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.

GR
GR
5 years 28 days ago
Fabulous post, Wave, thank you! I would like to add a few things. Frequently the “ethnic” characters who do appear either have no real cultural background or are stereotypes (there especially seem to be a lot of tempermental latinos – for example the recent novel in which a supposedly brilliant lawyer acted like a 15yo boy). The characters who have physical disabilities are usually shown as needing being emotionally immature, needing to be taken care of and “fixed” by their able-bodied lovers. The focus on youthful characters, “glamorous” jobs, and urban settings frequently makes it much harder for this reader… Read more »
Helena
Helena
5 years 28 days ago
Wave, Thank you so much for this interesting post that I´m sure I will be checking back both for the comments and for the recs 😎 You are so rigth about the lack of all kind of diverse characters. It´s a plus when this diversity is actually related to the story, personality…, no just something else that is added to the mix. Lee Benoit´s Cuban (Azul: Baílame) and African (Smoke: Askari) books have been my latest ethnically different readings. For people that enjoyed Barbara Sheridan´s Beautiful C*cksucker books, there is a new short in the series (Love Revisited) featuring a… Read more »
Jules
5 years 28 days ago
Wave, Thanks for this post. I think your first post on it – was it only 21 months ago!? – was the first thing that pinged my “Oh hey, maybe I’m not paying attention to this enough” radar. It was one of a number of things that steered me into choosing my college minor – social justice – that has really opened my eyes so much to diversity. I hope other people are as inspired. 🙂 I know Loose Id has a specific category on their website for multicultural romances, although it doesn’t break it down into m/m vs m/f… Read more »
Sirius
5 years 28 days ago

Jules I can’t wait for your book 🙂 and yes, I loved -mproper holiday. I thought recommendations are for the later books (2O10 and this one), but yes loved it.

Leslie S
5 years 28 days ago
Great post, Wave. Many of us live in diverse communities so yes, why doesn’t M/M fiction reflect that more often? I would love to read about Indian guys, for example (Indian as in the subcontinent). I would love to read about characters of different religions and strongly different cultures. Feliz did a great job at sensitively depicting a Muslim character in ‘Desert Falcon’ for example. There should be more books like that. I must mention KA Mitchell’s Korean hero in ‘No Souvenirs’ – that’s a great book! I’m sure I’ve read another book with a Korean lead but can I… Read more »
kaija
kaija
5 years 28 days ago

ZA Maxfield has a Korean protagonist in E-Pistols at Dawn. Kara Larson has a Korean (or maybe Thai) character in one of her short stories as well as Maori characters in her other books.

Leslie S
5 years 28 days ago

Kiitos Kaija, E-Pistols at Dawn was the one I was trying to remember! 😀

kaija
kaija
5 years 28 days ago

Do you know more Finnish, Leslie? 🙂

Leslie S
5 years 27 days ago

Ei, only stuff like ‘hullu’ and lyrics to Anssi Kela songs! I have a friend in Hameenlinna and have visited her several times 🙂 Finland is a fantastic country, I love it there. But Finnish is such a hard language to learn!! 😮 😀

GR
GR
5 years 28 days ago

Leslie, yes! I was just thinking of “No Souvenirs” – I love the way the character starts as a bit of a stereotype – cold and success-driven asian – and then at the end you find out there’s a lot more to him (that is in fact related to his cultural background too – I wish we’d heard more about that, but it’s not the way Mitchell writes I think).

zola
5 years 28 days ago

I loved Jae Sun in “No Souvenirs” he so reminded me of one of my favorite characters on the tv show The Mentalist, Agent Cho–that man needs his own show stat!

Laura (rureadinganotherone)
5 years 28 days ago
Great post Wave, I myself love diversity, but I know of many readers that don’t, which could also hamper the m/m market. Is it that some writers and readers are just scared to step out of the comfort zone?? Is it that writers have to hold everyday jobs and write on the side, so therefore no time?? Is it that today’s m/m market has so many new releases the writers feel like they have to turn out books quickly just to keep up with the competition?? Or is it that many writers have not just reached that age and feel… Read more »
Laura (rureadinganotherone)
5 years 28 days ago

Awww, just had an epiphany on a certain someones story their working on and it would be perfect, now off to convince him. 💡

kaija
kaija
5 years 28 days ago
While I was reading this post I realised I tend to gravitate towards books with these kinds of diverse characters. I also tend to remember them even if they are not particularly good, probably because they are so rare. I haven’t read Untold Want yet but I will because so rarely internal conflict is allowed to be enough. Far too often I feel at the end of the book that there was a completely unnecessary external conflict that brushed characters aside. I want to read about the character’s internal growth not how he reacts to external issues. After having read… Read more »
Alaina
Alaina
5 years 28 days ago
Seems like a classic case of privilege denying on the part of the genre. What people don’t see, experience or think about in their daily lives often won’t be something they consider in their writing. People are so used to thinking about diversity as being synonymous with blackness that they have a difficult time associating the word with any other meaning. And when they do realize that there a loads of other kinds of Others out there they resist having to reconceptualize their world-view to include the presence/voices of people who were previously invisible. It’s hard and it’s scary and… Read more »
Val Kovalin
Val Kovalin
5 years 28 days ago
What a totally cool post to be reading here at the airport at oh-dark-thirty! I’m the one who reviewed The Untold Want by Catt Ford, and it is so well written on top of being diverse — a joy to read. It will rank right up there with the five or so best things I’ve read this year. If I can be permitted some shameless self-promotion, my new book Call And Answer has black characters and French Cajun characters. Believe me, this is outside of my own ethnic heritage, such as it is, ha, ha! I mean, we women are… Read more »
Sirius
5 years 28 days ago
Excellent post Wave. I think so much more can be done with diverse characters in this genre. Untold want was superb, and absolutely part of the reason why I grabbed it the moment I saw it was because *both* characters are african-american. I know this post is not about black protagonists only, I am just saying that I am trying to remember and actually I fal to remember a book where both characters are not caucasian. One – I have read few (very few), but both? No, on the top of my head I do not remember. Lets see, “One… Read more »
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