This is a thinky-thoughts post. As I sit here typing, I don’t know if I’ll post it, or just keep it in my documents folder. If you’re reading it, that means I decided to post it. So what am I thinking about? I’m wondering if I’m being exploitative of gay men by writing m/m romance. Before I delve in to it, let me back it up to some of my earliest favorite romances.
I used to love reading historical romances featuring Plains Indians heroes. One, because I’ve always been a giant history nerd, so historicals appealed to me. But also because the heroes and the settings were so romantic to my adolescent brain. Strong men with gorgeous golden skin, long black hair, living wild and free on the prairie? I was all about it.
But as I grew older, I saw the problems with this genre. One, the heroines were nearly always white. Out of the dozens of Plains Indian romances I read, there were only two which featured non-white heroines. Both were bi-racial daughters of the Native and white main characters from earlier books in the series. That left a bad taste in my mouth. It made it seem as if blue-eyed blondes and green-eyed redheads were the only women beautiful enough to inspire the passion of these Native heroes.
Also, as far as I know, none of those stories were written by Native authors. And those books often had a romanticized version of a lifestyle that was destroyed through genocide. And that pushes the novels into fetish territory, since I’m fairly positive not much was done to give back to the communities who inspired the novels. With that in mind, it started to feel icky reading those books. So I let them go. I still have some that I’ve owned for years but I don’t buy them anymore. Actually, I don't think there are many novels being written in that genre these days.
So, looking at the ickiness I felt towards the Native hero/ww trope, I can’t help but wonder if I’m doing the same thing writing m/m. Because I’m not a gay man. Yes, folks, the pictures I post are me. I am a black woman. And I don’t consider myself to be a member of the gay community either. Sure, I’m attracted to men, women and non-binary people. But in the past I’ve only dated cis men, and currently I don’t date at all. So I don’t feel I have the right to claim bi or pan. I haven’t lived the experiences of someone who’s had to come out and/or is in a same-sex relationship.
Would I consider myself an ally? Not really. I donate when I can to various LGBT causes, report abusive posts on social media, sign and share petitions for gay rights, embrace my LGBT friends and family, and if I see anyone being harassed yes, I will help. But that just makes me a decent human being – not capital letter A ally. So, am I being exploitative?
Am I fetishizing gay men by creating and consuming their stories? Am I as bad as men who only want an Asian woman because they lump them all together as submissive porcelain dolls? Am I as bad as people who only want to see black men in porn because of the BBC kink?
Me, thinking all the deep thoughts.
Perhaps looking at why I write in the m/m genre might help.
1) I got bored with m/f.
2) I think dudes are hot.
3) I write and read fanfiction which is heavily skewed towards m/m, which in turn heavily influences the stories and characters that bloom to life in my head.
None of those really do anything to help the gay community. Or maybe it does. I want gay romance to be seen as healthy and mainstream as hetero romance, and I think the m/m genre can help with that. Sort of the same way including black actors in American commercials and TV shows has helped African Americans be seen as mainstream members of American society.
Let’s look at it from another direction. What if I were to only write m/f stories? Then I’m not being inclusive and I don’t want to be that person either. What a conundrum!
I think for ME (bolded & capitalized because everyone’s experience is different), the best thing is to actually be an inclusive writer. I will go with the characters that pop into my head for a story regardless of their gender. That means I’ll be writing m/m, m/f and f/f. Which is what I originally planned to do anyway – I’ll post later on why I drifted away from that plan. At some point, I will have to do my research so that I can include characters that we see even less of in mainstream fiction, such as trans and gender fluid persons.
Will I fuck it up in my first attempts? More than likely. I can promise you that I won’t write a lesbian sex scene where the heroines both have long nails. But just as in m/m, I’ll be writing outside my own personal experience, and I’ll probably get a few things wrong as I learn. I’m not afraid to do this. Kidding! I’m a little afraid but whatever. I’m going for it anyway.
In conclusion (Okay, now I feel like I’m writing a high school essay) I don’t think there is a right or wrong answer to the overall question. And my thinky-thoughts aren't meant to influence, shame, or judge anyone in the genres mentioned. They are me, working through my own issues on the subject. I think determining if m/m is exploitive or fetishizing depends on the individual author and how that author is handling their books and role in the genre and the community. And because I believe in the general goodness of people, I believe that most writers of m/m romance simply want to tell stories featuring characters that they love and are inspired by.
Or maybe I’m just thinking too much. I do that a lot.
I don’t normally post a disclaimer. But I know this is a hot button topic. Honest discussion is welcome. Hate speech, bashing, trolling will be ignored.
Thanks for reading!
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My rambling and not at all edited thoughts on romance novels, writing, and pop culture.