Can You Pronoun-Swap a Straight Female to a Gay Male?

I’m going to go out on a short limb here and say no. Let me be clear. No, no, hell no. Much has been made in the past week of Laura Harner, and her (alleged) plagiarism of works by Becky McGraw and Opal Carew. I know she’s all but admitted it, but I am a lawyer, so … I’m going to let authors far more eloquent than I give you the rundown of why plagiarism is wrong, but I want to touch on a separate subject that has been alluded to in the various pieces covering the topic.

What burns me, in addition to the blatant disrespect for the authors mentioned above, and anyone else who may be affected, is the presumption that flipping pronouns can turn a straight woman into a gay man. My head spins in disgust at the idea. I’ll spell it out so we’re all on the same page here. Straight women are not gay men. Hell, straight men are not gay men. Changing a “she” to a “he” does not a male make. Keeping “he” a “he” does not a gay male make. It is offensive on so many levels I may hurl split pea soup at the screen.

Romance writers create their characters from the ground up. As a fledgling romance author myself, I’ve written both straight romances and gay romances. My gay men are men. They are not women. They do not think like straight women. They do not think like gay women. They do not think like straight men. They think like gay men, with all of the problems attendant in our society that come with it. To assume, like Harner does (in her actions if not in her words), that gay men are nothing more than women with different equipment, is an insult to those of us who try to do them justice. We attempt to understand where they come from, the issues and prejudices in our society that they face, their own internal beliefs and struggles, and how they persevere in the face of that to find the love that they deserve. We do the same for f/f romance, and for straight romance, and for every sub-genre within. Building characters from the ground up means different struggles. You can’t find and replace, or copy and paste, those different struggles and think it works. It doesn’t.

In addition, romance readers are incredibly astute (claims from The Washington Post notwithstanding, which I refuse to link). As others have mentioned, Harner probably assumed that, because there is little overlap between those who favor m/f romance and those who favor m/m, her theft wouldn’t be discovered. She was wrong. I am one of those who reads both straight and gay romance, and I love them both (maybe it’s because I’m a Libra). I did not know about Becky McGraw before this incident, but I can guarantee I’ll read her now. I own Opal Carew’s Riding Steele, which Harner is accused of plagiarizing for her book Deuce Coop. If I’d purchased the latter, I would have recognized the former, and I would have reached out to Ms. Carew about it. It’s a dangerous game to play, and one she lost.

Finally, I’m sorry for gay men everywhere. I’m sorry that, in a culture that already demeans and disparages them, that took until 2015 to decide that they have a fundamental right to marry, that deal with people who use their religious beliefs as an excuse to deny them that fundamental right, and are supported by presidential hopefuls in that denial, that someone who should support them, should strive to show their world in a way that is uplifting, has chosen instead to treat them cavalierly. Don’t they get enough of that already? Did they really need this add-on? I think not.

This is not how I intended to start blogging, but I guess real life gets in the way sometimes. I think my rage has been expunged. Tomorrow I’ll tell you a little bit about myself and what the heck I’m doing here in the blogosphere. Until then, be safe and Happy Halloween!

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