Is Male/Male Romance Fundamentally About Men?

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  😀 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


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.


  • Thanks Stuart, fun and interesting post. I am so glad you fell for Wave’s bribes. 😀
    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!

  • 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. 😀

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

  • 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?

    • 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.

      • 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?

        • 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.)

          • 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:

          • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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. 😀

          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:

        • 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.

          • 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. 😆

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

          • 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:

  • 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.

  • 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.

    • 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.

      • 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.

        • 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
          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.”

          • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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

    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.

  • 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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