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.