As far as sex goes I’m a male of the species. Gender I always took to mean the same thing but it seems in recent years it’s developed a broader definition. The always helpful Wikipedia has this to say on the subject:
GLAAD (formerly the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) makes a distinction between sex and gender in their most recent Media Reference Guide. Sex is "the classification of people as male or female" at birth, based on bodily characteristics such as chromosomes, hormones, internal reproductive organs, and genitalia. Gender identity is "one's internal, personal sense of being a man or woman (or a boy or a girl).
I mention this because in my latest book of short stories I have a fairly broad cast of characters including those of other ages, sex and gender and, of course, the question has to be asked: How can I write from the perspective of someone I don’t understand? And it’s true. I don’t understand women. Much as I enjoy their company and like looking at them I would be lying if I pretended for one minute that I understand them. And the same goes for gay people. I just don’t get what a man might find attractive in another man. But I also don’t get murderers irrespective of their sex or gender. How many crime novels are there out there written by actual murderers? I expect there are a few. Anne Perry’s one to save you googling it. But there won’t be many. Writers use their imaginations and readers use theirs and between the two groups everything usually comes together well enough because most readers won’t have committed murder either.
Sex is different. There’s a 50:50 chance that my readers will be female. 60:40 in favour of women some say but the point is that there will be people reading my book who are female and there will be people reading it who are gay and some will be both. They don’t have to use their imaginations; they know.
I mentioned at the start of this article that I’m a man. I should also mention that I’m an honorary woman (although not in the prison sense). Many years ago my wife and daughter presented me with the award and I have no problem telling people about it, in fact I’m quite proud of the fact. It was indicative of a certain level of acceptance; they no longer felt a need to either shield me from stuff or translate it for me. The award was made about the time I was writing the stories that are gathered in this collection and they were partly responsible.
I’m not, however, an honorary homosexual (although I suppose being an honorary women that might make me an honorary lesbian since I’m attracted to women). I only know a couple of guys who I know are gay and that’s only since I’ve been online and neither really talk a lot about being gay which is fine because I don’t talk a lot about being heterosexual. Actually you’d hardly know they were gay. And that really is the point. Because I started this article with a reference to my sex you’re quite happy to accept that I am male. I could be a woman pretending to be a guy. (Like that doesn’t happen online.) As soon as you find some indicator of the author’s sex you immediately view the writing differently. So when you open my book of stories and read the opening few lines of the first story ‘√-1’ you’ll ‘hear’ a male voice because the book was written by some bloke called Jim Murdoch and there aren’t many women out there called ‘Jim’. And you’d be right. My first story is narrated by a guy called Thomas. A taste:
It was not a nervous breakdown. Those were the six words he used but that was not what he meant. Six is one short of perfection. It is one short of the truth. At least that is what some people believe. It is what I once believed and beliefs are hard to shake. Since six equals the sum of its proper divisors—one, two and three—six is, ironically, the smallest perfect number depending, naturally, on what one means by perfection. Often we say things we do not mean or say one thing and mean something else entirely. The native Americans had it so right when they said the white man spoke with a forked tongue.
You could never be a model. You don’t have the figure, for one thing, the temperament (that’s obvious), the walk or the looks—certainly not the classic look—but apparently none of that bothers you and I find that in itself compelling. Like me, you're a bit on the stout side. I like to think of myself as cuddly so I guess that would make you cuddleable too. As long as we’re happy in our own skins that’s all that matters, eh?
Third story, ‘Funny Strange’. Again a first person narrative:
Oi, I’ve got a new joke fer you. This gnu walked into a bar… Gnu—get it? No? Suit yerself. I even got a laugh at the Glasga Empire wiv that one. Only a titter, mind. It surprised me they knew wot a bleedin’ gnu was. Mind you, that’s goin’ back a bit.
With some of the stories you know within a couple of sentences what the set-up is but there are a couple where I drag it out and you’re a few pages in before I reveal who’s talking. That’s a trick I learned from Beckett. He has a short story and it’s not until the very end we realise that it’s a female that’s been doing the talking all along. I like the way he makes us take everything we’ve just read and have to reassess it.
There was a time when white people thought black people were different, when males thought women were different, when the people thought the insane were different and, yes, there are differences but any one of them could be speaking here:
If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die? And if you wrong us shall we not revenge?
If you’d like to see how well I do slipping in and out of all these various personae feel free to pick up a copy of Making Sense. It’s available as a paperback from FV Books or as an ebook from Smashwords.