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Is gay the new black?

I have been out of the publishing/promo loop for a few months and haven't been checking my flist on LJ. But I have noticed a few trends, some good, others not so good. This isn't meant to be a political posting or a soapbox lecture, only some of my observations and a few questions for readers, mainly, but writers feel free to comment.

It seems there are a lot more positive views of the LGBT community in general, in the news and pop culture. Talk of ending the US military's "Don't ask, don't tell" policy is good, though some setbacks have already occurred. The Mississippi girl who wanted to wear a tux and bring her girlfriend to the prom got prompt federal support for her civil rights, even if the prom is still canceled. Honestly, anyone who defines their senior year by an event like the prom has a lot more to worry about than what to do with that dress you already bought. More states are explicitly allowing same-sex marriage, even if my own state of California can't get it right yet.

It's getting cool to be gay.

In writing and publishing I've seen some things I'm less happy about. I know of several authors who didn't do well with m/f books go "gay for pay" and write m/m because they knew it was selling better than their work. I witnessed more than one discussion on an author group that asked questions about gay men as if they are an exhibit we can go to see in a zoo, rather than real people with feelings. One male author told me female writers continuously ask him for advice on how to write sex scenes.  When he tells them to watch gay porn, a majority ask for another suggestion. Seriously, if you can't watch a movie of guys fucking, how can you expect to write about it, and why would you want to write about it, if you can't watch it?

I've read books where the characters are not remotely realistically portrayed as either gay or male, and their relationships and romances are unbelievable. This isn't an issue soley with gay characters, but it seems to be growing in the genre. So, this leads me to ask questions, mainly of readers, though I'm curious too about where fellow writers in this genre stand.

I may not be perfect at portraying my characters, but I also work pretty hard at it, using male betas and some personal experiences. I may not be a gay man, but I am not a straight chick, either. I have always written gay erotic romance. I've never written anything het and I don't read it. 

My questions. I have anonymous commenting ON, so you can express yourself openly. I'd particularly like to hear some male opinions here, since we're writing about "you" or people you know!
  • As a reader, do you prefer books with realistic portrayals of gay characters, and do you notice when they are not realistic?
  • Do you think there is a difference between m/m and gay? If so, what is it? (This could be a whole separate discussion, and it probably will be at some point.) Which do you prefer to read (or write)?
  • What do you think of writers who switch to m/m just because it's selling? Can you tell they don't know the genre very well?

I'll leave it here for now, since that's a lot of territory.

Comments

( 41 comments — Leave a comment )
elisa_rolle
Mar. 24th, 2010 07:15 pm (UTC)
I'm not an author and I'm not a man but I'd like to highlight my agreement to some points:

> I witnessed more than one discussion on an author group that asked questions about gay men as if they are an exhibit we can go to see in a zoo, rather than real people with feelings.

Finally someone who has the courage to say that. I HATE those posts, I find them really embarassing, and it should tell something that the majority of people commenting are women. Some of them said that the "question" was submitted by a man, but I read a lot of romance wrote by men, and I know they are men since I met them in real life, and some of the points they take "fun" of, are really typically of the gay culture.

> One male author told me female writers continuously ask him for advice on how to write sex scenes. When he tells them to watch gay porn, a majority ask for another suggestion. Seriously, if you can't watch a movie of guys fucking, how can you expect to write about it, and why would you want to write about it, if you can't watch it?

Again I agree. I'm not saying that gay porno is my favorite, but I saw some of them, and some are good. I prefer a gay-themed romantic comedy thought, same as in romance books, I prefer sweet romance to erotic romance, but that doesn't mean that I will never read an erotic romance.

Elisa
emlynley
Mar. 24th, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
Thanks for your comments, Elisa!!

I like your point about sweet vs. erotic romance. If these women don't want to watch or do the research to write sex scenes, they can write sweet gay romances. The problem is they insist on writing erotic romance without enjoying the genre enough to watch films as research. That makes no sense to me, and it comes across in their writing and their public image.

You've probably read more than most reviewers of gay fiction, so you've undoubtedly got your own pet peeves about the way writers are flocking to it, with little or no background or interest in the subject matter. If a new readers happens upon one of those books, it can ruin a whole genre, and keep them from getting to the authors who really deserve their attention.

(no subject) - elisa_rolle - Mar. 24th, 2010 08:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emlynley - Mar. 24th, 2010 08:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
bittermint
Mar. 24th, 2010 07:47 pm (UTC)
As a reader, do you prefer books with realistic portrayals of gay characters, and do you notice when they are not realistic?

A resounding "Yes!" to both parts of your question. But sadly, it seems that the stuff that's not the least bit realistic sells best. I just finished reading a BDSM m/m/m menage book where the author didn't know the difference between "submissive" and "masochist," and two of her three main characters behaved like fourteen-year-old girls.

Do you think there is a difference between m/m and gay?

Oh, yeah - most definitely! The biggest complaint I have about m/m fiction is that most of it reads like traditional m/f romance with a sex change. It knocks me out of the story every single time. Gay fiction - written by actual gay men - is usually more true to life.
emlynley
Mar. 24th, 2010 08:18 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much for commenting. Like Elisa mentioned, they really are two genres and some publishers are blurring the lines, to the point the writers don't seem to realize how off-base they are.

Good points about that book. After I started doing research for the BDSM story, I learned SO much that I am very critical of misrepresentation of any aspect of it, even though I don't have much personal experience. Letting something get published that is so wrong is bad for the BDSM community, and clearly left an impression on you about the publisher as well as the author.

I'm curious what the book was. Email me if you won't say in public :D

erastes
Mar. 24th, 2010 08:42 pm (UTC)
I think anyone who won't watch gay porn, and yet they want to write it - deserves to have their writer's pen taken away.

There's a lot more I could say about that, but I won't.

I don't like the terminology m/m - I never have. I tend to use it, because it's often simpler to write, but I don't like it. I don't consider that I write it, I write gay fiction - I'll let other people categorise my work if pigeon holes are what they are into. M/m speaks to me of fandom and more of yaoi - and I don't want to write in a yaoi style.

I'm like you - I don't suppose my characters are perfect, and I'm never going to please everyone, BUT 99% of my readers letters are from gay men and they approve wholeheartedly, even of the more romantic tropes that I use - and even more so of flawed characters with different sized cocks, flawed bodies, unfaithfulness and switching in bed. That's what I like to READ too - I loathe reading about perfect bodies with Gary Stu abilities.
emlynley
Mar. 24th, 2010 10:24 pm (UTC)
you always say what I'm thinking so much better than I do.

I haven't gotten a lot of feedback one way or the other, but when I heard Alyson Books wanted my novel, I realized I had gotten it right and appeal to gay readers.

Since then I've been much more aware of the line between m/m and gay, and how some publishers really don't understand there is a difference. While some gay fiction may appeal to "m/m" readers, the reverse is just not sitting right with the gay community.
(no subject) - erastes - Mar. 24th, 2010 10:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emlynley - Mar. 24th, 2010 10:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
pd_singer
Mar. 24th, 2010 08:53 pm (UTC)
I'll watch gay porn for research but I think some more guidance about which porn would be nice, especially since so much of it looks physically improbable for anyone who isn't being conscious of camera angles. I also prefer that the participants look moderately happy to be there, like they are having somewhat of a good time, and as if they might actually LIKE each other. Often that is lacking.

Characters that don't come off as recognizably male, even if recognizably flamingly gay male, bug me. I don't like 14 year old girls for characters and I do not want them AT ALL in my m/m, even if they are brandishing penises.

One novel I read recently had 2 protags that fell into some indeterminate category - they were meant to be humans but could not actually be assigned a gender or a species - if tentacles had appeared then the characters would have been considerably more understandable, but as it was, finishing was an exercise in teeth gritting.
emlynley
Mar. 24th, 2010 10:45 pm (UTC)
I think gay porn falls into the same categories as any porn: some has a story and some is just sex. There are different types of audiences for each, and sometimes you want one or the other.

Even "just sex" can be useful for research. I put the story and emotion into my own writing, but it's important to see how it all fits together, and what's realistic and common.

I honestly don't know how some stuff gets published. It's like Gresham's law: all the crap dilutes everything else, till being published no longer even means anything.

I'm going to get flack for this, but I noticed a discussion on a pirate site that readers are sick of paying for crappy books, which is why some started downloading pirate copies. They had been happy to pay until the quality sucked so badly they felt it wasn't worth their money. These were previously honest people who didn't feel they got value. That says a lot to me about what's going on in publishing if too much crap is leading people to refuse to pay anymore.

(no subject) - pd_singer - Mar. 24th, 2010 11:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emlynley - Mar. 24th, 2010 11:24 pm (UTC) - Expand
chris_smith_atr
Mar. 24th, 2010 09:41 pm (UTC)
All sorts of different people exist. I may find some author's characters irritating, illogical, and completely mad, but I'm sure some readers wouldn't, and think they've met similar people IRL.

It all comes down to perception. I'll do my research, and it will lead me down one path, but it may lead someone else down something completely different. I figure, if someone puts a book out there for publication, they're opening themselves to critique, and I've every right to comment that something does not gel with my perception of being in character.

I guess what I'm saying is that continuity must be held in characterisation, from my POV. I may not like the characters, but I just want them to behave in a way that is logical and human. If they are girly-blokes or brooding-alpha-males, I may get bored, but I don't think I can say that people like that don't exist.

What really gets me is that people seem to think there is a "definitive" gay man. There isn't. There are lots of individuals. Which is why the "this is not my experience, so you're not right" critique does not hold much water with me. If you say "up until page 84 your character was a Rambo and then he met his OTL and he turned into a shy violet", that is a critique that holds true.

Anyhow, excuse the ramblings, but this is something I've been thinking about recently.


emlynley
Mar. 24th, 2010 10:18 pm (UTC)
I agree there is no "definitive" gay man. I'm more concerned with what's being written and published that's not even based on any gay reality because the authors don't know anything about it. Either because they don't know any gay men or don't want to. As Erastes says, if you want to write about something you know nothing about, you better do your research. If you can't, then don't try to write it, since it can be insulting to the people you say you want to portray.

I don't have to take drugs to write about that, since I can easily read or ask about other people's experiences. But if I try to write the story of a drug addict for example, without knowing anything about the subject, it's going to be clear, and it's going to be bad. That's the level of disconnect I'm seeing in some writing, and I'm trying to get to the bottom of why it happens and why publishers are letting it happen.

I think it hurts the writers and publishers who really care about the genre and the characters we try to portray accurately.

There is "acting in character" and having absolutely ridiculous impossible-to-believe characters, and those are two different things. I'd like to see writers creating characters that aren't stereotypes or, the apparently common "14-year-old girl with a big penis."
(no subject) - chris_smith_atr - Mar. 25th, 2010 05:26 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emlynley - Mar. 25th, 2010 05:51 am (UTC) - Expand
josephine_myles
Mar. 24th, 2010 10:53 pm (UTC)
I have to admit, I've never watched a gay porn film, more from not having any immediately to hand than distaste, but I've looked at a lot of pictures and read as much as I can find that's been written by gay men.

I'm fairly new to this whole area of writing, so I wasn't aware of the semantic differences between m/m and gay, but now I can see that what I prefer is definitely gay romance/erotica, with real characters with all their flaws and idiosyncracies. I would be very keen to get recommendations from more experienced writers as to which of the publishers out there are more "gay" rather than "m/m", as I'd rather not be associated with those that have unrealistic characterisation of gay men and gay culture.
emlynley
Mar. 24th, 2010 10:55 pm (UTC)
I'm glad this is helping someone.

I will put up a post later asking people to suggest good and safe (for your computer and wallet) sites for gay porn. There are several that are decent pay sites (tax deductible) depending on what you might want to watch. Again, there is the spectrum of films with and without plot :D and all manner of kink, just like het porn.
(no subject) - josephine_myles - Mar. 25th, 2010 06:45 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - josephine_myles - Mar. 25th, 2010 07:00 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emlynley - Mar. 25th, 2010 07:11 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - josephine_myles - Mar. 25th, 2010 09:27 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emlynley - Mar. 25th, 2010 06:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emlynley - Mar. 25th, 2010 07:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - josephine_myles - Mar. 25th, 2010 09:23 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emlynley - Mar. 25th, 2010 06:56 pm (UTC) - Expand
egret17
Mar. 25th, 2010 03:22 am (UTC)
As a gay or m/m romance reader, the last thing I want to read is the same crap that annoyed the heck out of me in m/f romance. That would include the inherent power differential between men and women that seems to play out in most m/f romances. And don't get me started on m/m romances that I've read lately, then had to mention in my review that the dialogue and interrelating were on par with that of pre-pubescent girls. ARGH.
emlynley
Mar. 25th, 2010 05:56 am (UTC)
You certainly are not alone in your criticism. I seriously wonder how books with these characters are being published without some editorial guidance to the writers, so I do believe a portion of the blame goes to publishers.

There are power issues and imbalances in all relationships, whether gay or straight. They just need to be realistic. And as Cat Grant pointed out, if there is a BDSM relationship, it really ought to be realistic for that as well.

There are just too many people writing about things they know nothing about and don't care to learn properly, and no one is calling them on it. Some of them even get good reviews, which makes me wonder if some of the reviewers are those 14-year-old girls :D

megleigh
Mar. 25th, 2010 12:39 pm (UTC)
Interesting discussion, and I don't really have a lot to add to it, apart from asking a question some authors might be interested in knowing the answer to, but are afraid to ask.

Can you, or any of the other commenters here name a publisher that will accept 'sweet' gay romance?

Many authors, I think, are practically forced into writing gay sex when they might be actually more interested in relationship than sex, but they can't find a market for stories that have little to no sex in them.
emlynley
Mar. 25th, 2010 04:26 pm (UTC)
You've made a great point. Based on what Elisa Rolle said, that she prefers sweet to erotic gay romance, you may want to ask her which publishers are taking them.

There is an audience for less sex, and probably even no sex gay romances.

I do think there is a continuum of how frequent and explicit sex scenes need to be, and you can have less hard-core ones with no trouble. In my work, the sex scenes are generally a small proportion of the whole story, whereas I know other authors string together sex scenes with not much plot holding them together. I've never had anyone complain I need to put more sex in one of my books, but I have heard readers say they wish there was LESS sex after reading other authors.

(no subject) - megleigh - Mar. 25th, 2010 05:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
kayelle_allen
Mar. 29th, 2010 02:57 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed reading the articles and comments. A couple of books ago, one of my beta readers complained that I had written a male character as a girl with a dick, so I can relate to the issue of writing non-realistic gay characters. Once the flaws were pointed out to me, I was able to address them and make appropriate changes. I had written the character with too strong an emotional response. Because I'm a woman, I tend to see things in a more emotional way than a man does, and I forgot that when writing him. The joys of beta readers! I get feedback that keeps me on track.

On the flip side of the issue, I write Science Fiction Romance, and in that world setting, there is no gay subculture as we know it now. Same-sex marriage is common, and as one character says, "being gay or straight is no different from one person having blue eyes and another brown."

To stretch the limits of that world, I introduced an alien character from a world where being gay is punishable by death, but who has known his entire life that he was gay. How he responds to the human who makes him want to come out of his own closeted hell is what makes the story.

Thank you to megleigh for commenting about the book Man Oh Man. I was one of the contributors, and agree it contains good advice.
(Anonymous)
Mar. 29th, 2010 04:08 pm (UTC)
I find this comment really interesting in a BAD WAY, because it's not really on the topic of the post but seems to serve as a promo for your own work Kayelle.

EM asked for READERS and GUYS to comment and she mostly got writers, all women and one who went so far as to talk about how she doesn't make these mistakes, rather than address the issues of the writers and publishers who DO. The writers who expressed interest in how to get it right seemed almost on point.

EM I hope you repost this, asking just for men and readers to comment. I agree with a lot of the bad trends you pointed out, and I've talked with friends about it. But I want to see what other readers here have to say.

I have a list of authors whose books are so bad at showing gay characters and gay sex that I won't buy them. I don't want to mention any names, though.
(no subject) - kayelle_allen - Mar. 29th, 2010 05:52 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - kayelle_allen - Mar. 29th, 2010 05:58 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Mar. 29th, 2010 06:08 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emlynley - Mar. 29th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Mar. 29th, 2010 06:06 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - emlynley - Mar. 29th, 2010 06:15 pm (UTC) - Expand
( 41 comments — Leave a comment )

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