authenticity and audience

I’m currently in the midst of having an almost-finished novel workshopped by my writers group. I have a character in the novel who even I can admit is kind of schmoopy. One of the members of my group called him emo and said that all of his internal monologue sounded like it was written by a woman.

This is fair criticism. I, obviously, have no first-hand experience with what the internal monologue inside a male brain sounds like, but I’ve read books that rang oddly to me, where it was obvious that it was a woman pulling the strings behind the male characters, and that lack of authenticity bothered me enough to pull me out of the story.

It’s making me self-conscious about the character I’m writing in my current work-in-progress, a man suffering from depression. He’s divorced, he’s stuck in a dead-end job, and just when he finds himself in a relationship that turns out to be a bright spot in his life, his ex-wife threatens to take custody of their daughter away. So life sucks for this guy, and he has a small breakdown. I worry that I’m not writing him masculine enough, that he will become, essentially a Chick with a Dick, a convention I am not a fan of, especially in m/m fiction, wherein one of the character is essentially a woman with boy parts.

I’m maybe especially self-conscious after reading this:

Certainly, [women] have a tendency to make gay love more romantic than it really is, assigning it the same emotional values of straight or Lesbian courtship. While a guy can readily get into wham-bam-thank-you-man sex for sex’s sake, and can get turned on by reading it, women tend to be turned on by mental involvement with which men wouldn’t be bothered in real time.

[…]

The transference of female emotions onto gay fictional characters may make gay men, in general, come across to women as better men than their straight male counterparts, if just because gay men, word-painted with the universal, albeit artificial guise, of being so often so truly kind, caring, loving, and considerate, have morphed into the female ideal of the perfect mate and lover. Is that a good or bad thing? I’m for anything that makes gayness more acceptable. If in the end, it’s a totally unrealistic way of seeing gay men, how many women are actually going to know they’re indulging in pure illusion?

My takeaway from this is that men portrayed as “truly kind, caring, loving, and considerate” (or, you know, sappy and emotional and sensitive and whatever else it is women are thought to look for in men) are not realistic, but if that’s what women are buying, it’s okay to write them that way. (“How many women are actually going to know?” I feel like this assumes all women live in some box in middle America where gay men fear to tread. It feels a little disingenuous for me to be all, “I have gay friends, I know what gay men are like!” because that sounds to me like, “I’m not a racist! I have a black friend!” but, on the other hand, I would hope that my gay friends fill me in when I’m portraying them in delusionally romantic ways. That’s neither here nor there, though.)

I don’t even know what to do with this. First there’s the gender essentialism (men like sex for sex’s sake, women like emotions, blah blah whatever). But say we buy into the notion that some emotions are feminine, I have the added problem of, generally speaking, finding beta men more attractive. I can certainly understand the appeal of the big, strong, alpha male, but I’m a sucker for a guy who is funny and caring and a little nerdy. Is that realistic? And what is romance if not fantasy? If I write a guy who is a little… feminine, is that still okay if that’s what my audience wants?

I’m still inclined to think that I’d rather get it right, that I’d rather write men who read masculine, who seem like men to my audience. Even fantasy requires plausibility; even if you’re writing about unicorns on Mars, they need to be depicted in a way that rings true to the reader, that seems reasonable and believable.