I believe in love, Alfie.
Without true love we just exist, Alfie.

As we celebrate the 24th annual Lambda Literary Award winner in Gay Romance, Every Time I Think of You, by Jim Provenzano (CreateSpace/Myrmidude Press), I invited three leading romance writers and critics to join me in discussion on the meaning of the gay romance genre within the larger context of gay literature.

Best-selling m/m romance writer Josh Lanyon has written about the background of m/m fiction and how it emerged from straight female fan fiction, whereas gay romance emerged from the pulps (Man, Oh Man! Writing M/M Fiction for Kinks & Cash, MLR Press, 2008).  Romance was foundational for the emergence of gay literature, from Gordon Merrick to Patricia Nell Warren to the burst of gay literary fiction pre-AIDS.

Yet, Lanyon says, “Romance is always looked down on. Literary fiction writers look down on genre fiction, and within genre fiction, romance is the redheaded stepchild. And within romance, erotic fiction is the embarrassment. And yet it’s not like relationships and sex are not an important part of our lives.”  Lanyon asks, “So what is it about us all—straight and gay—that makes us want to dismiss and disown romance fiction? While at the same time romance outsells everything else?”  Lanyon says, “Our relationships give our lives meaning.  The big stories are always love stories.”

2011 Lambda Literary Award winner for Gay Romance, Erik Orrantia, said, “I know that my novel Normal Miguel (Cheyenne Press, 2011) brought up the debate as to what gay romance actually is.  In his review of the book in ‘Reviews by Jessewave,’ Victor Banis wrote, ‘It is really more about universal truths.’”  A full-time elementary teacher with a degree in psychology, Orrantia says that Erik Erikson’s model of life-stages speaks to him about the meaning of romance fiction.  He says Erikson describes “one’s life trajectory as a series of challenges or obstacles. After a person emerges successfully from one obstacle then he or she, now changed, proceeds to the next.” Those who fail to overcome the obstacle may suffer stagnation, he says, facing the same obstacle again and again. Orrantia says that Erikson’s life stages point to the central conflict that drives all romance fiction. “If there is no conflict, there is no story, right?”  He says, “In Erikson’s young adult life-stage, Intimacy vs. Isolation, a person learns to develop an intimate relationship, risking solitude.  In order to overcome the conflict, he must challenge himself and/or the other. Of this romance is made, and made, and made.”

This formulaic aspect of the romance genre referred to by Orrantia is given witty and pithy definition by 2012 Lambda Literary Award finalist in Gay Romance, Eden Winters, in his novel Settling the Score, (Torquere Press):

“In your books, what happens when one lover runs away?”

“The other gives chase and woos them back?”

“Well, duh!  What’cha waiting for?”

If romance is formulaic by definition, can there be such a thing as a non-traditional romance?  How much latitude does the author have to experiment with the genre?  I’m thinking non-monogamous relationships, unhappily ever afters (HEA), homely boyfriends, chubby chasers.  Or how about just giving the romantic protagonists ordinary names like Joe and Bob, instead of Blake and Trent?

Leading gay literary blogger, editor and writer, Jerry L. Wheeler (Out In Print: Queer Book Reviews, www.outinprint.net), says, “I gravitate towards those books which expand (or totally obliterate) those constraints.”  Wheeler complains, “The thing that bothers me about this genre is its unrelenting heteronormality.”  Wheeler terms it the “assimilationist ideal.”  He says, “It’s all about finding the ‘right guy’ and having that monogamous relationship with no possibility that there can be other sorts of relationships that can be just as romantic. Many of these guys don’t even have sex on the first date, which is totally not my experience. Is it a function of my age? I don’t think so.”  Wheeler asks, “Do gay men fall in love and romance each other differently than straight couples do?”  He says, “While I can’t generalize about every gay man, I do believe there’s a difference on how we approach romance.”  He says, “My gut tells me that there’s more to it than what I’m seeing on many of these pages.”

Wheeler believes the problem lies in viewpoint, “The [m/m romances] I read authored by women tend to be heteronormative, monogamous, and assimilationist, aiming for a male-male, white picket fence, HEA scenario as the ultimate positive outcome and that goal is never denied, leaving me feeling left out because as a reader and as a gay man, that isn’t my ultimate objective.”  Wheeler asks about viewpoint, “Is this because they’re written by women? Not wholly, because the male authored ones I’ve read are just about the same. This leads me to wonder who is the audience for these books? Are they written for gay men or straight women? From what I understand, m/m fiction comes from a monogamous, heterosexual female standpoint.”  He says, “That said, it could hardly speak to my experience as a gay man. Therefore, it’s not written for me.”  Wheeler says, “If it’s written for straight women, why are we considering it for a gay award? Because the characters are gay? Well, they’re really not, are they? They’re written as women with different genitalia.”  He says, “Perhaps we should stop kidding ourselves and just re-title the Gay Romance category the M/M Romance category.”

Josh Lanyon responds, “The majority of books nominated in the Gay Romance category this year were submitted by gay male writers. In fact, given the outcry against (straight) women writing gay romance, I’m surprised any women submitted at all. In fact, I think we would have had a much more interesting mix of books if more female m/m writers had submitted.”  Lanyon says, “My readership is probably two thirds female—however it might surprise you to know that many of those women are lesbians, not straight female readers. And in fact, lesbians run many m/m romance publishers—Blind Eye Books is one example, Torquere is another, and so is Bold Strokes. I think this is something that has been forgotten or perhaps overlooked in the backlash against ‘straights appropriating our experiences and identity.’”  Lanyon says, “Women didn’t create the romance genre and they didn’t create the ideal of a romantic love with a soul mate. That whole soul mate thing came from the Greek (male) philosophers, right?”

Lanyon says, “I think the majority of our gay male romance writers—many of whom state in their bios that they are happily married to long-time partners—cherish and foster this romantic tradition every bit as much as female (straight and otherwise) writers do.”  Lanyon says, “Men write some of the sappiest god awful stuff in this genre. Are they compromising on the ‘truth’ because they just want to sell a lot of books to an audience they fail to accurately assess?”  Lanyon doesn’t think so.  Lanyon says, “Most romance readers (male and female) have an expectation—rightly or wrongly—of a happy ending.”  Lanyon says, “If that HEA is not delivered, the book will rarely do well. Which means publishers (and authors who hope to make any money at all) usually provide happy endings.  So it’s probably a business decision as much as anything else.”  Lanyon points out that a HEA in gay romance might be more radical than some contemporary critics may think, “I advocate happy endings because I grew up reading books where queers did not get happy endings. They were generally portrayed as freaks or villains or victims. So I take great pleasure in a publishing environment that permits and even encourages happy endings.”

“I suspect you guys aren’t really reading that broadly within the genre,” Lanyon says, “because there is actually quite a bit of experimentation and pushing of boundaries—racial boundaries, cultural boundaries, even stories about middle-aged bald, chubby guys.”   One example of a romance that pushes the limitations of traditional narrative structure was the 2012 Lambda Literary Award finalist Barry Brennessel’s Tinseltown from MLR Press.  Lanyon says, “It’s not all brooding vampires and their outcast werewolf lovers or two handsome homogenous thirty-somethings raising an adorable inherited baby.”  Still, Lanyon asks, “Do stories about middle-aged bald, chubby guys sell well?”  In a word, “No,” Lanyon says, “because romance fiction is genre fiction and genre fiction is about escape from reality.”

Jerry Wheeler believes there is “definitely a problem in categorization” when it comes to defining what books qualify as romance.  For example, Elliot Mackle’s critically acclaimed Captain Harding’s Six-Day War (Lethe Press) was nominated in the Gay Romance category for the 2012 Lambda Literary awards but did not make it as a finalist.  Likewise, Felice Picano’s masterful collection of short stories, Gay Contemporary Romances (Bold Stroke Books).  Were these books technically romances? Lanyon says, “As the Romance Writers of America understand that definition? No. As the Lambda Literary Committee understands that definition? No.”  Lanyon says, “I believe to technically qualify as a romance—as most people (publishers, editors, readers, reviewers) understand the term—the story must revolve around the journey of two people to become ‘as one.’”  Wheeler says, “I think we need to seek a broader definition of the genre—one in which a romantic (and sexual) relationship is the primary focus of the book. Period. That means there’s much crossover potential with so-called literary fiction as well as erotica as the romantic conflict is a basic component of all fiction.”

Lanyon wonders if “some of our definitions are perhaps not literary so much as cultural or even socio-political.”  Orrantia says for him, “The bottom line: I will refrain from trying to define a romance category of literature by any formula. Instead, I’ll respond, like a good psychologist, by answering with a question: How do you feel?”  He asks, “Was your heart tugged? Did you fall in love with the falling in love?”  He says, “If you answered yes to these questions, I think you just read a romance.”  Perhaps the best example of classic romance in this year’s Lambda Award finalists in Gay Romance was Mel Bossa’s beautifully written Split (Bold Strokes Books).

In Sarah Schulman’s recent The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination, (University of California Press), Schulman writes, “Queer sexually truthful literature is seen as pornographic.”  In an exchange I had with author Michael Thomas Ford over my review of his novel The Road Home, he chided me for having a schoolmarm’s attitude towards graphic sex in gay romance because I felt the explicit sex in his novels removed them from mainstream consideration as literature—which both Ford and Schulman say in effect, it does, and that’s the point.  For our literature to be authentic to the gay experience it must be explicitly homosexual. Schulman writes, “Being out in one’s work, sexually honest, and truthful about the lived homosexual experience guarantees that one’s work will never be seen for its actual merit.”  She says, “To be acceptable, literature cannot be sexually authentic.  And, even though this is a requirement for approval, we look at the highly conditional and restricted approval [‘mainstream’ gay literature receives] as a sign of success instead of the failure that it actually is.”  Thanks to Ford I began to see graphic sex in gay romance as a way of forging an authentic gay literary tradition.  Or in Schulman’s understanding, gay romance should be seen as an inherently culturally transgressive literature.  I’m thinking it takes more guts to read a gay romance on the subway with two bare-chested men lip-locked on the cover than it does to read a more demure mainstream gay novel.

Josh Lanyon doesn’t think the objection is solely homosexual. Lanyon says, “It’s touchingly naive to me when gay writers imagine that it is just the queer element in their sexual writing that makes modern mainstream readers veer. In fact, it is probably the erotic element, period.”  Lanyon says, “You cannot write about sex and be taken seriously in the mainstream. It’s that simple.  You will either be labeled a romance writer (end of all serious literary aspirations!) or you will be labeled a literary fiction writer (end of all commercial aspirations!). But you cannot write general mainstream fiction and write detailed, explicit sex. End of story.”  Case in point, many libraries are pulling the New York Times best-selling straight erotic romance trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James from their shelves.  But would a gay erotic romance have found its way into mainstream library collections in the first place?

Jerry Wheeler says, “In order to be true to our identities as gay men, graphic sex should be part and parcel of romance because—let’s face it boys—it’s the natural and logical outcome of gay romance. Love and companionship are part of the deal, but when you really come down to it, it’s all about fucking from the get-go. That’s a generalization, of course, but I think it’s true in more instances than not. And unless gay romance embraces that and celebrates it, there’s an essential component missing.”  Wheeler says, “In a way, it’s literary assimilation—a sacrifice of an essential part of our lives in favor of a wider societal acceptance—and it’s disingenuous.”  Wheeler adds, “And if you’ve ever visited any of the m/m forums, the authors who write this stuff agonize over having to write gay male sex scenes—which totally invalidates their work to me.”

Ironically, Sarah Schulman points out that the ultimate HEA—legal marriage—has been granted to our Canadian queer brothers and sisters even while our sexually explicit romance literature has been criminalized.  She writes:

“In 1994, a coalition of feminists and right-wing politicians in Canada passed a tariff code called Butler that was designed to restrict pornographic production.  Instead, it was applied in such a way that it allowed officials at Canada customs to systematically detain and destroy gay and lesbian materials at the border.”

Schulman was called as an expert witness on behalf of a suit brought by a Vancouver gay bookstore against the Canadian government.  In Gentrification, she reproduces her court testimony that the works of well-known author John Preston are not “obscene.”  She testifies:

In terms of the ‘literary merit’ of the books, I am struck by their conventional narrative formats.  Each story is motivated by the development of a first-person character.  Usually he is a gay man with a particular job, sensibility, or environment who is motivated by psychological or emotional issues.  Typically through his relationship with another man—an intense, personal relationship involving sex and often love, the protagonist resolves or moves beyond his initial interior conflict.

Schulman’s description of Preston’s work sounds like Orrantia’s definition of romance using Erikson’s life-stages model or Lanyon and Wheeler’s definition of romance as a work where the romantic or sexual relationship is the primary focus.  Yet, the bookstore lost the suit.  Schulman reports:

The judge ruled that Canadacustoms officials had, and still have, the right to decide which materials are not suitable to come into the country.  Interestingly, they quickly ratified gay marriage, while continuing to retain the right to insure that no married gay man will ever go looking for Mister Benson.

These are far from merely theoretical considerations for Erik Orrantia.  Normal Miguel shows Orrantia’s love of teaching on every page and it was published by Cheyenne as young adult fiction, but he says, “I have suffered through years of litigation over Normal Miguel brought on by a school district that Schulman would love to argue with.”  Orrantia says, “It’s an obvious point, but the homophobes’ real problem with homosexuality is the sex, right? I mean, unlike other minorities whose skin color or religion is different from the ‘mainstream,’ the difference between homos and heteros is the gender with which they have sex. If we didn’t ever bring it up, or if we didn’t do it, perhaps they’d have no problem, but then, we wouldn’t really be homos, would we?”

Orrantia points out another taboo celebrated by so many ‘coming out’ romances and that is increasingly being used to re-criminalize gay sex—sex between gay minors, “Most homosexuals sexually explore with the same gender before their eighteenth birthday which is something that is also a deeply deplorable truth to many who find homosexuality distasteful.”  Jay Bell explored just such a sexual relationship between two teenagers with charming humor in his 2012 Lambda Literary Award finalist, Something Like Summer (Jay Bell Books).  In a frightening scene in the novel the two boys flee arrest after almost being caught in flagrante delicto in a park by the cops, an incident that leads to their break-up.  Orrantia says, “Welcome to the closet, homosexual adolescents—try reading The Letter Q: Queer Writers’ Notes to their Younger Selves, edited by Sarah Moon and James Lecesne (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2012) if you need reassurance.”

 

— ### —

Check out the Popular Romance Project (popularromanceproject.org). Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Project will eventually include a documentary film, a one-day symposium at the Library of Congress, an ALA-supported nationwide library program, and a huge, interactive website. The Project actively includes m/m romance. If you have some academically-focused things to say about any part of the romance genre, email Sarah S. G. Frantz, Ph.D., associate professor of Literature at Fayetteville State University in Arkansas and president of the International Association for the Study of Popular Romance, at popular.romance@gmail.com with a blog topic proposal. Support the Project by following it on Twitter https://twitter.com/#!/popularromance and liking its Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/PopularRomanceProject. M/M author James Buchanan was recently featured in an interview on the Popular Romance Project website.



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  • Ron Fritsch

26 Responses to “Book Lovers: What’s It All About Alfie?”

  1. Steve Berman 21 June 2012 at 3:10 PM #

    I really don’t think Bold Strokes Books is a m/m publisher. They started out as a lesbian press and have branched into other sexualities. But if you asked Rad if she was m/m press, I am sure she would be shocked.


    • Josh Lanyon 22 June 2012 at 1:04 PM #

      Then let me qualify that — publishers of fiction marketed as gay and/or m/m romance.


  2. Perry Brass 22 June 2012 at 8:49 AM #

    I found a lot of this discussion useful, although one of the things that seemed not to be discusssed was simply the style of romance writing and romance books. This is what really sets this genre aside from “literary” fiction, or as I call it “lit-rary fiction.” There are many great books that became the prototypes for romance novels, like of course Rebecca, and certainly, for men, E.M. Forster’s Maurice which did have a happy ending, decades before it was allowed in queer fiction, and which was not, out of Forster’s reticence, published until after his death: post Stonewall. But too often books that are in the “Romance” genre are written in a homogenous, syrupy style that announces itself way too quickly. Also, straight romances used to be (and for the most part are) so formulaic that putting queer fiction into this straitjacket for many gay writers & readers over many years seemed ridiculous. It wasn’t really until straight women by the thousands started reading gay fiction (for the same reason, btw, that straight men like lesbian fiction) that gay Romance took off as viable to publishers. What is interesting to me though is that, as usual, and marvelously, queer writers are taking this “genre” and bending the hell out of it, and using it to their own purposes. I love that. We are doing to it what blacks cooks did for soul food: they took the stuff white people wouldn’t eat and made cuisine out of it. Perry Brass


    • Dick Smart 23 June 2012 at 1:52 PM #

      Thank you, Perry. Check out my discussion of Maurice and the interesting recent “sequel” End of Story by John M. Bowers at http://www.lambdaliterary.org/features/11/21/book-lovers-happy-endings/. Maurice included a political consciousness that much contemporary gay romance has lost. That’s why I love 2012 Lambda Award winner Jim Provenzano’s work, Monkey Suits and Cyclizen–look for my profile of Provenzano in the July Book Lovers.


  3. Laura Baumbach 22 June 2012 at 12:48 PM #

    M/M romance, whether written by straight or GLBT authors, show M/M relationships in a positive light, and like any other reading material, affects the attitudes and perceptions of its readers. Whether or not it tells the ‘true story’ of a typical gay romance, this trend in acceptance and popularity of the category of romance is helping to shape opinions and tolerances. If the majority of the readers are straight women, their children (and the adult males in their lives in some cases) will learn the things they acceptance as positive — like gay romance, marriage and acceptance.

    Romance is hugely popular and I believe that is because of the repeated and expected message of love and a HEA for all involved. Romance novels are not ‘true’ reality for most, but sometimes readers need to feel the hope it gives them that those two things can exist.


  4. Erastes 22 June 2012 at 5:00 PM #

    I’m amazed that we are rehashing this–again! I’m also amazed at the narrow minded attitude that these books are written by straight women and gay men and are FOR straight women. It’s bloody insulting.

    Is het romance “realistic”? Does it reflect the straight experience? No! Of course it doesn’t.

    Gay romance is the same as m/m. What the LL board should SIMPLY consider – from the lists of entrants – is which is the best book. Not who wrote it, what’s between their legs, who they have in their bed (if they are lucky) and who they are writing it FOR. How does anyone know who I’m writing for? I’m writing a book, it’s up to my agent to point it in the right direction. Granted there are lots of cruddy m/m books. But there are lots of cruddy gay books. Lots of cruddy straight books. Perhaps, just perhaps you should consider having a blind judging? Some competitions do this, where all identification is removed from the manuscripts before handing to the judges. Perhaps this way, the WRITING would be the key issue, not any of this other stuff.

    Apologies to sound terse, but how many times can we keep discussing the same old stuff?


    • Dick Smart 23 June 2012 at 1:09 PM #

      Apparently from the amount of feedback I get when I include a discussion of m/m vs. gay romance in “Book Lovers,” it remains a hot topic. I still get feedback from my debut column when I first broached the subject two years ago. I hope it is clear from my own reviews that I am gender blind when it comes to authorship. Like Victor Banis says, all I care about is the story.


  5. Pat Brown 22 June 2012 at 7:03 PM #

    I’ve always strived to make my books edgy. Almost every one of them has an HEA ending, the exceptions being the new version of L.A. Boneyard. My latest, and possibly last gay crime novel, Latin Boyz is in no way a traditional romance. It opens with the death of the main character’s mother in a drive by gang shooting. The shooting also left the protag’s sister severely brain damaged. A good part of the story is more about Gabe, the protag’s, struggles to keep his small family safe from the same gang that is bound to kill them. There’s a lot of tragedy in it and vengeance that turns violent.

    So there’s nothing soft about my books, well, with the exception of Man’s Best Friends, which is pure romance from page one. I also don’t think my books suffer any for being written by a woman.


    • Dick Smart 22 June 2012 at 8:36 PM #

      Watch for my review of Latin Boyz in August’s Book Lovers, or better yet, just buy it and read it–great read!


    • Dick Smart 23 June 2012 at 1:22 PM #

      Pat, I’d be interested in hearing about yours and Mel Bossa’s Canadian experience regarding government censorship of queer literature.


      • Pat Brown 23 June 2012 at 7:19 PM #

        Personally I haven’t had any run-ins with border people. I’ve had numerous books shipped to me from the US. I know Little Sister in Vancouver fought against it for decades and won partial victories. It’s ridiculous, that in one of the few countries where there is no difference between gay marriages and hetero marriages, that gay images can still be considered obscene, when the same quality of het images are not.


  6. Victor J. Banis 23 June 2012 at 8:13 AM #

    well, I’d say I mostly agree with Pat Brown and Erastes, fine writers both, and both entirely enjoyable to at least one gay male (and I think Erastes has a good point, why not have blind judging?) – As usual, I seem to find myself in a kind of limbo – I write gay fiction, or so I’ve always thought, and sometimes I do include graphic sex, and sometimes not. My characters are sometimes hot alpha males, and sometimes not. In my latest, Cooper’s Hawk (MLR Press) though I don’t specifiy his age, the lead is obviously old, and mourning the loss of a longtime companion – and, again, the sex is mostly just implied. And gay men seem to be enjoying it well enough. But I haven’t in many years concerned myself with all those labels and rules. I’m a storyteller, I leave all the rest up to others.


    • Dick Smart 23 June 2012 at 1:58 PM #

      Thanks for the heads up on your new book. I’m googling MLRpress.com right now to buy it.


  7. George Seaton 23 June 2012 at 11:49 AM #

    Excellent discussion of what’s become an ongoing concern for some. Haven’t really given the subject matter much thought. Not enough time to get in there and dig through the nuances that appear to define the issue. If it is an issue. Not so sure it is.

    I write what I know. And what I know is not confined to some temporal cage where my experiences are the only tools with which I have to work. No, what I know also embraces what my imagination, assumptions, and perceptions provide to me. My muse, if you will. Suspect another author who happens to be a heterosexual female has the same internal—and certainly external—resources that I do. No, a heterosexual female surely hasn’t been there, when it comes to the gay male experience; the romance of it all. But, then, I’ve never given birth. Doesn’t mean I can’t provide what would probably be a rather compelling narrative about that experience.

    I gave up trying to count angels on the heads of pins a long time ago. Wonder what worth there would be in knowing the answer?

    Certainly know that the sassy ladies who write in the M/M Romance genre are enjoying royalty checks much larger than mine. Go figure!


  8. Mel Bossa 23 June 2012 at 11:58 AM #

    And what about a bi woman living with a bi man writing gay or bi men? :-) Anyway, well said Erastes and Josh. And I’ve noticed a lot of guys like Split, so.


    • Dick Smart 23 June 2012 at 12:57 PM #

      I certainly did! Split was one of my favorite reads this year.


    • Dick Smart 23 June 2012 at 1:20 PM #

      I certainly did! Split was one of my favorite reads this year. Mel and Pat, I’d be interested in hearing about your Canadian experience regarding government censorship of queer literature.


  9. Jess Faraday 23 June 2012 at 4:58 PM #

    It’s easy to generally dismiss female-authored gay/m-m writing as one-handed reads for women, just as one might dismiss all lesbian/f-f writing by men as variations on Letters To Penthouse. But that’s simplistic and untrue. There’s a continuum–no, there are several. I will avoid invoking the idea of literary merit, because different types of readers like different books for different reasons. It doesn’t do authors, readers, or literature any good (beyond that fleeting feeling of smug superiority) to close one’s eyes to it.

    I just finished reading a male-authored book about a bi female, which began with the premise of “I hate this b—h. But, strangely, I feel compelled to f–k her. Who knew I was actually a lesbian?” I could rail on about the author’s unrealistic, insulting depiction of the female, but the fact is that the men in the book were portrayed just as insultingly. It was, quite simply, poorly and unrealistically written.

    But I have also read female-authored lesbian stories that were just as badly done.

    An author’s experiences will necessarily color her/his writing, and how it affects a reader will depend also on the reader’s own experiences. What a lovely, intricate dance–and one that will change subtly with each reader. It’s a privilege to be one of the dancers.

    As for my book, it has been well received, at least by the people who have taken the time to review it and/or to write to me (although there was one gentleman who was particularly put out that it was *not* about Jack the Ripper, to which I can only say, “please read the product description before pressing ‘buy'”).

    Like all writers, I can only continue to do my very best to tell a good story.


  10. Steven Kerry 24 June 2012 at 9:51 AM #

    I suspect I am one of the writers referred to as bending the M/M Romance in all kinds of ways. My novel, published in trilogy form on JMS Books, is called My Strange Little Oasis. Neither romance nor explicit sex are jettisoned, but are both incorporated into the story of a once handsome gay public relations man who becomes facially disfigured due to the effects of taking HIV medications for over ten years. Despite a beautiful and ulimately long term romance, and an abiding humor permeating its pages, this book is the acknowledgement of a horror otherwise only addressed in the pages and pages of “liposculpture” ads paid for by plastic surgeons in our gay newsmagazines. As a tale, it is sort of lumped in with all these M/M Romance books with beautiful torsos on the cover. I’m just amazed it got published at all, for it is a modern day horror story. The graphic sex plays a purpose far beyond titillation, for its about a man who feels he will never be touched by humans again due to his disfiguration, let alone find the love he hungers for.I could write M/M Romance; I feel no compulsion to do so as there is not enough meat for the imagination or intellect to such stories to intigue me. The best romance is is in service of a story to me, not the story itself.


  11. Sue Brown 24 June 2012 at 12:25 PM #

    I consider that a measure of my success is the number of male readers that talk to me about my books and characters.

    They are mature enough to accept that I use, not what is between my legs, but what is between my ears, to write my books.

    I understand now that I will never change the opinions of the diehards who hate women in the genre. Instead I concentrate on writing books for those who accept me as an author, not as an author – female.


  12. Lee Rowan 25 June 2012 at 10:34 PM #

    Nice to see that Sarah Frantz got funding for her project. As for the rest… right, I’ve received mail from gay men who thought I was a gay man because women can’t write gay romance.

    That horse is very, very dead.


  13. […] Interesting discussion about m/m romance at Lamda Literary – make sure you read the comments, …. (via Eden Winters) […]


  14. Dani Alexander 29 June 2012 at 5:29 AM #

    While I, and most of my friends, have sought and maintained monogamous relationships, I continue to hear these stories about how most gay men are not heternormative. At the same time, a huge contingent of gay men are vying for equality in marriage, perhaps some because of the status in legal terms that it grants their s/o, but, for the most part, it is to express their love and devotion to one person/one partner.

    I counter your arguments about men not wanting monogamous relationships with the fact, as mentioned above, that it wasn’t women who came up with the concept of monogamy.

    Missing in this discussion is the possible (changing) reasons that “gay men aren’t interested in monogamy”.

    In my humble opinion, gay men and women have been denied the kinds relationships that straight couples enjoy for centuries. In other words, we COULDN’T have the HEA and thus were relegated to mostly sexual relationships. While many still enjoy the freedom to sexual expression, many more are opting for longterm, committed relationships-yes, some of those are open, but the balance is coming from both sides. Hetero open relationships are also rising. There’s a balance here that speaks to cultural changes, rather than gender. What I mean is that there are probably just as many hetero couples who want an open relationship as gay couples. And just as many gay couples who want monogamous relationships as straights.

    I also find it interesting to note that f/f romance is largely ignored in this debate. Have we all decided that all women want monogamy? Are we only saying gay men want purely physical relationships or open relationships?

    And last, I hear from a large number of gay men about my novel and how much they enjoyed it. And, gasp, it has a HEA! My husband, in fact, threatened me with a refusal to read my story(and any others I wrote) if it didn’t end happily, as did my GAY MALE editor.


    • Dick Smart 29 June 2012 at 12:50 PM #

      F/f romance isn’t considered in the discussion because my column reviews m/m and gay men’s romance. I’m not competent to review f/f and lesbian romance, although I like it when I read it. Check out Pamela Bigelow’s excellent coverage of the lesbian romance genre in Lambda Literary Review. Josh Lanyon addresses your well-taken point that for a group that is legally denied the HEA of marriage, perhaps an HEA is more “transgressive.” EM Forster believed that Maurice’s HEA made it unpublishable. Maybe the unapologetic HEAs of m/m romance are what sideline the genre from mainstream consideration.


      • Dani Alexander 29 June 2012 at 3:08 PM #

        Hey Dick Smart (Best. Name. Ever),

        Sorry, I didn’t mean for it to sound as though I accused you of ignoring f/f stories =/. I brought up f/f romance because there’s a discussion above about excluding m/m romance or recategorizing it because it’s unrealistic or written by women, but I see no mention of that problem existing in f/f literary awards. Or have I missed the arguments about excluding straight men who write lesbian romance from LBGT awards? (yes, I know the complaints about objectifying lesbian relationships, those are not what I’m meaning here).

        In other words, excluding m/m romance because its largely unrealistic or written by women is ridiculous. Most romance novels are unrealistic (which was also mentioned above). I’m just throwing in the f/f romance as an example because its in the LGBT quiltbag and is not ‘heteronormative’ and yet its romances within the literary world aren’t different from m/m.

        “Maybe the unapologetic HEAs of m/m romance are what sideline the genre from mainstream consideration.”

        The success of many of the publishers and writers in the genre as well as the number of sales, added to the growing communities of slash and m/m forums should give them a clue about what they should be publishing.

        Two years ago the GOodreads m/m community had something like 29 members. It now has nearly 7,000 and is one of the top ten groups on Goodreads.

        The Slash Pile on livejournal (a comm based on original slash fiction) had something like 300 members when i joined it a few years ago. It has nearly 1300 now.

        There are over 42 epublishers who dedicate either a line or are exclusively gay, LGBT or f/f.

        What sidelines it from mainstream consideration is close-minded gatekeepers who would rather publish stories with poor writing than explore an expanding category of literature.

        -Dani


  15. […] À ce propos, je vous recommande cet article hyper intéressant sur le sexe dans la romance M/M : Book Lovers: What’s It All About Alfie? Je cite certains passages : In order to be true to our identities as gay men, graphic sex should be […]



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