Dear Bitches, Smart Authors Podcast

42. Cheating Romances and Male-Male Romance

More reader mail! Jane and Sarah answer letters about cheating and infidelity in romances, and one reader's ethical concerns about male/male romance.

Book Thoughtless - S C. Stephens Book Effortlesss - S. C. Stevens Book Reckless - S. C. Stevens

Book KA Mitchell - Collision Course Book The Bronze Horseman Book Tatiana and Alexander - Paullina Simons

Book Midsummer Magic - Catherine Coulter Book Lover Avenged JR Ward Book One Good Earl Deserves a Lover - Sarah MacLean

Book The Devil's Delilah - Loretta Chase Book The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight - Jennifer Smith

This week's music was provided by Sassy Outwater, and this track is called “Dragons,” by a Parisian group called Caravan Palace. You can find their album, “Caravan Palace,” on iTunes, and you can find the band on MySpace and Facebook.

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  1. 1
    LJmysticowl says:

    Sarah: “The Bronze Horseman is 10 years old?!”
    Me: “Wait, what? It was written in the 1800s!”

    Cultural dissonance hooray – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T…

  2. 2
    Mandy Lenore says:

    Actually she is talking about the book published in 2001 by Paullina Simons

    http://www.goodreads.com/book/

  3. 3
    LJmysticowl says:

    Oh, I know (well, I wasn’t aware of the book, but I saw the cover in this post and obviously it wasn’t about the poem), but it sure wasn’t where my mind first went! Made for some very amusing confusion.

  4. 4
    katherinelynn_04 says:

    I’m not seeing #42 on iTunes. Only 41 items and the first one is Plot Moppets/Pet Moppets. Boooooooooooo, iTunes!

  5. 5
    Liz H says:

    Thank you! Pet peeve #I stopped counting- Complete absence of homophobia and danger in soooo many contemporary gay romances. Recently read a sample in which a man walked into a biker bar in OK and hooked up with someone in an open hallway. Really?! Just no.

  6. 6
    Kim says:

    Ok…anyone who thinks male-male romances have “ethical” issues is a homophobic.  Having issues with male-male romances is in itself unethical.  Giving anti-gay people a platform is the same as having a racist give their views on multicultural romances.  It is legal under freedom of speech, but unethical if you are supportive of the gay community.  Unacceptable and not what I expect from this podcast.

  7. 7
    Cee Marsden says:

    That depends on what the ethical issue is. For instance, some people think women writing and reading m/m romance is exploitative, because it reduces gay men to sexual objects for the entertainment of others. That’s an ethical issue, but it isn’t homophobic.

  8. 8
    claritygolden says:

    I’m Jen and you read my question on male-male romances. Squee!! I can’t tell you how excited I got when I saw you were going to address it. :)

    Great discussion! I do think it’s a gray area, and I can see both sides of the issue. In college my focus of study was on literature by various marginalized groups, though, and I keep coming back to the examples of how groups are represented by mainstream writers vs. how they represent themselves (e.g. how African Americans were portrayed in fiction vs. how they portrayed themselves when they had the chance). People argue that any portrayal is positive, but I’m not sure that’s always true, not when a marginalized group is having their voice appropriated. I’m going to keep watching the trend, however, because I think it could potentially herald some positive things.

    As for Kim’s comment, I wholeheartedly agree that anyone who has a problem with real life male-male romance is homophobic. The question was about something different though. Maybe you haven’t had a chance to listen to the podcast? It was a very interesting discussion!

  9. 9
    Carrie G says:

    My daughter reads m/m fiction and from my talks with her I get the impression many authors are gay men and women or transgendered. I know some are hetero females, but certainly not all, at least not what she’s reading.

    I wanted to address one issue. I don’t remember who said it, or how it was phrased in the podcast, but believe me, women who are burned out on m/f relationships might easily turn to m/m. When you take the female out of the equation, you can focus on the relationship development and stop all those buttons from being pushed. In other words, if an man is a jerk to another man, it very well might not set off the “all men are a$$hole” alarms from a female reader coming out of a bad relationship. I know I’m not putting this well, but there can be so many pitfalls in romance when you are tired of bossy men, know-it-all men, women who act helpless, and the cultural double standard (men are virile, women are sluts). I know I’m not being clear, but I totally get this reason for reading m/m fiction. (And personally know people who feel this way.)

  10. 10
    Cee Marsden says:

    I’m so glad you asked that question (and that it got addressed in the podcast), because it’s something that bothers me a little too. I haven’t read very much m/m romance, but when I have, I’ve had this nagging question about what we’re doing when we consume male-male narratives as entertainment.

    But then, over the holidays I read one (How to Repair a Mechanical Heart) which seemed aware of that issue. I don’t want to give too much away, but basically the main characters become aware that there’s fic being written about them, and the character who’s having a lot of trouble coming to terms with his identity actually draws some measure of reassurance from the sense that there are people out there rooting for him—people who, unlike his parents, have absolutely no problem accepting his sexuality. It was an interesting read, largely because the novel was directly addressing the notion of women writing fic about male couples.

     

  11. 11
    Charon says:

    Interesting hearing about the male-male romances. I’ve never read one, but I have read quite a few female-female romances, all written by women. They don’t feel exploitative, perhaps as a result of that (though I realize I’m not very sensitive to that, being a guy). They often address cultural issues, and the good ones don’t do it as soapbox, but as personal experiences by the characters.

    As a straight guy, I realize some people think it’s odd that I’m into lesbian romance, but I think they’re great… I can fall for both lead characters! The only downside is that it’s a very small genre, with quite a few books by novices that are heartfelt by sometimes poorly written.

    And I didn’t learn about “alpha male” heroes until I started reading SBTB as a result :)  One more great thing about lesbian romances.

  12. 12
    AubreyWatt says:

    As a female author who writes a lot of m/m erotic romance, I’ve had to struggle with the question of exploitation because I quite obviously can’t write about m/m relationships with any sort of authenticity. I don’t try to.

    It does sometimes seem rather silly to add in a realistic sentence or two about putting on a condom when my characters are werewolves and vampires, and if I have two cowboys hook up, sometimes I don’t want to stop the story and get mired in the realities of contemporary homophobia. As we often joke about in erotica forums, our stories live in an alternate universe where everybody can deepthroat, nobody has STDs or unwanted pregnancies, and assholes are self-lubricating. There was a quote in the podcast – “Are we living in a fantasy where no homophobia exists?” My answer is yes, sometimes. Sometimes I just want to write fantastical nonsense where a bunch of Oklahoma cowboys take part in 5-way orgies where everybody cums and nobody cares.

    There is definitely a place (higher above me on the writer food chain!) for more realistic works that delve into deeper issues of homosexuality, and I try to support LGBT authors who portray their relationships authentically. However, erotica is by its very nature fantasy, and I think that it’s a bit unfair to expect true authenticity in our genre and say that we’re failing in some way if we don’t provide that.

  13. 13

    “I think that it’s a bit unfair to expect true authenticity in our genre and say that we’re failing in some way if we don’t provide that.”

    If you’re writing about a marginalised group – whether it’s a racial minority, people with a disability, or queer people – you have to go the extra mile to make sure you’re writing a story which doesn’t misrepresent them. This isn’t about whether you put condoms in your sex scenes. It’s about whether you’re appropriating or respecting.

    Frankly we have enough writers in every genre that talks about marginalised groups who leave the heavy lifting to those “higher above [them] on the writer food chain”. If you don’t feel it’s your job, then don’t write books about that group because you’re going to fuck it up and offend people.

  14. 14

    My thoughts regarding infidelity in Romancelandia:

    1. I think that the increasing presence of cheating in contemporaries might be part of the larger shift toward realism that the entire genre has undergone since the Old Skool days. The fact of the matter is that people cheat. Not everyone, but lots of them. And sometimes they are happier with the people they cheat with than with the people they cheat on (god, that is a lot of prepositions; I hope I’m still intelligible). I’m not saying that cheating is good, just that it happens.

    2. Ideally, I do not want to read romances involving cheating. Like Sarah, I think that cheating in a committed relationship signals a lack of integrity, and I have a hard time seeing that as heroic. That said, there are a few circumstances under which I will accept cheating in a romance:
        a. The cheater’s partner is abusive. Being an abuser, in my opinion, signals a breach of the relationship agreement that renders any expectation of fidelity null.
        b. The cheater’s partner makes it clear that he/she is not committed to the relationship, regardless of the duration of said relationship. I have not read the S. C. Stephens books, but based on Jane’s description, I believe that the original boyfriend’s actions may have done this. To ask someone to move across the country for you, and then abandon them without even asking their opinion, is the kind of dick move that, to me, signals a lack of real commitment.
        c. The cheater’s partner is already cheating. Come on, that one’s obvious.

    3. Circumstances under which I will unequivocally reject cheating in a romance:
        a. The hero/ine cheats on the hero/ine. That is some bullshit right there. I might make an exception for an historical, as long as it is an arranged marriage and the situation is resolved by the end of the book, but I won’t like it.
        b. The cheater’s partner is actively trying to make the relationship work, but the cheater forges ahead (heh. Head. I’m twelve). If they are willing to put that much effort into the relationship, then the cheater owes them honesty.

    TL;DR: Art reflects life, and sometimes cheating is justifiable.

  15. 15
    cleo says:

    That’s why I read m/m.  I started about a year ago, and I was frankly skeptical.  But I got hooked pretty quickly – I really enjoy reading romance that bypasses our cultural baggage about gender roles, gender equality and women’s sexuality. 

    Of the authors I’ve read, the majority are women, and while some don’t broadcast their orientation, at least a couple are bisexual and one is gender queer. Of the the male authors I’ve read, at least two are transgender.  It gets tricky, because not everyone wants to share private info with their readers, and there have been some big kerfuffles about who’s what (which I try to avoid even knowing about).

    I haven’t listened to the podcast yet, but I think the issue of appropriation is an important one to be aware of.  As a reader, I want to be entertained, but I also want to support work that’s respectful and not exploitative.

  16. 16
    AubreyWatt says:

    I agree with most of what you say, and I do make a huge effort to be respectful of characters in my books – as an example, I did a whole bunch of research before writing a transgendered character. When I’m reading normal fiction, I feel as though the author has a responsibility to do this. However, I feel as though erotica in particular is different because of the nature of the writing – many of the kinks are very unrealistic, and I don’t think it’s necessary to portray characters – marginalized or otherwise – as realistic.

    As an example, I was beta reading an erotic story about a woman who just loved cum and guys cumming in her nose and eyes and would orgasm just from rubbing cum onto her tits. Unrealistic for most women? Sure. Male writer? Absolutely. It’s not my kink, but I’m not going to judge a writer who is playing to a specific fantasy, and I’m not going to judge readers who desire a specific unrealistic fantasy, no matter how distasteful or unrealistic it may personally be to me.

    They mentioned the prevalence of “gay for you” characters in the podcast, and I’ll admit that it’s a huge turn-on fantasy for me and for a lot of my fans, not because we don’t appreciate realistic, authentic gay relationships, but because it’s hot to imagine guys getting it on, and it’s super hot to imagine a straight guy who could be “turned” by a deep emotional connection, as completely implausible as it is. I suppose I don’t see how it’s exploitative if it’s an acknowledged fantasy, which is how I see the entire genre of erotica. Your thoughts? Should erotica authors still work towards some semblance of realism? Should they even work towards being respectful, if the kink demands disrespect (as some BDSM fiction does)?

  17. 17
  18. 18

    “It’s super hot to imagine a straight guy who could be “turned” by a deep emotional connection, as completely implausible as it is.”

    Treating someone’s sexuality as a kink doesn’t strike you as problematic?

    “Should they even work towards being respectful, if the kink demands disrespect (as some BDSM fiction does)? “

    You’re confusing two different concepts of respect. BDSM demands respect for your partner even if ‘disrespecting’ is part of the kink.

  19. 19
    AubreyWatt says:

    Problematic for whom? I don’t believe that anybody who picks up “Straight Boy on a Gay Cruise: Reluctant Gay BDSM Erotic Romance” is going to get anything other than what they expect. 

    However, it sounds like you think that the kink I write in and the market for it is somehow inherently exploitative, and so I don’t think we’ll convince each other either way.

  20. 20

    I invite you to look at the link under my name, and tell me again about what you write. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ve been writing m/m a lot longer than you and longer than you’ve been aware of the genre.

    It’s not *inherently* exploitative. It’s *potentially* exploitative. That’s why it’s problematic to treat someone’s sexuality – a sexuality which is a focus of oppression just about everywhere – merely as a kink.

    Put it this way – if I include a character with an amputation in a sex scene purely because it turns on ‘devotees’, it might be erotic for them, but it’s bloody exploitative of people with disabilities. If I then turn around and tell people how affirmative my story is for people with disabilities, and how much I am advancing awareness of their situation, simply because I’ve shown one of them having sex in a way that turns on people with a kink for amputees, do you think that’s okay for me to do?

    Not saying that a story with an amputee having sex can’t be hot *and* affirmative, but it rather depends on the approach, doesn’t it? Whether I’m writing about them as a person, or just as a prop.

  21. 21
    cleo says:

    “Should erotica authors still work towards some semblance of realism?”

    This has given me a lot to think about. As a reader, I certainly have different expectations about realism in the plots in erotica than I do in romance or any other fiction.  I’m ok with suspending disbelief when it comes to all sorts of unlikely / implausible / frankly impossible but hot set ups in erotica.  But I personally still want the emotions to read as real, because I want to connect to the story and to the characters on an emotional level.  And I want to believe in the characters.

    I find this a tricky area to talk about (or even think about). I’ve accepted that my fantasy life isn’t as PC (for lack of a better term) than my actual life. I also have limits that I’m not comfortable crossing even in my fantasies and in the erotica I read. But I’m aware that different people have different limits.

    I think is really helpful to have these conversations, and I don’t think that erotica should get a free pass from at least discussing these issues.

  22. 22
    StarOpal says:

    I used to be into anime/manga big time, and I remember reading an article on m/m romances in those mediums. The part I found interesting was what some of the Japanese female fans got out of it. With no woman in the equation, the roles (very generally, there are specific titles that don’t follow this of course) tend to fall into “uke” (submissive) and “seme” (dominant).

    While some girls/young women could put themselves into the fantasy of the submissive, they didn’t have to be threatened by a dominant male character since the the sub wasn’t actually female, it felt safer. But what was really interesting to me was the fact that some of the fans used the lack of gender defined roles to fantasize about being the dominant in the couple.

    But, when the article switched to what gay men thought of the titles, they found them completely unrealistic to the point of being laughable. From the interactions, what they found attractive in other men compared to what the female readers were into, to the women-less universes (unless of course the women are eeevil).

    I wish I could find the article again, but this was forever ago.

  23. 23
    Prachi says:

    Hi! Can you tell me which is the Mary Balogh book you were discussing? The one where the hero has a mistress for a brief duration of his marriage.

    Thanks!

  24. 24
    AubreyWatt says:

    Pardon, I was talking specifically about first-time/reluctant gay encounters. If kink isn’t the right word, I’m sorry for the confusion. I don’t pretend to advance awareness through my books; they are fantasy and that is not their purpose, although I do my best in my blog.

  25. 25
    Amy Raby says:

    I actually came to the romance world via m/m. I had been burned by some books that had featured some rather sexist, rapey romances (these may not have been true romance novels), and they bothered me enough to scare me away from m/f romances.

    I’ve been a feminist since before I knew what the word meant, and I found that by reading m/m romances, I could read about love and relationships without having to throw books against the wall. Reading m/m romance allowed me to work through issues that were weighing heavily on my mind. For example, unequal relationships, where one person has more power than the other—were these bothering me on a fundamental level, or because it was always the man who had the power? What about age differences? Did it bother me generally, or just because it was always an older man with a younger woman?

    In m/f romance, issues of gender collide with the situation of the particular characters in that romance, but in m/m, the gender issues go away, and you can look at power imbalances and age differences without the gender baggage.

    I read m/m for a year or two, and then I was done with it. I’d processed what I needed to process. I switched to m/f, found authors compatible with my feminist leanings, and I’ve lived in the m/f world ever since.

    I occasionally pick up an m/m romance but I have some of the problems Sarah mentioned—in fact, I may have read the same novel with the “smell” scenes. I definitely read one like it, and it was a turnoff for me too. I also read one where the couple unexpectedly turned into threesome, and that squicked me. I find that the line between romance and erotica is more blurred in m/m, or perhaps I don’t know where that line is, and I end up getting the wrong books.

  26. 26
    cleo says:

    FYI – for those who haven’t read an m/m romance but are curious, LA Witt is giving away a bunch of m/m titles to first time m/m readers at http://gallagherwitt.blogspot….

    She’s giving away an impressive range of books – most of the ones by authors I know have been claimed already, but there are still a lot available. 

  27. 27
    SB Sarah says:

    Kim, I think you are misunderstanding the issue of the reader’s email. I didn’t interpret it as anti-gay at all. The reader’s problem was the idea that heteronormative expectations were being placed on gay male characters within the stories. And Jane’s issue is with female authors appropriating male names as representative of accuracy of their representation of male experience. Having problems with the genre doesn’t mean she or Jane or I are homophobic.

  28. 28
    leftcoaster says:

    I’m so glad this is in conversation (m/m by female authors). It something that bothers the hell outta me, so much that I’ve avoided reading it completely and even almost emailed Sarah but then chickened out.

    Same reaction to f/f stories by a male. Anything from an eye roll to full on angsty rage from me, because I just, just no. You don’t get to appropriate this and turn into something that is just sexual fantasy, not while young ones are getting beat up or killing themselves over their sexual orientation.

    It feels too close to Asian women as dragon ladies, or black face or something. Just no from me, and it has nothing to do with homophobia. You’re appropriating my family and I don’t like it.

  29. 29

    It’s not about advancing awareness – you don’t have to crusade in your writing unless you want to. What it’s about is not using the features of a marginalised group – the very features which *make* them marginalised – just a prop in a sexual fantasy.

    Leftcoaster here said it well:
    “You don’t get to appropriate this and turn into something that is just sexual fantasy, not while young ones are getting beat up or killing themselves over their sexual orientation.”

    Unless respect for the group and people you’re writing about infuses even your fantasy writing, then having a blog which supposedly ‘educates’, just doesn’t cut it.

    I don’t want to get into a fight about this with you, as I think this is all a new way of looking at what you – and I – do. I encourage you to do your own reading about appropriation and respect. There have been some posts on this blog, and a few on Dear Author as a starting point. This one gives you some ideas about how badly wrong authors can get the issue of disability, from the perspective of a romance reader and wheelchair user:
    http://dearauthor.com/need-a-r…

  30. 30
    Karin says:

    Prachi, I Googled this for you and there are several Balogh books with adultery, but I think the one where the hero has a mistress is “The Obedient Bride”. In “A Masked Deception” the hero thinks he is cheating, but he’s actually with the heroine in disguise, and there are other extenuating circumstances.

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