Latest evidence: this blog post.
Anyway, I got in a conversation today about the historical accuracy of my book. (When I say that, I mean that it was in the back of my mind and so I kept mentioning it because that’s the kind of dumb shit I do when I obsess over stuff.) So I found myself throwing facts out, intended to justify the characters I’d written and certain details of my story. (The person I was talking to was really very innocent. I was, in my mind, talking to all the people who have criticized the historic accuracy of these details. I should apologize to the actual person I was talking to.)
Then I realized what I was doing.
Here’s the thing: nobody should be able to tell me what to write, or how to write it.
Romance, really, is a genre about fantasy. And the main thing I’ve learned from this experience writing historical romance is that one huge fantasy in historical romance circles is “forbidden love” or “taboo.” I guess I knew this. I’ve seen all those “Lord and the Laundress” type titles (please let there not be an actual book called the lord and the laundress) but in m/m it’s usually a “we’re dead if anyone finds out” kind of threat hanging over the MCs shoulders.
And the truth is that kind of threat was, and continues to be, a reality for many people. It’s true. There are parents who disown their kids for being gay. Absolutely. And there are many places where it is still extremely dangerous to openly challenge expectations of gender or sexuality. Some periods in history were even darker, though not many. Worldwide, we’re pretty bad now.
But there is also a lot of good.
I’m not ready to believe that at ANY period in world history, there was a time when every single parent and every single citizen would have participated in the killing or ostracizing of any and every QUILTBAG person. I’m sorry. The idea that there was a time when every single person would be willing to turn in their own child, and the state upon receiving said child would sentence them to death, and the citizens-all of them-would gather round and cheer…I can’t believe people think such a time existed! That is ludicrous!! Even more ludicrous to want to fantasize about it, imo. (no kink shaming intended)
Not every single person in any society thinks the same way. If this were true, slavery never would have ended here. Yet we’d never suggest that no white person in the 1800’s could possibly be accepting of a black person, or that every single living soul in America who was not black at the time was a raging racist. That would be absurd! And it wouldn’t fly – we loooove stories about the kindly white folks who treat their slaves/servants like part of the family. That, we find very “realistic.”
I know that I could have written a story where the main character was constantly worried about being found out as a homosexual (never mind that wasn’t a concept back then) and had to be super careful or he’d be hanged for his unnatural lust (never mind that America removed the death penalty for sodomy immediately upon gaining independence from Britain, and had rarely used it prior) and had been rejected by his family (never mind that would have been even more socially damning than covering it up.) Yes, I could have written that, and it would have been an accurate historic possibility. But seriously, that’s not my kink.
Instead, I wrote a story where a main character is gay, and his two parents are somewhat accepting. Also, he has a best friend who knows, and still loves him. (It’s only privately known to these three people, he’s not “out” to the community or anything.) I wrote a story where the character’s homosexuality is not a source of conflict for him. And I have received several reviews from people who say this detail threw them so much out of the story, broke their suspension of disbelief so powerfully, that the entire book fell apart for them. Because they simply could not believe that a parent in 1795 would support their child, if that child was a closet “sodomite.”
In every time period there are good people. There are people who love each other. Family, found family, neighbors, friends, co-workers: we always are making bonds. And parents love their kids, even when society does not. Every parent? No. But I’d like to think a somewhat decent amount of parents. Especially those who have raised and loved and cherished their child to adulthood. Good, kind people is also an accurate historic possibility.
I spend a lot of time and energy on my books. Every author does. And personally, I don’t want to spend energy writing a story about how sad and horrible it is to be gay and how everyone hates all gays. Sorry, I just don’t want to focus my mental energy there. Similarly, I don’t write contemporary stories about gay teens on the streets. Or about people who get beaten up walking home from a club after they got a little too handsy in full view of the wrong drunk asshole. Or people who subtly get their work hours reduced after mentioning their sexuality. I know these things happen, I know they make powerful stories that deserve to be told, I know many authors write them well. But I don’t choose to write about them.
I think it’s okay that I don’t want to write those things. I think I should be able to write whatever kind of story I want to write.
and… Because I have done a shit ton of researching on the subject at this point, I feel confident in saying it is not only “realistic,” but probable, that a set of middle class parents in 1795 would have been at least mildly tolerant of their son’s sodomite ways. Would theirs have been a common tolerance? I don’t know. I doubt it. But I don’t think it would have been very rare, either. I could throw a lot of facts around (because I’m obsessing) but instead, I will throw this out there for consideration: Did any gay men survive undetected and get forced into a “straight” marriage? How about women in the same situation? Did they have children? Would they not be parents, too? Would they also call for their son to be hanged, if they found out he was gay like them?
If we can accept it is possible, even if it’s rare, that a parent would tolerate their child’s “crime” of sodomy, then why are we so eager to cover that up? Why do we, through historical romance, perpetuate the idea that the past was so hostile? Why is it so easy for us to believe homosexuality was such a detestable, unforgivable crime? Is it to make ourselves feel better about how far we’ve supposedly come? Or is it that, when people reach for a historical m/m romance, what they are really wanting and expecting is the titillation of taboo sex?
Whatever the reason, the result is a continuation of the erasure of QUILTBAG history. There were QUILTBAG people all throughout history, in every country and during every time period. They existed and oftentimes thrived, even in unfriendly circumstances. They contributed to society and they had families and even communities who loved them. Just like they do now.
I want to write about those people. I realize this means my story will not mesh with many popular fantasies about the past. But I don’t write those fantasies, I write mine.
I think a good video on this topic is Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie‘s “The Danger of a Single Story” which I highly recommend viewing.