A response to “Josh Lanyon”

[UPDATE 10:20 am 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.

Again, I think of Jonathan Franzen’s Purity. Man, there are some passages in there I cannot read for long, page after page of two people tearing each other to shreds because they know each other that well. Yeah, I get that there are times you do not want that.

All the same – I don’t read a lot of M/M, and that’s because I do want my characters to feel real. I improve as a writer by reading books like Franzen’s, by feeling my amazement at his talent, my jealousy at his economic ability to spend years on a single book (what could I accomplish if I had enough money to do that…), my admiration at his creating a 550 page book that sucks you in on page one and ruins your life for days. And he can write about loneliness, awkwardness, jealousy, oh shit everything.

And being a man is no guarantee you can write man-on-man, because it’s no guarantee that you can write at all. Most people can’t write for shit. Not every flower is special. I championed Kora Knight when she started out, precisely because her characters speak like actual human beings, and her men experience sex and do sexy talk the way actual gay men do. She’s really, really good at it.

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.

Now, there are two things that upset me about this. Number one, which is the least upsetting. There are only a handful of actual men writing in this genre – maybe less, as we found out the other day. I’m one of them. I’ve “verified my identity,” in Facebook speak, by doing podcasts and videos and outing myself under my legal name.

And not only are there are very few gay men who write these books, but very few who read them, often because they ARE looking for reality, verisimilitude, they are looking for their own lives in fiction in which they are the stars. They come in to this virtual bookstore and say, “I am a gay guy and I want to read a book by a gay guy.”

This is one of the recent reviews for my book, Given the Circumstances, from a gay guy:

“I thought there was something different about this book! I don’t usually pay much attention to authors’ names (wrong, I know!) Normally when reading M/M romances I skip right through the sex parts. This time, though, I found myself actually reading and enjoying them. When I looked again at the author I realised why. For once, man on man sex scenes written by a man (who surely knows what it’s like!)”

“Josh’s” name could lure a gay man into buying a book that promised that authentic voice. Or that could lure a potential writer into thinking that this man had the first hand experience to author a guide to writing an M/M book.

And what happens to us actual male writers when that gay man discovers that he’s not reading a man’s book? You say it shouldn’t matter. It doesn’t matter that it “shouldn’t” matter, the fact is that it does matter. “Oh, that genre, it’s all women pretending to be men.” And there goes a potentially lucrative audience for gay male authors… This is not about feelings or opinions – this is about a direct economic impact to gay male writers.

Was it necessary for “Josh” to use a male name, to infer maleness? No, this is not a “George Eliot” situation. This is not a woman writing about the human condition who has to masquerade as a man to get published because only men get published. There is no secret committee of men preventing women from writing about gay men’s sex lives. The overwhelming majority of writers in this genre are women, and if they don’t want to identify as such, they use initials. But the biggest names, the ones making serious bank, are openly female – Mary Calmes, Amy Lane, Kindle Alexander (two women, but still, women).

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.”

Okay. So for those of you who have read this far, and appreciated my reasoned tone.

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?

What was the reasoning for claiming maleness if the readers and writers of “this genre” have always been women?

I’m just floored. I get it, that when you’re attacked, you counter attack. But the…the what? The gall? The arrogance? The insensitivity? The tone deafness? The rudeness? All of the above? To say that men “don’t understand” the man-on-man genre.

Recently there was a scandal in the world of poetry. An old white man who couldn’t get his poem published under his real name, resubmitted it under an Asian woman’s name…and after half as many rejections, got it accepted. Why? Because within the name, with no other available data, was the presumption, on the part of the acceptor, that this was written from the viewpoint of an Asian female. Should it have mattered? Certainly not. Did it matter? Did it assist this author in getting published? Yep.

I hate shit storms. They aren’t productive. But it was reading that last bit on her blog that set me off. Telling me I “don’t understand” the genre. Me, the gay man.

And you know what? Maybe I don’t. Maybe that’s why I’m second tier, financially. (Third tier, some months.)

But I’m playing a long game. I’m playing a game for a day when the readership of novels with gay men in them is not narrow, because the content speaks to everyone. Because people will “get over” the gay sexin’ bits and read a novel because it’s good. Because the characters are real, the dialogue is real, the voice of research and experience draws them in and overwhelms whatever squeamishness they may have about the gayness. Which, given recent surveys of teenage sexuality and how flexibly they identify themselves, is going to be pretty damn soon.

And I’ll be there. Me, Brad Vance, aka Orland Outland.

I get reinvention. “Orland’s” literary career died a slow ugly death. But then, three years ago, I was able to become “Brad,” a new person, funnier, bolder, sexier, more confident, a phoenix from the flames. And I hid “Orland” because I had a day job where it might not have been so great to be known for writing, you know, “Luke’s Brutal Abduction.” (It’s not that brutal, he pays for the experience – but, you know, marketing!)

But I was Brad. That old pic of me with my shirt off and my hat pulled down, that was me, albeit in the literal and figurative shadows. I never led anybody on.

And maybe I’m a genre of one. Maybe I’m not part of “this genre…from a different literary tradition.” Maybe I don’t want to be part of that style of writing. I want to write (well, excepting werewolves) real people with real feelings. From imagination, and from experience, and from empathy.

If you “don’t understand” that, well, as the great Kurt Vonnegut said, So It Goes…

[EDIT 10/11/15 – Since people are still coming in some numbers to read this post, I would appreciate it if you would also read the followup/conclusion to my thoughts on this matter on the next day’s post: https://bradvanceerotica.wordpress.com/2015/09/21/bradzilla-has-left-the-building/

Thank you.]

39 Comments on A response to “Josh Lanyon”

  1. 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. Great post, Brad!

  2. You said far better than I some of what I was thinking regarding this. I had it worse though – I had people who would have known otherwise telling me that “Josh” was a man and that I had to take all “his” advice if I wanted to succeed as a writer in the m/m genre.

  3. Wait, what?? You just rocked my world! Say it ain’t so! I feel betrayed. I loved ‘his’ books! And I loved them cause they were coming from the voice of a man. It was authentic. I thought it was. I’m a woman who has been reading gay romance/erotica and gay faction for years. I agree it shouldn’t matter the sex of the author if the characters are authentic. Yet, over time I find myself gravitating and searching for M/M books written specifically by men. There are things that a lot of women writers do that turn me off at times(not all, but most of the authors I’ve come across). There’s times when I’m reading and wonder ‘are these really two men, cause I feel like I’m reading about two women’. I’m sorry if I don’t like my sex scenes overwrought with emotional metaphors. And if I see the term ‘delicious friction’ one more time! There’s more instances, but we don’t have all night. Of course, those are my own hang ups and dislikes as a reader. As a woman, I can’t presume to know how men think, but even I know there are some things men don’t think, do, or say whether they’re gay, straight, bi or whatever and to see that in a story often turns me off. There are women writers of M/M stories who don’t fall into those tropes, “Josh Lanyon” being one of them, apparently. But why deceive your readers at all? Sorry for my rant. Funny enough, I’m currently in the middle of rereading Fair Game.

  4. Saying the genre isn’t for gay men is seriously messed up. WTF? Yes, most readers and writers are women but I also know plenty of gay men who read them. I have a couple gay friends that like the same kind of books as I do and we refer novels to each other.

    Personally, I prefer m/m books written by men because the voice just seems more authentic. It’s not easy to write for a group you aren’t a part of. I’m not saying it can’t be done it’s just damn hard.

    I haven’t read Kora Knight’s work because I’m not into BDSM. A few of my favorite authors are: T.J. Klune, Dan Skinner, Chris O’Guinn and John Wiltshire. Just to name a few I can think of.

    I don’t use my real name because there are dozens of authors with my married and maiden name. I chose a pen name as not to be confused with any of the other writers but anyone who knows me knows my real name.

  5. 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.

    • Thanks 😉

    • I love her books. I have more than 15 of her books in my kindle. She’s an awesome writer and knows how to write her characters. Not gonna stop buying her books, or Brad’s or Riley Hart’s or any other writer be they male or female and know how to pen good characters in a m/m story.

  6. 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,

  7. Oh…by the way, is it true that Sean Michael is a woman?
    The goodreads page says: male

    And on the 9th Sept. Kindle Alexander posted on facebook that she identifys as a gay man.

    • I have no idea… 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.

  8. Female reader of (among other things) M/M. I think representation—real representation—is important. Maybe it’s because I come from SF/F where women taking men’s names has a longer tradition, but I seriously didn’t think about the implications of it in gay romance. I should have.

    I’m not in favor of someone asserting a group identity they don’t have and using it in ways to present themselves as an authority over that group’s own members.

    You’re already on my TBR pile, and thanks for the rec for Kora Knight.

    • Thanks 😉 yes I’m a big fan of CJ Cherryh and Sherri Tepper, and I grew up with Ursula K LeGuin books. 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…

  9. Ulysses Dietz // September 20, 2015 at 6:21 pm // Reply

    Thanks. I’ve been around this a lot in various places – which is how your blog came to my attention. I’ve bought “GIven the Circumstances” because of this – and discovered an auther I need to get to know better.

  10. I am a bit disturbed because of the last author’s convention (can’t remember the proper title), one writer took his photo with Josh and post4ed the photo on FB and the person in the photo was a man. I am confused now

  11. Reblogged this on Ms C's Diversions and commented:
    Important to read, I think. Exceptionally well written response to “Josh Lanyon” from Brad Vance, a M/M writer who really is a gay man.

  12. sacollins-author // September 21, 2015 at 3:11 am // Reply

    Couldn’t agree with you more on this. But I suppose you knew in the farthest reaches of your mind that I was there nodding to you in the background somewhere. 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… And the reviews of “powerful writing…” with “brought me to tears…” has never failed to floor me when I’ve picked up the bloody thing and being constantly disappointed in what actually made it to the page. That’s when I knew I didn’t write any of that- I can’t. So thanks for posting that. From the very beginning I knew my investment in you as a writer and as a friend (?) has been worthy of that investment. You have never ceased to amaze and inspire me to be the best that I can in what I do. I write about us as we are because they come from countless stories shared with me through the years by my gay brothers. I can’t ignore the power those voices bring in me in my works. I refuse to cede my literary house of gay lit fic that was there for me as a young boy. I am a gay man who has strong romantic threads in my works but I don’t write m/because nothing could be further from our truth. Bravo, sir. Well done, you.

  13. Regarding the following argument: “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:”

    Josh has claimed to be a man before. Here is a screenshot of JL’s website in 2008: http://imgur.com/e63j2JN Not only is there a picture of a man, but the bio describes him as living with “his” partner. If that doesn’t show that JL was deceiving people into believing she was not just a man, but a gay male, I don’t know what does.

  14. Beverley Jansen // September 22, 2015 at 11:38 am // Reply

    This is one of the blog posts about this furore over JL. I was not bothered by it as I didn’t read her post and I already assumed she was female. I didn’t feel deceived as I enjoyed her books and didn’t investigate further. However, appropriating the m/m genre for women only is ridiculous. I have an author pen name, but my aim is to write about real people for real people. Also I truly believe that the more LGBTQ+ romances there are, the more people will get over being freaked out by differences that shouldn’t concern them in the first case. Gay men who can write should be writing and gay men should be reading m/m romances, as well as everyone else that is the point.

  15. 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.

    (and oh yeah – the very fact that anyone thinks that an arrogant, self-loathing little poseur like Jonathan Franzen is worth a buck of warm spit instantly puts him beyond the pale. A friend of mine knew him back in college and said that his ambition was to be a New York literatteur because he hated being a Midwestern bourgeois so much. I’ll take Josh Lanyon or whatever her real name is any day over that)

  16. “But it was reading that last bit on her blog that set me off. Telling me I “don’t understand” the genre. Me, the gay man. And you know what? Maybe I don’t. Maybe that’s why I’m second tier, financially. (Third tier, some months.)”
    It’s clear to everyone that the male pen name is a marketing strategy or deception if you want and it worked. She doesn’t write in a particularly female voice if not a an authentic male one. but you’re spinning her words here. No where is she saying you don’t understand the genre but as you stated most readers of this genre are female. It’s the reason why it’s marketable. There is no discrimination here it’s simply supply and demand. I think she distinguishes mm romance and gay literature in her book. Either way they’re different products now.

    • Another Kat on here. 🙋 LOL!

      There were times when reading some of her books I would think “I feel like a woman wrote this”. But then I would remember I was reading Josh Lanyon and he’s probably following some of the clichéd constructs of m/m romance. Low and behold, it was a woman and it showed sometimes in her characters from my perspective.

      • I thought it was just me. I must have been living under a rock, as I only discovered this revelation today. Not big on social media, but wow. I actually stopped buying her books because some of the situations she put her characters in just didn’t fit from a male perspective. My mind knew what my eyes could not show me.

  17. Arlene Rosenberg // October 3, 2015 at 2:10 pm // Reply

    Mr Vance, I came to MM late in my reading history. I enjoy it very much, and I never got into fan-fiction. That just seems like plagarism to me using someone else’s characters.I generally try to seek out male writers because like what you said above, I do want to know how men feel,think,etc.sure there are great female writers out there but to lie about who you are really pisses me off. I come from a background when authors appeared on the back cover.

    Thanks for your comments and I love your books.Thanks

  18. “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.”
    – That’s the reason I bought “Man Oh Man: Writing Quality M/M Fiction”. I’m so late to the party… I just found out today. I think I’m in a bit off a shock… I loved Josh Lanyon’s books – love the characters and the plot! A woman can write a quality M/M genre fic by doing research, but the way JL wrote it sounded like “Research is good, but I’ll help you and give you a What Men Are and What They Do 101 in this book, no problem.”

    I’m still gonna read the books, though, coz they’re pretty good. I guess it’s just a shock to me.

  19. Here’s a quote from a round table discussion Lanyon did in 2009 you might find interesting:

    “I don’t have a problem with women writing gay fiction — any more than I would have a problem with a man writing about women — or a black guy writing about a white guy. It’s fiction. It is not biography, and it is not meant to be biography. If anything, fiction should be better than real life, and a writer should be pushing him/herself — and the reader — beyond their accepted boundaries. You don’t do this (usually) by writing about your own backyard. Granted, you may have a jungle out there and it could be worth writing about. That’s pretty much my answer for my male colleagues who resent the influx of women writers into the genre formerly known as gay romance. Sometimes the most accurate portrayal of the truth — whatever that truth may be — comes from those observing rather than those living.”

    I knew her as D.L. Browne/Diana Killian long before I made the connection to her Lanyon pen name four years ago, and the gay male persona bothered me enough that I searched back through some old cyber haunts she used to frequent and let’s just say her credibility suffered. Alot. As I told someone privately after the reveal, I think the years of on-going deception showed a huge blind spot when it came to furthering her own career versus genuinely respecting the LGBTQ community and her reader’s trust. In my opinion she used gender bias to rationalize her deceptive marketing decisions when there were other options open to her, and I don’t feel questioning her choices means I’m misogynistic or intolerant like she said. Just this heterosexual woman’s 2 cents now that the kerfuffle is over and dead.

  20. Michael Carr // November 5, 2016 at 10:51 pm // Reply

    As a now former fan late to the game on this, the reveal of deception is such a letdown. It’s like being lured into an online relationship with someone who has created and advanced a false identity, for their own purposes and agenda. As good as s/he (and I can’t even believe we’re applying that here with a newly opened can of worms, so to speak), the deceit feels like a violation. While the genre is somewhat thin in substance, it is an escape that I sometimes enjoy as a guilty pleasure. And like my sexuality in real life, I just don’t want women in my literary bedroom. It’s “my” choice, and when I choose to purchase books entertaining subjects of interest, I expect the authors to be honest in their portrayals, personally and professionally. This akin to meeting a man online, and discovering that “he” is a woman over a duration of time in establishing a relationship. It is an utterly disturbing betrayal, and I think worthy of litigation, if only to prevent this fraud from being perpetrated upon us in the future.

  21. tardisonameter // November 19, 2016 at 7:48 am // Reply

    I can’t believe I only just found out about Josh Lanyon’s real identity. Maybe I’m just gullible but I never thought to question the gender of the author. I still don’t quite know what to think of it, but as you said, “It shouldn’t matter, but it does.”
    As a bisexual woman and an aspiring LGBT author, I can’t help but feel a little betrayed by an author whose books I have always considered to be something like my Holy Grail of M/M literature. I had truly wanted to read the author’s guide to M/M writing and I was excited about advice from “a gay man who writes about gay men”. Now, I’m not so sure I want to read it after all. While she might have more experience when it comes to writing, since I found out she is a woman herself, I suddenly don’t value her input on the thematic as much as I did.
    This in no way means I don’t enjoy M/M books by female authors – I do, very much – but it’s simply a difference whether you know it’s make-believe or you think you’re reading authentic writing that comes from first-hand experience.
    I will definitely give YOUR books a try, good sir!

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