annoying.

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    6. I must add to my previous posts, that I usually never use the word "chicks with dicks". But I think that this word again describes a stereotype, one to describe the kind of flat-character that is both effeminate-looking, gay, and weak, and unfortunately very present in a lot of bad gay fiction.

      By the way, if ALL effeminate-looking gay characters suddenly started wielding guns and swords, then THAT would also become a stereotype. I think in this case I would suddenly find THAT (the gun/sword-wielding thing) to become annoying, and wish for the character to have more softer sides. It really depends on what the stereotype. Using arch types (princes, witches, cops, flamboyant gays, etc.) is fine, but the point is that you have to flesh them out, not turn them into stereotypes.

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  21. By the way, Thorny, I think it would be great if you edited the post. Because this sentence probably isn't saying what you want it to say: You're saying a segment of the gay spectrum is unappealing, wrong, and labeling these men something less than men.

    The problem can be remedied by simply replacing the word 'less' with 'other'. :)

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  22. I sometimes wonder about terms like "chicks with dicks" and "gay for you" because they seem to be terms made up by people who are overly fond of tropes. Not just fond of them, but have a real attachment—almost a need—for one trope over others, and if the book they're reading doesn't fit that trope, they won't like it, regardless of how well-written or true to the characters it is.

    My point is, if some people are that committed to a single idea and pairing (or a few, but a limited number), they probably have a sort of tunnel-vision about the issue, to the point that they can't see how they're limiting everyone else by insisting there's only this one, "right" way to do things.

    Of course, you know I like me some tropes, so maybe I think about this crap too much.

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    1. Well, the term "chicks with dicks" is extremely derogatory toward trans*women and needs to be stricken from the lexicon to begin with for that fact alone. The fact that it's being bandied about as a label for effeminate gay men by readers and authors who don't like effeminate gay men is highly insensitive.

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    2. You're right, Amelia. I wanted to address how it offends me personally here, so didn't go into this issue, but you're definitely right.

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  23. Gah, it's a horrible term and needs to be stuff hard into the dustbin of history. I apologise now if I've ever used it without thinking about it. It offends everybody. It offends men, both gay and straight, by making the assumption there's only one right way to be a proper man and not allowing them the range of emotions and behaviours they might feel or express. It offends women since it implies that acting like a woman is such a terrible thing. Not to mention the word "chick". What is this, 1975? I can't imagine trans people exactly love the term either. It's awful and needs to stop being thrown around casually.

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    1. Very right, Becky. You'd think, with this many levels of offense, it would already be gone.

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  24. Great post.

    I think the problem with labels is many faceted. First off, because no one ever explains which books or characters they're talking about, everyone ends up wondering, "Wait? Are they talking about me? Or my book? Or my favorite character?" When a term gets thrown around like CWD does, no one ever knows what people mean.

    If it means a huge power differential between characters, then say that. Twilight involved a weak-weak-weak character and a mega-mega strong one. It's a common romance trope, but also one that a lot of people find annoying.

    Gay-for-you is another term that gets over used and is unclear. I don't consider any of my stories "gay-for-you", but many of them get classified that way. I just like writing virgins.

    As for the gay men I know IRL, I'm always surprised how much they and their partners look alike. But that's probably because I live in an area with a lot of settled, committed gay couples. I've generally assumed it's the same as with straight couples, after a while you start standing, talking, and dressing alike.

    Anyway, I really appreciate hearing this perspective. TBH, I've never actually come across readers or authors discussing CWD, but I have heard the term. And I agree it is demeaning.

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    1. Thanks, Daisy. That's the gist of it, isn't it? If you don't like something, just say you don't like it. Nothing wrong with that. It all falls apart, though, when someone says they don't like it, slap an offensive label on it, and bully those who do like it.

      If me and my husband ever start looking alike, we are going to be one funky looking couple! LOL

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    2. I dunno, my husband is tall and dark, and I'm short and pale, but you'd be amazed at how often we both come downstairs in the morning and realize we're wearing the same outfit. :)

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  25. Thorny, thoroughly enjoyed your post. A rainbow isn't a rainbow without all the colors of the rainbow, huh? I love that peeps are all so varied. It would get awfully boring if we all were cookie cutter "perfect" <--not my ideal or yours, just someone's... it would be like The Stepford Wives, or the world Madeline L'Engle created in A Wrinkle In Time, where being different from the expected norm was cause for horrific punishment. I'm very happy living in a world where a handful of human beings is as varied as a handful of snowflakes. Some may be similar, but no two are ever the same.

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    1. Thank you, Cherie! I wholeheartedly agree.

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  26. Amen. This post, along with Megan Derr's pretty much sums up my response to the whole thing. That post had so much misogyny and homophobic bullying in it (as well as the comments), and I'm completely in agreement with you. Defining what a 'real' gay man is just proves how narrow-minded some people are. I have nothing against people having their preferences and liking the more 'masculine' men rather than 'effeminate' characters, but those preferences should never be used as a bullying tactic to force the genre as a whole to conform to one person's opinions on gender roles. The effeminate characters I have written and published are just as realistic as the rough-and-tumble masculine characters... because what is 'real' for one person can be completely different from what is 'real' to another.

    I'm happy to be in a genre with other gender-fluid or genderqueer authors (like yourself!). It's always sad to see someone get oppressive to an entire group that they don't understand and believe, as a whole, demean and somehow contradict the 'Gay Experience' (like it's some ride at Epcot, as my co-author likes to say in jest). My gay experience is different from the author of that post, obviously, and that doesn't mean that either one is less valid than the other. Just different. I think the time has come for people to accept that different is all right.

    ~K. Piet
    Storm Moon Press

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    1. ...because what is 'real' for one person can be completely different from what is 'real' to another.

      Exactly! Thanks, K :)

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  27. Thanks, Thorny. I really appreciate this post. I've said it before; I'm sure I'll say it again: good writing and romance isn't about creating "real" men vs. women who conform to society's notions of what a man or a woman should be. That's one of the best parts about m/m! Good stories are about just plain people who are what they are, and we're all different. After all, isn't part of the whole QUILTBAG acknowledging that some chicks DO have dicks, and there's nothing wrong with that?

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    1. Right, Julia, there's nothing wrong with it until it's used as an insult and meant to hurt.

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  28. Interesting blog and comments (which I've not had the chance to read thoroughly, being at work, so my comment may be redundant; I hope not).

    First, on flamboyant or effeminate men: I've loved a number of them, as well as the more middle of the spectrum types. I don't actually cotton much to the ueber-butch.

    I've never heard the terms "Chick with a Dick" used to describe a feminine or flamboyant man. I was rather startled at that use here. I've heard it used in two contexts, one in life, and one in writing.

    In life I've seen and hear it used in reference to pre-op MTF transgendered people. I have no idea if it's considered offensive in the transgender community, but I am aware of a set of men who like the concept: presents and lives as a woman, but still has male genitals.

    That's not what you're talking about, I think.

    In writing, I've heard the CWAD type of comment made about certain characters, but it's not had that name (I'm probably out of the loop), and it didn't refer to fem men in terms of personal affect. It referred to male character of any gender persuasion that bear the psychological stamp of the other gender, that is, they think and emote like a woman would, as opposed to how a man would tend to do.

    The first time (and only time it seriously bugged me) I ran up against is was in an extended published Pride and Prejudice fan fic a friend gave me. Darcy's character bugged me no end, and I couldn't put my finger on it, until someone else said to me "well, he thinks like a woman. That's not how a guy would react to the situation."

    So if *that* is what's bothering the reader, it is, I think, simply a case of weak writing.

    If it's the fact that one of the characters doesn't play rugby every weekend before topping a number of truck drivers (and I've known fem men who've done both), then the reader should STFU and read something else.

    You don't like 'em? Fine! Send 'em my way (in life and in literature).

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    1. I'm not really OK with someone saying "that's not how a guy would react" because how do they know that? They've met EVERY guy and not one has ever reacted that way? I just think it's possible there is a guy out there who'd do that very thing.

      Now if it doesn't fit with the character as the author's established him, that's definitely bad writing. A fireman who suddenly runs away from the fire? Oh you're going to need to do some serious justification there because that's just not what firemen do.

      ...STFU and read something else. LOL yep :)

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  29. Great post. I appreciate it very much and have new insight on it. I myself write characters based on their emotions. I do enjoy alphas but I also love men who are willing to show their feelings.

    The problem is we all have these preconceived notions about what is a REAL man and a REAL woman. The truth is we are all people, different and unique and it shouldn't matter how we act as long as we respect and tolerate one another.

    I know in my fiction, my characters make jokes about being "female" or girly. I've seen this in books I've read too but after reading your post my mind is changed for the better.

    You've hit the nail on the head with this blog and thanks for shedding the light!

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    1. You know non-cruel jokes are OK, right? I mean, my husband's called me a flouncy little girl, but he's teasing because I'm doing something to make him laugh...like dancing around in my petticoat. If he was angry at me and said it? God, I'd be absolutely crushed! So jokes are fine, but cruelty should be recognized as such.

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  30. Thanks for the post. I am relieved to see so many people say they've never quite understood the phrase. I always felt weird about not getting it.

    I once had an m/f romance author, who was trying her hand at m/m, ask me to read her m/m. She was asking me since I come from a slash fanfiction background and read exclusively m/m.

    I said, sure I'd read it, and asked what she wanted me to look for. Her major fear was in the character coming off as a "chick with a dick". I was stunned. I chalked it up to being some het writer's fundamental misunderstanding of the m/m genre. She was quite worried about other people viewing her work this way, however. There was a sense of pressure from her m/f crit group. So I said I'd read it, but that I couldn't address her concern since I didn't really understand it.

    I don't think she meant to be offensive to the gay community. It seemed to be more of a genuine worry over getting the male experience/perspective wrong.

    IMO, writers really do a number on one another by constantly holding a standard up for what makes a work "correct" and "realistic". So much freedom and variety is lost in the process.

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    1. I'm so sorry your friend worried like that! She should've just written the characters as she saw them because those guys are out there somewhere IRL so it's all realistic. I hope she's still writing m/m and now not giving a hoot :)

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  31. A plus.

    I get more than a little exasperated with this. We're all a little gender mixed when it comes down to it. Some more than others. I've always had an affinity towards effeminate men. Married one, in fact. Our roles are all sorts of mixed and I often find it funny when I include a quirk of his in a story and it gets pointed to as feminine or unrealistic.

    "Oh honey, you should probably stop doing this or they're going to take away your penis."

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    1. LOL Clancy! That quote...

      I've been told that writing effeminate (or I guess they call them beta males?) in m/f is seriously frowned on or like a definite way to never sell. That's just as insulting since they're just as real as the rest of us and I'm sure there are just as many women who love them.

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  32. Beautiful post, Thorny. The term has always bothered me.

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  33. I actually hate that term myself. I'm a straight women who loves to read M/M and I don't mind reading about any type of Gay man. I love reading about an effeminate MC It doesn't bother me one bit.. Not once have I ever thought of them as women. I know in real life there's all different types of Gay men there isn't just one type. It's all beautiful to me. It's also fiction and I've also been around long enough to realize that. What I love about the genre, there's all kinds of different books for different people and you don't have to read a certain book. I'm like you, I'm not crazy about BDSM themed books either instead of saying they're bad I just don't read them. I know there are people who love to read them. I think people need to think hard before they throw a term around because they could just be hurting someone. Great blog post by the way;-)

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    1. Thanks, Leaundra! I'm glad you love the variety too.

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  34. I suppose the term comes from a position of ignorance, readers who assume that a female writer could not construct a male character accurately, so it must be a "C w/ D" situation. We see characters on TV like Jack on Will & Grace and assume it is just a stereotype.

    I am fairly new to reading m/m romance so I too wondered about how a female author could write about a gay romance. But I found that there were male writers who still wrote about these flamboyant gay men. I had to make the assumption that these men do exist not just as stereotypes.

    But, as other posters have suggested, not all men are "alpha" males just as not all gay men are "flaming". What is the saying? "Variety is the spice of life?" What we need to do is respect everyone's quest for individuality. Like you said, if you do not like it, then do't read it.

    Thank you for having the courage to be yourself.

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    1. What we need to do is respect everyone's quest for individuality.

      I like that! Thanks :)

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  35. Others have made my point far more eloquently, but I want to thank you for disposing of that phrase with the contempt it deserves.

    Recently I have seen it employed by misogynistic men against women writers. I honestly think that they mean it to be derogatory to female authors, and not to be derogatory to gay men. But you have shown that it is vile to all.

    We writers are so petrified to not being seen to write *real men* we are in danger of forgetting there all shades of men and women to be celebrated. Maybe that is unfair. I know it is a concern *I* have.

    The next time I see that phrase employed in a derogatory manner I shall send them this link. Thank you, Thorny.

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    1. Sue, I would so rather see an author write the character in his/her head than ever worry about whether he's "real" enough to keep ignorant readers quiet. Can't please everyone, right? I understand the worry, but I'd so prefer to read about the character you loved and had to write about than the one you thought was just safe. :)

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  36. What a thought provoking post and so many great comments and discussions. Thank you!

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  37. Many other already expressed my feelings, so I'll just say yes, the phrase "chicks with dicks" needs to be jettisoned into cold, dark space. I'd love to send a few cliche alpha male characters out there with the phrase.

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  38. I think people put way too much emphasis on male vs female. We try so hard as a society to rigidly define them and keep them separate. I think people are much more fluid than that. I have characteristics that would be labeled as male and some as female. I don't really identify wholeheartedly with either gender. I'm just me.

    Krista

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    1. I agree, Krista! I love the variety of possibilities.

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  39. Love this post. Gay men are as diverse as any other group, and should be represented as such. I resent the notion that there's anything "wrong" with a man being effeminate.

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  40. Good on you standing up, speaking out, and getting this discussion going, Thorny. I live for the day when people will finally realize people are people. Period. We are who we are and there's not a damn thing wrong with any of us. And you, my dear friend, are the best of the best. <3
    *big hugs*

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    1. Thank you, LC! {{{hugs}}} This was tough, but it's been worth it ♥

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  41. I never connected the phrase CWD with flamboyant people. It seriously never occurred to me.

    For me it always was meant to describe books where the gay guys behave like formulaic female romance characters out of those mass produced books (which I actually don’t like). And whenever I stumbled over the CWD in a review…it was never because a character was effeminate, it was always of bad writing.
    So this post really surprised me. And while I wholeheartedly agree that luckily the world is full of wonderful different people – and please do not change a thing on you if you are happy the way you are – I really think that the original intend of this phrase was to describe bad writing.
    If you ask for an example…well, I’m not sure I want to out an author but for example Phaze books has a book about a soldier and a lawyer that’soon to be printed, too, which is what I call a great example on how m/m SHOULD NOT be written.

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    1. If it's bad writing people are referring to, they should call it bad writing. To call it by this term is insulting to a lot of different people on a lot of different levels.

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    2. If the term offends, I absolutely do not want to continue using it, I just want to be clear that when I use it, I refer to exactly what Katharina said - characters who are gay guys but behaving as formulaic female characters in the historical het romances.Think women characters from Barbara Cartland novels only with men's names. It is just a short cut to describe a character - not to describe gay guys that you described or transgender women. At the same time I am not just going to say that it is a bad writing, I want to be able to say more specifically which character I am referring to, but I certainly do not want to offend anybody, so from now on it is "the character who behaves as female character from Barbara Cartland novels" for me.

      Cole from "Strawberies for desert" by Marie Sexton or the Zach from "Gambling on Maybe" by Fae Sutherland would for me be the characters who would reflect gay men that you describe and I absolutely love them.

      What I am referring to is completely different character type.

      Sirius.

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  42. "Chicks with Dicks" manages to insult women and gay men in just three words! Ahh, the power of the English language. Unfortunately, like many insults, everyone immediately knows what it means, or thinks they do. The only book I've ever rated one star was one that featured a male character, supposedly, who had all the worst traits of a poorly written romance heroine. I want my MM characters to really be men, in all the ways that men can be men. I like them flamboyant or Alpha. What I don't like is them pregnant, fainting, or simpering. I don't like female characters that faint, swoon, or simper either. As Katharina said, its just bad writing when a character behaves as a inhuman stereotype.

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    1. I met a guy once who reminded me of one of those little arm dogs who does nothing but whimper and shake. He made me nervous and I wanted to find out what in the world was wrong with him. If he had been a character, I'd have been seriously eager to see him get help or whatever so he could stop doing that. If him as that character never did and spent the whole book acting that way, yep, bad writing.

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  43. I agree - I think "Chicks with Dicks" should in be named "guys who act like stereotyped trash romance novel heroines" (ähm..actually, that doesn't in my opinion even only refer to gay guys but also if I stumble in a f/m romance over a hero who acts like a one, too).

    It is not a flattering expression and as a "chick" I don't even like the way women are represented in novels in a lot of romances(I know why I read m/m).

    So, I agree with the minority here - I think it's used to describe bad writing. At least that was the way I understood it so far.

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    1. Still, people have got to stop calling bad writing by a term that offends. It's no different than when people call something bad or stupid "gay" -- if you don't like it, say you don't like it, don't call it gay. So don't call bad writing a CWD.

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    2. I absolutely agree with you...why do I still have the feeling I just got scolded?

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  44. Random comment——have you guys all seen "The Blossoming of Maximo Oliveros"? It's a Filipino gay movie, and so, so good. It's fascinating because it takes place in a culture where gender fluidity is seen very differently than it is in the US.

    I though it worth mentioning as I'm reviewing it today for my Gay Movie Review blog tour. All you have to do is to compare "Blossoming" to Brokeback Mountain and see all the ways culture creates double standards around gender identity.

    Not sure anyone's still reading, but I had to mention. lol

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    1. I read this. Do they have it on Netflix??

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    2. Yep! Its on netflix. maybe on Amazon as well. :)

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    3. I'm going to have to check that out myself. :-)

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  45. I'm interested in the comments about misogyny, because I'm not personally convinced this is the root of the issue when it comes to the term "chicks with dicks." I can think of examples from my life where being called/compared to a man was intended (and taken) as an insult. In my mind, it's not that the term is feminizing, it's that it's emasculating.

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  46. I think the chick with a dick term is insulting to women as well as to gay men. In my experience it tends to be used for characters who do nothing in the book except panic, cry and need to be rescued.

    It's not a portrait of a strong effeminate man. If the pronouns were reversed it would not be the portrait of an even vaguely believable woman.

    I don't have anything against beautiful helpless people who need to be looked after by capable hunks, but I object to defining them as 'chicks' with or without dicks, as though all women were like that.

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    1. Hi Alex,

      Absolutely yes to "do nothing in the book except panic, cry and need to be rescued". But to me it is "you know when you see it" kind of thing. I have for example read about a lot of characters who cry in the books and it certainly did not make them the characters from Barbara Cartland's novels, whose names are changed to men to me. It all depends on the situation. Of course the believable male character may be in the situation when he needs to be rescued and more than once. Stuff happens to the strongest people and of course I will not hold it against the character, but when it is accumulating and accumulating, well at some point I think oh, no, thats the character I hate made an appearance.

      I used to define them as CWD because in those old het romance novels those were women characters - thats the *only* reason. I mean, whether they were believable portrayal of women or not (and I agree that they are not),when I meet those characters in gay romance stories, those are the associations I have, I have flashbacks to those awful romances I do not read anymore, so thats what I call them.

      But as I mentioned above, I really try not to offend people when I can and while it was a very convenient short cut for me, I do not mind using more words to describe the same character type.

      Sirius.

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  47. Awesome blog, Thorny... and I love reading your normal blog you always brighten my day when it shows up in my inbox.

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  48. Great post! I love writing and reading about gay men living their lives in technicolor because they are brave and bold and living how they want to. Several years ago on Twitter, a gay man I follow started complaining about "fem gays" and it really, really bothered me a lot. I think that was the moment I truly realized how much prejudice there was right in the gay community against people in a place where they should finally feel safe and free to be themselves.

    I was writing in a fairly open and active fan fiction community at the time and just knew I had to write a character that would push the boundaries of what this Twitter friend talked about. I wrote for the first time (but not that last) about a drag queen; a very effeminate drag queen who was extremely appealing to the other Alpha male guy in my story who only dated "straight acting" guys. He went through many moments of crisis because of it, but in the end, he realized he was being an asshole and saw he loved all parts of this man, even if he did draw unwanted attention from time to time. It was his own insecurity which made him fearful.

    We are all attracted to various people, but in the end, aren't we all looking for someone who will love each and every part of who we are? Why hold that back? Living out loud is the only way I ever want to live and having someone love me for all my parts is what we each deserve. And I love reading about character of all sorts. Otherwise I'm reading about the same guys again and again and I may as well be reading the same book non-stop.

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  49. Of course I can't speak for other people but I only use that expression for fictional characters who were written by female authors who failed to give them a distinctly male personality. Some of my gay friends aren't exactly the strong and silent types and they own way more shoes than I do but they are without any doubt very male, for example when it comes to their attitude towards sex. This week I read an m/m book where the MCs fall madly in love at first sight, become a couple at their first date and then wait SIX MONTHS till they have sex and I couldn't stop rolling my eyes.

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    1. While it's true that that situation seems highly unlikely (six months before any kind of sex? Really? Whoa), I don't think anyone can say with certainty that it's never happened in real life. Regardless, the real issue is with the term itself. I've read gay romance where I was pretty damn sure the author just slapped a male name on a heroine and changed around body parts, but I see that more as an issue with the author than the character itself.

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  50. This is an interesting post to me -- and I realize I'm commenting years since it was written. But that is part of the charm of the internet. For me, the first time I heard the phrase 'chicks with dicks,' it resonated perfectly with characters I was disliking immensely in mm romance. But they weren't the effeminate gay male characters you're describing. In fact, many of the books you champion are ones I also adore. 'Chicks' also, to me, don't refer to real women. 'Chicks' are the tired romantic trope female characters from mf fiction. For example, I just read a book whose young, submissive character was long-haired, plump nippled, eyes always filled with 'innocent heat' and longing, doesn't think twice about the consequences of breaking his betrothal, and then spends the rest of the book softening the alpha hero by being so gosh-darned plucky. Give him boobs and a bodice and change the genitalia, turn the alpha into a pirate captain/Scottish laird/English rake and we're back in 1985 with Fabio on the cover tossing another virgin trope book on the pile. I read that trope -- out of desperation -- way too many times. Another story I read recently was basically a doctor/nurse or businessman/secretary story. The dominant character was of course manipulative and controlling (but it is ok, wink-wink, because deep-down he really liked the other mc). The younger guy, despite being in his late 20s and having had serious relationships, woke up feeling 'wanton' after a clench with the big guy. Really? So out of date, so sex-is-bad. (But wink-wink, even though he runs away after finally doing the deed, his sexual morality was restored when the characters get married). It should have had a 70s Harlequin cover. So, I'm not giving up the term 'chicks with dicks' mentally because it is too complicated to tell myself outdated overused romantic trope from the annals of mf fiction. Those are the tropes that made me largely give up romance for 10-15 years until I discovered mm. So maybe it will make it seem less offensive to realize that at least some users of the term really aren't dissing effeminate gay men or women.

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