Is Male/Male Romance Fundamentally About Men?

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Most of you remember Stuart who, some years ago, questioned many of the constructs and tropes used by male/male authors in their novels.  I used his questions as the basis for a few articles which were so popular that the hits keep coming even today. We reconnected a few weeks ago and after a lot of persuasion and bribes  :grin: Stuart agreed to become a reviewer and guest contributor for the site. I’m really happy he decided to join us because his “voice” is like a breath of fresh air. This is his first post which as usual is hard-hitting, but also asks some valid questions that need to be posed. I hope you will comment after you read Stuart’s article.

Marcos Chaljub, 29, and Freddy Zambrano, 30. The first male couple in New York State to legally marry on July 25, 2011

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A few weeks ago my husband came home from work, tired, grimy, and horny from protecting and serving the people of New York City. Yeah, I married a cop and am living the dream. Seeing lustful gleams, crouching like wild beasts in his gold-flecked, hazel eyes, I gave myself completely to the demands of his love. Stripping, I looked into those masculine, yet profoundly tender, policeman’s eyes, and said, “Need.” He grunted unhappily, a bear disturbed while seeking a hive rich with man-honey, and said, “Stu, why have you suddenly stopped using pronouns? You always use pronouns.” (It’s true, proper syntax defines me as much as my improperly sinful body.) I hesitated for a second, a blush slowly spreading up from my sweaty chest to burnish my smooth cheeks. I knew this delicate pink, yet powerfully masculine, blush heightened my desirability and I would not be deterred from having him.

I pressed Mike down into the mattress. “Mine,” I growled…. “Mine,” I whined. But my beloved husband, my everything, pushed me away. “Stu, what the fuck, I hate when you act like this.” My chocolate brown eyes began to fill with unshed tears at his cruel rejection, and my delicate, kiss-swollen lips pursed in thought. I could talk with him… but I’m a man and we don’t solve problems by talking with each other. Should I angrily storm off without a word, slam the door, and go talk to my feisty, unattractive BFF? She’s always available to stop whatever she’s doing and take care of me. But I wanted to save the situation; my cock was hard and would stay hard until we had sex. It’s how men are. Did Mike need me to wiggle my butt? Perhaps some writhing might salvage the moment. No, I knew there was only one thing to do. “Need… need to mark you.” Then I bit him… bit him hard. My tousled, mahogany brown hair shadowing my face as I licked and sucked at the small wound. The slight, salty taste of his blood was sheer ambrosia and I moaned in ecstasy. Mike was mine, all mine now, everything was alright. We were two men, solving our problems through sex, like men do. Now Mike would fuck me through the mattress, crying out my name as he came. His orgasm would be a lightning bolt, perhaps a tsunami, I couldn’t be sure. My thick, black lashes hid my eyes, as they closed in anticipatory bliss. Suddenly, the carpet felt rough against the alabaster skin of my smooth, rounded, meaty ass! Mike had shoved me off the bed!!! “Goddamit, Stu, if you don’t stop reading those romance novels, I’m never going to plow your ass again… and don’t call it your entrance, it’s an ass.”

Like many gay men, my husband is not a fan of M/M romance. It’s probably my fault. When we’re side-by-side in bed perusing our iPads, I read unintentionally hilarious and/or insulting paragraphs from M/M fiction to him. Sometimes Mike will say, “Why do you read that Crappy McCrap?” If he really hates something, he’ll say, “That sucketh!” When Mike moves from faux Gaelic to pseudo-Elizabethan, an author should hang her head in shame, for she rideth the fail whale.

Despite Mike’s antipathy toward M/M romance, I don’t let him dissuade me from reading it. My love of the genre is rooted in personal history. Male/Male romance novels were integral to my coming out as a gay teen in 1979. Books by Patricia Nell Warren, Ensan Case, and Marion Zimmer Bradley helped me to name what I felt and provided positive models for gay relationships in a world where there was very little information. Without these authors (and forgotten others like B.A. Ecker & Ann Snyder), it would have been more difficult for me to accept that my sexuality was whole and good, not diseased, perverted, sinful, and broken. My indebtedness and gratitude to M/M authors is the foundation for the seriousness with which I approach the genre.

However, as the years pass and I continue to read M/M romance, I am increasingly ambivalent about the relationship between the expanding genre and gay male experience. How do I make sense of the relationship? Is it collaboration?… cooptation?… appropriation? Some combination of the three? While it’s amazing there are now so many books and authors, I am worried by the number of stories containing fundamental distortions in their depiction of the lives of contemporary gay and bisexual men.

I am frustrated, for example, when male couples are portrayed as very traditional Male/Female couples, complete with relationship dynamics from the 1950s. In many books, the couple is composed of different sized men: one ‘small, smooth, graceful, and beautiful;’ one ‘tall, hairy, muscled, and rugged’. Often the beautiful, smaller man is depicted as shy, requiring seduction by the more confident, larger man. Unsurprisingly, body type determines who gets fucked when the guys hit the sheets. (Hint: it’s usually not the big, hairy guy.)

I am also confused and annoyed by the body language many authors ascribe to gay men. From many M/M books, a reader might assume that gay men usually seduce one another via “hip swaying,” “butt wiggling” and other, odd, physical displays. Are gay men so different from our heterosexual brethren that we’ve developed a secret language based in ass shaking? And why do authors so often depict gay men as fascinated with each other’s lips? Lip-fascination is usually accompanied by descriptions of the resulting hot flush and/or erection that occur when one of the guys watches the other drink a beer or eat a spoonful of ice cream. And then there’s the disproportionate amount of sexual biting, bruising, hair pulling, and “marking,” in M/M romance. Why do so many authors believe that men want to give each other bruises as a sign of their love? I prefer a kiss (or, if it’s Chanukah, a new computer and 7 flashdrives).

As I’ve noted elsewhere, I am particularly baffled and irritated by the depiction of the penis in M/M fiction: ever-erect and leaking before the object of desire. At funerals, crime scenes, athletic competitions, political negotiations, business meetings or battlefields, no matter how inappropriate the location or situation, M/M protagonists are often written as captives to erect, twitching penises that need to be beaten into submission. This ridiculous penis destroys my ability to suspend disbelief, essential to the enjoyment of a romantic fantasy, and the story comes crashing down around me.

To be honest, unless I’m reviewing a book, I usually now skim or skip the sex scenes, few of them are integral to the plot or to character development. I sometimes wonder if authors who would otherwise omit an unnecessary sex scene from an excellent book, feel compelled to include one or more because increased sales depend upon it.

Other reviewers and columnists have posted at length about the problems with Instalove, Gay For You, the Big Misunderstanding, and the inability of gay couples in M/M fiction to sit down and discuss their problems rationally. Rather than duplicate their work, I point to it as further, multiple examples of the way many authors seem indifferent to the lives of gay and bisexual men.

So what’s a gay man to do when reading fiction that regularly portrays contemporary gay men in deeply distorted and troubling ways? I understand we’re talking about fiction. I understand we’re talking about a type of fiction based in exaggeration and fantasy. I understand I don’t have to buy it if I don’t like it. (Although sometimes it’s difficult to know what you’re going to get from the blurb.) Should I dismiss M/M fiction as lowbrow, escapist trash and have no expectations of the genre? I can’t do that because there are so many wonderful authors writing so many wonderful books. But what about the others: the generic works, so distorted in their portrayals of gay men that it’s difficult not to describe them as homophobic. These authors hope to make money from the sale of books showing little regard for my community and its history of agony and liberation? With the explosion in M/M publishing, has the percentage of works dominated by insulting distortions now reached a point where we can say the genre itself demeans gay/bisexual men? When gay men have suffered unimaginable brutality and worked with such diligence and sacrifice to create some safe space to love one another openly, I believe it is wrong when some authors reduce and distort our lives to a profit-making minstrel show primarily dedicated to serving up erotic satisfaction.

I increasingly question whether it’s beneficial to my married life and sense of self as a gay man to read so many constructions of same-sex sexuality that insult and demean my community. To ask the dreaded question: How many of these distortions are caused because the books are written by women and, in the end, imagination and research cannot substitute for lived experience? Is it fair to say that Male/Male fiction is a genre created by women, dominated by women and consumed by women? Wave told me in an email that “according to a survey on the site, about 25% of the writers in the genre are gay men, trans men and women, and genderqueer individuals.” Yet, I wonder how free these authors feel to step outside the conventions of M/M fiction and still have a reasonable expectation their books will sell. People often buy genre fiction because it fulfills an expectation that certain things will happen in a certain way. The great genre authors are the ones able to create new expectations within the genre or play with the existing conventions in new and thrilling ways. Often, however, authors with less imagination cannibalize the work of their more creative peers and a trope or motif that might have made sense in its original context spreads throughout the genre and becomes cliché. Is this what happened with all the biting and marking?

It is a long time since I was 16 and desperate for stories that might help me understand my terrified longing for the touch of another man, but I can’t help wondering what it’s like for teens today. Although they have access to the infinite resources of the internet and to communication and social networks unimaginable when I came out, a horribly large number still kill themselves even as a thankfully larger number discover the resources necessary to create self-acceptance and hope. I wonder how many of them go online and scroll through Amazon looking for a book to help them understand their lives and feelings. Do they download M/M fiction, hoping to find a representation of a life they might want to someday live? I hope they pick the right book because, frankly, some of what’s published today would only contribute to a young man’s despair. Should the authors and readers of M/M fiction feel any responsibility for these guys and, if so, how should it manifest?

And for the authors and my fellow readers, I have many questions. If M/M fiction is a genre dominated by the romantic and erotic needs and expectations of women, what is their responsibility to the gay/bisexual men they depict? Are contemporary gay lives just props used by some authors to lend realism to a spicy story fundamentally unconcerned with gay men? Should authors of M/M fiction feel any responsibility toward the vulnerable community to which they don’t belong but from which they hope to profit? What is the responsibility of readers?

It’s strange to be a gay man, yet feel on the margins of a creative community dedicated to the exploration and depiction of male/male love.

93 thoughts on “Is Male/Male Romance Fundamentally About Men?

  1. Sirius

    Oh Stuart I am not a gay man (very straight woman) and I agree with a lot of questions you posed. My consolation is that I feel that there are some writers (men or women) who treat their characters with respect even if they are writing a fantasy, the characters still behave believably ( at least to me – maybe you will question their behavior too, as I said I am not a gay man) and those are my favourite ones no matter what subgenres they are writing.

    I also agree that this genre was oriented on women originally ( I do not see harm in that per se), I just think it expands. I also have to say that big partner and female in disguise ( no, not just dichotomy in looks – of course different people look differently, it is the behavior that points on the character supposed to be a woman is what annoys me) drives me bonkers.

    But I want to insert another one of my ranty points only because I think it is relevant in response to one of your arguments. As I said before I used to take it as a given that mm started a genre oriente at women only. Now I wonder if this is so why female characters in so many books of this genre written so very horribly – as caricatures of women ( as wave once said and I keep using this expression – as bitch or whore)? If indeed this genre is only dedicated to erotic desires of women ( and sometimes I will read such stories, why not) shouldn’t women characters at least be portrayed well?

    So I swear I do not mean to digress in my rant completely – I am just saying that horrifying women characters (hilariously as a rule I will see much better portrayed females in the stories by gay men more and more- not always and sometimes they do bad job too, but I think it is ironic) makes me wonder whom mm genre is oriented at. I just keep going back to my thought that well written stories are well written stories you know?

    Anyway thanks so much for this article, very thought provoking.

    1. Stuart Post author

      Hi Sirius,
      I also am surprised by how some authors write about women in M/M fiction. There can be so much hate and contempt. At the same time, the gay ‘friends’ of the MCs are also often depicted as man-stealing bitches and whores. So, maybe it’s a reprehensibly lazy way to add drama to the plot by making these supporting characters another obstacle on the road to true love.

      1. Taylor V. Donovan

        As an author who’s been called out on writing “all bitches” into one of my stories, I have to disagree with this. I don’t purposely make women a certain way to create gratuitous (and shallow) tension. They just happen to be this or the other way. Same as the men.

        I can see how as readers, authors, family or friends of gay men most of us will be protective of them, and we certainly don’t want our genre to be the bad (mostly ignorant and intolerant) person in the story, but reality is not all women are understanding or supportive when it comes to homosexuality. Personally I’ve included female antagonistic characters when the story called for it. Not every woman in my stories is an ass, but I don’t think it is right to pretend we women can’t be heartless just to avoid criticism when it comes to that particular subject. I like to keep it real, and the truth is I’ve seen my fair share of women behave badly toward gay men based on religion, morals, beliefs, or even personal interest. They exist.

        Also, I am a woman. I am not a terrible person, but I’ve been known to yell a few choice words at my husband when I was upset, hurt, annoyed, et al. That doesn’t make me a bitch, I don’t think. Then again, maybe his answer would be different *g*

        Excellent post, Stuart. I agree that lots of MM Romance characters don’t really behave like men, but I know plenty of girly, flamboyant, and flaming gays out there. My best friend is one of them :-)

        1. Sirius

          I try to avoid the examples I consider negative but you said not me – so yes I consider your book to be one of the worst examples of portrayal of women in this genre. Which is doubly upsetting because I enjoyed the guys so much,, sorry. Author has every right to write any character they want, whatever story calls for and I respect it. At the same time when it is done and over with – I can look at the finished product and express how I feel. Not all women are supportive of men’s homosexuality sadly for sure, and some women are bitches but do you live in the world where *every* single woman is a bitch? Because that was the impression I got after I finished your book. Every single one?

          1. Taylor V. Donovan

            Okay, I don’t want to take over this thread, cause the article isn’t about women in MM Romancelandia, but I’ll address this.

            It’s a matter of perspective and interpretation, I believe. Or maybe the fact that only I know they “whys” and what happens next? But no, not all of them are bad. In fact, there’s one character who’s best friend with a gay man, and very supportive of the community in general, yet she’s irrational when it comes to a particular one. Not because he’s gay, but because he lied to and cheated on her. So at the end it isn’t about his sexuality, but about his character and actions at the time, and the way in which he hurt her.

            Thank you for reading and liking the men :-)

  2. Angelia Sparrow

    Last I checked (around 2001) about 35% of the women writers in the genre fell somewhere within the QUILTBAG, as opposed to about 5% of the general pop. You do us a disservice to assume we are all straight and not involved in our local community.

    We, as writers, have a responsibility to get things right: sexual mechanics, political climate, geography. Beyond that, I adhere to Toddy’s statement in _Victor/Victoria_. “There are all sorts of men who behave in all sorts of ways.”

    We still write in the size differential, and the gender roles because these are the stories we KNOW. These are the stories we internalize, the ones we live. The average woman is 4 inches shorter than the average man.

    I write the hairpulling, biting and marking, because that’s what I like done to me. Maybe the average guy wouldn’t climax fully dressed, in a room full of strangers, just from having his hair pulled and his wrist bitten. Or in the middle of a conventions dealer’s room because someone ran a claw down his neck the right way. But I like to think he’d at least get a little shiver of pleasure.

    I have been stepping outside the conventions of the genre, and outside the genre itself, from day one. My lesbian work doesn’t sell nearly as well. And oddly, my heterosexual stuff doesn’t move well either. (Oddly, because the market is SUPPOSED to be bigger) Let’s not even talk about my nonfiction. But in the end, the biggest consistant sellers are the contemporaries, the ones that stick closest to the formula. If I have a choice to write what sells or what fulfills me as a story teller, I’m going to write both. But I’m going to prioritize the money maker.

    At base, no, m/m is NOT about men. It’s about the women writers, the women readers and the society that tells us we’re not quite real people and our bodies are problematic and disgusting. It’s about the fact there are no good words for female genitalia, which makes it uncomfortable for many of us to read and/or write sexy het stuff. It’s about female identification with male media characters (see the whole “boys won’t read books about girls” discussion and the coveted male 18-34 demographic, elsewhere) because of a lack of female characters.

    Maybe those aren’t the answers you’re looking for, but they’re my answers.

    1. Sirius

      Of course there are different gay men who behave differently and that should be reflected in fiction IMO. However my limit is when I can change the name of the man to a woman and what we see will be the woman from m/f romance. Just as there are different gay men, some straight women readers really do not care for those characters (of course I am only speaking for myself). And some do of course, I know readers who love them dearly, but I certainly understand why gay men do not love them.

      I guess I think it is possible to write men how women would want them to be (more open with their emotions?, whatever else there) and still make them believable as men.

      Again, this one reader is just not looking for disguised het in mm genre. More power for those who do, but I read it once, read it twice and never pick up that writer’s works again.

    2. Wave

      Angel

      We, as writers, have a responsibility to get things right:

      I agree, which is why I think that characterizing gay men as women is entirely WRONG. I have gay friends and I don’t know many of them who fit the majority of characterizations in M/M romances. If an author is writing a book about MEN then she should not co-opt female characteristics and call her MCs men. Just call them what they are – WOMEN and not well drawn women either. Don’t get me started on how real women are disrespected in these books – that’s the subject for a whole other post which was written over 2 years ago..

      If there’s one character type I hate it’s “chicks with dicks” which is what we get a lot of in M/M romance. If I want to read about women I would read het romances with TSTL heroines, not M/M books masquerading as books about men. A gay man is a man just like any other man, he just happens to be attracted to his own sex. Of course there are different types of men just as there are different kinds of women, but if you were writing a book with a straight hero would he have the same characteristics as your gay heroes? Where does it say that a gay man is so far removed from his straight counterpart in terms of his physical looks and other character attributes? Okay, I admit gay men usually dress better than straight guys. :)

      We still write in the size differential, and the gender roles because these are the stories we KNOW

      I beg to differ again because for me these gender roles are not in my experience. I worked in many fields that were male oriented such as construction and everyone had to do the same job regardless of sex. So I can’t relate to the gender roles you quoted.

      At base, no, m/m is NOT about men.

      So, if the genre is not about men what is it all about then Alfie? Are you saying that all of what we’ve been told about M/M is not true, and that this genre is really het in gayface?

      I don’t want to read het romance when I read M/M, which is why I choose the authors I read for pleasure very carefully. Unfortunately I review books by many different authors, some of whom exploit the very men they write about.

      I realize that M/M stories are fantasy and books are supposed to be entertaining, but can authors write the guys as men, albeit different types of MEN and not make them into women? Can they not be entertaining as well as believable?

      As Tom Clancy said -

      The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense.

      1. Sirius

        Rather than write about women in disguise by pretending one of them to be part of gay couple what I want to see is more full drawn multilayered supporting women characters in these stories and for the gay couple to be a gay couple . Seriously I just finished “Buchanan letters” by Neil Plaksy yesterday. At center of it are two professors trying to achieve tenure – one is gay man, who also has a romantic storyline and one is lesbian woman. Of course I cannot vouch for how believable Naomi is as a lesbian woman, but as a *woman* she is very believable – career woman, great fun friend , love story on the side. Can we have more characters like her instead of what we have?

      2. Angelia Sparrow

        The only difference between my straight heroes and my gay heroes is their sexual attraction. Most times, even the mechanics are pretty much the same.

        The genre is actually about women. It’s about the women who write it and the women who read it. We use male stand-ins for our desires, for our dreams, just as the media has taught us to.

        I drove a semi for six years. I’ve done the pink collar ghetto and the blue collar dead-end. But at base, I was raised with very definite gender roles and expectations. Our fairy tales, adventure books, movies and TV were permeated with it and the liberation of the 70s was roundly mocked in my small town. (This is, of course, Feminism 101)

        There’s no excuse for writing thinly-veiled het. Then again, my het readers say I write thinly-veiled slash, so go figure. (my last straight female romatic lead was a hard-drinking, gun-toting PI who was more pissed than otherwise when she was attracted to the hero) There’s no excuse for bad romance in any orientation.

        If you want gay fiction, there is plenty of it. But that’s not what I’m writing. The endings of those tend to depress me and I don’t do realist fiction.

        1. Stuart Post author

          Angelia,

          There’s plenty of gay fiction that makes for excellent entertainment. Non-literary authors/books I’ve enjoyed: Hero by Perry Moore. Boy Meets Boy & Will Grayson, Will Grayson by David Levithan. Comfort & Joy and Kirith Kirin by Jim Grimsley. Novels by Stephen Macauley, Michael Thomas Ford, Gregg Herren, Steve Kluger, Rick Copp, Michael Nava, Mark Richard Zubro. There’s hours of non-depressing gay fiction for you to enjoy.

          And in terms of the genre being for women who use men as stand-ins: Sean Kennedy received 96 Amazon Reviews for Tigers and Devils (4.5 star average), that’s pretty good! Damon Suede, 127 Amazon Reviews for Hot Head (4.5 star average), excellent! and Jay Bell’s Something Like Summer received 168 reviews (4.5 star average), pretty amazing. I didn’t do any more research than that but it seems like the genre has produced some successful novels by men that get read by women and gay men. Seems a successful sales strategy to me.

  3. Raine

    Outstanding parody…I think I’ve read that book and more than once.

    I agree with some of what you say and have shared some of your worries. As an older straight woman I came to the genre through Josh Lanyon’s writing and also the paranormal genre. I was worried at one time that I was treating the gay heroes as just another variety of cast members, but the reality of people’s live have thankfully educated me and I am now much more aware of the facts behind the fiction. This site and others have helped to educate me.

    I do feel that over the last year or so the quality of the genre has coarsened and that there are writers who do not have the care for their characters that was part of my original attraction to the genre. Your phrase ‘ cannibalise ‘ is very appropriate for some writer’ s attitudes.

    However then I remember outstanding work like The Irregulars or Gives Light and I feel a lot happier about everything.

    Great post, thank you.

  4. Pete

    As a gay men, I can see the issues that Stuart pointed out in the M/M romance genre.

    I start reading M/M romance two years ago after I got a Kindle and so far have read about 600s M/M titles. I can think of a few major authors right away that had all the elements that Stuart mentioned in the post. Personally, I have no issue with the smaller/taller couple since I am a shorter guy who would love to have 6’2″-6’4″ man of my own. Some of the other stuffs I just chalked up as the couple’s kinks and preferences.

    However, it all comes down to, as Stuart had mentioned himself, on who are the actual market of the M/M romance genre. I love Cut & Run series and have join the fan forum on Goodreads. It turns out that there seems to be only 2-3 men in that group including me. So what does that imply… I would love to read the accurate portrayal of gay men but if the majority of M/M romance reader are women, then what can we do?

    Also, as much fun as some of these books are to read, they are still fictions. Hopefully these gay youths would not based all their hopes and dreams on these fictions. I mean I really hope no one would really believe they will find a shifter fated-mate.

    As much as society should be responsible in youth educations, the youth themselves have to also take personal responsibilities in choosing what they wants to really believed in. Hopefully they will be able to distinguish between the *high fantasy* base and the reality base novels.

  5. Jeffrey

    I also found Patricia Nell Warren and Marion Zimmer Bradley at a critical time in my life and I agree with a lot of what you’ve written. It was only when reading this that I realized that I also skim over the sex scenes in some (many?) books and I agree it happens when the sex that pops up isn’t really necessary to advance the story.

    I am also troubled by descriptions of couples where size and body type determines the top and bottom. I’m always hoping for things to get more versatile in those cases but sadly it rarely happens.

    I’m also relying very heavily on reviews of M/M books these days. The description by the reviewer usually gives me some hints as to whether there are going to be things that bother me. But the reviews also clue me into whether the book is just about a developing romance or whether it is placing that romance in the world with all of its challenges for same-sex couples. If it’s the former, I don’t think the gender/orientation of the author matters. But if it’s the later, I agree with you that the author needs to have directly experienced the world as LGBT. I also recognize that these are broad generalizations and that other readers here will be able to point to examples that brake these statements. While those are exceptions I welcome and are grateful for, they are still exceptions in my experiences.

    1. Stuart Post author

      I read the Heritage of Hastur and the Catch Trap locked in the basement, as if the secret police were going to arrest me if caught! I bought the Fancy Dancer while strolling around the bookstore with my girlfriend (as in woman I was dating). Before I left for college, I shredded my secret collection of gay novels and snuck the shreds out to the garbage under cover of darkness. What a sad old world it was.

      There are some books that break the size=role linkage. Love and Loyalty by Tere Michaels immediately comes to mind.

      1. Jeffrey

        I was working in a public library and found The Front Runner on the paperback racks while I was putting books away. The paperbacks were almost all het romances, so seeing a book cover with two guys on it quickly caught my attention and I also wondered why I hadn’t noticed it before. I was in college at the time but still living at home so when I did find one of the few books that were out there, it always “hidden” away – though I had so many books that it was a more of a hiding in plain sight.

  6. Naaju Rorrete

    I’ve been away from here due to lack of time, but I’m glad to be back to read this. Stuart, thanks so much for taking the time to write it. This is a topic that needs to be discussed and this an excellent article to start doing so.
    There must be a balance between fantasy and reality in romance. An author has some responsibility in what he or she puts out there, but also, there must be an element of fantasy for a book to be interesting enough to keep us reading until the end. It’s common sense, if it sounds fake and ridiculous, don’t put it on the page.
    Also, it’s a matter of taste. In the same way some of us can’t stand certain types of music, there are some types of M/M books that are not for every reader.
    However, do readers want reality? I had little experience dealing with them, since I only had a book out there, (my other work posted online before, never got negative feedback).
    This time around, I got some, because a few readers didn’t like the way I deal with a situation in the book. Specifically, I got a reader complaining about one of the character getting HIV because of the irresponsibility of his previous partner. She left a review on Goodreads asking how it was possible that I wrote guys going bareback without waiting to be tested for HIV first?
    I opened a discussion to explain why I did that. Basically, I did it, because it’s what the guys in my neck of the woods are doing. They don’t ask someone to go tested before going bareback, some don’t use condoms, and worse, the ones doing the riskier behavior are bisexual men who takes chances of being with other men when they get an opportunity of doing so, and later go home and have sex with their wives.
    Recently, I had a bitter argument with a friend’s husband. She doesn’t know he’s bi, but I guessed it and I’m worried by some of the things he’d been doing. So, I decided to talk with him about it. In the end we discussed things I would had rather left unsaid, but it shed light on a reality that is still going on. He works in the casino industry, and most of the employees at the overnight shift are basically having sex with one another without taking any precautions. It’s hard to believe, but it’s the truth. BTW, none of the bisexual men I know is flamboyant. Most wish they were 100% per cent heterosexual, but of course, we know that nature is stronger than our cultural chains.

    Now, remember why we read, it’s for entertainment and sometimes to evade reality. For example, I’m going through a very difficult situation right now, so at the end of the day when I don’t want to think anymore about it, I read, because while doing so, I’m immerse in a world different from my own. Last night I was reading a M/M book that wasn’t great but it wasn’t bad either, and at the end I remember thinking – at least, I forgot about my situation for a couple of hours. So, even if I disagree with the way the author portrayed the characters, I got my goal of being entertained.

  7. jeff erno

    Stuart,
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. This was a very interesting blog about a topic I’ve seen addressed numerous times from different angles. Actually, I think you raised several thought-provoking issues which could each be addressed at length in an exclusive blog. All the questions you asked were ones I’ve contemplated myself, and one in particular is important enough to me for me to take the time to respond. I don’t often participate in forum discussions because I tend to be more of an observer than a commenter. But I appreciate all you’ve said, so I will step forward and weigh in with my (humble) opinion.

    Concerning whether or not the characters and storylines in our m/m fiction resemble real-life gay men, I have to honestly say, “Yes, often.” And the reason that I say this so confidently is simply because we are a very diverse community.

    I loved the example you gave of your husband and you. It sounds to me that you’d be the perfect couple to inspire a wonderful m/m novel. Reading between the lines, I gather that neither of you are the type who swishes when he walks or is ever accused of being effeminate.

    However, I know dozens of wonderful, entertaining, loveable, talented, well-adjusted gay men who are emotional, effusive, overly-dramatic, and just outright “girlish”. Many of these softer types are attracted strictly to butch, rugged men. And there are plenty of masculine guys who are indeed attracted primarily to fem guys. And these relationships work wonderfully for them; it is a magnificent pairing—albeit one that does bear a striking resemblance to the 1950s traditional heterosexual model.

    Classical romance always consists of two primary character archetypes—the hero and the damsel in distress. Cinderella is enslaved and has a miserable existence. She’s overwhelmed with despair and hardship, until her Prince Charming comes and sweeps her away. They live HEA. Our contemporary romances (Pretty Woman, for example) are exactly like this. So why is it surprising to see this same model used in m/m romance? When the shy, nerdy boy with low self-esteem falls for the big, larger-than-life, jock hero, and they live happily ever after, this is just a variation of Cinderella.

    Of course not all readers will like the same types of stories. Some will find these sappy, formulaic, feel-good stories too-good-to-be-true. Some will abhor the vulnerable protagonist, labeling him weak and girly. Some gay men will even be offended or annoyed by such portrayals. But there will also be many who love these stories. I happen to be one of these readers. These are my favorite tropes.

    I don’t think that asking if m/m romance is all about men is a deep enough question, because there are so many different types of men. There are so many different gay men—some very masculine and rugged (like police officers) and others very flamboyant. And many are a wonderful mixture that falls right in-between. And that’s what I love about m/m. It contains all of these characters.

    Thanks again for a truly well-written blog. And I loved your mention of the list of authors from years past. I recognized them all.

    1. Stuart Post author

      Hi Jeff, thanks for the reply. You remember B.A. Ecker?! That’s great. Do you still have your copy of Independence Day? I wish I had mine, stayed up all night reading it. Do you remember Ruth Turk’s More than Friends from 1980? I’d probably be horrified if I reread that today.

      Would Mike and I make a good story? Intrepid psychotherapist falls in love with NYC police detective, marriage follows. Sounds good to me!

      I appreciate the diversity of gender performance in M/M fiction. I don’t need everyone to be “masculine,” whatever that means, I just want them to be alive as characters. In Haley Walsh’s Skyler Foxe mysteries, for example, the main character is neither big nor masculine and his boyfriend is both. They’re good books because the characters aren’t stereotypes, they’re people. They’re not defined by their gender performance. For me, I guess it’s the difference between watching Mad Men and Father Knows Best. They both depict the late 50s – early 60s, but one is complex and one is not. Even a top/bottom relationship modeled on the 50s is going to have all sorts of interesting nuances to explore that makes the characters richly human.

      As for fairytales, I like them in their original form where there is real loss and struggle attached to the achievement of the HEA. Cinderella just isn’t swept away by her Prince, she flees from him and hides from him and many others lose their toes and sight before the HEA. I’m not talking angst or sentimentality but suffering and real feeling.

      Whatever their form of gender performance, we have endured a lot to get where we are. Any other community: First Nations, Jewish, African-American would probably be far less sanguine than we are about having our lives carelessly used to sell e-books.

      1. jeff erno

        Stuart,
        LOL! You inspired me to go back and look for Independence Day. I found a used copy on Amazon for $3.42. I used to save every single book I read until they took over my home, then I donated all of them or gave them away. Of course, now 99% of what I read is on my Kindle.

        And I guess I was exaggerating when I said I recognized all the authors you listed because I don’t think I read the Ruth Turk book.

        It was so different back then. We didn’t have the Internet, and finding any fiction with gay characters was an absolute thrill. I love the fact that we are at a point now where we have so many choices that we can argue over how to categorize them.

        And I also love that m/m has a broader audience, appealing to young people, straight women, gay men, lesbians, and all the stripes of the rainbow flag.

        We can have these debates, and I think it’s healthy. But it truly warms my heart to realize that the gay youth of today have a lot more resources. Sure, some of the stories are unrealistic and even silly, but just being able to read about gay protagonists is a very gratifying and affirming thing for a kid discovering who he is.

  8. Charming

    The most interesting thing to me about this post is that it echoes so strongly what feminists, including me, have often felt about straight romance books. The women are so bland, too stupid to live, and waiting for a man to come rescue them from their boring and annoying existence. The men are all big gruff alpha males, like that is what every woman wants. The sex is fabulous, with multiple orgasms, from the deflowering onward.

    Honestly, I rarely read M/F anymore. When I do, I read reviews and carefully select books that won’t annoy me with their gender portrayals. But I am not as contemptuous of the tastes of others as I used to be either. Reading for pleasure is a good in itself I think. If big taciturn moguls rescuing feisty virginal secretaries turns your crank, who am I to squash your pleasure?

    I would also take issue with the idea that romance ought to “get things right.” That is what literature is for: to reflect the human reality where life’s a bitch and then you die. Romance isn’t like that, and (IMO) it shouldn’t be. We read romance because we want two people to find love with each other and have a happy ending. As Josh Lanyon puts it: we don’t want characters who are realistic; we want characters who are relatable. I would add that we don’t want stories and conversations and sex that are realistic either. We want them to be relatable.

    I am a straight woman and won’t try to speak for young gay males trying to come to terms with their sexuality. I would just say that women (and teenaged girls) are pretty familiar with being seen as sexual objects, who are expected to behave in ridiculous ways and achieve ludicrous levels of physical attractiveness. Honestly, we don’t wiggle our butts or have red gleaming lips or thick black eyelashes either – not without training or effort anyway. Some women can’t stand that stuff, and others revel in it and really don’t need my bluestocking disapproval of their being different from me.

    So maybe it is OK if there are a variety of portrayals of gay men out there, even if some are unrealistic and even insulting to some people? Maybe gay literature can be realistic and leave M/M to be a warmer, more idealized alternative? Let a thousand flowers bloom and all that?

  9. Charming

    Or you know, I could have noticed Jeff Erno’s post before I posted since he said most of what I said much better. :-)

    One question that has occurred to me before and I thought of again reading Jeff’s post is this: what does it mean to write a male character who is really a female character with pronouns changed? Chick with a dick or whatever? I kind of think that might be something that everyone sees differently too. I feel like this when male characters spend a lot of time mulling over their feelings and talking them out with each other. The men in my life are not like this. :-) But I have a friend whose husband does exactly this. He is the one who says “we have to talk” and draws her out and figures out what is going on behind the surface feelings and all that. She tries to hide out when it gets too probing. So is that just a stereotype of mine?

    1. Sirius

      Of course I am sure people may have different ideas of what does it mean when they talk about these characters. For me it is NOT that men cannot talk and discuss things or that men cannot be weak or emotional or needy. Of course they can be! It is precisely that – if I can change names and see that the character is a woman, that’s what it means for me. I can not even pinpoint one quality – it is the totality of circumstances. I have for example zero problem with men crying in romances – as far as I am concerned men are human brings too and allowed to get upset and sometimes a lot. But sometimes writer will take it to sch over the top degree that I just can’t deal – because no, I do not think that crying on every page is a male personality trait. characters who look different – no problem at all, but add to it the characters never ever ever switching roles in bed and I will get annoyed – no I am not saying that women are passive in bed . Omg of course not, but if you remember get historicals of the 80 -90s woman often is passive in bed. I am sure not in all of then since I left het behind me fr many years and only recently had been reading some of it again . Basically if I ha e a déjà vu when I am reading about the character and think this what damsel in distress from those books looked like – I cannot deal then.

      1. Charming

        (Oops; I put this in the wrong place. I hope my deletion request works.)

        Sirius, I have a theory! I think CWDs are men who act like traditional M/F heroines rather than acting like women. That fits both my example and yours. Normal women don’t cry on every page or emote constantly or exude neediness – that is traditional women in romances.

        1. Sirius

          Charming this is pretty much what I meant thank you :). Heroines of traditional het romances – of course they often have very little in common with real women , but they are called women so I cannot call them anything else :)

  10. Mercedes

    Stuart,

    First you made me laugh and then you made me think! You have started a great discussion that I wish many authors would pay attention to.

    I was never much for reading MF stories because I found a lot of the stories corny. But MM romance wins my appeal over MF because I love reading about two men falling in love. But I do wish writers would avoid some of the pitfalls you mention, corny dialogue, ridic sex scenes, stereotyping, etc.

    My approach in reading this genre has been to read a mix of M or F writers and read two books from each of them to learn about the author’s voice. I have to tell you that yes some authors treat their characters respectfully. But it’s a mixed bag. I have read many MM romances written by gay men were the characters were very stereotypical and the language was corny and the sex scenes exaggerated. So, I don’t know, are these writers writing for their mostly F audience and giving them what they think they want or what? As a female reader I find this sometimes confusing and disappointing. I mean I want gay authors to give me a peek at their reality not a peek to what they think I want to see. So in a sense I feel they are perpetuating the situation.

    I have also found books written by M and F authors that I found to be believable stories and I know this is a topic of contention but a lot of it I consider “gay fiction” vrs “MM romance”. If I had a 16yo looking for stories that would help him deal with his feelings I would direct him to those before I have him explore any MM romance books out there.

    It’s tough I think because like Andrew says, there is a little bit of everything out there so some of what we think are stereotypes may be real to someone. But the stereotyping comes when we think that’s how it “generally” is. But I think there is one thing writers could get easily and that is get more real with their dialogue. I mean when I read MM or MF I think is this something I would say to my husband when we are having sex or is this something he would say to me? If it doesn’t ring true to you the it probably doesn’t ring true to others.

  11. K. Z. Snow

    Ha! I loved this article, in spite of the fact it added to my burden of guilt … and I have no idea what the “biting/marking” stuff is all about. :???:

    That said, a couple of comments stood out for me. Angelia is absolutely correct in suggesting there are infinite gradations of queer. Many women who write in this genre feel more of an affinity with gay men than with straight men or straight women. (The only reason I’m not bringing up the other letters in the QUILTBAG is that this is a site devoted to m/m romance.)

    Jeff Erno’s mini-essay really hit home. It’s been my experience (and I’m an old bird, so I’ve been around for a while) that gay men are indeed as diverse a group as any other on this planet. I, for example, am a blonde of Polish heritage. But — guess what? — I’m neither stupid nor lacking in taste. (Well, okay, I have my lapses. :smile: )

    I’ve known an incredibly wide variety of gay men in my life — from young to elderly, obese to rail-thin, straight-seeming to swishy, partner-bonded to recklessly promiscuous. I can’t say I’ve loved them all; some were assholes. But that’s part of my point. Refusing any kind of gay man access to my fictional worlds would, in my view, be a sign of ignorance and an act of unforgivable prejudice.

    So . . . although I’m with ya, Stu, on the absurdity of “nonstop sex heals all” (which is boring, to boot) and “gay for you, out of the blue” (God, I find that trope offensive!) and insta-love, I’ll continue to assert that many straight women aren’t all that straight, and gay men exist in as many colors and flavors of behavior as the cis-gendered hetero population.

    1. Stuart Post author

      Hi KZ: The author of “A Hole in God’s Pocket” has nothing to feel guilty about. That novel is an example of what’s great about M/M fiction!!!

      I’m not arguing that M/M authors ignore the diversity of Male gender performance, that would be terrible!! But is an “effeminate” man the same being as a woman and it is proper to depict him so? Also, I’d love to read M/M fiction where the MCs were elderly or obese or homely. How about M/M fiction that acknowledges that most guys hook-up via Grindr or the Internet? From M/M fiction, you’d never guess that gay sex has went digital, even the bars in NYC have trouble staying open.

      1. Wave

        Stuart

        I’d love to read M/M fiction where the MCs were elderly or obese or homely. How about M/M fiction that acknowledges that most guys hook-up via Grindr or the Internet? From M/M fiction, you’d never guess that gay sex has went digital, even the bars in NYC have trouble staying open.

        I’m so glad you mentioned these topics because one of the masters of this genre at writing diverse plots, complicated characters and unusual stories IMO is Rick R. Reed, one of my favourite authors. He has written such gems as Out on the Net & VGL Male Seeks Same (about seeking love online) and the consequences NEG UB2. Chaser about a chubby chaser, Homecoming & A Journey of the Heart which will tug at your heartstrings. He also wrote the horror classic, a favourite of mine, A Face Without a Heart a retake of the Oscar Wilde classic A Picture of Dorian Gray – if you’re interested in complex character studies this book is not to be missed.

        If you want to read a story about an elderly gay couple there’s a very short story by J.M. Snyder called Henry & Jim which tugs at your heart because it’s about the inevitability of the ending.

        For my personal reading I go outside the lines and choose books that are either different or I love the author’s work. If you haven’t tried Rick Reed’s stories you might want to take a look at the ones I have listed here, but he has a body of work that can’t be rivalled and you might want to check out Orientation which is very unusual and Through The Closet Door a very short, but different story about coming out of the closet. All of these books are reviewed on the site so they are easy to find.

        Of course there are many other authors who have written about these topics but Rick’s books are the ones that come immediately to mind. I hope you will check out a few of them if you haven’t already done so.

        1. Stuart

          I think Rick still had his characters tied to their desktops, has anyone crossed the Grindr or Scruff barrier yet? Rich Juzwiak, in his Pride & Shame series on Gawker, just posted a great article about his use of Grindr: “Who Needs a Log Flume When You Can Get a Blow Job In a Theme Park Bathroom Instead?: My Family Vacation.” Here’s the link for pasting: http://gawker.com/5960226/who-needs-a-log-flume-when-you-can-get-a-blow-job-in-a-theme-park-bathroom-instead-my-family-vacation

          See, I’m not advocating for bowdlerized or limited versions of the diverse gay experience! :grin:

          1. Wave

            To be fair, Rick’s stories about looking for love online were written about 3 years ago. I don’t know when the Grindr app was made available but it must be fairly recent. Obviously, since I’m straight I wouldn’t use this app but I would love a straight version just to check it out for research and for my friends. :lol:

            Of course my question to you is: Why would a monogamous married guy such as yourself use this app? Probably research, right? :???:

            I really need to get out more. My education is sadly lacking in certain areas. :hysterics:

            1. Stuart

              Ha, ha! :grin: Never used it myself. I’ve sown my wild oats and am a one-man man. After Mike, nothing else would do. You see, he does this thing where… :blush: …never mind.

              Grindr launched in 2009 (according to Wikipedia) and for single or polyamorous gay/bisexual/curious men, its impact on gay dating cannot be underestimated.

              There is a straight version called Blendr, but I don’t think it’s had anything approaching the same impact. Here’s an article about Blendr so you can begin acquiring… knowledge… for your… uh… friends. :whistle:

              http://www.gq.com/news-politics/mens-lives/201110/blendr-straight-grindr-app-review

              1. Wave

                WOW! I’ve been living under a bush. You are a man of many talents and someday we’ll exploit them to their fullest potential. :grin: BTW I believe you (thousands wouldn’t) when you say that you don’t use Grindr. :grin:

                I checked the release dates of Rick’s first books about living online and one was released in 2008 and the other in early 2009, before the advent of Grindr.

                Maybe I’ll write a post about this underground (or above ground) world that twenty and thirty somethings inhabit. :eek:

  12. Deedles

    Oh lord, I don’t know where to begin. My two cents are rolling all over the place. I read for escapism, always have. As long as the characters have some depth and aren’t bland I can deal with it. Of course, I’m not a gay man either. I was ten in 1966. I am a Black female who grew up loving musicals Motown and country music. That last one was a no-no at that time. I read Robin Hood, The Three Musketeers and such. I was told I wasn’t black enough because of my “peculiar” taste in entertainment. I don’t care if something isn’t realistic if it is written well. I’ve never met any woman who has behaved like some of these so called girly men. These books are fun. I much preferred Starsky and Hutch over Adam-12 or Dragnet. I didn’t care if it was unrealistic it was fun. My husband is a deputy fire marshall. He has to leave the room when I watch anything with exploding cars because I don’t want to get lectured on how that aint the way it works! James Bond is okay tho, that’s real right? I did really enjoy this post. You really tickle me.

  13. Ellie

    I love your post and agree with much of what you say. As a M/M reader I am more than frustrated with how many writers often characterize the M/M relationship. I despise the portrayal of the “giggling” (and, yes, that’s the word some authors overuse) “fem” man and the hulky, hunky, “alpha” in the relationship. These characterizations portray a stereotype of gay men that some might consider homophobic. But, in defence of some female authors their only source of insight and knowledge into gay and bi relationships is what they’ve learned from other (in some cases subpar) authors of the genre and online. Although greatly varied much of what’s online (can’t say the word because this post is getting caught in spam) continues to perpetuate many of the stereotypes you bring up…twinks and bears and boys and daddies… The point being, even with access to the worldwide web many female authors have no personal points of reference because they’re not truly plugged into the real gay and bi community. Eventually, as readers we’re able to discern the difference and those select authors who write compelling stories and characters rise to the top while others (hopefully) go away.

    1. Stuart Post author

      Ellie,
      I forgot about the “giggling,” thanks for reminding me! I was trying to remember all the verbs that frustrate me and I left that one out.

      1. K. Z. Snow

        My straight-as-an-arrow, ex-Ranger SO giggles all the time while he’s watching stupid shit on YouTube. :muck: There’s just no other verb to describe the sound. He’s not chuckling throatily, not snickering, not belly-laughing. He’s giggling.

  14. Ellie

    One other point, (and I realize it may sound a bit contradictory to my point above but hang in there) as you say most M/M is written primarily by and for women. There’s something to be said for “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”. There are some (not many) gay male authors whose work I can’t connect with. It may be the “real” gay experience feels too foreign (even with the insights I have into the gay community thanks to dear friends.) So, the formula you reference may need to exist in some way to satisfy the female readers. I think everyone on this site wants to see this genre continue and flourish. We need to continue to be honest in our reviews of M/M books – thanks Wave! When it’s shit or when it’s cliché, even from beloved authors, let’s not be afraid to say so.

  15. Lou Harper

    There are so many talented M/M writers who don’t do the purple prose. There’s a wide range of M/M and readers seek out what they like. Yes, there tropes and cliches and plain bad writing. As is IN ALL GENRE FICTION. Don’t get me started on little old ladies constantly stumbling over dead bodies.

    M/M is romance. Romance is escapist fiction. I’m guessing, M/M is exactly as realistic het romance.

    I’m a woman who grew up watching movies, TV shows, and reading books with predominantly male heroes. Somewhere along the way I began to male-identify. Not hundred percent of the time, but since I was a kid, in many of my fantasies I’ve been the guy. It’s probably fucked up, but I don’t care. I rather own it than be ashamed of it.

    If you don’t like what you’re reading, for goodness sake, write what you’d like to read.

    1. Wave

      If you don’t like what you’re reading, for goodness sake, write what you’d like to read.

      This post is about characterizations of gay men and dialogue (mostly) in M/M romance. As readers I believe we have a right to criticize elements of the genre that we don’t like. Whether or not M/M is as “realistic” as het romance is irrelevant since a lot of het readers escaped to M/M romances because they didn’t want to read what was being served up. I am one of those readers.

      Probably the same thing will happen to M/M in the future if current trends of over saturation continue, and the only people who will buy these books are those who like what they read. Or maybe the cream will rise to the top and the bad writers will be forced out because no one will buy their books.

      We have every right to criticize certain aspects of the genre since we pay the freight. Like any other product, just like wine or the movies, books are a product, even though it’s a creative product, and as readers we can say what we think about elements of the product that we find tasteless.

      We don’t have to write a book to know when one is sub par.

      1. Lou Harper

        Sure, you have right to criticize whatever you don’t like, but it’s highly subjective. Even reviewers don’t always agree, not to mention, readers. I find many of the most popular books, some of which you rated high, completely unrealistic.

        I don’t think it’s irrelevant to point out that romance is an escapist genre. When I want something more realistic, I read gay fiction or gay genre fiction. I have different expectations going into them. Of course, I want to read quality M/M, but my definition of it won’t agree with everyone else’s.

        There’s a huge influx of new writers in the genre, but it’ll sort itself out eventually. I’d like to think for the better, but if only good writing rose to the top, Dan Brown wouldn’t be so popular.

        1. Wave

          This post is not about reviewing or rating a book, but about the characterizations that Stuart felt were demeaning and/or insulting to gay men, in addition to unrealistic dialogue.

          Everyone’s taste is different and that’s understandable, because as human beings we don’t all like the same things. However to denigrate an entire gender to make money off them is what the post is about, among other things.

            1. Wave

              If I were a gay man I would find a lot of the dialogue and characterizations in M/M demeaning. Even though I’m not a gay man I still find it so. It’s all a matter of perspective.

              Being black, IMO the use of the “n” word in M/M historical romances is insulting and demeaning. I suppose that’s subjective too. I wrote a post about it a couple of years ago. Again its a matter of perspective.

    2. Deedles

      Amen! This is sorta kinda what I was trying to say but I lack eloquence and coherency outside of my own head. Thank you.

  16. Stuart Post author

    Hi Lou,

    I’m glad you find artistic satisfaction in fantasizing about being a man. Would you say that you are a writer of gay/lesbian fiction?

    If you go to the Kindle Store on Amazon and select Gay/Lesbian Fiction, these are the titles, in order, that appear on the page:

    The One Who Saves Me by Cardeno C.
    The Fall by Ryan Quinn
    An Unconventional Courtship by Scotty Cade
    Reflash by Sandrine Gasq-Dion & Jenjo
    Two Wiggles & Some Fur by Joyee Flynn
    The Red Zone by Sandrine Gasq-Dion & Jenjo
    Richochet by Xanthe Walter
    Irish Wishes by Sandrine Gasq-Dion & Jenjo
    Pleading the Fifth by Sandrine Gasq-Dion & Jenjo
    A Slice of Love by Andrew Grey
    But for You by Mary Calmes

    I don’t need to write a novel in order to question the meanings and implications of this Amazon page. Perhaps M/M Romance needs to be listed under a different category than gay/lesbian fiction.

    1. Charming

      I entirely agree that M/M romance should be listed separately from gay fiction. Amazon doesn’t make everyone pick through M/F romance to find literature and vice versa.

    2. Stuart Post author

      COMMENT FROM LOU HARPER (There was some difficulty with the posting function):

      I tried to post this reply to your question, but the board wouldn’t let me:

      I’m a writer of gay romance. I totally agree that Amazon should separate gay romance and gay fiction. However, I don’t think they ever will, because it’s not a can of worms they want to open. There would be much squabble about where you draw the line. Does the author being biologically male would automatically make a book gay fiction? I don’t think so. On the flip side, would being female automatically disqualify? Now, that’s a shitstorm right there.

      Btw, Ryan Quill, author of The Fall, made a big deal about not belonging on the list. Is his book m/m or gay fiction? You tell me.

      Gay fiction is nowhere as popular as m/m, and a lot of its readers are also women. Why aren’t more gay men reading more gay fiction? It seems like gay authors like Allan Hollinghurst try to find wider audience by distancing themselves from the genre. The Stranger’s Child is touted on Amazon as British Historical Fiction.

  17. Amelia C. Gormley

    So frustrating. I have a long, thoughtful post written out on this subject and the submission form keeps telling me it seems kinda spammy and I can’t for the life of me figure why. :(

    I guess I will post it on my blog instead and hope later I can puzzle out why it isn’t posting here.

      1. Stuart Post author

        A COMMENT FROM AMELIA C. GORMLEY:

        Stuart,

        Here is my comment. I also have it posted over at my blog if you posting it doesn’t work.

        Thank you for the fascinating post!

        Well, I was feeling pretty proud of myself for bucking the conventions regarding physiotypes predetermining sex roles until I got to the stuff about biting and hair-pulling.

        I think we have to differentiate here between tropes and kinks.

        I find the idea that one’s stature determines one’s sexual inclination to be ludicrous. It’s an absurd trope that springs solely from the desire to heteronormalize gay couples. So yes, I would consider that very damaging and demeaning. I base my character’s sex roles on their personalities, not their body types. And sometimes the larger guy DOES have a more aggressive/dominant personality. But it’s not because he’s larger.

        So in Inertia and Acceleration, Gavin, the skinnier and less muscular of the two, is more aggressive, more sexually experienced, and just all around tend toward dominance, while Derrick is more retiring and (this is somewhat due to his relative lack of experience) more desirous of being guided. I have another manuscript I wrote recently where things work differently, but that was because of the characters, not because of some heteronormalizing trope.

        However, as a woman coming from the kink community (and keeping in mind the kink community has a huge QUILTBAG presence within it and I’ve been to munches and play parties where at least 50% of the attendees were QUILTBAG) I always figured if biting/hair pulling/marking/claiming were such prevalent kinks and turn-ons shared amongst so many, there is no reason it WOULDN’T be shared by my m/m characters if it suited their personalities.

        Hair pulling is just flat-out sexy, especially in a rough sex context. It’s sexy for m/f and it’s sexy for m/m. I don’t think it’s a thing that people assume m/m couples do disproportionately. I think it’s a hugely common kink and people want to read about it. As my husband well knows, pull my hair and I am yours.

        I regret nothing.

        As for biting, I think there is a very animal appeal to it. Especially at the neck. Mating animals often bite each other there, and I think we associate it with something savage and primal in our minds. So when my characters are in a savage, primal mood, they go there. When my husband and I are in a savage, primal mood, we go there. The next time, however, my characters are just as likely to tenderly make love.

        Personally, I don’t see this as demeaning. I wouldn’t feel and have never felt demeaned to be bitten by my husband/lover and I can’t see why it would be demeaning for my characters to do so either.

        Maybe it’s my perspective as a woman, but the idea of being “claimed” by someone I am intensely involved with, to the point of wearing a physical mark representing that claim, is a very powerful and compelling one. Why do you think so many lovers get tattooed with something that reminds them of their lover?

        What romance is about, at its heart, is our desire as human beings, to belong to and with someone. We read romance to experience that sense of belonging vicariously. When we feel a connection that intensely, we want to wear it on our skin, and we see that reflected in the romances we read and write.

        Again, I don’t see this as either stereotyping gay men. I see it as reflecting something a great many of us desire and find appealing. And I’ve been to play parties and munches where gay men and women preened and bragged and showed off their bruises just as enthusiastically as the straight femsubs.

        So while I think that yes, there are troubling tropes in the m/m romance genre that could be demeaning to real gay men, I have to take exception to the citation of these kinks. Because to say these kinks are demeaning to m/m couples implies there’s something wrong with having these kinks, and that toes the line of kink-shaming, and we just don’t want to go there.

        I’m new to this genre, and really to m/m fiction. And the reason I’m new to it is that I was very afraid for a long time of presuming to… I dunno… “appropriate” stories of gay men when I can’t possibly ever truly understand the perspective of a gay man. So when I finally did step into the pool, I made sure to do so very cautiously, trying always to keep in mind the need to avoid stereotyping, to avoid problematic tropes and to deal with troubling themes respectfully. Whether I’ve succeeded or not, only my readers can say. But that has been my mission so far and will continue to be my mission from here on out.

        1. Feliz

          IN reply to Amelia:

          I was very afraid for a long time of presuming to… I dunno… “appropriate” stories of gay men when I can’t possibly ever truly understand the perspective of a gay man

          Yes, exactly. That’s exactly what I felt like.
          I came to reading m/m via fantasy novels (Lynn Flewelling’s Nightrunners and J.L. Langley’s With or Without series)and at first, the fact that those books had two male heroes was just an added fantasy element for me that I liked and wanted more of. Continuing to read, I found contemporaries and at some point, it occurred to me that I was reading stories I felt like I had “no right” reading since what was depicted there wasn’t my business in any way. It took me a while to realize that these stories were as much fantasy as the stories about magical creatures, werewolves and wizards I’d read before. It took me even longer to try my hand at a story of my own, from fear of being disrespectful to living, breathing people out there by portraying their lives in a way that had sprung only from my own imagination.
          The biggest compliment I ever received for what little I’ve published? A commenter on GR said something to the effect that my book “read like a novel about everyday people who just happened to be gay, dealing with their everyday lives”.
          Nothing could’ve made me more proud.

  18. Julia A

    Thanks for this. You bring up many of the things that have been annoying the crap out of me in recent reading material. I love escapist wishful thinking where everyone’s getting a HEA (I’m usually reading to relax after a long day of work), but when I start rolling my eyes, the illusion is broken. I guess for me, what it comes down to is that I want to read characters who are believable as real people with a relationship that is believable as a real relationship. I don’t care about how well any of them conform to gender norms–after all, isn’t that supposed to be part of the joy of the genre?–but I do care when they’re doing things that are physically impossible (or at least unlikely) and they’re behaving in ways that no sane human being I’ve ever met would behave. Why do we have to try so hard to write “men” and “women” instead of just writing “people”?

  19. Sunne

    I loved the short interlude into your life. It had the most important ingredient a good story needs in my opinion: humor.
    I absolutely agree that there are more and more crappy m/m stories out there, written by woman who could also make them f/m (okay, some of them would still be crappy). I absolutely hate if guys behave like girls and if I accidently buy a book like that, I review it to warn others and don’t buy anything else of that author. It’s the curse and blessing of the modern technology and new publishing ways. But I don’t think they want to disrespect gay people. For example I know an author who has written a book that is…the epitome of m/f made in m/m – and I really didn’t like it. But this woman is a very caring and very active person for tolerance and acceptance – she just can’t write a good m/m book…but at least she tried.
    That’s the reason I rely on reviews.
    Let’s face it, it’s fiction and in that case variety and a bit exaggeration should be okay. And there are guys out there who are either big bears or swishy bottoms (sorry, I know some). So – I think you shouldn’t condemn the whole m/m writing community. A lot of authors take gay guys very seriously and do a lot of good by writing stories, stories which are mostly read by woman but at least regard it this way: Even these women who prefer to read “romantic stories” (cough – you know what kind I mean) will educate their kids to be tolerant and accepting. And vote for change.
    I understand your concern that this can portray a wrong picture of gay people. But let’s just face it. The same stands for any kind of exaggerated romance. It doesn’t matter if m/m or f/m.
    Because honestly….my lady parts do not quiver when my husband looks at me and I don’t get instantly wet when he asks me if we are going to do something interesting or kisses me, nor do I come just because he slides in my blossoming folds…ugh, does anybody mind if I barf here? Or should I ask myself if there is something wrong with me? Definitely not, I have a great husband, we love to have sex but we do not jump at each other at each occasion and etc. etc. you get what I mean. And as a woman I shrug and don’t feel bothered how f/m romance portrays us.
    So – I’ve heard it more than once that romance gives a wrong view on love, relationship and sex…however for f/m romance. But of course that is valid for any kind of romance.
    Me for myself – I prefer m/m romance because there are a lot of good books out there that at least have some kind of normality to them…not the highly exaggerated love life of nearly all f/m romances. And from time to time you even stumble over the older guy or the one with lovehandles or the one with OCD…yes, they are out there.

    1. Stuart Post author

      A COMMENT BY JESSICA KATZ (who had problems with the Spam filter)

      Jessica writes:

      Yes to this. Wave writes somewhere way above, “If I were a gay man I would find a lot of the dialogue and characterizations in M/M demeaning.” Well, if I were a straight woman (which I am!), I would find a lot of the dialogue and characterizations in M/F demeaning. Sure, true homophobia (or misogyny) is offensive, but (as a long-time reader first of slash fanfiction and later of M/M pro fiction, and as someone who has lived for decades in a predominantly gay neighborhood and done significant amounts of work for LGBT causes) I’m bothered by this idea that there’s something so delicate and sacred about the gay male experience that it must always be “realistically” portrayed and has some special immunity from being “appropriated” for pleasure unless “reality” is respected – or that these demeaning (however you define it) tropes are somehow more demeaning to gay men when used in M/M than they are to straight women when used in M/F so that M/M requires special treatment, or a higher standard. Straight women have coped with the appropriation and homogenization of their experiences in romance novels that are not their reality, and been able to comprehend that romance as a genre is fiction, almost by its nature not true to reality, and nonetheless provides pleasure to a certain audience; I see no reason why it should be any different for gay men.
      *
      Both women and men, even if fewer men, apparently find enjoyment from M/M stories that employ these tropes. As in any genre, some such stories have no complexity or depth of character (or anything else), and some authors write the men in their M/M as simplistic not just as gay men, but as human beings – but far too many authors don’t have the capacity to write depth or complexity for any of their characters, so all of them, gay men and others, are wooden and one-dimensional. And some authors will never bother to do the work to write anything beyond, or ever question, what they are familiar with. That’s just bad writing; M/M romance is no different from M/F romance (or any other genre) in this regard.
      *
      There are bad apples in every bunch – ie, truly homophobic or closed-minded or opportunistic authors. But I’ve seen far more acceptance of gay people, and support for their rights, in this community than I have in the world at large, and I’ve also seen how reading familiar tropes in a different setting has the power to begin to open minds that weren’t so open, regardless of whether those tropes accurately reflect a particular gay man’s reality. More than that, though, both men and women read romance of any sort for escapism and pleasure, with full awareness of its distance from “real life,” and while i myself prefer less standard-romance-trope stories, in most cases I believe this pleasure in familiar tropes has no hidden motivations or agenda and is no more than exactly what it appears to be on its face (ie, pleasure and escapism). I’ve really come to be bothered by claims of appropriation, lack of realism, etc that seem to me to be failing to recognize numwhatromance is (of course there’s the issue of correct classification, but I’m talking here about books that clearly follow romance tropes and patterns).
      *
      (And as a final note, in response to a few comments up there, I find fairily ridiculous the idea that a straight woman couldn’t write a “real” gay man convincingly- or vice versa; or that a M/M story requires a gay male touch in order to meet standards of realism – or even that, in the end, a reader can reliably infer the sex or orientation of any decent author from her or his writing.)
      *
      Very interesting post, though – and Stuart, I love reading any of your posts; your writing and voice are a pleasure!

      1. Stuart Post author

        Hi Jessica,

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply. As to M/F romance, I know very little about it. However, I read many critical reviews in progressive & feminist blogs of Bella Swan’s character in the Twilight novels. Many reviewers objected to what they saw as Bella’s passivity, dependence and willingness to be abused. Not having read the novels, I can’t address the truth of their claims. But it does seem a worthwhile endeavor for women (and other groups) to question their depiction in books, even ones dedicated to escape and entertainment.

        As a child, I remember my mom’s paperback edition of Kyle Onstott’s novel, Mandingo. Mandingo sold 4.5 million copies. Surely Mandingo, and other bestselling racist romance novels, deserved to be questioned regarding their content. If Kyle Onstott claimed that he was merely writing entertaining, escapist fantasy would that excuse him? I find some of the M/M novels the gay equivalent of Mandingo in their representation of gay men, if not their popular success.

        I’m not saying gay men require special treatment. I’m saying we have the same rights as other groups to question the content of novels that claim to depict us and to condemn tropes that make us 21st century Mandingoes. If M/F needs to change as well, I hope readers advocate for their needs.

        1. Sirius

          I also want to add that not all straight women kept coping with her romance silly tropes by continue to suffer through it (if readers did motike it of course) . I run away and till couple years ago never even spared a glance at her romance and had no regret whatsoever. I did not enjoy it and I voted with my dollar. I forced myself to come back and read one get romance every month or two months. With a very rare exceptions ( most of them are urban fantasy anyway) I do not enjoy it still. That’s what worries me too – if potential audience voices concerns no matter how different or subjective those concerns are, why not show them respect and just listen? Just because they are your subjects, characters you write about. I also do not think that anybody advocated complete realism in romances – but I do want my romances to be believable, absolutely. To me that means human interactions which not necessarily do happen but which I can entertain the possibility of happening .

          And the last thing – I absolutely hold mm to higher standard than het for a very simple reason – I passionately love the genre and really do not care that much for her romance. I want it to get bigger and better and more diverse .

          1. Sirius

            I want to apologize for multiple typos – hate stupid self corrections on the phone and cannot even edit.

        1. Sunne

          I even have to confess that I like one author who really writes all her guys the same, the big strong man and the lovable (and really loved by everybody) guy, who doesn’t see why he is so adored by everybody. I know what I get when I read a book written by her. And this is my “comfort food”. I don’t expect deep revelations. I expect to be entertained and I don’t think for one moment that it has any connection to reality. And btw. I have a “comfort food” male gay author I like, too.
          On the other hand I read books that have serious plots, thrilling plots, that deal with loss or illness or personal problems, homophobic families..etc. I have only one request: A Happy End.
          Why? I live in reality and here there isn’t always a happy end. My request for my books is to make me feel that things can be better, can get better. I want to be entertained and I want variety.
          Otherwise I just could watch news, true? Or read documentaries.
          I think that this “we are portrayed wrong” stands for everybody. Not only gay men or straight woman. Or do you really believe straight men are always like the heros in romances? Poor guys, I think they should complain because they have to live up what is written ;)
          It is still fiction!!! Or romance or what you want to call it.
          Yes, I prefer books with more depth and more dimensional characters. And I think that the m/m genre delivers that for me. I found the characters more varied than in any other books. And I think that it doesn’t necessarily needs a man to write good m/m. It needs a good author who takes writing seriously and has the gift to tell a good story.

          We live in a time where information and entertainment is just a click away. We have to find our way to separate the good from the bad. But at least we have the opportunity. And groups like this to help us to separate the wheat from the chaff.

  20. Eva Clancy

    Really great post – I don’t have time to read the comments so apologies if this duplicates others.

    Personally (and at the risk of over-simplfying)I think there are 2 things at play here. One is the sort of egregious appropriation you’ve descibed. The other is that this is a mirror-image of what’s happened in other genres of M/F romance which are equally extreme and silly about female protaganists (and yes, it’s not precisely the same, but FWIW, there’s plenty of romance out there with female characters who act in ways that are ridiculous and insulting to women).

    It’s not precisely the same for the reasons you’ve described – yet it IS the same in the sense that generations of sensible women have read that material and really it hasn’t affected how they view themselves (though, yes, it could be powerfully argued that there are more altenative society-endorsed role models for women than for gay men). I suppose what I’m trying to say is that – hard as it is for young gay people – I think impressionable young people of all persuasions are adept at identifying authentic literature from fantastical nonsense.

    So yes, I agree with you, but also I think the babies are worth the bathwater.

    Finally, let me share something important: reading M/M romance (silly stuff and great stuff and everything in between) has made me a better person. Really. I’m a straight woman who considered myself enlightened and liberal. But reading M/M romance made me notice the sort of casual, low-level homophobia that is so endemic and that needs to be dealt with – the jokes that are just-good-fun but really aren’t. I knew it before, but I FEEL it now. M/M romance says somnething very important: it’s not funny when two men kiss – it’s beautiful. And you know what,
    even the silly stuff contributes to that.

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post (and I just love the sound of your other half. He sounds a lot like mine, actually).

    :smile:

  21. Reggie

    Thanks Stuart, fun and interesting post. I am so glad you fell for Wave’s bribes. :grin:
    When I first started reading MM, I found a lot of books like you are describing. Then I found Wave’s and eventually Goodreads. Between the two I get much better results for my reading time. This past week I was thinking about all the remarkble finds for the year. I am tempted to list some, but that’s for another post. But there have been a lot of good, interesting stories published this year. I think the genre has come a long ways since I stumbled into it.

    I think it’s great you’ll be around to add your two cents to help us find more good reads. Welcome aboard!

  22. Sarah_Madison

    Stuart:

    I read your post twice last night, and all the comments as well. I found myself nodding along with various people, in particular Charming, Jeff, Ellie, and Amelia Gormley. I drafted a long, thoughtful response about why as a reader and writer I was attracted to the genre–waffled terribly about posting it, but finally hit submit.

    Like Amelia, the site decided I was being spammy and denied me access. :smile:

    Perhaps it’s just as well. It will give me time to refine my thoughts on the subject and write a blog post about it. Because I question whether the problem with stereotyping and offensive tropes is that of M/M romance as much as it is with romance stories in general.

    The short version of my response was that I think in part writers learn by what they read–and it takes logging a lot of hours at the keyboard to break free from this mentality of writing what everyone else is doing. It also takes someone like you pointing out the ludicrous and offensive nature of some of these common tropes before a bell goes ding-ding-ding for some people.

    When I first began writing, I came across a wickedly funny post that simply *skewered* a story for ‘wandering’ eyeballs and other such commonly used descriptive phrases that I wouldn’t dream of using now. It made an impression on me, and I’ve been careful to avoid such silly errors myself. But recently I re-read one of my favorite novels and it was chock-o-block full of these kinds of stylistic flaws! It made me realize that sometimes a thumping good story can make up for all these seeming deal-breakers in writing.

    And a few days ago, I came across J.P. Barnaby’s poll on the actual frequency of jacking off in the shower among men compared to how often it is portrayed in stories. An excellent insight–and it means I’ll probably use that trope less–but I still find it hot and am likely to use it again someday. :grin:

    Thanks for speaking your mind here today. You’ve given me a lot to think about.

  23. Stuart

    Hi Sarah, I’m so sorry your post got caught in the filter. Thanks for taking the time to read and think so carefully about what I wrote.

    Here’s my reaction:

    If stereotypes are an endemic problem in romance stories, I don’t see how the universal nature of the problem makes it acceptable. Rather than submit to something because it’s universal, wouldn’t that make it even more important to challenge it where we may?

    Since its Shabbat and I’ve already broken the prohibition on writing before sundown (and I was doing so well a few months ago, next I’ll be eating pork), let’s do a thought experiment.

    Imagine this site is called Reviews by Rachelwave – Jewish/Jewish Adult Themed Book Reviews. Imagine there are a group of Christian authors who feel liberated from the constraints of their culture by writing romantic fantasies about the lives of Jews.

    Imagine that some of the stories begin like this: “Moishe lived in the ancient, gray town of Vilna, where he was a student. Although Moishe enjoyed his constant study, he was burdened by poverty and profound loneliness. Moishe’s expressive, melancholy dark eyes were often downcast as he walked to and from the Beis Midrash wondering when he would find true love. One day, walking past the pawn shop owned by his friend Frumma, a wonderful and intelligent woman who made loans to Vilna’s Christians at high interest rates, Moishe saw a man he didn’t recognize through the window. This man was tall, pale, thin and stooped, his black, frayed yarmulke perched jauntily on his head. His large and elegant nose gave character to his face. Moishe thought he looked like the most educated man, he’d ever seen, and therefore the most attractive. Moishe longed to enter Frumma’s shop, but he was passive and shy, like so many of his people. Moishe stood in the street, as the carts rolled by, considering what to do.”

    The author of this story is not intentionally anti-semitic, he clearly cares about his characters and has done his research. If a Jew wrote a post on Rachelwave expressing concerns about this story, would it be right to tell him that this is how Romance works? And anyway it’s just fun narratives that shouldn’t be taken too seriously?

    What do you think?

    1. Amelia C. Gormley

      I don’t think anyone here is denying that romance as a genre — m/m and m/f alike — needs some overhaul and revamp to get rid of its tendency to rely on stereotypes and troubling tropes. They’re simply pointing out that it’s a problem with the whole genre and needs to be corrected genre-wide, not merely in m/m.

      We authors of m/m can’t do much to fix m/f romance unfortunately, but we can do what we can, provided we’re sensitive and aware of the problems.

      1. Stuart

        But can’t authors do everything to fix the genre? Your collective work is the genre, after all. Is it that it won’t sell, if certain requirements aren’t met?

        1. Amelia C. Gormley

          I’m not sure I understand the question. We can do what we can to fix the m/m end of the genre. But we can’t fix the damaging stereotypes and tropes of the other end. The good news is, we know the romance genre is capable of evolving. In the 70s and 80s, it was a common trope for the hero in an m/f romance to rape the heroine so she’d be sexually awakened without being a slut. Publishers and editors demanded it. They said if the heroine was willing her first time, she’d be perceived as a slut and the hero wouldn’t seem virile. Eventually, authors pushed back and said, (to quote Jude Deveraux’s quasi-autobiographical character from Remembrance) “if the hero rapes the heroine, he’s not a hero.” And starting sometime in the late 80s, early 90s, that trope largely went away.

          So yes, authors can fix their genre. And like I said, some of us try to be aware and do what we can to avoid the problems (at the same time, I stand by my assertion that we need to separate tropes from popular kinks so we avoid stigmatizing certain sexual behaviors and those who practice them.)

          1. Sarah_Madison

            Bravo, Amelia! I mentioned the demise of the rape-turned-love trope in my response to this post on my website, and you put it much more concisely and elegantly than I have. :smile:

          2. Stuart

            Hi Amelia,

            I completely agree with your assertion that kinks, popular or unpopular, shouldn’t be stigmatized as long as they are legal and consensual. I was just surprised to find such a predilection for biting and bruising in M/M couples where they aren’t depicted as particularly kinky or haven’t discussed whether or not they wanted to be bitten or bruised.

    2. Bryant

      I usually stay out of discussions like this. I read others’ opinions to help me check my own mostly because other people express these things better than I can.

      What I see a lot is that those authors who do shake up the formula and avoid the sterotypes are the ones no one has ever heard of or the ones whose books just don’t sell well.

      Worse than that is sometimes if a reader is sitting down and expecting a Twinkie of a story (sorry; just read about Hostess going under) and instead gets foie gras with a bittersweet ending, I’ve seen the readers actually get angry and lash out at the author. A bad review is one thing, but venom directed by an angry mob at an author is a little crazy. (Goodreads has a lot of this stuff.)

      This post of mine is probaby too jumbled to be useful but I guess my point/question is what incentive does an author have to write a “different” kind of M/M if the reward is so little?

      :wallbash: Does this post make anysense? This is why I’m a reader not a writer.

      1. Stuart

        Bryant, thanks for the sensible and well-written comment! Please don’t bang your head unnecessarily against the wall. You’re right: it is profoundly unfair if an author is vilified for breaking genre conventions. I wish I could answer your question about the business of being an author and how genre conventions shape creative decisions, but I don’t know enough about it.

    3. Sarah_Madison

      Stuart:

      I didn’t mean to imply that it was right simply because others did it to–nor that because the intent was not to be demeaning that it was somehow absolved of any fault.

      I think it is a tricky subject–one that rightfully needs to be spotlighted (as you’ve done here) but also one without simple solutions. I do feel that the problem is larger than the subgenre, that oversimplification of characters seems more problematic when we’re talking romance based stories, rather than stories that merely had a romance on the side.

      I do think it is important to challenge these assumptions. However, I can also say that some current fads in dog breeding leads to health issues in certain breeds–and yet if those particular phenotypes are winning in the breed ring, it takes a breeder first recognizing that these ‘desired characteristics’ are harmful (and many people can be willfully blind when it comes to something so dear to their heart) and second, it takes a breeder being willing to stand up and say, “You know what? I’m not going to answer the demand of turning out five litters a year simply because I know I can sell that many puppies. I’m going to slow down, do the research, make sure I match my lines with dogs that will improve them, not harm them. And to hell with what the judges want in the show ring.”

      Not meaning to demean anyone who breed/shows dogs, I’m merely using it as another example. :smile:

      It’s interesting that you used the word ‘liberate’ to describe these Christian writers who indulge in their fantasies about Jewish romances because it *is* liberating to me at times.

      I would like to hope that I am not quite that stereotypical, but I feel as though it would be pretty hard not to be no matter what I write, put in those terms.

      1. Wave

        Hi Sarah

        Maybe I’m wearing blinkers where it comes to your stories but I remember how much I loved Raincheck which was unusual in that it actually had a plot and didn’t depend on sex to pad the story. This is still one of my favourite books that you have written. Of course I loved some more than others, but I think your writing has improved and continues to do so.

        To go back to your show dogs analogy, when I bought my Doberman years ago I was told that the breeder reserved the right to have his ears cropped. I don’t have to tell you that when I was requested to send Jesse (yes the site is named partly after him) with the rest of the litter to Washington, D.C. I refused outright, and I was told that his name would be struck off the Dobe register because he didn’t meet the conformation standards for the breed. So I told them that it was my dog and there was no way I was going to send him away to be butchered. Of course I couldn’t show him in Canada or the US but I didn’t care – what was more important to me was that he was someone I loved and no one was going to hurt him because of some gross standard (read trope) that he had to adhere to.

        Similarly, with a book, if you’re the writer you should write the best damn story you can and screw the genre rules (except for the obligatory HEA I suppose, but even there the ending should be believable. One story I love is One More Soldier by Marie Sexton which has no HEA, but it’s so wonderful I have read it numerous times and love it more each time). The books I have enjoyed the most are those that didn’t use the tropes common in M/M romance (or any romance for that matter). When I decided to stop reading het several years ago, it was because of the TSTL heroines, the sex that made no sense because it didn’t add anything to the stories and didn’t advance the plot, as well as the terrible dialogue and prose and the strict adherence to the genre tropes. Unfortunately M/M is now riddled with what’s wrong with het, and many books that I buy are DNF because of the awful mischaracterizations of gay men and the lack of credible plots, in addition to writing that obviously needed an editor.

        I understand the quandary that authors face – readers demand more of the same tropes and sex overload, but I remember memorable books that were best sellers which didn’t stick to the genre tropes or reader demands (Wicked Gentlemen by Ginn Hale, Mind Fuck by Manna Francis, Faith & Fidelity by Tere Michaels, A Note in the Margin by Isabelle Rowan and many others). So it’s possible to write outside the lines and produce a great book that sells, without denigrating anyone. And whenever I read a book that’s exceptional I promote the hell out of it on the site so that other readers would know about it.

        I wrote a long post a couple of years ago about how M/M historical romances insulted, denigrated and stereotyped blacks by always using the “n” word. Recently it seems that what used to be a flood of these stories is now a trickle – still there but drying up. Maybe the message has been received or they found a different target. If we all accept the stereotyping and insults then we have no one to blame but ourselves by not making our voices heard. Not everyone will listen but enough to make a difference.

        1. Sarah_Madison

          Wave:

          First, minor blushes for your compliment there–I really hope that I continue to improve with each story (actually I pray that’s what my current slow output and my loathing of every word committed to paper is about–a burning need to do better than before). Thank you, I really needed to hear that right now.

          Second, I applaud you for your stance on refusing to have your dog’s ears cropped–it is a procedure that more and more veterinarians are refusing to do as well, and eventually, one day, one can hope it will no longer be part of the breed standard. Kudos for you for allowing him to be ‘struck from the register’! It sounds like the breeder in this instance was threatened by you sticking to your guns. :grin:

          I’m with you too on the TSTL heroine that *still* infests the average het romance–and don’t get me started on the stories that take a smart, tough woman and reduce her to an inability to cross the street unaided once she falls in love. I suppose there is an argument for my wading into that battlefield and writing stories where heroines didn’t do that sort of thing, but I simply have… no interest.

          I do want to write the best story I possibly can, and I do value posts like these that outline the pitfalls of merely following the trope norm. I guess I was just pointing out some of the reasons why change within a genre is slow.

          It took over 40 years for Star Trek to first put a black woman on the bridge of a starship (in some role other than maid) to giving us the revised, updated version of an Uhura that was not only supremely competent, but confident enough to go after what she wanted. And it took all the revised female role models along the way to bridge that gap. So while I think it is right to look at the original Uhura’s role on the Enterprise and think, “wow, they didn’t let her do much, did they?”, I think we have to remember that back then, it was huge.

          So I agree with Stuart’s assessment of the tropes in M/M romance and how belittling they can be, I also know that change is a lumbering elephant in a small room with little room to turn around. Doesn’t mean we stop trying though. I know I will certainly be more cognizant of these considerations the next time I create characters for a story. :smile:

        2. Stuart

          Sarah, I really enjoyed Raincheck; I didn’t put it together in my head that you wrote it. Rodney was a such a pleasure to read! Plus, he didn’t embody any of the stereotypes so often used to oppress the QUIGEPHS community. (Questioning, Interspecies, Gargoyle, Elf, Pixie, Hamadryad, Sprite)

          Also, you and Wave may praise Mike and me: for our boxer Dog, Niko, has beautiful, uncropped, natural ears. His poor tail was docked, unfortunately, at birth.

          1. Wave

            Hey Stuart

            Go you for not having your Boxer’s ears cropped. :smile: Sometimes I wish that all of these breeders would come back to life as a dog and feel what it’s like to have their ears cropped. Jesse’s tail was also docked when I got him so I had no choice there. We should start a movement.

            I so love Rodney. If he ran for President I would vote for him. :lol:

            QUIGEPHS! OMG, I had no idea about all these different communities. I should get out more. :???:

          2. Sarah_Madison

            Stuart:

            I don’t think Rodney knows how to be oppressed! Thank you, your comments here made me smile!

            Kudos for you for taking the no ear-crop stance. The Boxer community has embraced that faster than the Doberman one, and I applaud your advocacy here! :smile:

            The sad thing is that tail docking began because the Romans thought it prevented rabies–or so I’ve been told. In the UK at least, it’s been banned, but it is still performed in the US. :sad:

  24. Juliana

    This has been a really interesting post and discussion. I think this is so subjective as to what “side” one is on. I am a 21 year old, college educated, straight female. Does that change what I want to read? Yes. I know which authors tend to be more regimented in tall guy= top and short guy=bottom. I read those stories, the opposite, and with versatile men as well. Why I like the genre is complex. I don’t identify with M/F heroines, I was never the most beautiful girl or the most feminine, but dont identify with the heroes either. I was never friends with many girls. I like stories that have more feminine MCs because those are a lot of the gay men I knew in high school, college and now. I also know more “masculine” gay men that fit the stereotypical “top.” I want to imagine my friends finding Mr.Right. It may be a bit silly and unlikely but I like it! I see traits of my friends in these books. They might not cover the broadest spectrum of gay culture but they do cover an aspect of it. The genre could use a more inclusive characterization, books with more “realistic” men. But it is fiction meant to be enjoyed for pleasure, not a treatise on LBGTQ studies. I will continue to read the books I do and imagine sweet, snarky Tyler with the muscled up guy of his dreams and Will with the right blond, fashion plate that he goes for. I don’t feel bad for liking what I do, only that some people wish there were more inclusive options.

  25. Katharina

    I have problems posting my comment so I break it in two posts, hopefully it’ll work.

    I’m just wondering why your post makes me feel so irritated? I mean, I agree with you…generally. Every time I read the words “intoxicating”, “exquisite”, “delicate” in combination with a man (there are more, I’m just stopping here before I get out of hand)…I mentally puke.

    I appreciate a book with a good story, the sex scenes are secondary for me and if there are too much and too questionable, it’s not a book for me (okay..I make exceptions…”Crossing Borders” is full of sex but damn…it’s a good book for me because it’s about so much more).

    So, there are lots of talented authors out there, who write outstanding m/m in my opinion, like Tere Michaels, Kaje Harper, Amy Lane, Jane Davitt, Josh Lanyon , Abigail Roux, Anyta Sunday, Heidi Cullinan, Copper Davis, Harper Fox, Z.A. Maxfield, Jordan Price Castillo, TJ Klune, Scott Sherman , Rowan Speedwell, Marie Saxton, JF Smith, J.H. Trumble, KD Sarge etc.etc.

    I’ve read over 400 m/m books in the last two years since I discovered m/m. I’ve read my share of “oversexed” books and I’ve read a few really crappy ones. But over all I think there are more good books out there if you look than in comparison to the f/m genre. And definitely more diverse books than in any other genre I’ve put my reading claws in before.

    So – I feel irritated because you criticize a genre that in my opinion is better than a lot others. You’ll never get rid of those who write “gay for money”. But you can influence with your opinion in blogs, goodreads etc.

    I understand our concern that some books do give a wrong picture of being gay. But that is a general concern for all kind of groups.

    For example:
    I’m German. And believe me, it took me some time to come to terms with Hollywood that Germans in movies are always either Nazis, the bad guys or at least uptight pricks. Sorry to all American readers here, we are not…I hate to destroy this illusion.

    Now – I can hear most of you mentally saying “Duh, we know that.”

    So – this is not a problem solely for the gay community; it is a common problem for all kind of groups. As soon as you are in the spotlight, you also have to deal with all kind of reactions from help over hate up to well minded ignorance, too.

    But – at least you are in the spotlight now. I’m quite sure that the great awareness and support for equal rights is not only based in the great work of support groups but in the increasing interest in m/m books. I know for a fact that I’m not the only one who started reading m/m because of Blay and Qhuinn (their book still needs to be published – Lover At Last, J.R. Ward – I really, really hope she is not going to blow that). And a lot of my online book friends started with me, started with gay vampires and werewolves (who btw. are allowed to bite, true?) and went on from that to contemporary. And from that to activism on boards and facebook for example. Yes, maybe some of them prefer books the way you described them, that doesn’t mean they are homophobic.

    1. Stuart

      Dear Katharina,
      Thank you for taking the time to write such thoughtful commentary. I’m at work and so I have only one quick thought. When examining how stereotyping affects groups, it’s important to examine how much power a given group has. Germany, for example, is the most important country in the European Union. Its economic and cultural decisions affect the lives of millions of EU citizens. Whatever stereotypes are used “against” Germans are diluted by how much power Germany presently has.

      Gay men start off with far less power and so sterotypes can harm us much more. The affects of homophobia are easily seen. Gay men in the USA are more likely to commit suicide, more likely to suffer mental illness, more likely to be drug addicts, more likely to be the victims of crimes. Gay men are vulnerable, Germany is presently not vulnerable. The comparison isn’t useful. Comparing gay men to the Turkish minority in Germany might be more accurate.

      I hope M/M fiction makes the world a better place. We’ll see. Now back to work for me.

      1. Katharina

        Dear Stuart,
        that was just an example. We can agree on disagreeing here because I live in as a German in Switzerland and you just can’t imagine what my sons go through during soccer championships at school. That Germany is an important country in Europe has so no effect on the bullies at school. But as I said, it’s just an example. You could also look at how “intelligent kids” are represented in movies, books, etc. You can search for all kind of groups, influental or not. Using sterotypes is a way for the entertainment industrie to save time. People recognize the “pattern”, they don’t need explanation.
        That doesn’t mean that it’s always right, as I said in the beginning. All I’m saying is that it is not only the gay people who are sometimes pressed in patterns that doesn’t fit but all kind of people.

        And I still believe that m/m books have hightened the awareness for the gay cause and have brought it a lot of allies (in those woman who might swoon a bit too much over the over-the-top romances). And what? Just because they have a distorted view on your reality doesn’t mean they are bad people. They still are allies.

        LOL – so don’t underestimate the power of straight woman ;) They are the ones who raise the next generation of men and women.

        1. Wave

          Katharina

          Here’s another example. I’m female, straight and black and I can tell you that stereotypes can be demeaning and hurt to the bone. I’m not American and didn’t experience all of the shame meted out to blacks decades ago, but I can empathize. What happened then is well documented and when I see authors capitalizing on that decades- or centuries-old experience it makes me very angry.

          It’s very easy for you to say the equivalent of: Take a pill and you’ll feel better in the morning. However, if you live the experience, it’s very difficult to overlook all of the brickbats thrown at you. No one expects that romance novels will reflect RL because it’s fiction, but at least be respectful of the people you are portraying in these books and don’t make their lives into a parody.

          According to you, M/M authors are helping the cause aren’t they, by writing about gay men? That makes everything right doesn’t it? How dare a minority (gays) bite the hand that feeds them? Unless you live it every day you have very little idea of what it’s like or the pain caused by careless stereotypes if you’re a minority by reason of your sexual orientation.

          I love some of the books and authors in the genre because they don’t give a distorted picture of what the life of a gay man is like. Sure, these books are fantasies, but I think they should still be somewhat believable, the exception being paranormal books.

          Stuart’s “Mandingo” example is what’s wrong with gay romances. Everyone thinks that those kinds of portrayals are fine, so hundreds of authors write similar novels to cash in.

          We have many excellent writers in this genre and those are the ones whose books I love and buy, but I avoid the rest like the plague because they are just cashing in on what they see as a good thing.

          But – at least you are in the spotlight now

          Sorry to burst your bubble, but M/M romance didn’t shine the spotlight on gays – it’s decades too late. You have to go back to the Stonewall riots in NYC in the sixties for that, (in case you’re unfamiliar with Stonewall here is a link http://tinyurl.com/3qgy6fu)
          when gays were severely beaten and harassed by the police for no reason other than their sexual orientation. So don’t get the idea that M/M books are giving much needed profile to gays. That’s been done and in a horrible life threatening way. As I said in response to another comment:

          If we all accept the stereotyping and insults, then we have no one to blame but ourselves by not making our voices heard. Not everyone will listen but enough to make a difference.

          As Samuel Johnson said:

          “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”

          1. Katharina

            Oh well, I give, I give….this discussion is a perfect example how something written can be interpreted by the reader.

            I never intented to say “How dare a minority (gays) bite the hand that feeds them?”. All I’m saying is that behind those – and I still agree about that – horrible crappy books can also be the best intention. I find it harsh to call the authors homophobic. Do you know them personally?

            And when I say “gays are in the spotlight now” – then I really don’t mean that they had been invisible before (I know about the Stonewall riots), I mean the positive development that happened in the nearest past, the coming outs of celebrities, the positive votes, the increasing acceptance and support etc.

            What I wanted to plead for is more tolerance.

  26. Katharina

    Part two

    That just means that they will educate their kids to be tolerant.

    It mustn’t suit you, I can assure you I don’t feel comfortable with most female characters in romances or erotica. I don’t behave like them and I really hope nobody expects me to. But well, I accept that there are people out there who like to read that, who don’t mean anything demeaning just be reading that (ha, Fifty Shades of Grey..ugh.).

    Tolerance is something I want from other people so I have to be tolerant, too.

    About your concern that young people who search for guidance will read the wrong books….hm…I don’t think so. The ones interested enough will research for what is really good and recommended and – as a mother of two teenage boys I think I can say that with some knowledge – most of them just google “gay” or “gay sex”. I think what comes up then should be of more concern ;)

    So, yes, I suggest, be more tolerant with the writers and the readers, nobody forces you to read crap (buy an ereader, I can read the first 10% on my kindle and then decide if I buy a book). And just think, even if they have illusions about how a gay relationship works – at least they support the gay community.

    Smile and live and let live.

    If anything is not understandable, English is not my native language and I apologize for mistakes.

  27. Willow

    Is male/male romance an accurate depiction of the lives of gay/bisexual men? Well, no. But in the same way hetero romance isn’t an accurate depiction of the lives of hetero couples – it’s not a relationship guide book, it’s romance. HEAs are compulsory. It’s never sold as a true or accurate. Romance is a genre of romantic fantasy – selling a particular dream to a particular audience. And that audience is predominately women (see http://www.rwa.org/cs/the_romance_genre/romance_literature_statistics/industry_statistics).

    As a genre, gay male romance is obviously successful – as evidence by its growth boom. The readership seems to be the same (mostly female) readership as traditional romance novels, who read it for the same (frequently unrealistic) fantasy fulfillment as traditional romance novels. Many of the characters and character interactions in male/male romance don’t make sense outside the context of ‘romantic fantasy aimed at women’ – which is what readers expect and buy.

    The problem is if readers don’t realize that ‘gay male romance’ fundamentally means ‘romance’, and misread it as ‘stories for gay men with romantic elements’.

    Perhaps the main concern isn’t changing male/male romance as a genre, it’s changing the genre name to reflect the fundamental ‘romance’ genre. Or finding an easily accessible word for stories which do endeavor to depict the actual experiences of gay/bisexual men – so they can be placed in a category free of the trappings of the ‘romance’ genre, and gay/bisexual men won’t be left scrabbling through ‘male/male romance’ for any representations of themselves in the way that a non-heteronormative woman (or nearly any minority) is left scrambling through genre romance.

  28. scavola

    The authors of this ‘unrealistic’ M/M (primarily) have no social responsibility; they could, but choose not to.

    Reading your posts and all the comments caused me to consider the books I write. Do I have social responsibility? Unfortunately, no. I write an idealized world, where same-sex relationships are common and accepted without question. In my world, there’s no AIDS or STDs so they practice unsafe sex. No one gets fired for being gay, no one gets bullied, no one gets suicidal, heck, they can even get married and have kids! This would be as harmful as M/M to someone just coming out, not knowing how to protect themselves.

    There’s a popular author of both gay fiction and M/M who is very involved in the gay community. Each of their books (I don’t know if it’s a man or woman) addresses issues; proceeds from the sale of their books even go to charity. This has challenged me to do the same. But, even as a gay man, I’m not involved in the ‘community’. I don’t go to the gay and lesbian community center, I’m not involved in any causes, I don’t even go to bars or clubs, so I have no insight into which causes need to be promoted beyond what I hear on the news.

    So, if a gay male author of gay fiction has no social responsibility, then I can’t hold female authors of M/M to the same standard.

    Me, I plan to get involved. I can only hope that they do too.

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