First, how weird is it when you have to talk about yourself in the third person? But yeah, ‘Marc’ will talk about this very hot-button topic, because I read about it all the time and while a lot of people have very valid points, I do think and hope I have something to add to this discussion. I just did an interview with author Larry Benjamin for the blog (which will also be posted today) and while I absolutely agree that some colors in the LGBT rainbow are much underrepresented, and certain types of characters (like flawless, muscle-bound alpha-studs) do appear quite often, I also sincerely believe that M/M Romance is not as shallow as some gay fiction authors assume.
Larry had no issue with me using his interview as a jumping point into this discussion, though and we hope you guys will have some valuable and respectful opinions you can share with us 😉
First, I should probably state what I think Gay Fiction and M/M Romance are. If I am wrong, please tell me – but this is the way I think about them right now:
Gay Fiction for me is a wide-reaching category that includes any fiction that involves at least one LGBT main protagonist. It can focus on any part of one or more characters life or show their whole life, it can have a sad or happy ending or anything in between. It has many different shades and variations and is often written by gay authors with a wide gay readership. It often directly uses the experiences that gay authors have and shows the world as they see and have experienced it. It often gets critical attention, but while there may be great reviews and awards, like many academy award pictures it doesn’t have as wide an audience as the more ‘popular’ genre.
M/M is a sub genre of gay fiction mostly focused on romance between two or more male characters. It is often, but not exclusively explicit and has a fast-growing readership that has grown so high that it is seen as its own category. It has developed from slash fiction where fans of a certain fandoms like ‘Supernatural’ desired or ‘shipped’ certain male character pairings so much that they simply wrote them themselves (I used ‘Supernatural as an example, because it happened so much in that fandom that it was acknowledged in the show itself). Especially since there is only a limited number of LGBT characters on TV, it is very popular for people to wonder ‘what if’ certain characters were together and create storylines within that universe that would allow for that to happen. Or an alternate universe that often has little in common with the original fandom, but use the actors or characters in a very original story. This is how many authors I know became popular published authors. They discovered they could write amazing stories all on their own, as did many readers discover through fan fiction that they enjoyed male/male pairings and widened their own horizons and that of those around them.
Of course I can understand that it can be frustrating for a gay author to realize that more people are interested in a romantic ‘fantasy’ than their gay fiction story that may be a harder sell for a wide audience. M/M Fiction often focuses on a specific time period, like the time one MC meets the love of their life to the moment of their HFN (Happy For Now) or HEA (Happily Ever After). The MCs are often hot (as is the sex that happens between them in most M/M stories), at least one of them is often well-off financially, the sex is often rather perfect, even if both MCs are virgins and whatever happens in the plot, some kind of happiness is usually guaranteed even to the point that cliffhangers are often frowned upon at the end of a book in a series, as each book should leave the characters off in a happy place.
So yeah, that is a lot of fantasy and I can see how some people might be unsatisfied in the realistic portrayal of their lifestyle. But in my humble opinion, those same things (popularity and fantasy) are true for M/F romance as well and M/M romance (for me) has more to offer.
It is not for nothing that the blog I founded with some of my best friends in this community has a main focus on M/M Romance (even if we are open to any LGBT Fiction). I have read about 500 books in this genre and loved it. Where M/F romance often can feel like the main character is a whiny damsel in distress or a ‘strong’ female character who defies all logic, just to be contrary and ‘strong’ and finds herself in a situation she can’t handle and needs to be rescued by her prince charming, aka angry/stupid/unconvincing damsel in distress a lot of authors in M/M Romance were unsatisfied with that as well and found M/M to be more open to non-traditional romantic storytelling.
Don’t get me wrong, there are amazing M/F Romance stories, but generally the ‘rules’ are strict and rather traditional. A lot of authors follow them and they are popular and many readers would dislike if they were broken, but to me they seem a bit repetitive and often portray women as the weaker sex, who needs a man to save them to be happy.
So, I think it is important to remember that romance has different rules and it is hard to directly compare it with gay fiction that does not focus on the romance and relationship aspect between two or more guys. If you compare it to ‘traditional’ romance, though, the difference doesn’t end at the inclusion of LGBT characters. A lot of authors seem to enjoy that they can skip the whole ‘weaker sex’ thing and have two characters on an equal playing field in a physical sense. Have two alpha males in a romantic relationship, where control has to be freely offered, while an equal standing between others remains. I agree it is hot for me as well and I find the dynamic very interesting.
But that is not all that can be found. There are many different characters with very different dynamics. Stories can be funny, heart-breaking, erotic, inspiring and many, many other things. Like the actors of Hollywood movies, the characters are often described in ways most readers may find hot and many of them would need to practically live in a gym for their body types to be realistic and porn stars could probably learn from the instant skills in bed many of them show. But the stories that are shown through them are of love and acceptance. Of overcoming challenges, getting back control over one’s life. It may show people who are hotter and wealthier than us ‘normal’ mortals are, but they have to deal with and overcome very real things.
Honestly, I have read amazing gay fiction and amazing M/M fiction in all the many sub genres that give authors the freedom to explore gay relationships in a great variety of ways. The gender of the author or the most common gender of the readers does not really matter to me. There are men and women, who write amazing M/M love stories just as there are men and women who write amazing gay fiction stories not focused on romantic relationships. I have also read terrible gay fiction and M/M stories from both male and female authors.
What really matters is the quality of the story and characters, the joy that we take from the stories. Do some authors get some aspects wrong? Sure! There are some stories which are marked BDSM, but really show abuse as they do not follow the ‘code’ that ensures all participants in such a practice are willing and safe. I think respectful criticism in such instances is very important so that readers can find books they can enjoy. And sure, not every person, male or female, can write about all the experiences in the LGBT world. It is always a risk to write something that is very different from your own experiences and there is often rather harsh criticism when authors try and fail to be more inclusive with their characters and stories. I’m bisexual, though preferring men and have been in a monogamous relationship with my boyfriend for almost 4 years. Neither one of us was ever really into the scene, and after we fell in love, we realized that we are both exclusive bottoms. When I found M/M stories, I didn’t really feel like such experiences were a part of the genre yet, but I found authors to be very open and interested and they listened to me when I openly told them about my own experiences and since then authors like Posy Roberts and Kaje Harper have written about similar situations.
Actually, I read a review of a book by Kade Boehme that dealt with this as well and the gay reviewer called it a perfect example of why women shouldn’t write about gay men, because the whole thing was a ridiculous concept and so on. Not only did his review show that he did not read the whole book, he also did not seem to realize that Kade is actually a male, gay author. For me, as someone who is in a similar relationship as described in the book, I found it realistic and loved that more and more authors take risks and tell stories of guys in non-traditional gay relationships or guys with emotional and physical flaws. It make stories much more interesting in my opinion, but there have always been and will always be great stories in this genre and I wished less people felt the need to make generalized comments putting down the genre as a whole. There are amazing writers and stories with an incredible variety of characters and plot. If anyone believes they can offer valuable insight into character groups and relationships that are underrepresented in the genre, I think a lot of authors would be interested to listen.
I think it is amazing that there are not only men, but also a lot of women who write about gay characters and open up the eyes of many about love being love, no matter what kind of relationship and love between two consenting adults they talk about. Many of the readers and writers of gay fiction and M/M Romance are at the very least allies and as such part of the community. Many are lesbian, trans or gender queer, they all have a voice that should be heard and can write about the ‘human experience’. I hate when those who are active for the LGBT community, spend their lives trying to make equality possible, raise their children to be open-minded and influence the people around them are dismissed, just for their gender and sexual orientation. I am thankful that as thinking human beings with empathy, we can put ourselves into the shoes of others and books like ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’ can be written by a male author about female characters. We can create different worlds, imagine how our world might look in the future and yes, a woman can write an authentic story with a male, gay character. We are all human and there are many people who openly answer questions and many places where research can be done. If we could only write or read about things that an author experienced him/herself… it would be non-fiction. Which would be sad, because fiction and the human imagination can be a wonderful thing.
I just wanted to say that while I get the frustration of some of the gay fiction authors and many valid points are made, such points should be made in a respectful manner. I have read a few comments on Facebook and different blog that made me mad, because they were not only disrespectful to female authors or all M/M authors, but also disrespectful to me as a gay reader of M/M. Does M/M Romance often follow hetero-normative patterns? Sure! Often the guys meet, date exclusively, overcome a struggle and forever stay together in a happy, monogamous relationship. To cement their trust and happiness, they show each other their test results and start to fuck like bunnies without rubbers. Mysteriously, some kind of relative dies or in some way they become parents, marry and move into their own place and there we have it. The HEA.
Not every RL relationship (or every relationship in M/M for that matter) is like that, but saying women don’t understand gay men, because those are the exclusive desires of straight women is actually kind of hurtful to those of us who would like those things. I live in a monogamous relationship, I am moving in with my boyfriend this month and someday I would like to marry and perhaps give a loving home to a child. And btw, I love some fantasy now and again and like to read hot sex scenes with my romance, though I don’t mind if a story is non-explicit or YA. It was actually reading M/M and the same-sex love and acceptance described there that gave me the courage to come out and be true to myself, so I could find someone to love me in the way I needed.
It’s easy to dismiss something as lesser. But not always accurate. I think there are many ways in which M/M can become richer, show more diverse and realistic experiences and be more inclusive. I think it is moving in the right direction and that the genre has a great effect on the way gay people are treated in RL. Rather than saying ‘my genre is better than yours’ in a way that might be hurtful to some people, wouldn’t it be nice if we could all realize there are different tastes in the world and that different stories cater to different tastes? Some people want to have fantasy, love, romance and hot sex after a long day in the ‘Real World’ with a happy ending for the characters waiting in the last pages. But isn’t it cool that they read stories about gay characters, are active to make others see that gay people have the same right to love as any straight person and try to make those around them more open-minded, one person at a time?
I’m gay and it has been very important in my life to not only feel represented in the romance genre, but to find such an open, loving and supportive community. I have found so many amazing friends whom I can be completely open with about every aspect of my life, and who listen, because they honestly care for me. Women CAN write stories about gay men and they can do it really fucking well. Gay fiction is very important as well though and I encourage any reader to try the genre out. There are rich offerings to be found!