Friday, January 22, 2010

Social Responsibility and Romance/ Sexual Turn-ons

Lately, there’s again been a lot of wank about straight or female authors writing m/m. There seems to be several camps in this issue. (I'm not including those gay men who've discussed the issue because I feel that whatever their position, they do have a right to whatever they feel about it, and I never question it.)

One group feels that you should always be socially responsible to gay men when writing about their life, their lifestyle otherwise it’s just a fetishization of gay male sexuality for personal turn-on purposes. The usual lesbian porn for men analogy gets thrown in there as an example.

Another group feels that they are actually supporting gay rights by writing love stories about gay men and that it’s not the same as lesbian porn for men because it’s about lurve and is deeper. This camp feels that they are not hurting anyone, but that more awareness of gay rights comes about because of the increasing popularity of this genre; they are doing gays a big favor.

I'm not going to even discuss those who go on about how sweet m/m love is and that's why they read it because if it's sweet love you're after, then any combo would fit the bill. I think that's more of a justification for writing and reading m/m in particular over any other combo and tries to make it look less about the sex.


Then there’s a small group who feel that they wish to just write/read what they want to write/read for various reasons, but that considering social responsibility is not always the agenda for them. Some writers write it for the money. Let’s face it, it’s popular and it sells at the moment. Also, writers and readers in this group, bottom line, just get off on reading about two men together, and what’s wrong with that?

On a personal level, I have wondered, since I’ve been reading tons of f/f, whether or not I’m just fetishizing girl on girl sex for my own turn-on as a predominantly straight woman without regard to what a lesbian or bi person goes through every day due to their orientation. I don’t think I do as I do consider that kind of thing. If I felt an up-till-now straight character were being flippant and only using the lesbian/ bi character for an ulterior motive other than that they are into them particularly, then it would be offensive to me.

Yesterday on twitter, a person linked to a blogger who wrote that her favorite m/m was between two heterosexual men who just find themselves attracted to each other.

This person on twitter was all up in arms about that because this is so anti gay and so on. No, I’m not going to link any of it since I don’t want the flamers coming here. I just pointed this out because it’s something that’s come up for me during several conversations and while reading these types of discussions.

I’ll admit that quite often I give a book a higher rating if the sexual chemistry between the characters is hot to me. Because in the end, when I read a book it’s all about being entertained. And I admit that I don’t like to read love stories with a huge social/ political agenda attached to them. I just want to read about two specific characters and what things boil down to for them in their hearts together and that they get off on each other.



So this brings me to, why is it so wrong to just want to read what gets you off both emotionally and sexually if reading erotic? Being as I’m straight, of course, I can relate much better to the gay for you or the bi character. I also enjoy reading pure lesbian, but it doesn’t float my boat as much. Does that mean that I’m co-opting the best part of a f/f relationship for my pleasure without regard to what is reality for a lesbian or bi oriented person?

Even in m/f romance, the best part of an m/f romance is what’s portrayed in a story. Romance rarely goes beyond the first stages of a relationship when everything is rosy and fun. It’s why people read romance, for the entertainment value and escapism. People don’t want to read about crying babies, and mortgage payments, and bins of dirty laundry and exhausted nights of no sex, which is the reality of a real relationship.

To be honest, I think the case of co-opting f/f sex for titillation by me, a straight woman, is different than getting off on m/m sexual relationships because of the fact that as a woman, there is always a possibility of actually having a relationship with a woman. Women, straight or not, can never have a gay relationship with a man. So on that level, m/m is more fantasy than f/f, which feeds some of the argument of fetishization of gay male sexuality. I might never have had a sexual relationship with a woman, but I can put myself in those shoes and imagine it and even have it, if the opportunity would arise. If I weren’t married, I would be open to exploring a relationship with a woman. So it is a bit different.

But when it comes to reading/ writing GLBT romance, it seems that many people feel it has to go beyond the romance/ sexual chemistry. It has to be about representing or portraying the GLBT character's life in the proper, real political/ social context or it’s a fetishization of GLBT community’s sexuality.

This is definitely a complicated issue and I would hate to be a person that uses a disenfranchised group’s sexuality for my personal titillation without regard to their reality. However, as a reader of romance and erotica, my bottom line is that I want to read what gets my juices flowing and what touches me in my heart and body no matter what sexual orientation the characters are. Am I wrong for this?

Please feel free to slam me if I’m totally off here. I’m very open to hearing others’ perspectives or experience in this.

11 comments:

Cathy in AK said...

(sorry in advance for the long post)

...my bottom line is that I want to read what gets my juices flowing and what touches me in my heart and body no matter what sexual orientation the characters are. Am I wrong for this?

Geez, I hope not, because I'm there with you : )

Sometimes I am wary if I feel an author of f/f or m/m DOES have some kind of political/social statement to make. They can use their voice to bring issues to light, more power to them and I hope some day soon we can stop making it an issue. But I'm not reading the story for that. That's not why I read ANY romance. I never thought of my preferences as exploiting a disenfranchised group, and I hope they don't see my enjoyment that way. Like you, I want to read about two people who find each other, overcome obstacles, and fall in love.

As for the money-making aspect, I'm sure some have jumped on the m/m bandwagon in particular to get a piece of the action. But as a writer, I can't bring myself to write stories I don't have a feel for in my heart and gut. If I don't care for a topic, I can't make it come alive on a page. I'm sure there are authors who can, but from what posts I've read by a few female m/m authors, they are genuinely turned on by it and want to contribute to the genre. Perhaps they are blowing smoke to not seem like horrible, exploitative users, but I don't think so.

I wrote my f/f story not because I thought it would be a sure-fire hit (I know that much about the market to understand the chances there) or because I was seeking some sort of "hook" or titillation angle. I wrote it because when I was thinking about the love interest for my heroine, another woman popped into my head. Surprised me at first, but it just felt right. It's not fetishization or exploitation or making a statement. It's the way the story developed for me. Will it get blasted by bi women or lesbians because I'm a straight woman? Maybe. Gotta get it on the shelves first, tho ; )

LVLM said...

I never thought of my preferences as exploiting a disenfranchised group,

I think a lot of the wank goes on in m/m forums because it is so popular.

The only lesbians or bi people I've read who've gotten all up in arms about this whole straight woman co-opting gay sex is within the m/m arena.

Let's face it, there aren't hundreds of thousands of straight women clamoring to read lesbian love stories.

But I've had discussions with various people who felt that some of the stories I've reviewed did fetishize the lesbian or bi character, which I didn't really feel to be true, so it did cause me to evaluate if I'm doing so since I might have been blind to it.

Sometimes I am wary if I feel an author of f/f or m/m DOES have some kind of political/social statement to make.

This one is a toughy and again, why I question myself. Many times, an author of lesbian romance doesn't directly make political/social statements, but just by the fact that lesbians and bi's do have to face so much difficulty and challenges by being gay, those issues do enter into the story many times.

I personally am not turned on by that. So it does sometimes make me feel like a shit that I want to read a lesbian love story, but don't want to read about the prejudices that they face as part of the plot. Although I'm fine as long as it doesn't get preachy and start bashing men.

but from what posts I've read by a few female m/m authors, they are genuinely turned on by it and want to contribute to the genre.

This is my experience as well, which is why there's so much rancor within the m/m writing community. They all are really into it.

My experience about straight women writing f/f is that they too enjoy it and wish to write a good love story. But since there really isn't a strong community of lesbians who read ebooks, a lot of which are written by straight woman, and the f/f genre is way low on the totem pole, I don't reckon we'd get a lot of feedback from lesbians about those kinds of books being off or offensive.

Gotta get it on the shelves first, tho ; )

I will buy it! :)

Jill Sorenson said...

I agree! With everything you said. I'm not interested in finding fault with straight male writers of f/f or straight female writers of m/m. Both are okay with me. On the other hand, if gays and lesbians are offended, like you said, no one should dismiss or dispute that. It really isn't appropriate for a power group to decide what material is offensive to a minority group. Does that make sense? I've been thinking about that lately, with the recent cover/racism issues.

Also, it seems like many women want to downplay the sexual content in their reading material. 90% of the story is sex, but it's about love? Come on. Let's call it what it is and not be ashamed.

LVLM said...

Jill, I do think it's important to not to disregard the feelings of a disenfranchised group, especially if I'm part of the power group, as you say.

And it's always hard when you're part of the power group to see how everyday life supports who you are because it's the norm and easily taken for granted since who you are essentially never stands out as something different.

But at the same time, for me romance is about fantasy, fun and joy and sometimes I find all this non stop wanking about who has rights to do what too PC sometimes, which I think stifles creativity.

Personally, I don't get all wigged out about f/f porn for men. I just don't care. Yes, maybe some men think that all lesbians are like this, but who gives these guys the time of day anyway?

I'm not a lesbian so I don't know what it's like to have my sexuality co-opted for titillation only, however, I'm a woman and can see that all porn for men is purely about sex and fantasy and looks demeaning to women, but I'm not offended by that.

The real men I meet don't expect me to be like those women in porn. I've never even met any man who watches porn who expects that. They know it's not real, so it's not a big deal.

Sometimes I do feel like what's so wrong about women fantasizing about men having sex in the context of fantasy and entertainment.

And the same goes for any sexual/romantic turn on.

kirstensaell said...

Exactly, Jill. I'm of the opinion that readers and writers of m/m should be able to say, "Maybe it is fetishization. So the fuck what? It's what I like." Non-gay-male writers of m/m have no more responsibility to treat their subject matter with sensitivity than non-lesbian/bi-female porn producers do with f/f porn.

There's a lot of wonky reasoning in the m/m world. The "we just want a love story" when most of the books are sex-heavy being one, and the "love is beautiful regardless of gender" from a lot of readers who consume m/m exclusively being another. Clearly there's only one kind of "love" those readers find beautiful enough to bother with, right?

Um...you'll have to pardon the tone of my comment--I'm feeling a bit ranty this afternoon--but it's galling that there's so much kowtowing going on by readers/writers towards gay men, when lesbians (and bi-women, because we're only bi when there's no cock around, and the moment a cock--any cock--presents itself, we shed our bisexuality completely, don't you know?) have been misrepresented in tons of fetish material catering to straight men. Honestly, if there's a problem, it's really more pressing elsewhere.

As far as dealing (or not) with the social aspects of same-sex love, that's something I don't mind in a historical--in fact, I can find the forbidden love nature of it quite stirring, both emotionally and otherwise, lol. But I don't want even an undertone of politicism in my romances. I've had readers and reviewers compliment me on how I didn't deal with my MC's bisexuality in Crossing Swords, and I'm pleased because that's what I was going for. I want the love story to feel organic, and the obstacles the protagonists face to be something other than "OMG, does this mean I'm a lesbian!!??"

That's one thing that irked me about Paisley Smith's latest--the one character's coming to terms with being a lesbian. 1) Why does she have to be a lesbian at all? And 2) why must it always be some big fat hairy deal? Perhaps my impatience with such things derives from me never feeling my bisexuality was abnormal or strange. From the time I was ten or so, it was just the way I was, and it felt natural enough to me, even though I was aware other people might not feel the same way about it, lol.

Bottom line is that readers should get to read what they want, and writers should get to write what they want. Now if I could just find a porn producer out there who would film some girl-girl-guy stuff that appeals to me, I'd be one happy woman.

LVLM said...

Now if I could just find a porn producer out there who would film some girl-girl-guy stuff that appeals to me, I'd be one happy woman.

You know what's really weird about that for me? I've seen porn for women by women and it can be really boring. Long, drawn out scenes of touching and cuddling. I'm like, helloooo, we don't have all day here people, let's get some action going here... I've got to get my rocks off before the football game is over. snerk.

As always Kirsten, you make so much sense to me. :)

M. A. said...

There's a lot of wonky reasoning in the m/m world. The "we just want a love story" when most of the books are sex-heavy being one, and the "love is beautiful regardless of gender" from a lot of readers who consume m/m exclusively being another. Clearly there's only one kind of "love" those readers find beautiful enough to bother with, right?


I admit, I read romances, whether sweet, sensual, or erotic, primarly for the romance/love story component. A book labeled "erotic romance" is not going to irk me if it's not cover-to-cover sex scenes...but I feel "cheated" if there's no genuine romantic chemistry between the main characters.

One thing I've noted is that epublishing tends to automatically label GBLT stories as "erotic romance" whether or not the stories contain actual erotic content.

A "het" romance portraying kisses, hand-holding, embracing, light fondling, and intercourse in non-explicit language is "sensual" or "spicy." GBLT romance portraying the same is automatically "erotic."

I do believe this is because of the fetishization of GBLT sexuality, the concept that GBLT attraction and sexuality are in themselves erotically charged in a way that a m/f kiss isn't (total BS in my mind.)

So there probably are people reading M/M because (at least some of it) is not as flagrantly graphic as het erotic romance.

For the record, I've read M/M "erotic romance" -- rated at the highest possible "heat level" that contained no erotic content at all.

That said, I'm sort of a "romance omnivore." I enjoy reading "traditional" and "nontraditional" romances in all heat levels. I don't pretend to understand readers who "only read M/M" anymore than I understand readers who "only read traditional (white "het" pairing.)" I have to wonder why readers choose to limit themselves in an era where greater variety is offered to explore pretty much any imaginable kind of love.

M. A. said...


Exactly, Jill. I'm of the opinion that readers and writers of m/m should be able to say, "Maybe it is fetishization. So the fuck what? It's what I like." Non-gay-male writers of m/m have no more responsibility to treat their subject matter with sensitivity than non-lesbian/bi-female porn producers do with f/f porn.


I view the "fetish denial" with more than a little amusement.
I consider it "one of those things that everyone knows is true, but is expected to pretend it's not."

I think some writers feel that if they admit to indulging a fetish the admission somehow cheapens or degrades their work. Instead of "artists conveying an idyllic portrayal of gay male love," they are, essentially, objectifying gay male sexuality to appeal to escapist fantasy.

In some cases, it isn't even objectifying gay male sexuality, it's objectifying the (traditionally "straight") "Alpha Male" ever popular in romantic fiction. Gay male characters of a more effeminate or even androgynous type are not always welcome in the genre, which I find really strange.

Another thing that has made me "sit up and pay attention" are the popularity of M/F "May-December" romances (i.e. a very young man with a heroine over forty.) I just recently read two such books and am about a third through another...and I'm sort of wondering if this genre's popularity reflects a kind of "closeted" F/F preference.

The reason I think this way is that, in all the books I've read, the young male heroes are portrayed with very "maidenly" characteristics to my mind. Very gentle, polite, fastidious, virginal, extraordinarily selective about sexual partners, and extraordinarily "hooked" on their female seducers. It reminds me of what the M/M cult calls "chicks with d*cks."

M. A. said...

I personally am not turned on by that. So it does sometimes make me feel like a sh*t that I want to read a lesbian love story, but don't want to read about the prejudices that they face as part of the plot. Although I'm fine as long as it doesn't get preachy and start bashing men.


My thoughts on this? Romance is escapist reading, often portraying an idyllic and thus not entirely realistic view of real life.

The focal point of romance is romance -- people facing challenges and overcoming them, achieving outside goals, and finding true love in spite of conflicts threatening the relationship's success.

I think if prejudice is written creatively into the plot so that it fits smoothly into the plot, it's not so bad. The problem is sometimes authors working with sociopolitical themes actively separate the theme/s from the main plotline because the author wants to emphasize it.

The end result is a "fractured" story. One minute the reader is immersed in delectable romance/escapism, the next minute the reader is "jerked out" of the escapism to face another round of "*Minority group* has it so rough sometimes. This is a bad/wrong thing."

Sociopolitical commentary has its place. Used subtly, it can heighten conflict in a romance, but overmentioned, it's a distraction to the loce story.

LVLM said...

The problem is sometimes authors working with sociopolitical themes actively separate the theme/s from the main plotline because the author wants to emphasize it.

I think this happens more in lesbian stories written by lesbians. But only because it's their reality. It's part of what they experience on a day to day basis that a straight person doesn't. So, it's probably hard to separate from that.

Still though, I'm not too keen on political/social agendas being in the forefront of romance or erotica. It's fine for an Oprah book.

I really haven't read too many books with the social or political agenda being so in the forefront that I got turned off. But I think I notice it more than probably a lesbian would reading a lesbian book.

M. A. said...

I think this happens more in lesbian stories written by lesbians. But only because it's their reality. It's part of what they experience on a day to day basis that a straight person doesn't. So, it's probably hard to separate from that.

Still though, I'm not too keen on political/social agendas being in the forefront of romance or erotica. It's fine for an Oprah book.

I really haven't read too many books with the social or political agenda being so in the forefront that I got turned off. But I think I notice it more than probably a lesbian would reading a lesbian book.


It takes exceptional skill and a highly objective mindset to craft politically conscious writing into popular fiction. Only a handful of authors have ever been respected for their ability to comment and entertain at the same time.