Since I did my taste of Thinking Straight by Robin Reardon, I’ve been thinking about posing a question about m/m authors dealing (or not) with GLBT issues in their stories.
This was again highlighted to me during the week when I reviewed the book Changing Jamie by Dakota Chase for Wave’s blog. In this, I discussed my shock and horror at finding out about ‘bug chasing’; a term referring to a very small number of gay men who are purported to actively seek to become HIV positive.
Although I never mentioned it in the review, at the time I was absolutely amazed because, in the two years I’ve been reading m/m fiction, I’d never before come across this topic. I later found out that a number of people, including some kittehs, had never heard of the practice prior to this either.
I found this both odd and fascinating.
Odd because ‘why not?’ and ‘why now in a YA?’, and fascinating because it reminded me of the question I was going to throw out there so as to get your thoughts.
So, the question …
… and I’m speaking in general terms so try and set aside such matters as expectations associated with the romance genre, relevancy to plot and characters, etc …
… do you think authors of m/m fiction have an obligation to deal with – in some way, shape or form – issues facing the GLBT communities?
Personally no more than authors of straight romance do. Black and Hispanic women make up 80% of the female HIV cases in the US most getting it from heterosexual contact. Is that reflected in m/f romance books? Not likely.
I think there are genres of literature where it can work in a fictional way, but just from a personal perspective I read m/m ROMANCE to escape to a bit of fantasy and entertainment that leaves me feeling pleasant after. I don't read it to become enlightened, educated or informed. I can find other sources when I want to find that information which I did when I ran across bug chasing a few months ago. (I have no clue how I started down that road.)
I don't have a problem if authors choose to do that as part of their romance writing experience, but I don't believe authors are obliged to be crusaders for the cause and have to be out there bringing every GLBT issue to the masses. You could then apply that to people who write about any group except white heterosexual people. Minorities fighting racism, women fighting for feminism, there are many people who are treated unjustly but every single book that features them doesn't have to be platform for that cause. JMHO
Wonderfully said, Tam. I couldn't agree more.
What the author puts into their story to make it work is up to them. I don't believe they should be obligated to add anything into their books.
I read for my pleasure, to be entertained and taken out of my everyday 'real life'. If all of a sudden authors were putting in all of the 'heavy issues' of life in their books where would my escape be. 🙂
Wow, I couldn't improve upon how well Tam and Lily just expressed it. I totally agree with them. Very interesting question, Kris!
From all my reading, I've seen what I've started to call gay fiction and then there is m/m romance, and I vastly prefer the m/m romance. I'll admit that I may be a little shallow, but I find romance much more fun than the activist type of fiction.
Great, thought-provoking post!
Tam and Lily said it all very well, so I don't have too much to add. I'm interested in GLBT issues and I keep up with those pretty well, I think, through various sources including the news, gay blogs, friends, the HRC, etc. Like Tam, when I read m/m romance, I'm reading for escapism and fantasy. I want the focus to be mostly on the couple and the romance and HEA's. If an author can intermix GLBT issues while providing those things, great. I suppose if they do, it might be educational for readers of m/m romance, though I suspect (except for the less common things like bug-chasing) most m/m readers are pretty savvy about GLBT issues in general. I certainly don't feel authors should be obligated to do so, though. I do get a bit bothered in contemporary stories where the issue of the characters being gay doesn't come up at all (that is, those stories where there's a 'gay utopia'), but only because I don't think that's very realistic.
I also think Val made an important distinction between gay fiction and m/m romance. I enjoy reading both, but I do expect more focus on GLBT issues with gay fiction.
And I'd actually heard of bug-chasing before because I've learned all kinds of crazy shit from reading/ listening to Dan Savage. He's quite educational. 😛
Great question, Kris.
Obligation? No. Creative writing is just that — a form of free speech wherein fancy takes flight. It's up to each writer's “muse” (whatever the hell that is) to determine what directions his/her stories take.
After I caught wind of the ex-gay movement, I felt driven to write about it. But that's just me. The subject was like a bitter crumb that got stuck in my craw and had to be coughed up — not, however, in its original form.
The thing about fiction writing is, it can transform grim realities. It can highlight the potential for triumph through courage, humor, and love.
So it's entirely possible to take a “heavy” issue and infuse it with hope. Isn't that romance is essentially all about? Overcoming the odds, whatever form they take?
In that regard, why should weighty, contemporary issues facing the GLBT community be treated any differently from, say, a disease or disability, psychological torment, a clash over religious differences, parental or peer group disapproval, localized homophobia…or whatever?
BTW, I never heard of “bug chasing” either. It does strike me as mighty peculiar, to say the least. But so do incest and extreme slave fantasies and fetishism. Does that mean they shouldn't be explored in fiction and the stories can't have satisfying endings? Hell no!
Honestly, I don't think “gay fiction” and “m/m romance” have to be mutually exclusive.
In a word: no.
I don't know if I'd say an obligation…but the issues exist, and ignoring them in a contemporary story just throws this reader right out of it.
One thing that drives me absolutely batf*ck crazy is m/f authors who has the hero/heroine deal with the pregnancy issue but ignores the STD issue!
And I've never heard of 'bug chasing' either.
I don't think authors are obliged to include these issues in m/m. What I do think they have to do is accurately reflect the day to day life of a gay man within the confines of the romance. This means that they can't just 'ignore' issues such as HIV which is the one thing that does directly come into account with m/m. Therefore we have to see them playing safe and making their own decisions as to what is an acceptable risk. It's also necessary to perhaps show some of the prejudice they face in the workplace or generally on the streets, especially if they live in a city which isn't considered to be 'gay friendly'.
I actually read m/m because I like stories which look at some of the conflicts around being a gay man in the world. I'm not overly fond of the 'gaytopia' stories. Having said that, there must be the happy ending (or the hfn) otherwise I'd be pretty cross.
Thanks everyone for sharing your views, especially as they've helped clarify my own. 🙂
Do m/m authors have an obligation to deal with GLBT issues? Perhaps not.
However, for me, these issues do exist and therefore to not deal with them in some meaningful way seems strange, whether it be in so-called gay fiction or in m/m romance.
By strange (I think) I mean it seems odd to have missed an opportunity to explore GLBT issues in a creative work, which is often more accessible – palatable even – to people than, as K Z said, the 'grim realities'.
My thoughts anyway.
It depends on the author. Some feel obligated to show the truth of the situation from MANY different aspects. I've read books in GLBT that feel compelled to point out the whole stretching thing is bullshit every single time while some point out that the lack of enemas is a joke (TMI for me please).
I think it depends where the author feels their purpose in writing is. Total guess there, but it seems some are more willing to write entertainment fiction and slide on details – correct or not – and others are sticklers for truth and fair representation.
Perhaps they don't feel obligated but a lot of authors do include them. I mean look at Carol Lynne, while she doesn't tackle ANY issue in any resemblance of a reasonable, realistic way – she does throw in a *huge* number of issues affecting the community. Even if they are very soft, very easily fixed, and almost unimportant , she does mention them often.
You are the first person in the last 5 years that mentioned “bug chasing”. I first heard about it on tv and couldn't believe it until a friend of mine told me it was one of the negative aspect of dating he has to deal with.
Like Tam said “but I don't believe authors are obliged to be crusaders for the cause and have to be out there bringing every GLBT issue to the masses.” But it's something that definitely should be discussed somewhere.
I don't think authors have an obligation. If they want to, they are welcome to. But overall, reading a book is for fun and an enjoyable experience. Why be so preachy or teaching a lessons just because or you feel it is your duty?
Kassa & KBC: I think the distinction between an author feeling obligated to deal with issues and wanting to deal with them is an interesting and important one, especially as it is likely to make all the difference between the subject being explored in an un/convincing way for the reader.
Aliens: From my research, I think it was about 5 or more years ago that a movie as well as a documentary dealing with the subculture of bug chasing and gift giving both premiered in the US. I think there was also a fairly controversial article in the Rolling Stone mag at about that time too.
It's a subject which seems to get a small burst of media and then the hype dies down and it gets 'hidden' for want of a better word. At the same time a lot of research is being done and the practice is being monitored by government agencies.
Regardless of my sadness about the issue and whether it is prevalent or not, I think it should be something that all health care professionals and parents of gay teens should be aware of because of the possible risks. *stepping off soap box… again*
Personally, I prefer contemporary and historical stories to be more on the realistic side, although I don't want them to be “anvilicious.” I like it when an author deals thoughtfully with the issues which I'd think would reasonably come up in a given situation. All the “barebacking” in contemporary m/m romance bothers me. I don't expect pure escape if I read the more real-world types of m/m romance, though some people do. Definitely one of those YMMV things.
Emilie: Yeah. I'm all for lovey doveyness – Hello. I read romance.-, but let's make it real people!
You said “I like it when an author deals thoughtfully with the issues which I'd think would reasonably come up in a given situation.” I think that sums up how I feel very well. There is nothing more frustrating for me when an issues is raised and then… nothing! I even prefer 'the easy fix' over 'the nothing'. Grrrr.
As to barebacking… what is with that at the moment?? It's like the latest fad in m/m romance is to suddenly forget the condoms. I feel a rant coming on. I think I'll post about it.
“As to barebacking… what is with that at the moment?? It's like the latest fad in m/m romance is to suddenly forget the condoms.”
Unfortunatly it's not only in m/m romance. Bareback porn is in demand. When you see porn actors do ads for a campain called “How I roll” and also Chi Chi Larue with his campain “Safe sex is hot” due to the rise of aids with gays 15-24. After all these years we still need to make people understand that yes it can happen to you.
I had no idea about those statistics, Aliens. That is horrible. It seems like there a number of the 'younger' generations (and doesn't that make me feel old) who have become complacent about the risk of HIV and other STDs as they have with other things. The 'that will never happen' generation. At the same time, it is terrific to see porn stars take on board the issue.