See the title of this blog post? Kind of stating the obvious, yes? But it’s not something I’m ashamed to admit. I’ve had gay friends since high school, worked in the airline industry where a vast majority of my guy friends were gay, and read quite a few “gateway” books in the mainstream romance genre in my lifetime, so when I lucked into a book called Zero at the Bone by Jane Seville, the concept of two men being in a relationship wasn’t new to me. When I proceeded to find a community of readers and authors who shared the same love of reading these books, I felt as though I’d finally found a place where I belonged.
There’s an article (Warning: some of the associated photos are NSFW) that popped up quite a lot on my Facebook Newsfeed yesterday, an editorial piece by an anonymous author, a gay man who brought up a valid point or two… But not about the M/M Romance genre. I can’t emphasize that enough. I didn’t disagree with everything he said, but I did take issue with the way he said it.
The first sentence of the article is something I do feel we women ought to take quite seriously: “As a gay man, the M/M Romance genre makes me extremely uncomfortable.” We need to listen to this, ladies. If this gentleman feels this way, the odds are there are quite a few gay men out there who would empathize with him, and our goal here should be to reassure these men that we’re not here, as female authors or readers, to make anyone feel extremely uncomfortable. But here’s a point of fact I want to bring to the fore: the supporting arguments he makes following this opening statement have nothing at all to do with books, as the term M/M Romance genre would imply. His supporting arguments have more to do with the behaviors and actions of the people who frequent the genre, and that’s a different issue entirely, and it’s not one I wholeheartedly disagree with.
“A lot of women in the genre, both readers and authors, seem to fetishize physically attractive gay men. Not all women in the genre are like that, but a substantial amount. They put porn stars and gay male authors up on pedestals to praise and obsess over. They don’t actually care about who those people are beyond their sexual preference and job description; they don’t care about their feelings or dreams or goals. They see a pretty boy and want them as a pet.”
Now, I have so many issues with this paragraph that it’s difficult to know where to begin, so I’ll begin with the first sentence. If this man thinks women solely in this genre fetishize physically attractive men—gay, straight, or otherwise—he doesn’t know enough women. I can assure the author that I, and many women like me, have been appreciating the male physique for decades, well before we discovered M/M Romance, and I will steadfastly defend any woman’s right to do so. There are benefits to a healthy fantasy life—when we’re able to delineate the difference between reality and fantasy and are able to incorporate that into our everyday lives.
The author goes on later to pull the women don’t like to be objectified card, which I will again agree with for the most part. There is indeed a faction of women who are most vehemently opposed to seeing ourselves used in advertising to sell…oh, let’s say, for example, a hamburger…on a beach in a string bikini. What the hell does that have to do with hamburgers? Nothing. But you see, the thing is we’re used to seeing ourselves objectified because it’s been happening for millennia. That doesn’t make it right, not at all. Nor does it make those who feel cheapened by it wrong, but it is a fact nevertheless. Women have been owned, traded for livestock, denied the right to own property, denied the right to vote… the point I’m trying to make here is that men seeing themselves objectified is a relatively new concept that the internet has not only made possible but reinforces. And here’s another truism: We women have been liberated and some of us, not all, of course, even feel comfortable admitting we’re sexual beings who find other men (and women) sexy. Just because it makes the author of this piece uncomfortable doesn’t mean we’re suddenly going to stop finding beauty in the male form. It’s human sexual nature 101, like it or not.
And as for the comment in the article about my husband gawking at half nekkid/nekkid women, I’d be an idiot to think he doesn’t. Does it bother me? Pfft. Nope. Because there’s a vast difference between lookie and touchie.
Where we begin to split fine hairs even finer here is where we start to discuss caring about the people in the photos this author has selected to make his point. My question to the author is, how can we? I don’t mean this to sound callous, so let me expand upon that. A photograph is a one dimensional image of someone we likely don’t know or will never meet (with some exceptions, of course)—a photo offers us no insight into the personality or the character of its subject, and, let’s be realistic here for a moment, shall we? These pictures were quite deliberately taken to entice and incite a response in their viewer, regardless of what that response may be and irrespective of the audience. But a photo doesn’t tell us anything about the person in front of the camera any more than the photograph tells us anything about the person behind the camera. The important part is that we still see these men as people who have, we can assume, consented to have their photos taken in whatever way they wish to pose. And, by the way, I might add that photos such as the ones the author of this piece selected as representative of our (women’s) tastes are as exaggerated as the author’s statements. Different people find beauty in different places—it makes us individuals. I can look at a landscape photo and find its beauty every bit as breathtaking as a picture of a tattooed and toned male physique. And here’s the juxtaposition in that statement: I don’t need to know where the landscape photo was taken, what the temperature was that day, or what the setting smelled like to still appreciate that beauty.
This article veers even further off the rails as it continues on, none of it leading back to the author’s opening statement: “As a gay man, the M/M Romance genre makes me extremely uncomfortable.” That’s an extremely disturbing opening to an article that goes on to discuss fetishizing and objectifying. To support that statement, the focus needed to remain on the books in this genre. So, let me wrap this up with a statement of my own. A “substantial amount” of women fetishizing gay men and wanting to keep them as pets is insulting at worst and overstated at best. That’s not the M/M Romance genre that’s being taken to task, this is about the individual human beings who populate a community of readers and authors, so let’s be a bit clearer about what we’re discussing here.
The M/M Romance genre is not a one-way street we’re traveling, folks. It’s a broad avenue of worlds and options and possibilities that should never, ever be narrowed down or marginalized, nor should we readers feel demeaned for loving it. Honestly, it’s disheartening to have to defend myself and my reading choices in a community that’s supposed to pride itself on inclusion. To put an even finer point on it, who better than women to ally with the gay community? We, of all people, understand what it feels like to be marginalized. It’s been happening to us since the dawn of time too.
I’ll close with this: Hi. My name is Lisa and I’m a straight woman who reads Gay Fiction. I’m an ally and supporter of this community not because I have an agenda built upon objectifying gay men and their relationships but because I fucking love books, and I don’t give very many craps about who’s having sex with whom in them (or if they even include sex at all, for that matter), but I do very much care that I get to know and love the characters as people. I just want to read good stories, and here’s the beauty of the community: there are authors out there who want to, and DO, tell beautiful stories with lots of plot, and yes, sometimes some sex, so it’s a symbiotic relationship, with something for every reading taste. And here’s an even greater benefit of reading outside of our own sexual paradigms–sometimes we learn to think and feel outside of ourselves and begin to empathize with each other’s struggles. IF I have ever made anyone–author, reader, or the guy down the street–feel dehumanized in any way, please allow me to offer you my most sincere and humble apologies. I can assure you it was never my intent.
I would further hypothesize that more than a few women who love this genre aren’t here to fetishize and collect gay men but are here because we are mothers, sisters, friends of someone who’s gay, and we believe everyone who wants a happy-ever-after deserves it. Even if it’s just a character in a book.