An Open Letter To Jim Butcher

Mr. Butcher:

Sorry, I in no way feel comfortable calling you Jim. You probably don’t remember me but you commented on my old blog once when I openly pondered about your process when writing Harry Dresden. I didn’t expect a response from you, but I got a paragraph back with good advice, summed up with “So what I’m trying to say is: don’t strangle yourself.” It’s good advice and I’ve tried to stick to it. I’m starting with this because this is an entry that’s taken a while for me to work up the bravery to write. I don’t expect a response, but once I hit that “Publish” button it’s pretty much out there and we all know the internet is forever, or at least until long after we’re dead.

So here goes.

Apology not accepted.

God, that was hard to write. I mean, you’re Jim Butcher. Fame aside, you’re my primary influence. You’re the reason I write urban fantasy, I’ve read all of the Dresden Files, I even wrote my master’s thesis partially on your work. I’ll admit that my discovery of you was a little less than innocent, as I started reading your work to try to get into a guy’s pants, but after I was five books in I forgot about that guy anyway. Hell, to this day I still don’t remember his name, but I remember going home for Thanksgiving break and starting on Storm Front and knowing that this was the kind of writing I wanted to do. So I don’t want you to think in any way that I hate you now or that I’ll be spreading idiotic vitriol all over the internet.

But yeah, this is about Cold Days. And the Magic Hedge scene. I’ll say this first as a writer: God, that scene was so forced. You know the part I’m talking about. And we both know why you wrote it.

Okay, my reaction probably wasn’t like other gay readers who might’ve approached you at cons about it. We’re talking about the scene that started all this, by the way, when Harry went into Thomas’s apartment and acted like a flaming queen to throw off the cops? Yeah, that one. My reaction? “What… what the… Oh god… Really, Harry? Really? That’s how you see us? Really?” I wasn’t mad, just… disappointed. I want to believe that Harry knows that all gays are not flouncing flitty fey folk, and that just because Thomas is playing up the gay hairdresser stereotype to get his fix, it doesn’t mean that if Thomas had a lover said boy toy would be working a double bill at a drag show. Thing is, the series is first person, we’re in Harry’s head, and a throwaway sentence about Harry thinking he’ll play up an inaccurate stereotype to throw them off the scent would’ve prevented all of this.

But to be honest, Mr. Butcher, I’d pretty much forgotten about it until Cold Days.

And then I get almost a full page of Harry telling me why he’s totally cool with gay people. I get it. This was killing two birds with one stone. Harry makes it known to the reader that he’s not a homophobe, and in turn you do the same. It was an apology, of sorts. I think I covered my feelings on that apology.

But here’s the thing, I don’t think you’re a homophobe. I think you’re a straight guy. Straight guys really don’t know what it’s like to be gay guys, because, well, you’re straight. You know how to be friends with us, that’s for certain, and for a geeky or nerdy gay guy, you’d make a hell of a fag stag, I’m sure. But maybe it’s media, maybe it’s geography, maybe it’s an age thing, but straight guys still tend to see us in certain ways. And as a gay guy, it’s occasionally my job to take a straight guy to the curb, sit him down, and tell him how that could’ve gone better.

So I’m going to tell you a little story. When I was in undergrad I took an English course called “Theories of Diverse Sexuality”, but everyone just called it Queer Theory. The professor was Dr. Curtin, and the day I remember best in that class was a day she showed us photos from the Maplethorpe exhibit, particularly one that was a black man in a cheap suit with his penis hanging out, which was the only indicator of his race. The point of the image, we were told at least, is that black men for the longest time were seen as simply that: walking penises, threats to the masculinity of straight white men. I bring this up because it’s one of the things that gay men and black men have in common: we’re viewed as lecherous men who only think about what’s going to get us laid first and everything else second.

So, knowing that, I’m hoping you’re beginning to see the issue with Harry saying he’s totally okay with gay people at the Magic Hedge. Mr. Butcher, I might also add this is the first time gay men have ever appeared on your stage, was in that apology scene, in a place gay men hook up for anonymous and often unprotected sex.  Jim? Really? That’s how you see us still? There are a dozen ways you could’ve done that scene. He could’ve done it at a public garden that’s not used for hooking up, or a greenhouse, or maybe a lakeshore, or anywhere else, and perhaps two guys dressed in plainclothes walk by hand in hand, and the Summer Queen sees and ask Harry’s opinion. Sure, the scene would still feel forced as hell, but it wouldn’t be as disappointing.

Now, I don’t want you to think I’m asking you to write a gay character into the Dresden Files. In fact, I’d rather you didn’t, because god, tokenism. The fact that gay men aren’t heroes in urban fantasy is the entire reason that I write urban fantasy myself, because I want a hero too, you know? So I don’t want another apology scene, or a plucky gay wizard or werewolf or whatever popping on the scene in the next Dresden Files. You inadvertently stepped into a little bit of a quagmire and the more you try to pull out of it, the worse it’ll get until, well, you want to strangle yourself. And well, don’t strangle yourself. We’re still cool.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s go write some stories, huh?


Vaughn R. Demont


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4 responses to “An Open Letter To Jim Butcher

  1. Interesting post and points – I remember flinching during that scene, but to be honest, I let it wash over me. Why? Because I do know many gay men who – for no apparent reason – on coming out of college suddenly go all ‘gay lisp’ and effeminate.

    Now – this is nothing against effeminate men (straight OR gay ones!) but there is an affectation that some people develop in the mistaken belief they have to do it to fit in – although the UK gay scene in the 1990s was a horrible, insular place – if I had to rely on the so called ‘gay community’ back then I’d probably have thrown myself down the stairs; all back-stabbing, bitch-whispering horror. So saying – I made very few (but very GOOD) friends at that time, people who put being a person ahead of being gay.

    I think that it was far too easy for Butcher to be exposed to that type of self-enforced stereotype – and his subsequent ‘look Harry’s fine with it’ in the later story didn’t help, as shoe-horned as it was.

    Let’s be honest – people of all shapes, sizes, colours, attitudes and horrors exist on the gay scene, then and now. For a place that should pride itself on supporting and protecting people who are ‘gay like us’ – you have to remember that they are just that; people, and they’re going to be a fair number of vile asshats in with the solid gold wonderpeoples.

    Butcher did something lazy, and his way to fix it was a bit cringeworthy – but there’s ways past and through this, and you’ve suggested the best way forward – just having a gay character. Emphasis on character, not gay!

    (Y’see, this is why I don’t write, because my points wind round and round, and I’m sure I’ve bitten myself on my arse…)

    • Honestly, I don’t want a gay character in the Dresden Files, mostly because it’ll either smack of tokenism, or it’ll just feel… awkward. I think it’s the whole Rule 35 thing: I couldn’t find a gay protagonist in urban fantasy, so I felt it was my job to write one. I’m certainly not doing it at Butcher’s level, but it feels good that I put it out there. 🙂

    • Chris Shaffer

      “Because I do know many gay men who – for no apparent reason – on coming out of college suddenly go all ‘gay lisp’ and effeminate.”

      I actually happen to know the reason why this generally happens (based on observations and anecdotal evidence). Aside from the few people who think you’re supposed to act like that (and there are always a few), usually the gay men who suddenly become effeminate and lisp-y actually aren’t ‘becoming’ anything. They were like that all along deep down, but experiences growing up taught them to hide and repress it (often subconsciously). But by the time they get out of college, they tend to be more comfortable with themselves and their sexuality and also don’t have to worry as much about being thrown out by disapproving parents or abused and bullied at school. So usually, if a gay man seemingly becomes the stereotype, it’s not that they’re deliberately embodying the stereotype but they feel they’ve gotten to a place where it’s safe dropping the masculine facade they’ve put up as a defense mechanism.

      The More You Know

      • I can honestly say that’s bullshit, as someone who is gay. Nearly everyone I know who is gay (and that’s a lot of people, considering I am part of several gaming communities with a majority of gamers who are gay) has a normal accent and way of talking. Most people who have that lisp had it beforehand, or picked it up emulating what they believe to be how gay people talk.

        So please, “The More You Know.”

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