My take on women writing MM Romance

SterekThe argument has surfaced again and again over the four years since I first published in this genre:  Are women really capable of writing MM Romance?  After all, it’s about men.  Shouldn’t men write it?

My answer to those questions is a bit complex, so bear with me.

First, a little history.  This is based upon my personal experience, supplemented by some cursory research, so don’t take anything I say as absolute fact.  I would love to see someone do a really thorough history of the genre someday.

I don’t know how old modern “gay literature” is.  I do know E.M. Forster wrote Maurice in 1913 (though it wasn’t published until after his death in 1971).  Blair Niles published a novel in 1931 called Strange Brother, which tells of the friendship between a heterosexual woman and a gay man.   Authors such as Christopher Isherwood and Langston Hughes were also writing in the 1930s, but I don’t think much of it was overtly homosexual.  Gordon Merrick wrote a gay novel in 1947 called The Strumpet Wind. In the 1950s, the gay pulps made a tentative appearance, sometimes as reprints of older novels such as Strange Brother, and by the 1960s, some of pulps had become sexually explicit.  Victor J. Banis was one of the pioneers in this genre with his The Man from C.A.M.P. series, beginning in 1966.

There are too many authors to list in this brief overview, but I’ll add a few more groundbreaking novels here.  In 1970, Gordon Merrick’s The Lord Won’t Mind hit the New York Times Bestsellers List for sixteen weeks.  Then in 1974, Patricia Nell Warren hit the NYT Bestsellers List with The Front Runner, which became an enormous mainstream hit.  In 1980, Vincent Virga wrote the first gay gothic romance, appropriately titled Gaywyck.

Now, most of the authors writing gay novels were gay men, but you’ll note that the author of The Front Runner was a woman.  Another female author, Marion Zimmer Bradley, published one of my favorite gay novels—The Catch Trap—in 1979.  She later wrote other novels with gay characters, as did Patricia Nell Warren.  (Yes, I’m aware of the controversy surrounding Marion Zimmer Bradley, and I’m not saying I approve of everything she’s done.  However, it’s still a great novel.)

When I was first coming to terms with my sexuality in the early eighties, I devoured every gay novel I could find—not that I could find many.  Most of what I discovered was in the bargain bins of the local used book store.  Those books were mostly dreary depictions of gay men living lonely lives, having sex with strangers, and resolving to die alone.  Often they died prematurely of AIDS or violence.  As much as I love The Front Runner, which depicts a wonderful, loving relationship between two men, the ending is horrific.  These books depicted a bleak future for a teenage boy just coming out of the closet.  It got to the point where I flipped to the end chapter of every book I picked up to make sure the main character and his love interest were both still alive before I purchased it.

Fortunately, there were exceptions.  Gordon Merrick novels ended happily, though they were so obsessed with physical beauty and enormous cocks I couldn’t really apply them to my life.  I did stumble across a novel called Tory’s by William Snyder which ended happily, though again the main character was rather vapid and obsessed with physical appearance.  There was one wonderful YA novel by B.A. Ecker called Independence Day which had a positive impact on me.  It depicted a boy my age who was in love with his best friend.  The ending saddened me, because they didn’t end up running off into the sunset together, but the fact that his friend embraces him when he comes out was a big deal.  I have no idea whether B.A. Ecker was male or female, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Ecker was female.  I’ve already mentioned The Catch Trap, which was wonderfully romantic and ended happily.

And it was written by a woman.

At this time, I had no doubt that I preferred female authors.  It seemed to me that the male authors of gay novels were either depressed or obsessed with penis size.  I wanted romance.  And for that, I turned to women.  (Later, I would discover Mercedes Lackey’s Last Herald Mage trilogy, which couldn’t be said to be happy, really, but was definitely romantic.)

Then in college, I discovered an entirely new (to me) source of gay stories—slashfic.

I’m sure most people already know the term, but basically it’s fiction written by fans of a particular TV, movie, or book series who pair up their favorite characters for sexual escapades.  The name “slashfic” derives from the slash put between the characters when people talk about the stories, such as “Kirk/Spock.”  (There can, of course, be multiple characters—it doesn’t just have to be two.)

I never wrote fanfic or slashfic myself, but I saw it online.  At the time, the World Wide Web didn’t exist.  My college wasn’t even on the Internet until near the end of my time there—we were on something called BITNET.  (Which is a fascinating subject, but not relevant to this discussion.)  All of the stories I read were distributed on a text-based service called LISTSERV.

While I didn’t write slashfic, I did write original stories on a vampire fan list and I was on a Star Trek fan list, among others.  The authors who posted their works of fiction—whether based in the universe of Star Trek, or Anne Rice, or entirely of their own creation—were largely amateurs.  I don’t mean that in a negative sense.  Some of them were very good.  (Lois McMaster Bujold, one of my favorite fantasy/science fiction authors, began by writing Star Trek fanfic.)  But most were unpublished at that time, like myself.

And another observation:  most of these writers were female.  Yes, I’ve seen rants about how this is a stereotype and completely untrue, but I’ve found at least one study in 2010 that seems to have some good data.  It could all be bogus, of course, but if it’s correct, we’re looking at about 78% of fanfic writers being female.  And if we’re talking about the sub-category of slashfic, which often (though not always) involves two male characters getting it on, it seems reasonable to assume a largely female authorship.  Gay men no doubt write some, but I think the percentage is low.

What does this have to do with MM Romance?

Not to put too fine a point on it, MM Romance—in my opinion—does not owe its origin to mainstream gay fiction.  It comes from slashfic.  I’m not saying it’s the same thing as slashfic.  Certainly not.  It’s evolved away from its origins.  MM Romance is original fiction and much of it is well-written and professional.  But it descended from slashfic, and the gender demographics haven’t changed a lot.  The majority of writers are still female, and the majority of readers are female.

Mainstream gay fiction is still out there.  It’s actually expanded a bit to include lesbian and transgender fiction.  But I confess, I still find much of it dreary.  I picked up a book not long ago that was was full of critical accolades in the first pages.  I read the first chapter, grew suspicious, and flipped to the end.  Yes, the love interest was dead, the victim of a gay-bashing.  Of course.

I don’t need that crap.

I want romance.  And for that, I turn to MM Romance, which has always been a genre dominated by women.  Always.  There has never been a time when the majority of writers in this genre were gay men.  So the question of whether women should be writing MM Romance is utterly absurd.

The real question is, can men write it?

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 really ours.  The genre is full of tropes that often baffle and frustrate us—all couples must be monogamous, despite a very large percentage of gay couples having open relationships; the only real sex is penetrative anal sex, despite the fact that many gay men don’t like it—and many gay men have difficulty writing them.  Not only that, but many gay men have difficulty reading them. Hence the reason this argument of women writing MM Romance keeps surfacing.

(Also, I am not trying to imply that all gay men agree about… well, anything.  Whenever I talk about how tired I am of seeing anal sex written about as if it’s the ultimate expression of love for gay men, I get some men praising me and some men snarling at me for tromping all over something they happen to love.)

But grousing about the problems in the genre overlooks one other key fact:  without it, most of the gay authors currently publishing in MM Romance would not be published, or at least they would have to resort to self-publishing.  This isn’t to say MM Romance authors, whether men or women, aren’t up to snuff when compared to mainstream authors.  I think many of us are.  But the gateways to mainstream publishing are jealously guarded.  An author nearly always requires an agent to get into a mainstream publishing house, and agents themselves take on only a small percentage of the authors who submit to them.

MM Romance publishers have provided another avenue for gay male authors—a lot of gay male authors.  It’s been a boon to us. Like any market, it has restrictions as to what sells and what doesn’t sell, and it does little good to complain about that.  We have to adapt to what sells if we want our stories to sell.  That’s just marketing common sense.  And at least some male authors have been successful at it.  We do, after all, like romance too.

Ultimately, if there are things gay authors don’t like about the MM Romance genre, we’re in a good position to affect some change within it.  Not by ranting, necessarily.  (Yes, I’m guilty of ranting—frequently.)  But by depicting ourselves honestly in good stories.  If our stories are good, they’ll have an influence.  Also by talking about ourselves honestly with other authors in the genre.  Female authors aren’t the enemy.  They want their stories to be authentic.  The best do their research and hang out with gay men so they can accurately represent us.  But of course, “gay men” isn’t really a unified group of people—and the information we impart about our lives is often contradictory.  And they’re bound by the market too.  They want to sell their books.  So change comes slowly.

Overall, when I talk of “changing” the MM Romance genre, I’m not talking about a genre in need of a complete overhaul.  This genre has been good for the LGBTQ community.  It’s expanded our acceptance with both readers and publishers, and it’s influenced the way a lot of people vote on gay rights issues.  I have no doubt that it’s expanded the acceptance of same-sex marriage in this country and others.

So I like the MM Romance genre.  I’ve found a home there and made a lot of friends there.  Any good author will have an influence upon his or her genre, even if small, so of course I hope to do so someday.  But if I do, it will be through the quality of my work—not through any misguided attempts to drive women out of the genre and claim it as my own.

 

 

 

 

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47 Comments

Filed under Drama, gay, Life, Romance, Writing

47 responses to “My take on women writing MM Romance

  1. Well said. It’s worth noting, too, that many of the women in the genre (like me) have the same issues with some of the tropes. Not that I have anything against monogamy or anal sex, but there’s a whole wide world beyond them. 🙂

    • Of course. The problem with a piece like this is you end up making sweeping statements like “gay men are” or “female authors like” and those generalizations don’t hold true for everybody.

  2. Sara

    Fantastic, informative post! As you are one of my go-to authors in the MM genre, and also a man, I wondered what you had to say on this subject.I was really pleased to hear that slash fiction is, as I suspected, the predecessor to modern MM romance, and that you agree that women have every right to write it. It’s a shame that so much gay fiction you found before (and after) MM romance’s emergence had death and AIDS as end results… I like how you addressed where the place is for men writing MM romance, and i think you and other male authors do make excellent contributions to the genre. I’ve found your books that I’ve read to be among the ones that feel the most genuine, in terms of the characters, Is this because you yourself are a gay man? That might be part of it. Whatever the case, I stand by the idea that any good writer can write a good story, even if the characters are unlike them in terms of gender or sexual orientation. Thank you for the respectful, insightful, post.

    • My theory that MM Romance derives from slashfic is my considered opinion, but I can’t verify it. I will note, however, that the first MM Romance novel I ever read evoked a powerful reaction of “this is slashfic” from me. Not because it felt like it came from Star Trek or Supernatural or something like that, or because I didn’t think it was well-written (it was very well-written), but because I’d never run across explicit sex scenes like that in mainstream fiction. There were other more subtle clues that reinforced that. But again, this is just my opinion.

      • Sara

        I understand that wasn’t a confirmed fact, I didn’t phrase my comment as well as I could have as I was in a bit of a hurry when writing it. I meant to say something more along the lines of the fact that I am glad I’m not the only one with that hypothesis.

        Several of my favorite MM romance authors got their starts in fanfiction, and I hope when I take the time to work on my original worlds, I will join their ranks! I have yet to write and submit anything for publication, but it’s definitely in my future.

        Also I’m with Shae in being frustrated with some of the tropes that get used so often.

        Related to that, I’m grateful that I’m friends with Grace R. Duncan, who I get a lot of my book recommendations from. I actually found your writing through a guest post on her blog. She and I have similar likes and dislikes within the genre, so it’s nice to have someone I can ask for recommendations or ask if I would like a certain book. I’ve ventured out on my own as well of course, but it’s nice to know someone who has read a lot within the genre!

      • I heard this from the 14 MM romance authors I interviewed at the RT convention in May. While 14 aren’t as many as are writing, it’s a small statistical sample that supports your theory.

  3. I never read any slashfic or fanfic, but I did begin reading mm erotica in the early to mid 90’s. It was available in the bigger city bookstores, but it wasn’t necessarily more romantic than “gay fiction,” just more sexual. And extremely graphic.
    Thanks for a really insightful post, Jamie.

  4. I applaud you greatly for this post! It’s not just an argument but it’s held up with sound proof. Amazing job

  5. Excellent, thoughtful and thorough reply to the question of women writing MM romance. As another commenter said, I’ve never read any slash or fanfic, but a few authors I’ve read have admitted to getting their start in slash/fan and now shipping. What I read a lot of once upon a time was straight romance (I use straight in several senses of the term) i.e. MF romance, and I’m here to tell you that the sex is just as hot and vivid and raunchy in some of these books as anywhere (Susan Johnson, Bertrice Small, anybody?) Why anyone thinks nobody had graphic sex in a book before 50 Shades of Gray came out, has never read a romance novel. And as in any genre that is marginalized or a “red-headed stepchild”, which is a lot of them, whether fantasy, scifi, westerns, horror, etc. that is published in a paperback original, there are some damn fine writers who couldn’t get published in hardcover or in any quantity because they were genre fiction writers. Jayne Anne Krentz, Suzanne Brockmann, St. Nora Roberts and Janet Evanovich ALL started out as romance novelists pub’d only in PB. Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series (wanna talk about gay characters–read the final scenes of Oullander or the Lord John Grey books;) Suzanne Brockmann has had a gay FBI agent in a whole series of books (and he got married within the last few years to his boyfriend) was published in hardcover, amazingly enough, and as many of us in the biz know, Ms. Gabaldon and her books have reached cult status. Now all of these authors are published in hardcover or trade pb (and reprinted in mass market pb) and their books have initial print runs in thousands. These women are not ordinary anything. In fact, about Diana Gabaldon: Dr. Gabaldon holds three degrees in science: Zoology, Marine Biology, and Quantitative Behavioral Ecology, (plus an honorary degree as Doctor of Humane Letters, which entitles her to be “Diana Gabaldon, Ph.D., D.H.L.”
    Jamie, I apologize for taking over your post with a rant of my own, but I strongly believe that romance writing–in all varieties, colors, shapes and sizes, is here to stay, and is one of the most popular genres on earth. MM romance fiction is simply one more incarnation, albeit a fairly new one, but still wildly popular. And gay men, and pardon me for assuming, have no corner on feeling exploited or fetishized–think of the lusty busties of yore–and the perpetuation of the “rape fantasy” that all women are supposed to have (yeah, right) –covers have gotten a lot better about suggesting a book’s content and this is because readers demanded it. Never doubt that enthusiastic and committed readers can’t change the course of publishing. They have and they will continue to do so. Many have pointed that out, as you have in your post. MM fiction is getting there–there’s lots of buzz everywhere in some venerable publishing journalism–Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, etc. that shows that LGBT fiction is a force to be reckoned with.

  6. Joy Walker Hall

    Your blog was quite interesting. Some of the early authors I’d heard of and some I hadn’t, but looked up on Wiki. I liked that you informed as well as gave your opinion. I’ve been following the the “fight” about women in MM romance lately and generally think most of those against it have made awfully silly comments. I liked that you looked at both sides (to some extent) and weren’t bashing some pretty good writers. Where would literature be if writers only wrote about people like themselves?

    I have read your work and like it and will continue to buy your books. Thank you.

  7. Reblogged this on The Blunt Instrument and commented:
    QFT
    Coming from a scifi/fantasy/spec fic background, the argument that women can’t write gay romance because they aren’t gay men is null. I doubt Stephen King has ever been chased by an evil clown. Or that Burroughs ever travelled through a cave into a world where dinosaurs still existed. So, thank you, Jaime, for saying all the things I’d like to say, but can’t, because it turns me into a spitting little sarcasm monster.

  8. Wonderfully composed post, Jamie – the short history is a good one and, like you, I’d love to see an exhaustive, scholarly history on gay romance some day.

    Several of these topics we’ve discussed in person and while you are always well-spoken on subjects you care deeply about, your rants are always quiet ones, laced with humor and understanding.

    One of the reasons I finally (finally) started to read romance in my 40’s was that literary fiction in general had begun to depress me. Someone always dies. There’s always terrible tragedy and suffering. It’s not literary fiction if someone isn’t miserable. I loved The Catch Trap as well and though it had a happy, mostly, ending, it was a gut-wrenching read. This was about the same time I read Something You Do In The Dark as well, which was more a protest novel in many ways than simple literary fiction, but that, of course, ended horribly. We got to the point where we would see gay characters in movies and books and say “Oh, yeah. He’s not surviving this story.” I hated that. So very much.

    So, yes, I think because the need was there, for romance, for happier stories, the pressing need was there, the movement grew organically. Will things change? Oh, yes. They already have. You and I both see that. In the last ten years, we have more publishers, more authors, more variety of stories than we ever had before in the genre. Sure, you still have your typical shifters and cowboy stories, but there are real M/M science fiction stories, suspense, mystery, steampunk, inspirational fiction, gothic, horror and so on. We have more authors writing lesbian fiction, transgender fiction, bisexual, pansexual, writers finding a voice who never would have before. We have stories with no sex at all (*gasp*) and stories where we move away from the need to “complete” the bond with anal penetration.

    We are evolving. It’s damn fun to watch.

  9. Thanks! I think the topic tends to create more heat than light, but it’s refreshing to see a male author not blaming women writers for being too uppity. I’ve always felt I’m a human being writing about human beings. Love’s in the heart as much as in the pants. And I agree about the romance “tropes” in that formula limits characterization.

    Have you read Lois McMasters’ Bujold’s “Ethan of Athos?” The romance is a small part of a larger story, but I think it’s a terrific book as both SF and m/m.

    And I agree that m/m – even the designation — came out of fanfic. It wasn’t born of “literature” because much of what gets that label in modern writing is almost required to be depressing.

    Thank you!

  10. Lori S

    Very eloquent post. I started reading romance novels when I was a teenager sneaking my mom’s historical novels and reading my grandma’s Harlequins. To me, romance writers have always been women. I am ashamed to say, I would not have considered reading a romance written by a man. When I started reading MM romance, I was actually surprised there were men writing it. But I figured, Hey! Gay men writing about gay men seemed reasonable, I accepted it and found some wonderful male authors. I read about the hullabaloo females writing MM, and had the thought it was sad men could never be accepted writing het romance. Then I read a MM romance with a character who wrote het romance using a pen name because of the discrimination he would face as a male. Revelation! Now I firmly believe it doesn’t matter what sex a writer is, it only matters that they have a story to tell. A talented writer will tell a believable tale that is unrelated to who they are. Reading MM has, indeed, expanded my world. I fully support marriage equality for all regardless of gender, and the right of all writers to tell their story regardless of gender.

  11. Great post. I think one of the keys to writing in any genre, with any pairing, is to create REAL characters, not caricatures, and to do the research necessary to make the story ring true. That said, one of the greatest compliments I’ve gotten on my books (my co-author and I use unisex pseudonyms to avoid the controversy altogether) was a lady told me she gave one of our books to her gay brother as a gift, and her brother was shocked to discover we are both women writing it. “If I didn’t know better I’d have thought it was written by two gay men. The emotions are perfect!” I consider our work done, 🙂

    • I had a similar reaction from a friend who beta-reads my work. I think the key is *emotions.* The wiring of different genders may not be identical, but the brain receptors for feelings are pretty similar. A ‘shiver,’ for instance, is not something that’s one gender or another.

  12. LInked to this through Eli Easton… Brilliant article… I love writing in this genre, and I love my happy ever afters. I am an author who came to MM from a slashfic background (Supernatural RPF, Jared/Jensen). Without slashfic and the internet I doubt 99.9% of us female MM writers would have our stories out there to read…

    Hugs RJ XXX

  13. As an author who came to this genre via fan fiction, it’s often amusing to see all the similarities. Many of the tropes so prevalent in m/m romance come straight out of fanfic – ie, instalove, gay for you, friends to lovers, etc. (Not that I’m dissing them – in fact, I’ve written most of them, some more than once!) I am, however, getting tired of the “It’s not really sex unless a cock enters a hole” type of books.

    As a queer person (yes, I’m a woman, but we have butts too!) I don’t like seeing these misconceptions reinforced. There are so many different – and far more intimate – ways to make love. I wish more writers in our genre would vary it up a bit – expand their creative palette, so to speak – but that’s just me.

  14. Sarah_Madison

    Awesome post, Jamie! As usual, you say what I’ve been thinking myself, only you put it much more eloquently. How wonderful it would be if this was the final word on the subject, but I know it won’t be. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on the matter. 🙂

  15. Excellent post, Jamie! I think your slashfic theory is pretty well reasoned. Many of those slash writers were, like me, Marion Zimmer Bradley readers. An interesting connection (the first gay romantic relationship I read in a book was in her Darkover series, which I still read to this day, since her proteges are still writing it).

    I, for one, am thrilled you write this genre. In the end, it’s all about the quality of the writing, and that’s something you have in spades!

  16. thank you for sharing your thoughts 🙂 I find this very informative, especially the history lesson. I am trying my best to make it my own and write authentically to the best of my abilities.

    Great post.

  17. Some of the personal experience you shared reads like my autobiography. Although I never read fanfic or slashfic, I remember reading Independence Day and I still have a copy of the paperback. I’m not sure if MM evolved directly from slashfic, but regardless the origin, we face a reality of plain and simple arithmetic. Gay fiction was dying for all the reasons you stated–it was depressing, pessimistic, extremely jaded. When women began writing m/m romances, many gay male readers were ecstatic (myself included) because we finally had some feel-good stories to read that portrayed us in a positive light and gave us hope for a happy ending. Well, as a result, gay fiction sort of became swallowed up by M/M. Some of the gay readers and authors got pissed because they thought of it as a female takeover of the industry. But in truth, the women are the people who saved the genre. Without them, gay fiction would be such a minuscule sub-genre that it would not even be profitable enough to publish. It’s just a matter of numbers. Women make up half the population. Gay men make up about 2 percent of the population, and a lot of gay men (because they’re MEN) just don’t read…anything.

    We can have our conversations about appropriation, and we can even expand the genre to accommodate for a variety of books that might be more palatable to the gay male readers who want authenticity. But bitching about female authors (and readers) is utterly asinine. It’s like shooting ourselves in the foot…or more accurately, in the heart.

    And just one more thing. I used to read m/f romances when I was younger, a lot of Danielle Steele (blush). I remember her book Family Album that depicted an openly gay character named Lionel. I read that book 3 times because I was so thrilled to find a gay character portrayed so positively in a mainstream romance. I don’t think the majority of us gay male readers have any problem at all with female authors. Let’s not let a few loudmouths speak for all of us. I love the M/M genre and the authors who write it…regardless of their gender.

  18. I have to relay a story here. This year I joined a group of other writers who write LGBT fiction and even managed to make Denver pride with them and we all sat around selling our books. The weekend was a series of first for me and I got a lot of insight into other writers of the m/m genre as well as our many readers who came in all shapes, sizes, sexes, and colors. BTW we were asked for book with MC of color of which we were somewhat lacking, other than one of my books that has a Hispanic MC. But for me, one of the most memorable moments of the weekend was when an older gentleman, who reminded me a lot of Leslie Jordan, realized he was talking with Marie Sexton (a lot of folks thought we were a bookstore and not a group of authors) he blushed a Marie and told her that she knew more about gay sex than he did and he’d been practicing for years but never tried some of the things she’d written about. Everyone within earshot got a good laugh out of that one. As long as women writing in the genre can get comments like that during a public event, they’re doing the right thing.

  19. Wonderful post. I had some of the same problems you talk about, finding books that wouldn’t kill me/the LGBT MC off by the end.

    I tried the mainstream route, with modest success. The response of agents and mainstream publishers to my fiction with queer characters who weren’t relegated to the shadows (or between the lines) was almost universal: “You can write, but I can’t sell this.” Thanks to a lot of folks, that’s changing. It’ll be nice when the gender/orientation of the author isn’t even a consideration.

  20. I think most people who read the genre (and since most are women, I guess it’s them) like anal sex because for them it’s a sign of connecting with your lover completely. Your body becomes one with the other, in every way possible… Yeah, we women are overly romantic that way. 😛

  21. Lloyd A. Meeker

    Hi, Jamie — your article inspired a long-ish post of my own on the subject, which I have over on my blog: http://lloydmeeker.com/

    Thank you for handling the issue with grace and respect. It was your tone that made me feel like I could contribute to the conversation.

    All best, Lloyd

  22. This is probably the most intelligent piece on this topic I’ve ever read. I don’t pretend to understand women who write MM romance, or what drives them, but I absolutely loved the observation that MM romance doesn’t have its roots in mainstream gay fiction, but is one of the authentic offshoots of fanfic. I’m going to post this on my FB page. Well done, Jamie. Great piece.

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  24. Well said, there are some really good points here. I came from fanfic, which I never deliberately sought out but “discovered” on the net, and it motivated me to start writing again. What your post helps me articulate is that for many authors fanfic is/was a gateway to (i) being able to write freely, and explore many themes, and practice our craft, (ii) finding readers out there who would acknowledge and feedback and encourage, and (iii) following a recognised route to publication that, as you say, may not have been available to many of us, or our stories, before then. Some stay in fanfic, some move into original published fiction. I’ve even known authors who published, but then returned to fanfic because they didn’t enjoy the marketing obligations.

  25. Great post, Jamie! As a female M/M author, I didn’t wander in via fanfic; in fact I hadn’t ever heard of it until after I had my first story published. I read het romance for years (Harlequins in particular), and was very bored. I came across Suzanne Brockmann and fell in love with Jules, her gay FBI man. When his story was published, I was hooked! I wanted more, I quickly found e-books and the older published stories, and the rest is history. I agree with everyone’s comments that as long as the character and story are well written, it doesn’t matter who writes what.type of story. I feel like I’ve found my niche and love the other authors and readers, since they’re as fanatic as I am. I must also say that you’ve tweaked my interest in a history of gay romance… hmmm.

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  27. Yay! Let’s hear it for Marion Zimmer Bradley! She was my first introduction to gay characters, both male and female, in her Darkover series. From there I found other gay relationships a lot in science fiction. I read that more than slash fic (though I do have an old Kirk/Spock fanzine in a plan brown cover.)

    As a reader of everything, not just romance, I also get tired of the tropes of m/m romance (monogamy, only anal, etc.) but I get tired of those romance tropes in all romance, not just m/m. There are certain rules thou shalt not break (cheating). Many of the rules make me roll my eyes.

    Great article! And I loved Billy’s Bones, BTW.

  28. A.B. Gayle

    Fantastic post, Jamies (and Lloyd’s related one). Sorry for the late reply but I have only had phone contact and found it difficult to post from that.
    What I find interesting is so often when gay men point out that stories are nowhere near reflecting reality, the argument jumps to the interpretation that women shouldn’t write them. Instead, perhaps the message should be that readers should be more prepared to see things through different eyes and appreciate these differences,
    I wonder how much is because of projection from their own experiences. Yeah, I get that “romance” nowadays equates with monogamy, but at its roots, that concept historically stemmed from protection of the viability of a marriage and the related protection of the home and the offspring. For many gay men who are indepenent financially and there are no children potentially harmed, the consequences of infidelity/non-monogamy are different.
    I found the collection of essays on the subject that Paul Alan Fahey compiled. “The Other Man” illuminating in that respect.
    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17823716-the-other-man
    They depicted such a variety of relationships from real life. Some people were hurt by the experiences, some gained from them. The “victim” wasn’t always the same. Perhaps if readers (note I didn’t say writers) read these sorts of things as well as their romances, they would better appreciate it when writers (of whatever gender) try to draw these sorts of scenarios into their plots.
    The genre would be so much richer for it,

  29. I really enjoyed reading your post – and, interestingly, it’s the complete opposite to another blog post I’ve read, which can be summarised as “Women should not be allowed to write fiction about gay men; they do it badly, and it’s squeezing out real gay fiction so you can’t even find it any more. And real men don’t read romances.”

    It’s also interesting to me that you and so many of the commenters have said that ‘literary fiction’ is depressing – which I’ve been saying for ages! I thought it was just a sign of my low-brow reading tastes. But I can certainly see that a young man who’s just discovering he’s gay probably wouldn’t be greatly encouraged by finding that all the gay characters in books die in the end. I’ve encountered something similar with autism/Asperger’s – it’s kind of scary to realise that’s who you are. You feel an entire new future trying to land on you, and it’s pretty awful if all the futures you can find end with you in a coffin (or, in the case of Aspergers/autism, having a pathetic lonely life with no money and no friends).

    Regarding the preponderance of anal sex, I wonder if that’s because most writers of gay romance are women, and for women, that’s how sex naturally culminates? “Going all the way” is vaginal penetration – anything less than that, and you haven’t really “done it”. And that societal assumption carries over to the gay sex model, which doesn’t have the same weight of expectation. Then, of course, if many of the readers are women, is there a requirement that anal penetration happens because until it does, women feel that the romance is incomplete – just like a man who says, “Mary, I love you… but I don’t want to do THAT.” Mary’s probably going to feel rejected if that happens…

    The other point, about the overwhelming proportion of books where a monogamous relationship features may be a function of the romance genre. Can you even have romance with more than a small group of people? If you have the sex without the love, then what you’ve got is erotica, not romance. This also makes me wonder about gay relationships in general… up until now, there hasn’t been a societal mechanism for gay people to have an ‘official’ monogamous relationship. Now that gay marriage is legal in many places, will we see a rise in the number of monogamous relationships? Is the stereotype of the promiscuous gay man a) true, b) not true, c) true only because of the lack of any ‘carrot’ to induce/provide the opportunity for a monogamous relationship? Which, of course, makes one wonder about people in general. Marriage is a societal construct – are human beings (gay or straight) naturally monogamous or not? Is it different for men vs women?

    Anyway, thanks for your thoughts. I’ll take them away and think about them some more. 🙂

    • Hi! Thanks for your thoughts on the subject. The idea that MM Romance is “squeezing out” gay literature is ludicrous. It was already shoved in a dark, dark corner where hardly anyone could find it. I really had to search to find anything, and most of it wasn’t interesting to me. I’ve already come out and I’m not interested in wallowing in depressing thoughts about being an aging queen surrounded by heartless youth — which is most of what I did find.

      I’m afraid I’m pretty vocal about my dislike for anal sex in the genre. Not as a practice, of course — simply as a substitute for “going all the way,” as you’ve noted. I go on about that at length in one of my earlier posts: https://jamiefessenden.com/2013/01/13/even-in-gay-romance-love-does-not-always-have-to-equal-anal-sex/

      On the subject of monogamy, I agree that the ability of gay couples to marry may change the landscape. I think that will basically be a good thing. But I know several people with open marriages and polyamorous relationships, so I do think they can work. I wouldn’t mind seeing it come up more often in the genre. I was very impressed with Mia Kerick’s YA novel, “Us Three,” for instance. http://www.amazon.com/Us-Three-Mia-Kerick-ebook/dp/B00JFLL7NE

  30. Pingback: Dancing On The Lawn | Anna Butler

  31. Maite

    Great post Jamie, very interesting!

    I’ve been reading m/m fiction, both slashfic and published, for years now (it all started years ago with Lost Souls, still one of my favorite gothic books), and for me the real struggle continues to be to find well written stories, with believable situations, interesting plots and well developed characters. It still amazes me that some of the best stories are free, available in the internet, and that some of the published ones are really, really poor… I don’t care so much if there is a lot of porn or only a few kisses, how dark they are, who wrote them or if I have to download them from a site or pay a few € for them (with eReaders the difference is quite small). I mean, from a sociological point of view of course it is interesting to find answers to some of those questions, but from the reader point of view (from my point of view), the only important question is: “was it good?” I love m/m stories, but I want to read good books most of all. And I know “good” will be very different to each of us, but in some cases the quality of some works (or the lack of it) is quite objective. I’ve read many gay books where there was an interesting idea, but the story and the characters were so underdeveloped that is seemed more a summary of a book than a book itself, or where the pressure to write a selling story forced the author to a specific ending or development of the plot. You wonder if they really tried… I know that is true in other genres as well, but I’m more interested in this one.

    My point is, if the quality of the m/m stories increases, more and more people will read them and they will have a positive impact in society. If they keep going around how much sex they include or how sweet and romantic they are they won’t go beyond the erotica and romance genres, not having the relevance we want for them.

  32. Reblogged this on Romance, Sex, and Other Queer Comfort Lit and commented:
    An interesting post from a gay male author of MM romance reagarding the occasional (but seemingly recurrent) concerns regarding women authors (and readers) dominating the genre. While I am sympathetic with some of the points raised by critics, I overall greatly appreciate the community and the efforts of all authors to present romantic (and often heated) stories that I can identify with and greatly enjoy. This blog post reflects much of my own response to the issue (as a male reader of MM romance).

  33. Pingback: My take on women writing MM Romance – Romance, Sex, and Other Queer Comfort Lit

  34. Franzeska

    Very well put! I read a lot of queer lit when I was figuring out my identity and coming out. Then I moved on to fun romance and wasn’t very interested in depressing stories, or even non-depressing stories that were about realistic coming out experiences.

    That study you linked to is one of the better sources I’ve found on wider, more male-heavy fanfic circles. There are a lot of smaller ones (mostly of individual slash fans’ social circles) that show 90-99% female, with a max of 5% male.

    The best recent survey is Centrumlumina’s one of AO3 users. The sample size was 10k. This was a survey people had to opt to fill out. It allowed more options and got around 85% female, but only 3% male (12% other identities, many of them AFAB).

  35. Pingback: Educating People about Ace Fiction | The Notes Which Do Not Fit

  36. Found this post after googling for M/M romances. Agree completely with what you say. To say that I get depressed reading Alan Hollinghurst or James Baldwin will be an understatement. I was down for weeks after reading The Front Runner. I love how the women write. But yeah too much sex, even when it’s not at all required.

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