fantasy men vs. real men

I love my fantasy world. Not just the one I live in in my head, but the ones in my writing, and in the fiction I read. I don’t mean fantasy, as a genre, although I love that. too. I mean in the way that all fiction is fantasy.

In most fiction, miracles are routine, coincidences are commonplace, and extreme circumstances are de rigueur. We critique characters by assessing if they have behaved in a believable way, when really none of them ever do. When you think of the crazy shit that happens in books, there is no way you would expect a “real” person to snap back from most of it. In many cases, it would be difficult to predict what a “normal” reaction would even be.

If some of the stuff that happened to literary characters happened to you, you’d hole up in your basement and cry for a week. Or quit your job and move away. Or any number of more believable things. You probably wouldn’t calmly continue with business as usual, or bravely confront the vampire, or boldly bring a lawsuit against your city government. But then, that is kind of the point of fiction, isn’t it? To show us the extreme, the wild ride. To allow us to live vicariously through the trials and failures and successes of our literary doppelgangers.

And in romantic fiction, which is usually more character driven, this plays out via the fantasy man (or woman): a perfect physical specimen, a perfect sexual partner. Often, this male ideal is the “alpha” guy. A navy seal or a marine. A werewolf or a vampire. A cop or a fireman. A wealthy, successful businessman. People like to say these are “real” men. Men who never cry, who don’t ask for help, who refuse to talk about their feelings. Men who always know what to do, whose strength never fails them. Men who ignore their emotions while they drink beer with their buddies and swear about the unfair ref in a football game on the bar’s TV. Tough guys who know how to reload a semi-automatic and who laugh off minor flesh wounds. Are these “real” men? Really?

Some people say that a reason they like m/m romance is that the two romantic leads are in a more “balanced” relationship, as far as dominance goes. I can understand this, a little, because in the majority of m/f romance, the relationship between the two MCs is pretty unrealistic, and is often offensive, when you break it down.

But sometimes, it gets taken too far. I’ve been looking for some new books to read, and perusing reviews in order to decide what to buy. This never ends well for me. In fact, it usually ends in a ranty blog-post. And here we go…

A common complaint about some m/m books is the presence of the so-called “chick-with-a-dick” character, meaning that one main character is so “feminine” that if you changed his name to a woman’s name and gave him a vagina it would read as a m/f romance.This is so offensive I don’t even know where to begin. (But I’ll try)

The biggest problem is that what people are really saying when they say this is “I didn’t like this character”, or more specifically “this character is weak/needy/clingy/weepy/annoying”. But instead of saying all that, or in addition to saying all that, they say “this character reads like a woman”.

Do you see how that might piss me off? Maybe if they said, “This character is offensive because he is portrayed like the stereotypical female lead in a traditional romance” I would find the statement less offensive. Maybe.

But I also have a problem with the underlying message, that a female is sooo different than a male, in real life. I don’t think this is true. I know a lot of real life “alpha” men. Cops, firefighters, marines. These are my friends and family, and you know what?  They’re not that different from me. They cry. They call their friends when their girlfriends break up with them. They worry about their outfits. They even (gasp!) talk about their feelings sometimes. Do I just happen to know the most sensitive and effeminate group of men in the world? Or are most men kind of like this, too? (Maybe not to strangers, in public, but with friends and family I mean)

And if men and women are not so wildly different, they need not be portrayed with such gender-specific behaviors and motivations in fiction. And if that is true, then what the issue really becomes about is that the average readership for m/m romance (straight chicks) just want to read a two-alpha-guys-fucking fantasy.

I get it. You love men, so you want your fantasy men to be as masculine as possible. Dominant, alpha, super-hero guys. You don’t want a character like your brother, who calls you to bitch about his girlfriend having too many girls-night-outs, or your husband, who gets weepy when he watches your kid’s school play, or your boss, who needs you to talk him through the entire data-entry process. You just want the sexy parts. You want a “real man”, but not an actual real man.

Personally, I don’t want that. If the fantasy man on offer is one who is basically a very sexy jerk, I’m out. And I don’t want a whole 200 page story about a guy realizing he might have been a jerk, then trying to make up for it to win his boy(or girl)friend back. Or trying to find a way to tell his boyfriend he loves him without actually saying it, because that would be weak and womanly and not something real guys do. I’m all set with those kind of “real men”. I’ll take the realistic ones, thanks. Honestly, if a man can’t interpret his own feelings, he’s not a tough guy, he’s a baby.

I admit, I have read a few “two-alpha-guys-fucking” stories, usually they have some crime or mystery or battle to deal with between sexy times (odd), and often I find the stories entertaining anyway. Some of these books rise above the stereotypical characters and gratuitous sex, and I truly love when that happens.

So yes, I love the fantasy men, whether they’re “alpha” or “girly” or “real”. But I love them the most when they are not caricatures. When they step outside the boundaries of what we are told a “real” man should be. I love normal guys. Geeks, teachers, guys who work in cubicles, scientists, carpenters, mechanics, all of them. And I like average bodies (actually, I like all bodies), so fictional characters need not be described as underwear models or bodybuilders to impress me. I love to find the extraordinary in the commonplace. The hero inside Joe-average-guy. Am I the only one?

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