Why Aren’t We Past This?

I am taking a needed break from Facebook, right now. I was spending time on there I should have been using for writing. I think I might go back after the election season is over. I’m . . . so very, very done with it.

And I have been writing. I re-visited my “B Is for Bard” story from last NaNoWriMo and came up with an Actual Ending™, toward which I am now writing. I’m trying to end my Fairy Tale Private Eye story. I’m idea-wrangling several other stories, as well as my newly redesignated first novel in the PCIU Case Files series. (It was formerly known as the second novel, but the previous first one needed to be third, so two is now one and three is two.1)

I’ve also been reading and making progress in a couple of books I’d been neglecting.

And I’ve been listening to podcasts. I have a crap-ton of them on my iPod, including a new-to-me writing-oriented one called The Creative Penn, hosted by Joanna Penn. I mentioned it before (here). Since then, I’ve heard a few more, and it’s definitely a keeper.

This morning, on the way to work, I was listening to Joanna interview James Chartrand, creator of Men With Pens, which made Michael Stelzner’s list of “Top 10 Blogs for Writers” for 2009/2010.

Now, “James Chartrand” is a pseudonym. “James” is actually a woman. He “came out of the closet,” as it were, in December of 2009. After about three years of being successful and presenting a male persona to the Internet.

Go read that blog post that explains why Chartrand chose that pseudonym, then come back here. It’s a very enlightening read.

<hold muzak>

Done? Good.

There are a few things that I just don’t get. Why does it matter whether someone is male or female when it comes to writing? Chartrand said that she would often submit the same ideas as her real name and as James, and they’d be accepted and even praised as James, but not as her real name.2

How is this still happening? Seriously, how is this still allowed to happen? Maybe I’m just naïve, but I thought things were better than this. I thought the writing was what mattered, not whether the author has breasts or a penis. No wonder so many female authors use just their initials! (J. F. Penn (Joanna Penn, herself), J. K. Rowling, C. J. Cherryh, V. C. Andrews, P. D. James, A. C. Crispin, A. J. Orde, E. E. Horlak, B. J. Oliphant (the last three are all Sherri S. Tepper), D. C. Fontana, J. D. Robb, K. A. Applegate, C. S. Friedman, S. E. Hinton . . . the list goes ever on.)

But aside from that, one other thing surprises me a lot about this particular “outing.” After Chartrand was revealed to be female, her male fans/clients/readers took it pretty much in stride. But the women . . .

She said in the interview that by far the worst reactions came from women. For instance, this blog post by Amanda Hess. Not to say she’s/they’re not somewhat justified, if what Hess says in her blog is accurate. She does make it sound like Chartrand went too far in her pursuit of coming across as masculine, going as far as to do to other women what had been done to her, and that is inexcusable.

My point is that it shouldn’t matter. Honestly, I find myself looking for male characters in science fiction and fantasy because I can identify with them more, but I don’t let that stop me from enjoying female main characters. In the urban fantasy subgenre, it’s mostly female main characters, and I’m fine with that.

Men writing female main characters or women writing male main characters . . . it’s all part of what we learn to do as writers: Writing the Other.3 If we didn’t learn to do that, all our characters would be just like ourselves. I would only have middle-aged, upper-middle-class white male characters with no hair, a cat, and a southern accent. Jim Butcher would never be able to carry off Murphy, Molly, Mab, the Leanansidhe, or Susan, all of whom are wonderful characters. J. K. Rowling’s main character was not only male, he was substantially younger than she. But Harry rang true to me, as did Hermione, Ron, Draco, Dumbledore, Hagrid, Molly, Tonks, and the other 300 characters she brought to life.

Just because she has ovaries doesn’t make her unable to write about a male character. And just because Butcher has testicles doesn’t make his female characters any less believable.

It’s what writers do.

The funny part of all this is . . . I have considered using G. D. Henderson as a “pen name” just for that ambiguity. Precisely because the lion’s share of urban fantasy authors are female, and to fit into the genre, it might actually be best (Jim Butcher, Stefan Petrucha, D. B. Jackson (a pseudonym for David B. Coe), James R. Tuck, and Simon R. Greene (among others) notwithstanding) for me to be ambiguously gendered.

And that’s just . . . weird.

I guess there’s a lot more work left to go before people stop injecting prejudice into everything. If you don’t read a book or blog because of the gender — or race, religion, sexual orientation, or anything else — of the author, you’re missing out on some great writing.


  1. Third base!
  2. I had a boss back when I worked at a steel mill in Alabama. This particular boss started out having morning meetings where he would talk to all four of his department of computer programmers equally: me, another man, and two women. Then slowly, over a few weeks/months, he scooted his chair more and more into the room until he was sitting in front of the two women, talking only to me and the other man. Rather than calling him on it, we decided to ram it down his throat. “Sue” (not her real name) made a suggestion, one morning (from behind him), and he hated it. Shot it down as no good and unworkable. Later, “Joe” (not his real name, either) suggested exactly the same thing . . . and our boss loved the suggestion. Couldn’t praise it enough. Then Sue called him on it. He turned red, left the room, and didn’t say a word to any of us about it.
  3. Google that phrase. Seriously.

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