Tea Time with Alexis J Hall and Friends ~ Special Guests E.E. Ottoman, Julio Alexi Genao and Beverley Jansen

TeaTime with AJH

 

Prism Book Alliance would like to welcome back special guest columnist Alexis J Hall for Tea Time with Alexis J Hall & Friends.  We would like to extend a special welcome to today’s roundtable guests: E.E. Ottoman, Julio Alexi Genao and Beverley Jansen

The One About Alpha Males

Hello, and welcome to what I hope will be the first in a series of roundtable discussions here at Prism. Thursday Teatime will run, um, on Thursdays, twice a month (the 1st and 3rd, unless something goes horribly wrong) and today – for the inaugural teatime – I am delighted to be joined by EE Ottoman, Julio Alexi Genao, and Prism’s own BJ. We’re going to be talking about the alpha male in m/m romance, which—

JAG: before we begin i would like to thank you all for inviting me to join you in this very important discussion. as an alpha male, i feel my kind are seriously underrepresented in the literatures.

BJ: Hello! Pleased to be allowed in 🙂 may I have black coffee instead of tea though?

EE: Thank you for having me 🙂

AJH: Thank you all for joining me – you may drink whatever you wish. Try not spill any testosterone on the furniture though, if you can help it, J.

JAG: [quaffs ale] right, then—anybody need rescuing? i am to understand some bodices need ripping.

BJ: laces bodice and grimaces

AJH: Excuse me, this bodice is designer. Perhaps we should start by defining our terms a bit?

EE: I think m/m and het romance might use the term differently. From what I understand – from doing research –being an alpha male in het romance seems to be about acting in a certain away, confident, assertive etc. While in m/m I tend to think of it more about the character’s relationship with gender norms specifically normative masculinity

AJH: I think that’s actually the most sensible definition for what an alpha is, and represents that I’ve come across. It seems more useful to me than a random list of traits or behaviours – some of which may be attractive to some people, and others may not. And, honestly, I think it applies just as well to het as queer.

BJ: But in order to have “alpha male” characters doesn’t it suggest beta or even omega characters? Surely by introducing a hierarchy of masculinity we are feeding in to societal norms?

AJH: Well, this is where it gets sticky for me. I mean, whatever turns your crank is a-okay. And I will happily confess to enjoying the occasional alpha hero myself, but I always end up asking myself … is this genuinely something I find attractive (even just in fantasy) or is it something the world has been telling me I should find attractive for so long that I’ve just caved in.

JAG: it’s a valid question. part of what makes an alpha an alpha in most of the kinds of stories we’re talking about is a distinct flavor of dickishness.

AJH: The thing is, alpha is a hugely broad and unhelpful term. I mean, I’ve read het romances (I’m think Suz Brockmann, Jessica Scott here) which have conventionally highly masculine characters (they are in the military or whatever) but are not remotely dickish, and are in fact very nurturing. And then on the other end of the spectrum you have, uh, Kristin Ashley type heroes … who appear to be just giant walking penises. In motorcycle leathers.

EE: I don’t really read enough het romance to talk about alphas in het but in m/m when I see the term “alpha male” get used or talked about it has less to do with how dickish the character is and more to do with how traditionally masculine he is, not just in his occupation, and mannerisms but also physically. I think it needs to be the full package: he’s got to be over 6 foot and a Maine and like football. In fact I don’t think dickishness even comes into most of the time.

AJH: I think ‘dickishness’ is … not actually a legit trait of the alpha. It’s just that if you have a conventionally masculine hero who is also possessive, controlling and wildly jealous, I am likely to interpret his behaviour (fairly or unfairly) as dickish.

JAG: because it is dickish. isn’t it?

AJH: Well, clearly to a lot of people (including me when I’m the right mood for it) it’s very appealing – I suspect because romance (or any fiction) can be a safe space for engaging with ideas that may or may not be harmful to you out in the real world. Hence, rape fantasies. Or controlling men actually being controlled by love (as opposed to being, y’know, abusive). And, for me at least, some of the appeal of alpha heroes: oh, he doesn’t want to beat me up, he wants to bang me.

JAG: oh, i think you’re absolutely right. fiction—all kinds, really—is a playground for all sorts of things that wouldn’t be healthy/acceptable/desirable in real life.

BJ: I agree with what EE is saying totally and I also think the dangerous area of sex rears its ugly head when we are discussing these ‘total package’ alpha males. I don’t think it’s their unpleasant behaviour traits that worry me, it’s more the fact that being an Alpha male seems to allow them to have ‘gay sex’ but not be ‘seen’ as gay.

EE: In our society ‘gayness’ troubles traditional masculinity or is perceived to, so then when you have a character who represents a masculine ideal, that intersection could create tension within the story.

AJH: Yes, I’m with in. Which I guess leaves us with at least two possible interpretations at this point: either that the idea of a queer alpha male is inherently subversive because it unites queerness (gayness) with traditional masculinity. OR it’s troubling as all hell because queerness should NOT be perceived as troubling masculinity. A man is not less of a man if he likes other men.

BJ: I think very few alpha characters are written to be subversive, but rather support a masculinity that stems from het romance rather than redefining a way to look at masculinity.

JAG: i think it’s troubling more than it is consciously subversive. like that appalling cliche: i like men; i read MM because two men is better than one. [makes jagoff gesture]. i find that inherently troubling in all sorts of ways, because it implies there is some sort of universal ideal of masculinity that everybody desires, and its most extreme expression is the alpha male. i dunno about you guys, but anything that reinforces the idea that there’s only one most-desirable way to look and behave is… gross.

BJ: Yes I think it is wrong too…

AJH: (As for the two men is better than one thing, isn’t that just the equivalent of straight men leering after lesbians? Not that I think that’s okay either, but given the axes of power and marginalisation I wouldn’t like to tell other people how they can and can’t get off on, when the entirety of society is geared to validating the sexual preferences of straight dudes). But – otherwise, yes, all the yes.

JAG: that’s true, too. what you said about not wanting to dictate to other people who or what they can be attracted to. but somehow in MM it never comes off as this utopian, gaia-flavored universal appreciation of gender- and sexual-fluidity. it comes off as appropriating. and i hate it.

EE: I am troubled by the fact that often when I see the alpha male character in m/m it is portrayed as a man ‘winning’ at being a man in a way that will perhaps counteract his queerness

BJ: Yes that is exactly what I find offensive. It seems to boil down in crude terms to ‘butch alpha’ tops, ‘camp femme’ bottoms.

EE: to me it doesn’t read as quite that blunt but there is definitely a sense of anxiety around masculinity and sexuality that I think the tendency to have alphas in m/m stems from.

AJH: To me, it’s that, and also this slightly broader question of who is reading queer romance, and what we’re saying to those readers. I know I keep coming back to het, but obviously queer romance is still romance so it owes much of its context to het (which is fine) – and the alpha is popular and prevalent in het because it reflects something that the readership wants, and wants to see represented. But then I ask myself: what is the alpha male in queer giving to me? As I’ve said, images and perceptions of idealised masculinity are … what they are … and I can’t deny they’re attractive. But other things are attractive to me, too, so it feels weird that the representation of my fantasies is being inherited, essentially, from someone else’s? Does this make any sense?

BJ: That makes total sense. I enjoy the odd book or 4 about alpha males in romance however, I find it a shame that the m/m romance can’t in some way take the opportunity to redefine masculinity, or introduce more fluidity in its characters to remove it further from its het beginnings.

JAG: well, look—i’m just going to freakin’ say it: MM fails in just that way because of its audience. what’s popular is what the audience wants. there are always exceptions and there are always innovations and boundary-pushing novelties, but the long and the short of it is… MM is MM because that’s how people who buy MM like it.

BJ: That is true and most endeavours are driven by market forces, and the largest section of the population to read m/m romance is straight women, but are we saying that cis women only like to read about alpha males in whatever form, and all m/m romances are just doubling the males for them??!

JAG: pretty much. and it’s not just het women—it’s het, american, white women. that’s the largest percentage of the market. and what pleases them is what sells. over and over again. it’s why putting a black dude on the cover of your book is the kiss of death. it’s why you need faceless mantitties floating in the sky, or someone erupting out of entirely-too-tight breeches. it’s not everyone, but it’s enough that the trope endures.

AJH: I think this is too simplistic. I think what drives the market is the publisher’s perception of the market, and this is not necessarily the same thing. I mean, I’ve never met a straight woman who’s enthused to me about how much she likes mantits on the front of her reading material. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but it seems kind of ridiculous to me.

JAG: again, it’s not everyone. but it’s enough. i have 1100 goodreads friends, and i see their reading choices every day. and your point about it also being a function of what the publishers think the market wants is extremely valid, and i’m glad you made it—but… they’d know, wouldn’t they? what sells and what doesn’t? the publishers want their books to have photorealistic covers of handsome men, hopefully without their shirts on. and maybe, like, a wolf floating in the sky behind them.

AJH: Okay, but look. I kind of feel “groups of humans who are attracted to and fall in love with other humans who display some traits associated with masculinity” have quite a lot in common. Like from the get-go. I actually feel we’re largely on the same side, and maybe the problem is a broader one in that … we actually have a fairly limited basis for understanding what is supposed to be appealing and desirable. I mean, women are supposed to be size eight and behave in certain ways, and men are supposed to have six packs and behave in certain ways. Queer or straight, that’s not helping us articulate what we’re really looking for, or perhaps want to read about, watch, and experience in our art and fantasies.

EE: I think it can become a self-fulfilling cycle if we say the market only wants Y and so we only produce Y. Because then of course that’s all that will sell. That is not to say that social norms don’t play a role because obviously they do. It’s a complex issue.

JAG: i think we’ve kinda stumbled on the core of the problem, here. it’s a… it’s the opposite of a virtuous circle. one side feeds the other; what people want informs the publishers, who inform people what they’re supposed to want.

BJ: I know I’m getting away from the main thrust of the argument but it would be so interesting to find out WHY ‘alpha males’ are driving market forces, why women and some men so love that image of masculinity.

AJH: Nope I think that’s us returning to the argument 😉

EE: well speaking for myself I see it as the ideal: what you are supposed to want to be if you’re man and fuck if you’re a woman. I think it can be comforting to give into that sometimes. It’s anxiety inducing to fight against it. So I think there is an element of comfort in the fantasy of being/having an alpha male.

AJH: Definitely. And I think there could potentially be some degree of re-claiming / subversion in there as well. In the sense that you can address directly something that is harmful to you (the sort of person you’re supposed to want to be, or supposed to want to want) and spin it into your own fantasy. Like I do enjoy high-machismo romances where queerness is not an issue.

BJ: I think your last sentence is an important detail as we are making it sound as though queerness is the main issue at all times and of course that isn’t the case.

AJH: I think there does tend to be a high degree of crossover between alpha male type stories and “oh noes, but what about the gayness” which – as we’ve already discussed – can be really problematic. Whereas it’s sometimes quite refreshing to read about idealised masculinity type dudes bumming each other without angst or shame.

BJ: Yes, I can think of a couple of series I do enjoy in all my innocent freedom 😉

AJH: And I do also think it might have something to do with socially de-valued images/portrayals of alternative masculine expression. I mean, I grew up queer without the internet – sneaking confused glances at the covers of Men’s Health, trying to find something to hook my desires into. So I think, as EE was saying, we default to alphas because we don’t really know how access broader ideas of what’s attractive and desirable, without falling back on highly gendered stereotypes.

JAG: that’s a great point, and it reminds me of a conversation i had with a friend a while back. he’s nominally married to a thai man, some decades his junior, and 100 pounds lighter, and more or less having the appearance of a teenager, on account of ridiculously good skin and a youthful attitude. but there is no denying this creature is about as alpha as it gets—among his social circle, among random contemporaries out and about at parties or bars—doesn’t matter. this man is large and in charge, standing at only 5’1’’, and fucked if i know how that works. he’s not even conventionally masculine. anyway, in that conversation with my friend, we talked about how it should be that someone so diminutive should be nevertheless a natural—for lack of a better term—alpha personality, and we concluded it’s about attitude as much as anything else. he asserts his personality wherever he goes. and my friend loves him for it.

EE: I don’t write alphas, or at least I don’t think of any of my characters that way, but I will say that when I write characters who are more traditionally masculine there is a pleasure in kind of defanging something that has been actively dangerous to me. I think ‘reclaiming’ is too strong a word but I could see if that was part of the attraction to writing alphas. But yes I think it can also be a societal default and it can sometimes be easier to fall back on what society tells us to want rather than portraying a wider range of alternative masculinities.

JAG: ‘defanging.’ i like that.

AJH: Yes, reclaiming is not quite right, as it implies something we wanted or possessed in the first place. But I guess this leaves the question of what an alternative masculinity would look like… which is probably a good question to end on, honestly, since these are big ideas, and we could likely talk all night if not curtailed

BJ: Thank you for having me at your inaugural Tea Time!

JAG: cheers, and thanks for having me, AJH.

EE: thank you all! It was lot of fun.

AJH: Thank you all for participating! As for our readers, we do hope you’ll join the conversation in the comments. How do you feel about alphas? Do you think this is a useful way to think about romance heroes? Or men for that matter. Do you think alphadom and queerness intersect problematically? What do you think alternative masculinity would look like? Would you like more heroes who reflected different ideals of masculinity?

About Alexis J Hall

Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.

He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.

He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.

He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.

Connect with Alexis:
Website: quicunquevult.com
Blog: quicunquevult.com/blog
Twitter: @quicunquevult
Goodreads: goodreads.com/alexishall

About our Guests

EE OttomanE.E. Ottoman is a geek and a gentleman. They spend their time mostly in libraries doing research, and sometimes, when there is no one else there, dancing in the aisles. E. has always adored speculative fiction, especially paperback fantasy and science fiction. They love a good ghost story and think every story becomes automatically better if you add tentacles. Overall, though, they just loves a story that is fun to read. E. is especially fond of writing and reading stories with geeky, queer people doing awesome and sexy things.

They grew up in the woods, farmlands and mountains of upstate New York and has spent most of their adult life trying to spend as much time as possible back there. They are the oldest of four and can often be found actively engaged in hijinks with their three other siblings. E.E. Ottoman has two degrees in history, another one in law, and one very spoiled princess cat. E. would like to be a history professor or maybe just a professional author one day, only time will tell.

When not writing, E. loves to cook and looking dapper in menswear. E. is an avid powerlifter and can often be found at the gym trying to hit a new max weight.

E. identifies as a queer, nonbinary, trans dude and is actively trying to change the world (and maybe the past) one novel and work of history at a time.

E.E. Ottoman’s pronouns are:
they/them/theirs
he/him/his

Julio Alexi Genao JULIO ALEXI GENAO lives in New York City with three cats and a preoccupation with post-mortem predation. He is also the author of the acclaimed ‘When you were Pixels’,’Taking the Long Way Home’ and ‘A Syntax of Memories’

Farewell Giveaway
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.

Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,

Brandilyn
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Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews.  The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.

65 thoughts on “Tea Time with Alexis J Hall and Friends ~ Special Guests E.E. Ottoman, Julio Alexi Genao and Beverley Jansen

  1. First… It’s so awesome that you continue with your talks. They are a delight to read and often very enlightening. I’m very much looking forward to more every two weeks!

    Some random thoughts…

    I don’t think some kind of definition for masculinity is what we should be looking for. What is male? What is or could be alternative masculinity? I dunno… I feel everyone can just be. I don’t like to divide qualities in male or female. Actually, I think you don’t, either.

    I feel it’s problematic when queerness is shown as something undesirable, don’t care if the alpha male is used for that or something else.

    I’d like more variety for characters, like in real life, you know. To create characters with qualities a to c, just because people supposedly want to read about that, is nothing that appeals to me personally. I want characters to be real, to be human.

    Referring to the ‘2 dicks are better than 1’ comment… Actually, I don’t think that is a serious answer. It’s an easy one. Maybe some people do not really know why they like M/M so much. Maybe they don’t have the time to sit down and explain it to you. Maybe it’s just something they consider to be a fun comment. Of course we love to read about two men, but I am sure the reasons for that are not as shallow as assumed and often told.

    • Yes, we thought the round-table format was a really fun – so we decided to keep it going for a bit 🙂 I think it inspires a different type of discussion, rather than just straight (heh) blogging.

      I agree with you about masculinity not requiring definition – and I do find it inherently problematic that there’s alpha-male maleness and then … everything else, so even the terms we’re working with (and within) seem limiting. I definitely don’t think certain traits are masculine or feminine, and I don’t think they should be seen that way 🙂 That’s essentialism almost by definition.

      I agree with you about ‘two males better than one’ is primarily jokey (and that’s fine) and I don’t think people should ever have to explain or defend what they enjoy … but, at the same time, there’s a certain resistance to looking at the way m/m impacts on queerness and to examining the axes of power there … and its in that context, I think, that joke/dismissive comments *can* become problematic.

      • Okay, keep in mind I don’t see (or want to see) something as male or female…

        I think that someone who is not able to or willing to accept himself, makes him actually appear ‘weak’ in my eyes. Meaning, if an author uses the ‘alpha male’ to make it okay to be gay, I actually think that counters the wished affect for me. I’d assume him weak, because he needs something else to accept his gayness. With the same reasoning, I personally perceive someone who’s out and proud as extremely strong (I could use the word masculine here 😉 ), no matter how his appearance or attitude is.

        And also no matter who tops or bottoms. I don’t like that this is also often used to identify the strong / masculine man in the relationship.
        (This might be weird coming from me, as I have, of course, no experience what so ever. LOL)

        (Please know I’m talking about fictional alpha male characters and don’t want to judge anyone who might have difficulties accepting him- or herself.)

        ***

        I personally think the ‘two is better than one’ comment has become problematic, because it’s predominant and I don’t believe it to be true in its predominance. A real conversation is sometimes even not really possible because you get this ‘alibi’ answer and everyone just repeats it.

        Most readers aren’t that self aware. They don’t think about impacts on queerness, for that matter. I’ve only just started to think about these things, because the posts for QRM and your blog made me aware of it.

        • I can see where you’re coming from – to me, even in fiction, I think it’s problematic that “out and proud” is associated with strength. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s perfectly possible to be cowardly / weak / cruel while also struggling with acceptance … but this idea that being ‘out’ is a single act, and that it makes all your problems go away, simplifies an extremely complex reality. I know you didn’t mean it in quite these strict terms, but it’s something that occasionally troubles me when I’m reading queer romance: this idea that for the romance to be considered real/viable, both characters have to be “out” within a very narrow definition of out.

          Often the way to survive is to be “in” – especially if you’re young. And I don’t think it’s inherently ‘strong’ to risk career credibility, for example, for some broad social/ethical point about the value of outness. Though this probably a teatime for another day 😉

          I agree wholeheartedly however that what you like to do with your dick has nothing to do with masculinity or strength – it’s just down to sexual tastes.

          • I agree 🙂
            It’s often so difficult to write about a complex topic. In addition, it doesn’t help me that English isn’t my first language.

            I think you understood, though, that I was talking about the strength or weakness of a fictitious alpha male in contrast to someone who is out.
            And of course, it is not as simple as that.
            And, now that you mention it, I can see that there is also a strong emphasis on being out in contemporary romance. I guess because we all wish that nobody had to hide. And I guess in this emphasis it’s getting problematic again.
            This is an interesting topic. Though I sometimes feel like I can’t or shouldn’t really contribute anything to the discussion since I am not in the position to have any experience. Common sense only brings you so far. So I hope I’m not being pretentious.

          • @Mel – we couldn’t take the threading any deeper so I hope you get this. I strongly feel that ‘experience’ is not the sole requirement for having something valuable to say on any topic. Of course experience is relevant and shouldn’t be dismissed (if someone says “my life is like this” and you go “I think otherwise” that’s just dickish – not that I’m say you would do that!) but I think compassion, empathy, common sense, awareness, interest in discourse all just as important 🙂

          • @Alexis: Yes, I got this 🙂 Thanks, and I’ll bring in everything else but experience then 😉 At least, I’ll try!

  2. I loved your weekly recaps during the QRM and I’m very happy you are starting this series of talks.

    I can’t say much on gender identity and the perception of masculinity. I can only speak from personal experience of reading mostly het romances (including Alpha heroes). I’m new to the m/m romance and I’m not reading it for 2 males are better than 1. I like a good romantic story, sometimes steamier, sometimes more tame, regardless of the sexuality of the characters. I enjoy good romances with strong Alpha males from time to time but I also like stories with characters who do not fall easily in the socially accepted/defined categories.

    I fully agree with AJH that romance can be read as an escape, a safe place to indulge in our fantasies. For me that’s part of the attraction of the alpha male – he is controlling, overprotective, possessive, masculine to the point of being threatening but he is fictional. I wouldn’t want to be with someone like that in real life.

    There are all kinds of people in the real world in terms of masculinity and in terms of femininity, as well and they all have their place in romance/fiction.

    • Thank you – we had such a lot of fun doing them that we decided to, well, keeping doing them 🙂

      I tend to read hetromance more than queer, weirdly. Obviously there’s an element of distance in het for me: what women are looking for and enjoy isn’t really any of my business. But in queer, as long as it doesn’t hit too many fail buttons (as in “so masculine he can bang other men and not be gay” or break down across top/bottom power dynamics) … I do quite enjoy this notion of queered masculinity, if it’s done well, and joyously, and with some awareness of the context.

      But as, I think, EE was saying it gets really problematic when this taken as read not as one expression of masculinity but as the right, best, or most desirable form.

      • I fully agree on the point the E. E. Ottoman that the real problem when alpha males are presented as the right kind of masculinity. I can see how treating the alpha male as the norm in het and queer romance (just because he is enjoyed by many readers) is an issue. Creating any ideals is problematic if we really want diversity in our stories.

        I’m really happy that such discussions are taking place among writers and readers. They make me question why I like the things I like and I don’t really have an answer. Is it just personal preference, how much of it conditioned by social norms.

  3. Gah, another fantabulous discussion. Thank you so much.

    E.E. said: “Iam troubled by the fact that often when I see the alpha male character in m/m it is portrayed as a man ‘winning’ at being a man in a way that will perhaps counteract his queerness.”

    It IS interesting that this seems to be the assumption (by publishers) regarding what readers want or that the readers only achieve a certain comfort level with gay men loving each other, being together, arguing, laughing, living, etc., when they’re portrayed as alphas, as opposed to so many other ‘types’ of people.

    Are they alphas if they’re tall and muscular, but also highly emotional and comfortable in expressing themselves? Or is that in itself perpetuating an assumption of what alphas should be, meaning they aren’t alphas if they’re not closed off Neanderthals?

    I think it’s a combination of both publishers thinking this is what readers want and readers wanting or THINKING this is what they want. That’s a pretty broad brush, and it definitely doesn’t include everyone (like me), but it feels like the majority. It also feels like the chicken and the egg, which came first LOL.

    I have a couple of authors who write alphas that are like methacrack for me, but most other stories I end up really enjoying have all different characters and fit only into the category of messy human being.

    I could probably go on and on, but you all said it much better. 😀

    • SEJ’s alphas are crack for me – they’re just pure fun. And the alphaness doesn’t really intersect with sexuality at all: they’re just this larger-than-life men in these larger than life stories who just happen to be gay. It really works for me.

      As I’ve said before (and maybe said in the discussion) I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with alphas – or liking those type of characters. And there’s nothing wrong – even – with preferring them. But I’ve seen lots of readers and writers speak about alpha males as if they were inherently the “right” way to write men.

      • “…i’ve seen lots of readers and writers speak about alpha males as if they were inherently the ‘right’ way to write men.”

        [julio side-eyes those people so hard]

  4. First off, lovely to see you here, joolz. I think your comment about attitude is correct. It is mostly attitude that makes the modern-day alpha male so very . . . alpha. I am married to one VERY alpha male, and am mother to a 6′ tall 14-year-old son with hip-length hair and almost feminine features, who currently identifies as gay, yet shows every sign of becoming just as pugnacious as his father. Is he alpha? He’s certainly willowy in his skinny jeans, but not what you could call a twink. He’s just . . . my son. I read and write queer romance. I like to think I’m not the sort to pigeonhole people into little boxes, but it is hard to get away from certain gender roles.

    The very first time I sat down face-to-face with an editor from a traditional publishing house, she told me that under no circumstances could she sell a romance in which the hero had red hair. If I wanted to sell, I had to change my hero’s hair color. (There are reasons I remain unpublished.) My point is, who decided heroes couldn’t have red hair? I spoke with lots of people who would have loved to read about a hero with red hair. They just never got the chance because the decision was taken out of their hands. I think publishers get ideas into their heads that this or that thing absolutely will not sell, and they refuse to even read a manuscript that contains those elements. They’re just people. They get things wrong. Now that e-publishing has gained such a foothold in the industry, we’re seeing lots of heroes with red hair. Once upon a time, I was also told that my gay characters had no place in my romances, even though they were only secondary characters. I’m thrilled to see that idea put in it’s proper place (the dung heap).

    I’m seeing writers take more care with their characters, trying to make them more realistic, more like the folks we see walking down the street every day. More like the folks we see looking back at us from the mirror. It’s romance. Of course, there’s a tendency to wear rose-colored glasses, whether the character in question is male or female or trans or any other gender identifier you care to name. I love L.A. Witt’s Static for the way it deals with gender identification. Alpha, beta, male, female – these are all concepts that we struggle to understand from the moment we begin communicating with the world. They are also concepts we struggle to relate to ourselves and our place in this world, every day. I think we, as romance writers, take a ton of weight on our shoulders every time we try to define our characters. There will always be someone who is offended by the decisions we make for our characters, no matter how hard we try to walk that imaginary line wherein we manage to avoid giving offense.

    Every one of you, the writers who took part in today’s discussion, wrote from the heart, and I want to thank you for the lively debate. I enjoyed listening in on your chat, and I look forward to more of them in the future.

    • I have Static on my next shelf! I’m really curious about this book!

      I don’t get this refusal of red hair, at all. It’s a complete mystery to me. Since I was a kid, I loved red hair. I think this is the first thing that I developed to find attractive in people (at that time in women, come to think of it). Then came the long hair for men… Okay, it seems I’m peculiar, but really. What the heck is wrong with a hair color? Don’t get it.

  5. I think that the point about what we as consumers of culture/fiction have been conditioned to fantasise about or desire is really important. We like to think we are making individual choices, but almost always, those choices are kind of an illusion, already predetermined by what we look like, how much we earn, where we live, etc. And the way that markets intersect with culture and social status can also reinforce this.

    I think this is actually the point that I was struggling to get at when I was thinking about the HEA discussion. The repetition of certain ways of being is not benign, in any medium or space. It is a reflection of, and it polices or reinforces, the choices that are available to us as individuals.

    So breaking out of these patterns takes massive effort, but it’s also massively important. Effort in the sense of, at the very least, being brave enough to break the rules and ignore pressures to be a certain way, sometimes to the point of sacrifice. Or create safe spaces for other people to break the rules. I got really emotional at the V&A exhibit on ‘disobedient objects’, about the material culture of social protest (some of those disobedient objects were cardboard book-cover shields, in fact, protecting protesters from police with Harper Lee etc.!). It struck me really hard, the absolute courage of people who can imagine a better future and put their lives on the line to achieve it.

    You might think I’m kind of overreacting to, er, genre fiction. But fiction is never ‘just’ fiction. Books can reflect and homogenise the world, but books can also change the world. At their best, they are pretty much the best means of teaching empathy. Suffering and pain by themselves don’t (usually) teach empathy, all cliches to the contrary. Often experiencing trauma results in an alienation and closing off from the world. But reading about other people’s struggles or experiences puts you in their shoes in a ‘safe’ space, lets you see yourself as the protagonist, experiment with new identities. And, moving away from books about sad things, books can also help us decolonise our minds, expand our imaginations, give us a better range of possibilities and ways of being. They can extend the politics of the possible.

    But that process is always going to be going against the grain of an anxious print capitalism that reestablishes ‘fragile’ social norms, either consciously or unconsciously, and that does it by repeating the same stories, the stories that ‘sell’ and that people are taught to desire.

    The way we understand alpha masculinity today? I’m going to put on my historian hat and say it has everything to do with colonialism & racism as well as the obvious sexism, and it’s damaging to everyone. There’s a really long story of legitimising power and superiority and rule on the basis of this particular idea(l) of being a man. So maybe, actually, unpicking that from below, in genre fiction, is desperately important, and pretty revolutionary, too.

    OK, shutting up now.

    • Thank you so much for your comment I particularly agree with the idea that books… ‘can extend the politics of the possible.’ So many things we wanted to talk about, but time didn’t allow. I also agree that colonialism, racism and sexism are much entwined with the current idea(l) of masculinity and the ‘alpha male’ as we label it. I hope we can return to this subject again there is always a lot to discuss…

    • Thank you for this comment.

      “The repetition of certain ways of being is not benign, in any medium or space. It is a reflection of, and it polices or reinforces, the choices that are available to us as individuals.”

      yes this is very much how I think about books, images and romance and why I think writing is such an important and powerful thing. I also absolutely agree with you that fiction is never “just” fiction and that books carry immense power to both bolster the norm or work against it.

      I think your point about empathy is interest and I certainly hope romance and function this way.

      Finally, yes thank you for reminding me of the collection between normative hyper masculinity (at least in the US) colonialism, and whiteness. I think this is a great point.

  6. Fascinating conversation!

    I can speak from personal experience of having a POC on the cover tanking sales. Sad but true. I’m not sure if red hair is quite as damaging, but then again, the novel I’ve written with a redhead on the cover certainly hasn’t sold as well as some of the others. Food for thought…

    As a general rule I’ve steered clear of writing stereotypical alpha males (although I’m sure you could probably characterise some of them as alphas if you were so inclined). However, my next novel is likely to have the tagline: In a battle of two alpha males, who will end up on top?

    In many respects that tagline is more of a marketing ploy than anything else. Reducing these two characters to “alphas” does their complexity a disservice, but then again, you have to come up with a pithy shorthand of the main conflict, and this was one way to represent it to the reader. I don’t think of either MC as being a stereotypical romance hero alpha as described in your discussion, but they are both strong-willed, need to be in charge of the situation, and find it difficult to hand over power to anyone else. And I suppose that attitude signifies “alpha male” to me more than money, status and macho bodies will ever do.

    • My admiration for authors has grown even higher after writing my first tagline and blurb this week …I can say that most of your MCs are not what I would categorise as ‘alpha males’, which is why I buy your books Jo! … I believe you can have strong male characters, who would be counted as Alpha on some sort of psychological scale, but still wouldn’t be the arrogant, muscle-bound, seven foot, super hunks I was thinking of in this discussion.

    • I think it is fascinating what a hold this kind of language has on us. How easy it is as authors to fall back on language and concepts like of ‘alpha’ or ‘top’ and ‘bottom’ even when they don’t necessarily represent the characters we are creating. Especially in marketing these kinds of concepts seem to come to the forefront very easily and I find that interesting to think about.

  7. Here’s my take on this. I tend to associate “alpha” with the original concept that refers to the animal kingdom, in which the alpha wolf is basically just the leader. So, the strongest, probably the smartest, possibly (though not necessarily) the biggest. And I don’t know if this actually exists with animals, but it certainly does with people, the one with the most confidence. Since these traits are what determine a leadership role among animals, then a connotation of power becomes attached to those traits. Power as in, being in charge. And power as in, able to defend & protect. But, while that’s what it took for that animal to win that position, there is nothing inherently “better”, value-wise, about the alpha wolf.

    With humans, I think a physical image of male, tall, strong, broad shoulders, big muscles, etc., has been sort of welded to both of those ideas of power, and vice-versa.

    I really believe that part of the appeal of alpha males, for those who like them, is that it pushes dominance/submission buttons. In subtle ways; I’m not talking BDSM. People who enjoy feeling dominated, at least in fantasy, identify with the more vulnerable partner in a romance that features another, very dominant partner. And it can also, it can play into fantasies of wanting to feel protected, or wanting to identify with a character who is being protected.

    And I think, as I said, these ideas of dominator & protector seem almost welded to a certain physical type for a lot of people. And to a large degree I think that, just as whether or not you find the dominance/submission or protector/protected dynamic to be romantic or erotic is hard-wired, I think the association of those things with a certain physical type may be hard-wired as well. Not necessarily inherent, but ingrained at such an early age that it’s almost the same. And if this is true, it’s obviously going to be true of both readers & writers. So, it seems to me that a writer who is attracted, from either side, to ideas of domination and/or protection, is more likely to write romances that play to those things. And they are going to want to do so in a way they respond to themselves. Or that’s certainly how I would be. Though possibly everyone doesn’t write the stories they want to read, but I think it’s pretty common.

    So for people who want to write or read romances with a dominance/submission and/or a protector/protected dynamic, having characters whose physical descriptions push those buttons all by themselves makes it easier. You might call that lazy writing. But I think it’s quite possible that some writers – and readers – simply can’t disengage those things at all, can’t believe in or “feel” the domination of their character, if the partner doing the dominating is physically smaller, for example.

    The thing is, I’m not sure you can retrain yourself as to what pushes your buttons, erotically or romantically. And I sort of question whether we should even try. Isn’t that like passing a value judgment on yourself, about what attracts you & turns you on? I am personally attracted to a broad spectrum of men, both in stories & in life, though I tend to lean more toward vulnerable & away from alpha. But, that said, my specific responses *to* those types are very much hard-wired. Certain physical & personality traits “feel” powerful to me, while others “feel” vulnerable. To someone who comes across as vulnerable, I am going to feel protective, for example. And I pretty much cannot make myself react otherwise. But I’m not sure I need to.

    So, to me, the problem isn’t really about what people respond to, romantically or erotically, or with them wanting to write about & read about characters that represent those things. The problem is with the way all these value judgments get associated with all of that. Vulnerable does not equal weak or bad, and it does not equal feminine or less masculine. Feminine does not equal bad or weak or vulnerable & those things don’t equal feminine. Masculine doesn’t mean powerful & powerful doesn’t mean masculine. And alpha just really equals power, not masculinity, not “better”. There can absolutely be alpha heroines. They are neither less feminine nor more masculine, & neither worse nor better than more vulnerable heroines. It’s all good 🙂

    • Quote: Feminine does not equal bad or weak or vulnerable & those things don’t equal feminine. Masculine doesn’t mean powerful & powerful doesn’t mean masculine. And alpha just really equals power, not masculinity, not “better”.

      Yes, this exactly.

      The problem is, unfortunately, those value judgements *do* in fact exist. 😛

      The thing is, I agree that there’s nothing wrong with liking what you like, and there’s nothing wrong with being attracted to dominant/protector or even dickish types (in the safe space of fantasy for the latter at least), and wanting to read and write about them.

      And I’m carefully skirting a nature/nurture debate here but I think our responses are as much conditioned as hardwired. I mean, yes, something that *feels* kind of primally inherent perks up its little ears at the idea of being shoved up against the furniture by a powerful man … but why? What is supposed to be attractive is taught and learned, just as much as anything else. Fat people can be as beautiful as thin people, old people can be as beautiful as young people, non-white people can be as beautiful as white people: but these are all socially devalued so absolutely and so universally that we take conditioned judgements as somehow inherent.

      And I think there’s a difference between accepting that it’s okay to like what you like (because it is) and looking more closely at why and what it means 🙂

      • Thank you, AJH 🙂

        Actually I agree these things are as much conditioned as inherent; in fact I’d be willing to accept that they might be *only* conditioned & not inherent at all. Hard-wired might have been the wrong word. It’s just that *some* (not all) of what we are talking about are such *profoundly* ingrained responses that I’m not sure it really makes a difference whether they are inherent or conditioned, because they go so deep I’m not sure they aren’t, at least to some extent, immutable.

        But before I go on, first, despite the fact I said in my original comment that I wasn’t sure if we should be questioning ourselves on this stuff, I do actually take that back because I believe very strongly that *everything* should be examined & questioned & challenged, so this is no different. So, point AJH 😉

        Anyway, to go on, this sentence in your reply to my comment caught my attention. And kind of made my brain explode with thoughts – sorry in advance! There be tangents 😉

        You said this: “I mean, yes, something that *feels* kind of primally inherent perks up its little ears at the idea of being shoved up against the furniture by a powerful man … but why? What is supposed to be attractive is taught and learned, just as much as anything else. Fat people can be as beautiful as thin people, old people can be as beautiful as young people, non-white people can be as beautiful as white people: but these are all socially devalued so absolutely and so universally that we take conditioned judgements as somehow inherent.“

        I mostly agree, but I’m really interested by the way you’re using attractive there.

        I actually differentiate between “attractive” meaning having a pleasing appearance (handsome, beautiful, etc.), and “attractive” meaning sexually desirable. Though they overlap, I think those are different things. And responses to power –I think that’s another thing altogether, so I’m going to set that aside for a moment. This may differ between men & women, & just between individuals, but in my experience you can find someone drop dead gorgeous without getting physically turned on by them. I mean, I can honestly say I have *never* had that reaction based on appearance alone – but maybe I’m just weird 😉 And though maybe less common, vice-versa is true. A person can feel most sexually attracted to a person they don’t find most esthetically pleasing, or maybe even esthetically pleasing at all. And degree of sexual attraction is not directly proportionate to how good looking you think someone is.

        So, I think that while standards of beauty are very much socially/culturally influenced, I’m less certain that *desire* is. Or, to what degree it is. The part of desire that is visceral, that isn’t really about how someone looks but is responding to something else about them, which might be personality in part, might be something like pheromones in part, and who knows what else. Chemistry, whatever that is. It’s really hard to tell, because the way we experience it is so tangled up with reactions to appearance, plus reactions to personality can also be culturally influenced to an extent – yet to another extent it’s obviously individual or otherwise we’d all be attracted to exactly the same kind of person.

        It’s just all kinds of convoluted & hard to separate the strands, so I’m not ready to conclude that desire is or is not culturally influenced. How’s that for ambiguous? 😉

        But, since alpha male is both about attractiveness *and* power, it kind of intersects both ideas, which I guess makes it even more complicated & potentially more problematic. And brings me back to the “reactions to power” thing.

        I personally have a very dichotomous relationship to power & I’ve spent years & years thinking about it. And I’ve come to a conclusion, based on my own experience & that of other people I’ve talked to, that for people who feel this way there can often be a very strong theme of disempowerment going way, way back. I mean, into infancy or very early childhood. I think this tends to make people reach for personal power in problematic ways, for example, being a control freak, wanting to micro-manage every aspect of your own life or possibly other people’s, rigid emotional control, putting up walls. Different people obviously express it differently. But I think that level of control is unnatural, that we’re really meant to live in this harmonious, sort of “go with the flow” kind of way, & putting ourselves under such rigid control leads to a strong contradictory need to let go of all that, give up control completely. Whether to an experience, a substance, or another person. But it creates this very artificial division & conflict. Total control vs total surrender. And then, you know, you go along in life & have more encounters with disempowerment, that all gets rolled into what was already there, & then it all gets tangled up with sexuality . . . .

        Anyway, it’s just a mess. But, to me, attraction to alphas, to the power aspect of them, connects to this kind of stuff. Even people who don’t have huge power issues probably have them to some extent, because society probably disempowers almost everyone to one degree or another.

        And my point in this gigantic side-trip goes back to what I was trying to say originally, that this kind of thing is so deeply entrenched, probably assimilated at a deeply subconscious level & during crucial developmental stages. It’s just so inextricably interlaced with our whole identities. I’m just not sure it’s possible to untangle all that or reprogram ourselves when it comes to stuff so deeply rooted. Not entirely, at least. I think we can make conscious choices that are counter to our knee-jerk reactions to things, but is that enough? And also, I worry, where is the line between doing that & denying/repressing some part of who we are? Or is it enough to just be aware of & question it? I don’t know . . .

        All this writing, and I keep ending things with “I don’t know” . . . . 😉

    • Thank you Pam for such a thought provoking comment! I feel like I need to do a series of replies now but I’m just going to try and cram all my thoughts into one reply instead 🙂

      First off I think it is interesting that you associate alphas with a set of behaviors and characteristics. This is the most common way of thinking about what makes an alphas male character that I have seen actually. For me though where I disagree is that if the definition of an alpha male really was a set of behaviors anyone who exhibited those characteristics would be an alpha male. For instance I have been told a lot of the characteristics usually listed as making an alpha would apply to me (hopefully not the dickish ones though.) But there is no universe where I would be labeled an alpha male by a romance reader, writer or publisher. Setting any discussion of me aside, I can think of lots and lots of people I know who also have those alpha characteristics but would never be considered an alpha male in romance. When I think why I and all these other people who have these characteristics wouldn’t be alpha males I think it comes down to our relationship with gender norms.

      A lot of the behavior (both good and bad) associated with alpha males is also part of normative masculinity but there are other aspects of normative masculinity too, such as for instance being fit, large, muscular, cisgender, and needing lots of sex. These are also characteristics of what romance calls alphas. In fact I can’t think of an aspect of normative masculinity that is not included in the average alpha male. Which is what leads me to believe that alpha males can best be definite by their relationship to normative masculinity, essentially as a character that embodies the masculine gender norm.

      When it comes to the dynamics between writing alpha males and m/m romance, I think what I keep coming back to is that queer romance will always be in some way in dialog with power, normatively, and resistance (and probably some other things I’m not thinking of.)

      This is why I tend to want to shy away from thinking about issues in m/m as just someones personal taste. Because while it might be and people have every right to like what they like, there are so much other stuff about gender, sexuality and power mixed up in m/m that if we don’t think critically about things it can get problematic pretty fast.

      I can totally see where you are coming from with the appeal of alphas. And I think alpha males can be written in really subversive ways. What bothers me though is that alphas are the norm in m/m romance. I find this troubling because as a genre norm it reflects societal gender norms that can be really unhealthy and destructive. I think if it was considered A way of writing men in m/m rather than THE way of writing them I would not be so worried. It matters to be because I think m/m should be a place were the wide range of ways people understand and express their gender is celebrated and embraced. It feels disheartening to me to come to m/m romance and find overwhelmingly more of the same gender norms I’ve been struggling with and feeling alienated by my whole life.

      I am also kind of with AJH when it comes to the question of what we desire. I think we are taught by society what to do desire and how to desire thing in large part. And also unfortunately a lot of what we are taught isn’t that great. as AJH says society devalues some things (and people) and lifts up others as the epitome of sexiness. I think that really does inform the way we think about sexuality, romance and desire. I know I personally walk a fine line between accepting my sexuality and realizing that I like everyone else has been taught to think of women as passive, sexual objects and trans bodies as inherently freakish next to cis bodies. I would very much like to retrain myself when it comes to this kind of thinking and I feel thinking critically about these kinds of things is away to do that.

      Finally, you said “Vulnerable does not equal weak or bad, and it does not equal feminine or less masculine. Feminine does not equal bad or weak or vulnerable & those things don’t equal feminine. Masculine doesn’t mean powerful & powerful doesn’t mean masculine. And alpha just really equals power, not masculinity, not “better”. There can absolutely be alpha heroines. They are neither less feminine nor more masculine, & neither worse nor better than more vulnerable heroines.”

      Yes this! 🙂

      • A few years ago I mainly read paranormal stories, also a lot of shifter stuff. So, my take on alpha males was firstly formed by these books (they were het stories, btw). I’ve only read one M/M shifter series so far.
        I think that there is a distinction between an alpha male in contemporary and paranormal. In paranormal you always have more possibilities of explaining why someone is an alpha. So the mere physical and behavioural qualities are somehow lessened. Often someone is alpha when he or she has additional abilities. Of course, all the other typical alpha qualities apply, too… But they lose a bit of importance.
        The one M/M shifter series I read was kinda special, because there the most powerful wolf wasn’t the alpha of the pack and he also took the submissive part in the relationship. I liked that this was handled differently.
        I wonder if alphas in paranormal are less problematic, if we want to call it that, because it is obvious that they are unreal. They are a fantasy and I think most readers are aware of that.

        E.E. you write that alphas are the norm in M/M. I wonder if that is true. Well, my view is of course limited, but I haven’t read a classic alpha male book for some time now. That might be me, though.

        I also believe that society tells us, or better shows us, what to desire. I actually think that I personally would be more interested in women if hetero wasn’t the norm. We are conditioned from the very beginning of our life.

        • I think this is a really interesting point about paranormal Mel. I actually read way more paranormal than I do contemporary so my understanding of alpha might also be colored by it’s use in paranormal. I will have to think about this more.

          I don’t think I’ve read the m/m shifter series you are referring to so I can’t speak to my understand of how alphaness and gender was handled in those book.

          I know in general alphas in shifter novels actually make me uncomfortable for several reasons (they have mostly been m/m stories, putting that out there.) First I don’t love that shifter novels often have this idea that you can be born an alpha or that alphaness is just kind of innately part of you. For me that strikes a little too close to saying that normative gender is the most natural and inherent, even (or especially) when it’s linked to what AJH calls dickishness. I am also not so keen on the fact that often alphas in shifter novels are “rewarded” for their alpha characteristics by being given power and leadership. Again this feels too close to the idea that if you conform to gender norms you will be rewarded (because you obviously deserve it.) I suppose all romances with an alpha main character (or characters) rewards the alpha. Still the connection between alpha behavior = deserved position of authority and power seem particularly stark in shifter novels.

          Now I know this because a lot of shifter novels are trying to mimic (or fetishize) the power structure of a wolf pack. I also stopped reading them after a certain point due to the gender stuff and some issues around consent a lot of them seemed to have that just wasn’t my thing. So am not 100% up to date with the way authors are handling gender in them now.

          I do think though this power dynamic can be handled in really interesting and subversive ways or I am at least open to the possibility. But I also think there can be the danger of having some pretty unfortunate gender-related subtext.

          That’s also a good question about whether classic alphas still dominant the genre. I am not sure, I know I see normative, kind of hyper masculinity, as still being the go to in m/m.

          Okay now I feel like horrible, nay sayer who hates fun 🙁 I do like fun you all, I promise. I just think about this stuff too much.

          • First, I don’t think you’re no fun!

            The series I read was ‘With or Without’ by J.L. Langley.

            I hadn’t really seen the connection you draw between being born as alpha and gender. I’m not sure that I really understand that point.

            In het romance I was very annoyed about both male and female stereotypes, and this had all to do with gender and characteristics. But that goes way beyond the alpha male.

          • I think what makes me uncomfortable about the inherited alpha trays is that in romance being an “alpha” means more than just being a lead it means having this relationship with normative masculinity and gender norms. Therefore I find it uncomfortable to see these traits as present as something you a born with. Because, at least American society, teaches us that normative gender is something you are born with. Girls act hyper-feminine because they are girls and that is natural form them, boys act hyper-masculine because they are boys and that is what is normal form them. I know I’m on some shaky ground though because how much of gender is societally taught and how much is innate is highly contested. I have a very complicated and rather fraught relationship with the idea that gender norms are completely innate though. So for me saying a man is born an alpha, that he was born to play this hyper masculine role because of some innate or genetic quality, rather than society put this hyper-masculine role on him, even if it is in the context of being a werewolf or magic is still kind of off putting for me.

            And yeah I am totally with you that normative gender and normative gender roles and stereotypes related to them in romance is an issue that goes far beyond alpha males. I just see alpha males as being a part of that.

            Anyway I think I’m probably rambling now.

          • For some reason, I couldn’t reply to your last comment, E.E. I hope it does not get totally confusing now.

            Quote: Because, at least American society, teaches us that normative gender is something you are born with.

            I think this is why I didn’t see the connection at first, because I think in Germany this is not true. I think we are more aware on the role society has on gender roles. I’d say we are on a middle ground between inborn and learned.
            For example, just yesterday my sister-in-law was here with her kids, and both her son and daughter (3 and 4 years) had their fingernails polished.

      • Thanks EE 🙂 Yes, I do agree that, in the romance genre, an alpha male is “a character that embodies the masculine gender norm.” But, I actually think that’s only where it starts, not the entire definition. I don’t consider every romance novel hero who fits that description to be an alpha. In my view “embodies the masculine gender norm” is the romance novel platform for almost *every* male protagonist. Whereas what makes a character an “alpha”, in my mind is a set of personality characteristics which, in romance, is invariably laid on top of that normative masculine base. If that makes sense?

        For example, a few months ago I read a het romance novel that featured a cis male hero who was the epitome of tall, dark & handsome, so he obviously fit the normative masculine “ideal”. But I wouldn’t define him as an alpha. Why? Because he was too nice. He was deeply sweet & tender-hearted, he acted a silly fool quite a lot of the time, he was genuinely respectful of women & particularly enamored of women of learning & superior intelligence. He was never pushy, bossy, controlling, territorial or insanely jealous. He wasn’t even the one in charge of things, the heroine was.
        So, in essence you kind of have two issues. The prevalence of the normative masculine romance novel hero, and the prevalence of the alpha male normative masculine romance novel hero.

        I think you’re right on all of this as well: “queer romance will always be in some way in dialog with power, normatively, and resistance (and probably some other things I’m not thinking of.)”

        And I very much agree on this: “What bothers me though is that alphas are the norm in m/m romance. I find this troubling because as a genre norm it reflects societal gender norms that can be really unhealthy and destructive. I think if it was considered A way of writing men in m/m rather than THE way of writing them I would not be so worried.”

        I very much agree it’s a problem. But part of my concern, and what I was trying to get across in my original comment, is that I sort of question whether people are capable of writing – or, at least, writing well & with any kind of genuineness or conviction – the kinds of heroes they do not personally respond to. And I’m have very serious doubts that people are capable of changing something as deeply embedded as the things that push their buttons. Not so much with regard to standards of physical attractiveness or beauty, but emotionally, sexually & with regard to power dynamics. You know, can you talk yourself into being turned on by something that just doesn’t ring your bell? And if not, can you successfully write a hot, steamy sex scene that doesn’t personally turn you on? Maybe I’m wrong; maybe authors do this all the time. I just think it would be difficult for me, perhaps impossible. I’m no published author, but anything erotic I’ve ever written has pretty much been the equivalent of putting a fantasy into words. Of course you could write it anyway. But would it be any good? Wouldn’t it just come off boring & mechanical & fake? Of course, everything doesn’t have to be graphic. Maybe it can be done if you write a lovemaking scene in a different way, focusing on romance or tenderness more than sex. But then again, is that really a solution? Surely non-alpha, non-normative men want to find themselves reflected in steamy erotica & romance as well sweet, tender romance.

        So, while I’m in agreement that there need to be more diverse portrayals of masculinity, it’s a quandary to me, how that can be accomplished. And it sort of depends on the reason it isn’t being written now. If there are large numbers of romance authors out there who *are* engaged by & want to write more diverse heroes & are not doing so because they don’t think it will sell, well, that’s one problem & hopefully there’s something that can be done about that. But if there is a preponderance of romance authors who write alpha, normatively masculine heroes because those are the heroes they respond & feel moved to write about, then while they can certainly be encouraged to stretch themselves to try writing other kinds of characters, I feel somewhat pessimistic about their chances of success. And ultimately if they turn out not to be capable of engaging with those other kinds of characters, the characters are going to come out cardboard and it will be a kind of tokenism. Is that a start, is that better than nothing? I just don’t know . . .

        Oh, also, on this: “I am also kind of with AJH when it comes to the question of what we desire. I think we are taught by society what to do desire and how to desire thing in large part.”

        I have some thoughts on this too, but I’m putting them in my response to AJH. Yes, I’m writing *another* one. The thinking just never ends . . . . 😉

        • Hey Pam 🙂

          I think your point about all male romance characters conforming to normative masculinity and therefore needing to definite alpha males as *also* by characteristics is well taken. I think when I’ve read articles about alpha males in the past they have only talked about characteristics and not at all about gender norms and I think that is because gender norms are often taken for greatened in romance. Like of *course* romance heroes will conform to normative masculinity. So then the question becomes how do we define alpha males against a backdrop of a world were everyone is conforming gender wise.

          I really want to highlight the way normative masculinity works when it comes to romance tropes, including alpha males which is why I emphasized it originally.

          But I actually think I like your definition of combining the two best and I may use it from now on 🙂

          I don’t know how well I can speak to authors writing about characters they don’t find sexually attractive. I can say for myself there are characters I’ve written that I personally am not sexually attracted to (and characters I would totally bang if I could 😉 ) but I’m not going to hold myself up as a paragon of good sex writing.

          I don’t know, I guess I might be really optimistic or idealistic but I don’t think that the majority of m/m or het romance writers really like alpha males or normative masculinity to the exclusion of every other way of exploring gender.
          It might because they feel only alpha males will sell, or because there is pressure (real or perceived) to only write inside the box. They might have never encountered anything aside from normative gender, they might not feel that society has ever given them the chance to explore anything different.

          I don’t know, I find it very discouraging to think that the majority of readers and writers are only attracted to this type of normative masculinity at such a fundamental level that they can never be attracted to anything else. I would like to believe that this is something that can be fixed.

          Anyway I hope I wasn’t too thought provoking 🙂

          • Thanks EE 🙂 Hee, I’m glad you liked my definition 🙂

            Yes, totally this “because gender norms are often taken for granted in romance. Like of *course* romance heroes will conform to normative masculinity. So then the question becomes how do we define alpha males against a backdrop of a world were everyone is conforming gender wise.” That’s exactly how I think it is in romance currently. Well, there’s a reason they call it “normative” in the first place – because of all the people who just assume it’s the “normal” or default masculinity. So that’s a perception that needs to change. And I really do think talking about it & making people aware can help to make that happen. There are certainly perceptions & opinions I’ve had in the past that I’ve re-thought & changed for that very reason.

            I hope you are correct about the reasons for the prevalence of alpha & normative males in romance, het & m/m, that it’s more do to market pressure to write inside the box than anything else. Because if that’s the case, it should be fixable, though it will probably take time.

            I think you were just the right amount thought provoking, thank you :-). Now I just have to watch out for AJH. I have a *really* bad tendency to want to write whole paragraphs (or more) in response to that man’s every sentence.:-)

          • E.E., I can only speak for myself, obviously, and I have only read your Mechanical Universe books, but w.o.w., you sure can write an awesome sex scene.
            You have to know that my memory is really bad and it takes a lot to ingrain something for longer inside my brain, but I still know that the scenes you wrote were fantastic. Not only were they so totally different from anything I’ve read so far, they were also HOT AS FUCK. My hubby could vouch for that, too, because he got very lucky, at least once 😉

            ***

            Moving on to alpha business, now that I’ve got this tiny information out of the way…

            First, Pam and EE, I loved both your posts. Very good points and all. I lie-kit. And I won’t repeat 😉

            Pam, your points about alphas and power, and our draw to something where we can submit or lean onto, got me thinking in the BDSM direction, that, come to think of it, peculiarly wasn’t mentioned so far here in our discussion.
            Disclaimer: I am so no expert in this. Far from it.

            I wonder if people who have the inherent wish or desire for alphas, tend to read and write these kinda BDSM stories. I can see why for them nothing else would really appeal. (Yeah, this is obviously a very strong statement, one that I know is not true, but hopefully gets across what I’m thinking, anyway.)

            I’d hate to think that we all really are so set in our ways, likes, and desires. But isn’t there some kind of variety in what we like or would be able to like?
            Because who would have thought that so many woman (me included) would be so into reading M/M?
            A year ago, I wouldn’t have dreamed of reading and liking (!) F/F or transgender or what have you. Maybe I’m just so special, lol, but I think I have changed a lot, and the things I find attractive have changed, too, but not everything, of course… Still love read heads and long hair for men 😉

      • I would just like to continue my hobby of following EE around the internet going: yes this.

        So: yes this.

        As a minor addition I would say that – for me – while I see Pam’s point about alphas and power, the eroticisation of power (in a kinky context or otherwise) becomes very charged by social context. Power is often seen as inherently masculine and, therefore, in being attracted to what is actually quite a narrow definition of “power” I re-entangle myself in all those personal/political knots that EE articulates above.

        I mean we all have personal power to some extent, in the sense that power is passion and commitment. You could be a very powerful florist … in the sense that creating beautiful things with skill and artistry that bring genuine joy to others is … an amazing thing to be able to do. But in most of the romance our ideas about power are always associated with our ideas of machismo and therefore socially conditioned. A CEO is powerful. A sniper is powerful. A teacher is not. A nurse is not.

        • OMG, I feel really bad about the situation with the Prosperity series. If you decide to write more, could you self-publish?
          I was startled by your final words that a teacher and a nurse is not powerful. It saddens me that people see it that way. One can be powerful/powerless regardless of their gender/sexuality and profession. I don’t really know how these perceptions can be change. I do know that writing about it online and offline makes more people aware of these issues which could/might eventually lead to some changes. *says the hopeless optimist in me*

        • Eep. Alexis Hall, you’re killing me. But in a good way 😉 *brain explodes again* *epiphany happens*

          OK. now I see *exactly* what you’re saying now, about the masculinization of power, so to speak.. If I think back I can see that the ideas of power I’ve been talking about are exactly within that narrow definition you’re referring to about. Language was kind of getting in the way of my seeing that. Even though I tend to resist thinking of those things as masculine, basically because I’m looking at it as, if I, a female, have this idea or feel/want/like this thing that people call “masculine”, then that thing *can’t* be masculine, because I’m not a man. It has to be as feminine as it is masculine. Or neither. Sort of the opposite reaction to thinking that, if I think/feel those things that society calls masculine it must mean I am in some way masculine.

          But I think what I was missing, in my desire to disassociate the idea of certain acts or feelings or ways of looking at things from being defined as masculine or feminine, I was missing the point that regardless of what word you use to define them, these ideas of power are associated, as you say, *a narrow definition of power* that is forceful, controlling & to some degree destructive, as opposed to a definition of power that is more healing, nurturing, maybe creative in a way. Which I think of as maternal rather than feminine, so I guess I associate those other concepts of power as paternal more so than purely masculine. Though, definition of *those* words is as open to interpretation & connotation as masculine & feminine I guess, & anything else.

          Good grief. It’s so convoluted, the language & the ideas, it’s like you have to turn your brain inside out to thing about this stuff. *she says happily* 🙂 Sorry, not happy about all the problematic. I just love thinky stuff 🙂 Especially when I get to have epiphany 🙂

          Anyway, it’s a kind of idolatry of those forceful/paternal/tradtionally masculine ideas of power. Which, opening another whole can of worms, is one of the things I personally see as problematic in feminism. This enshrinement of this specific kind of power as being the way for women to win social & political equality. The idea that being CEO or a soldier or other previously defined as “masculine” profession is “better” or “stronger”. Trying to being less emotional, jettisoning kindness & embracing “meanness” – which to me, is nothing more than women trying to turn themselves into men, or more accurately, looking to that narrow definition of power as the “legitimate” one, the only one worth having. When really, maybe what we should be trying to do is elevate those other kinds of power in society, not just keep the same problematic kind of power in control of everything, but switch which gender gets to have it’s hands on the control switch, so to speak.

          Whew. Hope this all makes some kind of sense & isn’t offensive in any way on the feminism thing. Just the way I’ve thought about some of this stuff for a long time, but for some reason I wasn’t connecting all that with this discussion on . . . what were we talking about in the first place? Oh yeah, alpha males 🙂

          Sorry for being so talky, everyone. Feel free to put tape over my mouth now 🙂

  8. Interesting discussion.

    Is it really the case that M/M Romance authors have written books with leading POCs and non-alpha characters and have found their manuscripts rejected? And if so, what happens to those novels? Do the writers dump them, re-write, and self publishing is not considered as an option? I’m optimistically hoping that’s not so.

    The genre can’t really change if the vast majority of writers are still writing about the same tropes and characters because they think that’s the only thing that will sell. I don’t think it’s just readers who can be held accountable for the lack of diversity in the genre if the types of books we all want to see aren’t even being written.

    • I don’t think they get rejected – I think it’s more about marketing. This is purely anecdotal but I know authors who have run sales comparisons on their books with white dudes on the covers versus their books with POCs. The message seems to be the same: books with POCs on the cover sell noticeably and substantially less well than books with white people. I mean it could be … oh I don’t know … all sorts of factors, like the book not being as good, or whatever, but it’s still depressing as fuck. I could probably run the numbers on Prosperity versus Glitterland (hot black dude versus gormless white dude) but Prosperity is genre and genre never sells as well as contemporary.

      And I’m honestly not sure how to fix that problem.

      I think, from a publisher perspective, it’s a simple as “don’t put a non-white person on covers” (and I can think of several books with non-white protagonists who have somehow wound up with a white guy on the cover) – because then at least books with racially diverse protagonists are still being written.

      But … yeah. It’s messed up.

    • Like AJH said I don’t think it’s that they won’t get published but there is a real sense in the genre that anything that deviates from the norm (white, able, young, cis, normatively attractive dudes) won’t sell. So they often don’t get written in the first place.

      I remember one author who I would consider to be one of the biggest sellers in m/m talking about how she felt like she had to write romances with one character bigger and dominant and one smaller and more submissive. Because she felt any other type of relationship wouldn’t sell.

      I know another author, again a big seller in m/m, who told me that she would love to write x, y and z more diverse characters but she knew her fans would hate it and she was afraid of loosing her entire fanbase over it.

      Even small things, like authors talking about cutting the female secondary characters from their books because it is “common knowledge” that m/m readers don’t like women in their books.

      My experience has been that there is this huge sense that if you write outside the box you better either be the most brilliant author m/m has ever known or you’re dooming your career. And unfortunately based on the breakdown of royalties for various authors I’ve talked to there seems to be truth in that. Diverse books don’t sell.

      Further I think a lot of the m/m online culture is particularly geared towards a certain kind of book, and the author’s who write it and readers who read it. So writing something different can feel alienating. It can be incredibly demoralizing and I get why a lot of authors don’t want to even go there.

      Certainly there are authors who do write very diverse books but the majority doesn’t because they don’t want to take the risk.

      I don’t have any good answers for what to do about this, I don’t know who needs to make a move: readers, authors or both.

    • i think if it’s true that you can’t really sell books with a ginger on the cover, like jo myles says, it’s most certainly true that you can’t really sell books with brown people on the cover, like everyone i’ve ever met who put a brown person on their cover has said to me.

      and i guess we know why that is.

      i think the only answer, if diversity in fiction is important to you as a writer, is to keep writing excellent fiction about diverse peoples. because like others on this thread have said, the market also shifts according to certain key movements in popularity, and after that publishers throw all kinds of money at the new pretty until it’s normalized.

      whether authors do that cannily by interleaving it with surefire sellers (like one author advised me once) is of no concern to me, really. but i think that’s what it costs to effect change from that position. as people who write things.

      it can be pretty disheartening, knowing you’re putting your energy into a project that will only incrementally effect change in your lifetime and will probably never make you rich.

      i’m just glad that most of my friends who write are that fearless about diversity by default. see: alexis hall’s prosperity, liberty and other stories, and pretty much everything e.e. ottoman has ever written, and your own in the company of shadows, with my boy hsin lieu vega.

      also, kudos on your recent blog post. i thought it was pretty topical to this issue: http://santinohassell.blogspot.com/2014/11/turn-ons-and-turn-offs-broadcasting.html?zx=adfc954c8e88fe2a

      • My reply lumps in my responses to all three of you because I’m a lazy and inconsiderate commenter. :p

        It’s a shame that some authors feel they can’t diversify their writing without seeing a huge drop in sales, but as long as people are afraid to step out of those safe boxes, the genre is never going to change. Yeah, easy for me to say because I’ve only just recently even considered actually publishing any of my writing and it’s not my primary source of income, but I do think for those who are passionate about wanting change there will be some intrinsic gratification in just being one of the few authors in the genre who are willing to take that risk.

    • I thought this statistic only shows results on a very high or abstract level, so that you can’t really conclude anything. I am in general really wary of statistics, by the way…
      For instance, the statistic doesn’t make a distinction for genres, and I think that certain genres have a majority of male or female authors. How does this interfere or underline the results? I dunno, this is an interesting statistic but it’s hard to really come to a conclusion about anything.

    • I saw this a few days ago and then when I read this discussion I wanted to share it but I forgot. Thanks for bringing it up, Julio 🙂
      I think it’s a pretty useless survey. It doesn’t really tell anything new or helpful. Mostly because it divides readers and writers into just male and female. It totally excludes queer – fiction, writers, readers …

    • I think this question of gender and authorship is really interesting/terrifying whenever it crops up. I know it’s a real hot button issue in m/m and romance in general. I am not really sure what to draw from this though because I think it’s too general. I think a breakdown by genre would be more interesting.

  9. I want to echo the points that it has to start with the writers–the creators. Readers can’t buy what doesn’t exist. Yes, some may choose to not buy, but if a writer holds back from creating because they’re afraid readers won’t buy, then they’re not even allowing for the possibility that a reader *could* buy.

    If a writer is waiting for a reader to ask for something, then they should also understand that sometimes readers don’t know they *can* ask. Especially those that are underserved or marginalized. Their norm is to be underserved so why would they ask to have it? Yours might be their first romance book with a POC main character, or a character who is trans, or living (and loving) while having a disability, or from a less visible part of the queer spectrum. Yours might be their first HEA with a character that more closely reflects themselves. They can’t buy it if people don’t write it though.

    Even having a publisher make unhappy noises about which characters won’t sell is less a factor now. (e.g.–Shattered Glass, the self-published, well-received book with- oho! a ginger on the cover.) That was Dani Alexander’s first book! First with a ginger!

    I do a lot of community events around queer romance, so I get to meet a lot of hungry readers of all types. One author I work with a lot read at an event a WIP that was a lesbian sci-fi. Very well-received reading. Not published yet, even a couple years later. May not get finished. But I get asked a lot now by readers, “Is that lesbian sci-fi published yet? I really want to read it.” Last week, I met a writer who is working on a gender-queer steampunk novel, and I think I said to them 15,000 times during this conference, “please finish your book. I know people who want to read it.” Maybe not a 1,000 people. But there is someone out there who wants to read a gender-queer steampunk novel. But they can’t if it isn’t released.

    Lastly, I’m still the only reviewer for an asexual romance that came out last month on Amazon, and on GoodReads, where it has two ratings, (Dani’s Shattered Glass, with the ginger, has 5,000+.) I’m the only one who left a review. No, it wasn’t my favorite book of the year, but god, am I happy that they released it at all, and sometime when writing it, they didn’t stop and think “Man, what if people don’t read this? What if I only get one review, and it’s that crazy Tracy person? Man, I better stop now.” And god, I hope it doesn’t stop anyone else from releasing an asexual romance Because seriously, that just sends the message to readers that we’re not worth writing about.

    And that’s a terrible message.

    • TTG, your point about alexander’s ginger on shattered glass is excellent.

      and i agree with you completely about the rest. thanks for stopping by with a thoughtful comment.

    • Tracy, what is the name of the asexual book you’re talking about? I might be interested in reading it. Also, yes to the lesbian sci-fy and the transgender steampunk.

      ***

      I’d like to know if there is some kind of forum where authors and readers talk about what readers are interested in?
      Like, I as a reader would love books about this, or authors asking if anyone would be interested in reading about that… Maybe such a thing would help see authors that there is indeed an interest in what they want to write about. Well, or maybe not and they’d get discouraged. I dunno, but I think that talking about these things is a first step to change.
      I for one would love more diversity in books but who will here my voice apart from you all here? 😉

      Maybe we need to found a goodreads group…

    • I can’t believe I forgot about Shattered Glass! Good point. I mean, it’s still a different ballpark than having a person of color on the cover of a book but ginger men aren’t really the ideal fantasy guy either, which is what all of this really boils down to.

      Sometimes I also wonder if people hesitate to write about other races, nationalities, or ethnic groups because they’re worried about being seen as appropriating or not doing the characters or the culture justice. I’ve seen this concern come up in other writing circles, and there was a genuine worry or even fear that they would be doing more harm than good by attempting to write a person of color but then having it not appear genuine as far as description and acknowledgement of culture. I’ve never really experienced this in M/M and two of my most popular characters are Mexican, but it has crossed my mind several times as I write new novels with POCs in contemporary settings.

      I think it really does come down to risk-taking, and I can appreciate why people are hesitant to take risks if they are already established and doing well for themselves. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, etc. But if you’re already successful, you have the best chance of acting as a gatekeeper. I don’t want to imply that everyone should be going on a crusade to change the world, but if this is an issue that a successful author is concerned with, it would be awesome to see them make steps towards change in terms of writing about different races and personality types.

      • As just a reader I feel it is not my place to tell writers what and how to write. I just wanted to say that I agree fully with all your comments. There may not be many readers who want to read diverse books but at the same the more diverse books are written, more people will hear about them and will be willing to give something out of the box a try. Or I may just be naive. I don’t know anything about the publishing business.

    • You are always my hero TTG 🙂

      The problem is … okay … sorry to be cynical here but what readers say they WANT and what readers BUY are not the same thing. There’s lots of noise about wanting diverse protagonists etc. but, in practice, books about white boys at college are in the military are what sell.

      I read City of Soldiers – fascinating book. Not sure how I felt about it, but it was certainly really bold and important – 69 shelves on GR. Look up any book about college dudes getting it on: 3k plus shelves.

      And obviously it’s not that simple, it’s about exposure, your name and pull in the genre, as well as just … well …. talent and publisher resources. A well-written, well-edited, well-packaged book about college dudes fucking is going to be better received than a poorly written, poorly edited, poorly package book about non-white asexuals regardless of who its about.

      And … here’s the thing, writers, as well as being artists, are professionals in a marketplace. Writing books that don’t sell is lethal. If you don’t sell enough, your publisher won’t keep contracting you, so your voice *isn’t heard at all*. Like my Prosperity-verse, which I love and loving writing, and is full of all the queer has come to the end of the line. There’s another anthology of stories I could write, there’s a whole other trilogy about the events of Liberty – no point out writing it, publisher doesn’t want it – it simply hasn’t sold enough to be worth it.

      And I don’t blame readers for that at all. We are allowed to make choices about our reading material. But the situation is very very complicated. And while I agree with you in the broadest and most idealistic sense – and like EE I write because it’s the only way to get the stories I want to told out there – I’m always wary of … writers need to take more chances, or make a stand or whatever. Writers have families to feed and a career to forge. And it is problem that these are the choices they have to make. But that’s the reality. And being unable to publish at all doesn’t help anybody.

      • it’s true. those are all accurately characterized aspects of the problem.

        if i had to answer this hypothetical person concerned with those things, I would probably say something like:

        I know it’s hard, and there’s a lot to think about. business and social change do not often intersect. but if it’s that important to you, and you agree that it’s a problem, do it anyway. be brave, like AJH or E.E. or Hassell. self pub some books, even. work within safe boundaries if you must, but subvert them any way you can, and keep at it.

        because it takes forever.

        until it doesn’t.

        and it’s so, so worth it.

      • I did not realise about Prosperity et al….AJ and I am really saddened and I must admit disheartened. I can’t think of anything else to add…:(

      • It’s all about choice. Writers can choose what to write. Publishers can choose what to publish, and readers can choose what to buy..

        Out of all those choices, writing is the first step, the first choice. The latter two are contingent on the first.

        No reader should feel bad about loving to read about hot college guys naked frolicking in their frat house. Go forth and love these stories! May they bring you joy! Because joyfully reading is wonderful. And Romance readers especially are already stigmatized for loving love stories, so I’m a full believer in cherishing the books that bring you joy.

        The thing is that if you’re frustrated for not seeing X or not seeing enough Y, there’s a way out of that dilemma, or at least a start. And that’s by making an intentional choice. An intentional choice to write, to publish, to buy.

        I’m sorry about Prosperity. All I can say is that I am a happy buyer of it, and look forward to reading it.

        As Julio says, change takes a long time. It often doesn’t pay the bills. (Everything I do for GRNW, I do for free, 18 months = 12 reading events, 2 conferences, 3 book drives, multiple reader meet-ups, all volunteer work, and for the last year, juggling with a more-than full-time job.) It can be frustrating, demoralizing, undervalued, overlooked, slow, and you can be really hit hard with questions like, “Why should I bother?”, “Does anyone REALLY care?” and “Is it worth it?”

        It may be insufferable idealism that pushes you past those questions to make an intentional choice that reflects the change that you want to see. It might be grim pragmatism that guides you to make the intentional choice to say, “Not this time. I need to sell some more books, which means I need to write about werewolf cops and their unapologetic love for clueless liberal arts majors who should really be majoring in computer science, because c’mon, liberal arts? What are you going to do with that? It’ll be a trilogy. There will be vampires in the second book. Or gnomes. Or maybe vampires that study gnomes…Still figuring it out.”

        The thing is, we can talk and debate and whatnot about what should happen or what should change, but unless people put their money where their mouth is, or their words, or their power, etc, things won’t happen. You can wait to have change delivered to you, but it might not be what you want.

        Or maybe gnomes that study vampires. Vampires majoring in library science….

      • Alexis, I’m so sorry about the Prosperity thing. It makes me very sad. I so love that book & feel so close to those characters & want to see more of that universe, as much as you would ever want to write. But even more I want you to be able to write what is meaningful to you. You’re right that being unable to publish at all doesn’t help anyone, but there’s something terribly wrong if the only way to get your voice heard is by saying the same thing everyone else is saying. The voice that is saying something different is the one that most needs to be heard.

        I understand about all the realities & practicalities, as you say. I respect whatever choices you make & I know you can find ways of saying what’s important to you in whatever form your writing takes, & that it will be beautiful & I’ll love it. But it worries me, if you have to reign in too much of *you* to, in essence, fit in. I just don’t want it to ever come down to you thinking, why bother *at all*, because you’re not getting to write what’s in your heart.

        And – i don’t think this is just me being fan-girl – your voice, your very distinct, authentic voice is one that really needs to be out there! I mean, Prosperity, for God’s sake, there’s nothing else like it, such a wonderland of glorious queer gorgeousness & life & love. To imagine it having never been published . . . ! And the thought of all the other “Prosperity”s in your head that might not get written:-( I don’t just mean things in the Prosperity-verse, but anything that doesn’t fit the conventional mold 🙁

        I hope somehow there will be a way, if you want it. if not now then in the future. Whether self-publishing is an option, or having different publishers for different types of books, or something else. I want to read *all* the beautiful stories that come out of that beautiful mind of yours.

        • Yes this! All of this! What Pam said!

          It’s taken me a bit to reply, because I’m actually really sad about what you’ve written about your publisher and Prosperity, Alexis. For pure selfish reasons, of course 😉 But more important, because I hate that you can’t tell the stories you want to tell.

          Yes, this has basically all been said already, but I needed to say it, too.

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