On December 6th, I submitted an entry to Teresa Frohock’s “Gender Bending Contest.” The Contest hosted a number of authors, each writing under an assumed name (or no name at all). The audience then tried to guess the author’s gender.
I am known for my hard-bitten military action novels, complete with muscle-bound, gun-toting protagonists, giant explosions and enough tough guy talk to fill a TV Tropes page. I think most folks would agree that it’s pretty easy to tell I’m a guy from my writing. Right? Maybe not.
For the contest, I wrote a regency romance scene.
Under the name Alice Leakey, I wrote a piece about a young girl in 18th C. Boston, mooning over a ship’s lieutenant who jilts her for her older sister. I titled it “The Education of Rebecca Cavendish.”
100 people submitted guesses.
Roughly 50% of them thought I was female.
About two years ago, I started asking romance editors who the great male romance writers were. The near uniform answer was, “Apart from the rare Nicholas Sparks’ of the world, the very few men who write romance do so under female pseudonyms. The audience is almost entirely female, and they simply won’t accept a male romance author.”
Now, this is hardly scientific, but I think the above sampling suggest that readers can’t tell the gender of the author by the writing.
Men fall in love. Men have sex. Men desire companionship.
Men like romance.
Assuming that only females read romance is wrong. It implies that men aren’t interested in the topic. We are.
Assuming that female readers won’t accept an openly male romance writer is wrong. It doesn’t give them the credit they deserve.
Assuming that males can’t write good romance is wrong. The reality is that most people can’t tell the gender of the author from the writing.
Early female SF/F writers used gender-ambiguous or male pseudonyms to sell their work. We look back at those days now and cringe. We know it was wrong.
And it’s wrong to tell male romance writers that they must use female pseudonyms.
Romance editors: Adjust fire.