Who Reads Gay Romance and Why? ….. by Anel Viz

Anel Viz - portraitWe all know the answer to the first question: Most are straight women. As for why, I hear the groans already. Hasn’t this topic been beaten to death? Probably. But I love animals and would sooner beat a dead horse than a live one. I readily admit that, since I don’t meet any of the criteria to speak for straight women—gender, orientation, professional training in psychology, etc.—my qualifications to answer the question are… well, questionable. However, as often as I’ve seen the subject addressed, I have yet to see it answered, at least to my satisfaction.

The reasons most often given are that straight women enjoy stories about finding love, feel-good happy endings, and hot men. But that says what they like about m/m romances, not why they like them. I mean, sure—why wouldn’t someone like to read about what they like?—but why do women like these things? And why straight women in particular? (Okay, I understand why lesbians aren’t particularly turned on by hunky guys.) But don’t gay men also like hitting it off with someone special and doesn’t it make them feel good when people they like find happiness? I know I do. As for hot men, that’s a no-brainer. So why don’t more gay men read m/m?

Well, maybe they do. There are roughly as many men as there are women in the US. (There are .03% more women. Over age 85, women outnumber men two to one, but I somehow doubt the over-85 set account for a significant portion of m/m readership.) According to the most recent survey, approximately 3.5% of Americans identify themselves as LGBT, nearly twice that for Americans under 30. About half of that 3.5% identify as bisexual. Demographic surveys in the UK, Canada, and Australia show similar results. I lack the mathematical ability to coordinate more than a single set of figures, but it seems reasonable to take the situation in the US as a representative model of the English-speaking world as a whole (excluding non-European cultures), give or take a percentage point. A few percentage points more or less become insignificant the closer one gets to one hundred, and as it turns out, we get pretty damn close.

How so? As I work it out, there are approximately 28 straight or bisexual women for every gay or bisexual man. I have no idea what percentage of m/m romance readers are women, but given that 91% of readers of any kind of romance are female, we would expect women to account for over 99.5%. In short, the actual figures (whatever they are) are underwhelming, especially considering that no doubt some men read their m/m in the closet.

These figures are unreliable, no question about it. I am, to put it mildly, statistically challenged in the extreme. But at least they show that the question is misdirected. If m/m romance has any readership whatsoever, the vast majority of that readership will be female, so there’s no point asking why. And it makes sense that most m/m is written to meet the demands of that majority. Now, why that makes a lot of gay men feel uncomfortable is a question I am qualified to address. But before I do, I’ll have to mull it over some more. What aspects of gay romance don’t gay readers like? Is there anything woman writers can do that will make everyone happy? (I specify women writers on the assumption they want feedback from their gay readers. Male writers may think they already know.)

Maybe someone should conduct a survey.

Anel Viz Contact Information

email: escuiruel@gmail.com
website/blog:http://bookworld.editme.com/AnelViz

 

Author

I live in Canada and I love big dogs, music, movies, reading and sports – especially baseball

45 comments

  • When I first began writing erotica and posting it on the nifty archive, I received a lot of feedback, over a thousand emails from my first story, and most of it was from male readers. I was kind of shocked when I started getting letters from female readers, not because I didn’t realize that women read more than men, but because the material I posted was pure smut. I’m talking about one-handed reads, the kind of stories where you skip the plot, skimming through until you find the “action”.

    There are quite a lot of gay men who read, and we can debate the hows and whys, but I like to think of it as one more thing that we have in common with women that most straight men don’t. However, there are a lot of gay men I’ve encountered who are literary snobs. Reading a romance of any kind, or any story that even hints at sexual activity, is beneath their dignity. They consider it literary porn. I think they are generalizing, making assumptions about what an m/m romance book is based upon what they know about the material that is published elsewhere (like the nifty archive).

    It’s so hypocritical, because this kind of “smut” is our dirty little secret. For many years, long before the internet, we had these little magazine-style novellas that we gay men would pass around to each other (under the table) while we stocked our libraries with literary classics (which most of the time were just for show).

    At this point in time, I honestly do not care how many gay men read my books. Sure, I love and appreciate all of my readers, but why should the gender of my audience make one bit of difference to me? I do want to give readers the kinds of stories that they want, and perhaps there is a difference between what gay men and straight women like to read. But I haven’t really figured that out yet, and I’m doing all right.

    Yeah, I think the topic really is a dead horse. If there is one thing I learned from attending the GRL Retreats, its that the thing that unites us is not our gender or sexual orientation. It is our passion for a common interest: m/m fiction. Shouldn’t that be the thing that matters most?

    Reply
    • Hey Jeff

      Yeah, I think the topic really is a dead horse. If there is one thing I learned from attending the GRL Retreats, its that the thing that unites us is not our gender or sexual orientation. It is our passion for a common interest: m/m fiction. Shouldn’t that be the thing that matters most?

      I think this will become my standard response whenever I’m asked this question in the future. Well said.

      Reply
  • Comments are just as interesting as the post. Great job, Anel.
    I’ll try to answer how it is for me.
    Reading some of this comments, got me thinking: “Well, why do I as straight woman love to read mm?” I checked some of offered answers:
    “I have female bits and don’t want to read about it.”- Hey, I love my female bits, I have no trouble reading about them.So, no, it’s not that.
    “m/f sex is something I have in my bedroom, I don’t want to read about it”- Nope, that’s not for me either. I love great sex in my bedroom and in my books.
    “It’s my inner gay man”- Hmm, it suggest I’m somehow divided and I’m not. When I read mm, it’s my inner, my outer, my straight and my gay, my woman, mu guy side equally engrossed in story, equally cheer for characters and equally wants to know what’s going to happen.
    So, basically, I came to this: I can’t answer why I as a straight woman love to read mm, because for me it isn’t a gender or sexual orientation question. What I can is answer is why I as a reader love to read mm. I haven’t come across good contemporary m/f romance for years and m/m is like a treasure that always gives. There are so many mm authors who enthralled me with their words and who amaze me with their talent. I want to read their work. They know how to make me care for their characters.

    Reply
  • Ah, War and Peace. I’ve read it 5 times. It is, among other things, one of the world’s greatest romances. The other things include history, social commentary, and philosophy. And the beauty of it is that the romance parallels all the other elements in it, comments on them, and draws meaning from them. Without the story of Natasha, Pierre and Andrei, the book would be little more than pompous and opinionated spouting (like the 2nd epilogue). The romance humanizes it. It is by no means an easy read, but I still wish there were more romances like it. Challenge adds dimension to any book.

    Reply
    • I am in such an agreement with you Anel, it is indeed amongst other things one of the world’s greatest romances :-). I wish more people saw it that way.

      Reply
  • Romance readers as a whole have always had to justify why they read what they read. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard it mocked as tripe and garbage by men and women despite it’s size and readership. It’s stupid that someone who reads a cozy mystery thinks he/she is better by default than one who reads a romance. I think gay romance is tossed in with the whole romance package but gay romance is new enough and specific enough to carve out and ask more questions about. If you think this question has been beaten to death, it doesn’t compare to the general why do you bother with romance debate.

    Reply
    • Yes, but as far as I have read (mostly from reading Dear author I do not read any other sites which review straight romances) readers of straight romances usually have to justify themselves to lovers of more “serious” genres. Heck, another story from my work would go like this – this was in times when I was still buying paperbacks from Amazon in much bigger quantities than I do now and I was often getting Amazon packages at work. The guy who also really loves books (literary fiction of course) asked me what is in the package. I told him that it was a book. He asked me what kind of book and I told him a romance. He stood there near my office literally gaping at me (forgive me guys if I mentioned that one before). The next sentence out of his mouth was – weren’t you the one who was walking around with War and Peace only few days ago.

      My answer was yes, that was me rereading War and Peace, now it will be me reading a great romance (no, with him I did not go into the fact that it was a gay romance – that conversation would have been longer and much more annoying).

      I am not sure where you got the idea that the fact that I love mysteries means that I consider myself better than somebody who loves pure romance. I read across the genres, always did – five or six years ago I fell in love with gay romance. That did not make me want to abandon other genres – so I am not going to apologise for it, for loving Russian classics which I grew up with, but romance holds a very steady and dear place in my heart, well written romance that it is.

      I digress – as I said I was under impression that het romance lovers have to justify what they read as being worthy against literary snobs. I did not realize that they also have to defend their choice of reading because it is strange to their critics that they are reading het romance? I could be wrong but I thought that those who sneer upon women who read het romance think that romance is women’s choice read by default so to speak?

      I thought situation with mm romance justifications is different because the question comes up why straight women read it – as if people of our gender and sexual orientation are not supposed to read it?

      Reply
      • I’ve looked over your response Sirius a couple times and I’m probably not interpreting completely right (sorry!) but I’ll add a little more about my experience. I have been part of several threads on different sites where readers of other genres, not literary, but mystery, thriller, general fiction, etc, trash romance. I mentioned cozy mystery because that’s a genre I really dislike but there is a whole group of fiction readers who feel then can pan romance just because. They don’t pan anything else. I would never dream of asking someone to justify why they read political thrillers so why do I (general) have to justify what I read. So when the question comes to me about why would I, a straight woman, read gay romance it just seems like another trashing of romance just in a different way.

        I’m not saying there isn’t some interesting data to consider on the question, I’m as fascinated by the numbers as anyone, but I just don’t understand why romance readers, of all kinds, have to continually justify their reading choices.

        Reply
        • I agree with you that romance readers should not have to justify their reading preferences. I was just saying that the questioning of straight women who read romance seems to me to be unique. I have not seen people saying ” oh why would you read het romance as a straight woman”. What people seem to be saying at least what I saw was that het romance is an an inferior genre ( and same thing is often said to mystery lovers and fantasy lovers – that unless you are reading literary fiction you are reading inferior books).

          The question @ you are of certain genre ” so why would you read a book seems to be reserved exclusively to the straight women who love

          Reply
          • Oy hit the button too early. Continued from the previous post – such question seems to be reserved for straight women who love mm romance only. I mean this does not distract from your bigger point that lovers of any romance should not have to justify themselves to anybody. My point was only that I have not seen this question asked of lovers straight romance ever. It seems that as women we are allowed to read straight romance but not gay romance. Heck, one of my most beloved family members told me only half jokingly – look what you came down to – from Dostoevsky (we both love him) to gay romance. Yeah, whatever.

            Reply
  • As a het married woman I am still fascinated with my fascination with m/m. I’m trying to understand it myself. I bought the book Why Sraight Woman Love Gay Romance but I haven’t read it yet. I’m sure as stated by others that the reasons vary. For me I’ve always loved reading the male POV & with m/m you get two.It also stands to reason that one d**k is great, two is better! lol.

    And I had to laugh & agree with Enny & K. Z. Snow:

    Yes. And all too often either laughable or disgusting, given some of the descriptions that are commonly used. They make me feel like a cross between some slimy sea creature and a none-too-appealing alien. Slippery? Oozing? Really?

    Reply
  • I think the question is all tied up in those old straight male attitudes of misogamy and fear of homosexuality.
    1/ why do women get the question as to what they read? it is so often asked in a discriminatory, derogatory way; as if women shouldn’t be allowed to read what they want.
    2/ straight men’s paranoia about gay sex makes them fear women reading gay fiction. Agh! they will really be sidelined if women start doing this.
    3/ at the same time straight men are allowed to be turned on by lesbian sex, no one seems to question a guy’s sexuality if he admits to that.
    4/ men (of any persuasion) are not allowed to admit to liking romance, cos that will make them less than manly. despite the fact that sociologists say men are just as interested in love and romance as women, and women want sex just as much as men, the myth still exists that all ‘real’ men want is sex, and women are only interested in romance.

    Reply
  • good point you make, Anel. If the expected sexual orientation of readers of male gay romance would be those attracted to men, then the readership of gay fiction would be straight women and gay men. Now If gay people make up 10% of the population, then the percentage of straight female readers of gay fiction could be potentially 90%. So if, in reality, less than 90% of the readers of gay romance are straight women, then the real question would be, why do so FEW straight women read gay romance?

    Reply
  • I like my UF with a strong female character. And I like my romance to be m/m. I think part of this is that a relationship is a balance of power. With two men I do not have to be self-conscious about the sex roles. The power issues are still there, but my feminist baggage isn’t. I’m very comfortable with a guy topping a guy. And not so comfortable with all the alpha males in straight romance. I can relax with a m/m romance.

    Reply

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