Michelle, ma belle, or, gays writing straights and vice versa

Michelle Miller had blond hair with bangs and she wore wire-framed glasses. She had a sweet smile and I thought she was beautiful.

I was 12. I met her in charm school. I am not making this up. My mother sent me to charm school, where we would learn how to ballroom dance and talk politely with people of the opposite sex. Ever watch Gossip Girl? Well, one of the things many people don’t know about me is that I was part of that world (well, 20 years earlier) through about eighth grade. I went to an all-boys school in New York City with some of the wealthiest, most powerful and connected kids on the planet.

Yeah, I know. What happened to me?

Anyway, Michelle. I met her at charm school and I was charmed by her. I wanted her to be my first girlfriend. I remember the feel of her hand in mine when we danced the first time, and I liked it.

I’d call her up and we’d have the most stilted conversations.

“Do you have a lot of homework?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Homework is the worst.”

“Yes, it is.”

“MTV just played the video for ‘Goodbye to You.’ Did you see it?”

“Yes, I did.”

“That’s a good song.”

“Yes, it is.”

I would have written conversation topics and lines to say on paper, and I’d fumble through them, and if they showed any interest in anything I said, or if the conversation lasted longer than a minute, I’d replay it all night in my mind.

And when it went particularly well, I’d sing this song to myself in bed, picturing us with our children, 20 years later.

I remember when I found out she liked the Quiet Riot song “Cum on Feel the Noise.” I went out and bought her the 45, and I went to her house on Madison Avenue and gave it to her. Her mom was so fancy! She allowed Michelle to come to the door, and she watched as Michelle took the record and thanked me. I’m not sure if I was invited in. I don’t remember.

I do remember getting a thank you note. “Dear Billy, Thank you for the record. I don’t have a record player, but I can hear the song on the radio!”

Oh well. I was not suave with the ladies at 12.

I bring this up because I am having so much trouble writing a character. He’s a heterosexual 17 year old, and he’s deeply in love/lust with a girl his age. I am pressing, I know. I have about six chapters done and notes on a bunch of others, and what I’ve written is strong, I think, but the actual writing is going slowly.

Last night, it dawned on me. I am having trouble because I’ve never been a heterosexual 17 year old boy. And it just doesn’t translate. Love and lust are the same, but everything else is different. The interior is different.

I have written heterosexual protagonists before, twice. But as I look back, I realize that I was successful both of those times because my characters were pre-adolescent or just at the start of adolescence. I can relate to those boys, because I had those feelings toward girls. I don’t know if it was sexual attraction, exactly, but I was girl crazy at 12 and 13. It just never went beyond that. So I don’t know how my 17 year old feels, really. I wish I did, but I don’t.

I’m now wondering if my character needs to be heterosexual. I’m not sure why I made him that way in the first place.

What do you think? Can straights write gay characters? Can gays write straight characters? I’d like to think that the simple answer is yes, but my situation gives me pause.

I’ve read some books in which women write from the point of view of gay men, and I think that for me, the results are mixed. Sometimes I buy it. The lustful feelings toward boys is something heterosexual females can tap into. But is there something missing in terms of authenticity?

What do you think?

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5 Responses to Michelle, ma belle, or, gays writing straights and vice versa

  1. Interesting. Don’t you think the teenage FEELINGS are the same, whether one is lusting after a boy or a girl or one is a boy or a girl? I mean, you’ve never been a parent yet you’ve written great parent characters. You’ve never been a best girlfriend and you’ve written an authentic best girlfriend character. Why is this any different? Can somebody who’s never murdered somebody get inside the head of a murderer to write an authentic character? (Yes.)

  2. bkonigsberg says:

    I understand what you’re saying on an intellectual level. Feelings are the same for straight and gay boys in almost every way. Obviously that’s true, and anyway people can write all sorts of things that they aren’t… that’s what makes fiction writing work. Yet on a practical level, I feel like something isn’t right with what I’m doing, and that’s the first possibility that jumps out at me. Am I sufficiently “inside” this character? I may be, the culprit may be something else. I just don’t know yet.

  3. M-E Girard says:

    Such an interesting question.
    My first thought: What exactly are you trying to write that’s kinda of coming out sluggishly? Personally, I only write queer girls, because I am one, and I like writing about romance and lust and in order to write that well, I have to feel it and have it turn me on–not like, sexually…which is how I made it sound, but just that it grabs me, I can be there and think, “Oh, that’s hot” and therefore, it’s authentic.
    I’ve also written hetero scenes which make me feel the same, but that’s because I place myself back to that age (that frame of mind) and remember when I was hetero (it came and went for a while) so again, I’m in that headspace. If you asked me to write a story of a 30-something hetero couple being in love, I’d probably fumble. ‘Cause I don’t really know what that feels like and I have zero interest in writing about it either…
    So, that begs the question: Why is your character straight? Does he have to be? Would he have more going on if he was all lusting over some other teenage dude?
    Maybe it boils down to feeling “meh” about your character/plot. It’s very hard to write a character/scene/whatever when you’re not into it and when you can’t tap into past feeling either to make it come to life.

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