M/M vs Gay Romance
As I’m popping around doing promo for my M/M/M ménage MAN CITY: MARTIN, part of the ménage series MAN CITY, I’ve been a bit nonplussed to find so much confusion regarding ‘gay romance’ as opposed to “M/M” among readers, particularly those who don’t normally read it.
I tried to write MARTIN so the story appealed to both audiences, but it’s good to remember that there are two very different audiences for all male-romance and erotica: women who love to ready about the sexy men and gay men who love to read about the sexy men. Magic if you can please both, but they’re coming at the material from different perspectives, particularly the M/M genre’s roots in slash fiction, stories created by fans linking popular characters romantically. It takes its name from the Kirk/Spock romances way back in the 60s fandom.
I wrote a guest blog for the romance scholar’s blog, Teach Me Tonight, about one of the earliest critics of slash fiction, the SF writer Joanna Russ (who’s written lots of fantastic fiction and the all important bombshell How to Suppress Women’s Writing). She looks at that earliest M/M slash fiction and realizes that the appeal is completely to a female audience. Russ reminds us that Spock’s “alienness is a way of ‘coding’ into the K/S fantasies that their subject is not a homosexual love affair between two men, but love and sex as women want them” (83). This is key to the appeal of slash, but also perhaps to that of the modern M/M romance. Russ points out that the traditionally masculine and feminine traits fluctuate between the characters, creating an ideal relationship:
Neither has to give up ‘his’ work in the world; both have adventure and love; telepathy provides lifelong commitment and the means of making such a union unbreakable and extremely intimate; and while both partners are ‘masculine’ in the sense of being active in the world, they provide tenderness and nurturance for each other in a very ‘feminine’ way. And the sex is marvelous. (84)
A lot of M/M romance is specifically written for a female audience with this sort of “let’s see what a world without sexist expectations would be for romance” and that’s what makes it appealing to a lot of the audience. Plus, hey — the hot man flesh you love and more of it.
The reason this can run into problems is when it becomes exploitive, like “lesbian” porn created for male gaze that has absolutely nothing to do with real lesbian desire. Or if it erases the presence of genuine gay and lesbian desire in popular media portrayals. It can be problematic. I’ve seen slash fiction that actually creates a marked echo of very traditional sexual roles — you know, like those people who ask same sex couples, “Who’s the man and who’s the woman?” Cringe!
I hope that a wide audience will enjoy Martin and his very human experiences with two men who also happen to be a couple. And anybody who likes sexy romance, I promise you hot fun!