Today on the site I’m delighted to welcome Lissa Reed, author of the Sucre Coeur series (which you can see from the cover of the digital box set that releases February 12 I happen to be quite the fan of), to talk about one of queer lit’s hottest topics: writing from a male POV when you yourself are not male. It’s a complicated question, and one that doesn’t have easy answers, and here to discuss it with honesty and nuance is Lissa Reed:
“Write what you know.”
A common mantra. Writers hear it all the time.
“Write what you know.”
I know baking. I know anxiety. I know emotional post-traumatic stress disorder.
“Write what you know.”
I know that I don’t want to write about these things from a female perspective.
When I first began writing what would become the Sucre Coeur trilogy, I identified—however reluctantly—as female, and one who had a lot to process. I was a few years out of a very toxic relationship and still coping with the damage it had inflicted on me. And I was ready to be done with it, or as done as I could be, at least; some things, I knew, would be with me for way longer than I would want them to be, and there was nothing I could do about that.
But all the imaginary confrontations? The emotional conflict? My reconciling myself with my anxiety? I could do something with those, I could cough them up and out and try to make sense of them: I could write them. All of them. Get them all out.
As long as I didn’t write them from a female perspective.
I’d been drawn to writing from a male perspective for years, and truly enjoyed doing so, even as it baffled many of my friends. “But… why?” they would ask, perplexed. “You’re not a guy.”
I know now, of course, what I didn’t know then, that I identify as non-binary, that I do not adhere to labels at either end of the gender spectrum. And I think subconsciously, that had at least a little something to do with it, the voice of that stifled part of me trying to speak up. But that wasn’t all of it, or even most of it.
As someone then identifying as a woman, I could not write about being an abused, traumatized woman. I would never have been able to get all of my anger and distress out if the form it was taking wasn’t at least slightly removed from my own. I needed that step back, that distance. The character who was going to carry my issues couldn’t be me, or anything that resembled me, and at the time, the sharpest line I could draw between myself and my fictional counterpart was to make them male.
Alex Scheff, the romantic interest in Sucre Coeur 1: Definitely, Maybe, Yours, is not like me in a dozen other ways that go beyond gender—I’m not a professional photographer. I am not a college graduate. My parents are not lawyers. I’m not from Seattle. I’m not a lanky, freckled, skinny-jeans-wearing hipster with an unruly shock of hair and a frighteningly boisterous Russian-German-American family.
But Alex carries my emotional trauma, the way I flailed through an abusive relationship without knowing I was also dealing with a severe case of undiagnosed anxiety. Every panicked thing he does, every bad decision he makes in Definitely, Maybe, Yours, every time he takes two steps forward only to hustle one step ass-over-teakettle back – all of these were things I knew, so I wrote about them, and because this character was not me, I was able to write my way out of them.
If I had been writing a female character, she would have become me, and I would have just been mired in all of the darkness once again. Instead, Alex became a movie screen for me, a way to view everything that had happened through someone else’s eyes. And as I was writing him through his darkness, he was guiding me through the last stretch of mine.
So Definitely is of course an extremely personal book for me, even though I’ve otherwise never lived anything like it. No hot British baker has ever wooed me with cookies, my own closest cousin is not a thing like the dizzy, meddling mess that is Samantha. I’m not as close with any of my exes as Craig is with his. I am definitely not a dog person, no matter how adorable Yorkies are. And all of the people in that book are in and out of each other’s houses without so much as texting beforehand! In my circle of friends, that’s punishable by death.
But in every other way, I wrote what I knew – in a roundabout way.
Lissa Reed is a queer, non-binary (she/they) writer of ﬁction, blogs, and bawdy Renaissance song parodies. She traces her early interest in writing back to elementary school, when a teacher gifted her with her ﬁrst composition book and told her to fill it with words. After experimenting with print journalism, Reed shifted her writing focus to romance and literary ﬁction and never looked back. She lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
Sucre Coeur, her culinary romance trilogy about a circle of friends and lovers in a Seattle bakery, will be released as a digital boxed set on February 12.
Sucre Coeur on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/43383568-sucre-coeur