man oh man

There’s an article in LA Weekly about gay romance. Mostly, it’s cool that attention is being paid to the genre. But comments, I has them.

She uses the pen name “James Buchanan” because in the niche of the gay-romance novel, publishers see male writers as more authentic and, more importantly, so do readers.

I wonder about this. There’s probably some truth to it. I’ve read one of James Buchanan’s books (Hard Falling, which I quite enjoyed) and didn’t know she was a woman until I read the About the Author at the end. The statement, though, ignores excellent female writers of m/m romance with female names like Clare London and Laura Baumbach, to name a few. When I started pursuing publication, I gave the pen name thing a lot of thought. I came down on the side of having an obviously female name, I guess because I figured my readers would know they were getting a romance written by a woman. Whether there’s a difference between m/m penned by men or penned by women is up for debate. (And the article continues: “It’s an entirely hollow gesture to the genre’s growing number of fans. They know Buchanan is a woman, just as they know that most gay-romance novels are written by women like her.”)

In many ways the growing popularity of gay romance represents nothing less than a tectonic shift in a culture that says women don’t (and shouldn’t) consume porn. Hot and steamy gay-romance literature is to women what Internet porn is to men: They get off on it, mostly in secret, and keep coming back for more.

This is also true to a point, but bothersome. I hate the “romance novels are porn for women” meme in discussions of the genre, because it’s not really true. It’s certainly not why I read romance novels. I personally am a sucker for a good love story, but also, there’s a lot of interesting, subversive stuff happening now, especially out of small and ebook-only presses, and saying “romance is porn” undermines a lot of it. Not that there aren’t a lot of smutty books coming out, too.

But, example: Sean Kennedy’s novel Tigers and Devils was nominated for an ebook award in the erotica category. The book is excellent and definitely worthy of all the award nominations you want to pile on it, but there’s no on-the-page sex at all. To me, a book with no explicit sex scenes is not erotica. But both people engaging in the off-the-page sex are male, so… must be erotica?

Although, to be fair, the article discusses some other reasons why women are devouring gay romance. Some theories are reasons I’d agree with. There’s the obvious: straight women like to watch men make out with each other the same way straight men like to watch women get it on. There’s the less obvious and, to me, more compelling: gay romance is romance with the gender politics removed. The protagonists are on equal footing.

Or, you know, porn for women. *eyeroll*

For UCLA psychologist Paul Abramson, author of the forthcoming Sex Appeal: Six Ethical Principles for the 21st Century, pornography is to male psychology what romance fiction is to female psychology. These books are “the story of a heroine overcoming all these obstacles to unite with a hero,” he says. “That is what pushes these male-male romance stories. If you make it two males, they still embody female psychology. There’s still the quest for romance, love and intense emotional feelings.”

The male characters in gay romances, then, are perhaps men only superficially. At heart they’re women. They may look like boys, and make love with male bodies, but they think and act and love like girls.

I disagree. There was some discussion of this in the comments of this Jessewave post. I’ve written here that one of my goals is to make male characters read authentically male. I think the best writers in the genre (some of whom are male) accomplish this.

The article also has interviews with some big names in the genre, like Jet Mykles and AM Riley, but mostly they talk about spicy sex scenes.

I don’t know. Above all, I want to tell a good story. The tricky thing with romance is that traditional romance is so full of gender essentialism and, dare I say it, sexism. One of the things that I’ve really loved about exploring romance via the big e-publishers is that these smaller houses are more willing to take chances on novels that are unusual and different. I view the sexy parts as gravy.