Is Male/Male Romance Fundamentally About Men?

Most of you remember Stuart who, some years ago, questioned many of the constructs and tropes used by male/male authors in their novels.  I used his questions as the basis for a few articles which were so popular that the hits keep coming even today. We reconnected a few weeks ago and after a lot of persuasion and bribes  😀 Stuart agreed to become a reviewer and guest contributor for the site. I’m really happy he decided to join us because his “voice” is like a breath of fresh air. This is his first post which as usual is hard-hitting, but also asks some valid questions that need to be posed. I hope you will comment after you read Stuart’s article.

Marcos Chaljub, 29, and Freddy Zambrano, 30. The first male couple in New York State to legally marry on July 25, 2011

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A few weeks ago my husband came home from work, tired, grimy, and horny from protecting and serving the people of New York City. Yeah, I married a cop and am living the dream. Seeing lustful gleams, crouching like wild beasts in his gold-flecked, hazel eyes, I gave myself completely to the demands of his love. Stripping, I looked into those masculine, yet profoundly tender, policeman’s eyes, and said, “Need.” He grunted unhappily, a bear disturbed while seeking a hive rich with man-honey, and said, “Stu, why have you suddenly stopped using pronouns? You always use pronouns.” (It’s true, proper syntax defines me as much as my improperly sinful body.) I hesitated for a second, a blush slowly spreading up from my sweaty chest to burnish my smooth cheeks. I knew this delicate pink, yet powerfully masculine, blush heightened my desirability and I would not be deterred from having him.

I pressed Mike down into the mattress. “Mine,” I growled…. “Mine,” I whined. But my beloved husband, my everything, pushed me away. “Stu, what the fuck, I hate when you act like this.” My chocolate brown eyes began to fill with unshed tears at his cruel rejection, and my delicate, kiss-swollen lips pursed in thought. I could talk with him… but I’m a man and we don’t solve problems by talking with each other. Should I angrily storm off without a word, slam the door, and go talk to my feisty, unattractive BFF? She’s always available to stop whatever she’s doing and take care of me. But I wanted to save the situation; my cock was hard and would stay hard until we had sex. It’s how men are. Did Mike need me to wiggle my butt? Perhaps some writhing might salvage the moment. No, I knew there was only one thing to do. “Need… need to mark you.” Then I bit him… bit him hard. My tousled, mahogany brown hair shadowing my face as I licked and sucked at the small wound. The slight, salty taste of his blood was sheer ambrosia and I moaned in ecstasy. Mike was mine, all mine now, everything was alright. We were two men, solving our problems through sex, like men do. Now Mike would fuck me through the mattress, crying out my name as he came. His orgasm would be a lightning bolt, perhaps a tsunami, I couldn’t be sure. My thick, black lashes hid my eyes, as they closed in anticipatory bliss. Suddenly, the carpet felt rough against the alabaster skin of my smooth, rounded, meaty ass! Mike had shoved me off the bed!!! “Goddamit, Stu, if you don’t stop reading those romance novels, I’m never going to plow your ass again… and don’t call it your entrance, it’s an ass.”

Like many gay men, my husband is not a fan of M/M romance. It’s probably my fault. When we’re side-by-side in bed perusing our iPads, I read unintentionally hilarious and/or insulting paragraphs from M/M fiction to him. Sometimes Mike will say, “Why do you read that Crappy McCrap?” If he really hates something, he’ll say, “That sucketh!” When Mike moves from faux Gaelic to pseudo-Elizabethan, an author should hang her head in shame, for she rideth the fail whale.

Despite Mike’s antipathy toward M/M romance, I don’t let him dissuade me from reading it. My love of the genre is rooted in personal history. Male/Male romance novels were integral to my coming out as a gay teen in 1979. Books by Patricia Nell Warren, Ensan Case, and Marion Zimmer Bradley helped me to name what I felt and provided positive models for gay relationships in a world where there was very little information. Without these authors (and forgotten others like B.A. Ecker & Ann Snyder), it would have been more difficult for me to accept that my sexuality was whole and good, not diseased, perverted, sinful, and broken. My indebtedness and gratitude to M/M authors is the foundation for the seriousness with which I approach the genre.

However, as the years pass and I continue to read M/M romance, I am increasingly ambivalent about the relationship between the expanding genre and gay male experience. How do I make sense of the relationship? Is it collaboration?… cooptation?… appropriation? Some combination of the three? While it’s amazing there are now so many books and authors, I am worried by the number of stories containing fundamental distortions in their depiction of the lives of contemporary gay and bisexual men.

I am frustrated, for example, when male couples are portrayed as very traditional Male/Female couples, complete with relationship dynamics from the 1950s. In many books, the couple is composed of different sized men: one ‘small, smooth, graceful, and beautiful;’ one ‘tall, hairy, muscled, and rugged’. Often the beautiful, smaller man is depicted as shy, requiring seduction by the more confident, larger man. Unsurprisingly, body type determines who gets fucked when the guys hit the sheets. (Hint: it’s usually not the big, hairy guy.)

I am also confused and annoyed by the body language many authors ascribe to gay men. From many M/M books, a reader might assume that gay men usually seduce one another via “hip swaying,” “butt wiggling” and other, odd, physical displays. Are gay men so different from our heterosexual brethren that we’ve developed a secret language based in ass shaking? And why do authors so often depict gay men as fascinated with each other’s lips? Lip-fascination is usually accompanied by descriptions of the resulting hot flush and/or erection that occur when one of the guys watches the other drink a beer or eat a spoonful of ice cream. And then there’s the disproportionate amount of sexual biting, bruising, hair pulling, and “marking,” in M/M romance. Why do so many authors believe that men want to give each other bruises as a sign of their love? I prefer a kiss (or, if it’s Chanukah, a new computer and 7 flashdrives).

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I am particularly baffled and irritated by the depiction of the penis in M/M fiction: ever-erect and leaking before the object of desire. At funerals, crime scenes, athletic competitions, political negotiations, business meetings or battlefields, no matter how inappropriate the location or situation, M/M protagonists are often written as captives to erect, twitching penises that need to be beaten into submission. This ridiculous penis destroys my ability to suspend disbelief, essential to the enjoyment of a romantic fantasy, and the story comes crashing down around me.

To be honest, unless I’m reviewing a book, I usually now skim or skip the sex scenes, few of them are integral to the plot or to character development. I sometimes wonder if authors who would otherwise omit an unnecessary sex scene from an excellent book, feel compelled to include one or more because increased sales depend upon it.

Other reviewers and columnists have posted at length about the problems with Instalove, Gay For You, the Big Misunderstanding, and the inability of gay couples in M/M fiction to sit down and discuss their problems rationally. Rather than duplicate their work, I point to it as further, multiple examples of the way many authors seem indifferent to the lives of gay and bisexual men.

So what’s a gay man to do when reading fiction that regularly portrays contemporary gay men in deeply distorted and troubling ways? I understand we’re talking about fiction. I understand we’re talking about a type of fiction based in exaggeration and fantasy. I understand I don’t have to buy it if I don’t like it. (Although sometimes it’s difficult to know what you’re going to get from the blurb.) Should I dismiss M/M fiction as lowbrow, escapist trash and have no expectations of the genre? I can’t do that because there are so many wonderful authors writing so many wonderful books. But what about the others: the generic works, so distorted in their portrayals of gay men that it’s difficult not to describe them as homophobic. These authors hope to make money from the sale of books showing little regard for my community and its history of agony and liberation? With the explosion in M/M publishing, has the percentage of works dominated by insulting distortions now reached a point where we can say the genre itself demeans gay/bisexual men? When gay men have suffered unimaginable brutality and worked with such diligence and sacrifice to create some safe space to love one another openly, I believe it is wrong when some authors reduce and distort our lives to a profit-making minstrel show primarily dedicated to serving up erotic satisfaction.

I increasingly question whether it’s beneficial to my married life and sense of self as a gay man to read so many constructions of same-sex sexuality that insult and demean my community. To ask the dreaded question: How many of these distortions are caused because the books are written by women and, in the end, imagination and research cannot substitute for lived experience? Is it fair to say that Male/Male fiction is a genre created by women, dominated by women and consumed by women? Wave told me in an email that “according to a survey on the site, about 25% of the writers in the genre are gay men, trans men and women, and genderqueer individuals.” Yet, I wonder how free these authors feel to step outside the conventions of M/M fiction and still have a reasonable expectation their books will sell. People often buy genre fiction because it fulfills an expectation that certain things will happen in a certain way. The great genre authors are the ones able to create new expectations within the genre or play with the existing conventions in new and thrilling ways. Often, however, authors with less imagination cannibalize the work of their more creative peers and a trope or motif that might have made sense in its original context spreads throughout the genre and becomes cliché. Is this what happened with all the biting and marking?

It is a long time since I was 16 and desperate for stories that might help me understand my terrified longing for the touch of another man, but I can’t help wondering what it’s like for teens today. Although they have access to the infinite resources of the internet and to communication and social networks unimaginable when I came out, a horribly large number still kill themselves even as a thankfully larger number discover the resources necessary to create self-acceptance and hope. I wonder how many of them go online and scroll through Amazon looking for a book to help them understand their lives and feelings. Do they download M/M fiction, hoping to find a representation of a life they might want to someday live? I hope they pick the right book because, frankly, some of what’s published today would only contribute to a young man’s despair. Should the authors and readers of M/M fiction feel any responsibility for these guys and, if so, how should it manifest?

And for the authors and my fellow readers, I have many questions. If M/M fiction is a genre dominated by the romantic and erotic needs and expectations of women, what is their responsibility to the gay/bisexual men they depict? Are contemporary gay lives just props used by some authors to lend realism to a spicy story fundamentally unconcerned with gay men? Should authors of M/M fiction feel any responsibility toward the vulnerable community to which they don’t belong but from which they hope to profit? What is the responsibility of readers?

It’s strange to be a gay man, yet feel on the margins of a creative community dedicated to the exploration and depiction of male/male love.

Author

I live with my husband and our boxer dog in the beautiful Hudson Valley. If only I loved nature as much as I love a good book!

90 comments

  • Stuart,

    First you made me laugh and then you made me think! You have started a great discussion that I wish many authors would pay attention to.

    I was never much for reading MF stories because I found a lot of the stories corny. But MM romance wins my appeal over MF because I love reading about two men falling in love. But I do wish writers would avoid some of the pitfalls you mention, corny dialogue, ridic sex scenes, stereotyping, etc.

    My approach in reading this genre has been to read a mix of M or F writers and read two books from each of them to learn about the author’s voice. I have to tell you that yes some authors treat their characters respectfully. But it’s a mixed bag. I have read many MM romances written by gay men were the characters were very stereotypical and the language was corny and the sex scenes exaggerated. So, I don’t know, are these writers writing for their mostly F audience and giving them what they think they want or what? As a female reader I find this sometimes confusing and disappointing. I mean I want gay authors to give me a peek at their reality not a peek to what they think I want to see. So in a sense I feel they are perpetuating the situation.

    I have also found books written by M and F authors that I found to be believable stories and I know this is a topic of contention but a lot of it I consider “gay fiction” vrs “MM romance”. If I had a 16yo looking for stories that would help him deal with his feelings I would direct him to those before I have him explore any MM romance books out there.

    It’s tough I think because like Andrew says, there is a little bit of everything out there so some of what we think are stereotypes may be real to someone. But the stereotyping comes when we think that’s how it “generally” is. But I think there is one thing writers could get easily and that is get more real with their dialogue. I mean when I read MM or MF I think is this something I would say to my husband when we are having sex or is this something he would say to me? If it doesn’t ring true to you the it probably doesn’t ring true to others.

    Reply
  • Or you know, I could have noticed Jeff Erno’s post before I posted since he said most of what I said much better. 🙂

    One question that has occurred to me before and I thought of again reading Jeff’s post is this: what does it mean to write a male character who is really a female character with pronouns changed? Chick with a dick or whatever? I kind of think that might be something that everyone sees differently too. I feel like this when male characters spend a lot of time mulling over their feelings and talking them out with each other. The men in my life are not like this. 🙂 But I have a friend whose husband does exactly this. He is the one who says “we have to talk” and draws her out and figures out what is going on behind the surface feelings and all that. She tries to hide out when it gets too probing. So is that just a stereotype of mine?

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    • Of course I am sure people may have different ideas of what does it mean when they talk about these characters. For me it is NOT that men cannot talk and discuss things or that men cannot be weak or emotional or needy. Of course they can be! It is precisely that – if I can change names and see that the character is a woman, that’s what it means for me. I can not even pinpoint one quality – it is the totality of circumstances. I have for example zero problem with men crying in romances – as far as I am concerned men are human brings too and allowed to get upset and sometimes a lot. But sometimes writer will take it to sch over the top degree that I just can’t deal – because no, I do not think that crying on every page is a male personality trait. characters who look different – no problem at all, but add to it the characters never ever ever switching roles in bed and I will get annoyed – no I am not saying that women are passive in bed . Omg of course not, but if you remember get historicals of the 80 -90s woman often is passive in bed. I am sure not in all of then since I left het behind me fr many years and only recently had been reading some of it again . Basically if I ha e a déjà vu when I am reading about the character and think this what damsel in distress from those books looked like – I cannot deal then.

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      • (Oops; I put this in the wrong place. I hope my deletion request works.)

        Sirius, I have a theory! I think CWDs are men who act like traditional M/F heroines rather than acting like women. That fits both my example and yours. Normal women don’t cry on every page or emote constantly or exude neediness – that is traditional women in romances.

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        • Charming this is pretty much what I meant thank you :). Heroines of traditional het romances – of course they often have very little in common with real women , but they are called women so I cannot call them anything else 🙂

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  • The most interesting thing to me about this post is that it echoes so strongly what feminists, including me, have often felt about straight romance books. The women are so bland, too stupid to live, and waiting for a man to come rescue them from their boring and annoying existence. The men are all big gruff alpha males, like that is what every woman wants. The sex is fabulous, with multiple orgasms, from the deflowering onward.

    Honestly, I rarely read M/F anymore. When I do, I read reviews and carefully select books that won’t annoy me with their gender portrayals. But I am not as contemptuous of the tastes of others as I used to be either. Reading for pleasure is a good in itself I think. If big taciturn moguls rescuing feisty virginal secretaries turns your crank, who am I to squash your pleasure?

    I would also take issue with the idea that romance ought to “get things right.” That is what literature is for: to reflect the human reality where life’s a bitch and then you die. Romance isn’t like that, and (IMO) it shouldn’t be. We read romance because we want two people to find love with each other and have a happy ending. As Josh Lanyon puts it: we don’t want characters who are realistic; we want characters who are relatable. I would add that we don’t want stories and conversations and sex that are realistic either. We want them to be relatable.

    I am a straight woman and won’t try to speak for young gay males trying to come to terms with their sexuality. I would just say that women (and teenaged girls) are pretty familiar with being seen as sexual objects, who are expected to behave in ridiculous ways and achieve ludicrous levels of physical attractiveness. Honestly, we don’t wiggle our butts or have red gleaming lips or thick black eyelashes either – not without training or effort anyway. Some women can’t stand that stuff, and others revel in it and really don’t need my bluestocking disapproval of their being different from me.

    So maybe it is OK if there are a variety of portrayals of gay men out there, even if some are unrealistic and even insulting to some people? Maybe gay literature can be realistic and leave M/M to be a warmer, more idealized alternative? Let a thousand flowers bloom and all that?

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  • Stuart,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This was a very interesting blog about a topic I’ve seen addressed numerous times from different angles. Actually, I think you raised several thought-provoking issues which could each be addressed at length in an exclusive blog. All the questions you asked were ones I’ve contemplated myself, and one in particular is important enough to me for me to take the time to respond. I don’t often participate in forum discussions because I tend to be more of an observer than a commenter. But I appreciate all you’ve said, so I will step forward and weigh in with my (humble) opinion.

    Concerning whether or not the characters and storylines in our m/m fiction resemble real-life gay men, I have to honestly say, “Yes, often.” And the reason that I say this so confidently is simply because we are a very diverse community.

    I loved the example you gave of your husband and you. It sounds to me that you’d be the perfect couple to inspire a wonderful m/m novel. Reading between the lines, I gather that neither of you are the type who swishes when he walks or is ever accused of being effeminate.

    However, I know dozens of wonderful, entertaining, loveable, talented, well-adjusted gay men who are emotional, effusive, overly-dramatic, and just outright “girlish”. Many of these softer types are attracted strictly to butch, rugged men. And there are plenty of masculine guys who are indeed attracted primarily to fem guys. And these relationships work wonderfully for them; it is a magnificent pairing—albeit one that does bear a striking resemblance to the 1950s traditional heterosexual model.

    Classical romance always consists of two primary character archetypes—the hero and the damsel in distress. Cinderella is enslaved and has a miserable existence. She’s overwhelmed with despair and hardship, until her Prince Charming comes and sweeps her away. They live HEA. Our contemporary romances (Pretty Woman, for example) are exactly like this. So why is it surprising to see this same model used in m/m romance? When the shy, nerdy boy with low self-esteem falls for the big, larger-than-life, jock hero, and they live happily ever after, this is just a variation of Cinderella.

    Of course not all readers will like the same types of stories. Some will find these sappy, formulaic, feel-good stories too-good-to-be-true. Some will abhor the vulnerable protagonist, labeling him weak and girly. Some gay men will even be offended or annoyed by such portrayals. But there will also be many who love these stories. I happen to be one of these readers. These are my favorite tropes.

    I don’t think that asking if m/m romance is all about men is a deep enough question, because there are so many different types of men. There are so many different gay men—some very masculine and rugged (like police officers) and others very flamboyant. And many are a wonderful mixture that falls right in-between. And that’s what I love about m/m. It contains all of these characters.

    Thanks again for a truly well-written blog. And I loved your mention of the list of authors from years past. I recognized them all.

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    • Hi Jeff, thanks for the reply. You remember B.A. Ecker?! That’s great. Do you still have your copy of Independence Day? I wish I had mine, stayed up all night reading it. Do you remember Ruth Turk’s More than Friends from 1980? I’d probably be horrified if I reread that today.

      Would Mike and I make a good story? Intrepid psychotherapist falls in love with NYC police detective, marriage follows. Sounds good to me!

      I appreciate the diversity of gender performance in M/M fiction. I don’t need everyone to be “masculine,” whatever that means, I just want them to be alive as characters. In Haley Walsh’s Skyler Foxe mysteries, for example, the main character is neither big nor masculine and his boyfriend is both. They’re good books because the characters aren’t stereotypes, they’re people. They’re not defined by their gender performance. For me, I guess it’s the difference between watching Mad Men and Father Knows Best. They both depict the late 50s – early 60s, but one is complex and one is not. Even a top/bottom relationship modeled on the 50s is going to have all sorts of interesting nuances to explore that makes the characters richly human.

      As for fairytales, I like them in their original form where there is real loss and struggle attached to the achievement of the HEA. Cinderella just isn’t swept away by her Prince, she flees from him and hides from him and many others lose their toes and sight before the HEA. I’m not talking angst or sentimentality but suffering and real feeling.

      Whatever their form of gender performance, we have endured a lot to get where we are. Any other community: First Nations, Jewish, African-American would probably be far less sanguine than we are about having our lives carelessly used to sell e-books.

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      • Stuart,
        LOL! You inspired me to go back and look for Independence Day. I found a used copy on Amazon for $3.42. I used to save every single book I read until they took over my home, then I donated all of them or gave them away. Of course, now 99% of what I read is on my Kindle.

        And I guess I was exaggerating when I said I recognized all the authors you listed because I don’t think I read the Ruth Turk book.

        It was so different back then. We didn’t have the Internet, and finding any fiction with gay characters was an absolute thrill. I love the fact that we are at a point now where we have so many choices that we can argue over how to categorize them.

        And I also love that m/m has a broader audience, appealing to young people, straight women, gay men, lesbians, and all the stripes of the rainbow flag.

        We can have these debates, and I think it’s healthy. But it truly warms my heart to realize that the gay youth of today have a lot more resources. Sure, some of the stories are unrealistic and even silly, but just being able to read about gay protagonists is a very gratifying and affirming thing for a kid discovering who he is.

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  • I’ve been away from here due to lack of time, but I’m glad to be back to read this. Stuart, thanks so much for taking the time to write it. This is a topic that needs to be discussed and this an excellent article to start doing so.
    There must be a balance between fantasy and reality in romance. An author has some responsibility in what he or she puts out there, but also, there must be an element of fantasy for a book to be interesting enough to keep us reading until the end. It’s common sense, if it sounds fake and ridiculous, don’t put it on the page.
    Also, it’s a matter of taste. In the same way some of us can’t stand certain types of music, there are some types of M/M books that are not for every reader.
    However, do readers want reality? I had little experience dealing with them, since I only had a book out there, (my other work posted online before, never got negative feedback).
    This time around, I got some, because a few readers didn’t like the way I deal with a situation in the book. Specifically, I got a reader complaining about one of the character getting HIV because of the irresponsibility of his previous partner. She left a review on Goodreads asking how it was possible that I wrote guys going bareback without waiting to be tested for HIV first?
    I opened a discussion to explain why I did that. Basically, I did it, because it’s what the guys in my neck of the woods are doing. They don’t ask someone to go tested before going bareback, some don’t use condoms, and worse, the ones doing the riskier behavior are bisexual men who takes chances of being with other men when they get an opportunity of doing so, and later go home and have sex with their wives.
    Recently, I had a bitter argument with a friend’s husband. She doesn’t know he’s bi, but I guessed it and I’m worried by some of the things he’d been doing. So, I decided to talk with him about it. In the end we discussed things I would had rather left unsaid, but it shed light on a reality that is still going on. He works in the casino industry, and most of the employees at the overnight shift are basically having sex with one another without taking any precautions. It’s hard to believe, but it’s the truth. BTW, none of the bisexual men I know is flamboyant. Most wish they were 100% per cent heterosexual, but of course, we know that nature is stronger than our cultural chains.

    Now, remember why we read, it’s for entertainment and sometimes to evade reality. For example, I’m going through a very difficult situation right now, so at the end of the day when I don’t want to think anymore about it, I read, because while doing so, I’m immerse in a world different from my own. Last night I was reading a M/M book that wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either, and at the end I remember thinking – at least, I forgot about my situation for a couple of hours. So, even if I disagree with the way the author portrayed the characters, I got my goal of being entertained.

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  • I also found Patricia Nell Warren and Marion Zimmer Bradley at a critical time in my life and I agree with a lot of what you’ve written. It was only when reading this that I realized that I also skim over the sex scenes in some (many?) books and I agree it happens when the sex that pops up isn’t really necessary to advance the story.

    I am also troubled by descriptions of couples where size and body type determines the top and bottom. I’m always hoping for things to get more versatile in those cases but sadly it rarely happens.

    I’m also relying very heavily on reviews of M/M books these days. The description by the reviewer usually gives me some hints as to whether there are going to be things that bother me. But the reviews also clue me into whether the book is just about a developing romance or whether it is placing that romance in the world with all of its challenges for same-sex couples. If it’s the former, I don’t think the gender/orientation of the author matters. But if it’s the later, I agree with you that the author needs to have directly experienced the world as LGBT. I also recognize that these are broad generalizations and that other readers here will be able to point to examples that brake these statements. While those are exceptions I welcome and are grateful for, they are still exceptions in my experiences.

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    • I read the Heritage of Hastur and the Catch Trap locked in the basement, as if the secret police were going to arrest me if caught! I bought the Fancy Dancer while strolling around the bookstore with my girlfriend (as in woman I was dating). Before I left for college, I shredded my secret collection of gay novels and snuck the shreds out to the garbage under cover of darkness. What a sad old world it was.

      There are some books that break the size=role linkage. Love and Loyalty by Tere Michaels immediately comes to mind.

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      • I was working in a public library and found The Front Runner on the paperback racks while I was putting books away. The paperbacks were almost all het romances, so seeing a book cover with two guys on it quickly caught my attention and I also wondered why I hadn’t noticed it before. I was in college at the time but still living at home so when I did find one of the few books that were out there, it always “hidden” away – though I had so many books that it was a more of a hiding in plain sight.

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  • As a gay men, I can see the issues that Stuart pointed out in the M/M romance genre.

    I start reading M/M romance two years ago after I got a Kindle and so far have read about 600s M/M titles. I can think of a few major authors right away that had all the elements that Stuart mentioned in the post. Personally, I have no issue with the smaller/taller couple since I am a shorter guy who would love to have 6’2″-6’4″ man of my own. Some of the other stuffs I just chalked up as the couple’s kinks and preferences.

    However, it all comes down to, as Stuart had mentioned himself, on who are the actual market of the M/M romance genre. I love Cut & Run series and have join the fan forum on Goodreads. It turns out that there seems to be only 2-3 men in that group including me. So what does that imply… I would love to read the accurate portrayal of gay men but if the majority of M/M romance reader are women, then what can we do?

    Also, as much fun as some of these books are to read, they are still fictions. Hopefully these gay youths would not based all their hopes and dreams on these fictions. I mean I really hope no one would really believe they will find a shifter fated-mate.

    As much as society should be responsible in youth educations, the youth themselves have to also take personal responsibilities in choosing what they wants to really believed in. Hopefully they will be able to distinguish between the *high fantasy* base and the reality base novels.

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  • Outstanding parody…I think I’ve read that book and more than once.

    I agree with some of what you say and have shared some of your worries. As an older straight woman I came to the genre through Josh Lanyon’s writing and also the paranormal genre. I was worried at one time that I was treating the gay heroes as just another variety of cast members, but the reality of people’s live have thankfully educated me and I am now much more aware of the facts behind the fiction. This site and others have helped to educate me.

    I do feel that over the last year or so the quality of the genre has coarsened and that there are writers who do not have the care for their characters that was part of my original attraction to the genre. Your phrase ‘ cannibalise ‘ is very appropriate for some writer’ s attitudes.

    However then I remember outstanding work like The Irregulars or Gives Light and I feel a lot happier about everything.

    Great post, thank you.

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  • Last I checked (around 2001) about 35% of the women writers in the genre fell somewhere within the QUILTBAG, as opposed to about 5% of the general pop. You do us a disservice to assume we are all straight and not involved in our local community.

    We, as writers, have a responsibility to get things right: sexual mechanics, political climate, geography. Beyond that, I adhere to Toddy’s statement in Victor/Victoria. “There are all sorts of men who behave in all sorts of ways.”

    We still write in the size differential, and the gender roles because these are the stories we KNOW. These are the stories we internalize, the ones we live. The average woman is 4 inches shorter than the average man.

    I write the hairpulling, biting and marking, because that’s what I like done to me. Maybe the average guy wouldn’t climax fully dressed, in a room full of strangers, just from having his hair pulled and his wrist bitten. Or in the middle of a conventions dealer’s room because someone ran a claw down his neck the right way. But I like to think he’d at least get a little shiver of pleasure.

    I have been stepping outside the conventions of the genre, and outside the genre itself, from day one. My lesbian work doesn’t sell nearly as well. And oddly, my heterosexual stuff doesn’t move well either. (Oddly, because the market is SUPPOSED to be bigger) Let’s not even talk about my nonfiction. But in the end, the biggest consistant sellers are the contemporaries, the ones that stick closest to the formula. If I have a choice to write what sells or what fulfills me as a story teller, I’m going to write both. But I’m going to prioritize the money maker.

    At base, no, m/m is NOT about men. It’s about the women writers, the women readers and the society that tells us we’re not quite real people and our bodies are problematic and disgusting. It’s about the fact there are no good words for female genitalia, which makes it uncomfortable for many of us to read and/or write sexy het stuff. It’s about female identification with male media characters (see the whole “boys won’t read books about girls” discussion and the coveted male 18-34 demographic, elsewhere) because of a lack of female characters.

    Maybe those aren’t the answers you’re looking for, but they’re my answers.

    Reply
    • Of course there are different gay men who behave differently and that should be reflected in fiction IMO. However my limit is when I can change the name of the man to a woman and what we see will be the woman from m/f romance. Just as there are different gay men, some straight women readers really do not care for those characters (of course I am only speaking for myself). And some do of course, I know readers who love them dearly, but I certainly understand why gay men do not love them.

      I guess I think it is possible to write men how women would want them to be (more open with their emotions?, whatever else there) and still make them believable as men.

      Again, this one reader is just not looking for disguised het in mm genre. More power for those who do, but I read it once, read it twice and never pick up that writer’s works again.

      Reply
    • Angel

      We, as writers, have a responsibility to get things right:

      I agree, which is why I think that characterizing gay men as women is entirely WRONG. I have gay friends and I don’t know many of them who fit the majority of characterizations in M/M romances. If an author is writing a book about MEN then she should not co-opt female characteristics and call her MCs men. Just call them what they are – WOMEN and not well drawn women either. Don’t get me started on how real women are disrespected in these books – that’s the subject for a whole other post which was written over 2 years ago..

      If there’s one character type I hate it’s “chicks with dicks” which is what we get a lot of in M/M romance. If I want to read about women I would read het romances with TSTL heroines, not M/M books masquerading as books about men. A gay man is a man just like any other man, he just happens to be attracted to his own sex. Of course there are different types of men just as there are different kinds of women, but if you were writing a book with a straight hero would he have the same characteristics as your gay heroes? Where does it say that a gay man is so far removed from his straight counterpart in terms of his physical looks and other character attributes? Okay, I admit gay men usually dress better than straight guys. 🙂

      We still write in the size differential, and the gender roles because these are the stories we KNOW

      I beg to differ again because for me these gender roles are not in my experience. I worked in many fields that were male oriented such as construction and everyone had to do the same job regardless of sex. So I can’t relate to the gender roles you quoted.

      At base, no, m/m is NOT about men.

      So, if the genre is not about men what is it all about then Alfie? Are you saying that all of what we’ve been told about M/M is not true, and that this genre is really het in gayface?

      I don’t want to read het romance when I read M/M, which is why I choose the authors I read for pleasure very carefully. Unfortunately I review books by many different authors, some of whom exploit the very men they write about.

      I realize that M/M stories are fantasy and books are supposed to be entertaining, but can authors write the guys as men, albeit different types of MEN and not make them into women? Can they not be entertaining as well as believable?

      As Tom Clancy said –

      The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.

      Reply
      • Rather than write about women in disguise by pretending one of them to be part of gay couple what I want to see is more full drawn multilayered supporting women characters in these stories and for the gay couple to be a gay couple . Seriously I just finished “Buchanan letters” by Neil Plaksy yesterday. At center of it are two professors trying to achieve tenure – one is gay man, who also has a romantic storyline and one is lesbian woman. Of course I cannot vouch for how believable Naomi is as a lesbian woman, but as a *woman* she is very believable – career woman, great fun friend , love story on the side. Can we have more characters like her instead of what we have?

        Reply
      • The only difference between my straight heroes and my gay heroes is their sexual attraction. Most times, even the mechanics are pretty much the same.

        The genre is actually about women. It’s about the women who write it and the women who read it. We use male stand-ins for our desires, for our dreams, just as the media has taught us to.

        I drove a semi for six years. I’ve done the pink collar ghetto and the blue collar dead-end. But at base, I was raised with very definite gender roles and expectations. Our fairy tales, adventure books, movies and TV were permeated with it and the liberation of the 70s was roundly mocked in my small town. (This is, of course, Feminism 101)

        There’s no excuse for writing thinly-veiled het. Then again, my het readers say I write thinly-veiled slash, so go figure. (my last straight female romatic lead was a hard-drinking, gun-toting PI who was more pissed than otherwise when she was attracted to the hero) There’s no excuse for bad romance in any orientation.

        If you want gay fiction, there is plenty of it. But that’s not what I’m writing. The endings of those tend to depress me and I don’t do realist fiction.

        Reply
        • Angelia,

          There’s plenty of gay fiction that makes for excellent entertainment. Non-literary authors/books I’ve enjoyed: Hero by Perry Moore. Boy Meets Boy & Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan. Comfort & Joy and Kirith Kirin by Jim Grimsley. Novels by Stephen Macauley, Michael Thomas Ford, Gregg Herren, Steve Kluger, Rick Copp, Michael Nava, Mark Richard Zubro. There’s hours of non-depressing gay fiction for you to enjoy.

          And in terms of the genre being for women who use men as stand-ins: Sean Kennedy received 96 Amazon Reviews for Tigers and Devils (4.5 star average), that’s pretty good! Damon Suede, 127 Amazon Reviews for Hot Head (4.5 star average), excellent! and Jay Bell’s Something Like Summer received 168 reviews (4.5 star average), pretty amazing. I didn’t do any more research than that but it seems like the genre has produced some successful novels by men that get read by women and gay men. Seems a successful sales strategy to me.

          Reply
  • Oh Stuart I am not a gay man (very straight woman) and I agree with a lot of questions you posed. My consolation is that I feel that there are some writers (men or women) who treat their characters with respect even if they are writing a fantasy, the characters still behave believably ( at least to me – maybe you will question their behavior too, as I said I am not a gay man) and those are my favourite ones no matter what subgenres they are writing.

    I also agree that this genre was oriented on women originally ( I do not see harm in that per se), I just think it expands. I also have to say that big partner and female in disguise ( no, not just dichotomy in looks – of course different people look differently, it is the behavior that points on the character supposed to be a woman is what annoys me) drives me bonkers.

    But I want to insert another one of my ranty points only because I think it is relevant in response to one of your arguments. As I said before I used to take it as a given that mm started a genre oriente at women only. Now I wonder if this is so why female characters in so many books of this genre written so very horribly – as caricatures of women ( as wave once said and I keep using this expression – as bitch or whore)? If indeed this genre is only dedicated to erotic desires of women ( and sometimes I will read such stories, why not) shouldn’t women characters at least be portrayed well?

    So I swear I do not mean to digress in my rant completely – I am just saying that horrifying women characters (hilariously as a rule I will see much better portrayed females in the stories by gay men more and more- not always and sometimes they do bad job too, but I think it is ironic) makes me wonder whom mm genre is oriented at. I just keep going back to my thought that well written stories are well written stories you know?

    Anyway thanks so much for this article, very thought provoking.

    Reply
    • Hi Sirius,
      I also am surprised by how some authors write about women in M/M fiction. There can be so much hate and contempt. At the same time, the gay ‘friends’ of the MCs are also often depicted as man-stealing bitches and whores. So, maybe it’s a reprehensibly lazy way to add drama to the plot by making these supporting characters another obstacle on the road to true love.

      Reply
      • As an author who’s been called out on writing “all bitches” into one of my stories, I have to disagree with this. I don’t purposely make women a certain way to create gratuitous (and shallow) tension. They just happen to be this or the other way. Same as the men.

        I can see how as readers, authors, family or friends of gay men most of us will be protective of them, and we certainly don’t want our genre to be the bad (mostly ignorant and intolerant) person in the story, but reality is not all women are understanding or supportive when it comes to homosexuality. Personally I’ve included female antagonistic characters when the story called for it. Not every woman in my stories is an ass, but I don’t think it is right to pretend we women can’t be heartless just to avoid criticism when it comes to that particular subject. I like to keep it real, and the truth is I’ve seen my fair share of women behave badly toward gay men based on religion, morals, beliefs, or even personal interest. They exist.

        Also, I am a woman. I am not a terrible person, but I’ve been known to yell a few choice words at my husband when I was upset, hurt, annoyed, et al. That doesn’t make me a bitch, I don’t think. Then again, maybe his answer would be different *g*

        Excellent post, Stuart. I agree that lots of MM Romance characters don’t really behave like men, but I know plenty of girly, flamboyant, and flaming gays out there. My best friend is one of them 🙂

        Reply
        • I try to avoid the examples I consider negative but you said not me – so yes I consider your book to be one of the worst examples of portrayal of women in this genre. Which is doubly upsetting because I enjoyed the guys so much,, sorry. Author has every right to write any character they want, whatever story calls for and I respect it. At the same time when it is done and over with – I can look at the finished product and express how I feel. Not all women are supportive of men’s homosexuality sadly for sure, and some women are bitches but do you live in the world where *every* single woman is a bitch? Because that was the impression I got after I finished your book. Every single one?

          Reply
          • Okay, I don’t want to take over this thread, cause the article isn’t about women in MM Romancelandia, but I’ll address this.

            It’s a matter of perspective and interpretation, I believe. Or maybe the fact that only I know they “whys” and what happens next? But no, not all of them are bad. In fact, there’s one character who’s best friend with a gay man, and very supportive of the community in general, yet she’s irrational when it comes to a particular one. Not because he’s gay, but because he lied to and cheated on her. So at the end it isn’t about his sexuality, but about his character and actions at the time, and the way in which he hurt her.

            Thank you for reading and liking the men 🙂

            Reply

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