Over the last decade or so, one of the fastest growing sub-genres in the romance market has been queer romance – mostly male/male romance, which is by far the largest and most popular part of that particular sector. Apart from Harlequin’s Carina Press, LGBTQ+ romance has mostly been the province of smaller independent publishers such as Riptide, Nine Star, Bold Strokes and the now-defunct Samhain, and of an ever increasing number of authors who self-publish.
That’s started to change recently, however. In 2016, Avon Impulse (at that time a digital only imprint) published Cat Sebastian’s début m/m historical, The Soldier’s Scoundrel – complete with a typically HR “clinch” cover – and in 2017, Grand Central Publishing’s Forever imprint published the first two books in Alexis Hall’s Arden St. Ives trilogy (book three followed in 2019). Last year, Sourcebooks published the same author’s Boyfriend Material, which was a finalist in the 2020 Goodreads Choice Awards and – far more importantly – was voted one of the Top Ten books of 2020 by AAR readers! Last year, Harlequin announced that they would be publishing an m/m romance in one of their main category romance lines. The past few weeks have seen announcements that KJ Charles has been signed up to write two m/m historicals for Sourcebooks, and that was followed by the news that they’re to publish five new titles by Alexis Hall, and will also be publishing special editions of his Spires series. It’s taken a while, but m/m romance is finally being seen as commercially viable by the bigger traditional publishers.
This got me thinking. I’ve been with AAR since early 2013, and have been editing and inputting reviews since 2015, so I read pretty much every review we publish. Obviously, I can’t say I recall EVERY review we’ve published since 2015, but I do have a feel for the overall… balance, if you like – of the subgenres of the books we review. My gut instinct tells me that AAR has been doing a pretty good job over the past few years of reviewing queer romances, but that it wasn’t always that way, so I decided to trawl back through the last few years to see how we’re doing.
The news is good, broadly speaking. It will probably not be too much of a surprise when I say that in 2010 – according to our Power Search – we reviewed a grand total of ONE queer romance – an m/m title – out of a total of 496 reviews published of books published in 2010. (Note: the overall number of books reviewed that year was 564 – I’m just counting books published in 2010). It’s hard to find figures for the actual number of LGBTQ+ romances published that year (or any year, actually), but I’m willing to bet it was more than one!
Fast forward to 2018, and we’re doing better. Of a total of 564 reviews (of books published in 2018) 45 were of queer romances – 43 m/m and 2 f/f.
2019 – total reviews of books published in 2019 – 655 (a bumper year!), and 65 were of queer books – 58 m/m and 7 f/f
And in 2020, of a total of 565 reviews of books published in 2020, we published 79 reviews of queer books – 72 m/m and 7 f/f.
And for what it’s worth, at time of writing, 25% of our reviews published 20 far in 2021 are of queer books. (13 of 52 in total).
I think it’s fair to say, our coverage has come on in leaps and bounds, but it’s also clear that there’s more work for us to do. F/F romance is a much smaller part of the market, although it’s growing and so is our coverage, but we could still do more. And then there are romances featuring LGBTQ+ characters that don’t fall under the umbrella of m/m or f/f romances. Again, they’re a much smaller part of the market, but it exists and we could do more to give visibility to those titles.
When you add the number of reviews for queer romances published in 2020 to the number of books we reviewed by authors of colour, AAR’s coverage of diverse romances sits at a pretty healthy 33.45%, (189 reviews of a total of 565 reviews – again these are books that were actually published in 2020) – just over one third of our reviews last year featured LGBTQ+ characters and characters of colour.
We’re pleased with how far we’ve come and are committed to continuing that upward trend. We hope you are too!
A small correction to this article–I believe that most of Hall’s Spires series was published by Riptide and Hall took back the rights after Riptide’s harassment scandal. Also, I think for a while the Spires books were self-published by him.
Yes, I think you’re right. I’ll amend.
Wow, what a great topic of discussion! I have enjoyed reading all the comments so far, agreed with quite a few, and hope to add something that isn’t too repetitive.
First, while I think it’s great that Harlequin is going to publish their first m/m category romance, I am also worried that it could mark the beginning of flattening out these m/m narratives a lot of us are currently enjoying. Think of it this way. Until recently, m/m was widely regarded as something edgy, deviant, and/or niche. As such, the genre ironically had the freedom to tap into characters, stories, and narratives that a mainstream publisher wouldn’t be willing to touch. Because if you’re an outlier, why not pull out the stops and hold nothing back? That’s not to say certain clichés didn’t emerge, but there was a kind of freedom writing and reading within a subculture as opposed to the mainstream.
But now that m/m is becoming a mainstream subgenre, there’s a real risk of major publishers whittling down m/m category romances into a corporate-approved, highly structured formula for mass consumption. It’s like how self-published author Ellen Finnigan lamented that major American publishers are in the business of producing “ideological cheeseburgers” rather than unique reading experiences.
I hope I’m terribly wrong about this and that we continue to get great stories in a variety of pairings- including more outside-the-box m/f. But if the declining quality of HR is any indication, I’m not too hopeful. It would be naïve of me to think that the overly formulaic The Vicar and the Rake was just a fluke. If anything, it might be a terrible harbinger of the future of HR m/m. *shudders*
Second, I think one of the many reasons why certain m/f subgenres have gotten so clichéd and annoying is because those formulas sell big time. I’ve always gotten the impression that the commenters at AAR tend to deviate quite a bit from the standard sales pattern of romance. I don’t mean this in a disparaging way. I just mean that for a lot of romance readers, the clichés many of us at AAR find appalling make big bucks in the mainstream. From a business perspective, our opinions don’t matter much because we make up a smaller portion of the readership than those totally satisfied by the “ideological cheeseburgers” mainstream publishers are producing. Am I onto something with this?
The book The People’s Guide to Publishing described a similar phenomenon, saying that mainstream publishers have gutted their midlist titles expected to sell only 5,000 – 10,000 copies because that’s penny-ante stuff for the Big 5. Therefore, the author argued, you’ll see more of these titles among self-published work and small presses while traditional publishers keep a narrow but mainstream focus in their content selection.
Finally, I think AAR does a great job ensuring variety in their reviews. Keep up the good work!
I don’t think that’s disparaging at all – I think it’s a fair comment. Let’s face it, when hyou read as much romance as we do and have been reading it as long as most of us have, we’re bound to get more and more discerning and look for the deviations from those standard formulae or for authors who can make them work in a different way. I’m sure we all regularly read reviews of books we think are C/D grades but which make the Big Bucks.
I am pretty sure that Harlequin category is going to be written by someone good (I’ve got Garrett Leigh in my head, but I couldn’t find the announcement to check, so I could be wrong – but it’s someone already active in the genre and a recognisable “name”.)
I read a post on Harlequin’s blog stating that Roan Parrish’s m/m book The Lights on Knockbridge Lane will be published by Harlequin Special Edition in October. It’s going to be a Christmas story. Here is the link for those interested: Q&A with Carina Press author Roan Parrish – Write for Harlequin. I don’t know whether or not it will be the first Harlequin category m/m, but it will be one of them anyway.
That might be it – I had GL and RP in my head actually, but I just finished a GL book, so she was at the forefront of my mind!
That’s absolutely true Nan. Most big romance novels are aimed at the casual reader not the voracious ones that like to post here (myself humbly included).
It’s also why Siskel and Ebert and other movie critics were/are often criticized for being out of touch with the mainstream audience and how award winners often don’t line up with public taste. In general, most audiences aren’t going to choose smaller, arty films with a lot of symbolism over large tent pole, blockbusters.
Same with romances. Think of the most original, well written romance you have ever read and wonder why it (likely) never hit the bestseller lists like “50 Shades of Grey”.
I think it’s almost inevitable that with the popularization of m/m romances things will get watered down and flattened out when they are mass produced. It’s just the way things go when they are pumped out to try and appeal to the widest possible audience.You start off with a gourmet Italian meal and end up with Chef Boyardee.
I agree. And it happens all the time, in romance, I think:
The tides in and out that stick out:
Woodiwiss and Rosemary Rogers, (and at the same time Gellis was published by one of the same imprints, with the same bodyce ripper covers). Then the HR pirates and the sheiks with harem slaves got mass appeal, and everyone wrote them. And apart from Woodiwiss being horrible when I try her today, she was writing a good story for then! And so many of those follow up books were really bland and trite. And there were gems like Judith McNaught (again, grew out of her, but great writing then).
Judith Krantz was another type of book that started a whole industry.
Suzanne Brockmann’s SEALS…
When the whole vampire thing started, it was edgy and the first trailblazer books were exceptional. Laurell K Hamilton’s first 8 or 9 books – wow. Tanya Huff – wow. Charlaine Harris first few books – wow. Then everyone got into vampires, and it go to be difficult to find good ones.
Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey…
I am sure I am leaving out a lot of trends, those are ones were I feel I was there, so to say, and read some of the totally new, totally outstanding book(s) that started it all.
Probably m/m will be like that.
We will still find good books, and enjoy them, but we will need to have more advice like AAR to weed out the stuff that really wastes our time.
The one lovely thing in the sadness of quality loss / mid-list shrinkage is that there are options outside rigid publisher mass appeal. Publishing independently is possible, and so, I am not just losing an author because a publisher is not picking them up.
Here, I truly bless the internet & amazon!
Before that, finding books by new authors that were not already filtered through many many layers (publisher, importer, few foreign language bookshops) was near impossible. I remember traveling to US and trawling bookstores, and used bookstores, and being so grateful that at that time, US airports mostly ignored luggage weight restrictions and I could get away with super heavy suitcases full of used books to take home – and the duds I could not weed out without sites like this one … Discovering Romantic Times magazine that in all its weaknesses was still so much of a good resource to me then…
Memory lane :-)
Here’s your queer tags list!
We don’t currently have a separate tag for trans characters – we don’t have a lot in the DB – but I can always create one if there is interest.
We also have a tag for romances with bisexual protagonists; you’d have to look at the individual stories to see if these end up m/f, f/f or menage.
OR m/m derp
As one of the site’s openly queer reviewers, this pleases me. More of this.
I wrote my first romance novel when I was in graduate school, and at the time had only three people in my life who identified as Not Straight. Those people are still in my life, but now there are a lot more. During the many years before I picked up writing again, my whole view of the world changed. (Moving from Georgia to Los Angeles helped with that.) Knowing more different kinds of people made me more interested in people.
Which may be one reason that since 2018 I have not only been writing at a fast pace, I’ve been reading subgenres I never read before. I’m writing about 60/40 M/M vs M/F and reading roughly 90/10.
Part of the reason is that from 1977-ish (when I discovered romance) to now I’ve read a lot of M/F romance. Bodice-rippers, ‘category’ romance, Signet regencies, big fat historicals, angst-ridden contemporaries, rom-coms and romantic suspense. There is always something new to discover – Joanna Bourne’s Spymaster series, for example, is new to me – but in many cases when I glance at a M/F book review I think ‘read that, moving on.’
The same doesn’t apply to M/M. I’m fascinated by the way different authors approach storylines or scenaria that I’ve seen in M/F and spin them out for M/M. When a M/M couple wants children, or if a character has experienced abuse, it’s going to play differently than in M/F. When there is a career conflict, there’s no built-in expectation about which character will compromise. There are countless very good reasons why moving to, or staying in, a small town is a giant NO for a lot of gay men. In every time period, men simply have more freedom to act than women do.
In historical settings, you’re dealing with relationships that could lead to prison or worse. It’s a conflict with no comparison in the world of M/F, because there are still a lot of places in the world where gay men are at risk of being killed in the street for no other reason than they’re gay. In the bad old days of romance, a gay character was usually the villain. So there’s considerable satisfaction in seeing these men as heroes now.
I’m a hero-focused reader (and writer). As a reader, I like to see how an author explores relationships between men. As a writer, ensuring that my male characters are not Same Guy Different Name is a joyous challenge. Playing around with conventional tropes has led me to some interesting subtext and backstory that might not have occurred to me in writing a M/F couple. Maybe because I have to wholly imagine it, and also consciously take myself – a straight woman – out of the story. And the flip side of that is that the character work I’m doing for M/M is leading to much stronger character work for my M/F stories.
Of course that’s all subjective, but everything about reading is. :-)
I only got into romance in a big way in the early-mid 2000s, but this:
but in many cases when I glance at a M/F book review I think ‘read that, moving on.’
describes many of my reactions, as well.
This is a great comment that crystallises many of the reasons I prefer m/m these days. Of course, like all genres, there is plenty of dross, and I don’t think I’ll ever understand mPreg, but what you say about dynamics and expectations makes a lot of sense.
LOL mPreg, yeah, I’m not a child-oriented person so I tend to skip anything that’s obviously About Having Babies.
I have kids, but even I draw the line at that! And I’m not a fan of m/f babylogues either.
Things have definitely come a long way. When clearing out my old email folders a while back I came across my folder for when I was reviewing for Audiogals and Speaking of Audiobooks here on AAR. In it was an email in response to my wish to review a m/m book on Audiogals. The site founders had decided not to review m/m books “at this time.” That was, I believe, 2011 or 2012. I’m not sure when they reversed that decision. Maybe Caz knows. I stopped reviewing around the time Lea left (and my life sort of blew up). :-)
I haven’t been drawn to f/f books and I’m not sure of the reasons. I need to try a few and see how they hit me.
I was aware of that (AG not reviewing m/m) but not the reason why. I have theories, but nothing concrete. Of course now, AG probably reviews a higher percentage of m/m than AAR does! But then, AG publishes fewer reviews per year, and I write a large percentage of them, so it means the proportion of m/m to m/f is much higher – I reckon about 50% of the reviews at AG are m/m these days. I confess that the only f/f book I’ve read so far is Proper English by KJ Charles – which I picked up because it was KJC, not because it was f/f.
Honestly the reasons for not reviewing m/m romances was a fear of upsetting their readers and losing readership. M/m was still a little scandalous at that time and they feared blow-back. I’m very happy things started to change.
Well, yes, that was my feeling as well. Also, I remember that the founder came from quite a conservative background and family – which is why she used a different name; she didn’t want them to know she listened to books with sex in them, and obviously had no issues publishing the reviews we wrote of books with sex in them!
Things have changed so much in just the last 10 years or so it’s really amazing. I was talking to a friend of mine last year about how much society has changed and opened up and he was saying he never could have dreamed when he was younger that he could be married to another man, live openly and happily with him and have the support he does. He had some very tragic experiences with hate when he was a young man and for him to be living the life he has now seems like a dream he never would have allowed himself to imagine when he was younger. Like the old Virginia Slims ads used to say… We’ve Come A Long Way Baby.
And that gives me comfort, that we are actually getting some big stuff right, in all that apparent horrible wrongness that we are living in the last few years.
It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago I couldn’t review an m/m book, but today we think nothing about it. Whatever the pros and cons of how the books are written and by whom and for whom, there is no denying that they are now out there and mainstream. Acceptance is there even as we debate some of the details. I’m glad the discussion has moved on from whether or not it’s “allowed” to the writers and readers and representation. At least we’re talking about the right stuff now.
Similar to how my tastes gravitated from historical romances to contemporary romances over the past five or so years, so I see my tastes moving from almost exclusively m/f pairings to about 50/50 between m/f and m/m now. In fact, for the past two years, my favorite book of the year has been an m/m romance (Rachel Reid’s HEATED RIVALRY in 2019 and N.R. Walker’s THE MISSING PIECES Trilogy in 2020). I can’t really account for the change—possibly there are simply more m/m romances available now or perhaps because in m/m romance male-female gender politics don’t come into play.
That last one is interesting. How do you see gender politics playing out differently? Because the patriarchy isn’t a thing in m/m? Or women and men have trickier minefields to navigate today? Something else?
It’s an interesting question, and I do think the gender politics issue is a valid one. I’ve gravitated from reading almost exclusively HR to reading mostly m/m romances – romantic suspense and contemporaries – and I rarely read contemporary m/f romances. I read an interesting study recently called – A Consumption of gay men – Navigating the shifting boundaries of m/m romantic readership,by K. Whalen – which looks directly at why m/m romance is mostly read and written by women.
There are a variety of reasons given as to why women like to read m/m) given in the polls the writer conducted; one was “no TSTL whiny heroines!”, and another – which I relate to – that hero-centric readers (which I am) “can pick both heroes without having to choose and is not annoyed by the weak heroine”. For others, there’s more freedom in the storytelling and the difference in the dynamic – “I find that eliminating the female character altogether removes a lot of that frustration [of traditional (unequal) gender roles.” I also thought that this point about comparing to/identifying with heroines was a good one – “When I read m/m, as a woman, I don’t compare myself to the MCs .If I’m reading m/f, I’m always subconsciously comparing myself to the female MC and therefore shut down some storylines. I just can’t picture myself doing some of those things. With m/m, I’m free to enjoy all storylines.”
I don’t agree with everything she has to say, but it’s an interesting study.
I can identify with all the quotes you listed. I read very few m/f contemporary romances,and I’m rarely very happy with them when I do. I was amazed to find slut shaming in several of the m/f books I read last year, all published in the past 4 or 5 years. Some of it was subtle, but some made my blood boil. In Dirty Letters by Vi Keeland the hero is excusing his past behavior this way:
Griffin: I’ve had a lot of sex, but most of the time it’s a means to an end, and when it’s over, there is nothing worth clinging on to. I’m not proud of that, but women (at least out here) make it too easy for men. For the most part, we’ll take what you offer up, but it’s nice to have to fight for it sometimes. I don’t want to be with someone who’s okay with me just sticking my dick inside her and going home. You wouldn’t believe how many shallow women I come across each day who are just perfectly fine with—as Americans say—“wham bam thank you ma’am.”
Big NOPE! Why is it okay for the guys but not the women? They’re called shallow but he’s not?
Anyway, gender politics is still evident in most m/f romances and it’s just exhausting to me and rarely funny. Only the heroines binge eat when stressed, and grabbing the bag of cookies or the pint of ice cream is played for laughs, as is the obligatory “Now I need to run 5 miles instead of 3 tomorrow!”
None of this enters my mind when it’s m/m. And either mc can lead the way in the pursuit or the bedroom without any thought to the readers’ preconceived ideas about who makes the first move, or how to power share in the bedroom. I know some contemporary m/f authors are doing this as well, but too few and it’s difficult to know up front.
I’m not much of a contemporary reader in any genre, but this would be a total annoyance to me as well. Has anyone ever seen a CR where the heroine instead says after that pint of ice cream, “It’s a good thing this is Sunday, and I pump iron three times per week.”? ;-)
TJ Klune has binge eating heroes – I noted it specially because it was so lovely to see. Lily Morton too, I seem to remember.
I mean, not the binge eating, but the fact that it was a man.
I’m all for romance in all it’s incarnations and I love that people can find whatever love story or protagonists that appeal to them in the current market.
That being said, I personally find the quotes above from women on why they love m/m romance exclusively to be more than a little disturbing.
Rather than a celebration of m/m romance and it’s unique viewpoint, it sounds more like dumping on women and heroines. Either because heroines are “weak, whiny or TSTL” or because the reader is in some competition in their mind with the heroine as they read.
As a woman who grew up having to read (almost exclusively) “great books” in school where a female character (Lord of The Flies, Adventures of Huck Finn, The Red Badge of Courage) often didn’t EXIST, let alone have a main role or agency, my personal reading was saturated with strong heroines and female points of view.
Those quotes posted just made me really…..kinda sad.
For me I think it’s some of both. I love the unique perspective of m/m interactions and I’m really tired of gender politics. I love strong heroines who are in charge of themselves and their sexuality, I enjoy heroines who are navigating the world in a gentler, more introspective way as well. But I’m really, really tired of the stereotypes, and too many contemporary m/f romances are full of them. For me, at least, it’s not about comparing or competing with the heroine, it’s about being tired of dealing with both the real world of gender politics and the stereotypes.
As far as the real world gender politics goes, in my fiction I don’t always want to deal with the truth that most men are misogynistic to some degree, and way too many to a ridiculous degree, and that our world is build on that misogyny. Every other heroine is dealing with misogyny at work or in family relationships, for example. I’m just tired of reading about it. And I get sad when too often the new “strong” woman of contemporary romances is basically a female hero instead of an actual strong woman, seeming to show that women must be like men to be strong.
So reading well written m/m romance allows me to enjoy the whole story without dealing with gender.
most men are misogynistic to some degree
By that I mean internalized misogyny the way we all have internalized racial biases or misconceptions due to our cultural upbringing. I know I constantly work to shed my unconscious biases, and misogyny has to be shed as well. Even women are steeped in it.
The study does actually point out that issue – maybe I should have made it clearer that I repeated the TSTL comment with my tongue firmly in my cheek! And that section is only a small part of the whole thing.
Maybe I should be grateful I never had to read any of those books at school – my adolescent reading was mostly classics by Austen and Bronte and a steady diet of historical fiction by the likes of Norah Lofts and Jean Plaidy.
Oh I didn’t read it as you endorsing it and as much as I didn’t love all their comments I do feel glad they felt free enough to express them honestly. It’s interesting feedback for certain.
I think we read a lot of the same books in our adolescence (although I resented Norah Lofts for titling her Anne Boleyn novel “The Concubine” when I was younger). Jean Plaidy pretty much taught me the history of early modern England with her series. Sadly while I first discovered Jean Plaidy in my school library, books with female heroines as part of the curriculum were few and far between in those days.
There is another sad part:
this is mostly not celebrating real gay men, it is (mostly) women writing what they feel gay romance would be – I like many of the books, but I read them like sci-fi or alternate reality – they are not a fantasy based on real personality traits, or inner conflicts like when a woman writes a contemporary heroine, where some constraints would just apply, because of the way gender works on our world.
I am bad at explaining my unease, and anyway, some gay men are positive about this genre, though they do say it is not their reality, just an approximation.
just agree to the sadness mentioned above, and add a dimension I perceive.
just to make clear:
I am glad to have all these new kinds of well written stories, too. Mostly I am richer for it, and convinced it normalizes gay-ness in a good way, by telling good stories of gay love. I just occasionally feel uneasy, as above.
I understand completely what you are trying to say Liselotte, it’s not a knock on m/m stories at all. Like you, I am very happy to see people enthusiastically embracing all kinds of tales of love and embracing the romance genre in all its offerings.
As we examine everything these days to see if all the parties involved are being represented properly, it is fair to ask if it’s a fetishizing of gay men or a misrepresentation. We do the same when a person of one race or culture writes about another, so why not when it’s almost exclusively women writing about two men? If it were the reverse, I would certainly examine it.
And I agree with Caz that all romance is really a fantasy whether it’s how one writes 19th century Britain or a contemporary couple.
I personally find it fascinating to examine (even myself) why we are drawn to one particular type of fantasy over another.
yes, thank you, you got me perfectly :-)
it is self examination, too, and makes me richer when exchanged with others here, about things I have not thought of.
yes, all romance is. but some things cannot happen in m/f because we get upset about it, it is just “not realistic enough”, or offensive. Like on the KJC Fortune Hunting thread someone said if he had offered carte blanche to a woman, we would be angry – so in a way, there is an extra layer of fantasy in m/m. Maybe even a chance of “role playing gender equality” as women readers?
I haven’t seen the “carte blanche” comment, but that reaction makes no sense to me – In an m/f story, the hero offers it instead of marriage. But John couldn’t marry Robin or even live with him openly, so what other option was there? And given that the story is all about John coming to realise he’s asking the wrong question, it wouldn’t have worked if he hadn’t offered it!
Exactly, I found it confusing for these reasons, but maybe I misread it – it was comparing m/m to m/f and our reactions.
I think you’re right, and like you, I accept that they’re not a reflection of reality. But then I suppose we could also say that all romance is fantasy at heart.
The reader in competition with the heroine surprised me as well, but I do think there’s a good point about poorly written female characters. Both inside and outside of romance, there’s this fear about giving heroines an arc, nuance, character development, flaws, genuine vulnerability, or anything else that feels three-dimensional as opposed to a flat caricature of “I am woman, hear me roar!,” which exists on the other side of the spectrum of TSTL.
Just as a recent example, I have read a lot of scathing reviews of Disney’s live action Mulan for this reason. Like so many female characters in media today, she just starts off as a Strong Female Character (TM) as opposed to a well-rounded, flawed one who has to learn and grow throughout her journey. In that regard, many argued, the animated predecessor is fantastic in comparison. Sure, they tacked on some 1990s rom-com obligatory clumsiness in the original, but Mulan had to train like all the other soldiers and relied on her wits to make up for what she lacked in brute strength. So, isn’t that a better character than someone who just wakes up perfect and badass at the beginning of the story? Sure, I’m talking about a kids movie, but it just goes to show how poorly written characters are affecting every age group and audience.
And heck. Too many writers are scared to write any character development or nuance for anybody lest they get pilloried online. But I digress…
I definitely think that there are some female readers who do look at the heroines that way. I’ve noticed a lot of Daphne hate from female watchers of Bridgerton who adore Simon (particularly Rege-Jean Page) and think everything is just Daphne’s fault no matter what wrong things Simon does. Particularly when a heroine is too pretty, rich, popular or whatever. We can all love Penelope the underdog but Prom Queen Daphne makes the claws come out. It’s long been said heroines were “placeholders” for the female readers and maybe many resent heroines that aren’t like them or conversely don’t like seeing their own flaws reflected in the heroine?
I do think heroines are judged more harshly than the heroes (although everyone is under the microscope these days) and if they are flawed they’re hated and if they’re too Mary Sue perfect they are bland and rejected.
I kind of feel like some days authors can’t do anything right. I just read some reviews of Naomi Novak’s latest fantasy book, which I haven’t read yet, where the heroine is half Indian (South Asian) and half English I believe. One reviewer (presumably a white woman) put the author through the ringer and suggested that she had no business writing such a heroine when authors of color were trying to get their books published and ripped apart her depictions of both the heroine and a female Chinese and Mandarin speaking secondary character. It was interesting to me that more than one commenter that actually was Indian, or mixed race or Chinese and Mandarin speaking spoke up to say what she wrote was accurate and they thought she did a good job.
I think it’s very interesting that what I am gleaning from a number of commenters here is that they are finding the m/m romances offer them not only something fresh and innovative they aren’t getting from the m/f books but that the males characters seem to have more scope to original and interesting as well.
You and I have that exact same feeling.
I get so sick and tired of these perpetual complainers- who usually aren’t even remotely related to any of the groups portrayed- telling writers they have “no business” writing this, that, or the other thing. You know, as though they get to decide from behind a keyboard who is allowed to write what. Letting other people dictate what you are permitted to say is the very antithesis of what it means to be a writer.
That’s probably true. It reminds me of the failed pilot of the original Star Trek. According to the stories I’ve read, Number One (played by Majel Barrett) didn’t make it as a character in the second pilot because the female test audience hated her. There was an attitude of, “Well who does that stuck-up, pants-wearing woman think she is!?” Yikes!
That’s the general feeling I’m getting too. For myself, I enjoy m/m HR for some of the relationship dynamics mentioned in addition to my affinity for societal outliers as well as the added thrill and danger of having to sneak around. How closeted characters manage to create a believable HEA/HFN in an era where everything had to be clandestine interests me as a reader.
On that note, there are plenty of m/f HR characters who sneak around these days, but a lot of times it rings terribly false. An unmarried titled woman who conveniently ditches her chaperone for a fling in an inn? Riiight… Not saying it couldn’t have been done, but there is definitely truth in the argument that men had more freedom of movement to make such liaisons plausible. Plus, no risk of pregnancy, so that takes care of certain other plot points/contrivances that don’t fit certain time periods and settings.
Cannot do the cool QUOTE thing you do:
“That’s the general feeling I’m getting too. For myself, I enjoy m/m HR for some of the relationship dynamics mentioned in addition to my affinity for societal outliers as well as the added thrill and danger of having to sneak around. How closeted characters manage to create a believable HEA/HFN in an era where everything had to be clandestine interests me as a reader.”
I get the feeling that there is quite a bit of softening of the real danger, because it is a romance, so at least the main couple must be safe, but having most people be safe jars a bit. It becomes “sneaking around” instead of “humiliation prison, scandal and life destruction” in those books by KJC and Cat Sebastian that I recently read. Maybe I did not read the darker ones… And it jars just like the heroines happily sneaking about and being all woke about sex and wanting it without marriage etc. etc jars a bit.
The quote thing is available on the comment bar. It looks like two big ” marks, although it took me ages to figure it out!
Oh, I get that. And I’m not blind to the fact that humiliation, prison, scandal, and life destruction were real and present dangers. But at the same time, there were a number of real life m/m couples or suspected m/m couples who got away with it, so to speak, if they were super careful. And since two men could be in each other’s company without a chaperone, there generally would have been less suspicion and more opportunities for trysts than a lot of the cavalier m/f setups I’ve seen in m/f.
Just as an example, two men sharing a bed in an inn would have been common practice. There’s a funny historical anecdote about Benjamin Franklin and John Adams having to share a bed during their travels- and they ended up arguing about whether to open or close the window most of the night. Abe Lincoln shared a bed with David Derickson, which has caused a bit of debate among historians. That’s not to say anything sexual was happening in these cases, but it wasn’t automatically thought of as “gay” in the way we would think today.
Also, the nature of male friendships has changed a lot in the Western world. That 1950s detached, super macho attitude we see in a lot of the old films was not the norm for most of history. I remember viewing a surprising collection of 1800s to early 1900s photographs of male friends in extremely affectionate poses with hand holding and whatnot, sometimes going as far as sitting on each other’s laps! Again, none of these behaviors- while seemingly overt to modern eyes- would have been considered evidence of homosexual activity. (I’m not saying men were just randomly going around sitting on each other’s laps, but a lot of guys today would be afraid to be photographed in that pose even as a joke. A few years ago, it wouldn’t even happen.) To the casual observer of that era, they were just bosom friends. Maybe they were lovers, maybe they weren’t. But the point is, they could get away with more physical acts of friendship than men in America today without causing a ruckus. Oh, and don’t get me started on some of those flowery letters men used to write to their male friends. A lot of them sound like cringeworthy love letters rather than a “Hey, bro. What’s up?” Then of course, there were always tales about sailors…
In light of all this, I would argue that an m/m couple would have had more plausible opportunities for mischief than an m/f couple, depending on the era. Sure, they couldn’t be making out in public, and the dangers were real, but there’s definitely more of a believability factor when we consider the evolution of same-sex friendships. At least, that’s my take on it.
I still enjoy m/f HR, but the author has to work in a different way to convince me that the heroine is “getting away with” premarital sex in a time and place where a pregnancy or even a mere rumor of sexual activity could have ruined her for life. And it’s definitely possible to create those stories if authors are willing to stray from titled Regency heroines who would have been tightly restricted in real life.
I think there is a lot of truth in this statement. Even when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, same sex siblings shared beds all the time, and when you had a sleep-over your friend usually slept in the same bed with you. Most people had smaller houses and people shared bedrooms.
Adults who were not related sharing living quarters was common and wouldn’t have been seen as anything besides convenient and cost effective. It might have been a little more of a challenge for the upper crust due to all the servants, however. Privacy was at a premium in those households.
I just remembered that I grew up next to a lesbian couple in the 60’s in Texas. One woman was a widow raising a son and she “rented a room” to another woman. I was oblivious, of course, until years later they came to visit us in another state. My parents knew,but most everyone else in the neighborhood didn’t. The arrangement of supplementing your income by renting a room wasn’t uncommon.
All interesting examples, Carrie! And yes, I agree with the challenges of the upper crust. Quentin Crisp, who was openly gay in 1920s London, discussed the aspect of class and same-sex relations in some of his interviews. He said he never got invited to a tryst in an upper class situation because he was “a dead giveaway.” Whereas other young men could pass for straight and introduced themselves as the head of the household’s “nephew.” Crisp said, to great laughter, “I was nobody’s nephew.” ;-)
As for the lesbian couple in 1960s Texas, that’s a good example too. I recall reading a bit about “Boston marriages.” Oddly enough, same-sex female couples were probably the safest queer relationship because a lot of people couldn’t even conceptualize two women having sexual relations with each other. IIRC, Queen Victoria excised a portion of an anti-sodomy bill that applied to women on the grounds that it wasn’t possible. Oh dear…
By the way, there’s a nice HBO movie from the early 2000s called If These Walls Could Talk 2. It is an anthology film with three sketches of lesbians in different American time periods. The first sketch takes place in 1961, where the one woman has to deal with the aftermath of her long time companion’s death. No one in the story thought the two women were anything but two old spinster biddies, which ironically protected them. But it is doubly crushing when she has to stage the room to make it look like she and her partner were just roommates.
I’ve seen that HBO movie, was it Vanessa Redgrave who starred in it? I just remember the grasping relatives of her deceased partner arriving at their apartment to grab things and crying after I watched it. It was so sad, but I was also mad at the partner for not providing for her in her will!
YES!!! That is exactly the film I’m talking about. It brought tears to my eyes as well. Of the three sketches, the first one with Vanessa Redgrave was the most poignant.
In Dubai, where I used to live, gay couples actually had it easier than straight couples in one respect. If a man and a woman wanted to rent an apartment together, they had to show their marriage certificate. But two men, or two women? Well, they’d just be roomies. No certificate needed.
Such a couple attended my parents’ church, and we all knew they were together, but it was sort of a polite fiction we all maintained that they were just good friends and roommates. Don’t ask, don’t tell.
It’s absolutely true that people were much less suspicious and casual or friendly contact wasn’t looked at sexual as much in previous decades.
In my father’s old army pictures every guy has their arms slung around their buddies’ shoulders. Women used to shop and walk down the street arm in arm with their female friends. When I was a kid at weddings, older women whose husbands were deceased or didn’t want to dance or were otherwise occupied would get up and dance together- ballroom type dancing with one taking the “man’s” role. No one thought anything of Great Aunt Ida waltzing around with Aunt Gertrude. Kids didn’t think anything of taking hands of their friends up to a pretty “old” age compared to now.
One thing I do think is sad is how everything is sexualized these days and I see it starting younger and younger.
Totally agree. I know my agreement sounds odd coming from an erotica author, but I think there’s a proper time and place for the more salacious aspects of adult life. And those aspects belong firmly in the adult realm. To avoid starting a mini-fire on AAR, I won’t get too far into my disgust with the direction school curricula are going, but I am disheartened to read vast accounts of solid academics and innocence taking a backseat to social agenda and adult subject matter.
On the subject of everything getting sexualized, that Kirk/Spock fanfiction culture used to annoy the heck out of me. To myself, I was always like, “Duuude. They’re intimate friends. Do we really have to gay everything up that isn’t canonically gay? What’s wrong with celebrating a beautiful friendship?” I don’t really pay much attention to fandom for anything anymore, but I still think it’s sad we’ve culturally denied friendship in favor of shipping everybody in sight- whether in real life or in fiction.
I think writers are sometimes caught in a no-win situation where, if you write about a character in any marginalized group but you don’t belong to that group, you’re taking away a place at the publishing table which could have gone to a writer who is in that group. But if you don’t write about characters in marginalized groups, you’re not being inclusive. If I didn’t enjoy writing, I wouldn’t put myself through this for anything.
I think that’s the main problem with us writers in general. We love the craft so much that we tolerate getting dumped on from every conceivable angle, even though we are the backbone of the entertainment industry. Without a writer, you have no characters, no story, no nothing. And yet we take all the blame for controversy, get our work gutted to pieces at various stages of production, generally make little money, get treated as though we don’t have “a real job,” and get savaged by preening, wannabe critics who think they’re being activists by calling us out or getting us fired. We’re an insane, borderline masochistic lot, that’s what we are. But by God, we wouldn’t trade our love of storytelling and the written word for anything.
One thing that bothers me in reviews, and just in life (and I say this as a “white woman” myself) is that I see so many white women who want to be good allies, or seen to be the most culturally sensitive, jumping to grab the bullhorn, be the loudest, denounce other “bad white women” that often times it seems to me they are drowning out or grabbing the speaker’s spot from people of color or another minority group.
And it’s done in such a commanding and authoritative way. It’s never “hey, it seemed to me the author wasn’t representing this group accurately, but I’m not an expert so please let me know if this is correct or if your real life experience differs.” It’s always a diatribe where the author gets scolded for something that can turn out to be perfectly OK with the people the reviewer or commenter is outraged on behalf of.
I am always deeply uncomfortable when people presume to speak for other groups and end up stereotyping them because they think they have to be a certain way or act a certain way.
it horribly reminds me of the school in-group bullies who were sadistic about telling everyone how there was a right way to dress, a right brand, a right length of the skirt from the right brand, and so on – utterly arbitrary, utterly cruel and taking no prisoners – destroying the other person (usually another girl / woman) is fully ok in the name of having the power to push their anger onto someone, for any version of “this is right, and YOU, yes YOU are personally just ALL WRONG for not conforming to OUR vision”.
This is why I discuss only here, I do not get this bullying cruelty vibe even when we get passionate, it is about our feelings, not about destruction of other.
Yes, I see it on Facebook and everywhere. I am always astonished at the nerve. Am I going to tell a black male friend what his views “should be” on something related to race? No, no I am not. But there are others who will and do.
If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a kneecap.
I almost think it’s the reverse–if you begin with the assumption that everything is probably problematic, it will be.
I appreciate it!!! Thank you for your support!!