Gay romance is porn for women... ah, a sphincter says what?

Recently, I had the privilege and pleasure to attend an academic romance writers conference at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, hosted by the university’s department of Pop Culture and Romance Studies. I could give you the academic version of what this program consists of, but to keep it quick and simple, it’s an area of study which looks at romance literature – past and present – as well as trends and ideology in pop culture – and side note, BGSU has one of the largest and most inclusive Pop Culture collections in the United States. We had the privilege to tour it, and I have to say that it was beyond impressive.

The presenters at the conference offered a plethora (haha, big word because I’ve now been to university) of knowledge and various studies of romance literature. But what thrilled me the most, was the inclusion of the topic of m/m romances.

I couldn’t believe my luck when I saw the schedule for the weekend, and while only a small segment of the conference had anything to do with LGBTQ literature, I jumped at the chance to experience some academia surrounding something that I love writing – romance.

But damn, I didn’t know what I was in for…

The two presentations offered in the LGBTQ realm were from highly educated men, one, a Canadian professor from Manitoba – which electrified the Canuck in me - and the other was a student from BGSU. (I believe a fourth year.)

The first presentation was entitled:  Fantasies of Masculinity in Male/Male Popular Romance.

Here’s the official rundown taken from the conference’s website of what this gentleman was speaking about/to and presenting. (If you don’t want to be sucked into something deep, skip reading)

(Abstract—In her book, Hard-Core Romance: Fifty Shades of Grey, Best-Sellers, and Society, Eva Illouz asks: “why is traditional masculinity pleasurable in fantasy?” (58) To answer this question, I focus on the rise of the male/male popular romance novel, and think through why these novels are pleasurable. To these ends, I draw on Lucy Neville’s work on gay pornography, which she argues “subverts the patriarchal order by challenging masculinist values, providing a protected space for non-conformist, non-reproductive, non-familiar sexuality, and encourages many sex-positive values” (204). While this may be true of gay pornography, can we say the same is true of the male/male popular romance? Does the male/male popular romance novel really subvert the “patriarchal order”? Does it provide a space that “encourages many sex-positive values”? As such, this paper attends to a close reading of texts alongside theoretical work coming out of queer theory and the critical study of men and masculinities. Ultimately, I argue that the male/male popular romance novel remains an important site of analysis for studies of masculinity, but that, at bottom, we are still left with “traditional masculinity” as noted by Illouz, and, in many ways, the “profoundly bourgeois" (207) values central to the romance narrative that Pamela Regis noted in A Natural History of the Romance Novel. As such, I argue that these novels are not as subversive as we might hope for.

Works Cited - Illouz, Eva. Hard-Core Romance: Fifty Shades of Grey, Best-Sellers, and Society. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2014.

Neville, Lucy. “Male gays in the female gaze: women who watch m/m pornography.” Porn Studies 2.2-3 (2015): 192-207.

Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.)

 

Wow, heavy reading, right?

Okay, so after all that, what did I learn? I learned a lot about how male masculinity is portrayed in literature and what it means in the broader sense, but other more general points made in the presentation made my skin bristle.

As the professor got further and further into this study, my cheeks got hotter and hotter, and it had nothing to do with the naked men pressed together in his steamy PowerPoint presentation – Haha, PowerPoint, get it? LMAO.

Anyway, basically, he was bringing up the argument that gay romances, specifically m/m, are porn, written on a page for women.

First some fast facts:

  •       Biggest readers of m/m erotic romances are educated white women over the age of 35, married with children and middle-class
  •       Biggest writers of m/m erotic romance are educated white women over the age of 35, married with children and middle-class
  •       Books written specifically for gay men can differ slightly from what is generally marketed as m/m romance today
  •       LGBTQ and m/m are the fastest expanding genres, seeing growth in readership larger than ever experienced in publishing to date.

So here is the first prickly point in this presentation for me – m/m is women producing gay smut for the enjoyment of other women.

I don’t believe this for one minute. While most of the material in this genre is produced by women, and the readership is majority women, gay men write in this genre as well, and I know many who do. And often, a reader wouldn’t be able to find a difference in the material produced by a male or female if the author’s name was removed from the cover.

Second prickly point for me – what writers (me) produce, is not enjoyed by, intended for, or interesting to gay men.

I have gay men who have beta read for me through the process of editing my novels, and I’ve had no complaints and they have found enjoyment, even with the m/f blended in there. And while many gay men do not read romance, just the same as many straight men don’t, the ones who do, must read material produced by women, because, as the professor pointed out, most of the bloody stuff on the bookshelves is produced by women.

Third prickly point to me – I’m producing porn.

What the heck? If that was the ultimate purpose behind what I write, I’d slap myself. What I strive to write is a realistic view of the world, love, and relationships. I try to send a powerful message with every book, and it is always more than, ‘slippery parts are a good thing.’

I consider what I produce to be classy but steamy. I work hard to get the relationships right, not just for the reader but for the character’s too, and anyone can write wham-bam-thank-you-ma’ma. Which is what most porn is.

If I could write that the doorbell rings and the guy at said door is stunning and holding the steaming pizza just ordered by the three hunky men in the house, it would be a hell of a lot easier and quicker, that’s for sure— he dropped the pizza and his shorts, and the response in the room was a positive one… and you know where it goes from there – four smiling faces and a cold, never-touched pizza.

Fourth prickly point for me – When the writer (me) is not a gay male, should the work be in question, both the purpose and the validity?

You have got to be kidding me. Not every writer with a black male for a MC is black. Not every writer who writes YA has/had teenagers or was even a parent. And what about the individuals who write murder mysteries. Do they need to be some kind of closeted serial killer in order to get their novels right? And if it is women writing the majority of novels in the m/m genre, and doing it well, then please note – the genre wouldn’t exist without us!! So you’d have nothing to study with out us!!

Fifth and final prickly point – writers of m/m (me and every other woman writing it) are using/taking advantage of gay men in a sexual nature for our own sexual enjoyment.

Ah, seriously? I’m actually cursing now, because everything I’ve typed above this point has got me hot under the collar, and not in a good way.

In no way am I taking advantage of a marginalize community! And never was that my intent when I picked up a pen! And, if I was, what does that say about writers who handle books containing abused children, missing women, or human trafficking. Are they exploiting horrors when they create their stories? And what does that say about the readers who pick up those books?

Something that might give you pause and a moment of self assessment… and this was a big, big, big problem for me that busted my ear drums… and this was actually said, that when a writer uses the word “pussy,” in a name-calling sense in a m/m romance – one male calling the other a pussy for whatever reason - it is an underlying reference to the perceived weakness of women in modern day society.

What the… hay, hay, hay, stop that, right now, because I have never known a stronger body part than a pussy. The thing it’s capable of spitting out a kid the size of a watermelon and being ready to go again in a matter of weeks!!! There is nothing weak, inadequate, or disgraceful about a pussy or the women possessing them. And there is no shame in throwing like a girl, either. Some girls throw better than my husband, and let’s face it, we are not comparing apples to apples when we say crap like that because women have a different upper body structure that can impact the distance and power of a throw if they haven’t been to the gym recently. And it’s male morons that have a problem with muscular women anyway, so who the heck is placing those labels and stereotypes in.... Oops, off track and carried away, I digress.

Anyway, overall, I adored the conference and what I learned as a romance writer. And although the m/m presentation gave me high blood pressure and got my back up, it wasn’t the only presentation that did, however, it was the one I gave the most thought to, both the points raised as well as why I reacted the way I did.

And this is what I concluded once I spent some time in my own brain:

  • When I read, I take the book for what it is, learn what I can, and what I’m ultimately looking for is enjoyment and escape. Academics, studiers of literature, do exactly that – they study it, so I believe are incapable of just letting a book be what it is, which is a diversion from real life.
  • I believe, one more positive LGBTQ story is never a bad thing in this world.
  • I’m protective of the genre I write in. I think most of it is because I find same-sex love beautiful, and the writers of it, regardless of orientation or sexual preference deserve to be heard and protected.
  • I find same-sex love has a different kind of power to it than I see in hetero couples. There is a quiet strength, a protectiveness there that makes that connection unique and beautiful and worth embracing. And it makes it worth sharing as well.

One last comment,

I believe I was the only individual at the conference who wrote any form of LGBTQ+ material, and I didn’t come to that conclusion by talking to others at the conference about what they write. It was made clear by the restless bodies during the bold Power Point, the whispers at the tables after the presentation, and the lack of conversation about the material afterwards. And, if anything, that awkwardness calmed me down, made my chest ache, and had me shaking my head, because it shows that us writers and readers of inclusive stories have so many more miles to go before acceptance, and that gay love is still in the closet, and it has nothing to do with the incredible individuals who wear their colours with pride.