This past week we had another case in mmlandia of an author who faked a gay male identity for years. This deception was perpetuated in interviews, he had a body double do a book signing, he blogged about being gaybashed, coming out, and even posted photographs in interviews of a guy that was supposedly him …
Over the years this author developed a reputation for insisting on the superiority of male authors in the M/M genre and disparaged female authors “for trying to “cash in” on gay romance.”
By now, many of us have read A.J. Llewellyn’s “apology.” Oddly enough, this blog post focused on his pain at being exposed by a fellow writer and avoided any real remorse. Stories have been circulating on the Internet for a while about AJ not being a gay male, so the dastardly deed of the big “reveal” could have been done before by any number of people. Though acknowledging he had been dishonest, he expressed only sorrow at discovery and complained of the distress it had caused him and, in particular, castigated the person who revealed the truth. With much wringing of hands, he confessed “reluctantly” that the stress of exposure had made him even consider suicide. His fans proved quick to forgive and rail against the person who had told the truth; other readers expressed shock, dismay and confusion at the tone in his blog post.
Could AJ not just have said in his post “I lied,” “mea culpa”, and expressed the hope his fans and colleagues would forgive his deception? He co-opted a gay man’s identity to give himself authority and his books authenticity as a writer in this genre. In retrospect, his insincerity and condescension are unbelievable. His fake identity became a kind of sexy Kevlar vest, winning attention and deflecting any criticism, and he regularly attacked reviewers and readers who dared to question his authority as a gay man.
Many female authors who write gay romances are honest, work hard at their craft, and they write wonderful books. We know that the majority of writers in this genre are women, and yet a percentage of female authors often feel compelled to use ambiguous pen names for reasons of marketing as well as privacy. Before anyone suggests that I’m bothered by authorial pseudonyms, I wrote a post a year ago about author pen names and I’m linking it here if you haven’t seen it. In that post my main point was that authors have every right to use pen names. At issue here is not AJ’s use of an alias, but the way he used it to mislead others behind the shield of a fake identity.
The toxic backlash this week arose from Llewellyn’s misrepresentation of identity and fabrication of life experiences. He lectured, scolded, and dismissed criticism of his work based on his “gay male” experience. One commenter on his “Coming Clean” post, Tina, said this much better than I could:
“I don’t care about your gender. What I do care about are the interviews and articles where you claimed to be a gay man. You spoke about life as a gay man, which you are not. You lied about life experience as a gay man, which you are not. You claimed to be a gay man and gave life experience about sexual exploits and coming out experience. You also said you were better than female authors writing m/m, because you were a gay male. You approached your fans, the public & specifically the GLBT community as a gay male. Even if you identify as male, you don’t have the gay male life experience you so publicly claimed to have. Let’s not minimize this. It is not just a case of lying about gender.“
Another reader, Angela, had this to say about the post-confessional love fest on AJ’s blog:
It’s one big love-fest. Is there no one questioning the ‘real life’ instances of bullying you described. Bullying endured because you were supposedly a gay man? That’s one hell of a marketing tool. Just imagine all the gay men who read about your experiences and could empathise. And now it’s all a big fat lie. But then again, this blog post is all about your pain. Why think of others YOU might have hurt?
No one expects authors to use their real names but at least we expect them to respect the community they write about. So what if A.J. Llewellyn doesn’t have a penis?! News flash – half of the world population doesn’t have one either and we manage to survive without our very own dangly bits. This author has been writing in the M/M genre for about four and a half years so he has had to maintain this fake identity for at least that length of time; I’m sure the weight on his conscience must have been terrible.
This little scandal will die down soon and all will be forgiven, but it will leave a bad taste in the mouths of a few readers and fans of the author. Authors’ personal lives are their own business and no one gives a flying f**k what they do in real life, but it seems clear that AJ never intended to come clean that he is not, in fact, a gay man. The genre has been around long enough for female authors to recognize that fans accept that women can write M/M books that are as good as those written by gay men, with a few caveats. As Sean Kennedy and M. Jules Aedin said in a post on this site sometime ago:
….sometimes we aren’t portrayed realistically in GLBTQ books and media. Sometimes our lives are caricatured, or our struggles simplified or overlooked. Let’s be honest; it’s not all gay bashing and getting thrown out of our parents’ homes. There are subtler forms of homophobia and oppression that often don’t get portrayed in the genre, many of them from people who consider themselves to be helping.
It’s difficult to know the full extent of discrimination against disadvantaged and marginalized groups unless you live it and I have a deep appreciation for GBLTQ issues because I’m also a member of a minority. As Rick R. Reed said in an essay about Writing About Real Gay Men which I have linked -
As a gay man, I can tell you that I—or close friends—have personally wrestled with such issues as homophobia, HIV, drug abuse, promiscuity, job discrimination, hate crimes, the inability to marry the person we love, and many other things that occupy today’s headlines.
By pretending to be gay, AJ trivialized these real experiences so that his books could be viewed as being credible and authentic. He described coming out, being bashed, and wrestling with imaginary hardships; as a writer, that’s irresponsible, but as a human being it’s unconscionable and does a disservice to real GBLTQ persons struggling with these issues. AJ’s fans will forgive him for this deception because he is extremely popular and all will be well in his world, but neither he nor they seem to understand why this kind of deception has a greater impact or larger consequences than his bottom line. The saddest thing is the thought that younger fans may feel betrayed or misled. Bullying against gay teens is on the rise again, with more GBLTQ kids at risk for suicide every day. It is vital that they have authentic role models. Gay kids are kicked out of their homes regularly by their parents because of their sexual orientation and they try to find heroes in their larger community. When their heroes fail them that’s yet another blow they have to weather at a time when they can least sustain the shock.
I’m going to borrow from Sean Kennedy again. When he heard about AJ’s outing he posted a picture on Twitter of a couple of singers known as Milli Vanilli, who were faking it in Hollywood in the late 1980s and early 1990s and even won a Grammy for their debut album. Fans found out later they were models lip synching their vocals. At the time their producers admitted to hiring male models who could “front” the album for marketing purposes. AJ’s imaginary life as a gay man served much the same function: a slick, calculated, marketing package intended to deceive.
I think what most upset me about this whole debacle is how many authors and fans shrugged this deception off as if it were of no consequence. This is not about pen names – very few people online use their real names. This is about an author who deliberately for 4 1/2 years appropriated the suffering of a marginalized group of people to make money off them, to sidestep criticism, and to openly denigrate female writers, many of whom are now defending him. Lots of authors use ambiguous pseuds, but most of them do not pretend to be gay men.
Some of Llewellyn’s more vehement fans denounced anyone still expecting remorse. AJ and his supporters have used words like “witch hunt” and “lynch mob” and “revenge” to describe the dismay and confusion of disappointed voices within the community. Yet, revenge doesn’t start in a vacuum. A lynch mob acts without discussion or rational analysis, and witch hunts can only take place when an innocent person is accused of an imaginary wrong. His “pitchfork-carrying” detractors have presented more than sufficient evidence and analysis. AJ is not innocent and the wrong is real.
Much of the anger concentrates on AJ’s hypocrisy and his lack of regret. He doesn’t seem to grasp his own role in provoking people’s dismay and disgust. He gives the impression of being incapable of taking full responsibility for some rotten behaviour and doesn’t appear to be interested in making real amends, if such a thing were possible. The larger GBLTQ literary community has been slow to accept gay romance and this fallout will not do M/M any favours in that quarter.
Obviously things in M/M are changing and more revelations are sure to emerge…… Hopefully we can all learn from the past misdeeds of one author and the forgiveness offered by the community.
Out of respect for the trans* community I have changed the pronouns in this post to the masculine gender when referring to AJ Llewellyn.