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Should a M/M Romance writer pretend to be another gender?

Male or Female AuthorWow, this is a tough topic these days. I just found out about AJ Llewellyn being a woman. Yes, a woman, not the gay man she pretended to be.

We both started out at eXtasy Books writing M/M Romance, though I prefer to write more of the Yaoi variety:) I’ve had plenty of banter back and forth with AJ about writing, the M/M genre and the like and I must say I feel a bit… shocked. I know that women have taken male pen names in times past in order to get published and all that. And I know that some female M/M Romance authors have male pen names currently and keep hush about their true identity. I suppose it is no one’s business but their own. Or is it?

Here’s the deal. If I read a M/M Romance book by a particular author with a male pen name, I assume certain things. The first being, that they have first-hand knowledge of what it’s like to be a gay man and maybe I’ll learn a few things. Of course, that’s the author in me. And if and when I encounter this author in a chat or on some social media site, I speak to them as if they’re the gender of their pen name. I take into account their opinions on writing and other topics based on what I think their gender is, right or wrong. I can’t help it. We’ve all been programmed to think a certain way based on our upbringing as a particular gender and have preconceived notions about the opposite gender. I hope that makes sense:)

As far as author gender and writing M/M Romance or even Yaoi for that matter, my question is this: Should authors be straight up about their genders? I mean, we’re writing about gay men for a predominantly straight female audience. M/M Romance is not the same (at least in my eyes) as gay romance – presumably written by gay men with a target audience of gay men. So it seems to me that author gender might matter. Women in general put more emotion into their romances, especially if we’re targeting a female audience. Again, my freakin’ opinion;) But women are emotional creatures. Emotion is what we crave, right?

I’m also wondering if the female authors writing under a male pen name are doing the rest of us authors a disservice. It’s hard to go about telling people who aren’t familiar with this genre that you’re a straight woman writing gay romance. I’ve blogged about my follies with that a few times. You need a thick skin and a hardy sense of humor. Maybe if more of these women writing gay romance for other women were more up front about it, it would normalize the situation a bit more and make it easier for all of us. Stand proud that you’re a straight woman writing about gay men, damn it:)

So now that I’ve said my piece – chime in here. What do you all think?


  1. Shae Connor

    You’re starting off with an incorrect statement. AJ is not a woman; he is a FtM transgendered man. He lives as a man and should be referred to and treated as such. Questions about specific behaviors are a separate issue, but calling AJ a woman is incorrect.

  2. shelly

    I’m ambivalent about pen names. I think an author should use any name he or she wants to to publish. But when you translate that into an online persona and start developing personal relationships I think you cross a line. I have a feeling this author started out with a pseudonym and got in over her head.

  3. Christie Gordon

    Hi Shae,

    As I understood it, AJ referred to herself as a woman on her blog, “… nor did I feel like I could come out as a woman”, and doesn’t say she is a FtM transgendered man directly. So, I’m just sticking with what I believe to be true. If it’s the case that AJ is transgendered, then you are absolutely correct and I’ve made a mistake.


  4. Christie Gordon

    I agree, Shelley. It sounds like AJ may have felt a bit empowered having a gay male persona while writing in the M/M Romance genre and wasn’t sure how to stop that ball from rolling. I suppose it is the whole persona thing that strikes me as a form of betrayal. I admit, I did feel betrayed when I found out. But I think this puts the whole thing into question – why write as a different gender? Does this mean a female author’s trying to target a larger audience and bring in gay men? But again, isn’t that not being really truthful in your advertising? The other thing I wonder about – is what about the Lambda awards? You have to be LGBT to enter. I wonder if anyone’s entered and not been truely gay?

  5. Julie Hayes

    I was going to say what Shae said, that AJ is transgendered. He is a male, not a female.

    Secondly, I fail to see what difference your gender makes. If the story resonates with the readers, then it resonates. The only place it might make a difference is in recounting real life experiences, claiming knowledge which isn’t yours, as has been done often enough in the past.

    If you can make your readers feel what the characters feel, then haven’t you done your job, no matter what type of genitals you possess? A reader can and should ask for no more. Readers have no more right to the intimate details of a writer’s life than they would anyone else. And they certainly should not sit in judgment of others, especially as it’s impossible to know what the other person is feeling or has felt or experienced.

    To AJ’s critics, I say what do you want him to do? Bleed for you? He owes you nothing. He’s apologized. Accept that he’s – omigod – human. And move on.

    Thanks for an insightful blog, Christie.

  6. Brenna Lyons

    A lot of questions posed, so I’ll try to answer them one at a time…

    Do authors “owe” it to their readers to represent their true sex? No. Not at all. Choosing a cross-gender or gender neutral name makes a lot of things easier in this business. Think it was only called for years ago? Not so. Until just this year, women writing M/M were marginalized by LAMBDA Awards. Women are still marginalized in some of the larger SF/F/H associations and awards. Men are just now gaining speed in romance. I still see the biases and hatred every day. Ask any female SF/F/H writer about the entire blogs set up by misogynistic males that believe we’re “ruining” their “male institution” by writing in it. Though I personally don’t choose to use a cross-gender or gender neutral name, I know precisely why people do choose to, and why they choose to have actor stand-ins…or, in the case of one male romance author I know, have his wife play the role of author, while he plays the role of the author’s biggest fan at signings. NY insisted he not out himself as male, so this is how he handles it.

    That said, should you ever LIE to your readers? That’s the line I tell authors never to cross. It’s one thing to let people assume you’re the opposite sex, and no…I really don’t believe that’s as telling as you think it is. I know men that put a heck of a lot of emotion into their writing and women that write as people typically think men do. In fact, when tested, my writing came out almost 50/50 split for whether the programs thought it was a man or woman writing, and one of my gay male friends came in as solidly female. Go figure.

    Back to the subject… It’s one thing to make people think you’re male (or suspect it) by the pen name you choose. It worked for Andre Norton, James Tiptree, and scores of others. It’s quite another to make up a fictional life where you share stores that aren’t so. It’s very Stephen Glass or James Frey. Assumptions are something no one escapes, whether you set yourself up for them or not, but outright lies are things few forgive easily. That’s why I tell even authors that choose a cross-gender name to keep the bio as close to real as possible. Don’t make it up.

    Considering that well over half of the M/M authors I deal with on a daily basis that use male pen names are not male, I make no assumptions based on a name. Nor do I feel anyone should. Sexual identity is a lot more complex than the equipment between the legs and sexual orientation. Personality is a lot more complex than sexual identity and sexual preference. Writing style and what you write is a lot more complex than personality and outward gender would seem to dictate. By the time you add up all the factors, it’s clear that you can’t count on anything, based on a name. Andre Norton and James Tiptree taught us that.

    BTW, it’s good to see another eXtasy old-timer. Grin…


  7. Christie Gordon

    Hi Brenna,
    The testing you did is really interesting. I suppose it just shows once again that people are just people:) I suppose it’s the judgement aspect of readers and authors alike then (me included, LOL), that makes some of us female M/M Romance writers and male romance writers hide under a cross-gender pen name. It makes me wonder again what would happen if everyone just stopped doing that? Would it help readers to embrace authors of both genders and all sexual orientations? Are authors playing into the powers that be when they take a cross-gender pen name? Makes me think of the whole John Cougar thing when he told the record companies to F-off and took back his real name;)

  8. Christie Gordon

    Hi Julie,
    Did AJ say specifically that he/she is transgendered somewhere that I’m missing? If so, I’ll change the post. But I wasn’t sure he/she said that. Oh, the scourge of being politically correct:)

    I hear you about connecting with your readers no matter what orientation you happen to be and that it shouldn’t matter. Which is why I suppose in a perfect world, authors wouldn’t feel the need to take cross-gender pen names. They could just be themselves and write what they write. So now I’m wondering if this thing isn’t a symptom of a bigger problem in the publishing industry itself?


  9. Melanie

    An author shows a lot of who they are, how they feel and what they think in their writings. You are baring yourself to an unknown public at large. This is an amazingly courageous thing to do. Having a pen name, regardless of what gender it sounds like, is a perfectly acceptable means of adding a layer of privacy.

    This isn’t a symptom of a bigger problem in the publishing industry. It is another indication of a major problem with our society as a whole. For some reason, people think that they are entitled to know everything about a public figure; be they author, actor, musician, politician. We aren’t. They are entitled to a private life. I do not need to know that Brad and Angelina are adopting another baby or having a fight or anything. I watch their movies, read authors’ books and listen to musicians’ music. That’s all I care about. Just like we don’t want government in our bedrooms, telling us who we are allowed to love and have in our lives, we shouldn’t then turn around and demand that from public figures.

    The fact that Mr. Llwellyn is transgendered instead of “just male” does not negate his talent or what he has shared about himself in the stories he writes. The fact that the community is “up in arms” about this is just ridiculous. The people who knew were those that Mr. Llwellyn chose to share his private life with; his inner circle. We weren’t a member; we’ll live.

    I never assume anything about a person based on gender, race, age, etc. I engage with a person based on who they are, not what they are. It was just how I was raised. I don’t see why knowing someone isn’t the gender/race/age you thought should change your opinion about that person. Their experiences are their experiences. The rest is just a book cover.

  10. Julie Hayes

    Christie, I read about his being transgendered in his blog, where he talks about having lived for the past year as a man, which is one of the first steps of the process of changing one’s identity. I applaud him for taking such a difficult step, especially in the face of such blatant disapproval. I’m sure it followed upon years of self-doubt and unsurety – it cannot be an easy decision to make. If during that time, AJ lived as a woman, that too is understandable, even if self-identified as male. I think we should not condemn, but rather support those of every gender, for not everyone is what they seem to be, and shame on those people who are casting stones from their own little glass houses. It’s time to quit being bitches and be human. AJ hasn’t hurt you. Seriously, get over yourselves.

    Thanks, Christie.

  11. Brendan

    Personally I don’t care if you’re a male, female, transgen or whatever author… If your stories are good and I like them I’ll continue to read them. What’s in a name or the sex of a person anyhow? It’s sad that it matters to some and to be honest since I’ve been in that position and I’m Bi-gender it very easy to having been discriminated and shunned for who are rather than the kind and understanding person you are to others. Having said that, your name can be Blow Me :snickering: and it wouldn’t matter. As long as you are doing no harm to others that’s the way I look at it. I’ll step down off the podium now. Thanks.

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  13. Areana

    LOL @ Julie Harris
    “Having said that, your name can be Blow Me :snickering: and it wouldn’t matter. As long as you are doing no harm to others that’s the way I look at it.”
    OMG, Oh yea my point,
    Yes, ‘I’ve written pieces in a Male nom de plume so I suppose I should do the John Cougar and put my name out there, thats fine, I don’t mind, I think my friend already know my style of writing and would respect and appreciate me whether I were writing any romance gay bi or straight.

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