romance & the tough issues


*Warning: This post discusses sexual abuse in fiction.


After my rant about my despised ‘twu wuv will cure what ails you’ trope, some of the comments started me thinking about the way sexual abuse is dealt with in m/m romance and I was reminded of this by way of a few recent reads.

There is no doubt rape is an extraordinarily tough issue for any author to tackle. It does seem to me, though, that one of the biggest traps a writer can fall into is by making the victim either a whore or a nun.

I’m not saying this doesn’t happen in RL nor am I wishing to be deliberately dismissive of an horrific act that quite frankly scares the absolute shit out of me.

Rather, I’m wondering if m/m romance – or perhaps romance more broadly – has taken the step beyond the whore/nun characterisation?

I’m also interested to know whether this rather narrow representation is partly due to the stigma attached to male rape. That is, if it’s not a topic which is openly discussed, can it be convincingly explored other than by using the example of the female victim? Or is that justifying the ‘chicks with dicks’ approach?

I don’t have enough knowledge to be sure one way or the other, but I’d be very interested to see if anyone else has had similar concerns about male rape in m/m romance and if you have any recommendations about books that you believe portray this realistically.

Your thoughts?

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About Kris

Reads, rants, randoms & R+s. You've been warned. BTW, don't follow me if you're a GLBTQQphobic wanker. It won't end well. For you.
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23 Responses to romance & the tough issues

  1. Mary Calmes says:

    Did you read What Love Means To You People by Nancy Kay Shapiro? It's a very good book and deals with a rape and it's aftermath. The main character Seth leaves home and he's messed up but his foundation is still good. Years later he has to deal with everything all over again and the world crashes down on him but not forever. It's a romance in parts and there are girl cooties (not with Seth as the girl in question is his sister, it's more fiction than romance if that makes any sense but well worth reading. I will warn you that the rape scene is very hard to read as betrayed as the main character is at that moment. The end will make you smile.

    Talker by Amy Lane is another. Tate does not become a whore after the rape nor is he a nun, he is somewhere between. And it is, as always, beautifully written.

  2. I've only read of m/m rape in one book that I can think of off the top of my head and that was in JR Ward's Blackdagger Brotherhood series. The victim doesn't become a whore or nun afterward, but he does like rough and sometimes brutally painful sex.

    MsM

  3. Jenre says:

    It's a fine line, isn't it, between realistically showing the emotional trauma, the long lasting effect that has rape has, and yet also needing the character to be able to move on, to recover, all without it being tritely done. I can only think of two stories I've read recently where one of the characters had been raped. In one it was a very minor character who was badly affected but recovered due to the loving attentions of a friend, and in the other the effect on the hero was traumatic but not so terrible that he wasn't able to move on.

    The thing is, as with everything in life, how badly a rape affects a victim depends on the personality of the victim and the situation in which is arises. I have a friend who was raped 15 years ago and she has not had sex since then, unable to recover or get past that terrible trauma. Yet some victims can and do recover to lead healthy and happy sex lives.

  4. Chris says:

    I don't know enough about the issue IRL to comment intelligently, alas. Talker is the only book I can remember that deals with the repercussions of male rape…

  5. LesleyW says:

    The book I'm reading at the moment has male rape as part of the plotline. Fallen From Grace is a m/f by Laura Leone. But the hero was raped when he was younger. I haven't really got far enough in to the story yet to comment.

    Re. the BDB by J. R. Ward, John Matthew was also raped in that series.

    I am also currently reading Maiden Rose Vol. 1 which is a yaoi. That has what I consider to be a rape scene in it. BUT there is a problem with yaoi in that one of the partners often protests the act. And in this story in particular it is difficult because the power dynamics are very complex.

    And in the Ukiah Oregon series by Wen Spencer. Ukiah is raped by one of the female characters. He is fed aphrodisiac by a female character. And it has repercussions into the story.

    I don't think I've actually read that many rape situations in m/m. I'm more aware of it in m/f.

  6. Tam says:

    Except for Talker I can't think of a rape in m/m except for rape as a kid. Childhood abuse which usually doesn't bring up the whore/madonna thing. Or maybe I just don't remember. Obviously if the rape is still pretty recent the person may not have had sex until they “fall in love” but I think that would be normal. Maybe not for 5, 10 or 15 years, but I wouldn't think if you've suffered childhood trauma that having sex would be high on the list of things to do. But who knows. As Jen said, rape will affect each person differently. Some kids who are abused end up promiscuous, others want nothing to do with sex, others seem (I say seem) to adjust and be “normal” if you will. (Whatever that means.)

  7. Kris says:

    Mary: I'd not even heard of 'What Love Means To You People' before your comment. I just checked it out on goodreads and it looks great. Thanks Mare!

    MsM: I'd forgotten about the BDB series. If I recall correctly Zsadist, V and John Matthew were all victims of rape, weren't they?

    Nora Roberts has also include both male and female rape in several of her stories. Most memorably in the Chesapeake Bay series. It's one of my faves.

  8. Kris says:

    Jenre: “it's a fine line, isn't it, between realistically showing the emotional trauma, the long lasting effect that has rape has, and yet also needing the character to be able to move on, to recover, all without it being tritely done.”

    Yes, it is, Jen. I probably overstated the whore/nun characterisation when I really meant that in an effort to get to an HFN or HEA the romance genre can run the risk of dealing with such things in a way that comes off as trite or superficial. Definitely a fine line between the serious subject matter and readers' expectations and, yes, as with all situations of abuse victims have different responses.

    Chris: I don't really know either, hence this post. 🙂

  9. Kris says:

    Lesley: “I don't think I've actually read that many rape situations in m/m. I'm more aware of it in m/f.”

    I'm the same, which is why I also started to wonder if it was because of the stigma attached to male rape that we don't tend to see it that much.

    “I am also currently reading Maiden Rose Vol. 1 which is a yaoi. That has what I consider to be a rape scene in it. BUT there is a problem with yaoi in that one of the partners often protests the act. And in this story in particular it is difficult because the power dynamics are very complex.”

    I just read that too! I felt exactly the same way, especially about the power dynamics. I'm intrigued enough to buy and read the second volume, but, yes, it was uncomfortable and complex.

    Tam: “Childhood abuse which usually doesn't bring up the whore/madonna thing.”

    I think that was partly my problem. I've read a few of m/m romances where one of the main characters has had such a past and several times I've felt that this has never really been satisfactorily dealt with for me as a reader. This is especially the case when this character is self-admittedly promiscuous.

  10. What a heavy topic today my dear…

    I am sure I have read a couple of rape stories – m/f and m/m ..

    The most problem I find with them is that I dont think enough of any research is decently invested into the actual stories I have read..

    meaning – timing too short, individual people reacts differently ( not decently fleshed out) and I suppose with the on-us on authors to ensure HEA, some times it doesn't ring true with rape plotline – as Jen explain, it can be a complex process depending on the person..

    One of the local place I go to each week deals with ladies, in this sort of situation in one way or the other and the attitude, bounce back rate and eventual acceptance or not ranges from local layabout to total shut down..

    I will admit I do shy away from romance with rape involved as I just think it is an area that I have too much of in real life to want to read it in romance. especially when I am going to nit pick at the end product..

    P.S – Year ago I watch a movie call “The Rape of Detective …..(something) – I cant remember, but a bunch of bikers raped a male detective and the plot revolves around him trying to bring them to justice without actually declaring he was raped – I always remember that film, but for the life of me I can't remember the name…

    I thought it was really good….

    🙂

  11. Kris says:

    EH: “The most problem I find with them is that I dont think enough of any research is decently invested into the actual stories I have read.”

    That is something that I've wondered and therefore been concerned about, particularly in the case of m/m romance. I obviously haven't had the experience that you have had at your local group, EH, but sometimes I can come away from a story questioning whether such a situation, result, aftermath, HFN, HEA, whatever could/would actually happen in RL. In other words, I'm unconvinced and, as a result, unsatisfied by the way the author handled the subject matter.

  12. Kris says:

    EH: PS – Thank you for that movie recommendation. I will use my powers of google fu to see if I can find the movie you talk about.

  13. You're right, several of the JR Ward brothers were raped in the series. It's been so long since I've read those books I'd forgotten a few of them.

    MsM

  14. Nikyta says:

    I've read a lot of books that have rape in them but I don't think many of them are properly portrayed. Like Mary mentioned, Talker was a good one. Mostly, though, I've read m/m rape in fantasy type books. Like Prisoner by Megan Derr, Enraptured by Scarlet Hyacinth, Bloodraven by P.L. Nunn, and Cethe by Becca Abbott. The thing about all those, though, is they all kinda have to do with kidnapping/hostage type of situations so no matter what, they will never explain what happens properly. I thought Touch Me Gently by JR Loveless was a good one, though, he did shy away from guys. But like, Jen said, it kind of depends on the person. I have no experience with rape so I'm not sure but I thought Carol Lynne did an okay job with her Bodyguards in Love series. Well, with Brier's Bargain at least. Brier was raped for a long time but then you have to take into consideration that he didn't know any better and that he's permanently disabled. *sigh* There really aren't that many good books that have to do with rape.. Which kinda saddens me because I like the angst of them 😦

  15. nichem says:

    I can think of a few m/m books I've read that dealt with rape. Talker, as others have mentioned, A Red Tainted Silence, the Partnership in Blood series by Ariel Tachna (one of the vampire mc's had been raped and abused by another vamp for many years), Dark Horse and its sequel Out of the Darkness (the main character was raped as a teen– though I think you only learn this is you read the freebies on the author's site), Between Want To and Need To by Kris Dillon (the mc was sexually abused as a child), Aftermath by Angel Martinez, and Ransom. I can't remember how realistically the issues were portrayed though, so I'm of no help here. I do remember in a couple that the mc's had issues with bottoming.

  16. Angelia says:

    Not so much on the reading side, although “What Worse Place Can I Beg Your Love” comes to mind as one where consent was even on the table as an option.

    Written a few.
    I've written partner abuse (with threat of rape, since the abuser is taking consent as a given) in “Tuition Fees” and prison rape and its effects in NIKOLAI. 2 books, therapy and 2 years later and Nick still has some problems, including flashbacks and panic attacks in group sex situations.

  17. Amy Lane says:

    Kris– I know you weren't a fan of Talker– you wanted to see “more”. The thing with writing Talker was that it hurt. It completely eviscerated me–if I was going to write about male rape,I was going to do it raw, and real–but you can't maintain that for too long, which is why the piece was short. I built it emotionally to one or two hard, painful peaks, and then let the reader understand that there would be more to Talker's story, but that was between Talker and Brian (and their counselor.) I did some research before I started, and the 'sexual acting out' is a common theme among some rape victims. I figured that with Talker, he'd do some 'Talking', which is how his new hobby came about.

    I know that the story isn't finished–I have, in fact, written a sequel, and… damn. Exploding in Talker's head like that, at the moment of the rape–that was hard. Some of the hardest damned writing I've ever done, (until the very next project… I'm gonna need some ptsd therapy, just from this year's writing queue) but… it hurt. I made the second book short and intense too–again, if I was going to deal with it, I was going to make it real, but you can only take so much reality, either as a reader OR a writer.

    Anyway–I saw the post (and that Talker was mentioned) and thought I'd throw in my two cents. It's hard to write about. It just is. Maybe female rape is more talked about, and we're a little more square-chinned, pull up our bootstraps about it, or maybe the fact that women have been raped for millenia as part of a barbarian species, strengthening its gene pool makes us just a little more able to deal with it, as horrible as it is. But seeing, or dealing with a MAN being raped? Men, gay or straight, are our protectors, our heroes. Putting one of them through such a violation, even on paper–it taps something raw and quivering and visceral in us. At any rate, it's not for the faint of heart.

    (HOpe it's okay that I chimed in, darling–it was a provocative post:-)

    (*snicker* Spamword: mudfuse)

  18. Amy Lane says:

    And I'm SOOOOOOO sorry about the multiple gazillion comments… @#$%#@@ firewall at work kept telling me I hadn't posted it at ALL. blargh… I'm going to slink away in sheer embarrassment now… sorry… so sorry…

  19. Kris says:

    MsM: I was actually quite surprised when I went back to the memory banks that so many of the BDB books had characters like that. It's interesting.

    Nikyta: “I've read a lot of books that have rape in them but I don't think many of them are properly portrayed.”

    That has been my concern, hence this post.

    Amy said something that really made me think and that was about the fact women have been dealing with rape for 1000 of years. It made me wonder if part of my response is because, although I might not have personal experience, as a woman the threat of abuse is something very real, something we do have to deal with and something which is talked about all the time so there is this 'knowing' about how you might feel if you become a victim. Maybe I'm projecting that into the stories.

    Richelle: “I do remember in a couple that the mc's had issues with bottoming.”

    Yes. This happened with one of the main characters in Jambrea's story 'Retribution'. I thought that was a very effective way of showing the impact of rape on the victim.

  20. Kris says:

    Angelia: I haven't read that Syd McGinley book. Master/slave relationships can be very confronting for me as a reader, but this one intrigues. I'll have to give it a read.

    And why am I not surprised to find out that you have tackled this topic. You strike me as someone who's not afraid to take up such a challenge. 🙂 Nick's books are in my tbr. I'm saving them for my ridiculously long flight to the US.

    Amy: “HOpe it's okay that I chimed in, darling–it was a provocative post:-)”

    Of course it's ok! God, I'm the last one to tell a person to that they can't say what they think. You may have noticed that about me. 😉

    Thank you for commenting and giving insight into the writing of Talker. It really made me think about the 'more' I wanted. I think part of it was that I would have loved to have seen it as one of your longer novels, which is totally your fault for doing those so well and nothing to do with my over-the-top expectations. 😛

    The other part was that I think I wanted more from Talker's POV. To get into his head even though we learn about him through Brian. Having said that, I can see that writing such a perspective would be an emotional roller coaster. God, we readers are demanding… or maybe it's just me.

    “But seeing, or dealing with a MAN being raped? Men, gay or straight, are our protectors, our heroes. Putting one of them through such a violation, even on paper–it taps something raw and quivering and visceral in us. At any rate, it's not for the faint of heart.”

    No, it's not for the faint of heart, which is why I think it is such an important issue to address, especially given the silence and stigma attached to it. Does that make sense? Actually I have another post about this very thing half written. 🙂

    I'm really pleased to see that you have written a sequel to Talker, Amy. I look forward to reading more of Brian and Talker's story.

  21. Kris says:

    Amy: “And I'm SOOOOOOO sorry about the multiple gazillion comments… @#$%#@@ firewall at work kept telling me I hadn't posted it at ALL. blargh… I'm going to slink away in sheer embarrassment now… sorry… so sorry…”

    No probs. My OCD means that I go through deleting deleted and multiple comments. At least it's good for something. LOL.

  22. orannia says:

    A very thought-provoking topic… I do so want to read Talker. After reading Keeping Promise Rock I realized I love how Amy Lane gets inside a character's head. The emotional journey…sorry, my thoughts are all over the place. Will think on it some more…

  23. Kris says:

    Orannia: “After reading Keeping Promise Rock I realized I love how Amy Lane gets inside a character's head.”

    Yes. Amy's characters have an emotional depth to them which is extraordinarily appealing to a reader.

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