Gay Lit vs M/M – FIGHT!!!

So, I’m getting back to some reading, since I’ve been mired in Stargate Atlantis marathons on a daily basis, and catching up, (getting addicted to the McShep) and my reading has taken a serious nosedive. So I’m reading two books at the same time.

Strange Meeting by Susan Hill – a critically acclaimed homosexual story set in WW1; and

His Master’s Lover by Nick Heddle – a m/m romance set just after WW2

And it struck me, as I read Strange Meeting, how very different m/m and gay literature can be. can (and it isn’t always, I consider some m/m to be as good literature as any that Andre Aciman, Ms Hill or Ms Waters can write)

So here, just for my own amusement and  are my vies on the differences between gay fiction and M/M.

Gay Fiction


The book will begin with lush, often surreal description.  Weather, landscape, internal thoughts, perhaps a journey being taken The book will begin with an introduction to the protagonist – if not both.
The first interaction between the main protagonists may take a while, and when they do meet they will have a long conversation, peppered with long pauses, more description of the landscape, and talk of nothing personal. They won’t immediately be friends. The first interaction between the main protagonists will involve a lot of mental leering, some witty banter, touches of skin somehow, and probably some stiffening. Either that, or they’ll hate each other.
There will be NO – repeat NO mention of the word homosexuality.  As the friendship grows there will be nothing more than a gradual dependence on each other and a desire to see more of each other. (alternated with much description of landscape, and possibly some weather.) Both men will be aware that they are different, (if a historical) or if a contemporary will be loud and proud.
If there is any physical contact, it will be in the form of a manly hug that is regretted instantly and angsted much over Sexual contact takes place in chapter four.
By the time the protagonist realises that he’s love!!!! with another man, all is lost and there’s nothing for it but someone’s death, or separation for their own good. After a humungous amount of shagging, the protags decide to shack up/get married.
Bleak last section with more landscape. Happy Ever After with added shaggage!

So, yes, I’m not being serious.

I love both types with a passion and am happy when they are seperate and am happy when they have the differences.

But I have to say, reading Strange Meeting, I did get a point when I just started to giggle and I said to my cat, who was curled up on my shoulders, “Yanno, if this was a m/m, they’d be shagging already – and they’d be a LOT happier.”


Erastes is an author of gay historical fiction. Her novels cover many time periods and locations. She lives in Norfolk UK with demanding cats and never seems to have enough time to serve them.


  • Great post Erates.

    I’ve read just about all the ‘classy Oprah angst’ books I can take. I’m all about M/M and chapter 4, or page 4 really. I love a good story by a great writer and my preferences all fell into the boxes under the M/M heading. 🙂

    • Thanks, Lily – i can understand why people want a happy ending, but I have to admit I am masochistic enough to love a good weepie.


  • I love your comparative table, Erastes. It made me giggle like crazy it was so spot on.

    I was talking to someone about this very topic the other day after reading “Call Me By Your Name” – seems like we all have recently. She was completely confused by the fact that there could be separate genres for m/m romance and for gay lit. After I explained it to her, her response… “So basically it’s a HEA thing”. My Mumma got it in one. Gotta love her.

    • Thanks Kris!

      I think that the lines regarding the genres are more blurry–or they should be –I’d definitely call Maurice and The Charioteer gay lit, but under the rules they also qualify as romance, so I long for more just like them.

  • “daffodils in january” o_O Ick! That’s a book thrower if I ever saw one! *sigh* … *grin*
    I’m really enjoying the “bridge” books. I can think of quite a few m/m authors who have well written descriptive and enjoyable work. Some are funny, some are fluffy, some are HFN and some are so full of angst that I cry while reading them. I just read a really sweet short with no smexx at all! Descriptive historical, tender, some angst, fear of death then a possible (because they might still die in the war) HEA. Fantastic! I’m just a greedy reader and I want more, more, more! (But that’s just me)

    I think that the lines are blurring a bit though. The numbers of books being published now are giving us a wonderful rainbow in those shades of grey and I couldn’t be happier about it!

    • Yes, I think the lines are blurring. It’s gradual, and as the shock and horror from some factions “women writing about gay men?!!! fetch the smelling salts” wears off (lets not mention Maria McAnn, Renault, Gregory…) I think they will blur even more. There certainly does seem to be more demand than supply, which is always a good thing.

  • Rule 1: Bad Weather is not inherently dramatic.
    Angel’s corollary: Inaccurate weather is a book-hurling offense.

    I don’t mind a good sense of setting, but spare me endless landscapes. I already read Tolkien and you won’t manage it better.

    There are complete differences in style between gay lit and m/m and I think it is audience and purpose that create them. Thanks for outlining this so neatly.

    And yes, some of us wait until chapter 4 to have sex… because our boys aren’t THAT kind of boy. Except that they totally are and plot keeps getting the way.

    • Thanks Angelia.

      I agree with you about the weather – I remember reading a book m/f historical romance and the heroine was looking at the daffodils in january.


    • My current ones made it as far a chapter three. They’re only a little bit slutty. They nearly did it in chapter one, but one of them got cold feet. (Spoilsport.)

  • Heh, that was funny and yep, pretty familiar! Though I have to say I’ve just read a literary gay novel and though there was a certain amount of angst (and with a 17-year-old narrator angst is pretty much a given!) there’s no “dead gay” nonsense. Nobody feels the urge to kill themselves at any point that I remember. But of course, there’s no guarantee of a happy ever after ending either, even when there’s not going to be a totally grim one.

    It was Call Me By Your Name by Andre Acimen and definitely worth giving a go, by the way. Very accessible for “litfic.”

    But it’s good to have some variety. I’ve got The Charioteer on my To Read stack so I’ve got more literary gay fic to try.

    • Hi JFM,

      Yes, I very much liked Call Me by Your Name, I thought I’d done a review of it on my LJ but I can’t see it off hand. But once again, it had a bitter sweet ending, if not a particularly tragic one. I didn’t really madly want them to get together, and stay together, but the way the ending was handled annoyed me – there was really no need to have Elio so disenchanted and basically unhappy – or thats how it struck me. I’d have been much happier if that first love had set him up for good loves in his life, as he had such a well-balanced family life.

      Beautifully written though, but just tainted with YOU MUST NOT BE HAPPY BECAUSE THOU ART GAY LIT.

      • I’d have preferred not to see the jump forward to later in their lives at all really. I’m not that keen on that, as it often feels tacked onto a story, plus I want to use my imagination about how things turned out for a person. Maybe they found happiness, maybe they didn’t. I don’t need to know that for sure, I’m quite happy to just enjoy the story of this particular time in their lives and say goodbye. If there is more the writer wants to say about them – write a sequel!
        Maybe one reason I’m enjoying romances is that most do have a definite ending. Though some will insist on a tagged on epilogue to show us, look they got married and here’s their lovely baby – awww, most romances have the sense to end on ‘and they lived happily ever after’. There’s a good reason for that of course. Happy people are boring! 😀

  • Thanks Amie – I think there are m/m books that are starting to breach the gap, which can only be a Good Thing. Alex Beecroft and Ruth Sims certainly are helping in that respect. The trouble with beautiful prose+sex scenes is that it can lead to somewhat purple prose, something I’ve been rather guilty of from time to time!!

    Ah yes, the unasked for touch – that’s a definite no no!! 😀 “Oh GOD, what will he think of me?”


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