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Why do women write m/m fiction? Answers for the men.

April 6, 2009

First of all, I ought to make it clear that this is titled ‘answers for the men’ not because these answers are somehow less true than the answers for the women.  That isn’t the case.  There is just a difference in emphasis, depending on who is asking the question.

Why do women write m/m fiction? Part one – Answers for the women can be found here on the Macaronis blog.  That post was written as an answer to a piece written by a feminist writer who felt that women who write m/m fiction are bowing to the pressures of patriarchal society.  Women should want to write about women, she felt.  Writing about men, and particularly in a format that excludes a woman from the central pairing, is just a case of reinforcing society’s belief that only men are interesting and worthy to be written about.  It’s a kind of gender betrayal.

Obviously, coming at the question from that sort of direction deserves an answer written to take into account the biases and subtext of the question. 

And the subtexts and biases are quite different when a gay man asks the question.  So the two answers are equally true, but slightly differently slanted depending on what really concerns the questioner.

When a gay man asks ‘why do women write m/m fiction’, it’s my impression that the question is often coming from a different place of discomfort:

Exploitation

Isn’t the phenomenon of women writing m/m, because we find the idea of gay sex titillating, just like the phenomenon of straight men watching faux-lesbian porn?

Isn’t it just yet another way for the heteronormative society to oppress gay men?

Isn’t it horrible of women to exploit gay men while also being part of the straight society which denies gay men equal rights?

And isn’t it deeply unfair that m/m fiction written by women is outselling genuine gay fiction, so that straight women have even co-opted the voices of gay men for their own ends, misrepresenting the truth about what it is to be gay?

I wish I could say that this is an unjustified discomfort.  But I don’t think I can.  I think unquestionably some m/m fiction is exactly the same sort of thing as lesbian porn for straight men.

The question becomes complicated however, (because, lets face it anything to do with human beings and why they do things is going to be complicated,) when you realize that not all m/m fiction is the same.  Different authors write for different reasons.  There can be no one size fits all answer.

 

men kissing 

 

For example, why did I just post that picture?  Was it because I’m thinking ‘OMG! Hawt, sexy menz and there’s boykissing!  Hey, guys, drop your kecks and give us a show!’

(That, I venture to suggest, would be degrading and exploitative.)

Or was it because as someone who loves romance, the sight of their obvious happiness makes me smile, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t react to that picture in the same way that I would react to this one:

 

hetkiss

 

In other words ‘aw! young love!  How beautiful!  I hope they’ll be that happy for the rest of their lives.’

We are, surely, all hoping that our society is tending towards a place in which people make no distinction between the m/m lovers and the m/f lovers.  We’re hoping for a society in which love is valued and celebrated no matter the genders of the people involved.

So why should women – whom history has generally shown to adore a good romance – not decide that they want to write or read about m/m romances too?  Many are undoubtedly reacting as you would to that first photo; ‘they’re a lovely young couple, I’m rooting for them and I want to see them happy at the end of the book.’

But, ‘ew’, you might say.  I could cope with that, but there’s so much sex in these books!  They aren’t rejoicing in the happiness of other people, they’re all about masturbation.  Straight women are using our sexuality to get off with.  It’s disgusting!

Well, as a first reaction I’d have to ask why?  Are straight women not allowed to have a sexuality?  I happen to know that gay men fantasize about straight men – I’ve seen the porn – so it’s not as though the recipient of the fantasizing has to be assumed to be willing to return the attraction.  Or is it just that women are supposed to have such tight control over our sexual fantasy life that we can decide not to find something sexy even though by nature we do?  Are we, in short, supposed to stifle our sexuality because it makes men uncomfortable?

Hm.  That sounds like a very old form of oppression.  Men have put women in chastity belts and insane asylums in the past because they were uncomfortable with the fact that we too are sexual beings.  Stifling our writing is likely to be taken as one more attempt along the same lines.

And really, people get off on all kinds of things.  That doesn’t have an awful lot to do with anything.  Surely the question is not ‘what’s going on in their pants’?  But ‘what do they believe in?  What kind of world are they working towards?  What do their books and their other actions in the world say about them?’

You see, I think that the tendency of m/m romance is to make the women who read it think of gay relationships as normal, desirable; relationships to cheer for and fight for and support.  And I think that is the crucial and very important difference between m/m romance and lesbian porn for straight men.

I was just reading Empire magazine yesterday, and I came across a review for a new film called ‘Lesbian Vampire Killers.’

Naturally, being a m/m author and a bit naive to boot, I assumed the title meant that the film was about some lesbians who killed vampires, and that the titillation factor for male viewers would be balanced out by the portrayal of the lesbians as heroic women doing battle with the forces of evil.

I wish!

It turns out the title means ‘straight men who kill lesbian vampires’.  Empire magazine thinks it sounds like just the thing for teens (they say ‘teens’, but I assume they mean ‘male teens’.)  Here is a quote from their interview with one of the stars:

This energy factor has been ratcheted up by the twin poles of sex – “I hold breasts and watch girls get off with each other.  Besides, I’ve always liked protruding incisors,” says Horne – and violence – “I’ve knocked someone’s head off with a frying pan!” says Corden.  “I slice someone’s head down the middle!  I push a naked girl into a shower of holy water and watch her whole body disintegrate!”

Oh, how charming.  Don’t you love the exclamation mark there.  He’s really enthused about getting to kill naked lesbians.

In other words what we have here is a film that exploits lesbians for the pleasure of straight men while simultaneously portraying them as evil monsters who have to be killed.

That’s an ugly package.  And I for one would never presume to defend a woman who wrote and read m/m fiction for her own jollies, but still opposed gay rights, and believed that being gay was sinful or wrong.

Certainly women’s sex drives are involved in their enjoyment of m/m fiction.  That doesn’t necessarily mean it is exploitative. 

It can be, of course.  If, as in the film, the book is all about satisfying the female reader’s desire for titillation and demonstrates a blatant disinterest or even hostility towards the problems of real gay men, then I would certainly regard it as problematic.  But in my experience of the genre I would say I’ve seen very little of that.

I believe that most m/m fiction is transformative, and the women who read it are having their prejudices removed or at least challenged.  I think that can’t help but be a good thing.

So, that preamble over with, why do women write m/m romance?

There are many possible reasons because each author is different, but here are some answers which are true of many women.

1. Because women like romance, and if m/m relationships are as normal as m/f ones, why not write m/m romance?

2. Because straight women think men are sexy, and two men are doubly sexy.  (IMO this reason is only a problem if it isn’t accompanied by any goodwill towards real gay men.)

3. Because women are fed up of dealing with the stresses and strains of being a woman and would like to try being a man for a while, without having to give up the love of a good man.  (Many women always identify with the male characters in books.  m/m romance allows them to do that, and still to enjoy having a male love interest.) 

4. Because male characters in books always get to do more interesting things than female ones.  Particularly in historical fiction.  You get to be the Captain of a battleship *and* have a gorgeous male love interest. 

5. Because women are fed up of traditional gender roles and would like to try a relationship where dominance/submission/power was not pre-determined by sex.

6. Because some people are born into female bodies but identify more as men.  Reading m/m fiction is being allowed to be, for a moment, more who you really are.

7. Because m/m stories are the only stories you have to tell as an author – because this is your own inalienable writer’s voice and you can do no more than tell the m/m stories or write nothing at all.

8. Because one or more of the author’s characters decided, in that mysterious way characters have, that they were gay, and she couldn’t see any good reason to stop them.

9. Because the author has gay friends who love gay romance and they suggested she should try it.

10. Because the author wants to increase the representation of gay people in fiction and she thought this was the way to do it.

I’m sure there are others that I’ve missed.  Some authors write m/m fiction because it seems to be selling well, for example.  But I don’t think that’s a sufficiently mysterious motivation to need spelling out 🙂

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. Amanda permalink
    March 18, 2010 7:02 am

    Another reason: Women love the idea of star-crossed lovers, and of love surviving against all odds (we are romantics that way). Historically, sexual relationships between two men were the ultimate in forbidden love, and therefore such characters become the ultimate star-crossed lovers.

    • March 18, 2010 11:53 am

      That’s very true. There’s that “willing to die for you” aspect built in. Though it seems in practice that a lot of readers find the reality of love under a death sentence a bit too painful to bear, and tend to prefer the books that gloss over it.

  2. Leigh Jarrett permalink
    December 30, 2011 8:12 am

    Definately #8 catches my eye. My very first written character, named Sebastian, told me upfront that he was gay, and that he had his eye on a certain character, or two, floating around in my head. Who was I to argue?

    • December 30, 2011 9:09 am

      Yes, you might as well ask an author “why do you write [anything]?” You can always find some reasons, but in the end it boils down to “because I am who I am.” Inspiration is a mysterious thing.

  3. kitwild008 permalink
    January 25, 2014 10:31 pm

    Reblogged this on Kitwild008’s Weblog.

  4. May 2, 2015 3:11 pm

    Maybe it’s not so complex – or doesn’t need to be.

    As a M/F contemporary romance writer with my first M/M contemporary romance releasing in a week (& yes, I’m female), the motivation was a whole lot simpler. For me, there were gay characters that appeared in my other books as secondary and tertiary characters. One of those characters (secondary character), who was a huge reader favorite (he was well developed, appeared in 3 books and had a big personality and a lot of page time), briefly met a tertiary gay character. I never thought I’d write their story until the tertiary character started talking in my head and his story was compelling.

    That process of a character talking and writing their story was no different than with my M/F work. My point being that when an interesting character has a great story, it’s something to write about – whether M/M or M/F and sometimes there isn’t any other motivation than that.

    • May 2, 2015 3:26 pm

      I agree with you, tbh, Julie. Why do we write the stories we do? Mostly it’s because those are the stories that are in us.

  5. Sarah permalink
    November 1, 2015 6:56 pm

    Great article! I am definitely an MM reader because of reason 5.

    I think the misogyny of traditional MF romance finally drove me to MM. I was so tired of the FBI agent becoming a happy stay at home mum by the end of the story while her Alpha partner was still chasing bad guys.

    How often does an MF romance end with the woman in the boardroom while her husband stays home and makes the house pretty? How many stories end with them both still sharing the boardroom? How many MF romance involve non-monogamy HEAs?

    I don’t live my life constrained by gender roles, so why would I continue to read a genre full of TSTL heroines and their muscle packed saviours? I turned first to Urban Fantasy for strong female protagonists and then later to MM stories.

    MM starts with an equality premise. Two equal partners who have to negotiate terms for a life together. MM couples/polys manage to find happiness without picket fences or offspring. MM couples often exist outside of traditional extended family structures and all sorts of HEAs are possible.

    I do find MM romances sexy – but as you so eloquently wrote, reading the best of the MM genre has made me a fierce champion for LGBT rights. Unlike porn, I’m not exploiting any real actors or models, merely sharing a writer’s fantasy.

    Maybe more women would return to MF romance if it grew up and reflected the 21st century!

    • November 2, 2015 3:59 pm

      Thank you! Yes, I’d never read any m/f romance before I started writing m/m, so I can’t really speak to what the conventions of the genre are, but the typical m/f heteronormative relationships I see on TV and films tend to be so unappealing, and the cultural narrative that frames heterosexual relationships as ‘conquests’, as some kind of war between the sexes is so poisonous and horrible. It’s not surprising that it puts people off.

      I’m beginning to feel, though, as if an important next step is to write m/f romances that don’t perpetuate that culture. It’s nice to escape to an equal gender playing field but it would be better if we lived on one.

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  1. Why do women write M/M fiction? « Leigh Jarrett

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