So someone on facebook yesterday made a comment asking about the continued appeal of m/m Romance in the face of growing LGBTQ* equality. It was a fair question, even if it kind of rubbed me the wrong way. I didn’t really address the parts of the post that bothered me on facebook, but I have been thinking about it and I’ve realized this same issue has surfaced a bit in my upcoming release, and so I thought a blog post was in order.
The post in question was by a very nice author who was just sort of thinking-out-loud, I’m sure, so certainly I don’t mean this as an attack, but the basic post was: “…Let’s face it, we had a vast reservoir of material for angsty storylines. Now, not so much. While there are still critical challenges facing GLBT youth as well as trans men and women (some of which result in unspeakable tragedy), the level of persecution has significantly declined. Are readers less invested in our stories because of this? …. I just can’t help but wonder how m/m romance writers are going to maintain the genre’s original appeal…” I didn’t really touch those questions in my response. Instead I talked about sales, I read the other replies, and I also checked out this blog post that sort of asked a similar question.
All day today I thought about the use of anti-gay sentiment as a conflict source for m/m Romance.
It isn’t something that I care for, and I guess I didn’t realize just how popular it is with readers and writers. Personally, I don’t want to read stories where a gay kid gets kicked out of his home, or beaten up, or bullied. I know it happens, I know it is horrible, and I’m not pretending it doesn’t exist. I’ll read about it in the newspaper or talk about it with other parents, it just isn’t something I want to read about in my romantic fiction. I read Romance as an escape, and I want a fantasy. Maybe that is lame, but it’s the truth.
It’s also not something I feel comfortable writing. In my soon-to-be-released historical Romance, a few beta readers suggested that there wan’t enough angst related to the character’s “gayness” and that maybe I should kick that up a notch. I didn’t, and here’s why:
- It isn’t my truth to tell. I am not saying you can’t write what you haven’t lived, but that kind of thing falls closer to “gay fiction” than Romance, to me. I can write about love, and sex, and emotional connections all day long. Those things are universal and I understand them. But being rejected because of who you choose to love? No. That’s a line I can’t cross. It feels too much like appropriation. (Nothing against those who do write it, this is a personal decision.)
- I have no frame of reference. Even if I wanted to write it, I’ve got nothing. All the gay men I know had a fairly good “coming out” story. I don’t personally know anyone who was kicked out of their family for being gay, or gay bashed, or anything like that. (Or if I do, they’ve never spoken of it to me.) I DO know about microaggressions, and the subtle disapproval that parents can direct toward their LGBTQ* kids. I know about teasing and exclusion, and all the ways people can be quietly hurt. Those things I can write with truth, and sometimes I do.
- It isn’t what drew me to the genre. I am not a “slash fic” reader. I don’t care for fanfic. The “forbidden love” element of m/m is not at all exciting to me. If anything, it kind of turns me off. I realize this is just my personal taste, but an entire story where the conflict stems only from society’s unwillingness to accept the gay MCs is not a story I care to read or write. (Again, no offense intended if this is anyone’s preferred plot.)
- I prefer to write positive things. Okay I know this sounds really stupid, but when I write things, I am thinking about them a lot, giving them a lot of attention, and really almost celebrating them. So I don’t write about things I don’t want to celebrate. Maybe it is like ignoring bad behavior in the hopes that it will just go away. And maybe it is weak of me. But I don’t want to write about a world where such horrible things happen. I want to write about the good parts of life. Every book is like a little world I have created. I don’t want to create shitty worlds. We already have a shitty world. I’d rather make a better world, even if it is fictional. (I’m not judging if you like reading/writing darker stuff. Just talking about me here.)
So then I’m left wondering: Is the forbidden love trope one that draws a lot of readers to m/m? Is it really that big? How many people read m/m strictly for the “taboo” of it? And I guess I’m also wondering if this is a tiny part of what drew me to m/m so long ago. I was really young when I first started reading m/m stuff, and it was mostly erotica back then. Was the “forbidden” an element of my attraction to it? I don’t remember! What if it was? What does that mean, for me? (besides the fact I’m old and have a bad memory)
Anyway, I am grateful to the person who posed the original question on facebook. I think it is always good to explore the reasons we write (and read) what we do, and I will certainly continue to think about this issue.