Monday, July 23, 2018

Women and MM Romance


Let's discuss MM Romance and the women who write it—who are the vast majority of writers within the genre, followed by queer people outside the mainstream binary (that is, they identify as genderfluid, genderqueer, nonbinary, and so forth) and of course transgender people.

First, my credentials, since that is important. My name is Megan Derr, if that wasn't already apparent. I am 36 years old. I've been involved in MM since high school, though back then it was almost entirely slash and yaoi, not the formalized MM Romance (MMR) genre that exists now. But we'll get to that. I am asexual and biromantic, have a wife, two queer sisters, and countless queer friends, colleagues, acquaintances, and peers. I have two BAs – one in History, with a focus on Meiji Japan (I had initially planned to be an academic/professor, a career I noped out of pursuing later). The other, actually relevant, is a BA in East Asian Studies, with a focus on yaoi (more specifically, yaoi and women's sexuality/feminism). I've been writing MMR since 2002, publishing since 2007, and a publisher (at Less Than Three Press) since 2009. TL;DR I do know what I'm talking about.

This is going to be a long post. There's a lot of ground to cover, and I don't want to rush anything. But the primary question we are addressing today is the one at the heart of all the latest posts, comments, blogs, and so forth written by gay men about feeling as though they have no voice in the community and women are just using them for money and masturbation.

So in sum: Are women (and other queer people) appropriating cis gay men/romance/sexuality for their own selfish ends?

The short answer is twofold:

  1. No, nothing is being appropriated
  2. Women are allowed to enjoy things sexually, and only sexually, just as much as men


For the longer answer, we'll have to cover a few things:

  1. Women and Sexuality
  2. Appropriation, MM Romance, and Gay Fiction.
  3. Entitlement and Sexism



PART ONE: WOMEN AND SEXUALITY

I'm not interested in playing Oppression Olympics, let's make that clear. I have fibromyalgia, which means I'm in some degree of pain every single day of my life. That doesn't mean that when my wife complains about her feet hurting that I tell her to suck it up because I have it worse.

But it does mean that there are differences to our pain, and those differences have to be take into consideration when we do things. I can't really help her with a lot of yard work and stuff. I definitely can't mow the lawn (not that I did it more than like twice a year anyway, I hate mowing lawns).

What does this have to do with women?

Gay men have certainly had a horrible time of it, historically speaking. The AIDS epidemic struck that community harder than any other. We have awful words like 'faggot' because of the horrific attitudes toward gay men. At the end of the Holocaust, everyone was set free except the gay men, who were simply moved to new prisons. I could go on for pages simply listing the wrongs that gay men have endured for centuries. It's important that not be dismissed or trivialized. Those hurts and wrongs are very real and deserve to be remembered and respected.

But in all these rants by people like Hans M. Hirschi, SM Collins, and F.E. Feeley Jr. not a single one acknowledges they understand the bigger picture of MMR. That women have a dark and ugly history regarding their sexuality too. And that history has a huge bearing on the path that culminates in MMR.

Name some famous gay men, past and present, as many as you can in say, three minutes.

Bet you can come up with a pretty long list.

Now do the same with famous lesbian women.

That list was probably a lot shorter.

What about for bisexual men? Asexual women? Transgender men? Genderfluid people?

The further you get from cis gay men (important to note: also white, we won't even start on POC and the maltreatment thereof, we'd be here for the rest of the year), the fewer names you know. The Greeks, the Romans, the Samurai, cowboys, and all sorts of artists and writers throughout history—all of these have acknowledged gay cultures/sub-cultures. They're not hard to find. History is FILLED with accounts of men fucking other men, even in times when such was taboo and came with a death sentence.

Where are all the accounts of queer women in those same times? Outside of Sappho, most people probably can't rattle off queer Greek women. What about Romans? Know any queer women in feudal Japan? What about the wild west? Or early America at all (like Boston Marriages). What about Renaissance Italy? Everybody knows of Leonardo and Michelangelo, but what lesbians can you name from that time? You probably thoughts of Oscar Wilde, maybe Byron. But what female contemporaries who were queer can you name?

If you could name several, awesome. That means things are improving. But I think it's a safe bet to say that most people could not rattle off a list of queer women as easily as they could gay (and sometimes bisexual) men. And yes, the phrasing is intentional: between the broader 'queer women' and the narrower 'gay men' still the narrower category wins out.

Why is that?

Because historically women's sexuality is considered a nonentity and/or a moral failing.

Gay men are punished for having gay sex. Women are punished for having sex, period. Throughout history, men could leave their house and have all the sex they wanted, married or not, and nobody saw a problem with that. But a woman who has sex without being married, or who has an affair? Condemned. Trollops. Sluts. Ungodly. Ruined. Women who sold sexual services? Trash. You see the same attitudes today: strippers, prostitutes, etc. are constantly looked down on because they provide a service that men want. Nobody ever condemns the man who goes to the strip club; they condemn the woman on stage.

Gay men are condemned for having the wrong kind of sex. Women are condemned for even acknowledging an interest in sex, or for catering to the sexual demands of the men around them.

And when we're not being punished for having a sex drive, we're simply erased—mostly for being women, but also for being women who dared to have sex and be loud and proud about it. Or do you think it's coincidence that H.G. Wells and Jules Verne are considered the fathers of science fiction, even though Mary Shelley's Frankenstein predates them by almost 100 years? Margaret Cavendish published The Blazing World in 1666, but you almost never hear mention of her. That's just one example of women being erased and ignored, and they were both straight to my knowledge. When queer women do anything, they're often rewritten as straight if they're acknowledged at all.

If you don't believe me, look at the way some sports stars were treated by the news in the past couple of years. When Collin Martin took to the field to play a few days after coming out as gay, he was given a standing ovation. After winning an incredible victory and rushing over to kiss her wife, Abby Wambach was first written in reports as celebrating with a friend. It was only later, after outrage, that that mainstream media acknowledged she was queer and kissing her wife. Gay man shows up to work, gets a standing ovation; queer woman wins an incredible victory, gets called straight.

Throughout history, women have been consistently punished and thrown out simply for existing, for simply wanting to enjoy sex the way men have. This has led to a lot of sexism, overt and internalized, in men and women (much like racism is deeply impeded in cultures, to the point we don't even realize some of what we say and do is racist as hell).

But women make do, and have found various outlets throughout the years to express and enjoy their sexuality as best they can. One of the ways they do this currently is via yaoi, slash, and MM.

Yaoi has taken a lot of hits over the years, mostly rightfully, for a lot of its problematic elements (one of those being rape, yaoi is filled with alarming amounts of rape). But it's important to note that yaoi is a Japanese thing that made its way overseas, and eventually overlapped with slash, but slash developed wholly on its own here in the States. Most consider the start of slash to be Star Trek, with the classic Kirk/Spock pairing (the name slash in fact comes from that slash, which differentiated gay pairings from straight pairings). Long before the internet, women typed up and printed and photocopied volumes of stories—what came to be called fanzines, or zines, and mailed them to each other, traded at conventions, and so forth (an interesting parallel to doujinshi culture, which for the sake of brevity, are basically the Japanese comic equivalent of fanfiction).

This is the first argument against women coopting gay culture. It was developed 100% separate from it, by women who saw a compelling couple (or couples, or threesomes, or whatever) and wanted to explore it—romantically, sexually, however. For many women, MM is a way to explore and enjoy their sexuality without all the baggage that comes with being a woman. That is a vitally important point. When you spend your entire life ingesting things like:

He acts like a girl
I'm not like other girls
She dresses like a slut
I'm saving myself for marriage
Sit like a lady
A lady doesn't talk like that
Men don't like it when you do that
Your boyfriend won't like it if you cut your hair
She was asking for it
If you dress like that you're going to get raped
I heard she's slept with lots of guys
You're such a bitch
Don't be such a girl about it
Stop being a drama queen
He's acting like a princess

And much more, what you want most is a way to be free of all that shit. This is not a problem that men have ever faced and would ever understand. Men have never been punished for being sexual, only for having the wrong kind of sex (sex that, basically, makes them "too womanly," as is best demonstrated in the fact that "non-masculine" men like twinks, flamers, etc. are looked down on, as well as those who prefer to bottom or like to wear panties and so forth. And the way cis gay men treat trans men, GQ, and non-binary people is often even more horrific).

Some women enjoy reading romance novels with het relationships, but others prefer to read MMR because for them het MF simply comes with too much baggage.

It's also important to remind everyone here that more than cis women inhabit MMR. Genderfluid people, transgender people, and so forth all have their own reasons for preferring MMR to het MF. The latest wave of anger was in fact started because a genderfluid author wrote about why mpreg was so important to them.

Again, I am not belittling or dismissing the pain that gay men have endured. But a common theme amongst all the angry posts written by them is that women are appropriating their culture, their lives, without considering all the pain and horror they've endured.

But not once have any of those men seemed to consider the painful history that women, as a whole, have endured, and why that might affect what they read, write, and enjoy (in any medium). Men turn to FF only to get off. Women turn to MM to enjoy romance, enjoy stories, and sometimes, yes, to get off without the painful baggage that reading MF and FF often brings.

At no point in history have cis men, as a whole, had to turn to FF to be able to enjoy themselves and their own sexuality because enjoying MF was too difficult or painful.

Which leads to the next point.


PART TWO: APPROPRIATION, MM ROMANCE, AND GAY FICTION

I'm not going to linger long here, mostly because I'm not fit to. I'm a cis white women, and we occupy that awful space of being both oppressed and oppressor, something too many of us like to pretend isn't the case. White women have a long, ugly history of demanding equality for themselves while stomping all over POC, especially WOC, while taking from them those things we like and claiming all the credit, which is some breathtaking hypocrisy.

But the main argument lobbed around this week is that we are appropriating gay men/culture for own our pleasure and money.

I've already covered in the previous point how that's entirely true, but let's flesh it out.

One of the mistakes people make is that MMR is a part of gay fiction. This isn't true. Gay fiction is its own entity, populated and enjoyed predominantly by gay men, and coming primarily from literary fiction., which includes love stories.

MM Romance sprang from slash, yaoi, and evolved as a subgenre of romance, which means it began life with all the tropes, styles, trends, etc of romance (and of genre fiction in general).

These are very different categories. The expectations of literature have next to nothing in common with those of genre fiction. And nothing makes that more apparent than the difference between 'love stories' and 'romance.'

I'll stick with some het examples for this one.

Most people are pretty familiar with at least two love story authors: Jojo Moyes of Me Before You fame, and Nicholas Sparks of The Notebook (and several other books) fame. These are love stories. One of their key traits is that they seldom end happily; most are bittersweet at best. Love stories are closer in style and goal to literature than they are to genre fiction.

Literary fiction is hard to give a precise definition to, and most of the ones you can find can basically be summed up as "better than genre fiction." One particularly contentious definition is 'having literary merit' (seriously?) and another prize one is 'has value or merit in the social world.' Yet another is 'emphasizes meaning over entertainment.'

I think the general takeaway here is that literature is regarded by and large as social commentary first, and everything else second. Genre fiction definitely offers social commentary, but isn't obligated to, and also acknowledges people want to have fun with what they read most of the time.

Probably still not a great definition. My point is that literature plays by very different rules, and love stories are closer to literary fiction than to romance.

Literature is also predominantly by men, as most categories and genres are.

Romance (along with YA and chick lit) is dominated by women. This is important.

Romance, or more specifically genre romance, is defined as (by the RWA):

Two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. 
A Central Love Story: The main plot centers around individuals falling in love and struggling to make the relationship work. A writer can include as many subplots as he/she wants as long as the love story is the main focus of the novel.
An Emotionally Satisfying and Optimistic Ending: In a romance, the lovers who risk and struggle for each other and their relationship are rewarded with emotional justice and unconditional love. 
Romance novels may have any tone or style, be set in any place or time, and have varying levels of sensuality—ranging from sweet to extremely hot. These settings and distinctions of plot create specific subgenres within romance fiction

Love stories have to obey none of that, save there is a couple involved. And MMR, which was largely sprung from fanfiction, follows all of the conventions of genre romance.

Gay romance, as in those stories primarily written by and for gay men? Come from the literary end of the spectrum. Part of this is because for a long time queer books couldn't really be published unless they were miserable (the infamous Bury Your Gays trope that still exists in most mediums) and essentially "punished" for being not straight.

But the other reason is that it was written that way because they're men, who wanted nothing to do with the garbage romance drivel enjoyed by airheaded women. Romance keeps publishing in money – it draws the most money of any genre by far, at 1.44 billion. The next genre down? Crime/mystery at 728.2 million. Literature? Not even in the top five.

And yet it's romance that is constantly derided. Sneered at. Dismissed. Called garbage. Romance authors often get asked "why don't you write real books?" and other awful, demeaning questions. Men who write het romance tend to do so under female pennames and don't advertise they do so.

So gay fiction, including gay romance, is heavily influenced by male-dominated literary and general fiction, and MMR is heavily influenced by genre romance. The only place those two converge, sort of but not really, is in love stories, where, you guessed it, a man is the most famous writer (Nicholas Sparks).

This not a past trend. It continues strong to this day. Men do not want to be lumped in with women. At a convention I once attended, a cis gay author was asked why he wrote romance, and he replied "I don't write romance, I write love stories" even though it was a romance convention, populated by romance authors and readers, and all his books follow the hallmarks of romance books and are published by romance publishers. Men do not want to be associated with women, even as they show up to profit and otherwise benefit from a genre we built.

Because make no mistake, MMR as it looks today was built and shaped by women. From the earliest days of slash and yaoi, when it was labeled slash, m/m, m/m romance, and yaoi on various sites like ff.net and others long vanished, until the founding of Torquere Press in 2003 made it an official genre, where it was written, published, and marketed as part of the romance genre. When Dreamspinner Press opened in 2006, it followed all the same conventions. Before all else, MMR is romance and romance has always been woman-centric. Gay men, like most men, had little to nothing to do with romance until very recent history, with the rise of MMR. Straight men certainly have next to nothing to do with it.

So to say that women appropriated or coopted MMR from gay men is grossly inaccurate. It was inevitable that MMR and gay fiction/love stories would cross paths, but they've been two different entities from their inception.

Gay fiction is predominantly by and for gay men. It was developed from literature, and the trends and conventions therein. It's also influenced by literary requirements/trends that stories about queer people must be punished for being so, and molded by the awful history and present that gay men suffer for daring to not be straight. It focuses on being gay, the gay community, and so forth. These books are gay-centric first, and everything else second.

MMR is predominantly by and for women and queer people, some who simply enjoy reading about two men having sex, but also a great many people who aren't always comfortable expressing and enjoying their own sexuality via MF and FF focused books. It follows the conventions and expectations of the romance genre it's part of, meaning an emphasis on romantic relationships and an emotionally positive and satisfying ending. While they are certainly about queer people, and sometimes the difficulties of being queer, they are romances first.

And this brings us to the final section of this post.


PART THREE: ENTITLEMENT AND SEXISM

Let's tackle the simplest point first: the complaint that women only write MM to get off.

Why exactly is that a problem? Don't gay men use MM to get off? Don't straight men use FF to get off? Don't women and other people use MF and MM and MF and whatever else to get off? So why is it a problem that women and queer people not cis gay men use MM to get off? Why is it only when women are sexually enjoying themselves that men start to get angry? It's not a matter of staying in your lane, because then gay men would be equally angry that straight men use anything other than MF to get off, and lesbians use anything but FF to get off, and they complain about neither. Only about women using MM to get off.

As usual, it's only when women are owning and enjoying their sexuality the way they want instead of the way men tell them to, that men get angry.

So this point is frankly hypocritical and ridiculous. Sexuality is diverse and complicated, and nobody has any right to get angry about what others use to get off (unless it's bring real harm to real people, such as pedophilia).

Which brings us to the next point.

White cis men comprise the most privileged group on earth, and being gay does not absolve them of that privilege, any more than being a queer woman strips me of the privilege that comes from being white.

I'm not denying the problems that exist in MMR. There have been plenty of instances of fetishizing, of women who are homophobic in life enjoying the "dirty" thrill of writing/reading MMR. Of sexual harassment of cover models and porn stars at conventions. The problematic elements of the 'gay for you' trope, the way so many books contain things like forced blowjobs but don't treat them like the rape they are. These are only a few examples, and they need to be better addressed than they have been thus far.

But to say an entire genre is a problem because of bad elements is to basically condemn everything under the sun as wrong because nothing on earth is without problematic elements. Not your favorite person, book, or movie. Even my cats aren't perfect, although Kerberus comes really close.

This latest round started with someone who wanted to talk about why writing mpreg (one of the most contentious elements of MMR) meant so much to them. The comments that have come from gay men (some of them, I want to stress that other gay men have been nothing but supportive and don't deserve the misery brought on by the few) have been distressing, but unsurprising. I've already responded to SA Collins, so I'm not going to rehash him. We're going to focus on three others, and why what they say is so troubling, and what it has to do with the larger matter. We'll start with Liam 'rape comment' Livings:


Think about that. A person makes a heartfelt personal post about what mpreg means to them and a gay man, instead of just chiming in with reasons why he doesn't like it, but can understand why other people might (something many other commenters said) comments with 'I'll just write about women raping each other, first vaginally and then anally and how romantic it is.'

Which was not remotely related to what OP said. A genderfluid person says 'this thing mean a lot to me' and a gay man replies with 'how about if I write about women getting raped, then you'll see how it feels when people write about this thing nobody is making me read.'

And that's not an uncommon reaction with men. A frequent comment that comes up with discussions of equality is 'so if women are equal now does that mean it's okay to hit them?' and when women rant or rave or otherwise dare to talk without bothering to be polite and demure, a depressingly common reply is 'I'm going to come to your house and rape you.'

I once received a DM from a complete stranger who said, 'I'm going to come to your house, tie you up, and throw you in the trunk of my car.' I reported it to FB, who said it wasn't a violation of their policies. A man threatens to kidnap me and he's allowed to carry on without even being banned from FB for a few days.

Somebody who is not a cis man simply says, 'this is why I like X' and a cis man replies with 'well I'm going to write about women getting raped.' He never retracted those words, either. he just doubled down and refused to listen when people tried to correct his misunderstandings regarding the genre and point out why what he'd said was ignorant/harming.







  

What did all this result in for Liam "rape comment" Livings? Pretty much nothing. He just deleted his comments, walked away, and a couple of days later got around to making a shitty non-apology (exactly like SA Collins did) wherein he says bringing the raping of women into the discussion was a "knee-jerk" reaction, which is frankly so distressing that I hope I'm never in a position I have to trust him with my safety.

Now on to our next exhibit, the post of Hans M. Hirschi, well-known in MMR circles for being sexist.

Frankly, his entire post is awful, and filled with ignorance about the romance genre as a whole, not to mention conventions and other components of the business (why never bakers, etc. on the covers of books? Because bakers make their living baking, not being cover models. Same with porn stars – they star in porn, and often do other such work, so they'd be familiar with at least some of the elements of romance/erotica and wouldn't look down on what is essentially paying customers, unlike tax accountants and so forth).

But there are a couple of parts I want to focus on. First, this one:

If anyone were to actually read this, I’d be accused of hating romance, and they might not be entirely wrong. I’ve really begun to dislike the genre as a whole, but not because I dislike love stories, it’s because of the many rules regarding sex in romance and particularly the appropriation of gay men in M/M

Do you notice the qualification? Love stories, not romance. As I mentioned in the previous section, people who don't want to be lumped in with romance writers (but still like the money they think all romance writer make) love to qualify they write 'love stories' and not romance. Even though fairly often their books are, in fact, romance.

Because of the many rules regarding sex in romance

That would be the genre rules, though I've read so many books (MM, FF, MF, MMF, FFM, and more) – that I can honestly say the only hard and fast rule for sex is that it must be consensual to some degree (this is where you get into dubious consent, a staple largely of yaoi but which also has popularity in slash and MM circles) unless the book is heavily focused on consent issues (slave fic being the primary type of story in this category) and related topics.

The next part I want to discuss:

So where do stories about real men go? Those of us (regardless of gender) who write outside the M/M sea label them "gay fiction", but now even that is contested because some of the M/M authors claim that if “M/M is about fiction primarily for women, then I’m not an M/M author. I write gay fiction!” Thank you very much. Now you've just taken our last refuge. I feel like the proverbial Indian being evicted from his reservation! No offense to my native American friends, but you get the point. These people don’t care about us, they care about their balance sheet, and gay men are the pen(ises) to balance their checkbook. #CulturalAppropriation

For the record, there is a lot of confusion and frustration within MMR because so many (men, women, cis, trans, etc) do write books they feel don't belong under the MMR heading – and rightfully so. But MMR is really the only place they can go and be seen, so that's where they go, and both they and readers are left frustrated. This is not a problem unique to gay men, though certainly I can understand the frustration stated here.

I'm not even touching on his "real men" comment, suffice to say it's one more element of the sexism I'm discussing.

I'm mostly focused on the grossly offensive, impressively hypocritical appropriation comments. Worse, it’s not unique to Hirschi, but is in fact an attitude frequently found amongst gay men. Livings even had something to say on the matter:



His experience "may" be wrong. He's cis, he's male, he's white. Being gay doesn't erase that, and being gay and feeling appropriated doesn't mean it's all right to compare how you think fictional gay men are treated to how very real Native Americans were slaughtered and herded until white people were finally content to leave the few that were left alone(ish). It doesn't mean it's okay to threaten women and genderfluid people with rape, even fictional, hypothetical rape.

On to my last exhibit, F.E. Feeley Jr., who thinks MMR is just 'homophobia without the bible verses' which… plenty of homophobia exists without bible verses, but I'll let that one go.

Once you parse through the badly written …whatever that is, you can somewhat ascertain that a man walks into a bathroom where an “Omega” (the one supposed to get pregnant by his alpha) is so “in heat” that he has to bang himself with a vibrator.  It’s pretty gross this idea of dehumanizing someone. The concept of alpha male/ omega male is nothing more than the literary way of walking into a redneck bar with your boyfriend and a well-meaning but slightly inebriated associate asks, “Which one’s the guy and which one’s the girl?” And I think I’m being nice.

He's not being nice. At all. Again, this is an example of a man who ignores all the nuance and history behind a genre, especially since he says that MMR has only been around for ten years.

It's interesting, the vitriol, the violence, that has come from these men regarding mpreg – because all them, to the letter, have spouted horrific things about and to the people who enjoy mpreg. Why is that?

Because sexism. Because pregnancy is generally regarded as a viscerally cis female thing, and the absolute worst thing you can call a man is a woman (slut, bimbo, girly, whore, you're such a girl, stop acting like a woman, bitch beer, girly drinks; the way men have to be male nurses, mannys, wear manbuns and manties, so they're masculine and very much separate from their womanly roots).

What is mpreg? This post is 5000 words long as of this sentence, and I could write at least that much on mpreg alone.

The most basic elements of mpreg is simply that a cis male or cis male equivalent (if the pregnant character is an alien where human definitions and constraints may not apply) gets pregnant, often through highly unconventional means (conventional for this sake means 'doesn't have a uterus or equivalent'). But there is a lot of nuance and variety to the sub-genre.

The most prolific type of this story is called ABO, where people are divided into Alpha, Betas, and Omegas, with Omegas being the cis males who can get pregnant. An almost-universal element of these stories is that the Omegas (and sometimes the others, but always the Omegas) go into heat and the only relief comes from fucking (be it another person, a toy, whatever). Some verses include birth control type drugs, some don't.

Livings' rape comment possibly sprung, at least in some small part, from the fact most of these ABO books deal heavily with consent. It's not uncommon for an Omega to have a horrific past filled with rape and abuse (they're often regarded as 'less'), to live with worries of being too ugly, too used up, too old, etc. to ever find true love, a happy home, loving family, etc. For them to constantly struggle to be seen and treated as equals, instead of always as less, and often not even as human.

Does this sound familiar to anyone? Does anybody reading this see what these stories could possibly parallel? Sometimes it's intentional, sometimes not (and sometimes people just want to write a kinky story about a dude crazed with the need for sex that only another hot man can fix. I've watched porn. I know 'sex-crazed' is not a premise unique to women writing/reading ABO MM fic).

I'm barely touching the surface of mpreg and ABO fiction. It's a category that doesn't get the credit it deserves, probably because it's A) mostly written by women and queer people who are not cis gay men; and B) it puts men in a "womanly" position, which men have a long and sordid history of finding repulsive (or are we going to ignore how often gay men describe vaginas and breasts as 'gross' and call themselves gold-star gays if they've never interacted with a vagina? And don't worry, I think gold-star lesbians are equally awful).

What do all these screenshots and quotes demonstrate?

That cis gay men, broadly speaking, think they are entitled to MMR and that women should not be encroaching on it unless they write what and how cis gay men tell them to. Even though MMR as a genre was built by and for women and queer people, and originated with slash and yaoi, whereas gay fiction has always been the domain of cis gay men and originates with literary fiction.

That cis gay men, broadly speaking, are privileged, are sexist, and both of these things show through in the hostility they display when speaking to and about women in MMR. Nothing demonstrates this more than the vitriol that rose up from cis gay men when a single person simply posted briefly about how much a small category in MMR meant to them, a post that hurt no one and simply demonstrated all the nuance that MMR can and does contain. Instead of appreciating that and having a discussion about viewpoints, the goods and bads of various tropes/premises/etc. they made it all about them, the cis gay men, and ignored everything that was said regarding genderfluidity and exploring one's self, and how much such things mean to people who do not identify as straight or cis.

In summary, no single part of literature (in its broadest sense of 'books') belongs to any one person or group. Care should always be taken when an author writes outside their own bounds (like a white person writing about POC, or an abled person writing disabled characters), but we all come to the stories we write by different paths, for different reasons.

Women have, throughout the course of history, been punished simply for existing. Even cis gay men have a long history of treating us like objects, from marrying a woman for convenience before popping off to spend time with a lover, uncaring at how neglected and hurt their wives felt, to the disgusting history of 'fag hags' and threatening things like rape, real or fictional, the moment their temper is up.

Since so much of that treatment was internalized, many of us turned, ironically enough, to men to enjoy those things we were punished for enjoying as simply ourselves. Because we can explore safely, and with far less censure, those things we couldn't explore with spouses, lovers, friends, or even by enjoying het romances.

To the cis gay men who say that we've stolen their house and should obey or move out of their way, I say:

No. We built this house. It's our safe space to simply be. All are welcome, the more the merrier, and gay men definitely should not be entirely ignored and dismissed.

But it was men who drove us to build this house, and we'll be damned if they turn around and take it from us like they have so much else.

If you can't respect us, all the work we've done, and all the reasons we built this house to begin with?

You move.






SOURCES

This comprises a very small number of relevant resources. I no longer possess many of my old books, some sources simply aren't available anywhere I can find, and I've already spent a lot of hours I didn't have on this and there is work I really really need to be getting done. If there is someone willing to contribute further resources in the comments, I'd be eternally grateful. ~M












Yearning Void and Infinite Potential: Online Slash Fandom as Queer Female Space by Alexis Lothian, Kristina Busse, and Robin Anne Reid

Fanfic and Feminism by Morgan Britt









16 comments:

  1. Thanks so much Megan for your thoughts.

    I am a cis het woman, who has never been comfortable with the perception of women in the Mills and Boon type stories I grew up with.

    Finding MM romance gave me a lovely escape, time to relax and an enjoyable happy ending.

    I have good relationships with people of all genders and a few women have thought me strange for liking the literature I do, and it is certain that romance is looked down on as a genre, but there was a time in my life when those stories - yours including - were life savers and I cannot thank you all enough, that when I was in tiny pieces struggling to survive, those stories of men, some broken or damaged by past hurts, some not. Some unloved and some loved and adored could find strength in a partnership of love in so many variations, kept me going through the dark hours and gave me enough hope that there was good in the world.
    Thanks again,

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  2. Thank you for this thoughtful and educational post. Your concise explanation of why many women read MMR really hit home for me: "For many women, MM is a way to explore and enjoy their sexuality without all the baggage that comes with being a woman." YES.

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  3. Thank you very much for this Post. I learnt a lot, not least that I am not alone in having problems with the usual mf romance. And that I am not alone being on the receiving end of misogyny by gay men. I remember being completely shocked the first time. I naively thought us on the same side. Best wishes from Berlin

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  4. This needed to be said, and it needed to be said now. Thank you.

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  5. Thank you for taking the time to write this. Your carefully constructed post sums up the entire genre, and problems therein, perfectly. It should be required reading for anyone interested in MMR!

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  6. This is a wonderful post. Thank you. I must admit I flounder at times explaining why I write what I write - I'm too used to being told that I *shouldn't* write MM as a 50 year old white privileged CIS het woman.

    It puts me on the defensive, and I'm not the only author out here with some small part of me feeling like I *deserve* to be attacked, and that I am doing something fundamentally wrong.

    So, thank you for this. I will print it out and keep it. Hugs you for taking the time to write this. RJ XXXXX

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  7. This is a wonderful, interesting and informative post, thank you so much for writing it.

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  8. Thoughtful, studied and insightful, thank you for this post Megan.

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  9. I'm a new writer and before I finished my first MM book I went looking for how the community felt about MM. I found the not so nice side. Luckily I stumbled on Jamie Fessenden post. And a good friend already in the genre told me to write. As a WOC the appropriation argument exhaust me because I think people are using it for things that it doesn't apply to. That was how I felt here.

    I'm so happy for this post cos I will definitely be referencing it anytime anyone ask why I read and now write MM!

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  10. Thank you very much for this post! I especially appreciated the bit about mpreg. I'm a white cis lesbian, and have honestly always been a bit freaked out by the genre, but your comments made me realize how truly ignorant I have been of the importance of it. You shed a lot of light on something I had rudely dismissed as a "kink I would just never understand." Thank you again for that.

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  11. Thank you for this post and thank you for putting yourself out there again. Like other commentators, I feel like I have something solid to refer back to. This latest blow up has left me reeling. I've been in the business long enough. I should know better than to think it will ever change.

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  12. This is absolutely brilliant. Seriously, I was clapping the entire time. You summed up so many of my feelings on this that I wasn't articulate enough to get across.

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  13. wow... this was a great read. Thank you

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  14. I'd like to offer a polite contradicting opinion. I read most of your post, skimming over the parts I was already familiar with, as I'm an author who converses with some of the guys you've mentioned.

    I'm also one of the few who wrote his thoughts down in words, trying to separate my feelings as a reader (https://rjcastiglione.com/pride-month-part1/) and as a writer(https://rjcastiglione.com/true-colors-of-writing-gay-fiction-ownvoices-post-pride-month-reflections/).
    I appreciate that you took the time to highlight some of the problems that exist in M/M and how, when we cis gay men encounter them, they are irksome.

    I would like to mention a few things you didn't raise. As a reader, I've found many of these M/M stories I've taken the time to read hound on very sensitive stereotypes that many of us endured when we were too ashamed or afraid to come out. I highlighted a few of those stereotypes in my post about me as a gay writer.

    During this point in my life, when I was still in the closet, I looked to fiction as an outlet, seeking out stories about characters I could relate to. At the time, I found tons. I sneaked my way into a gay bookstore and was inundated with stories that helped me figure out who I was, that gave me courage to break out of the closet, and was offered important connections to gay male authors I could reach out to discuss things.

    Now, though? Not so much. Because MMR can be very, very noisy. You've said as much yourself.

    I'm glad you recognize that problems exist in M/M fiction. In many cases, I find some authors of these stories present gay men in a way they would never tolerate for women. You seem to disguise this fact behind your dialogue on female persecution in history, rationalizing it because women find a safe space in these stories that sometimes come at the expense of gay men. I'm having a tough time rationalizing this. I don't see the reasoning behind rationalizing the merits of a story that uplifts one group of people who have faced hardship over another... that has also faced hardship.

    The one thing we share is the anger we feel as we struggle to be heard. Just as women have historically been ignored, so have gay men. We share the understanding of what it feels like to have our voices drowned out.
    My main problem arises when I find that a lot of authors of M/M romance do not take the time to consider how some of the stories they write will be perceived by gay men in particular.

    I also must point out that your post possesses the same type of anger toward gay men that some of these gay authors have expressed, along with the idea that we have no right to raise our voices to express some of our frustrations because we are, first and foremost, cis men. This was just my perception after reading your post. My perception does not necessarily correctly reflect your intentions.

    In an ideal world, we could all get along perfectly. I see no reason why that's not possible. But given some of the things coming out of MMR today, it's difficult. From porn stars at book conventions (something some gay men wrongfully love, TBH), to stories that draw gay male readers back into very difficult times in their lives, to the simple fact that there's no author platform that can accurately distinguish both houses of work, these clashes are going to happen.

    And, it can also be said that the fault is not with just one side of the argument. Many MMR books feature white alpha males. To many of us gay men, that reflects the very real problem among gay men of body shaming, objectification, and rampant racism. And it is something women experience as well in traditional het romance.

    But in your seeking to escape that through MMR, you're not just avoiding it. You're shifting it onto us. And it doesn't feel good, especially as we continue to struggle with having the short end of the social stick with so many straight men and women still fighting to persecute LGBT people.

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  15. A few years ago I had a friend who, knowing my fondness for rewritten fairy tales, strongly recommended Fairytales Slashed. I had no idea what slashed meant at the time; my romance reading was solely MF up to then. I fell in love with your writing and started getting everything you wrote. Now I have a number of MMR writers I look for, and I enjoy this genre more than the MF romances I used to read.

    For me, M/M and F/F romances are emotionally satisfying in a way MF romances aren't. The power imbalance is always there in MF romances. Maybe it's celebrated, maybe it's fought against, but it's always there, the big ol' elephant in the room. Take that out of the relationship and everything gets better. The stories are more interesting, the relationships more complex. I like ditching the baggage.

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  16. This. So very much this. Your comment:
    " Women turn to MM to enjoy romance, enjoy stories, and sometimes, yes, to get off without the painful baggage that reading MF and FF often brings."
    Explains exactly why I read MMR.
    My journey to Slash began with Blake's Seven (Avon/Vila) and then to Star Trek (K/S) but as MMR moved closer to mainstream I found a genre of stories that weren't bogged down in the "Virgin/Mother/Whore" narrative that sits firmly at the base of most MF writing.
    Even now, a quick perusal of romance books om [insert favorite book site here] shows an overabundance of tropes that fall into the above mentioned triumvirate with an addition of the Alpha Bitch class of female, most of which feed into the narrative that a woman's role is to please men, in one way or another.
    For me, most MMR stories read as tales of people not "gender" and they often talk to the struggles of life where sex doesn't fix things. Yes, a lot of MMR can read as very strong pronography but some of the best MMR have little or no explicit detail... They don't need it because the story, and characters, are compelling.

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