If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the recent internet outbreak of speculation about OMG!why? do “straight” women read and/or write romances about gay men (LINKS: OUT magazine article that started it all, Gawker’s response, Lambda’s original response, Erastes’ response to Gawker, TeddyPig’s response, Gehayi’s response, Victoria Brownworth’s Lambda-sponsored response that is the subject of this post), it’s that everyone has their niche to fill and their script to follow and that everyone does an admirable job of doing precisely that.
Cintra Wilson fills her role of (apparently) being snide and supercilious quite well in the original OUT article. I can’t quite make out her stance on the issue, but I do appreciate that she let Beecroft and Erastes mostly talk for themselves, despite how wrong the headline-writer originally was in calling Erastes and Beecroft “straight”. Gawker does a great job of being snarky and impenetrable. I’ve read their response four times and canNOT make out which side of the issue the author is arguing from. In the comments to Brownworth’s hatchet job (which, OMG, you fall into them and never get out), Paul Bens does a great job of following his self-imposed script AND of cuing the scripts other people follow as if it were somehow their contractual obligation. They, of course, oblige with his cues. The layers of irony are mind-boggling.
And I will now fulfill my role, follow my script, say the predictable thing that I always say because of my own particular obsession and the position from which I’m commenting. At least I know I’m doing it—that should count for something, right? But I’ll say it anyway, because, like the other commenters, I’m convinced that my piece needs to be said and recognized by everyone else, even if no one really listens because they’re caught in their own little circular script.
I’m discussing here the Brownworth article in particular, not only because it’s the most desperately defensive but also because she’s the new voice in the debate. As I said, Erastes, Beecroft, Bens, Gehayi, even Lambda in their original article (schizophrenic as it is) all fulfill their predetermined script/role. But Brownworth is a new voice, a voice backed by an extensive resume that she doesn’t hesitate to wield rather indiscriminately. And it was her arguments that were the most egregiously incorrect, badly written, and offensive, which was disappointing precisely because of her credentials as a writer and a journalist.
- It doesn’t help your case by accusing something you don’t like (m/m romance) of all the –isms (sexism, racism, homophobia). It just makes you sound like Chicken Little.
- Surely there is SOME difference between m/m romances with their prescribed HEAs and the lesbian pulp fiction of your youth which pathologized lesbianism? No? Really? Nothing?
- Do your (insert swearword) research:
- Not ALL m/m authors take male names. Not even when it first started, even though there were certainly more then. Most have rather sheepishly come out of the closet in the past few years.
- No, the majority of m/m romances are NOT historicals. People who don’t do their research think this because Erastes, Lee Rowan, and mainly, Running Press, have quite the little publicity machine going (and good for them, I say). But in the comments to Brownworth’s article, Elisa Rolle provides some amazing statistics showing that historical are 10% of m/m romances published.
- I have NEVER read a rape in a m/m romance. This might (I said MIGHT—I don’t know!) be a feature of some slash writing, but I’d say (educated GUESS here, please advise) early slash and/or very specific niche slash. But NOT m/m romance.
- No, there is not a “male” man and a “feminine” man. Or at least, there isn’t in most m/m romances I’ve read. Maybe in yaoi. Maybe, again, in slash. Not in m/m romances. This presents its own problems, in that most of the heroes of m/m romances are constructed as very “straight looking, straight acting” men. In fact, when more stereotypically “feminine” gay men are portrayed (the wonderful Joey in the incomparable K.A. Mitchell’s Collision Course), I usually applaud it. As long as it’s well-done, it speaks to the many variations of the gay experience.
- No, most m/m authors are not straight women. Or at least, in my experience, most of the best m/m authors are in some way either gender queer or have some sort of alternate sexuality (and no, GLB just doesn’t cover all “alternate” sexuality, thank you very much). (NOT all m/m authors are not-straight, I hasten to add. I present Heidi Cullinan as Exhibit #1.)
- No, there is NOT an inherent disrespect of gay male relationships–although I’m sure Brownworth would argue “Who am I to make that determination?” But from my understanding of her article, the disrespect she’s talking about is not how the best of m/m romance treats its subjects. And most of the egregious vocabulary has changed, at least in the best of the fiction. And, personally, I’ve read about men “fisting” their cocks (ie: jacking off) in stories I KNOW are written by men, both gay and straight.
- I might also say to Brownworth: Get over yourself. “Our relationships and sexuality are sacrosanct in their differentness from heterosexual relationships.” Really? REALLY? My same-sex relationships haven’t been, but maybe I’m not REALLY gay, considering I’m only bisexual? Or maybe it’s a generational thing. Coming out in 2009, versus coming out in the 1970s or 80s is, admittedly, a hugely different thing.
But, that’s not really the niche I want to fill right now. My response, my script, is not generic scholar writ large or the very small subset of m/m romance scholar/reader. Rather, I am writing here as a POPULAR ROMANCE scholar. And in the comments, Ms. Brownworth said something so egregiously rude and dismissive in the comments, that I would argue that the issue is not that (supposedly straight) women are writing about—or even fetishizing—gay men (and I’m not going to deny that particular claim, actually), but that anyone is daring to give anyone else a happy ending.
Brownworth said to Elisa Rolle, who continues to communicate brilliantly in English considering it’s not her first language, that “that she might have less of a language problem if she were reading something less low-brow, but that was probably mean of me.” Yes, indeed it was. But really, Brownworth’s fundamental assumption that these m/m ROMANCES are low-brow, are NOT art, are trash, pulp, worthless, worthy of derision, is, I argue, the real issue. I’m not even going to get into the commercial debate (would we be having this discussion if m/m weren’t successful?), because, to my mind, that’s not what you’re talking about here. Brownworth isn’t upset that m/m romance is successful; she’s upset that it’s low-brow. She’s upset, specifically and in my opinion, that m/m romance is ROMANCE.
And really, THAT’S what pisses ME off more than anything else.