I’ve been doing some thinking (which is always a dangerous thing) 🙂 as a result of recent comments from readers on a few posts here regarding what they want when they buy an M/M romance. Their expectations range from sex 24/7 in these books – which would make the protagonists one dimensional cardboard cut-outs and very, very, tired – to no sex unless it was in a committed relationship, resembling more traditional old style M/f romances. How would it work I wonder, if gay men in M/M romances don’t have sex EVER except with their One True Love?
When guys date in real life, gay or straight, the majority are looking for sex, sex, and more sex, until they decide on the one person who fulfils their romantic needs, and even then they may stray, which is another post. It seems reasonable to assume that if two gay men are dating, the urge for sex is ever present and usually executed. 🙂 Typically, in RL men and women think differently about sex although lately that’s changing. Gay men under 30 seem to have libidos that are in constant overdrive (maybe straight men do as well)!
Het romances in the old days of Harlequin romances had no hanky panky, in other words, nothing of a sexual nature until the wedding. These books have evolved a lot since then and Harlequin romances now have the hero and heroine in bed before the “I Do’s” and maybe even some cheating going on – or a threesome or two. Ebooks have changed het romances and many of them rival M/M in terms of their sexual content, yet some readers seem to have unrealistic expectations when they pick up a gay romance. Why is that? Even though these books are fiction I thought that the characterizations of the protagonists were supposed to resemble real gay men, with all their flaws. Men love sex and when there are two dicks in play there is even more action.
Readers’ expectations of M/M romances seem to change constantly and authors are getting different messages about what we really want. In my post on How Do You Like Your M/M Erotic Romance 2010 – The Results, linked here, readers weighed in on every aspect of M/M romances and the consensus overwhelmingly was –
Most of you moved to M/M because you found het romance boring and unfulfilling
You love the different dynamics between two men
So why am I writing this post? I’m puzzled by recent comments which seem to indicate that, contrary to what you said in the survey above, some readers want gay romances to be aligned as closely as possible to het in terms of the sexual mores, lifestyles etc. We know that there is a big difference between the lifestyles of single gay men and single straight women (at least I think so) although both have changed over the last decade. For M/M romance to replicate straight romance would be to deny what being a gay man is all about. I’m not saying gay men are one dimensional – far from it, but for the most part their sex lives are quite different from the typical straight female, until they are in a committed relationship. If you read some of the stories in the Coming Out of the Closet post here they would give you a small glimpse of the life of young gay men, and straight women do not have the same experiences.
Women read M/M romances because we are looking for something different, so why would some of us expect M/M romances to duplicate what we find in het, especially Harlequin romances? Here are two quotes, very different, from two female readers, on another post, in response to my question:
Me“Do you consider it cheating if the main protagonist has not yet made up his mind to commit to one person, and is having sex with others until he decides which man he wants? I don’t. I call that dating.”
Sue “Truthfully, Wave, I am not interested in having the main protagonist date (have sex) with multiple men in a novel. I am reading m/m fiction for the love story between TWO men, just like I would in a Harlequin m/f romance novel. I admit I am vanilla, but in between writing my thesis, grad school classes and real life I have very little time for reading for fun, so I limit my choices to what I know, like and find comfortable.”
Quinn “One very important aspect for ME in the attraction of m/m though, the relationship between two men DOES NOT and SHOULD NOT mirror a m/f Harlequin romance. (If a story and characters do so and I didn’t realize before buying, the book probably will be DNF). I even do not necessarily need a HEA if I get great characters and an engaging plot.”
While the audience for M/M romance is still predominantly female, that is also changing because more men are now writing (22%) and reading (15%) M/M romances, according to a survey on this site, so I asked TJ, a gay man who is a ‘regular’ here, what his expectations are of these books and this is what he had to say:
TJ “My expectations of m/m stories are the same as for mainstream fiction. As a gay man, I want to read about other gay men who are interesting, three dimensional and believable. For me, part of being believable, even in a romance novel, requires that their actions and reactions to their circumstances follows their character’s development in the story. As real life people often do, I would expect these men to make mistakes, make some foolish choices, and maybe even sleep with the wrong guy or guys along the way. That’s part of how we figure out who we want, or should be with.
As a result of this, I don’t always expect a HEA or even a HFN ending, although there’s nothing better when it makes sense in the story. Nor do I look for everything to necessarily be fully resolved, as long as the story is satisfying in some sense. I don’t mean that major plot lines are left unfinished, but more along the lines of the main characters’ relationship not be rushed. I don’t like inst-love. I don’t even like instant pudding. For me, all good things, especially good relationships, require time to develop”
I also asked Ethan Day, an author, for his view of the M/M world, because I knew that Ethan would have an opinion or two. 🙂 Here’s what he said, in part:
“There’s nothing wrong with showing two gay men meeting, falling in love and having that HEA. But for many people…they’re only willing to read the same story so many times. Yes you can change the names, places, and faces, but you can only fool so many people for so long with that set-up. I think this is why I keep hearing so many readers saying they’re bored, or tired. Usually this is tagged as being connected to the sex scenes. Is it really merely the sex scenes or are the stories as a whole becoming too formulaic? (I’m asking here because I’m the first to admit that I’ve barely scratched the tip of the gay romance market as a reader.)
What really bothers me more than anything, is when readers trash a book or the author when it doesn’t live up to their strict vision of what love is. Is it really the author’s fault that your vision of what should be is so narrow? I don’t believe anyone should have to read anything they don’t want to, but why wouldn’t you want to look at the world from someone else’s perspective? This issue of cheating bugs me. Is a man who cheats forever to be deemed unworthy of love? That’s it, one strike and you’re out? No exceptions? Because what that feels like to me is, no compassion. And isn’t that kinda-sorta the same emotion the guy who cheated likely had, to begin with?
On the flip side, I think gay men can be just as restrictive in the opposite sense. Maybe if there were more literature out there that showed two gay men meeting, falling in love and living happily ever after then there wouldn’t be such a stigma attached to gay men as the perpetual man-ho who is incapable of commitment. I know it’s not true, but it sure can feel true, especially to me when I first came out. People looked at me like I was crazy when I’d say that I would prefer one good guy over 20 hot one-nighters. Granted I was 20 at the time, so not your typical statement from a guy at that age. But it was drilled into me by my community not to go expecting too much. Don’t set your heart on finding ‘the one’ ‘cause we’re gay…and we don’t do that. Obviously, I don’t think anyone ever came out and said that, but it was the feeling that I got. And I don’t believe anything should feel out of my reach as a gay man………”
The gay men who are now writing these books in increasing numbers are bringing different perspectives to M/M plots because they are speaking from their life experiences, and this will ultimately change many of the stories that are released. This does not mean that female authors don’t give us gritty and realistic M/M stories, because they do – Bareback and 9-1-1 by Chris Owen remain two of my favourite M/M romances and they were written by a woman in 2003 and 2005. Similarly, Laura Baumbach’s A Bit of Rough released in print in 2005 is another wonderful M/M book that’s one of my favourite reads. I love many books written by female M/M authors such as Jordan Castillo Price, AM Riley, M.L. Rhodes and on and on because they write tough and gritty stories or sometimes simple romances. This is fiction, after all, and if you can dream it you can write it. However there’s something to be said for writing from personal life experience. Rick Reed, author, did a post recently on this site in which he talked about writing about real gay men. Here’s part of what he said
“……we all have a responsibility to be true to the characters we create. We need to give some recognition to the very real problems, pitfalls, and pleasures real gay men experience, aside from falling in love. As a gay man, I can tell you that I—or close friends—have personally wrestled with such issues as homophobia, HIV, drug abuse, promiscuity, job discrimination, hate crimes, the inability to marry the person we love, and many other things that occupy today’s headlines.”
The paradigm shift in M/M romances is here or on the immediate horizon, brought about mainly by more gay writers entering this field. Will those readers who are looking for gay romances that resemble het romances abandon this sub genre because it no longer offers them what they want? Would that be a good or a bad thing? Should Harlequin romances be the benchmark for M/M?
So readers, what are your expectations when you buy an M/M romance? Do you want it to be similar to het, even to the point of emulating some of the mores and conventions of Harlequin romances? Or are you willing to embrace more realistic characterizations of gay men in these books? What are your hot buttons?