I’m reading a book right now I thought was almost perfect. It’s a YA novel, written by a fairly well known author who has been on the NYT bestseller list, published by a large publisher. And it’s about a troubled teenage girl who starts a friendship with a sensitive Female To Male transgender, but doesn’t know this in the beginning and has to learn how to cope with it. All good stuff!!
The book is well-written. It deals with a difficult subject that isn’t often written about. But last night while I was reading and getting close to the end, one line ruined the entire book for me. And this one line was spoken by a throw-away character who means nothing to the storyline and the entire thing could have been avoided if the author had known what he/she was doing. I’m not mentioning names or titles with this post. I may in the future. But not now. Mainly because I see this happen so often.
In one scene, the teenage girl is hiding out in a hospital room because her transgender friend is in serious condition and she wants to make sure nothing bad happens to him in the hospital because he’s a transgender. I had a small problem with this part because hospitals are professional places and I find it hard to believe anyone working in a hospital would do anything to harm a patient on purpose. But it could happen. Anything could happen. And this isn’t what ruined the book for me.
What ruined the book was when a male nurse disovered the teenage girl hiding behind a chair and the male nurse said something to the effect of, “Hey, girlfriend. What are you doing there?” Of course I’ve paraphrased this. But he did refer to the teenage girl as girlfriend, as if he were about to double snap his fingers. Evidently, the author was trying to show us the male nurse is gay in a way that is far too obvious, often insulting, and way off base when it comes to what most gay men are like in real life. Especially professionals, like male nurses. And I can promise you without a doubt, you’ll never hear me refer to anyone as girlfriend, babydoll, sweetie, or hon.
Now, I know there are gay men who double snap their fingers and refer to everyone as girlfriend, babydoll, and sweetie with a strong lisp and a limp wrist. We all know them. Carson Kressley does it all the time. And there’s nothing wrong with this. I have good friends who are effeminate. But what I don’t know are any gay male nurses who refer to people as girlfriend and double snap their fingers. I don’t know any professional gay men who speak this way, not in the public or private sector. If anything, most of the gay male nurses I know work hard to fight against this stereotype every day of their lives.
In other words, writing about effeminate gay men works if it’s relevent to the storyline. The effeminate male nurse in this book would have worked if the author had explained he was one of those atypical effeminate gay nurses. And it could have been done well, too. But if it comes out of nowhere, just for the sake of showing that a character is gay with an effeminate stereotype, I have a problem with this in LGBT fiction. It tells me the author is faking it, it tells me the author doesn’t have much personal experience with professional gay men, and it tells me the stereotypes are still there and well known authors and large publishers don’t give a damn what the LGBT community thinks.
So whatever you do, if you are a new author writing LGBT fiction, please don’t make all your professional gay male characters effeminate unless they are supposed to be that way and it’s within the context of the storyline. We (gay men) aren’t all this way, especially male nurses, male teachers, and gay men working in corporate America. The fact that the gay dollar is so strong is proof that most gay men are, in fact, dignified professionals who are nothing like what we see on TV sitcoms or read about in novels like the one I’m talking about right now. And authors have a responsibility to get this right, especially when they’ve had a NYT bestseller and have a large publisher backing them.