There’s another kerfuffle wrinkling the romance sheets, specifically a complaint piece written by an anonymous individual (apparently a gay male, but… anonymous) with issues to the effect that he wants to emphasize Gay Men Are Not Collectables. Before you race to click the link, there are NSFW photos of male anatomy that aren’t making it into “that special folder.”
Oh stop… you’ve got one, too.
Much ado was being made over on Face Book when this hit the airwaves, with folks weighing in on an issue/concern that’s been ongoing for quite some time, to wit: are women capable of writing—authentically and legitimately—to, for and about gay culture and the gay experience? A corollary to that question is anonymous’ claim that with the explosion in popularity of the MM romance genre that gay males are being objectified and “collected.”
Lisa wrote an op-ed piece exploring these questions and more. She did a very nice job of sorting through what had devolved into a confusing rant, picking out the relevant talking points and addressing each concern logically. You can read that in this blog on The Novel Approach.
As an author who writes gay literary fiction as opposed to straight romance—with its stringent rules and expectations, its pre-ordained outcomes and narrowly defined paths to finding a satisfactory resolution to a character’s journey, aka HEA—there was one thing that caught my attention.
Anonymous wrote: “As a gay man, the M/M Romance genre makes me extremely uncomfortable.”
As a writer, no… wait… as a creative, it is not my job to make you (used here generically) feel comfortable. It is not my job to bubble-wrap you and protect you from life’s realities even if fiction, by its very nature, is filled with archetypes, tropes, and historically developed narrative structure, all of which are heavily dependent on cultural and social imperatives and rarely, if ever, reflect life’s realities.
It is not my job to assure your delicate sensibilities aren’t offended by providing trigger warnings beyond the obvious one used here, i.e. alerting readers that opening a link also reveals photographs that in a work environment are inappropriate and could lead to awkward discussions, or could be viewed by under age children.
That’s called being socially responsible and aware of the impact of social media.
And yes, I am all too aware that there’s a double standard at work here.
Anonymous feels objectified by how male characters are portrayed: unrealistic physical characteristics (hello, size double-aught runway models anyone?), unrealistic sex drive and unrelenting reliance on scenes of affection as plot devices, and fetishization/glorification of a small percentage of the population who clearly don’t represent the norm (he uses porn stars and gay male authors as examples… go ahead, think on that a minute, I’ll wait).
Do we really need to talk about the heroes in Regency romances, what they look like, how they act? Flash forward present day: the billionaire trope. The alpha wolf. The CEO, the tough detective… From time immemorial they’ve pretty much been cut from the same mold. It’s in the Writing Romance Guidebook for Aspiring Authors. It applies to MF as well as MM.
Get over it.
If you don’t like the trope, for crying out loud, don’t read it! And don’t be insulted because, honey, it ain’t about YOU! It’s about fantasies, about being taken away from bosses who bitch because you needed a day off to care for a sick child or an ailing parent. It’s about trying to forget the grocery list, bills you can’t meet because you were laid off or you’re a single parent working three jobs to make ends meet. It’s about having to be superwoman or superman in a society that sees no value in the individual beyond their worth as a consumer of goods and services.
Oops, sorry… I was just about to go off on Republicans trying to control my ovaries and dipping their dicks in Social Security and medicare.
Let me repeat: if it doesn’t suit, if it doesn’t meet your needs, if it somehow offends… don’t read it!
Romance is written primarily by women for women!
If you’re gay and aching for something to read that speaks to your own world view, I’ve posted dozens of recommendations for books by gay authors who do exactly that—exceptional works of fiction that transcend genres, that speak to the human condition, that offer insights into the history of gay culture. Authors who write with exquisitely aching beauty and respect for the language. True storytellers who understand STORY and all its nuances.
Find them, read them. No one is standing over you with a taser forcing you to read a romance novel, though in truth there are stunningly magnificent works out there. Novels that will take your breath away, leave you in tears of joy or despair, that will transport you, elevate you, and change how you see yourself and the world you live in.
That’s what STORY does.
As for those pesky scenes of affection… There’s a topic that is so market-driven, so dependent on the vagaries of pop culture, perceptions of what’s socially acceptable and programmed into us via the media, that it’s really difficult to limit the discussion to its relevance to STORY.
Difficult, not impossible.
Here’s the skinny: does a scene of affection (SoA, aka graphic sex) move the plot along, does it promote emotional growth for the characters, does it realistically portray what’s physically possible (oh yeah, it’s a thing, dear readers, especially in the MM romance genre), is it an obstacle for your character to overcome before he/she can move forward? Yes or no? If no, get rid of it because then it serves no purpose other than titillation and, more often than not, it will fail that metric because romance readers won’t tolerate gratuitous and disrespectful treatment of a genre.
If you don’t find plot (STORY), it might be erotica, but I hesitate to make that distinction because erotica done right is a glorious venue for exploring the hidden treasures of our psyches.
SoAs are also a matter of taste. A book can fall into the too little, too much, just enough category all at the same time. That factoid makes reading reviews a mind-numbing proposition.
Clearly, anonymous falls into the too much mindset when it comes to most MM romance. Solution: don’t read it.
As a writer, I’ve chosen a road less followed. I prefer not to follow tropes or conventions requiring HEA or HFN. I embrace a non-standard, more literary (sometimes transgressive) narrative style, yet most of my work is highly sensuous and intensely character-driven because that’s what interests me. I want to take readers out of their comfort zones and bring them into mine. And to do that means I eschew trigger warnings and expect the reader to be mature enough to accept that the world I offer is neither tidy nor accommodating.
At the end of the day, isn’t it really about having choices, and shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact we have an almost infinite array of STORIES to suit virtually every taste? Shouldn’t we, as authors, applaud our fellow creatives who have found an audience for their work?
And isn’t it long past time to simply embrace the fact that, though our paths might differ, we all long for the same things in life?