Since 2006 when I wrote what I thought was my first M/M Romance, Danny’s Dragon, I believed I was, as an author, becoming part of a genre that would speak to women who loved reading about men falling in love as well as gay men who would want to read the same thing. I was quickly disillusioned.
I shortly learned that M/M Romance, having emerged from slash fiction was not truly considered part of gay fiction because M/M Romance is about fantasy pairings of men and not concerned with the issues and real emotions and sexuality of real gay men. Understood. M/M Romance obviously emphasizes fantasy (as it does in het romance. I have read a bunch of both and the feelings elicited in me as the reader are nearly identical, hence my inner measuring stick for what qualifies as romance regardless of the gender of the pairing involved). What I wasn’t aware of as time passed were the heated debates, or what seems like at times, the war between M/M Romance authors (overwhelmingly women) and gay male authors who were for the most part, being clearly alienated and discounted, judging by many of the responses to their expressed distress.
Initially, when I heard about these conflicts, I thought to myself, ‘well, romance readers are largely women and romance writers are largely women. The romance book industry always pulls in the largest sector of book sales each fiscal year so it makes sense. One has nothing to do with the other.’ But one day I thought to myself, ‘how would I feel if there were a group of non-Jewish authors writing very successful books about Jewish people, making those Jewish characters unrealistic or factually wrong and then if I spoke up about it, getting told to shut up and that it’s none of my business even though I’m Jewish? Hello!’ I would be so upset and feel that something very wrong was being done.
I only heard peripherally about all this heated debate. It was like being in another country which is quiet and mostly deserted while turbulence rages somewhere else, unheard and seen. I couldn’t understand why I didn’t know about what was happening. I was an M/M Romance author after all. Wasn’t I one of the writers who was exploiting gay men to make money? I looked a lot at this question and years later I’m still not sure of this answer. I didn’t set out to exploit anyone. I set out to write the stories that were burgeoning in my heart. The fact that my books have always had a small devoted following made up almost equally of men and women that I was aware of made me question that possibility. I continued on writing what I write, the stories that were organically inside me to express, thinking, I’m just a sleeper M/M Romance author. After all, my books had happy endings, plenty of love scenes and emphasized the developing relationship between the two love interests, even if droves of M/M Romance readers didn’t find them interesting.
Then, after all this time, a few days ago, I had a revelatory experience. I had a conversation with a gay male colleague who has always been an ally of my work. He told me that my work doesn’t fit into any category and that one of the things he loves about the romantic pairings in my books is that one of the men is softer and yielding to the other man but the other man is also tender and caring, and that this dynamic speaks to something he craves in a gay romance.
Wow! His words made a huge light go off. I have actually been reeling ever since. I began to Google the term: gay fiction vs. M/M Romance and found other colleagues’ well-read blog entries about the distinctions between m/m and gay fiction, all addressing the issue with intelligence, thoughtfulness and clarity. I absorbed what I was reading and although as an author and then as an author-turned-publisher wherein I had to define genres in order to list titles on my publishing sites I had already figured out many of the technicalities of genre, I just had not been able to apply them to my own work. The writers’ explanations were helping me clarify the content of my own writing after what has been years of staggering around in the dark. It was no wonder I hadn’t been aware of the genre conflicts going on because I was floating around, far from even the periphery, not fitting in anywhere.
I am still trying to work out where my books fit in in all this. The men who’ve read my work have always praised it, much to my delight. While there is always HEA or HFN in my stories, I was never told the men in my books were unrealistic. I have never been able to portray men with that that world at their feet kind of confidence, doing and saying things that real guys wouldn’t do and say. They don’t vie for dominance, which is one of the characteristics I’ve learned is common in M/M Romance. I like them to be sensitive and protective. I like them to have some neuroses here and there left over from childhood experiences that they learn to find healing for with the man who is their love interest. Sometimes they say the wrong thing or act like a jerk and have to apologize. Some of them are vegetarian, more than one has taken in a stray animal. Which perhaps the characters in many other authors’ books have done. I’m not judging. I haven’t read enough of them to make that determination. I’m just trying to figure out where my books fit on the spectrum. I have tried to begin writing the business billionaire mogul type character in an Armani suit kind of story but I can never get more than a couple thousand words in before I am delving into his deep psychological past and making him other than a jet-setter in the corporate world I personally despise and then focus on his personal development and the mutually healing interactions with his growing love interest. But because there is always a Happy-Ever-After of Happy-For-Now and the characters, once they meet and begin to fall in love, only ever have sex with each other, which is not always the case in real-life relationships, my work can’t really qualify as “gay fiction.”
So… I write romances between men that don’t really seem to be the kind of M/M Romance that is wildly popular. I don’t write gay fiction that expresses the concerns and issues of gay men today with the exception of a character having come from a homophobic family and having to work through the fallout of that upbringing. And I don’t write what could be considered slash fiction or yaoi-inspired fiction, although that latter category is another one I fancied I was writing and realized I was wrong. Setting a gay romantic story in Japan and having Asian characters does not automatically make a story yaoi. Hello again!
So what genre is it? I thought of a possibility. Perhaps “gay romantic fiction” would be the name that encapsulates my books (and the work of other authors as well). Stories wherein the main focus is on the developing romance between the two heroes within the broader context of solving a murder mystery or some such plot arc, but also contains more emphasis on character study and personal growth and at times, spiritual consciousness?
Yes, perhaps “gay romantic fiction” would be a more accurate moniker? No doubt there are other authors (some of whom I know personally) whose work fits more into a genre of this name. What do you think?
Thanks for reading! Best, Sedonia