Gay men, in fact, often find it frustrating to write in this genre. They sometimes pour their hearts into a manuscript, writing about gay characters dealing with the difficulties gay men face every day, only to have it rejected by publishers of MM Romance because there isn’t enough romance in it. Or (somewhat ironically) female readers will rate a story badly because there isn’t enough sex in it, which can make us feel as if we’re prostituting ourselves. And while there are a few gay men on the top of the charts, there are far more women up there. (I’m talking about the authors who sell thousands of copies with nearly every release.)
The fact of the matter is, MM Romance may be about gay men, but it isn’t reallyours.
–Jamie Fessenden on m/m romance.
This is a really interesting post; a gay male m/m author talking about the difference between the largely female-drive m/m genre and, well, what I guess you’d call “gay literature”. He doesn’t quite get to that distinction, I think, but this is what it is; a lot of gay lit written by actual gay men about actually being gay is, yanno. Kinda depressing. Because, a) it’s Literature, and b) it’s reflecting authentically on the frequently difficult and sometimes outright horrific realities of being gay. Like, homophobia is a thing. Gay bashing is a thing. AIDS is a thing.1 And love is a thing, too. So, yeah. Gay character in litfic are, I think, more likely to fall in love then have horrible fates befall them. Because, yanno.
But m/m is a romance genre, and the tropes in romance–specifically the HEA–are different. And while gay lit is important–in the way all authentic stories are important–I think it’s also important to have an idealised genre like romance that does have the sweeping music and soft focus camera angles and kiss on the beach in front of the sunset. Because I think it’s important for people not just to see reflections of authentic reality in media aimed at them, but also dreams of idealised futures. The only narrative told about and to gay men–or any group–shouldn’t be one wherein they suffer and die miserable and alone.
m/m romance might be largely dominated by women, and there are problematic aspects to that. But I’d like to hope Fessenden is also right when he suggests that the growing market share for m/m (and its fandom predecessor, slash) also opens up space for gay male creators to tell their stories, no matter the genre. I do think this happens. Again, it’s not unproblematic (ref. Torchwood), but it does happen.
As a side note: this is also, incidentally, why I think it’s important to see queer characters as heroes in other genres, particularly “genre” genres like SFF. It goes back to that old representation chestnut; if you’re a straight white boy, pop culture tells you you can be anything. A god, a superhero, a cop, a mafia kingpin… Hell, even a ballet dancer. You can do all of that, and you can get the girl. Because TV said so.
Which is great, yanno? Despite what ragetrolls on the internet might like to say, no one wants to take that away.
What we do want to do, however, is extend that to everyone else.
- Or, perhaps more accurately, was a thing in gay lit being written twenty or thirty years ago. Obviously the disease is still around, but I think things have changed enough that it’s not quite The Thing amongst young gay men that it used to be. Er… I think. Young gay men out there, feel free to correct me if I’m wrong on this one! [↩]