Readers of erotic romance, it seems, like to read about men getting it on. With each other. A decade ago, more women than men tuned in to watch Queer as Folk, Showtime’s hour-long sexually explicit drama about the lives, loves, and sexual exploits of a group of gay and lesbian friends. If I recall correctly, and as evidenced by the pic above, there were more men than women on the show, which featured plenty of nudity and lots and lots of fucking. A decade later that’s what I most remember most vividly, although I also learned something I had not previously known: Men can fuck in the missionary position.
That’s what popped into my mind when I heard that Qhuinn and Blay’s lovesick angst will play out in a Black Dagger Brotherhood novel due in 2013 from J.R. Ward. It won’t be the first gay “mainstream” romance—after all, it’s been five years since Suzanne Brockmann’s All Through the Night—but the steam level of Brockmann’s book can’t match that in Ward’s, whose writing is far more sexually graphic. Homoeroticism, a hallmark of Ward’s series, has become more pronounced over time, so perhaps it won’t be an “issue” for readers. Still, it’s a hop, skip, and jump to go from “it wouldn’t bother me” to “this is a compelling secondary story” to “wow...that’s hot...I want more, and please don’t leave out anything!”
An online friend—BarksLessWagMore—who was once an AAR Reviewer and now writes the Fetch Me My Fainting Couch blog reads prolifically, and among her romance choices are a goodly number of m/m romances, including those of the erotic variety. I asked her what appeals to her about reading m/m romance, and m/m erotic romance. Her response? That she finds it hard to find well-written, well-developed romances with a focus on the love story within a genre filled with “crazy paranormal/action-fest” titles, so much so that at this point, she’s concluded “that those writers in the m/m genre are doing it best.” She adds, “I won’t lie and say that the appeal of two hot guys falling in love isn’t a draw and a nice change of pace from traditional romance, but for me it comes down to character believability and how well the romance is developed. Most m/m romances (or at least the amazing ones) maintain a focus on the two leads falling in love despite all of the obstacles.” (Those of you interested in discovering which titles BarkeLessWagMore finds amazing may click here for her m/m page at goodreads.)
My friend lost me at “the appeal of two hot guys falling in love.” I’m not making a judgment—political, religious, or otherwise. Far from it, and in real life (and outside of romance reading), I couldn’t care less about who beds whom; c’est la vie and all that. But reading romance is an intensely personal experience for me. It goes to the core of my sexuality, and sexually speaking, I’m simply not turned on by the notion of two men or two women doing What People Do when they’re in love. I don’t care if two men in real life do What People Do when they are in love, but watching it...reading it...fails to arouse me because that intensely personal connection is missing. The heroine of a romance/erotic romance novel is my personal placeholder. If two men are making love, after all, it becomes impossible to be All About Me. Without a heroine in a scene to placehold for me, it’s not at all about me. Pout. What’s there to get turned on about?
Substitute two women for two men and that failure to be turned on morphs into a total turn off. During a sex scene it’s me feeling what the heroine feels and what the heroine does, and if a heroine does another woman, I’m sorry, but getting up close and personal with another woman’s vagina provokes a very unpleasant, visceral response. That said, when my daughter once hypothetically asked what I would do if she were gay, my immediate response was, “Bring your girlfriend home for Thanksgiving!”
Let’s get back to two men, though. While I can’t help but turn the heroine into a placeholder, my friend interprets stories about two hot guys falling in love differently. Whether the stories she reads are explicit or not, gender is not at issue. I don’t know what that says about the two of us. What I do know is this: I have the same intense reaction to what I see that I do to what I read. When the final episodes of Game of Thrones’s first season aired, I knew bad, very bad things were going to happen. My husband was not available to hold my hand for those final two Sunday evenings, so I TiVo’d the episodes until he could watch them with me. Weenie that I am, I needed moral support to get through what was to come.
He doesn’t understand why my response to TV shows is so intense. We actually stopped watching E.R. and NYPD Blue after the deaths of Dr. Mark Greene and Det. Bobby Simone because I could no longer handle the emotional investment. On the other hand, I felt no connection at all when tuning in to watch the premiere episode of Girls. Indeed, my only reaction was to be grossed out after watching a scene in which two friends with benefits have anal sex. The “ew” factor wasn’t the sex itself, it was that afterward they sat bare-ass naked on the couch without any thought given to putting down a towel first.
Obviously the notion of two hot guys falling in love appeals to a segment of women readers, and that segment is growing. J.R. Ward’s decision to take Qhuinn and Blay center stage attests to that, and so do the ever-growing number of m/m erotic romances written specifically for the female reader.
Although I’ve tried, I’m just not a fan. Even authors whose “straight” erotic romances I’ve liked, some paranormal, others contemporary—Cameron Dane, Tielle St. Clare, Evengeline Anderson, Lorelei James, to name just a few—have not lured me in. The book to come closest, Lauren Dane’s Laid Bare, features a love story involving a woman and two men. First the men fall in love with the heroine. Then they fall begin to dig each other, and the heroine finds it all incredibly hot. I liked the book overall and the scenes involving the heroine and the homophobic father of one of her lovers were well-written and emotionally gripping. But what the heroine found incredibly hot, I found incredibly...not.
Though most of the m/m storylines I’ve read were written by women, I have tried a smattering of full length books and short stories written by men. I can’t share the titles, but the result has been the same: I felt nothing.
My motto as a reader has always been “never say never,” and it has served me well. Perhaps with the right story I’ll feel something.
So I’d like to open the discussion to your recommendations on which books and/or authors to try, and why: Would I be better served to try a m/m story written by a gay man who doesn’t have a straight woman in mind as his primary audience, or will I strike gold reading women authors who write for women? Will I have my aha moment with a menage story or with a more traditional boy-meets-boy story line? I may not ever become a m/m erotic aficionado, but maybe I can understand why others are. And to broaden the discussion, feel free to share your comments overall on m/m romance.
Laurie Gold cannot stop reading and writing about romance—she’s been blabbing online for years. She remains a work in progress. Keep up with her on goodreads, be one of the few who visits her at Toe in the Water or follow her may-be-too-political-for-you tweets at @laurie_gold.