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Photo by Michel Dierickx

A question I get a lot is “Why m/m? Why do you write so many books with gay main characters?” I’ve got a lot of reasons behind that, some of them incredibly deep and involved, based in feminism and gay rights and freeing the mind. But let’s leave all that behind for now, and focus on how things change meaning when you change the sex/gender of any particular person within a certain expected dynamic.

I feel like the easiest way to illustrate this is with music, so let’s start there.

Everyone knows Adele’s song “Someone Like You”. What happens to the meaning and to your understanding of the song when a man sings it without changing any lyrics.

Jay Brannan also did a cover of Lana Del Rey’s “Video Games”. When he performed it live, he said, “My favorite thing about this song is knowing that by singing it I make you all picture me in a sundress.” I practically jumped up and down when he said that because it told me that he gets it and isn’t just covering it because he likes it, but that he sees a wider implication in his choices.

Another example might be Tori Amos covering “I’m Not In Love”. As she said in an interview, people grew up in the 1970s and 80s slow-danced to this song, not really listening to the lyrics. She covered it to point out how the meaning of it changes when it’s sung by a woman. What opinions do we have about a woman who sings, “I’m not in love, so don’t forget it. It’s just a silly phase I’m going through, and just because I call you up, don’t get me wrong, don’t think you’ve got it made. I’m not in love, no no, it’s because…I like to see you, but then again, that doesn’t mean you mean that much to me.” How do we feel about her compared to how we might feel about a man singing the same thing.

And then there is the more obvious commentary of “Real Men”.

For me, aside from just wanting to tell good stories with characters that I like, I enjoy the challenging nature of writing away from expectations and exploring how changing the sex, gender, sexuality of characters changes the consequences of certain behaviors within relationships. As I said, this is only the tip of the iceberg, but it’s a nice fat tip. Enjoy it. (Heh. See what I did there? LOL!)

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4 thoughts on “Flipping Gender Changes Meaning — Examples

  1. I am such a big fan of yours, Leta! And I love when you write these kind of thoughtful posts about your process and your life. I am just wondering what you think about the about the idea of appropriation and fetishization–two things which m/m writers and their fans are often accused of. Apologies if you’ve already posted about this somewhere…

    1. Thank you, Hannah! I appreciate your readership! As for appropriation and fetishization, I try my best to write characters as human beings first and foremost, while educating myself continuously about various issues faced by the LGBT community. I’m a human being, too, and I’m sure I’ve made errors, but I try to always stick to writing humans (even if they are in absurd situations) and not kinks. I hope that makes sense! Thank you!

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