There have been some pretty heated discussions going on lately at the Romantic Times Readers’ Roundtable Messageboard and at the AAR Potpourri Messageboard about Anne Stuart’s new book, Cold as Ice. Apparently, Stuart had the audacity to write about…oh, steel yourselves and be sure to have your hartshorn ready, ladies…a man who’s had them homosexual encounters.
The threads are huge, and I admit, time and my blood pressure aren’t allowing me to read through all of them. Some of the old standard canards have been brought up, from “OMG IT’LL RUIN ROMANCE BECAUSE IT’S VIOLATING THE ONE MAN/ONE WOMAN RULE!” to “OMG IT’LL RUIN ROMANCE BECAUSE HOMOSEXUALITY IS AN ABOMINATION!” Sigh.
The kerfuffling began with this report from LLB on the 2006 RWA conference included this snippet about Stuart’s upcoming book:
…the hero, a spy who slept with a man in Black Ice, has total control over his body, which allows him to have sex with men or women, whatever the job entails, without any emotional feelings whatsoever. At one point in the upcoming release, the hero informs the heroine that he kissed her to distract her in order to knock her out. When she asks what he would do if he needed to distract a man, he answers, “I would do the same thing.” Cold as Ice will be released in November. Given Harlequin’s sometimes old-fashioned reputation, I asked what the editors at MIRA thought about this. Stuart indicated hers loved it and that other editors who heard about it thought it was “cool.”
I noticed this bit of information when I first read the conference report last week, and it raised a brow, sure—but probably not for the usual reasons why anyone would raise their brow at the idea of a bisexual hero for a mainstream romance novel.
Why can’t a guy in a romance novel just enjoy cock because he enjoys cock, and not be a freak, emotionally cut-off to the point of pathology or a sociopathic villain who’s looking to shag anything that moves and a great deal that doesn’t? Not that Romancelandia is populated by the healthiest of heroes, but c’mon, now. A guy can like cock or cock AND pussy without being a sociopathic freak, you know. No, trust me, I know this, if you know what I mean, and I think you do..
I’m here to explode some myths about bisexuals. Hold on to your panties, people, because they are ground-shaking revelations of the first order.
1. Not all of them are polyamorous.
2. Not all of them are into group sex. Just because they’re omnivorous doesn’t mean they want all of it, all of the time.
3. Not all of them are indiscriminately slutty. Liking both sets of bits doesn’t mean they’re sex fiends, or that they don’t care who’s attached to those bits. That’s like saying omnivores don’t care about the quantity or quality of their food, simply because they enjoy both meat and vegetables.
4. Being bisexual doesn’t mean they’re wishy-washy or unable to make up their minds about what they want sexually. That’s like saying an omnivore is somebody who can’t make up their minds whether they like meat or vegetables, so they must be confused vegetarians or carnivores.
Furthermore, having a sexual encounter with the same sex doesn’t, in my opinion, immediately make somebody gay or bi. A lot depends on context of the encounters. Would a man who was raped by another man be considered gay, or bi? What about a man who had sex with other men strictly for the money? What about a man who was in a confined situation in which women were scarce for extended periods of time (as in jail or a ship)? What about a guy who was curious about what it would feel like to sleep with another man, but otherwise felt no real attraction to them?
And to flip this around: would a person who self-identifies as gay but married and slept with somebody of the opposite gender so the person could serve as a beard be considered bisexual?
People have this tendency to immediately go “AHHHH TEH GAY GERMS!” and label somebody bisexual or homosexual based on a few encounters, when to me, the true test boils down to: are you able to fall in love with a person of that gender? Does your interest immediately perk up when you see an attractive specimen? In short, are you attracted at a primal level to people of that gender? By that standard, I’m not sure that the hero of Cold as Ice is, as described, bisexual—he just happens to be willing to take on the cock for king and country.
But back to the debate. Of all the objections I’ve read, the one about “OMG IT VIOLATES THE MAN/WOMAN COVENANT OF ROMANCE” to be the most puzzling, because dude: it’s romance about a man and a woman. Just because it makes you go “EW, he touched peener in the past!” doesn’t make the hero any less monogamous or any less in love with the heroine by the end of the book.
And I won’t even begin to address all the “you can write it, but don’t call it romance—it’s actually EROTICA!” claims I keep stumbling over in the discussions. I’ve ranted plenty over that issue already.
Something else I keep stumbling over: people keep vigorously complaining about their right to be asshats without being called out on their asshattedness. “Stop judging the judgmental” etc. etc. etc. And true, people have their right to their opinions—but we also have a right to call you on your bigoted reactions. Look at it this way: if the hero to Stuart’s book, instead of shagging men in the past, had shagged black women in the past, and some people railed against the book in disgust, what would you think of those people? In that context, let’s look at some of the comments I’ve culled from various messages:
“…it [sic] warped , dysfuntional and abnormal …”
“I won’t be buying it because it’s too far outside my comfort zone.”
“Either way, it sounds gross”
“No thanks, I had trouble with this with Laurell K Hamilton and Anne Rice, but got past it because the men in question were not human.”
I’m glad a mainstream romance author has a protagonist who’s had some homosexual encounters in his past, but I’m disappointed that Stuart, who’s pushed some interesting envelopes in the past, seems to be sticking with tradition in making those same-sex encounters traumatic.