Sooo, to quote Steel Magnolias aka one of my favorite movies of all time, “You know I’d rather walk on my own lips than to criticize anyone, but” I read something earlier today that I just can’t get off my mind. The only thing I know to do when I read something like that is to write about it so here we are.
**Note: I know that I do not speak for ALL gay men. So please, don’t read this as me trying to put words in anyone else’s mouth. I’m trying to get some things off my chest here about how I’VE been feeling. So, yeah, let’s get into it.
I was reading an author’s bio. So far as I know and have been able to find, this is a cis-het woman. I might be wrong, but I literally can’t find anything that says anything other than that and from the quote you’re about to read, well, you decide.
“I love writing gay romance because I’m a sap for a happy ending, and I believe everyone—regardless of orientation—should be able to find books that have them.”
On the surface, there’s nothing really harmful about this statement. Yes, I as a gay man deserve to read books about my community that include happy endings. I deserve to see myself in all genres. I deserve to have a place just like any other member of a marginalized community.
Here’s my sticking point.
I read one of this author’s books this last weekend. In it, there are two main characters, because of course, we’re going for romance. I’m going to refer to them as Guy 1 and Guy 2.
This is a high-fantasy world with sort of real world jobs as a matter of course. Guy 1 is a private investigator. Guy 2 is an “indentured servant” aka slave. Guy 1 is hired by the person who holds Guy 2’s contract to do some detective work. In lieu of up front payment, the contract holder signs over Guy 2’s contract for the duration of the case implying that Guy 1 can do anything he wants to Guy 2 while he holds the contract because after all, he’s only a slave so why not?!
Guy 1, against his better judgement, ends up bringing Guy 2 along on the case he’s working. Throughout this story, Guy 2 is repeatedly threatened by various individuals with being “loaned out to a whore house” and various other things to correct his behavior, not so much by Guy 1, but the contract holder and others. The implication being maybe if you’re raped a few times, you’ll fall back in line.
Meanwhile, Guy 1 vacillates between “I think you’re adorable” and “you’re just a sex slave so do what you’re told.”
Now again, this is a romance. This is leading up to Guy 1 and Guy 2 falling in love, BUT we’re not done, yet. See, before it’s all over, Guy 2, who is really upset about being a slave and who can blame him, ends up enacting a magic that basically binds Guy 1 to him, thus taking away a large portion of his free will in the process.
Guy 1 literally can’t be too far away from Guy 2 without it causing him emotional distress and if Guy 2 is feeling somewhat upset and orders Guy 1 to do something, he’s compelled to do it.
Now, throughout this entire thing, Guy 1 has been fighting his own “nature” which is compelling him to mark Guy 2 as his mate but he won’t because he doesn’t want to take away Guy 2’s free will. He figures Guy 2 has had enough of that in his life.
Of course, they go through some stuff and ultimately end up loving one another in their own way ONLY FOR GUY 1 TO DISCOVER THAT GUY 2 COULD HAVE REMOVED THE MAGIC AT ANY TIME BUT HE DIDN’T BECAUSE REASONS.
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10…breathe…
By the end, of course they decide that it’s okay that Guy 2 still has the upper hand on Guy 1 and maybe Guy 1 will mark Guy 2 so he get some of his power back but that’s up in the air.
So, my question for this author is, “What do you actually know about relationships between two men and why do you think this is the happy ending we deserve?”
I mean honestly, that’s a pretty shitty ending. In fact, the whole thing was pretty shitty, and what pisses me off the most is that despite the shittiness of the subject matter, it’s actually written pretty well. So, you have the ability to write well and the story you crafted is about an abusive relationship where everyone ends up semi-happy in the end.
Now, I’m not going to put all the blame on the author. To be quite honest, that’s the narrative of about three quarters of the fairy tales about cis-het couples so I don’t know, maybe she thought she was gifting gay men with our own version of that. Maybe that’s what she thinks it’s supposed to be.
It’s no secret that M/M (male/male) romance has a huge straight female readership and is written largely by straight women.
This can be done well. One of my favorite examples is Point Pleasant by Jen Archer Wood. She crafts a truly compelling story that never feels like it’s exploiting the central characters. They feel like real people even when things are going on around them that are dark and fantastic.
Sadly, however, many of the books in this category are not done so well. They relegate gay men to two-dimensional sex objects that really don’t seem to have a reason to exist beyond titillating the reader. The most egregious examples often include sex scenes that quite frankly are biologically impossible no matter how long a man’s dick is and no matter how flexible he is.
Now, yes, a romance is often heightened and fantastic and all of those things, but still, if I’m reading a story and it’s just getting sexy and then a guy does something that I know he would not be able to do in a sexy situation it knocks me right out of the story.
Want to know why that’s not a problem for authors like the one I’m talking about in this post?
Because despite what she says about writing happy endings for gay men, she’s not writing for us at all. If you were to look at her five-star reviews they are written almost entirely by women. Want to know who follows her on social media? You guessed it! Women!
When straight men write women this way they get called out for it, but those rules don’t seem to apply to women writing about gay men. And here’s my question. If you don’t like the way men write women, why not turn it around and write stories about straight men that way?
I’m not saying that no gay man has ever done it, and I’m not saying that this is some turnabout, getting back at men for the way they write women. I’m saying that it looks and reads that way.
Now, as an author myself, I don’t want anyone telling me what I can and cannot write. I know how that feels, and I’m not trying to void your creative license.
What I’m saying is that perhaps you should ask yourself why you write what you do. Why do you feel compelled to tell these stories?
If you’re going to write about a group of marginalized people to give them happy endings, perhaps you should…I don’t know…talk to that group of people and ask them what they think about what you’re writing and if your ending is happy for them. And for God’s say, watch some porn or something to see what two men can and cannot do together while you’re at it.
A funny aside to this: in book two of my trilogy, I had a sex scene that one of my beta readers didn’t know was possible and she went and looked up some videos to confirm for herself that it could be done. If my beta reader can do it, then you as an author writing a gay sex scene can do it, too. I promise.
All right. I’m getting off my soapbox. Just had to get that off my chest.
**Additional note because I’ve had people ask and I want to clarify. Again, I’m not trying to tell this author what they should or should not write. What I resent is the sentiment that the author is doing a favor for gay men by writing us a happy ending while simultaneously crafting a story that reads, for me, like an insult.