Well, even though there's probably still a lot more that can be said in defense of m/m, I'm going to wrap up the Unpacking series here with six installments. It's not really in my nature to be this serious for this long (And I'm running out of alliterations for the titles, can you tell?), so while I'm sure we'll be revisiting this topic many times here on Friskbiskit, for the moment, I'm running out of steam.
One thing I want to stress before wrapping things up is that none of what I've said in the course of this discussion is intended to be universal. Women write and read m/m for a wide range of reasons and -- and this is the really important part -- all of them are legitimate.
Which brings me to porn and other forms of art designed to engage with reader fantasies. As I mentioned in the last installment, I think women are entitled to their own porn, and their own fantasies. And I think that romance novels, m/m, yaoi and slash all do for emotions something similar to what porn does for bodies. The right m/m story pushes emotional buttons for me, and that is exactly what I want it to do.
I've noticed a tendency for some folks to make a one-to-one correlation between what appears in fantasy-driven narratives and real life. For instance, if a story has two men in it who fall in love and have sex together then that story must reflect the author's views of and intentions toward real gay men in real life. I think that's a pretty broad assumption to make, and one that ignores the fun-house mirror nature of fantasy. For example, it's widely understood that women who engage in rape fantasies do not wish to experience rape in real life. The fantasy is about being absolved of responsibility for having sex, or about relaxing and letting someone else take control, or about any number of things except actually being raped in real life.
Now I know that a number of women who write about gay men work hard at making their stories as true-to-life as possible. And I'm not slamming that at all. What I do find distressing is a tendency to position the women authors who strive for realism as the "good" authors of gay male romance, whereas those of us who approach a love story between men from a fantasy-driven angle, are often dismissed as (all together now) voyeurs fetishizing and objectifying gay men for our own sexual gratification. And of course, we write m/m, which term in and of itself is considered a slam in these instances.
Well, you all know how I came to be an m/m fan. I read it as an escape from real life. Now, to each their own, of course, but for me personally, the last thing I want in an m/m story are men that act just like men in real life, gay or straight. I'm into hurt-comfort. I like my male m/m characters crying and in pain, and then, by the end of the book, I like them to win through to a richly deserved happy ending.
Just as with a rape fantasy, that does not mean that in real life I want to hurt men. It's something much more complex than that. Something that has to do with differing aspects of my personality going through emotional catharsis and finally integrating. To be honest, what an m/m story does for me doesn't really have much to do with men at all.
I've sometimes played around with the question of whether the men in my stories are really men, and in Ameranth & Ash, I'm fooling around with it even more. But of course, if I'm writing an m/m contemporary, and the characters are male, and they are involved romantically and sexually, then they are, within the context of the story itself, gay men.
As a human being I feel a responsibility not to perpetuate negative stereotypes. As an author it is my job to create a self-consistent world in which the reader can suspend disbelief, to write three-dimensional characters the reader can root for, and craft a story that holds reader interest. And I feel that is the sum total of my obligation to realism.
Now I feel we have come full circle, and are back to the Lambda awards decision again. I see m/m and LGBT literature as two different areas of writing with different creative impulses and audiences. That those impulses and audiences overlap creates wonderful opportunities for two marginalized communities to work together strategically. And I do think that we overlap quite a bit, but I think I've made it pretty clear that I come to a story about two men falling in love from a different direction than a gay man would, and for different reasons.
So I don't feel any embarrassment about m/m being identified as a genre dominated by women and women's fantasy versions of men. And authors who want their stories to reflect the lives of real life gay men should keep that up too. I think there's plenty of room for everyone. But when women m/m authors look to the LGBT community for affirmation of their legitimacy, then I think the Lambda decision is a good illustration of how that can become problematic for everyone.
I want to thank all of you who've taken the time to read these posts. I hope that some of you come away with some talking points to help you address misconceptions about m/m when you encounter them in your own lives. And I hope what I've said will encourage those of you who disagree with me to do your own exploration of your relationship with m/m.
Do we need to justify ourselves to our detractors? Of course not. But if we want to counter the myths about m/m so the genre can grow and reach wider distribution in the culture at large, then we do need to make our own voices heard.
Who benefits when m/m is acknowledged as a legitimate genre in its own right?