In early April of this year, my girlfriend bought me a Kindle and a subscription to Kindle Unlimited to try and alleviate the “walking fatigue” I was feeling from carrying around a satchel of books everywhere I went. I think that’s where the problem started, really.
See, Kindle Unlimited has an entire catalog of free books… and honestly, not many of them are very good. But what they lack in substance, they make up for in abundance. I had thousands upon thousands of books at my fingertips. Short, easy to read, vaguely entertaining books that I could download wherever I was (provided they had wifi). It was at that time that I discovered some really weird genres that I just couldn’t stop reading.
And M/M romance was one of them.
I assume you understand I’m not talking about David Levithan, Benjamin Alire Saenz level books. No, these are all books that contain flimsy plots, a ridiculous amount of sex, and pretty flat characters. I devoured them. I could easily read 2-3 a day, so not only was I getting cheap entertainment but I was driving my goodreads numbers up through the roof.
They all fit a formula. There’s 2 male main characters- one is gay and one is usually either questioning his sexuality, an in-the-closet bisexual, or believes he is straight. The two MCs usually meet while at a football/baseball/hockey/summer camp when they are very young. They form an incredibly tight friendship which is destroyed after a night of drinking where the openly queer character either seduces or “tricks” his pal into some sexual act. They meet years later and within a few pages, they’re in bed together. Lots of sex, usually some violence, then a “conflict” that usually includes the bisexual/questioning/”straight” character leaving, and then they get back together and have more sex. The end.
The other thing they have in common? Most of them are written by straight women.
First, let me say that reading those stories never set well with me. I always had a feeling that there wasn’t something right about these stories but I kind of pushed it away because I had friends who were reading the same stories and I enjoyed the companionship that seemed to come from being in this world of M/M fantasies.
It wasn’t until a few months later that I realized how wrong these stories are.
My friend had asked to borrow my Kindle while he was sitting with his mom at the hospital. I gladly loaned it to him and warned him that my library had some weird stuff in it. I was mostly thinking about the BBW Cowboy Romances and Shifter Romances I had been reading and tweeting about (if you follow me on twitter and saw my Terrible Romance Lines thread, you understand) but when he gave my Kindle back… he asked if we could talk.
Him: You weren’t kidding about the weird books.
Me: Cowboys or the shifter bear thing?
Him: Um… the hetero-written gay porn.
I was shocked. My friend is gay and of all the books I thought he would tease me about, I didn’t think it would be the M/M stories. And he did tease me about them but I could tell it was a deeper issue to him than he was letting on. So, I decided to take a look at these stories, at myself, at the writers, and figure out why my friend was upset and why I was suddenly feeling so awful.
And here’s what I came up with.
The first thing I realized was this: If straight men were writing these types of stories about lesbian/bisexual/questioning women, I would be furious. They are taking people and reducing them down to sex but selling it as friends-turned-lovers or enemies-turned-lovers. There are no plots to these stories. It is literally men humping and sometimes having fights.
Which brings me to the second thing. These stories are violent. I can’t tell you how many of these stories began with the two main characters beating the hell out of each other only to end up naked in bed on the next page. That’s unacceptable. Domestic abuse is not foreplay. If these were heterosexual stories and the man punched the woman in the face before ripping her clothes off, we’d be outraged. We’d be stomping our feet and calling for the author’s blood, but because this situation involves two men… we’re silent? That shows a societal problem. It shows that we think violence between men is normal. It shows that we don’t think men are being abused in relationships. Boys will be boys, right?
Then we have our Gay Predator stereotype. The openly gay character in the story is always the one to make the first move. He plies his unsuspecting friend with liquor and then puts on a porno. It’s always stated in these stories that the openly gay character is either A) not as drunk as his friend or B) not drunk at all. Having sex with a person who is incapacitated in any manner is rape. Plain and simple. If they are not in their normal state of mind and you continuously push them into a sexual act you know they would not otherwise consent to, you have raped them. I will not argue with anyone on this. And isn’t this what homophobes harp on the most? That they fear gay men because gay men can’t control their urges? That they’re driven by lust? These straight women writing this Gay Predator stereotype are perpetuating the idea that gay men can’t have friendships that don’t involve sex or romantic feelings and that’s dangerous.
Our second main character is always the bisexual/questioning one. He’s the character that will leave when things get tough. The Flighty Bisexual stereotype. I hate when these straight authors switch to this character’s POV because it always includes him talking about the fact that he still really, really likes women. And that’s fine. That’s what being bisexual is about… liking whoever you like. But it’s always done in the most inappropriate way. The one that sticks out most to me is this scene where the two MCs are in bar and the bisexual/questioning MC is thinking about his friend and how handsome he is and the very next line is “I still really love pussy and tits, though.” What this tells me is that the writer wants this fantasy of two rugged (and they are always beautifully sculpted men) men to beat the shit out of each other and then have sex… but she also wants one of them to still desire women. One of them has to still be on the more heterosexual side of things. It’s ok for them to do all of these things together as long as one of them is still thinking about women while he’s doing these things.
When I talked to my friend after I realized all of this stuff, he just nodded. I’m not way out in left field on my beliefs about why this entire genre of straight women writing M/M “romance” is wrong.
I’m not telling you what to read. People are going to read what they want. But if you’re an avid reader of this genre, I hope some of these points will make you pause and question the next story you read.