Diversity in M/M Romances – Will we ever get there?

Almost 2 years ago I wrote a blog essay about the lack of diverse characters in gay contemporary romances. My impression at the time was that M/M was a homogeneous twenty something Caucasian world and that the majority of our authors were not interested in writing about diverse characters. With some exceptions, that opinion hasn’t really changed a whole lot although there has been movement in a positive direction.  In my post 2 years ago when I used the term  “diverse” I meant characters who are older (over 35); people with different religious or cultural backgrounds – they may even be atheists or pagans; people who may be physically or mentally challenged in some way; and those who are of different ethnicities. YAOI stories require that the characters must be Asian so I haven’t specifically included them in the post, although outside of that genre Asian characters suffer the same fate as other ethnicities and are not part of the M/M milieu.

The majority of authors who commented on my post jumped to the  conclusion that I was only talking about a lack of ethnic diversity in M/M and they ignored everything else. Maybe they didn’t read the entire post. I tried to  spell out all the groups I felt were ignored or overlooked  in this sub genre. Most authors had reasons, which I’m sure they thought were valid, regarding why they couldn’t write ‘black’ characters. What we had was a failure to communicate. The post was about a lack of diverse characters, not about a lack of black characters. So I’m going to try this again , 21 months later..

It’s now 2011. Has there been a change in this area in the M/M sub genre since 2009? From my perspective not much, but I could be wrong.  There are some brave souls such as Catt Ford, Lee Benoit, A.M. Riley, Astrid Amara, K.C. Kendricks, Lynn Lorenz, K.Z. Snow, Sarah  Black, Anah Crow and Dianne Fox, Amber Green, Josh Lanyon, T.A. Chase, Ally Blue, J.L. Langley, A.J. Llewellyn, D.J. Manly, K.A. Mitchell, Angelia Sparrow and Naomi Brooks, Val Kovalin, Feliz Faber and a few others are trying to move the yardstick one book at a time. Readers seem more than willing to embrace diverse characterizations, based on comments on a recent review by Val Kovalin of a book by Catt Ford, The Untold Want, which has two black protagonists. So why aren’t more writers stepping up to the plate? Are they unaware of those readers who want books that are different from the old romance stereotypes and tropes that have been around for almost 100 years? I realize it takes time and a lot of effort to break the mold but it only requires a few authors to move the pendulum in another direction. Some authors claim that the research to write about diverse characters is time consuming. Writing about the physically challenged or older protagonists as opposed to twenty something characters is definitely different but I don’t and involves more research,  however our authors write about gay men even though, according to a survey on this site, about 65% of the writers in our sub genre are still straight Caucasian women. If straight women can write convincingly about gay men and many of them do such a great job (which must involve a fair amount of research since they are not gay men), is it so hard to write about diverse groups in addition to gay men? I know that there’s a whole lot more involved in getting the characters right and it’s not just the research, but isn’t it worth it?

When was the last time you read a gay romance starring American Indians (Cherokee, Navajo, Seneca)? Other than Two Spirits by Walter L. Williams and Toby Johnson which was written in 2006,  and a few stories by writers like Sarah Black I don’t recall reading many recent M/M books about American Indian protagonists although I’m sure they’re around.

Books with physically challenged protagonists are almost as difficult to find because very few authors write them. Ethnically diverse protagonists in M/M romances are as scarce as hen’s teeth, and when we find them a large percentage are Latino characters where the plot involves drug cartels.

Have you read books with a hearing impaired gay character lately? If so I would love your recs. In 2008 there were 35 million hearing impaired people living in the US where most M/M authors reside, and probably 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 persons (depending on which statistic you believe) in this group are gay. Yet they are almost ignored. Blind protagonists are not heard from a lot either. I read Mexican Heat by Laura Baumbach and Josh Lanyon a few years ago, and a few books by T.A. Chase but there’s not a whole lot of blind protagonists around.

Just because a gay man can’t see or hear, or may have different cultural values, or is not Caucasian, that  doesn’t mean he can’t be sexy!

Many soldiers are back home who have been injured in different wars which have placed them permanently in wheelchairs. Going by the statistics, if these soldiers reflect the general population, 1 in 10 or 1 in 20 are gay, and it would seem that there are stories to be told about these heroes if only our authors would let their imaginations soar. Many other gay men are injured in garden variety accidents that are serious enough to leave them wheelchair bound for the rest of their lives – another potential source for plot bunnies.

The latest world population statistics indicate that we are at 6.9B people and are expected to grow to 7B by next year. The countries with the largest populations are mostly ethnically diverse and non Caucasian, with China at 1.34 B, India 1.2B, Africa 967 million. The European Union 500M, USA 311M, Russia 142 M, Britain 62M, Canada 34M and Australia 22M are some of the countries with large Caucasian populations. The population pendulum will continue to swing to countries that are ethnically and culturally diverse and people in the most populous countries in the world want to read about characters to whom they can relate. It would therefore seem to make good business sense for M/M authors to tap into this market and increase their fan base. In addition, think of the built-in conflict! The characters would provide the internal conflict, and if readers want external conflict, there are always disapproving  families, friends, communities, work situations, and the general public to provide realistic conflicts. Authors wouldn’t have to invent amnesia or stalkers!

Here are a few comments on the review two days ago of The Untold Want by Catt Ford which I mentioned earlier:

“It seems like 90% of gay romance fiction centers on generic, 30 year-old white guys with no real cultural identity who live in a generic, unnamed North American city while working at a generic, unspecified profession or perhaps a thinly described “job” like the ever-popular author, artist, or BDSM club owner. It’s almost enough to make me stop reading in the genre.”

 “Sounds like this would be worth reading regardless of the heroes’ ethnicity, but the all-whiteness (or lack of real cultural depth to the occasional latino or native american character) in the M/M milieu is just creepy.”

“Oh wow, older guys AND they’re African American? Val, you must have tapped into my subconscious – just the other day I was *desperate* to read something like this! Thank you for a great review, I am totally buying this book NOW”

“KZ Snow’s character Fan in Mongrel was so compelling and relatable, and he suffered from bipolar disorder.”

“this book sounds SO up my alley! to me, actually the character’s ethnicity don’t matter so much as long as it fits with the story told, but you’re right, m/m characters get harder and harder to remember, simply because they are so similar, as are the stories sometimes”

” I completely LOVED it! It’s been forever since an m/m romance took my breath away. Many thanks to the author for a refreshing read & to you for helping me discover it. I’ve slowly been developing m/m fatigue & I think it’s because of the, among a laundry list of things, lack of ethnic diversity. Job blandness I can deal with & overlook if the story/writing is excellent but I really desperately want to read about people who look like me.”

If you check this website you will notice that the bloggers come from all over the world. They read M/M romances or they wouldn’t be here.  As a reader of these books, are YOU tired of the sameness of gay characters in M/M romances?  Have you read many M/M books lately with diverse characters? If you want to try something different on the menu or you’re a member of that rapidly expanding group called “diverse” and you want to read stories with characters that you can relate to, you will have a difficult time finding books that aren’t “mainstream.” (In publishing parlance “diverse” means that you’re not part of the mainstream and that includes all of the  groups that I discussed in this post.)  Are M/M authors willing to walk and write outside the lines, do a paradigm shift and give some readers different characterizations that reflect the global environment in which we live today? The more we read about ‘diverse’ characters in our favourite genre (and I include the entire spectrum covered by that word,) the more accepting we would all be in terms of regarding diversity as normal and not something that we have to make a conscious effort to integrate into our lives. There are authors who are writing these stories but more of them would be very welcome.

What do you think readers? Do you want more diverse characters in M/M romances? The last time I wrote about this I offered to hook authors up with readers who would be willing to read their stories and give them advice on the authenticity of their diverse characterizations, but only one author took me up on that offer.

As always, I’m also looking for book recommendations that eschew the typical fare. There’s nothing wrong with twenty somethings – I love them, but if you have the same meal every night it becomes boring so perhaps we need something to spice up what’s on the menu in order to turn M/M around and make the books more compelling and exciting. Someone once told me that there’s nothing original or new in the world of writing. Well I respectfully beg to differ – there’s a lot that’s new or can be made new with a an open mind. Let’s take a walk on the wild side authors. :)

I look forward to your recommendations as I know there are a lot of hungry readers out there in M/M land.


  • Wave, I didn’t read through each and every comment, so maybe somebody already asked or said something about this. I’m curious about how many of the people who read m/m romance are themselves from a diverse background? I’m not. However, my husband is Mexican American and because of this it is interesting to me to read about southern Texas and some of the places in Mexico we’ve traveled to. We are also Navy vets, so we’ve met many interesting people and enjoy different cultures and places. (My son is going to be teaching in Gallup, NM, and I can’t wait to visit him there!)I have many family members and friends who are gay and enjoy reading m/m romance. Put that together and I am a reader who appreciates diversity in m/m romance.

    My fear is that those of us who comment on your site are the minority as AJ’s and Sarah’s editors stated. We ask for diversity because we are the vocal, interested readers. However, the majority of the readers- the ones who are not asking for more diversity on any blog posts- are the readers who drive the editors perceptions of what readers want. How do we change that bias?

    • Hi Patty

      My fear is that those of us who comment on your site are the minority as AJ’s and Sarah’s editors stated. We ask for diversity because we are the vocal, interested readers. However, the majority of the readers- the ones who are not asking for more diversity on any blog posts- are the readers who drive the editors perceptions of what readers want. How do we change that bias?

      Baby steps. Changing biases doesn’t happen overnight but over time. I’m hoping that compiling a list of “diverse” books is one brick in the wall. Readers can write the publishers and ask for books with diverse characters and that’s another brick in the wall. They could also write their favourite authors and ask them to write stories starring diverse gay protagonists – another brick in the wall. Everything counts as a positive step forward.

  • Another one to add to the list – Shayla Kersten’s Double Happiness has Chen Jin Tai, a Chinese doctor with an interfering mother.

    • This was a great book! I can’t believe I forgot it. It also reminded me that Syd McGinley’s Tommy & Tanaka books are diverse (Tanaka is Japanese). They are a subset of her Fell/petsitting Universe. I would recommend reading her other Fell/Petsitting books first as you get to know Tommy in these (Tommy is 1/4 Japanese…I think. Maybe 1/2.)

      These are these are the purely Tommy & Tanaka stories. Some are individual stories and some are in Toy Box collections.
      McGinley, Syd – Pets 08 – T&T 1 – Ain’t Misbehavin’
      McGinley, Syd – Pets 09 – T&T 2 – Un Bel Di Vedremo
      McGinley, Syd – Pets 10 – T&T 3 – The Wrong Customs
      McGinley, Syd – Pets 11 – T&T 4 – Tommy And The Magi
      McGinley, Syd – Pets 12 – T&T 5 – White Day
      McGinley, Syd – Pets 13 – T&T 6 – Wax On, Wax Off
      McGinley, Syd – Pets 14 – T&T 7 – Paper Cranes
      McGinley, Syd – Pets 16 – T&T 8 – Little Fishes

  • We do this kerfuffle about every 9-18 months in the SF/F/H community. Why are there no women in this anthology? Why aren’t there more stories with [your group here]? How dare you write a story featuring [your group here] when you are not a member? Do your homework, [your group here] members are not required to educate you!

    My position: I write as the muses move me, creating characters suited to the story I need to tell.

    If you want more stories featuring [your group here], write them. If you’re tired of Group A getting recognition and Group B not, write better stories than Group A (my position on the Lambdas) Yeah, a privileged position, but if you have time to gripe, you have time to write the stories YOU want to see told.

    • Angelia

      If you want more stories featuring [your group here], write them. If you’re tired of Group A getting recognition and Group B not, write better stories than Group A (my position on the Lambdas) Yeah, a privileged position, but if you have time to gripe, you have time to write the stories YOU want to see told.

      Sorry, I’m not a fiction writer and therefore I can’t write stories about diverse characters. However, I hope that some of our current M/M writers might want to take a chance on writing diverse characters.

  • Starting with someone else’s first — Stevie Carroll’s short “The Monitors” in the erotic romance anthology Echoes of Possibilities from Noble Publishing features a blind protagonist. (It’s also on this year’s Tiptree Award longlist.)

    Looking at my own – most of my characters are in their thirties or older. One has type 2 bipolar disorder. Another has cancer. None of them are American. I don’t this to tick off boxes. I do it because I write about characters I find interesting, and I’ve been doing it since the last millennium. I am apparently doing adequate sales numbers, because I was the co-author of the first m/m book that came out from Loose Id, and they’ve been signing my stuff ever since.

    Some of the publishers have been open to diversity for years, and not just the diversity named above. Not covered by this blog’s subject matter, but one of the calls I saw several years ago was for Big Beautiful Women, by an editor who was sick unto death of the idea in mainstream romance that a plus size heroine is someone who isn’t clinically anorexic. The joy of epub small presses is that they can take a gamble on stories that don’t conform to what The Mainstream Romance Reader wants to read. You want to see it, go ahead and write it.

    • Hi Jules

      Thank you for your recs. and also for your perspective on why you write diverse characters. I agree totally that the character has to move the author or s/he can’t do it and the book justice. The intent of the post is not to tick off boxes but to raise awareness among M/M writers, which is all I can do since I’m not a writer.

      Re the Big Beautiful Women, as you know this site only reviews M/M, but I do remember a few books about overweight men -I think one was by Amy Lane, although they were trying to lose weight and get fit – of course the two objerctives are not necessarily synonymous. :)

  • I live in a diverse world both personal and professional. I’d love to read more about diverse characters. I’m so happy you wrote this post because now we get a great list of books to read :)

  • Just out of curiosity, I looked over the m/m books I own. I have books by 65 authors, and I have multiple books by most of those authors. Of those 65 authors, 20 have at least one book where one or more of the main characters is not young, white, etc. That’s 31% of authors which is more than I expected.

    Here are some more books for your list.

    The Assignment by Evangeline Anderson (hispanic)
    Heart and Soul by Evangeline Anderson (hispanic)
    Renovations series by Anah Crow and Diane Fox (black?)
    Finding Home by Cameron Dane (hispanic)
    Saying I Do by Cameron Dane (hispanic)
    Nine Lights Over Edinburgh by Harper Fox (Jewish)
    Catch Me If You Can by LB Gregg (hispanic)
    Where the Heart Is by Elizabeth Silver and Jenny Urban (one black, one native american)
    And Hell Itself Breathes Out by AR Moler (pagan)
    Seeking Kokopelli by Shelley Munro (native american)
    Jumping The Fence by Stephanie Vaughn (hispanic)

    • Hi Kiracee
      Thank you for the list. You and I must have similar tastes because I have read and/or reviewed all of them except for And Hell Itself Breathes Out which is on my to read list. This is great because your list reminds me to re-read some of my favourites. :)

  • How about:

    Amy Lane – Talker series (disfigurement)
    J.J. Massa – The Edge (Native American)

    • And Bonnie Dee’s Undeniable Magnetism and Anah Crow’s Renovations series feature interracial couples.

  • You mentioned hearing impaired gay characters – Learning to Dharn by Ann Somerville comes to mind, which came out just recently.

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