Wednesday, July 22, 2009

It's Raining Men

by Kelli Collins

The recent post on a popular social blog (you may know the one) about a certain e-pub’s love for publishing M/M generated tons of responses. More than 130, last time I checked. Aside from the occasional attack, there were also dozens of thoughtful and insightful posts on the M/M and M/M/F genres in general. A few authors and readers mentioned their dislike for the genres, but in no great detail. As interesting as all of this was (and how), I want to know a bit more—specifically, why hetero female readers/writers, in the immortal words of Depeche Mode, just can’t get enough.

What precisely attracts you to M/M? “It’s hot!” doesn’t cut it for me. Why exactly is it hot? I’m not complaining or judging, and while it's not my favorite genre, I don't hate it, by any stretch of the word. Though the genre’s thoroughly saturated the market, it still sells consistently well, so I’ll happily continue editing it. And I should be clear that my curiosity has nothing to do with M/M submissions, and won't change how I review them.

I just truly want to understand the psychology behind a straight fan's love of gay erotica...or at least toss some theories around. Because let’s be honest with ourselves—this is not gay erotica. Not really. At least, not according to my gay male friends, anyway. (The ones who've read some EC M/M. They can appreciate the story, but thought the romantic elements in no way reflected the relationships they've been in). I've also noticed no similarities to the gay erotic fiction I’ve read that’s written by gay males. (Anthologies, mostly. The writing? Sometimes "meh". The sex? Damn hot.)

For the most part (note those words!), M/M as the erotic romance community knows it features hardcore-hetero alpha males who just happen to be having sex with each other. Take any of those men, stick them in a het book with some hot blonde chick and he won’t change a bit, beyond the fact he’s now rogering the opposite sex. Presumably the lack of reality doesn’t bother readers. No surprise there; who wants reality in their erotic romance anyway?

So what is it? The mere thought of two otherwise-straight males having sex? I've edited my fair share, and I can recognize and appreciate a sexy, vivid, emotionally riveting M/M scene…but I can’t claim to understand the fascination for readers, at least not enough to justify the meteoric rise of the genre over the last few years. I mean, I don’t want to watch my gay friends getting busy with their partners.

And if straight women are attracted by the idea of two men having sex...why haven't F/F or F/F/M or F/M/F been shown the same love? But that's another for it on Friday.


Anonymous said...

Good question. I can't imagine since I don't read or write it.

What's disheartening is to realize how ePublishers are prone to trends too. Since you've got to be psychic to predict a trend and incredibly lucky to catch one, what chance do the rest of us have? Maybe we should go straight to

Anonymous said...

Anon, let's face it, there's always been a lack of good ideas in any form of entertainment. We have occasional strokes of genius, then genius imitators. That's good *and* bad.

Not psychic? Then your chance comes in how you choose to interpret a trend. What's your twist? An original twist is almost as rare as an original idea.



Debra Glass said...

My guess would be that the popularity of the M/M books began with Brokeback Mountain. Who wasn't turned on by the sheer hotness of Jake and Heath gettin' it on in the wilds?

There are also those female readers who love men and are turned on by all things masculine. M/M books tend to explore the vulnerable side of he-men and women find the stark contrast sexy.

The bottom line is this - Erotic romance is all about the taboo - giving in to one's deepest, darkest fantasies. What could be more taboo than two straight men experimenting?

Erastes said...

No, it didn't begin with Brokeback mountain, women (and the occasional man) have been reading and writing gay romance for decades. The traditional story is that it began with Kirk/Spock but I think it must have begun well before that, and that fandom was just the most popular and helped spread the word.

I'm not answering this question because it has been done to death over and over and we authors are tired of answering it - so I'll point you to this post, which I consider the definitive answer - and subsequent discussion of many answers by Alex Beecroft.

I have it memoried for easy use whenever this question is raised - about four times a year or so!

Jennifer North said...

LOL, KC! I don't want to see ANY of my friends getting busy with their partners (at least not in my usual sober state). But seeing/reading about beautiful or sexy or interesting (or all of the above) strangers getting busy, that's a definite maybe. :o)

Thanks for posting that link, Erastes. I appreciate Alex's ideas on the topic and I appreciate her books. However, as Alex herself suggests, there isn't a "definitive" answer to the question, is there? How can there be when every story, author and reader is coming at this from a different context? And, yeah, I'd have to say that interest in reading about gay love happened way before Kirk and Spock...Ancient Greek poetry, anyone? :o)

Personally I read and write M/M (I have M/M and M/M/M subplots in M/F romances, just to be clear, lol) because I've grown up surrounded by M/M relationships and I think their stories are just as intriguing and romantic as any other kind of story. And because our culture still isn't fully accepting of LBGT folks there's a lot of turmoil, adversity and conflict in M/M...which makes for emotionally wrenching and riveting reading. In romance, the happily ever after guarantees that those struggles will be overcome in a satisfying way and I love that.

As a straight woman men are beautiful and fascinating to me. Sex is beautiful and fascinating to me. So, I guess it follows that I like writing and reading about men and all their potential sexual combos. Always have. I loved the movie Maurice as much as I loved A Room with a View. And I loved the David/Keith plot in Six Feet Under as much as I loved the Nate/Brenda plot (okay, but I liked Rico best, LOL). And Jules has always been my favorite character in Suzanne Brockmann's books.

I think it's a good topic to discuss...because if you engage folks and try to promote discussion (and hopefully understanding) then that's gonna be a positive all around.

And, yeah, I've never understood the lack of love for the F/F combos so I'm looking forward to Friday's post, KC!

Anonymous said...

As a gay man, I write m/m and m/f. I approach them both the same according to the rules I have to follow. Romance calls for a happy ending so I do that. Committed relationships...sure. Fiction is just that...fiction. You want an alpha male? Here you go. You want two? I can do that. I think when we start comparing what happens in books to real life then we get confused and miss the whole point of reading in the first place. It's a fantasy, it's suppose to entertain us. Do I care if my m/m readers give a crap about gay rights? Not at all. I don't write to prove a point or make a statement. I am here for your entertainment. Read, enjoy and give me money.

Anonymous said...

I'm immediately reminded of Laurell K. Hamilton's work.

I think what was so attractive about the way she wrote her M/M/F scenes was 1) there was a heightened conflict between the male characters, and 2) all the characters were even more vulnerable than in a M/F sex scene.

I feel like the more emotions that can go into a sex scene, the better it will be... Although, I'm sure not everyone agrees with that!

Angelia Sparrow said...

I write m/m because I'm uncomfortable writing female characters in a sexual situation.
I fear sliding into Mary-Sueness.

I read m/m, m/f, f/f and every permutation. But the m/f books are more likely to get thrown across the room because the lady is a simpering ninny than the f/f books are.

JM said...

I don't quite understand it. I don't read M/M books because they never truly interested me. I'm going to through my guess into the wild yonder, though, and say maybe it's something to do with women wanting to see (well, read about) men being soft and sensual? If you think one is hot in M/F, why not two?

As for the F/F, I wish it would take off more, but I think there are too many people out there who aren't comfortable enough in their sexuality to read erotica that focuses on two people in a relationship who are the same sex as the reader. Yes, I know it's a huge assumption I'm throwing out there, but it's still my guess.

Barbara Elsborg said...

"aren't comfortable enough in their sexuality to read erotica that focuses on two people in a relationship who are the same sex as the reader."

Is that really the answer? I think its something more basic in our psyche. Men (a lot of hetero men) love the idea of two women getting it together. Mention the word Lesbian and their eyes light up.
Why is so strange that a lot of women like the opposite?
But whereas men like the idea of watching two women, I doubt very much if those same men would want to read about it. Not unless its more porn and less erotic romance.

I write MF, MFM with quite a lot of MM interaction. I can't write FF. I had the chance to insert a piece in one of my latest stories - the set up was perfect and I just couldn't do it. I felt uncomfortable with the whole thing. I have no issue with women loving women. I don't find it unpleasant, repulsive etc etc but I can't write it. Nor do I want to read it.It doesn't turn me on at all. Man on man does. BUT only in fantasy where they are all good looking and damaged and interesting and sexy and cute and - well you get the picture. Sorry to say that most of my gay friends aren't that good looking and they aren't alpha males. Lovely guys but not the heroes of my books.

Anny Cook said...

I'm with Flick. I find that I don't particularly relate to the female even in a m/f story, though I enjoy reading them. At least in a m/f story there's usually SOMEONE I'm interested in.

But I'm growing tired of the plethora of m/m stories. And the same-old, same-old story lines of the ménage stories--especially the contemporaries.

Hmmmm. I guess that just leaves m/f after all.

Katalina said...

Let's face it, erotic M/M or M/M/F sex is not reflective of actual Gay sex. It's about straight women turning inward and getting psychologically cozy with the darker more demanding side of their sexuality. Everything that was taboo for good girls is now the norm in M/M/F erotica. It's a safe way to explore another part of ourselves. Notice how strong the feminine expectations are in M/M/F erotica-the two men, who are usually opposite personalities represent the full spectrum of maleness. They must be deeply committed to each other before they invite a "much needed" third partner into the relationship, which makes the triangle whole. This gives the woman two highly devoted life partners-not a bad fantasy. lol
XXOO Katalina

Anonymous said...

A couple thoughts:

1. If we're talking about straight women, we're talking about people who are accustomed to desiring men (redundant much?). In a straight novel, you've got the opportunity for identification with the heroine's desire for the hero (as well as your own desire for the hero), but when it comes to the hero's desire for the heroine... while you can appreciate it and imagine yourself in its path and identify with it as desire (regardless of gender), it's not necessarily a desire you can imagine yourself feeling. Which is fine.

But in M/M, you've got the opportunity to desire both heroes from your position as a reader (twice the potential hotness), AND twice the opportunity to vicariously desire a man (your preferred gender.) Not that these are the only reasons people read, but if either form of desire is part of your pleasure, M/M gives you a double dose of it.

2. While it's easy enough to write obnoxious, unsympathetic male characters, I think with het romance heroines, not only do you have the possibility of unlikeable ladies *full stop*, you also have the added potential problem of layering your own experience as a woman onto characterizations that rub you wrong. As in, "*I'm* a woman, and what kind of woman does that?"

Of course you can as easily be like "That's not how men are," but with the essential distance and mystery that comes from viewing the opposite sex, it might be a little easier to forgive WTF characterizations (or give them the benefit of the doubt) without the potential "As a woman, I think the heroine is being X".

3. Internalized misogyny. Not a problem for everyone, or even most, but m/m frees you from having to deal with some of the stuff you hate about yourself as a woman (or in other women.) Not that there aren't a buttload of feminized men in M/M, but it's a truism that a lot of the behavior that men and women alike penalize women for is given a free pass in men.

4. The additional potential conflict. Not always there in HoYay M/M, but in your average contemporary, if (straight) boy meets (straight) girl and neither is married and they're attracted to each other, with out a buttload of author injected conflict, there's not a lot of rational reason why they can't be together. (unlike, say, a historical with serious class differences from the start.) Of course coming up with those conflicts is the author's job, and you need them in MM too, but...

You've got the built in potential conflict of a) is he or isn't he gay b) someone possibly being in the closet or never being with a guy before and c) a homophobic society who can throw everything from disdain to job loss to gaybashing at them for simply making googly eyes in public.

Not all M/M have or deal with these issues (whether or not that's by choice), but there's a potential support structure of reasons to keep the H/H apart that means you might not have quite so many "WTF is their problem? This is stupid, why don't they just get together?" moments.


Anonymous said...

(cont'd from last anon comment)

5. As a straight woman, I'm going to tend to find male arousal patterns sexier than I'll find female arousal patterns. And if the woman's arousal pattern is wildly different from my own, I might say "That's now how I experience getting turned on" (consciously or not). With two men, you've got twice the sexy boners and none of the "really? gushing? If I gushed as much as she does I'd have to wear depends."

6. Novelty. Just about everything under the sun has been done a thousand times in het romance. It's *hard* to make fresh. Not that it's not hard to make M/M romance fresh as well, but while most of us have seen a thousand variations on the spinster maiden whose disolute father gambles her hand away to a gruff duke, or the overly driven career woman who's never had a decent orgasm get swept off her feet by the alpha cowboy/sheik/weretiger or the TSTL mild mannered librarian fall for her SEAL bodyguard while they're on the run from some ... whatever,...

There haven't yet been a thousand variations on the two professional athletes or soldiers who fall for each other under circumstances where their love might cost them their careers. Which brings us back to reason four. In today's military or professional sports world, two men falling in love are already handed a boatload of potential juicy conflict and stakes before you even start on who they are and what particular additional circumstances stand in the way of their HEA.

Not all MM readers read for these reasons, and not all MM books appeal for all of these reasons. But combine all of them *plus* every single other reason one might enjoy M/F romance, and you've got a lot of appeal that's more complex than "it's hot".

Anonymous said...

(from anon from previous two long quotes)

@Erastes re: "and we authors are tired of answering it"

While I understand (and sometimes share) your frustration and believe that you and perhaps many of your fellow authors are tired of answering it, you don't speak for all of us.

I, and at least a couple of my m/m author friends don't mind answering it when it's asked politely and in good faith, and we authors, at least some of us, sometimes welcome the opportunity educate, enlighten, or just plain share with curious readers.

The question may be old hat m/m authors or those who have been involved in slash fandom for years, but m/m and slash are still *relatively* niche and underground phenomena, and there are plenty of potential fans who are discovering its existence or indulging their curiosity for the first time every day. All of "we authors" deal with much of the same prejudice, confusion, ignorance, misinformation and stereotypes about M/M.

But not all of us react to honest and polite curiosity about our genre with annoyance and exhaustion. Maybe I'll get there some day. I haven't been doing this as long as you have, I think. But I'm not yet at a place where I feel it's professional or polite to express that annoyance and exhaustion to good faith requests for information.

Even if I occasionally feel it.

Your Mileage, obviously, may vary.

Anonymous said...

I'm a girl.

Being a girl, I already know all about the emotional hills and valleys of being a girl. I know what the sex is like and the complications that arise because of it. I know what girls do and that the emotions (usually) come more easily and are dealt with more easily.

Men, on the other hand.

They're complicated. They run from emotional upset the way I run from spiders. They don't talk it out unless in situations so dire they have no other escape route.
They're skittish and demand reading-between-the-lines in the most fascinating of ways.

So in romantic fiction, you can leave the girl out of it for me. I know her already. F/F and all the menages--snorefest. Been there, lived that (well, not the menages specifically... =) But I don't consider menages romance material, just porn material.)

Give me the m/m. Two impossible, vulnerable men with real emotions that screw them up and leave them lost and bewildered and, in the end, only knowing somewhere deep inside that they need each other more than they've ever needed anyone else in their lives. Let them fumble their way together to their HEA or HFN.
And I'm melted!

That's romance, fresh and intriguing. That's why I love m/m.

Gehayi said...

There are plenty of reasons why women write m/m:

1) Male/male relationships are free from many of the romance stereotypes and expectations found in m/f. That is not to say that they're free of stereotypes altogether, but it's a newer genre and therefore has less baggage attached to it.

2) Ordinary men, historically, had access to areas of society that ordinary women did not--the field of law, the field of medicine, the Church, the military, politics, etc. If you don't want to write about women during a particular era doing things that the law and society did not permit as if women doing such things were the norm, then you write about men. (History is NOT politically correct. Sorry.)

3) Homosexuality was illegal in most countries in the past, and is only just starting to be legalized and/or accepted now. This means that male/male relationships were illegal for much of history. Conflict--legal, societal, cultural and religious--is thus built into the story. It's an absolute gift for a writer. (And I much prefer stories that include the problems of having one's relationship being illegal; it seems disrespectful to those who suffered in the past to represent their country, society and/or religion as being perfectly accepting.)

4) People who read male/male romance are in it as much for the relationship as for the sex. They want to see the two male leads acting like guys and still developing friendships, falling in love, etc.

5) Some women are writing about the characters they identify with and/or find compelling--the male ones. (Which is not a criticism of women or female characters, please note; just an observation that women do not uniformly identify with female characters, nor do men uniformly identify with males.)

That said, I don't like the question, "Why do you (or women) write m/m?" Because when you're asked, "Why are you doing X or Y?", the implication is that you shouldn't be doing this.

It's very odd that people make such a fuss about women writing about gay male characters. I've never seen anyone fuss about men writing about women, straight or otherwise, as they have been doing for thousands upon thousands of years. Yet this is the ninth time I've seen this same question asked in seven months. I confess that I myself do not care whether a man or woman writes the story, so long as it is written well, is plausible, is historically accurate and is entertaining.

I don't like people saying or implying that I don't have a perfect right to write whatever I feel like writing. Stories need to be told in whatever way is best for them. As Alfred Bester used to say, "The book is the boss."

A writer's job is not to "truckle," as Upton Sinclair put it, to someone else's preconceived notions of what is appropriate or why they are writing about the subjects, characters and plots that they choose to write about. A writer's job is simply to tell the truth as he or she sees it and communicate it to the readers in a coherent and, hopefully, entertaining way. No author should be asked to justify his or her choice of genre or subject matter.

And if he or she is asked why, why do they write about that subject, then there's only one proper answer:

"Why not?"

Kimber Li said...

Gehayi, well-stated.

I've ran into similar issues writing African American and biracial characters. I'm white as a bleached sheet. At first, I felt very stupid, but my characters wouldn't budge. They were black and they were beautiful and that was that. And so I was the one who had to change. It was hard and I know I didn't get everything right, because I have no in-the-skin experience. But, I had a lot of help from my friends, on-line and off.

I think any time we write, or read, stories about people who are very different from us, it's both scary and thrilling. And that's the appeal in itself. I love the challenge. Where's the fun in writing, or reading, about myself and the here & now? I'm already me and I already know about my life. I love my life, but, geez, I love to explore the universe too.

I especially like this quote, "That is not to say that they're free of stereotypes altogether, but it's a newer genre and therefore has less baggage attached to it."

Karen, aka ammonite said...

Go Erastes.

Why, why, why. It's hot. Two gorgeous guys turning one another on, writhing, making those noises . . . . If you are a woman who is into men, not just into your own pleasure but into pleasing him, making him, well, you know. Why not?

Lee Rowan said...

I read it & write it, for many of the reasons Gehayi mentioned. Yes, I could conceivably write about a woman who has somehow managed to become captain of a sailing ship in 1801. But no way could she be in the Royal Navy unless it was fantasy or satire. I like historical fiction, and I'm a human being writing about human beings. I don't see myself as a gender first, and I don't view my characters that way either.

I first saw m/m with Kirk/Spock, in the 70's. But Mary Renault had already written her Alexander/Haphaestion books, and there was Front Runner... I think Brokeback brought a somewhat underground fan phenomenon to a wider audience.

As far as being weary of answering "why do you write it?" -- yes, Anonymous-the-female-writer, IF the question is asked in good faith, it's one thing. But most of the time it isn't. When you've had the question thrown from gay men who think you can't write m/m without a prostate (funny, I use a computer), a lesbian who's upset because m/m is doing better than her f/f and would rather blame the other writers than look at her own work, and from hetero m/f traditionalists querying in homophobic tones that make the real question, "eew, why do you do (ick!) write that?... it gets tedious. Anyone could just as easily ask "why do you write romance/mysteries/police procedurals/sci-fi? Why write paranormals, if you aren't a werewolf?

"Why not?" puts the self-examination squarely back on the questioner. Why does anyone find it surprising that humans write about human beings in conflict? It's the essence of drama.

Anonymous-the-first-poster - nobody's psychic, luck is a sometime thing... and trends change. Writing to suit a trend almost never results in a writer's very best work. At the beginning of his career, the late Tony Hillerman had an agent who told him to forget about "those Indian stories." He got a new agent. That's the Tony Hillerman whose mysteries about Navajo policemen put him at the top of the genre and saw his work made into films. Just write the stories you need to tell and wait for the next wave, or start the next wave yourself. Alex Beecroft self-published The Witch's Boy, which I believe was recently picked up by a publisher.

As far as m/m romance being mainly for women... there may be more female readers, but male readers have been more likely to write me and comment, so I think that may be a matter of individual taste or the individual writer.

Essayel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Karen, aka ammonite said...

Esayel's comment reminded me. I, too, dream of being male, have done so since I was a kid. All that reading of male heroes who got to have all the adventures, especially in the paperbacks. There weren't any female heroes in paperback when I was small. Never allowed to do what I wanted. "He's a boy, it's different." Maybe that is where it started. Maybe this is part of the reason why I like m/m the most. I am also an incest survivor. There are lots of us who have survived some kind of childhood abuse. Could this have anything to do with it? Perhaps it is safer to be male or use him the way you want. To give him emotion, to get inside his head, to have some control.