Why I’ve been reading fewer and fewer m/m books

Jessewave wrote a post at her highly influential site about the frustration she and her reviewers are experiencing with respect to the decline in quality of m/m books. The post is blunt and the comment thread is long, but if you read m/m, it’s well worth reading both.

Like Wave, I find myself reading fewer and fewer m/m books, despite the fact that my pleasure in finding a good one hasn’t decreased. There are a number of reasons.

(1) It’s hard to find books that are properly edited, and the rise of self-published books has exacerbated the problem. Given that my TBR has plenty of well-edited books, I’d rather not be frustrated while I’m reading for pleasure.

(2) It’s harder to use publishers to sort through the mass of releases. Well-established presses’ development and copyediting have declined, the fastest-growing seems to have imploded, and the biggest has, um, ethical issues. Not to mention it doesn’t seem to edit its “stars” at all. Some smaller and newer presses have much better business practices and production values, but they publish fewer books and specialize in sub-genres that don’t interest me.

(3) I can’t tell the provenance of a book and I can’t be sure anymore that it’s original fiction. More and more fan fiction is being published. I’ve talked before (and will talk again) about why I find reading published fan fiction problematic, and if I can’t be sure something is original I’m much less likely to buy it. At this point the only presses I’m sure about are a few small presses. All the big presses (including ones I used to trust) have hopped on the fanfic gravy train.

And finally:

(4) I’m tired of the woman-bashing. Women are evil plot devices, BFFs of the narrator/main character who exist to be sounding boards or comic relief. Generally they can’t get a date or you don’t want them to. It’s lazy, stereotypical writing and no mature genre with standards would put up with it. And that’s if there are women in the books at all. I just finished a short novel in which there are no on-page women. Granted, that may be because the entire word count was taken up by sex scenes, but having no women in a contemporary romance is quite a feat. 

Both male and female authors (of a variety of QUILTBAG orientations) engage in woman-bashing. But while women writers are criticized for it, male writers are called out much less frequently. All too often, gay male authors are valorized as something special whether their work is good or not, whether they insult their readership (which is majority female) or not. Recent examples, all of which are from my preferred sub-genre, contemporary m/m romance:

  • A bestselling, highly praised book featured the closeted MC having meaningless sex with different women. None of these women were given names, even if they appeared more than once in the story. In the first half of the book, the only two women whose names the reader ever learned were related to one of the MCs.
  • A highly rated book by a genre favorite uses the word “vagina” numerous times to refer to women. There is no m/f sex in the book; it is just used as an ugly metaphor. And in this same book, if you are a black woman character, your conversation is rendered in ghetto-speak.
  • A novel about writing an m/m novel depicts the loyal readership of women as only wanting to read about sex (so as long as the book has sex in it, they’ll be loyal).

Why the hell should I read books that treat me like this? I’m not that hard up for reading material, and I don’t dislike myself enough to pay to be insulted. I have no idea why authors write this way. I don’t really care, to be honest. I’m reading books, not psychoanalyzing authors I don’t know and don’t want to know. It’s well known that m/m has a pretty fannish reading/writing culture and I don’t think it helps the genre, but there’s not much I can do about it. But I find it disheartening that so many readers can gush about books that depict women like themselves as foolish, desperate, pathetic, and worse. If a woman character in a book exists only to make fun of or as an unsubtle Evil Obstacle, dump the book and ask for your money back.

Luckily, there are still writers of good, thoughtful books out there, to whom I’m happy to give my money and my time. And given I don’t solely read m/m, my TBR should keep me in happy reading mode for a while.

I’d just like to branch out and find some new good books, and it’s not so easy when the genre feels dominated by books with tons of sex, BDSM, and/or paranormal storylines I don’t particularly enjoy. Ah well. There are always mysteries (Michael Nava’s Henry Rios novels are finally out in ebook!). Riptide and Blind Eye Books edit carefully and they don’t have much patience for hateful portrayals of women. And online friends are helpful in making recommendations.

I haven’t followed the discussions around Wave’s post aside from the comments thread, but I’ve seen some pushback comments that she’s being too negative, or it’s a hazard of reviewing. I disagree with the former criticism because it’s Wave’s opinion and she’s entitled to express it (and she runs a huge review site so she sees a lot of books). I disagree with the latter, because I review far fewer books and I’m not running a site, but I’ve had a similar experience. But I understand that people are tired of negativity. So I probably won’t write more about this, and when people ask why I’m not reviewing as much m/m, I’ll just point them here.

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59 thoughts on “Why I’ve been reading fewer and fewer m/m books

  1. Thank you for this post. The frequency with which female characters in m/m are presented as gross, pathetic, evil, or just plain absent is hands-down my biggest complaint with the genre — it’s spoiled several things that would otherwise have been good reads, and hints of it in excerpts have made me decide not to buy multiple titles. I really hope we have more conversation about this problem as a community, and that it helps move the genre in less cringe-worthy directions.

    • Thank you. I’ve seen readers accuse critics who bring this up as lacking a sense of humor, not understanding they’re reading fiction, etc. etc. etc. It derails the conversation and trivializes the concerns. It’s very frustrating. If I review a book with these characteristics I point them out, and I hope, like you, that these qualities are publicized and criticized more often.

  2. You know how I feel about all of it (pretty much same as you, except I still read and review lots of mm – but even there blurbs are so painful lately, but I rarely read het romance – not that I do not welcome lots and lots interesting women characters in mm, so mm it is for me. Does not mean that I will not be vocal about how so many writers portray women), but I just wanted to say that the second example amongst the three books you described was just… something else. Thank goodness I read it on loan, that’s all I am saying.

      • Oh missed this one. Crazy thing is that in the rare moments when the main character was not joking, I liked him. But no, jokes were horrible – very offensive and 99 percent of them not funny at all IMO.

  3. GAAAAA, sorry for spamming, but I cannot figure out how to edit my responses. I promise I will think before I hit submit on it. I love Blind Eye books, adore them and respect them, but last year they put up exactly what, one book? Granted it was a superb book, but at this rate I do not know if I can even consider them a publisher any longer? Am sad.

    I still think Riptide is above and beyond many publishing houses, but sadly I agree with several commenters in the thread I mentioned. I am not impressed with several latest offerings and several authors whose work I used to love, well let’s just say I cannot recognize their voice anymore. Still enjoy a lot of their books though.

    As I also mentioned in the thread Manifold is my go to small publisher when I am feeling desperate for a good book – of course they are tiny as well, but at least they consistently produce two books every three months.

    • It’s my cheap-ass WordPress choices; I don’t have the edit function! So no worries.
      I’m glad that Manifold is finally available at Amazon and other sites. Their original way of selling and distributing ebooks was a little odd (you gave them your info and then eventually you received the book). But I’ve seen your reviews and I definitely want to try them out.

      I have faith that BEB will put out more books soon. It’s just such a small operating that it takes time for each step. But I think there are projects in the works.

        • Butterfly hunter is available and several other titles – they upload the titles in batches . I love that book :)

      • Hey V. Minx! Thanks for the kind words.

        As you surmised, we do have projects in the works here. I have new books by Astrid Amara and Ginn Hale scheduled. In addition to that, we’ll have a new author joining us. The ink’s not dry so I can’t say who yet, but I’m pretty excited!

        Generally, Blind Eye Books only put out two titles per year and focus all of our effort into making sure that they’re high quality. However, we are aware of the frustration some readers might feel with so few titles and so we have been brainstorming ways that we can keep our level of quality up while increasing the number of titles by releasing some digital only titles.

        • I am soo very pleased to here that new books are in the making, I was missing you guys so much :)

        • Please go on bucking the trend and let us be frustrated, if that is what it takes for you to produce your high-quality, rewarding-to-readers books. I can live with it. Irregulars, which I know was a lot of work, was an amazing, singular anthology.

          A new author? I am stoked. ;)

          • What she said – I know I cannot help but have selfish feelings about wanting new books from you, but I really would rather wait for awesome book. OMG, new author. Squeeal.

  4. ..the biggest has, um, ethical issues. Not to mention it doesn’t seem to edit its “stars” at all.
    I’m not sure it edits its new authors at all, either, so… Plus it doesn’t pay its proofers in anything beyond book discounts…

    • Gah. I had forgotten about that. I remember when I first saw the discussions about what editors and proofers were paid (or not paid, more accurately). I found it so frustrating because it means your employees are not only exploited, they’re more likely to be uncritical fans. It’s a vicious circle that keeps the businesses from being businesslike.

      • There are also big name authors who essentially go ballistic if they are getting edited beyond fixing commas. There are stories out there of authors threatening to leave and take their books with them if they are getting content edits. So some publisher can end up in the position where the author is 100% uncooperative. Now, they know it’ll “sell anyway”, so why alienate an author with editing who won’t get edited. (BTW, there are many authors like that in the mainstream, too, so it’s not an m/m affliction.) Remember Anne Rice’s blog post on “this is the best I can do, take it or leave it”? Another hugely popular fantasy author is, according to his own editor, “uneditable”. Sells gazillions.

  5. I don’t read very much m/m and that’s partly because readers I trust have been seeing more and more problems with content/copyediting (or lack thereof) and more and more P2P fanfiction in the genre. I hope this is a growing stage that works itself out.

    The depiction of women is almost a mirror image of the gay villain/sassy gay friend problem that m/f romance is still struggling to grow past, I think. Only it seems more prevalent. It’s . . . ironic? sad? disheartening? (not sure what word fits) that a romance subgenre priding itself on inclusiveness imports so much of what’s problematic in “mainstream” romance and then often seems not to want to examine that.

  6. I’m not arguing here with the commentary about women as presented in m/m books, though I am trying to figure out the line between portraying a side character in a realistic way versus as a stereotype.

    I confide in my best friends, male or female. I go to them when I need a sounding board for issues happening in my life. Sometimes they give me helpful advice or insight and point out things to which I’m blind. Sometimes (before I was married) they were interested in knowing about my dating life and now that I’m married, I talk to them about my marriage and the things I deal with within my marriage.

    And sometimes, we gossip about sex.

    This happens. This is how my friendships, particularly with my closest/best friends, work.

    So why isn’t it okay to feature a female character interacting in that way with the protag of a m/m novel? Again, I’m not being argumentative, I’m genuinely curious. I am guessing there must be something I’m missing because I don’t see the problem, provided the side character isn’t pushy and intrusive. When I see someone say “oh, that character is just a sounding board/BFF” my thought is, “…but she’s the best friend. Isn’t being a sounding board pretty much a best friend’s job description, regardless of the sex of the character?”

    To me, being the BFF seems to be a perfectly valid secondary character archetype, and it is present in every form of fiction, regardless of genre or orientation. Romance, chick lit, coming of age, m/f, m/m, it doesn’t matter. It is a constant and valid presence, and it does so as a service to the reader, The best friend serves as a foil for the protag, offers insight to the reader into both the protagonist’s personality and the situations in the story as they appear to someone who isn’t the protag. It serves as a narrative device, a way to convey critical information to the reader without infodumping.

    When my first novel, the one for which I had to re-write 50%, came back from my editor (who is, by the way, a real honest-to-God NYC publishing house editor who has worked for Big 5 publishers before she went freelance) one of the biggest comments she made was to get the story out of my MC’s head and show him interacting with other people, show the reader who he is as a foil against other characters and use those other characters to help him find his way through his quandary, rather than only giving the reader his inner musings. Thus I used a number of characters, several of them female, to nudge my character along his journey. I used his ex-girlfriend, a character who knows him better than anyone because of their long history and who has an influence with him that no one else has, to give him some badly needed reality checks. I used an elderly neighbor who had been a friend of his grandmother’s to give him some sage advice and insight from someone who has known hardship and love a lot longer than he has. In my most recent book, I use the other MC’s BFF to help him work through a debate he keeps having with himself and urge him to pull his head out of his ass from time to time.

    I’m missing something. I must be. Because to hear the BFF character in m/m romances dissed, it sounds like I’m doing it all wrong and yet I think all those uses of the BFF character are completely valid. No, the female characters in my books aren’t movers and shakers. They don’t get their own featured plot lines and they aren’t often part of the action. They are narrative devices, and I don’t understand why that’s a bad thing.

    From the way I hear this issue described (and like I said, I’m TRULY trying to figure out the difference, what am I missing?) it sounds a little like a writer is damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t, If a female side character is a mover or shaker as an antagonist, she’s the stereotypical villain. If she’s a mover and shaker on the side of the protagonish, she’s “pushy” and intrusive. If she remains on the sidelines, a gentle, guiding presence, then she’s just the stereotypical BFF sounding board.

    So what is expected of female side characters in m/m novels? What makes them a “valid” character versus an “objectionable” one? What is the definition of a “good” female side character?

    • I think an easy fix of that is to give the BFF “agency” – their own motives and goals. So they are more *people* rather than foils/sounding boards.

      • Okay, I can definitely see that. Though I wonder how do you do that without taking the focus off the protag’s story and making it about the side character? I mean, I’ve been dinged by my editor for including information about side characters that isn’t relevant to the focus of the story, even though it fleshed out the side characters and gave the reader a better insight into the side character.

        I’m also wondering what happens if the BFF’s motive and goal is simply to be supportive and help the protag be happy. Doesn’t mean the BFF doesn’t have a life outside that, but that part of the BFFs life is irrelevant to the focus of the story. How do you strike that balance between making the side character full and complete, without giving extraneous information that takes focus off the central story?

        • I want to clarify – for starters I have very simple wishes in regard to female characters in mm fiction. Stop making the female characters evil over the top caricatures – please do. That is not directed to you – i have not read a ainle work ofyours andnhave no clue how you portray women, so i can say nothing. I have really nothing against BFF – honestly I am happy when they are interesting but evil caricatures drive me crazy, they really do. Every reader has different wishes but for what I see a perfect balance in portraying supporting female characters that would be almost any work by Jordan Castillo Price. Especially her Magic mansion and Starving years – her women there rock and big time IMO and they are just supporting characters.

          • No clearly my fingers are faster than my brain today. I have nothing against villain female in mm anywhere, but when this is the only female character in the story – that invites unwelcome thoughts for me.

        • I don’t want to hijack VMs comments thread but I do think you have to go back to Aleks’ point about agency as the key concept in representing women and secondary characters. The treatment of women in m/m isn’t stand alone it arises from and is read against a wider background of women’s roles in society. One of the key critiques of old skool vs new skool het romance has always been that the heroines were acted upon and had limited agency and that female secondary characters were not people but tropes.

          The positive change in het or m/f romance has been towards increased agency for female protagonists. For this to be limited in m/m is retrograde. It also highlights issues of internalised misogyny amongst writers and readers. I am one of those people who reads m/m because while there are power issues and gender related issues for the male characters, they are not the same as those facing women [in het romance]. I read m/m so I don’t have to deal with those in a story. When a woman is not a fully rounded or integrated character in an m/m story we are confronted by these issues and thrown out of the story.

          I would suggest reading Aleks’ Dark Soul novellas to look at how Donata has her own story arc and is incredibly important to Silvio and Stefano’s story. For secondary characters/villains having agency look at the POV of the Russian hit squad.

          • I understand the politics involved very well indeed and anyone who knows me will tell you I am quite outspoken on the subject of societal and internalized misogyny. But Aleks’ series is far more plot-driven than your average romance, which traditionally features simply the journey of two characters coming together. In those stories, the scope is completely different, and not everyone is trying to write that sort of brilliant plot-driven epic that Aleks wrote. :D

            Or at least that’s my perspective as someone who tends to focus more on writing character-driven stories where the major issues are internal to the protagonists. Perhaps that is the source of my confusion; other people are speaking of plot-driven narratives while I default to thinking of character-driven ones. My prevailing interest is and always has been in the journey the character takes inside him or herself and the obstacles that arise from his or her own psyche/history/life experiences/etc. In that case, the secondary character’s (at least as it pertains to the BFF variety) main use of their own agency in the story may simply to be to kick the protag in the ass and say “snap out of it!” (and yes, I am channeling Cher bitch-slapping Nicolas Cage here) or give him a loving nudge in the right direction. There is no place in the scope of that sort of story for a secondary character to get their own story arc, except for perhaps a few mentions of what the character does in her time when she’s not interacting with the protag.

            We certainly can’t hold a heavily plot-driven narrative with several sub-plots against a character-driven narrative with an exclusive focus on a single pair of characters and their emotional journey and expect the latter to handle secondary characters the way the former would. It’s apples and oranges in that case, and entirely unreasonable to make the one the gold standard for the other.

            Is the problem, then, the stories that are supposed to be character driven, where the external conflict is nothing more than another spiteful character trying to keep the protagonists apart? Is that the sort of villainous caricature we’re speaking of? Or one in which a character is malicious for no discernible reason? Again, I’m not being argumentative here. I’m simply trying to pinpoint and understand where this complaint comes from (largely so that I can look out for the warning signs of it happening in my own writing.)

            If a female character tries to keep our protags from being apart and takes steps to make that happen, she is undoubtedly demonstrating agency, but that character would almost certainly be savaged as being the stereotypical evil bitch. So clearly it’s not merely a matter of agency. Likewise, if a BFF schemes to matchmake the protags or push them together so that they reconcile after a fight, she, too, has agency, but the character would be criticized for being pushy and intrusive and overly invested in the protags love life.

            My own female characters all very clearly have lives outside the protagonist couple, they have (I like to think) unique personalities and quirks, but the scope of the story limits the way in which they can be featured without taking the focus off the narrative. Which naturally makes me wonder where I fall on the spectrum of “Attagirl!” to “Urdoinitrong.”

            Is the issue just too ephemeral, a matter of “I know it when I see it?” But how, then, is an author to know he or she has transgressed? It seems to be a much more multifaceted issue than to simply so, don’t write a character who does/doesn’t do X thing.

            • Okay, questions to determine agency: what’s in it for the character who kicks you MC in the pants to go talk to the other MC about his FEEEEEEELINGS? Can’t she hear him mope no more? Is she hoping that once the guys settle down, she has somebody to go watch rugby with? What’s her stake, and why is she doing it? (Look at Mother Theresa, who, apart from being horribly mis-represented in the media – she had some STRONG motivations for all her “selfless acts”. Same with Lady Di. we all have surface layers and might look extremely good/selfless on the outside, but we’re usually driven by some kind of inner need or, worst case, ulterior motive). For example. A gift can be “just a gift”. However, it’s quite understood in our society that if you give me a gift, I owe you a similar-value gift or, if I’m unable to do so, I owe you a favour. Every action has a deeper meaning – we are high-context creatures. I usually need to be aware of why my characters are doing the things they are doing, and those reach deeper than “I’m so nice I like to solve people’s problems”. It can be a need to be powerful, to be in control, to make amends … possibilities are as varied as human emotions. But the agency comes from inside, not from the author (“I need a character who tells him to pull his head out of his arse. Oh, I’ll just use Lucy.” – Why does Lucy get involved? What’s in it for her?)

            • There are character-driven stories that have great women characters and character-driven stories that shortchange them. I agree that it is easier to give a woman character a more developed backstory if you have more plot and more pages to work with, but it’s quite doable even when you don’t. The character doesn’t have to be incredibly complex, she just has to avoid ticking the stereotype boxes.

              Here’s an example: Last year a popular author had a book where the ex-wife of one of the MCs caused loads of trouble for the couple. She was verging on homophobic. It was entirely unnecessary to write her that way, in my opinion, given that a lot of the conflict centered around the children. Parents who have amicable divorces and respect each other have difficult custodial issues because the situation is inherently problematic. It takes work to make it work. You don’t need to create an Evil Ex-Wife, you can get plenty of conflict out of a person who is trying her best.

        • It’s hard to make a call on that on a purely theoretical level. But no person exists solely to support another person, and even minor characters need to feel “alive” to readers. There’s a line between giving pages and pages of backstory and using a sentence here or there to establish agency. Subtle usually does it.

          • No, definitely not, and I know that I, personally, always try to reveal through the interactions between my protags and secondary characters that the secondary characters have things going on outside the protag. I’m just finding myself very interested in analyzing where the line is between what works and what doesn’t. But if Vacuous Minx would rather we not continue to discuss this, I will take it to my own blog or something. It’s just a fascinating subject.

    • I completely agree with you that the BFF is a valid literary construction. One of the aspects of my complaint that is a little unfair to authors is that from a reader point of view, it is the sheer number of characters across books, not any given author’s choices.

      As Liz said above, though, it’s the way a woman in an m/m can become the mirror image of the Best Gay Friend in an m/f romance. Or the Sassy Black Friend. If your character is filling a stereotyped role and you don’t flesh out her characteristics beyond those of Wise Advice Giver or Truth Speaker, then she’s going to push buttons for some readers. Some authors are very good at giving their side characters an interior or background life, and they don’t always do it through the character’s POV.

      I think I’ve seen authors say that they have long, detailed character studies even of secondary characters, and whether all that material makes it into the book or not, it informs the way they write about them. It struck me as similar to doing research for my written work; I’ve spent months and even years reading and research questions that may not amount to more than a section of a book chapter. But it shapes everything else in the book whether the reader sees it or not.

  7. As a reader, I appreciate any open discussions about the quality of m/m fiction. Hopefully, some publishers and authors will read it as the constructive information it is. I don’t have a problem with the way most female characters are portrayed because I don’t want to know much about them other than as they relate to the male characters but I do care about the editing, the overabundance of sex to the point that you have to search for the story and the selling of novellas and calling them novels.

    The books keep getting shorter and the price keeps going higher. Quality is definitely being sacrificed for quantity.

    • One of the points made in the discussion at Jessewave was the increasing number of short works. They aren’t short stories in the true sense, and the novellas often aren’t well structured in terms of the form. But they’re called that, and they distort reader’s ideas of what a good short story or novella is. Readers feel cheated, and they should, because what they’re usually getting is a fragment of a larger work, not a properly constructed short work.

      • Length – that’s an interesting question. First of all, I think the short form has been reborn in times of the e-reader, which means we’re seeing more of it and get more exposure to it than back in the paper era when short stories were confined to specialist magazines (a market that barely exists in Germany, where I won my spurs). I also think that some readers really enjoy reading books they can finish in one sitting or during a long commute (this would include the short story, so works under 15k.)

        The novella is a pretty nebulous form, which I’d define as “longer than a short, shorter than a novel”. Since some (het, print) category novels start at 45k (which I think is too short, I’d like to look at novels from 55k-60k upwards, but that’s more mainstream fiction), and I’d think short stories start to move into novella/novellette territory from 15k upwards.

        The crazy thing is, both short stories and novellas have structural requirements (I’m showing my literature degree here), and they do require an author to condense and structure. Frankly, I’ve spent more time working and fine-tuning “Skybound”, my historical short, than any other piece of writing that eventually became part of a novel. The German “Novelle” is a strict form. Short stories also have a structure. Very often, you read shorts in the genre that feel like outlines of a novel: things are underdeveloped, just narrated and don’t make a lot of sense. Consequently, engagement of emotion on the reader’s part remains minimal. So there are lots of people writing the short form thinking it’s easier (how often have I heard the advice for young authors to “start with a short story, they are easier” – hell no, they are REALLY difficult) or faster, which is the worst possible reason to write shorts, in my book.

        However, the difference between a novel and a novella isn’t just length, it’s complexity and risk. For example – I think of a novella as a 2-4 week project. If it’s going well or I’m co-writing, that might be as little as 1-2 weeks. A novel, even though it might be only double in length, easily takes 4-5 times as much time, because to fill those extra 30k, you need to complicate the plot, develop the world, you need subplots and a larger cast. It’s not twice as complex because it’s twice as long, but the complexity increases proportionally. A novel is a really complex organism, and you end up spending months on it rather than weeks. It also demands a different level of focus. In my personal case, while any new project eats my brain, a novel is so complex that it can leave me almost an unwashed recluse while it’s storming through my brain.

        Talking about risk. Considering how much work goes into a novel versus a novella, committing to a novel is a much larger investment, for not a lot of extra money. Say, you can charge $4 for a novella, but you’re looked at strangely if you ask $8 for a novel that’s twice as long and five times as complex and took a lot more time to write. Considering the added effort, time, complexity and all the other factors, charging $15 for the novel versus the novella is probably fairer, but I absolutely agree that nobody is paying that anymore.

        There are also purely economic considerations. I know at least one publisher (a large one) that pays 25% royalties in novels and 33% on novellas. Under those terms, you’d be mad to write novels for them. I understand why it happens. Novels go to print, and layout, wrap cover and all that costs money that an e-only release doesn’t cost. But I can see why writers write them, publishers prefer them and readers read them.

  8. What I also hate are slurs like “bitch” or “son of a bitch” (mostly when men call each other this), which is still hatred towards women.
    The reason why many readers don’t seem to mind could be that many women bash each other using the same slurs like men use. They don’t know where this comes from, don’t even think about it as hatred towards women.
    Many feel that it’s “cool” to use “hardcore” language men use. They feel empowered when they can use words men use to insult women. (The same way women feel empowered by taking half naked photos of themselves, instead of realizing that they only make themselves into objects to the “male gaze”)
    It’s still a big problem of patriarchy and as long as no one adresses this, readers will think of it as “cool” or “empowering” when men call other men “(sonofa)bitch”…

    So yes, I can relate to this article a lot, since I find it very hard to get my hands on books that don’t use hatred towards women for their “climaxe” or “plot twists”.

    • “bitch” and “son of a bitch” are all over m/f romance. Doesn’t make it not hatred towards women, but just saying that m/m doesn’t have the monopoly here.

      • no, of course not. It irks me in general and I’m more into m/m because we have less of the power dynamics which make it seem “ok” to discriminate against and/or oppress your love interest. :{
        I just wish they would stop using such slurs in general. Would be a great plus for every book.

        • I get what you’re saying. I can’t say I’ve get too bothered by “son of a bitch” – it’s such a common saying that I personally don’t perceive any sting – but that’s me and obviously it *is* a gendered slur and will be a hot button for people. But, I don’t think whether it is in m/f or m/m makes it any better or worse – my take. :)

  9. Please don’t worry about hijacking the thread! This is a great discussion and it’s important for us to talk about the concrete aspects of the issue. That’s why I gave examples in the original post. Too often we (and I definitely include myself here) make sweeping statements without offering specific instances of those abstract claims.

  10. I tend to roll my eyes at some of the heavy handed woman-bashing in gay romance but you have to wonder if some of it might come from gay fiction or such landmark books like Brokeback.

    If you go back to my generation of gay fiction there was an underlying anti-women tone going on but then you had so many gay men getting out of bad marriages many with children involved or unsupportive families etc etc that it was sort of an acknowledged homophobia that most gay men shared so you kind of expected to hear about it.

    But… I do not buy every gay romance author may have read that much past gay fiction. Probably more likely it’s more modern stuff like Brokeback which you have to admit treated the women characters badly.

    I just wish more authors did their own thing instead of echoing the same tropes and the same stereotypes all the time but I think reading yet another “gay for you” story or another “suddenly gay” story is much more annoying in my opinion.

    • As a kind of stand-in for “heterosexual life/heterosexual option”, which is then rejected in favour of the “authentic self”? Interesting thought.

      • Well I think many gay men back in the late 60s and on into the 70s were only able to face coming out by utterly rejecting the closet and being seen around women in general. It’s that whole “all in” or “all out” kind of thinking that a lot of guys do. Not to mention that going only half way or claiming to be bisexual was seen as a cop out by the radical gay movement at the time.

        Milk himself gave a speech about coming out based on that idea. I think the whole all black or all white “knee jerk reaction” deal is slowly getting replaced but that was in there at the time. It was part of the whole conversation around how gay guys needed to maintain visibility etc etc etc.

        • Great points, TP. Now that you bring it up, I remember that the first times I went into gay bars (with gay male friends), many many years ago, I was a little nervous because I didn’t want to encroach on hard-won territory or appear voyeuristic. I think things changed in the mid and late 1980s, when forming coalitions to push for AIDS funding and support and the need to provide services overrode old divisions. Maybe with the younger generation (20s and early 30s) they’re back to the more exclusionary attitudes, I don’t know. That hasn’t been my experience with my students, but I stand in a different relationship to them than their contemporaries do.

          • Well obviously there will be much less hard feelings between the sexes with people being out early and being more accepted from the start. I think the major hold over from the era is that gay bars are gay bars and lesbian bars are lesbian bars.

            That has not changed so much but that might be the whole “safe space” deal still being important for a sense of community.

    • Well you know my position on Gay4U, which is that I won’t read it unless it’s an author I really trust, and even then it’s more to see what s/he does with it than for pure entertainment.

  11. I read about 30% m/m I guess, so maybe 70-100 books a year (?). I haven’t read any of the the books you give examples of (otherwise, I completely missed the issues and that seems unlikely). I’ve been lucky in my m/m reading I guess. I tend to only buy books after they’ve been recommended to me by trusted reviewers/bloggers and/or from authors I’ve read and liked before. I still have too many to get through so I’m not running out anytime soon. And, for me, the quality has been pretty good mostly. I don’t read much self pubbed work – either m/m or m/f. I wonder if the quality issue is just a reflection of the larger romance genre with a lot of self pubbed books and less editing by the trad pubs? I mean, doesn’t someone like Lora Leigh (m/f) get almost no editing? And I’ve heard similar regarding Laurell K. Hamilton etc (I haven’t read any of ther books so I don’t know). Anyway, it seems to me that a lot of this stuff is not just confined to the m/m genre.

    I have become more sensitised to the woman-bashing in m/m – but I’m personally seeing it less and less – that may be because I’m self selecting of course. Although sadly, one I read recently had the eeeeeeevil (that’s with 7 e’s) mother and I was disappointed she was so lacking in nuance – because she *could* have been bad and hurtful but more than just a caricature and she wasn’t.

    For the most part, I’ve been pretty lucky in my m/m reading.

    Do. Not. Get. Me. Started. On. m/m audiobooks. However. *cries*

  12. I also wanted to say that I’m not all that clear, even after reading the comments here, what the problem with the female BFF is. I see it all the time in m/f and m/m. I’d rather see a female BFF for a gay character than have no women or only evil women in a book. Maybe the BFF’s I read in m/m do have agency but I’m just not recognising it as such? The last one I read which I can think of was Dirty Laundry where Adam’s BFF was Louisa, a trans* woman. She didn’t have her own storyline and I can see her being described as “Wise Advice Giver” or “Truth Speaker” because she totally was but I felt like she was more than just a placeholder and I really liked her.

    I think I might be missing something about this part of the topic. :)

    • I don’t mean that having a female BFF is wrong per se; as Amelia says upthread, it’s a legitimate and widely used character. What I really mean is the BFF whose only purpose is to be there for the MC. She doesn’t have her own partner or circle of friends outside the MC, she’s often jealous of the new romance. In the other incarnation, she’s wise and all-knowing and does the work to set up the romance. If you pull back and think about this character beyond what the author is telling us, she’s either really pretty pathetic or a saint. And there’s no reason in terms of the story for her to be like that.

      On the scale of offensive characters, the “fag hag” BFF is not the worst by any means. I think I dislike it (and notice it) because it’s part of the overall tendency in m/m to screw up the representation of the important non-sexual relationships in men’s lives. And of course this isn’t limited to m/m; think of all the orphaned heroines in het romance, or heroines and heroes who have no real friends. It focuses attention on the main couple. But here I think it can also illustrate a tendency to erase women from m/m books.

    • For me it’s the BFF who treats her gay friend like a child. She will go behind his back to warn off potential men she doesn’t feel are good enough for him. She will panic and go into a screaming fit because she was worried when he didn’t come home from a date (he’s 30, not 13). It’s very much that she has no faith in him as a human being to run his own life. Now if the guy was been a drug addict in abusive relationships, okay, maybe he needs a caretaker, but the ones that annoy me don’t. And worse, if the guy hates it, but thinks he has to take it because she’s the only one whose been there for him, or they’ve been friends since childhood, therefore she gets to run his life because she loves him. Um. That’s not love, that obsessive control. LOL

      I don’t mind female friends at all, but yeah, make sure their entire reason for existing isn’t to interfere and make sure their friend’s life goes the way they want it to. Have a boyfriend, have a job, go on your own dates.

      In fact I’d rather have the evil homophobic bitch who tries to turn him straight, because usually there’s a nice smack down scene at some point, and I do love me a good smack down. It beats that insidious damage done by a friend in the guise of “helping”.

      • I don’t think I’ve read many (any?) BFF’s like that – I wouldn’t like it either! I don’t mind the BFF who is actually a friend but that would bother me too. You are far more widely read in m/m than I though Tam so no doubt you’ve come across it more often than I have. :)

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