First things first, let’s get this out of the way. Today is another book release day–the last one for a few months. So, if you haven’t purchased your copy yet, the guy below can be bought here.
Also, I was so fortunate to collaborate with @DeanColeWriter on the covers for the JACOB MICHAELS IS… series. He was an absolute God-send that made my work really shine. After he designed the first book cover, I didn’t have to tell him anything except the future titles for him to create the perfect cover for each book. I don’t have words to explain how much I loved having him do the covers for JMI (he also designed the cover for THE GRAVITY OF NOTHING). If you’re a writer looking for a designer to collaborate with, don’t be afraid to reach out to him. You can click on his Twitter handle above to reach out to him, or click on the advertisement in the toolbar on the right. You won’t regret it!
But, let’s talk about sex now, shall we?
Within the last few days, I was having a private conversation on Twitter with a few other people in the Writing and Reading Communities. Three of us in the group started to discuss being labeled as erotica authors…even though that is not really what most (or any) of our work is. Collectively, we were all somewhat confused by how that happens to writers.
Then, one person said that she felt that books with M/M (male/male) pairings are just automatically seen as taboo–as compared to books that have heterosexual relationships. Of course, this could be applied to any LGBTQ+ pairing in a book–as long as that romantic relationship is at the forefront of the story.
Immediately, I pointed out that, though not often maliciously, but instead, ignorantly, some people assume that M/M relationships are all about sex, so, of course a book with a M/M pairing would make certain people assume that there will be graphic sexual situations.
At its core, people automatically assuming a M/M romance will also be erotica is low-level homophobia.
To believe that heterosexual relationships are deeper and have more meaning, and that homosexual relationships are just about sex is ignorant at best. This doesn’t make me mad–maybe frustrated–because I don’t think most of the people who hold this opinion are intentionally trying to cast gay people in a bad light. They are just misinformed.
Guess what gay guys in a relationship do besides have sex?
Argue about who put the milk carton back into the fridge with only a sip left in it.
Fight over who the real cover hog is.
Go grocery shopping.
Talk about things that happened at work that made them feel bad.
Investigate who dropped the Death Fart™ that woke them up in the middle of the night.
Attend funerals, weddings, church.
They hold hands and support each other when there is tragedy and loss.
They celebrate when joy comes.
Depending upon the couple, gay men in relationships may do a lot of fucking or a little fucking, or some level of fucking between the two.
Writing “fucking” is fun.
Being gay does not mean that a person’s life will have a higher or lower level of fucking than anyone else’s. It just identifies who you will be doing that fucking with–should you be so lucky and want to do it.
Gay men–like any other pairing–experiences times when there is no fucking. When there is illness and grief and the most important thing is being there for each other emotionally and mentally. They lean on each other in the hard times and lift each other up. They congratulate each other when a job is well done and tell each other when they could do better. Like all good relationships, each man in a gay relationship will push the other to be their best self, autonomous from each other.
But we are sometimes more angst-riddled, equally angst-riddled, or less angst-riddled than other couples. Not every gay relationship is dramatic. Sometimes they are quiet and strong, yet just as passionate as any other relationship.
Additionally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that part of this problem has been started by heterosexual female writers who fetishize gay men. I get that you have your fantasies and these books help boost your sales. I, too, get a tingle thinking about two guys humping like rabbits. But when you are a heterosexual female writer who reduces gay men to beings who merely thrive on sex–you’re ignorant at best and homophobic at worst. You’re doing a disservice to gay men when you write these stories. We are more than our penises and our sex drive, my fellow writers. Of course, and I’m not really joking, if you are a heterosexual female writer producing these stories about men over the age of 50, I will give you a pass. Those men get reduced to being old farts reminiscing about the one time they saw Bette Midler on Broadway and flouncing about telling the younger gays what it meant to be gay “way back when.” Those men are also more complex than that and deserve a full spectrum of humanity.
To me, it seems like the publishing world wants to flag LGBTQ+ books at times because these might be “taboo” stories if they have romance in them. Homophobia aside–you’re just as likely to see two characters having sex in a Stephen King novel as you would in any of my books. Conversely…
Consider my latest novel, BETWEEN ENZO & THE UNIVERSE. The heat factor in it is almost zero. Unless you find deep emotions and discussions super sexy. In the entire 304 pages, there is a single romantic kiss. That’s it. And it is obviously, at least in part, an LGBTQ+ novel. Instead of being reductive and balancing the relationship between the two main characters simply on sexual attraction (and getting it on), I wanted to show how two people (regardless of gender or orientation) go through the first step of falling in love. I wanted any human who wants to fall in love to see themselves in the present day chapters of the story.
And I hate that I felt the need–and it was almost required of me–to list the book as an LGBTQ+ novel because the story could have had any genders or orientations for the two main characters and still had the same resonance with readers.
Deep down, I don’t think publishers and the publishing world have LGBTQ+ as a genre so that LGBTQ+ people can more easily find those novels, but to warn homophobes that they might not want to buy this book. It’s censorship in many ways.
I’ve never understood a person who feels uncomfortable reading about two men or two women falling in love. I certainly don’t get disgusted by heterosexual pairings. Love is love is love. It’s all beautiful. Admittedly, conditioning might play a role in the way that I see things. I am gay, so I feel good with LGBTQ+ relationships of all flavors–yet I was constantly exposed to heteronormativity growing up, so heterosexual romance is not disturbing to me either–though I do all I can to stomp out any heteronormativity in the media I consume. I can understand that someone might not want to read any erotica because they don’t enjoy gratuitous sex–but romance is nearly the same from one type of relationship to the next.
We’re all humans. Almost all of us want to be loved and love someone back. We all want to argue with someone about why they keep leaving their dirty socks on the goddamn bathroom floor!
Don’t get me wrong–I do enjoy the LGBTQ+ tag on books at times, because sometimes I am specifically looking for a nice gay romance. Or maybe a lesbian romance. Sometimes I want to read about an asexual or bisexual main character. Maybe I want to read a novel with a transgender main character. It’s easier to find these novels if they are tagged.
But I also want to read about heterosexual love. Beyond that, I want to read about the African American experience and the black experience in general. I want to read about Asian characters (the entire spectrum, not just Chinese or Japanese people). I want to read Latinx experiences. I especially want to read these if they are Own Voices. And I don’t want to be warned about it. I won’t spontaneously die if I find out that a character looks differently than me or loves differently than me.
Understandably, content tags/warnings are being used more widely in the publishing world now. I don’t personally use them (except in one book that was very dark) but I appreciate them. Psychological, emotional, and physical things described can be very triggering for people who have experienced trauma, so it is nice to have a heads up. However, if you need a content warning that two boys might kiss…you might need to educate yourself on the fact that most of the world is *whispers* not like you.
Ultimately, I think that I’ve decided that the publishing world has the LGBTQ+ tag because they assume everyone reads romance for titillation or to see their exact self reflected back to them. They don’t realize that some people just want to read about people who find love, plain and simple, regardless of what that looks like on the outside. The publishing world assumes that, for example, a gay man like me, is picking up a romance novel because I want to be “turned on” by the pairing–thus, I’d want M/M pairings only–instead of just wanting to swoon over a really well-written romance about two people.
Regardless, I obviously don’t have the answer for how we fix this problem of LGBTQ+ M/M romance being equated with erotica (also, FYI, sex scenes in a book do not automatically make a book “erotica,” though I have written an actual erotica novel). I simply wish that people would consider why they feel this way when they see the M/M romance tag. Admit to yourself that your bias and ignorance is showing and…do better.
Tremendous Love & Thanks,