“It’s a good thing we’ve got this entire floor booked or people would be complaining to the front desk about the noise.”
Tré Montgomery laughingly agreed with his friend The Chancellor as he looked around the room. Nearly the entire roster and crew for Frontier Professional Wrestling was staying on the sixth floor of their downtown Miami hotel. Their group was a little rowdier than usual because they were celebrating Chance’s retirement from the wrestling ring. After his final match earlier that evening, Chance had requested that they chill at the hotel to celebrate rather than going out to a bar or club.
Of course, chill had turned into a full-blown party. A couple of people had gone on beer and food runs, the room next door had an enthusiastic NBA 2K18 PlayStation tournament taking place, while a big-budget superhero movie played on the TV in the room across from them. There were wrestlers and crew out in the hall talking and laughing as they went from room to room. Tré and Chance sat at a table in the corner of Tré’s hotel room, where someone had hooked up portable karaoke.
“You knew this would happen,” Tré said.
Chance shook his head at two of their fellow wrestlers loudly singing to an old Guns N’ Roses song that blared from a laptop connected to the TV. “Yeah, I did.”
Tré watched the two for a moment, before turning to look at his friend. “I’ll miss you in the ring, old man.”
“Don’t you start. Like I told Devin, I’m not going anywhere. The only thing that’s changed is now I get to wear actual pants to work.”
Tré laughed again. “Don’t pretend you won’t miss putting on the spandex.”
Chance rolled his eyes at that and changed the subject. “How are things with you and your partner? Got any ideas for storylines you want to give to your new booker? Now that I’m in charge of the promotion’s creative direction I can actually do something with the crazy ideas everyone is always coming up with.”
Tré looked out into the hall at the partner Chance was referring to: Brandon Wilkes, his tag team partner at FPW. The lean, young black man slouched against the wall talking to another wrestler. His thick, shoulder-length brown hair was pulled up into a puff at the back of his head, the style emphasizing the sharp line of his jaw and full lips. The harsh, bright hallway lights didn’t detract from the warm glow of his golden-brown skin. Tré always noticed those things about his gorgeous partner, even though he shouldn’t. And Chance usually called him out on it. He rushed to answer Chance’s question in an effort to hopefully keep it from happening yet again.
“Things are fine.” He paused for a second to reconsider. “Actually, he’s been a little distant lately. Too preoccupied to sit down and come up with any potential feuds for us, but other than that, things are fine.”
“You guys aren’t having problems, are you?”
“No. We’re solid. He just looks like he’s got something on his mind. He’ll spit it out when he’s ready.”
“All right then. You know him better than anyone.” Chance took a sip of his beer and casually glanced off to the side. “So, you guys haven’t discussed anything new?”
Tré wasn’t fooled by the studied nonchalance. Apparently, his attempt to head Chance off hadn’t worked. “We’re not going there tonight, Chancellor.”
“You’re right. It’s a night for celebration. Not for talking about why you should speak up on something that might make you want to celebrate.”
Tré pressed his lips tightly closed to keep from responding to that comment. People in love always wanted everyone around them to be in love as well, so he couldn’t fault his friend too much for pushing for something that was never going to happen.
He was saved from having to respond to the older wrestler’s comment when Devin walked into the room. A smile lit up Chance’s face when he noticed his lover approaching. The tall redhead gave Tré a quick grin before looking down at Chance.
“I’m tired. Let’s go to bed,” Devin said as he held out his hand toward his boyfriend.
Tré snorted in amused disbelief. Devin didn’t look the slightest bit tired. He practically bounced on his toes, his eyes bright and excited. He might want to go to bed, but it wasn’t for sleep.
Chance’s lips twitched, holding back a smile as he let the younger man pull him to his feet. Fingers linked with Devin’s, he looked back at Tré. “Thanks for the party. I’ll catch you in the morning.”
“You’re welcome. Have a good night,” he said as he saluted them both with his beer.
Tré watched as Chance followed Devin from the room. He never would have thought that Chance would be the one out, happy, and in a relationship. But Devin had stormed into FPW earlier that year, and Chance had fallen in love with the young wrestler before he’d known what hit him. Tré was happy for him. Still, a thorn of jealousy poked at his insides.
Chance had a romantic partner. Even better, it was someone in the business who understood what the life was like and would be with him as they traveled across the country. Tré wanted that too, almost desperately. He looked at Brandon again, out in the hallway, laughing at whatever Kenji had said. His smile lit up his whole face. Tré couldn’t help but smile in response, even though it was bittersweet. Brandon was his partner. His tag team partner. Tré was satisfied with that. He really was. Really.
A week after the Summer Showdown pay-per-view, Brandon and some of the other boys on the FPW roster hit up a New Orleans gym for a pre-show workout. Brandon leaned against the chest fly machine, bobbing his head to the music playing over the loudspeakers while Tré pressed out his reps. Brandon liked this place. It was right in the middle of the spectrum with hard-core gyms on one side—with their screaming rock music, bare walls and the air turned up so high he had to jog in place to stay warm in between sets—and fitness centers on the other—where you got a dozen judgmental glares if you let the weights clang too loud.
As Brandon waited his turn, he watched Devin and Chance working out together across the gym. Devin appeared happy and full of energy as always. He’d been that way ever since Brandon had first met him back on the indies a few years ago. Chance on the other hand, was different. Whereas before he’d always been serious and quiet, now he was smiling and more talkative. Of course, most of those smiles were directed toward Devin, but it was nice to see the wrestling icon happy. Brandon straightened as Tré got up and wiped down the seat to let him take his turn. When he noticed where Brandon was looking, he grinned and shook his head.
“Those two love birds.”
“Still crazy that The Chancellor is out and with Devin,” Brandon said as he sat and adjusted the weights.
“Must be nice though.” The weights rose with a hiss as he pressed out his first rep. “To be with the person you love. Especially in this business.”
“Yeah. Pro wrestling isn’t exactly known for creating lasting relationships. I think most tag teams last longer than the majority of wrestling marriages.”
Brandon continued with his set, enjoying the pleasant burn of his muscles working at the edge of their limit. Tré watched the two men they were discussing, and Brandon watched him. Although, he made sure not to be obvious he was staring at his friend. He’d become pretty good over the three years they’d been a tag team at watching Tré on the sly. And he looked often because he liked what he saw.
Tré was tall, several inches taller than him, with smooth, dark skin. His low haircut and goatee were perfectly maintained from weekly trips to the barber shop. Brandon loved his partner’s well-groomed style. His own hair was usually a carefree mess and his jaw was always scruffy. But Tré looked like he was about to model for an expensive watch ad at any moment. His muscles and build were perfect, thick and powerful without being bulky. He’d been a basketball power forward throughout high school and college, and it showed in his physique.
Brandon felt blessed by the gods, because four nights a week, he got to see his partner’s amazing body covered in nothing more than spandex underwear and boots. He appreciated the gift, but he also liked the way Tré looked right now dressed in a muscle tank and basketball shorts. The loose, dark blue fabric teased Brandon every time it molded to Tré’s firm ass and powerful thighs. And he’d always had a thing for the long line and defined cut of Tré’s calves. A silly thing to focus on, but the smooth skin and hard muscle there drew his eye. Probably because they touched so much working together in the ring, but that was one spot—other than the obvious no touch areas—that he’d never had the opportunity to get his hands on. It was like forbidden fruit, there to taunt him. Visible and within reach, but unattainable.
Snorting a laugh to himself at his obsession with Tré’s calves, Brandon let the weights come to a full stop. Finished with his set, he got his partner’s attention by nudging him with his foot. “We’re so close, we might as well be married. Except neither of us is putting out.”
“Then it is like we’re married,” Tré said in a dry tone.
Brandon laughed at his partner’s humor. “Do you think you’ll ever be in a relationship like those two?”
“What do you mean?”
“You know. With somebody in the business.”
Tré looked away. “Who knows? Don’t see how I’m supposed to meet someone when I’m in a different city nearly every night.”
“Maybe I could help you out there.”
Tré’s head snapped back around, shoulders tense and eyes locked on Brandon’s. Brandon didn’t blink, hoping that his longtime partner would finally see through his teasing to what he was really trying to say. But after a moment, Tré relaxed and gave him a lopsided smile.
“Funny. What are you gonna do, send some fan a DM and ask them if they want to hook up with me?”
Brandon’s face felt frozen, but he managed a smile of his own. “Yeah, I’ll just slide into the DMs of the cutest fanboy I see on Twitter.”
Now Tré laughed. “Like you know what’s cute.”
“I’m hurt that you don’t trust my ability to know what you like.”
Tré’s smile softened. “I trust you.”
Brandon’s stomach swooped at the gently curved lips and sparkling dark eyes of that smile. He hesitated for a second, trying to decide if now was the time. Confessing his feelings in the middle of a gym wasn’t ideal, but he’d been hinting and hoping for over a year. And time was running out. His heart pounding, Brandon tried to think of the best thing to say. Hints hadn’t worked so far. Should he blurt it out? Or maybe asking Tré to step outside for some privacy was the way to go in case his revelation lead to an embarrassing rejection. He stared up at Tré, his heart in his throat, sweat that had nothing to do with his workout trickling down his spine.
A small frown creased Tré’s brow. “Is everything okay?”
With a defeated mental sigh, Brandon punked out. “Yeah. Just tired.”
Tré nodded in sympathy. “I understand that. Those three days home are never long enough.”
Before Brandon could respond, Slade came over. The wrestler’s long black hair gleamed under the fluorescent lights as he struck up a conversation with Tré. Frustrated, and wanting to punch himself for being afraid, Brandon moved on to the next machine.
Later that night, Tré waited in the backstage area of the New Orleans arena with Brandon. Their tag match against The Black River Boys was up in a few minutes. As always, he and Brandon were dressed in nearly identical outfits. They both wore candy apple red trunks with Pittsburgh Power Machine in shiny black and silver lettering across the ass. Their black sleeveless hoodies had their individual names on the back, with PPM in shimmering red and silver stitched over the left breast. The only difference in gear was their footwear. Tré wore traditional calf-high lace-up boots, while Brandon preferred knee-length kick pads over wrestling shoes.
Tré had seen Brandon in their brief wrestling costume hundreds of times over the three years they’d tagged together. But he still admired how amazing his partner looked. His bare arms glistened with oil under the lights, the muscles in his biceps sharp and defined. And his thighs… Tré stared, watching the muscles flex under smooth skin as Brandon went through his pre-match stretches. His feet spread wide, Brandon bent at the waist, arms extended along his legs to grip his ankles. Tré didn’t outwardly react to the unintentionally provocative pose, but in his head, it was basically a parade of panting, drooling heart-eye gifs.
He didn’t want to perv on his partner. So, while he might look when Brandon didn’t see him, he’d never do or say anything to make him uncomfortable. And that was why he could never speak up about his feelings for his friend. Coming on to him could jeopardize their friendship, and Tré didn’t want that. He’d rather hide his attraction than do anything to risk losing Brandon in his work and personal life.
Tré was still staring when Brandon straightened and looked over his shoulder. He grinned when he met Tré’s eye.
Embarrassed heat crawled up Tré’s neck. “Yep. Let’s do it.” He looked away after answering and tugged his hood up to hide in case his expression betrayed that embarrassment. His face heated further when he caught sight of Chance watching him.
“Smooth,” Chance teased with a grin and a thumbs up.
Tré responded by giving his friend the middle finger.
Holding back a laugh, Chance pointed at the sound guy to queue up their music, then gave Tré and Brandon the signal to go out.
They went through the curtain and walked down the ramp together, a little swagger to their step as they kept pace with the happy hip-hop beat of their theme song. The music was reminiscent of something that would be played at a summertime barbecue, and it always had the crowd up on their feet and dancing. Brandon pointed at fans in the audience, walking close to the rail to give out high fives. Tré played it cool, letting his partner work the crowd.
In the ring, The Black River Boys, Payne and Gnash, stood waiting. Their long, stringy black hair hung in their eyes as they sneered and watched Tré and Brandon strip out of their ring jackets. Once the Pittsburgh Power Machine music stopped, the ref called for the bell. Tré stepped back through the ropes to stand in his corner, letting Brandon start the match. To get the crowd hyped, Brandon went after Payne with a flurry of kicks, forcing the bigger man to put up his arms in an attempt to shield his face. But both men knew how to work a crowd, and the fans couldn’t cheer for Brandon to climb to victory if he was on top the entire match.
Just when it seemed as though Brandon would win it for them a minute in, Payne came roaring back and slammed into him with a flying tackle. Tré winced as Brandon’s much smaller frame went down hard in the middle of the ring. That landing on canvas stretched over a thin pad with unforgiving plywood beneath would probably bruise his partner’s back.
Brandon rolled to his front, the light catching the sparkling letters on the rear of his trunks as he slapped the mat in frustration. Tré held back his grin when the audience groaned in disappointment at having what looked like a sure victory snatched away. His partner was one of the best at gaining a crowd’s sympathy.
Brandon’s ability to connect with the crowd was one of the many reasons there was no one else in the business Tré would rather tag with. He would never let it show on his face in front of a live crowd—hell, he wouldn’t even let Brandon know—but working with his partner was the best part of his career. He didn’t remember the day it happened, or even the city, but he’d been standing in this exact spot, watching Brandon flip across the ring, wrestling his heart out, when he’d first fallen for him. And every night since then, he’d kept his feelings hidden.
Tré got ready, knowing Brandon was about to make his way to their corner for a tag. He held his hand out for Brandon to slap his palm, then stepped into the ring to have his own go at Payne.
They were fairly evenly matched in size, but Payne wrestled like a berserker while Tré used calculated power moves. He stopped Payne’s wild charge by grabbing him in wrist lock, twisting his arm up behind him and slamming the big man down hard. Payne quickly retaliated, knocking Tré’s legs out from under him with a chop block. They were both on the mat now, and Tré had to struggle to gain the upper hand. He managed it, but when he wasn’t able to get a pin after several minutes of being in control, he tagged Brandon back in to let him have another turn.
Once again, he stood on the ring apron, watching as Brandon worked against Gnash. The bigger man flung Brandon across the ring, where he crashed into the corner turnbuckle. The impact made Brandon stagger backward and fall to the mat. He’d taken a lot of punishment already, and now their opponent ran over and started stomping on him. The crowd erupted in a mix of booing at Gnash and cheering for Brandon to get back to his feet. Brandon rolled, dodging some of the kicks before struggling upright.
Once he made it up to one knee the crowd started cheering even harder. Brandon pushed out at Gnash, making him stumble off balance and giving himself enough room to make it upright. Spinning around, he caught Gnash on the jaw with a high kick. Then Brandon collapsed again, although this time he was facing their corner.
Tré leaned over the ropes, reaching for his tag partner. “C’mon, man! You can make it!”
Brandon lifted his head to look at him and started slowly dragging himself across the ring. As Tré waited for his partner to make it to their corner, he couldn’t help but notice that Brandon was gorgeous, even now with his face flushed from exertion and sweat-damp hair hanging over his forehead. What would Brandon do if Tré were to pull him into his arms, assuring him that he was safe as he stroked his hair back, before he went in and exacted revenged on Gnash and Payne? A fantasy. Too far out there even for kayfabe. Not to mention, Brandon would probably be confused as hell, wondering what Tré was doing. Shaking his head, Tré pushed the ridiculous mental image aside. Brandon hadn’t reached him yet, but Gnash had already made it to his feet. He staggered to the other side to tag his own partner in.
Brandon looked over his shoulder at the successful tag. His eyes wide, he pushed himself up and made a desperate flying leap for Tré’s outstretched hand. They slapped palms as Payne came charging across the ring. When Payne saw their tag, he abruptly stopped and took a few nervous steps back.
Tré grinned and stepped through the ropes with deliberate slowness. He was fresh and ready to avenge the punishment his partner had taken. Payne narrowed his eyes and came at him. They both went on the offensive, pummeling each other with blows to the jaw and torso. Tré quickly gained the upper hand. He scooped Payne up and tossed him facedown onto his shoulder, holding him across the waist to keep him from escaping. Then he took three running steps forward before he body slammed the man to the mat right in front of his and Brandon’s corner. While Payne was down and stunned, Tré leaned over, tagged Brandon back in, then stepped back to watch as his partner climbed to the top rope. Brandon held an arm across his torso, still selling the beat down from earlier, but he looked determined. He leaped off the top rope, landing on Payne with a leg drop across his chest.
Payne was pinned with both shoulders down, so the ref ran over and slid onto his belly to count it, his palm slapping the mat three times in a row: one, two, three. When he called for the bell, the crowd cheered even louder at their favorites’ victory.
Their theme music blasted throughout the arena as the announcer got on the mic. “Here are your winners, Tré and Brandon, the Pittsburgh Power Machine!”
Gnash and Payne slunk away while Tré and Brandon celebrated their win in the middle of the ring. They gave each other their team handshake: two quick palm slaps, slide, grip, slide, release, snap, forearm bump.
They rolled to the floor, then went around slapping high fives with everybody sitting ringside. Once they’d made the entire circuit, Tré took Brandon’s arm and slung it over his shoulder so he could help his “injured” partner to the back. The cheers followed them all the way up the ramp, and Brandon gave one last wave before they disappeared from sight.
Behind the curtain, Brandon took his arm from around Tré’s shoulders and rubbed his tailbone. “Fuck, that leg drop. I swear I smush my spine up into my brain every time I do that move.”
Tré looked at his partner with his eyebrows raised. “You what?”
“You know what I mean,” Brandon said with a grin. “It hurts.”
“Sorry, man. Tomorrow night, I’ll make sure to get him up so we can do the Power Tower instead.”
Brandon grabbed Tré’s arm in a hug and fluttered his eyelashes. “Awww, Tré. Thank you. You take such good care of me, making sure I don’t break my ass in the ring.”
Tré rolled his eyes at his partner’s ridiculous teasing. “Shut up and let’s go shower.”
Laughing, Brandon dropped his arm and strolled off ahead. Tré followed behind, admiring Brandon’s smooth walk and the way his sweaty skin gleamed under the lights. Brandon was gorgeous and funny. Tré would give anything for his partner’s teasing to be real so he could take care of him the way he dreamed of doing.
After a quick shower and change into street clothes, it was time to hit the road. Brandon shrugged on his backpack while Tré gripped the handle of his rolling suitcase.
Brandon nodded. “Yeah, let’s go.”
They walked out of the back of the arena into the warm and humid Louisiana night. As usual, a crowd of fans waited behind the fence that surrounded the parking lot. They waved and yelled for the wrestlers to come over.
“You feel like signing tonight?” Brandon asked his partner.
They went toward the fence and the fans immediately started cheering. Brandon and Tré took a few selfies, signed whatever was put in front of them, and reached over the fence to high five little kids. Brandon was signing one of their official eight by tens when a fan asked him a question.
“Do you think you guys will ever break up?”
Brandon calmly raised an eyebrow at the question. They were asked this at least once a week by fans or media. He gave his standard response, accompanied by a mischievous grin. “Why would we go and break up a good thing?”
The girl smiled at his answer and asked for a picture with them. He and Tré both crowded in, and the girl turned with her back to them and held the phone up so she could get her shot. When she was done, Brandon jumped up on Tré’s back, wrapping his arms around his partner’s shoulders and his legs around Tré’s waist. They were so in tune with each other and Brandon had done this so many times before that Tré didn’t even flinch. He simply adjusted his stance to manage Brandon’s weight, gripping him under one leg with the hand that wasn’t holding his suitcase.
“We’re partners for life,” Brandon said to the fan.
The girl had a comeback ready for him. “Or life partners,” she said with a wink.
Brandon laughed as the girl raised her phone to take another picture. “Let’s go, partner.”
Tré shook his head and headed over to their rental, still carrying him on his back. When he popped the locks open, Brandon hopped down to the ground. He tossed his bag in the trunk after Tré slung his in, then went around to get in the passenger seat. The crowd at the fence hadn’t left yet, as they were hoping for more wrestlers to come over. Brandon waved at them when they pulled out of the parking lot, then settled back into his seat as they hit the highway.
The first thirty minutes of the drive were quiet. They each needed the time to decompress after the frantic activity of a night at the arena. Eventually Brandon pulled his phone from his pocket. He opened up Twitter first. As expected, his notifications were out of control. He started scrolling through them, stopping when half of a particular picture caught his eye. Brandon pressed his thumb to it to go full screen, snorting a laugh when he read the caption.
“That last girl we took pictures with posted them on Twitter already. She got one of me up on your back and captioned it, I ship it.”
Tré laughed too but didn’t take his eyes from the road.
They both knew what shipping was. Fans put wrestlers in fictional romantic relationships and drew fan art and wrote fanfiction about them. As tag team partners, they were probably shipped more than a lot of people on the roster. Brandon took a screen shot of the tweet so he wouldn’t have to look for it later and lowered his phone to his lap. “I’ll show it to you when we stop.”
Tré shook his head. “I’m cool.”
“Who do you think they have as the top in our ship?”
Now Tré took his eyes off the road to glance over at him. “What?”
“In those fics, they normally have one guy as the top. Do you think it’s you or me? It’s probably you since you’re bigger than me.”
“You’re kidding me with this, right?”
“Nope. I could look up a couple of fics and find out.” He brought his phone back up.
“Okay, Google. Tré and Brandon Fanfiction dot net.”
Tré laughed. “Don’t you dare. I don’t think we need to know the answer to that.”
Brandon gave an exaggerated sigh and closed out the Google app that had just opened. “Party pooper.”
“You’re crazy,” Tré said with another laugh. “How about we spend our time coming up with some new moves?”
“We switched to that new finisher not too long ago. Alex probably won’t let us change it so soon.”
“Not a new finish. But maybe something we can use to get the crowd hype in the middle of the match.”
“Let me guess. It’ll be dangerous for me?” In their team dynamic, he was the risk taker and Tré was the power. It worked great and let them play off each other’s strengths in the ring.
“Not really. I was thinking I’d do a powerbomb and you’d come in right after with a frog splash.”
“Sounds good. The power and the excitement. But you know frog splashes hurt to land, right? Oh, what am I saying. Of course, you don’t. You’ve never jumped off anything in your life.”
Tré flashed him a smug grin before he turned back to the road. “That’s right. And I plan to keep it that way.”
It made sense that Tré wasn’t known for flashy, high flying moves. Unlike Brandon’s slim, five-eleven frame, Tré was six-three and two hundred forty pounds of muscle. He wasn’t exactly built to go flying around a wrestling ring. Brandon was fine with that. It was one of the things that made their tag team special; they each had their specialized roles to play. Besides, he liked every single one of Tré’s muscles. Too bad he couldn’t figure out a way to tell him that.
Talking about shipping might have been a way to ease into it. Maybe he could have sneakily led the conversation from their fictional relationship to the possibility of a real one. But Brandon didn’t want to be a creeper bringing up topping and fics again.
He grew quiet, wondering why this was so hard. They were closer than most people’s romantic relationships; he trusted Tré with his body in the ring. Yet saying a few simple words--I’m into you. I like you. Kiss me—were all more terrifying than back flipping off the top rope to land on an opponent.
“No comeback for that? Are you okay?”
Brandon abruptly got out of his head and gave his attention back to his partner. “I’m letting it slide this time. But only because I think a powerbomb-frog splash combo will look pretty cool.”
Tré laughed, and Brandon smiled at the deep rumble of it. He might never work up the nerve to say the words that would win him Tré as his lover, but no matter what happened or where he went, he’d always be glad he had Tré as his friend.
A few hours later, they reached the company’s selected hotel for the night. Tiredness had kicked in for Brandon about thirty miles back, so as soon they were behind the hotel room door, he let his bag drop to the floor and stripped down to his underwear. As he undressed, he listened to the familiar unzipping of luggage and rustling of clothes as Tré settled in on the other side of the room.
Once Brandon was under the covers and the lights were out, he finally relaxed. It felt like he’d been wearing a mask for weeks, trying to keep up the facade that everything was okay when actually he was anxious and nervous. He suspected Tré knew he had something on his mind, but he wasn’t saying anything. And that frustrated him. He wanted, no he needed his partner to speak up. Because he had a decision to make, and it needed to be made soon.
Whew! These past few weeks in the romance world – or #Romancelandia as we call it on Twitter – have been a doozy. Let’s recap.
With the Santino Hassell issue, the m/m community nearly caved in on itself.
After Cole McCade revealed Sarah Lyons’ comments about not putting black people on covers our community exploded with disbelief at the blatant racism.
The third issue is the fact that there hasn’t been a single Black winner of the RWA Rita awards in the entire existence of the organization. The RWA put out a statement on this, and it spawned lots of conversation on the difficulties authors of color face in publishing.
For this third issue, there hasn’t been much discussion in the m/m community. I’ll admit that I’m not on Facebook much – Twitter is more my jam. But when I logged on I expected to see a lot of discussion on the topic, just as I did with SH and Lyons. Instead, I’ve only seen a few posts from authors like Harper Miller, LaQuette, and Sharita Lira scattered about.
This concerns me. I wonder, does the m/m community think this issue doesn’t affect it, and that’s why there has been near silence on the topic? As we can see from the Sara Lyons emails it absolutely is a thing. Still not sure what that thing is? Let me state it plainly. Authors of Color (AOC) and especially authors of color writing characters of color are at a disadvantage in publishing.
1) We don’t win (often) awards.
2) We’re not heavily promoted. (A prime example is the way black people went bat shit over Black Panther. We don’t often get the chance to be the next Big Thing like Twilight, Fifty Shades and Game of Thrones)
3) We’re not squeeed over by readers and review blogs as much as white authors/characters.
4) Big Five publishers (and smaller pubs as well) don’t often publish us. The Ripped Bodice’s Diversity Report has the numbers on that.
5) We suffer from There Can Only Be One mentality. With this, readers think I already read a black historical I don’t need to read another because it will be the same. Or, all the visibility goes to a few authors of color, elevating them to great popularity while the majority of the rest are ignored.
How does this happen? Well, statements like the ones below are reasons why our genre is struggling with diversity.
“I can’t relate to those characters.”
This comment has been said so often that I’m just going to parrot back the same response that’s always given. If you can relate to vampires, meerkat shifters, omega men with slick butts, or hell even a SWAT team full of gay D/s dudes *cough-cough*, you can relate to people with skin that’s different from yours. I assure you, we’re not aliens. And even aliens are accepted by readers in sci-fi romance.
“I don’t want to read about race problems.”
Not every book featuring people of color (POC) is about race. Some are. But please don’t make that assumption just because there’s brown skin on the cover. And even if racism is mentioned what’s the big deal? We read about other unpleasant topics like domestic violence and gay youth being kicked out of the home, and (hopefully) learn from them. Why can’t racial issues receive that same consideration?
“It should be about the quality of the book. Not the race of the author or characters.”
This comment is like nails on a chalkboard to me. Or actually a big fat dog whistle. Because what it’s really saying is that diverse authors can’t bring the quality and therefore shouldn’t be put up for awards, promoted, etc. Otherwise, why mention quality whenever we discuss including books by authors of color?
The majority of us in the m/m community are women. I’m not saying it’s a good thing or a bad thing or ignoring the many transgender men and women and nonbinary people – it’s just a thing. So that means most of us are already reading and writing outside of ourselves. If we can all put ourselves in the headspace to read about two men falling in love, I don’t see why white readers can’t read about people of color – and why non-black people of color can’t read about black characters and so on. Because I, and pretty much every other person of color, have been reading white characters since we first picked up books.
I wrote in a previous blog post about how I didn’t see a black character in a romance novel until I was in high school. Not once have I ever said – I just can’t read this because I can’t relate to this blonde heroine and her blue-eyed lover. We’re expected to read outside of ourselves. All we’re asking is for everyone else to return the favor. How can you return that favor? I’ve got some action items!
Don’t say, “I don’t see color. I just want the story.” I know on the surface this seems like an open-minded way of thinking. But not seeing color erases us. We want to be seen and have our differences acknowledged, accepted and embraced!
And not seeing color often means that we just aren’t seen. Which means you’re going to have to look for us. Don't believe me? Go to Amazon and check out the Top 100 for Gay romance. In that entire bunch, there's one book with a black character on it. You get the same result just typing in gay romance or m/m romance into the search bar. If we’re not sought out, it’s easy to end up with a homogenous book shelf – even when you are open to reading diversely. So take a tiny step. When you type into the search bar on Amazon, add a word to your search. Instead of typing gay contemporary romance try multicultural gay contemporary romance.
Do rec us to your friends and bloggers and ask for us in libraries and bookstores.
Don’t go into our stories expecting to be taught about culture. A Chinese American author writing about a Chinese American hero doesn’t necessarily want to tell the story of their culture. They just might want to write about a Chinese American guy who is at the library, has a meet cute with a quiet, yet well-built branch manager and falls in love. And that’s okay. Our romance novels don’t have to be culture guides. There’s uh… culture guides for that.
Do use context or even hit up Google if there are mentions of things you’re not familiar with. For example, I used to read the heck out of Highland romances. But I had no clue what haggis was and I had to look it up. The word Sassenach drove me crazy because before Google, I couldn’t figure out exactly what it meant. I knew who it referred to, but I thought there might be more meaning behind it since it was always used as an insult.
I’m sure many of you had to look up facts about garderobes for historicals or pick up on the basics of game play for hockey romances. If we can do that for predominantly white stories, we can extend the same courtesy to diverse romance. For example, in my upcoming release In His Corner (hell yeah I’m self-promoting) I write about Brandon’s curly, easily tangled 4B hair. When you get to that scene, just roll with it. Don’t toss it aside because it’s different from your experience.
Don’t assume that there just aren’t any authors of color out there writing m/m romance. Me, my brown face, and the brown faces of many authors I’ve connected with assure you that this isn’t true.
Do use sources like Queer in Color and Women of Color in Romance to find new books to try.
Do ask for recs. The next time you’re in the MM Book Rec group looking for a hurt/comfort romance, ask if there are any featuring characters of color. Or maybe even say Hey, I really like Susan Author. Are there any Authors of Color who have books with tropes and settings like hers? The first couple of times you might get crickets for your response. But as we expand our reading horizons we’ll start having more recs to share.
Don’t refuse to pick up a book because the character’s name is unfamiliar to you, like D’Marcus or Takashi (sorry, my Voltron is showing). A lot of us learned to pronounce Daenerys Targaryen. We can give Rhashan a chance too.
Do show a little variety in the covers/models you promote. For example, if you’re a blogger and you’ve got a sweet header with multiple covers and/or couples but all of them are white? It makes me hesitate to submit a book with multicultural characters to you. Putting up a hot dude with brown skin is like rolling out the welcome mat to authors like me. It lets us know that our books will be welcome and won’t be discounted out of hand or unfairly judged because of the color of the characters’ skin.
In addition to that, if you have one of those shout out days going on like Sexy Saturday or Hot Guy Wednesday, mix it up and put some brown folks in there. If week after week, each of your hot guys is white, that tells me that you don’t find men of color attractive, deserving of love, or worthy of being your hero’s muse. That might not actually be true, but all I can go by is what you demonstrate to me.
Need some help finding Hot Guys of Color? Poke Atom Yang and ask if you can join his Atom’s Asian Hotties Facebook group. Cuz good lord there are some beautiful men posted in there. Or, go to Pinterest and type in sexy black men. You’ll get a plethora of gorgeous results. (Just uh… maybe try not to refer to them as chocolate or other foods. It’s kind of gross.)
Listen. I know this is hard. None of us wants to be the bad guy in our own story. And realizing that as either an author or a reader/reviewer/blogger you’ve had thoughts or actions or even inaction that have left authors and characters of color out in the cold can make you feel shitty – like you’re the bad guy. And no one likes that feeling. But we’ve got to suck it up and face what makes us uncomfortable.
For example, when I was younger, I was ignorant and held the belief that I wasn’t attracted to Asian men. Now that I’m older I know that was racist, and what I actually wasn’t attracted to was the media portrayal of Asian men: nerdy, sexless caricatures with over the top accents. Now that I’ve broadened my worldview, I’m looking at these guys and… *sweats* My old racist belief has definitely been kicked to the curb.
Hell, I’m a black woman and even I had thoughts that books by/about black people weren’t of good quality. Because that’s what I was taught – mostly indirectly by publishing. I had to unlearn that. It was mentally unpleasant to do, because I felt bad for the way I’d erroneously judged many authors.
Now this last step is expert level. I’m talking black belt in Being a Diversity Ally. If you’ve said hold my purse! and gone to bat to defend m/m romance from evil heterosexual bigots, or you’ve taken off your earrings and fought against literature snobs who dissed romance as a low brow genre, this final step is for you. Put some tape on your wrists, Vaseline on your face and (metaphorically) square up for us.
When you see someone spouting ignorance like black women don’t read/write romance, or all black romances are ghetto/poor quality, or whatever nonsense is being spewed – Say Something. Let them know their beliefs are baseless and ignorant. Authors of color fight for other causes all the time, do us a solid and help us with ours. We need the whole squad ready in order to embrace diversity in the m/m community.
TLDR: Buy, Promote, Read Books by Authors of Color Featuring Characters of Color. =)
Thanks for reading!
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My rambling and not at all edited thoughts on romance novels, writing, and pop culture.