Tea Time with Alexis J Hall and Friends ~ Special Guests Julio Alexi Genao, Vanessa North 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: Julio Alexi Genao, Vanessa North and Beverley Jansen

Everything including Sex

JAG: my body is ready.

AJH: I hear that about you.

JAG: yeah, see—the person who told you that? their body was ready also.

AJH: Shh! Be quiet—they’re here.

Um, hello, and happy holidays, Teatimers.

Today I’m joined by Prism’s own BJ, Teatime regular Julio Alexi Genao, and romance author Vanessa North, and we’re going to be talking about … [glances left and right, warily] … sex.

I have no idea what made me think this would be a good idea.

JAG: um… because most of us had sex sixteen times today already?

AJH: Gosh, it’s a wonder you have any bed posts left with all those notches on ‘em.

JAG: like piles of kindling. maybe it’s a dominican thing. aaanyhoo—

AJH: —I thought we could talk a bit about sex in romance, sex in m/m, the intersection of the romantic and the erotic, what works for us, and what doesn’t. The, ah, narrative dimension, Julio.

JAG: [slides velvet-lined chest of accoutrement back under bed] …oh. well, that’s… that’s quite as nice, surely?

AJH: I think there’s a general perception that m/m is more sex-based or more sex-dominated than het. I think this might partially be connected to the fact that m/m is about the WHO rather than the WHAT, whereas het quite explicitly differentiates between romance and erotica, but I suspect it’s more complicated than merely lack of genre classification. The fact remains: in m/m the lines between romantic and erotica are  – to an extent – blurred.

JAG: blurred? obliterated, more like.

BJ: I totally agree with J. When I told my family I was writing m/m romance they said, you mean gay porn?…and it’s a family joke now! 

AJH: Although – isn’t romance generally characterised (by the ignorant, I mean) as porn for women? Regardless of level of erotic content?

BJ: I don’t think it is always thought of as porn, but erotica for housewives, yes.

JAG: …suuuuuch a gross term. sexist as fuck.

VN: the concept of romance as “porn for women” has been around for a while–long enough that there are several blog posts about it–so it’s not a foreign concept in het, but I think het writers have taken a hard-line stance on that going back years, whereas m/m writers tend to laugh it off.

AJH: While I think dismissing any genre except porn as being porn is … y’know … offensive, my perception as a reader is that m/m does tend to carry a greater expectation of erotic content than het.

JAG: [flatly, into teacup] i haven’t the faintest idea why.

VN: yes, I think so as well, and specific erotic content–there is an expectation that sex in m/m deliver frequent sex content, erotic sex content, and penetrative sex.

BJ: There is always going to be that perception when book sites sell romance based on a ‘heat’ index.

AJH: I joked on Twitter the other day that I needed to stop seeing the ‘heat level’ at Riptide Press as a score – but actually I think that’s just about supporting reader choice, which I’m massively in favour of. I don’t really see it as connected to why m/m is expected to be or seen to be more erotically focused than het. It’s not like you can’t get some very, ah, steamy het.

VN: My transition from writing het to writing m/m involved, for a while, a ramping-up of the eroticism of my work (which was pretty high on the heat index already) because I felt that was expected. Then I just wrote the story, and now I feel more comfortable with heat ratings.

JAG: you know what my biggest issue with these heat ratings is? i don’t think they are granular enough. like—what the hell is the difference between three chiles, and four? is there a set number of blowjobs one must include before it kicks up into the next category? how about double penetration? can we agree that double penetration is—

AJH: —Too spicy for my blood.

JAG: see, you say that now, but enrique from the bodega down the block swears he saw you change your grindr profile last wee—

BJ: —Who is the arbiter of heat?

VN: DP is a regular in het menage–it pretty much scores in the 4-5 range.

JAG: this is why vanessa north is here. vanessa north knows everything. admire the vanessa north.

VN: no, Vanessa North reads everything. 😉 there’s a difference.

AJH: Yes but obviously heat level is to a degree subjective. I mean, there’s a scene in Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels, where the hero removes the heroine’s glove and I nearly imploded it was so sexy. Like 85 gazillion chilis. And I’ve read, y’know, hardcore BDSM fisting scenes that made me yawn.

VN: that Lord of Scoundrels scene was ridiculously hot. Implicitly sexy rather than explicitly so, and exactly the kind of sexy I like to read.

AJH: Yes, why does only het get the sexy glove removal? And m/m gets enemas. How is that fair or right or reasonable?

JAG: it’s an OUTRAGE!!!

BJ: I think m/m tends to veer away from sexual subtlety still, maybe because it is a younger ‘genre’.

VN: [plans glove-removal scene just for AJH]

AJH: Hehe, thank you. Well, m/m does have roots in fanfic and erotica – and there’s an extent to which both those genres are about pushing boundaries and subverting, uh, stuff, in a way that doesn’t necessarily … lead easily towards telling more romantic stories. Not that you can’t fist someone romantically. It’s just … flowers first, y’know?

BJ: Romantic fisting. That’s staying with me ‘til 2015!

AJH: Any act can be romantic. (I seem to recall there’s a romantic fisting in Vanessa’s The Dark Collector). It’s not about acts. It’s about context. Emotion. Subtlety.

VN: [blushes]

JAG: [sips tea placidly] mmm, yes. subtlety. but yeah—that scene was delicious. about the only fisting scene i’ve read that made my toes curl.

BJ: See, that’s what I was trying to say: we have less subtlety in m/m romance, at the moment.

VN: language is a tool–and the sex in stories should use language to move the story, and shape the characters. It can be filthy, raunchy, come-eating sex and still be a metaphor for something bigger and more ground-shaking to the characters. If sex is the point, there isn’t any subtlety. If sex is the tool… that’s different.

AJH: I think – for me – I kind of agree with Beej that perhaps where a lot of m/m romance isn’t quite there, yet? The acts themselves are still meant to stand alone as indicators of intimacy / emotion. Like, being penetrated means This Is Totally Real.

JAG: welp, i for one feel you guys might give MM too much credit. i don’t think many of these books you’re referring to display any evidence at all of being the product of that kind of nuanced thinking. i don’t think, in other words, that many of these smutty—and don’t get me wrong, i lurve me some smut—

AJH: Dude, you gave 5 stars to purple demon cock—

JAG: [clears throat delicately] …exigent circumstances, my dear boy. as i was saying: while i love me some… purple-demon-cocked smut, i don’t think it was the product of an author going “gee, i would like to paint these male-male relationships with aaaaaall the colors of the wind—but let me use this ruby-tipped butt-plug as a kind of shorthand!” no. i think it’s more often something like: “you know what would be hot? male pregnancy.”

AJH: [whimpers]

VN: I think there is some of that, for sure. But then I read stories like Jordan Castillo Price’s Meatworks, where the intimacy is so fraught with tension over the acts themselves, and these men’s concerns about their bodies and what certain acts might mean to them–it really shows a deeper understanding of how our self-awareness tends to disappear in moments of real intimacy. It was erotic, and it was romantic, and it was metaphorical.

AJH: Aaaand on my to-be-read list as of right the fuck now.

JAG: that book was terrific. i heartily recommend it, as much for castillo price’s handling of what vanessa mentioned above as for her sense of place. don’t miss the afterword—it’s outstanding. but can we get back to the double penetration, or what?

BJ: I think the answer to that is ‘what’.

JAG: [scowls]

VN: Well, I think we might be a little unfair to describe this as something that affects m/m exclusively–there is a lot of het romance in which the sex is the point as well.

AJH: Well, yes, and that’s absolutely not to diminish books that are mostly about sex – but that kind of book is called erotica.  And, of course, I know I’m generalising because I’ve read some very romantic m/m and some very sexual het. But, while there are exceptions, I tend to find m/m broadly swings towards sex and away from intimacy in ways that don’t work for me as romantic stories.

VN: Oddly enough, I feel the same about a lot of lesbian fiction. I find the more erotic stories to be more blatantly sexual than sensual, and the emotional arc often isn’t there. When the emotional arc is there, the sexual content is hidden in euphemism. I find it very difficult to find well-written lesbian fiction that provides both. [please provide recs in comments, friends!]

JAG: maybe it’s that thing—that, um, genre life cycle. where a new type of fiction develops nascently, and at first the only requirement is that it be about what’s novel about it—male pregnancy, demon orgies, uh… healthy, sane, consensual gay sex—but then, eventually, both the audience and the writers mature in their tastes, and want more from their stories—want more universally human interactions, universally relatable conflicts. and so over time the stories get better. the characters get better. and in that way we go from cardboard cutouts to… more complete and emotionally satisfying arcs.

AJH: This is why I feel queer genre fiction is so important, and why it profoundly pisses me off that you’re only allowed to sell contemporary m/m … but that’s a rant for another time.

VN: I hate to say it, but sci fi and fantasy have been writing great lesbian and gay sex since at least the 70s…

JAG: well, that’s me looking a right numpty—because i totally knew that already. i had me my heinlein and my mccaffrey with me mother’s milk—er, baby formula. whatever. but yeah. fair point; well made.

VN: queer genre fiction is how I discovered that women are sexy to me, too.

BJ: I have to step in now with my review blogger’s hat on and say that readers and certainly reviewers are getting fed up with the all sex and no plotline or nuanced emotions in m/m romance. We have all been calling for more plot in our reviews, but feel no one is listening. It is generally thought that the genre is run by successful authors who have found a niche, which their publishers think sell well, and they stick to the formula ad nauseum.

VN: BJ, I think you’re right–there is quite a bit of it. Commercially successful stories in a niche will always be a solid bet for publishers. But those stories allow the smaller, weirder, quirkier stories that don’t move as many copies to be sold.

AJH: Also it’s not what the publisher THINKS will sell. It’s what DOES sell. Sorry, but as I wrote about last time, it’s an insoluble problem. Numbers are numbers. But, back on track, I think there’s a broader point here about what audience is being served. The strength, and (ironically) the limitation, of lesbian fiction (and romance) is that it’s presumed to be written largely by and for queer women. Radclyffe wrote about this a bit on her Queer Romance Month post. I know you’re a queer woman, V, so if lesbian fiction isn’t serving you, that’s obviously an issue, but since the presumed audience of lesbian fiction is queer women, I kind of feel that in its current form it must be serving someone. Whereas there’s massive amount of debate about who m/m is supposed to serve.

VN: well, I am one of those really picky readers–I can be turned off by a POV choice or a weird sentence–so I hope most genre fiction isn’t written to serve me, because there would be a lot fewer books. 😉 I think the perception that M/M is for women is a problem, as it pushes men out of the genre–the men it is ostensibly for/about.

AJH: And thus we come back to the sex/intimacy issue, in that what seems to be written about is a particular perception of gay sex that feeds into certain fantasies or ideas that may themselves be profoundly unhelpful.

VN: well, fantasy is…personal. When we commercialize it–when we publish it, are we looking for the lowest common denominator? a cock in a hole? I mean, is that all sexual fantasy comes down to? for some people, the answer may very well be yes. there’s no inherent problem with the fantasy, but maybe the assumption everyone shares it in exactly the same way.

JAG: [guiltily stops looking for a cock in a hole] 

AJH: Personal fantasy is, y’know, sacrosanct. But nevertheless that leaves us books that are packaged as or subsumed within romance that are heavily sex-focused, and focused on particular ideas about sex, and particular types of sex. Like, if I had a quid for every m/m romance I’ve read that just veers into BDSM at the halfway point, almost in this kind of default way, as if the author can’t conceive of two men shagging in a manner that doesn’t inherently include a power dynamic… 

BJ: [pops up] Wondering why we didn’t define the difference between sex and romance? or do we need to? 

JAG: i think that was AJH’s earlier point—for much of MM, there really is no distinction. 

VN: I suppose it’s a simple question here, but are we selling the sex, or are we selling the happy ever after? which is the fantasy? 

AJH: For it to be a genre romance (emphasis on genre), obviously the Happy Ever After/Happy For Now is the key, here. But since every genre romance essentially offers that guarantee (which I am fine with, though I understand it’s a complicated issue and not one I necessarily we think want to get into right now), how you GET there is important. And so, for me, emotional trajectory and intimacy are necessary parts of that journey. And while the amount and type of sex may not be relevant to that … I feel if the emotional journey is about appendages and orifices (for romance, not erotica), I don’t feel served – or, ahem, satisfied. 

VN: and I think this goes back to intent: is the intent to write about sex, or is the intent to write about the HEA? Is the HEA a frame to hang the sex on, or is the sex a part of the journey to get there? I don’t know if those are questions that can be answered without examining individual works, and etc. Can someone make me a scholarship so I can go back to school and study this? 

JAG: i think that’s one for beej. what are some examples, beverley, of books that are both sexual and romantic in the way you and your readers have been calling out for? 

BJ: Of recent published works. Well there may be blushes….Sand and Ruin and GoldThe Lonely Drop….Oh, a sweet example:  Amy Lane’s The Bells of Times Square

Sand and Ruin and Gold The Lonely Drop The Bells of Times Square

VN: [blushes]

JAG: so where’s that leave us?

AJH: Well, it leaves us with us each being able to individually find books we like.

VN: well, that’s a good thing, right?

AJH: Yes, of course – but I largely read het.

BJ: Surely, that puts you in a good position to define what m/m romance needs…

JAG: …it does?

AJH: I don’t feel any individual is in any place to define what a large and varied group of other people need 🙂 I can define what I need, but what I need is rarely served by m/m.

BJ: If no individual can define what a group needs, or a genre should be about, then why are we concerned about the amount or type of sex in m/m at all? If some are being served because there will be some who just want sex regardless of plot or story or nuanced subtlety…should we care that some aren’t served by the genre?

AJH: Well, that’s the million dollar question isn’t it? Because, uh, one of the substantial bummers about belonging to a marginalised group is that you aren’t served by very much.

JAG: okay. from another angle, then: where does that leave us as writers? what can we do to address the issue?

AJH: But aren’t we essentially suggesting that as long as we can all name a handful of books we like, that serve and satisfy us, the ‘issue’ (if we agree there is an issue) is basically irrelevant?

JAG: …why should everyone being able to find the books they like be an issue? my issue is that i can’t find the books i like. and the books i like are books about gay dudes who don’t make me feel like they were written by people who appear to imagine i don’t get to have a happily ever after until i’ve been sexually abused by an uncle and then forced into BDSM servitude on a pleasure yacht orbiting the seventh moon of grabdicknix IV.

BJ: I do feel there is an issue, but AJH said one person shouldn’t define what is needed.

VN: sure, there’s an issue–but it’s not exclusive to m/m or even to romance. What I feel we can do as readers is spread word of mouth about the books we love (hey, Meatworks) and the ones we think embody the best of the genre, and continue to support the authors we feel do it right. As writers, we keep telling the stories we want to tell, in the way that suits our voice and our motivations.

AJH: Yes, but the fact that one man in the corner views something as ‘an issue’ doesn’t really mean there IS an issue. M/M exists the way it does – and has the priorities is does – for a reason.

JAG: right—beggin’ yer pardon, gubnor: but i thought we—all four of us here—had an issue with this?

VN: I think there are issues anytime you write about relationships and sexuality–for some people, there is always going to be a push for a bigger, more unusual kink. For others there is going to be a pull back toward more euphemistic, behind closed doors sex. there are different priorities.

AJH: It’s not that; it’s when kinks or extremes become the default, or become seen as inherent or inevitable.

VN: this is a trend–it passes. A few years from now, we’ll be splashing our tea at each other and reminiscing about that time in M/M when fisting was all the rage.

AJH: But for now everyone is pissing on each other in proof of their twu wuv?

VN: piss–I mean, pessimist.

JAG: …omg i totally got that joke.

AJH: I get that these things are hopefully passing and, as Beej suggested earlier, symptoms of a newish genre finding its feet. But I’m kind of depressed that ‘it gets better’ is apparently relevant to fiction as well as life.

JAG: don’t get me wrong—it really does seem like there can’t be an MM story anymore that is not defined by which extremity is used to characterize a gay man, and not whether any should.

AJH: Exactly. It’s like being gay just wasn’t subversive enough any more. So now  you have to be gay with a sock fetish.

VN: Okay, maybe I have no place to say this but–the fact that gayness is not considered subversive should be good, right? I mean? I think maybe this parallels some of the extreme trends in het–where the genre started embracing werewolves and breeding programs and some really kinky stories as part of erotic romance because it was new and different. And now those stories are a dime a dozen.

JAG: [silently mouthing the words breeding programs in bemusement]

AJH: God yes. I’m hugely in favour of queer not being considered subversive, but I think the fact m/m has roots in fanfic and erotica (and I have a problem with neither) both of which — to a degree — are all about subversion (“hey, these two straight people are fucking – I am subverting both a text, and a social norm!” “hey, this book is about sex, and sex isn’t supposed to be something nice people talk about!”) means that queerness gets unhelpfully thrown into the mix. Which means that when queerness starts to become normalised (a good thing!) people start anxiously looking around for ways to making it challenging/subversive/edgy again. So essentially you do all this work to normalise something that is, let’s face it, entirely normal) (some of us are queer, big whoop) and then immediately start othering it all over again.

JAG: v, the thing is—it’s not just that the message we’re presumably to understand is that ‘queerness is okay because there are loads of queer books now.’ i think it’s that… somehow, it’s got so you can’t have queer books without having fucked-up queer books. in 2013, of the some two-hundred-and-change mm books i read, i could swear at least half of them appeared to posit that every gay man liked to be whipped when he was feeling a little down in the mouth, and that all of us have a fuckdungeon to retire to when we’re fighting with our boyfriends. who are always either billionaires or firemen.

AJH: Wait, you don’t? But .. this morning—

JAG: —i thought we agreed not to speak of that again.

BJ: Where the fuck are you getting these books? And don’t you read the blurb?

JAG: [meekly] …sometimes i don’t, no. my bad.

BJ: [Taps foot and points to back of book]

AJH: That’s the thing, if these were called Harold and the Fuckdungeon of Destiny, I’d be less bothered. But it’s like – one minute you’re reading a nice story about a small-town boy getting back with his his high school ex, and the next minute they’re into pony play. And, look, there is absolutely nothing wrong with books that explore … uh … any of those things. I’m not judging either the behaviour nor the fantasy. It just feels, rightly or wrongly, that they … they’re almost normalised? And, God, that sounds bad. Like, of course, whatever sex you enjoy is normal. But the point is that it’s not the same as being queer.

JAG: someone. anyone. everyone. please write Harold and the Fuckdungeon of Destiny at once.

AJH: I vote for V. It will be very romantic. And I might cry at the end.

VN: I think it should be a choose-your-own-adventure story.

BJ: It’s a group project. but the blurb will be about all-American boys.

JAG: all-american white boys. [grumbles]

VN: in college. who strip for book money.

BJ: And have never even thought about boys…that way. until now.

JAG: …and then KADEN finds out he’s pregnant.

AJH: Guys, we are going to hit the bigtime with this one. Lemme pitch it to my publisher. They’d love this shit.

JAG: …dude, what the hell is in this tea?

AJH: … leaves …

BJ: I started the good stuff ages ago…

AJH: —So, um … as to the thing we were talking about … it seems like the problem is J and I are reading the wrong books?

JAG: you know that thing we’re not talking about right now? the thing wot happened that is not being mentioned bcuz DIGNITY? well, in a comment about it somewhere, you said ‘JAG obviously reads a lot of bad books.’ and i do. but the issue is not that i choose to read a lot of bad books—it’s that i have to read a fuckton of bad books to get to the one really awesome one.

VN: broken record voice: not exclusive to m/m…

BJ: I was just going to say that Vanessa…

AJH: Sorry, V. I think, perhaps, it’s a … a distance thing? Like I think maybe I notice the weird shit in m/m because it feels personal. Whereas I just skim over the weird shit in het because it doesn’t. But, on the other hand, het is a very large genre and better articulated (in that it has subgenres, rather than being a melting pot), so it feels easier to me to find the sort of books I like reading, and avoid the ones I don’t.

VN: and yet, a lot of women say they started reading M/M because het romance wasn’t serving their needs anymore–the power dynamics were too rapey, etc. So, you may be on to something, with this distance thing.

BJ: I finally agree with AJH. I gave up reading het fiction because I found the women in them stereotypical and sometimes downright offensive representations. I want to write to try to do justice to my characters and address things I hated in het and /or m/m fiction. Isn’t that one reason we all write?

AJH: See, this where I wonder what het you guys have been reading. But … okay … this is going to sound bad. But I always feel slightly dubious about people fleeing het for m/m. I mean, I totally understand why, and I’m not actually saying it’s bad or wrong … but because I feel m/m’s issues more strongly (because, as I said above, it’s personal), it feels like … it feels like: if you look in your back garden and see a tonne of rubbish, and then you fling it in my back garden to get rid of it, the rubbish has still gone somewhere? Does that makes sense? Like it’s nice that my problems give you a holiday from yours but … that doesn’t mean all the problems aren’t still there. But then I use het exactly the same way. So pass the Hypocrite Hat.

VN: I haven’t finished knitting the hypocrite hat yet. You’ll have to wait.

JAG: it’s a problem with more than one mechanism. the, um, het refugees aren’t necessarily the ones bringing rapey cooties with them.

AJH: It’s not just that. It’s just … if you think queer men don’t have power dynamics to deal with, you’re, uh, being naive. They just don’t have heterosexual power dynamics. and by power dynamics, I don’t mean stuff you can work out in a fuckdungeon.

JAG: i hear you, dude. it’s just—it’s complicated. there’s more than one thing going on than people leaving one genre for another and bringing their rubbish with them. obviously, that happens also—like when readers don’t notice that they still like the same tropey heroes and heroines, but dressed-up in queer clothes. but the problem of distance—of being alienated by what you’re reading—that happens more than one way. and i know exactly how you feel. because i want to kick people in the neck every time i come across some piece of shit story about a twink massage therapist who, say, cannot bear to be touched himself on account of being sexually abused in his youth. to pull a completely and totally made-up example from the air at random.

BJ: AJH, I feel that you are lumping all readers of m/m into one bunch of women who left het to drool over gay men—and those are dangerous waters, my man!

AJH: Woah, Beej, I didn’t remotely say that. I said that moving from het to m/m isn’t a simple journey from a Power Dynamic Dystopia to the Free Land of Unicorns and Rainbows. In fact, one of the broader problems of trying to talk about m/m is that the instant you point out it’s the site of some pretty complicated intersectionality issues, people get defensive and say you’re attacking them.

JAG: [mutters, darkly] free land of unicorns and rainbows and fuckdungeons…

BJ: It is very difficult to say what you wish without upsetting someone, which is why I think a discussion like this is such a good idea. Because arguments and thoughts develop naturally and opinions can be changed and aligned. Oh yes, don’t forget fuckdungeons.

AJH: [squeezes Beej] I’m really sorry if I attacked anybody. I honestly don’t care who reads or writes m/m, or why: I’d just like us to look at it occasionally without assuming hostility on either side.

VN: I don’t think there is anything hostile in examining why we like the things we like–or why other people like the things they like. I personally loathe virginity narratives, but I know other readers who eat them up like candy. I see a social problem in valuing virginity, but that doesn’t keep it from being a compelling narrative with an attraction to a lot of readers. And it’s a narrative that both M/M and het share.

JAG: …speaking for myself, i have long since ceased to examine my affinity for purple demon cock.

BJ: I have likes for tentacles. [shame face]

AJH: That’s the thing – likes are likes, and they’re fine, but ‘likes’ aren’t hermetically sealed from reality, unfortunately. And, actually, I can see why m/m readers (and writers) ARE hostile because they’re constantly being asked to not only assess their likes but to defend them. And that’s not okay. But the virginity thing is an interesting example actually, because it’s much more harmful in het. While it can be compelling and exciting as  story – you can very easily support harmful ideas about women’s sexual behaviour.

VN: but enjoying the story doesn’t necessarily imply support of slut shaming.

AJH: Nope but a high proportion of contemporary het novels have heroines who are virgins or who have only had one (unsatisfying) sexual partner. And while that may reflect some women’s experience, it might not reflect others (again, anecdotally, but most the women I know – although they’ve differ quite substantially in amount and type of sexual experience, very few of them have only had 1-2 sexual partners over the course of thirty-to-fifty years of being alive). And if all the books you read that are supposed to be about and for you suggest you “should” have had limited sexual experience – that could get pretty depressing.

VN: that’s it, exactly, for me. And I think that’s the kind of thing that het refugees come to m/m to escape, only to discover that there are equally socially-fraught narratives in m/m.

AJH: Or NOT discover. I think the freedom of it not being personal allows you to, ah, ignore socially fraught narratives that don’t directly affect you. The point is that it becomes a CHOICE for some readers, not others (and I make the choice for myself in het – so again, you need to finish that hat for me, but I guess the best I can do is be aware how much it’s a choice?)

VN: [knits faster]

JAG: [huffs a laugh at v’s knitting] …but, okay, so…  i generally try not to discuss this too often, because it is too easy for my thoughts to veer into territory that insults… that insults… well… everyone. but you guys have read my reviews of certain fictions which have offended me so deeply my only response was to rant and rave for hundreds upon hundreds of words about the sheer dafuqery inherent in stories that are ostensibly about me, but are neither written for me nor by people even like me. and so it is common knowledge, i reckon, that this aspect of what we’re talking about pisses me the holy fuck off. because it’s in the territory of what AJH was talking about earlier—being too close—being aware of all the little things that are just …not right. not about you. not for you. not what you want, or need, or can even understand why anyone in their right bloody mind would try to—

AJH: More tea, dear?

JAG: [mouth clicks shut] …why, yes. yes, that would be lovely.

AJH: I, uh, I’m looking at V to say something tactful and optimistic. But I guess we’re into intersectionality again: that such things are serving an audience which also deserves to be served, an audience which is also marginalised, just along different axes, except that in serving this one audience you potentially alienate another.

VN: why can’t we all get along? [clears throat] As a writer, I feel it’s in my best interest to serve both audiences as much as possible, which means listening to the gay men in my life when they say “fuck that shit, it’s offensive.”

JAG: [slurps tea aggressively]

BJ: Hey I can be ….optimistic!

AJH: I think it is definitely, hugely possible to serve both audiences. And also it’s not like gay men are a monolith either – write something that really speaks to one member of any marginalised group, and you’re likely to have deeply, deeply offended another.

VN: so serve the story first. If the story is worth telling, it’s going to move somebody, right?

AJH: I would like that. But I’m sure the people who wrote the kind of books that just now moved J to apoplexy believed they were serving the story. Just because you personally don’t like  a thing, doesn’t mean it wasn’t written with genuine conviction. It’s all so subjective and complicated. I might just … cry.

JAG: i am not apoplectic. i am serene. i am the green leaf on the still pond. i am the fucking essence of motherfucking calm, ok?

AJH: I think that’s where it all falls down, honestly. The capacity of books to hurt and alienate in a real way. Like I say, I can cheerfully romp through a het book that strikes me as all kinds of problematic and think “gosh, I’d be upset if I was a woman, right now” … but while, of course, it matters because I’m not a sociopath, it doesn’t affect me.

JAG: [tired sigh] that’s the thing. the meat of it. i know a lot of people have trouble understanding why i get so upset about stuff like that, but it’s…  it’s … okay. see, for lonely gay boys who’ve got no… who don’t know where to go for representation? for identification? MM makes promises. MM is this great big pool of yaaaaaaaay. here, at last, here are the books for you. the characters for you. the stories you’ve been craving your whole life. and then you read them, and you find out… otherwise. you find out you’ve apparently been an Incorrect Gay the entire time. that you need to invest in a leather fucksling. and/or be a cowboy. and/or caucazoid.

AJH: To be fair, it’s not like actual gays are much better. Racist. Transphobic. Internalisededly homophobic. Trying to turn what you do in the sack into a goddamn identity. And then devalue it. Sorry, that’s the worst … consolation I’ve ever offered.

JAG: rubbish. rubbish consolation. get in the fucksling. it is time for your daily castigation. for ‘internalisededly,’ if for nothing else.

BJ: I don’t think many find themselves or validation in fiction. It can never be an accurate representation for all. I’m quite happy to put you both in the Fuckdungeon of Destiny for a while tho 😉

AJH: Don’t forget the sequel, Harold and the Enchanted Fucksling of Nazradhan.

JAG: [cries brokenly]

AJH:  Before we commit group suicide, I think this comes back to what Vanessa was saying earlier about the individual dimension l. Books have the power to hurt us because they have the power to really speak to us. To remind us that we’re not alone. We get so fucking pissed off and broken about stories, because stories really matter.

JAG: …is my thinking as well, sorry bev. which is why the sex in these books—the sex, recall, that every one of us engages in as often as we can—unless you’re an asexual, of course (high-fives for all my asexual peeps everywhere, hollaaaaaa!!!)—which is also tied up in how we identify, and in how other people identify us—that’s why it’s important. why the way it’s defined in the romances we read is important.

VN: we can’t seem to talk about the sex without talking about identity, which seems like a very odd thing.

JAG: as AJH pointed out above… it’s… a particular concern for gay people. speaking as a gay male—a gay ethnic male—my people have this whole byzantine strata of rationalization for when and how sex between boys is okay. like: you’re not really gay if you don’t suck dick. or get fucked. or: you’re a better gay if nobody can tell you’re gay—unlike mister Swishy McSassypants over there, whom everyone knows likes it up the butt. for many, many gays—gosh, almost all, maybe?—the how and the with whom of sex matter a great deal indeed.

BJ: It seems that whatever group we associate ourselves with, there are new ways to be prejudiced. Isn’t it a responsibility when writing, in a genre not directly connected to the author that the sex and relationships are written with as much understanding and respect as the author can muster.

AJH: I’m kind of taking a weird amount of hope from V’s point actually: we tried to talk about sex but ended up talking about everything. So, there’s an extent to which the WHAT is always less important than WHAT IT MEANS.

[glum silence]

JAG: …gosh. i think we’re out of tea.

AJH: Also biscuits.

Our dear readers, please feel free to join us for more discussion below. Is there a greater preoccupation with sex in m/m than in het? What do you think of the way sex is portrayed in m/m in general? Narratively speaking, how do you feel the lines of romance and erotica are navigated, if at all? Tell us what you think—we’d love to hear from you.

AJH: Meanwhile, massive thanks to Vanessa, J and Beej for this epic teatime.

JAG: thanks for having me. a pleasure, as always.

BJ: Thanks all [slopes away exhausted]

VN: Thanks for having me 🙂 [kisses]

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

jag JULIO ALEXI GENAO lives in New York City with three cats and a preoccupation with post-mortem predation.

 

 

 

vANESS-nORTH Author of over a dozen novels, novellas, and short stories, Vanessa North delights in giving happy-ever-afters to characters who don’t think they deserve them. Relentless curiosity led her to take up knitting and run a few marathons “just to see if she could.” She started writing for the same reason. Her very patient husband pretends not to notice when her hobbies take over the house. Living and writing in Northwest Georgia, she finds her attempts to keep a quiet home are frequently thwarted by twin boy-children and a very, very large dog.

confused-unicorn Beverley Jansen reviews with Prism Book Alliance, and as her alter ego Izzy van Swelm is releasing her first novel, Soul Mate for SIN, through Wilde City Press on 21st January 2015 .

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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44 thoughts on “Tea Time with Alexis J Hall and Friends ~ Special Guests Julio Alexi Genao, Vanessa North and Beverley Jansen

  1. As usual, you all give me huge thinky thoughts that as always I’m unable to articulate properly so they stay stuck in my brain. Also, I need “Harold and the Fuckdungeon of Destiny”. If you make him a POC character and give him, oh I don’t know…the ability to sprout wings somewhere along the line in the book, he won’t be your average cisgender white guy. I’ll even toss in an illustration. 😉

  2. Some interesting ideas in here.

    I don’t really have a comment, I don’t think, at least in the sense of adding anything to the discussion. Just wanted to let you know I read it, and am thinking about it, and… it’s interesting!

  3. “AJH: Yes, why does only het get the sexy glove removal? And m/m gets enemas. How is that fair or right or reasonable?” <<<<<<<<< so much yasssssssssssssss, I can't even handle it, YO. Now, I love me some graphic stuff, but sexy isn't just graphic, sexy is barely touching, shivers, the mere idea of, hinting at what may be incredibly pleasurable, whatever form that takes. Imagination running wild = SEXY. AS. HELL.

    Also, V, yes please on your glove removal scene. Or maybe hockey skates. Or shin pads. Cuz, ya know, your contemp glove removal… **shivers most deliciously**

    "VN: If sex is the point, there isn’t any subtlety. If sex is the tool… that’s different." <<<<<<< VN FTMFW

    "JAG: maybe it’s that thing—that, um, genre life cycle. where a new type of fiction develops nascently, and at first the only requirement is that it be about what’s novel about it—male pregnancy, demon orgies, uh… healthy, sane, consensual gay sex—but then, eventually, both the audience and the writers mature in their tastes, and want more from their stories—want more universally human interactions, universally relatable conflicts. and so over time the stories get better. the characters get better. and in that way we go from cardboard cutouts to… more complete and emotionally satisfying arcs." <<<<<<<< nailed it, J, freakin' nailed it. This is how I feel. The possibility for growth, variety, everything, is massive and I feel we'll get there, too. Gotta "start" somewhere. The more people read and write these stories, the more we'll get into the realistic subtleties, sensuality and everything else. *hi5*

    I think the idea of "distance" is right on. Whenever I read something that isn't close to my own experience, there is that built in distance which makes it… easier? to absorb what I want/like and skip or glaze over what I don't. If it's something that very closely mirrors my experience, it's much more difficult to let anything gain that yummy glaze.

    One of the other reasons discussions like this happen and are necessary is what one of y'all up yonder said: in talking about sex, identity came into the equation. Identity is inherently extremely personal (I know, I know, DUH) so when that gets swirled in with sex, it's kind of no wonder that this is a topic we all seem unable to discover an endings, the endings, resolutions or anything that holds the answers.

    It goes back to the currently nascent position m/m (romance, spy stories, shifters, coppers, family, etc etc etc) finds itself in, which is also running alongside an explosion of authors and books. There is so much out there and yet we're all clamoring for more subtlety, more intimacy, more complexity in relationship dynamics, and so on.

    You all are FAWESOME for having and sharing this discussion. <3

  4. Good discussion. Even though, or maybe because, it doesn’t come to a conclusion. What it boils down to for me is that, as tempting as it may sometimes be to try and fit things and people and ideas into neat little boxes (or try to find THE recipe for THE book), life is just too messy for that. And it’s going to be messy in a different way tomorrow than it is today. Trying to forcing it to toe the line is destructive to everyone in the end, even the one doing the forcing. So we carry on with this human thing – we muddle through.

    • I wish there was a conclusion but … honestly … my conclusion to most things is eh, this is complicated 😛

      But, as you say, I think – in this case especially – it would be actively harmful to try and force a conclusion. It’s not like you say this is the RIGHT way to do something – like as soon as I started whinging about fisting, I realised that I’d actually read a fisting scene that was erotic and intimate.

      And I’m troubled, more generally, by a tendency to m/m (and queer) to conclude that something is the right way to talk about queer people, or portray queer sex, and anybody doing it differently is wrong and bad and letting the side down.

  5. I don’t necessarily think there’s more of a preoccupation with sex in m/m than het – because preoccupation with sex is part of the human condition – but there might be more of an expectation you’ll put it on the page. Regardless of whether the MCs are gay, straight, or tubular, if the sex outweighs the plot, it goes into my DNF pile.
    And I don’t have a clue what tubular means, either. Nice discussion, y’all. Thanks for making me think on the first day of the year!

  6. Enjoyed this. I am really enjoying M/M currently. I have read het and some lesbian. But the bottom line is that I like the M/M. Sometimes I like a sweet romance with little sex and sometimes I like a really naughty sexy book! Luckily there are lots of choices. And luckily with friends who review lots of books I can weed through a lot of the sucky ones!!

    • I agree choice is important in any genre (and I’m glad you’re enjoying reading queer romance) but it can get complicated when you’re dealing with the expectations surrounding marginalised groups, especially if certain ‘types’ of sexual behaviour seem more relevant and visible. I’m pretty sure proportionally speaking the same amount of queer people who enjoy BDSM is the same as for straight people, but it seems to me – and this is entirely personal – that in a lot of m/m you’re more likely to find dudes whipping each other than holding hands. And while there’s nothing wrong with either activity, I worry it can seem othering.

  7. Thing is though, there are also reader expectations to meet. I have read reviews of books that did not have penetrative sex and almost every person felt the need to point it out. Even the persons that liked the book will qualify it by saying despite lack of sex this is awesome, or something to that effect. So readers expect it, writers need those sales, so it’s a feedback loop.

    I’m all about the glove removal scenes and the intimacy. I don’t care if the queer stories I read have anal sex in them or not. I do think the sex scenes that further the plot or relationship are key to a good romantic arc. Where are ya’ll finding these sex dungeons books everywhere? The only dungeon book I read all last year was an excellent trans* romance. It even won an award.

    Anyway, great discussion!

    • I’ve kind of got a bee in my bonnet about penetrative sex as well so I hear ya 🙂

      I’m all for meeting reader expectations, and for readers being able to get what they want from the books they read, but there are broader social issues here. Like the fact that queer sex looks like queer sex, not necessarily like straight sex, and it’s problematic to me that the type of queer sex that is most valued (penetrative sex, usually entailing one partner taking a role presumed to be passive or submissive) is the type that looks most harmfully like het sex.

      What was the award winning dungeon trans* romance?

      • Hehe 🙂 You can be proud, of course!

        But the reason why I took notes is simply that I have a really, really shitty memory for details. If I don’t take notes, I usually forget what I wanted to say, and I would have to read the whole post again to be able to comment, at least with longer posts like this one. But this time, I knew I could only reply the next day, which made it even worse… I dunno, that is just me. I also have to write a review for a book right away, otherwise all details blur into ‘just’ emotions and it is hard for me to explain why I liked or disliked a book.

  8. And see, all I really ask is for an MC that’s over 30 years of age and isn’t 6′ 5″ and muscled.

    I wonder if much of this is because we, as western society, are programmed to see men as always ready for sex, that it’s the way they express their inner emotions (God FORBID they could talk about them!), and that it would be impossible for a man to be turned on by the sexy removal of a glove because they NEED to see the genitals, whereas women are all about sex in the mind? Y’know what I’m trying to say? Badly? *LOL*

    Great discussion!

    • Hahaha, I’m with you… don’t get me wrong, muscles are very enjoyable, but so are – for example – not muscles.

      And, no, I get your point. I remember reading some nonsense by Someone Unpleasant the other day about how women are all about eyes and hands and men are all about cocks and arse. And I was like … yes but in PORN, not romance. I certainly enjoy the curve of a shapely buttock but if you asked me what I found most attractive about my partner I wouldn’t be like HIS BALLS. And that’s not just my English delicacy. He does have, uh, pleasing genitals but he also has wiry forearms I’ve very fond of and long-lashed Bambi eyes that are very pretty.

      I think you’re right about that a lot of this comes from deeper social issues concerning masculinity and the way male sexuality is supposed to work. In that het has a man person for sex and a woman person for emotions, but if you move into m/m it has to be a sex fest to feel ‘realistic’ because male sexuality blah blah blah.

  9. In het romance, I always wanted to read a heroine who had lots of sexual experience, enjoyed it, and knew what she was doing. That should not automatically discount her as unable to have a relationship or label her a slut. My biggest peeve with het romance is the derpy heroines.

    Love historicals though. At least there the sexually inexperienced heroine makes more sense.

    • Yes, the virgin heroine trope is much less weird in historical, and I also prefer them for that reason. Although I’ve enjoyed quite a few historicals recently where the heroines have been courtesans or fallen women, who have some sexual experience, and that’s been refreshing. Although there is a tendency to make the sexual experience rubbish.

  10. Wow! Now that somehow managed to be, by turns, amazingly thought provoking (though I should hardly be amazed by that anymore), heartbreaking, highly entertaining, & occasionally hilarious.

    OK, a few thoughts. And as usual I’ve written way too much & gone off topic here. Sorry guys, I can’t seem to think about stuff in any other way :/ Also, not sure this is even in the same order in which these issues were raised in the post, hope that’s not confusing.

    Anyway. AJH you said: “I feel m/m’s issues more strongly (because, as I said above, it’s personal), it feels like … it feels like: if you look in your back garden and see a tonne of rubbish, and then you fling it in my back garden to get rid of it, the rubbish has still gone somewhere? Does that makes sense? Like it’s nice that my problems give you a holiday from yours but … that doesn’t mean all the problems aren’t still there.”

    It *does* make sense & it makes me feel sad & torn. I like reading m/m romance, but I never want to fling rubbish in your garden, AJH 🙁 Or in JAG’s. Or anyone’s. But I don’t know how to reconcile those things.

    I guess I was seeing it slightly differently, more as, not flinging rubbish from my yard to yours, but maybe, leaving the rubbish in my backyard but jumping the fence to play in your yard instead? Which, upon further consideration, is still highly problematic, still ignoring the rubbish, now also trespassing . . .

    But actually that’s not it either. OK, maybe a better analogy is this: The rubbish in my backyard is thrown in yard of every woman by the patriarchy. It comes in as fast as I can get rid of it. But, if I buy a new house under a male alias: No rubbish in my yard.

    However, I can see problems with that even as I describe it. First, it’s not just a male alias, it’s a *queer* male alias, which comes with its *own* pile of rubbish courtesy of the patriarchy. But since I’m not really a queer man I am free to conveniently not be bothered by it, which isn’t fair.

    And another problem is the idea of “no rubbish in my yard” fails to recognize that the patriarchy owns a piece of property *inside my head*, complete with rubbish pile, so even when I think I’m leaving their rubbish behind in my old backyard, I am unconsciously bringing it with me to contaminate the new yard . . . God, it’s all kind of hopeless 🙁

    But, enough with the property analogy. Or I’ll start thinking I owe another mortgage payment to someone! Hmm. *considers this further in context of the analogy* Maybe “mortgage payment” equates to making an effort, if you are a person who is not a queer man, reading or writing stories about queer men, to at least try to write or choose stories that reflect a realistic spectrum of real queer experience? OK, sorry, analogy definitely got out of control. . .

    So, next thing. AJH, you also said: “if you think queer men don’t have power dynamics to deal with, you’re, uh, being naive. They just don’t have heterosexual power dynamics.”

    Yes, of course. But maybe that’s kind of the point? I don’t think women who prefer m/m to het are necessarily looking for refuge from power dynamics per se, in fact I think maybe it’s the opposite. Obviously I can only speak from my own perspective, but I think what some women may want are ways to explore *interpersonal* power dynamics in a manner that isolates them from patriarchal context. As if there were no perceived differences in power culturally attached to gender, only differences in personal power between *individuals*.

    But, again, I can see reasons there are problems with that. (Don’t you just love the way I keep arguing both sides of everything?) In a way, it treats queer men not as queer or men, so much as just “not women”. And in some sense it almost . . . idealizes queerness (?), treating it as a haven from patriarchal context, when of course that isn’t true at all.

    I think that reflects the way the genre evolved out of slash fanfiction. Putting 2 originally het male characters together in a romance & only later being like, oh, hey, that would make them gay then, wouldn’t it? Then grafting onto them, as an afterthought, all these things that seem related to gay life, to an outsider, to make the stories more “realistic”. Like homophobia . . . Ugh. That all sounds so horribly appropriative 🙁

    I mean, in a sense I think that’s how lots of stories are written? Say you write a romance set in 17th century France. So you research how they lived, but it’s all done with this sort of outside-in approach. You just want to write a romance. You set it in 17th century France because, maybe you like the clothes? Or you just think it’s a cool historical period. But chances are you’re not writing the story because you have a driving urge to reflect with deep accuracy the daily lives of people in 17th century France. I think that’s okay because it’s not going to hurt 17th century French people if you treat their lives like costumes & stage scenery. Because they’re all, like, dead. And I don’t think it’s automatically a problem to do this even in a more contemporary setting – I think it’s okay to use, say, a university just as a superficial setting for a romance, the story doesn’t have to be intrinsically *about* university life.

    But there’s a big difference when you’re writing about marginalized people. It’s what JAG says here: “MM makes promises. MM is this great big pool of yaaaaaaaay. here, at last, here are the books for you. the characters for you. the stories you’ve been craving your whole life. and then you read them, and you find out… otherwise.”

    And boils down to what AJH says here: “The capacity of books to hurt and alienate in a real way.”

    This is a thing I didn’t understand even as recently as a year ago. In fact, I’m not sure I would now, if I hadn’t read this thing last April by a certain someone we all know & love: http://www.quicunquevult.com/axes-allies & had a little epiphany. Which was simply: Oh! This *hurts* people! 🙁

    But obviously there are lots & lots of other people who still don’t see this, and that’s a problem. Hey, maybe the solution is just to make everyone go read AJH’s blog 😉

    OK, last thing: About how kinky/BDSM things are so common in m/m that it tends to create a false impression those are synonymous or inextricably interlinked with queerness. Yes, I think prevalence of those in m/m is partly related to the conflation of queerness with subversiveness as a byproduct of m/m’s roots in fanfic & erotica.

    But I also wonder if another reason for isn’t because, for women who do specifically want to read stories exploring really intense power dynamics about dominance & submission, again, it goes back to the difficulty of doing so in an m/f context. Because of this – static interference in your head from all these ingrained feelings & connotations of patriarchal oppression attached to m/f power dynamics.

    Damned patriarchy. Always messing everything up for everybody.

  11. There’s so much here to think and fret about – especially the whole “you’re bound to offend SOMEONE” issue.

    My approach to M/M, book selection and writing is a bit different, perhaps because I approached it from a different angle. I don’t read het – other than the ‘het by default’ that you get almost everywhere in genre fiction. I don’t read Romance as a genre either, so I just skirt around the edges of the bulk of M/M trying to pick out the genre fiction with oodles of plot and rivetting characterisation and story arcs that make me hyperventilate. Books where the heroes look at each other, think “OMG I want some of that, but I think we’d better just save the world/defuse the bomb/ get the harvest in/ fulfill our other responsibilities first” the way – well – you or I might do. And I try to write that kind of book too – without much sex because I’m rubbish at writing it – in the sad but certain knowledge that not many people will want to read it.

    A few years back Jessewave’s review site did a survey on heat levels amongst the regular readers that returned the results that 89% of the responding readers [and there were a lot of them] ONLY buy heat levels of 4 or 5 – the really sizzling stuff. So if you’re writing books that are more plot and less boink you’re trying to access a comparatively small market, which is further reduced if you factor in genre preferences. Is it worth doing then? I’d say only if you are utterly brilliant because if you’re utterly brilliant word will spread and people will forgive you for the reduced sexual content and you’ll sell well. For the rest of us, we must be content with single figure sales and the occasional kind review.BUT I still think it’s worth trying to get the books out there because it offers more choice – I figure there should be just as much choice of genre and type and style and heat content of books with LGBTTQ protagonists as there is with the het by default mainstream genre fiction.

  12. So, here are some thoughts of mine 😉

    Concerning the M/M-has-more-explicit-sex-than-het argument, I agree. When I was still reading het, I always checked the reviews for if there was explicit sexual content or not. When I switched to M/M I still did that in the beginning, but soon my subconscious realised there was no need and I stopped actively looking for it.

    ***

    JAG: … but the issue is not that i choose to read a lot of bad books—it’s that i have to read a fuckton of bad books to get to the one really awesome one.
    VN: broken record voice: not exclusive to m/m…
    BJ: I was just going to say that Vanessa…

    MEL: I was so going to say that and had to lol when I saw your comments next, VN and BJ. Unfortunately, there are so many bad books or mediocre books out there, in het and queer. So this is really annoying but not at all limited to M/M.
    I might be special 😉 but I nearly never read a book without first having checked the blurb, a trusted friend’s review, and one or two low-rated reviews, because there are just so many things that can possibly piss me off in a book, and I don’t want to spend the money nor the time on something that will annoy me. And in this I haven’t changed since I switched to reading M/M.
    I hereby offer my consulting services. Just ask me nicely 😉

    ***

    BJ: I finally agree with AJH. I gave up reading het fiction because I found the women in them stereotypical and sometimes downright offensive representations.
    AJH: See, this where I wonder what het you guys have been reading.
    JAG: …like when readers don’t notice that they still like the same tropey heroes and heroines, but dressed-up in queer clothes.

    MEL: First, the easy question, Alexis. I have mainly been reading paranormal erotic romance books, and some contemporaries. I have a hard time with historicals 😉
    BJ, I agree with you about the stereotypical women. They are either meek damsels in distress and need to be sheltered by a dominant alpha male, or if they are allowed to be strong that will end at the latest in the bedroom.
    I want to add, though, that I find the depiction of males in het romance as annoying and offensive as the one of women. That is something that we often forget in this context.
    Joolz, hehe. I dunno if that is entirely true. I agree, that you can find the same tropey characters in M/M, but you can find books with both protagonists being equals. The concept of versatile does exist, you know 😉
    And of course, you need to read a certain amount of books to find a pattern and a trope and all, and be able to notice things. I have been reading M/M for maybe one and a half years, which makes it under 200 books for me. That is not that much, but see… I am here. I noticed some time down the road.

    I don’t want to repeat all the stuff you’ve been saying that I agree with… Which is probably a lot of everything 😉

    • I like your reply Mel and I didn’t get in quickly enough to tell AJH that I was aware of the problems with the power dynamics in m/m and have in fact DNF’d queer books I felt went too far into the very areas I hated in het fiction.

      Two thoughts have stayed with me after this discussion – one was the real pain caused by the badly thought out books that do not respect the people their characters portray – two was that I need to go over my work with a fine tooth comb to make sure as a writer I never cause that pain.

      • Um, thanks 😉

        I think I was lucky, because the first 10 or such books I read, had all equal partners as protagonist. I think this is why I was blown away so much. (I just had a look through my list, mainly all books I’ve read are like this…)
        Also… There was less angst in the books. I’m not a fan on angst, and from the het books I had read I came to expect the stupid fights and arguments, the twists in the plot to make it more entertaining. Sometimes I still can’t enjoy a book because I subconsciously think there is gonna be unnecessary drama.

        What I found most interesting—judging from the huge amount of three F/F books I’ve read—is that it seems the problem with the power dynamics and stereotypes is more likely to happen when you have a male and a female. If you have two females… I did so enjoy reading about different kinds of women and wasn’t annoyed at all.

        ***

        I haven’t mentioned it yet, but I understood and am aware of the pain that books in M/M are causing our gay/queer friends. I am sorry and I can relate to a degree. That sucks and I hope it’ll get better!

    • Yeah, Mel, I’m like that too. Typically never read books without checking the blurb, reading a few reviews – like, maybe 2 postivie & 1 negative, and then reading a sample. That last one is crucial for me. I have to like the writing style, or at least not be completely put off by it. When I used to buy books in brick & mortar bookstores I always opened them & read the first page or so before I’d buy.

      My exceptions are: If I really like a particular author I buy everything they write, no questions 🙂 Or if I get a strong rec from someone whose reading taste I trust/respect. Even on the latter I’ll typically still check blurb & read sample, but don’t bother with reviews. But sometimes I don’t even do that. Like, the other day when I saw both AJH & JAG both liked the same m/m thing! Omg! I just went straight to buy 😀

      For het, I vastly prefer historicals. I very seldom read contemp – unless it comes with the “AJH Loved This” stamp of approval 😉

          • 🙂 Of course there are more…
            And you are right, these are strong reasons to read a book, and Off Campus.

            I… Since you mentioned that book… I have—despite the strong reasons—decided to not read it. I… personally just can’t read another book right now (or never?) where a protagonist is a rape victim. I am sure this is a great book, but this is a TROPE that makes me personally more and more uncomfortable, because I don’t want to get (emotionally) off on that anymore. I… just can’t. And I wonder how this could even become a trope… I mean… I somehow know the reasons, but… it makes me sick, that we readers (me included!) enjoy this so much that it could become a trope.

            Okay, now I feel like shit, because I don’t want to spoil a book for anyone, and I even talked about a specific book. I could name a lot more though, and I am not dissing Off Campus specifically. It’s just that I only recently read another book—also college setting, also rape victim—and Off Campus is just the ‘next’ book for me and I just won’t read that kind of book anymore.
            I am talking about me. I am not a judgemental person, so I am not judging anyone who enjoyed this book or enjoys these kind of books. Only I have discovered a new hard limit.

            Nevertheless, I think this fits into this discussion. And that is why I will click the send button and not delete everything I just wrote. Don’t be mad at me, okay?

          • also, I can’t stop saying the word “tubular” in my head like in Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure. tuuuuuuuuuubyoolurrr duuuuuuude

          • Mel, this reply is to you, regarding your comment on “Off Campus”. I couldn’t actually reply to you, for some reason. I guess the threading only goes so deep 😉

            Anyway, aww, for heaven’s sake, don’t feel like shit & don’t be silly, of course I’m not gonna be mad at you & I’m sure no one else is either! If this story & this *kind* of story aren’t for you, they just aren’t. And I understand where you’re coming from about the rape victim “trope”. It’s definitely a concern.

            But here’s my perspective. And I’m absolutely *not* trying to talk you into reading this! But I will say I never felt rape was exploited in this story to get readers off on sympathy or hurt/comfort. In fact I thought the writing quite consciously resisted going there. To me it was handled sensitively & respectfully & never felt gratuitous. The rape itself is only described sparingly, not in a way that invites a voyeuristic pity party, or worse, makes it sexually titillating. The character who was raped isn’t treated as a victim. There’s no let-me-be-your-big-strong-hero-you-poor-little-thing vibe. The story focuses on his courage, seen thru the other character’s eyes. And I did react emotionally to that. But it was with this tearful . . . pride? Respect? A sort of muted version of how I felt in “There Will Be Phlogiston”, that moment Lord Mercury decides he’s “done with shame” & again when he shows up at the Copper Ball. Also, in “Off Campus”, the other character is deeply wounded too. His pain & vulnerability are an equal focus of the story & he is comforted as much or more than he comforts.

            This is just me, but I wouldn’t characterize *my* emotional reaction to any aspect of either character’s suffering as enjoyment, but I enjoyed their small victories. I guess suffering is the necessary counterpoint to that, but that’s the nature of conflict in any story.

            That said, I agree stories with rape as a conflict *can* be problematic, but I don’t think they are inherently so. And I also think those stories need to be told. I think it’s important not to exploit & for there to be content warnings for people who want/need to avoid. But I feel people who have been raped or otherwise victimized need to be able to find themselves in stories too. Especially in stories that portray them finding ways to reach past fear & damage to connect & feel & live & love. I think it communicates hope. I think the alternative of never telling these stories would be damaging in a different way, because silence & invisibility can foster feelings of shame & isolation & alienation.

            I mean, maybe I have no right to say this; I was never a rape victim, thank God. But I was a bullying victim & to an extent you never stop reliving those experiences or hungering for validation & connection & trying to reframe the narrative. Reading (or writing) about characters who’ve had experiences you can identify with in some way, even if they are not identical to yours, is powerful & can help. Maybe this is *part* of the reason for the “popularity” of this trope? I mean, I do worry it’s appropriative to relate to an experience that wasn’t mine. But I obviously can’t read only “my” story, again & again, so I can’t help but look for some sort of resonance in other stories. If that makes sense? And I’m sure I’m not the only person who feels this way.

            Last thing, I think there are only so many stories in the world & virtually any conflict in a story can be painful for a person who has experienced it in life. Physical abuse, murder, war, illness, death, for example. I’ve lost 2 loved ones to cancer, so I am leery of stories with cancer or any illness, particularly terminal illness as a conflict. Alzheimer’s runs in my husband’s family, so stories about dementia terrify & depress me. Stories use murder even more often than rape as a conflict, maybe not so much in romance but in books in general, which is bound to be difficult for people whose lives have been touched by murder or attempted murder. I know military themed stories can be a hard limit for many veterans. And to a lesser degree, things like divorce, breakups, almost anything you can name, can be painful & triggering for people who’ve lived them. And they can all be written about exploitively, but I don’t think that has to be inherent in writing about or reading about any of these subjects.

            I would add that I think the fact that, y’know, 500 writers have already told a story, many in the *wrong* way, shouldn’t preclude another writer telling the story in their own way, which could turn out to be best way of all.

            Anyway, like I say, that’s just *my* perspective. It’s not meant in any way to argue with or invalidate yours 🙂

          • I’m sorry it took me so long, Pam! Thank you for replying and I think you made some really good points. I didn’t think you wanted to persuade me to read the book, so no worries 😉

            I still think I need a break and I still wonder why this trope is so popular.

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