Reviews by Jessewave

The Male/Male adult themed romance book archive

Faking It

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.

UPDATE

Out of respect for the trans* community I have changed the pronouns in this post to the masculine gender when referring to AJ Llewellyn.

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports - especially baseball

116 comments

  • I am not personally invested in this. I’ve never read any of AJ’s articles or stories, aside from the one written for the anthology this summer for GoodReads MMR group.

    I admit to posting on AJ’s blog before I found out what the “real” furor was about – the public persona and not the gender identity. What I said at the time was “The rest doesn’t matter.”

    I debated posting this. I debated taking that statement back. But after writing this post for more than an hour now, I’ve realized that I was right in the first place.

    We are each responsible for our own personal mental health. Every one of us.

    Think about that.

    Several have railed about the responsibility that AJ had to others for his public persona. What about others’ own responsibility for their investiture in his public persona? I agree that duplicity is irresponsible because we KNOW that others over the Internet will take us at our word for lack of evidence to the contrary. BUT, the rest of us should know to take such things with a grain of salt.

    I do NOT believe that AJ set out at the time to create this monstrosity of an issue. And it is human nature to want to protect ourselves. Hindsight 20/20 and all that.

    Do others feel duped? Sure. Do they have a right to demand an apology? No.

    Unless he’s a sociopath (and no, I don’t believe that), I’m sure there is not one of us who could be harder on AJ for his choices than he is on himself at this time. I sincerely doubt that he wouldn’t be remorseful if those choices resulted in someone else’s pain.

    AJ has made an apology on his blog. Some believe it insincere and wish to denounce it – that is their choice, though I find it distasteful for them to say so, particularly with any venom. If it bothers you so, step away from the situation entirely; divest yourself from it. That’s the best course of action.

  • I honestly hope this blog doesn’t turn into a Dear Author… Enough of this gossiping. If AJ’s stories are good (which I don’t know, I just never read any), they are still good stories, no matter what she does or what kind of a person she is. How many celebrities claim being bullied or sexually assaulted just to sell more books? it’s bad taste and yeah, trivialises real victims suffering, but so are witch hunting and outing people.

    And I still watch Roman Polanski’s films. It’s about their works.

  • Wave, thank you for this post. I read AJ’s apology post yesterday and just thought it sucked that (s)he would have been exposed that way. I admit to not being a fan, having only read one book I didn’t care for. Still, I was sympathetic to his/her situation. (I don’t have the slightest clue which pronoun to use here!)

    What changed my mind and disturbs me so greatly about the situation is to learn that this author denigrated women writers as being somehow inferior to the men, all while being a woman herself. And that is what I know you’re upset about. (Not the genderfuck, because, frankly, who cares? I know we share some absolute favorite characters [Ty & Zane, Matt & Jared, Jake & Tor, etc] who have been penned by women. And outing supposedly-male writers as female is tired in 2011.) In my mind, it is those deliberate and calculated attacks on the women writers for which the author should be held accountable. The rest is just distraction.

    I’m not sure how this will play out in the general scheme of things, but it doesn’t make me any more or less interested in buying AJ Llewellyn books than my one experience reading one did.

    • Hi Buda

      Thank you for commenting.

      Dissing your colleagues is surely a great way to make friends. However many authors are supporting Aj and I applaud them for doing that.

      I guess the bottom line is if someone was a fan of this author before this happened he/she will continue to be a fan.

      As for the pronoun, I have been using “she” and “her” but I’m sure someone will correct me if I’m wrong.

  • Wave, thank you for a clear, thoughtful, rational, well-written post. I feel you made it plain it was AJ’s actions you found reprehensible, not his/her gender or his/her pseudonym. I applaud both your courage and your restraint.

    • Thanks Kiracee. I’m glad I made it clear that I was talking about AJ’s actions not the fact that she used a pseud. Very few authors in this genre write under their own names and I consider that either courageous or foolhardy. :)

  • This has been a very interesting discussion to read. With a lot of good points being made. What ever people’s ultimate opinion, whether it is that it’s his/her buisness and nothing else matters, or that he/she put her/his self out their so it is and she/he has a responsibility to the greater community. Whether it should just be about the quality of the work or a personality contest, the bottum line is that in buisness people vote with there money whatever the critiria happens to be. People buy stuff all the time with motives whether concously or not that have nothing to do with the actual quality of the product that’s just the way it is. People get feelings about certain brands or publishers (or authors) and what those brands represent to people and why they buy or don’t buy them says more about them and their values and the underlying social currents then it does about those brands or wheather they are good brands or bad brands.
    there are a lot of different issues floating around in these discusions and how strongly you feel about them personaly would of course influence where you come down on the issue at large. Gay issues, Transgender issues, issues of privacy, issues of integrity, issues of exploitation, issues of vissibility. People will vote with there credit cards and we will get to see whether people really care or not based on the money.
    Me personally? Here’s where i fall, I give my whole hearted support to AJ in the search for a personal identity whatever it may be and i will let him/her know that in an appropriate way. Will I buy His/her books? No, the only tangible way i can disaprove of this type of marketing is to not reward it with my money.

    • Hi Charmed

      Very balanced response. As you said, there are many issues being discussed, some of which I didn’t expect.

      Your main point that people should vote with their wallets is an excellent one.

      I hope that AJ finds what s/he is looking for in terms of a personal identity.

      Thank you for commenting.

  • Wave, I agree 100% with kiracee.

    I have read the various threads about this controvsary and the main thing that disturbs me is the vitrolic response to people’s opinions, especially on the Goodreads threads.

    I don’t personally care wrote a story as long as it’s good and holds my attention. However, when I read non-fiction I expect it to be non-fiction, not fiction. If you use a pen name and use another gender, fine. I can get behind it. If you fabricate a life and downgrade others, I cannot get behind that and I’ll choose not to buy your books. End of problem.

    But I am very disturbed by the viciousness of some the opinions. State your opinion, like Wave did, but don’t bash others for their opinions.

  • The actions of this author were unprofessional and inappropriate. Thank you Wave for fighting for professional standards. Yes, Hollywood and Sports have already given up this fight too,with a “shrug shoulders” response.

    As a person concerned with Mental Health, I would like to say that speaking of suicide is not the response of a healthy stress response. Speaking of suicide thoughts is not to assume the deed. Whether a statement of depression or a method of attention seeking, it IS an indication of pain and a problematic behavioral response system.
    I hope he gets the objective support he needs to grow through this.

    I am one of those people who would prefer NOT to know the personal life of my entertainment. It is much easier for me to objectify their product that way. LOL Yeah, I would walk out and embarrass my family before I would watch a Roman Polanski film. I also Cheer LOUDLY when Ben Roethlisberger is intercepted. So I’m not perfect, but I can laugh at myself and have some drop of objectivity.

    • Hi Reggie

      Thanks for commenting.

      As a person concerned with Mental Health, I would like to say that speaking of suicide is not the response of a healthy stress response. Speaking of suicide thoughts is not to assume the deed. Whether a statement of depression or a method of attention seeking, it IS an indication of pain and a problematic behavioral response system.
      I hope he gets the objective support he needs to grow through this.

      I hope that she does too.

      You don’t like Roman Polanski? :)

  • Because I’ll be away for the weekend I will have to cut off the comments since I don’t want to return on Sunday and find 100 comments.

    I will try to respond to the comments that are here now.

    Thanks Guys for weighing in. I promise no posts from me for at least another 3 weeks.

Comments are closed.

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