Men in Romance is a series of posts focusing on the various experiences and perspectives of men who write romance. Read more from this series here.
I’ve been avoiding writing this guest blog post for weeks, though almost daily, I’ve been ruminating. It takes a lot of effort to ruminate. Big Author Word. In some ways, this seems like a no-win topic. Whenever a gay man discusses being a writer in a woman-dominated genre, discussion often intensifies into a “who belongs here” argument.
Let’s skip to its resolution: women belong here, writing about gay men in relationships.
Women should write about men, men should write women. Doctors should write stories about people who collect trash. Scientists should write romance. Non-murdering people should write murder mysteries. No one should write about clowns. Okay, fine. Some people can write about clowns.
Besides, the question I was asked to consider was not whether women are welcome, but what it’s like being a gay man writing in romance. When asked why I chose this genre, I always answer truthfully: I didn’t. I had a vision for a series of books. It’s true, the main character ends up happily romanced by the end of the series, but I never considered “Happily ever after” a defining characteristic.
I discovered how naïve I truly was.
When reviews appeared on Goodreads for my first book, I was surprised by how many said, “Great book. No HEA, but nobody dies horribly, so you should read it anyway.” By the time I was published, my publisher, Dreamspinner, had cautioned me to adjust my expectations. My book would not be going mainstream. Hell, I chose to submit to them under their Bittersweet line, so even at that time, I knew it mattered.
Until those Goodreads reviews, I underestimated how much it mattered.
Over the following years, I witnessed (rarely participated in) online debates as to whether my king books are romantic but not romance. Short version, because the two MCs don’t end up HEA or HFN, it’s not a real romance. People on both sides of the argument love my books, so I’m happy.
The conflict sharpens swords over the definition of the word romance, which leads to the bigger issue, who gets to define the word “romance.” What gets included? Some argue a romance without a HEA is no romance at all. I have had women argue that my books aren’t romances because the two leads were never in love—they never agreed to stay together for ever. When I argue that as a man, it’s possible to love another man deeply and not stay together forever, or even six months, I’ve been told, “You’re wrong.”
I feel like as a gay man, I would know how love works between gay men, perhaps even better than someone who did a lot of research on the topic. The inclusion of what is and isn’t “romance” is a lightning rod issue. Who holds the power to define it? The women who study it with deep love in their hearts, or the gay men who live it?
What’s “gay?” Can a straight man be “gay” for one man, for one experience?
Does the genre exclude those who honor asexuality?
How can you say this—
You see where this is going.
Get me not wrong.
We need these conversations. We need to talk about the way we perceive character and genre. This is an issue of man and woman in authoring community, but there are many variations. We need the same conversations around majority people writing about minority characters.
I’ve been on the other side.
I wrote a book honoring a strong black man, and he was unashamed to name his truth. As a privileged white guy, I was terrified to tell his story, but The Butterfly King demanded his story be told, despite my limitations as a person and writer (two very separate—but but sometimes intertwined—sets of flaws). In one chapter, he makes an angry speech about Rosa Parks. Felt dangerous to me when I wrote it, and now, years later, I reread the words pre-cringing, making sure the dialog and philosophy feels solid and true.
As an author, I researched. I read books on race, New York City, and the challenges facing people of color. I asked men of color I trusted for a beta read to help me see my shadow. As an author, I worried about honoring my characters and their reactions on the page. As a person, I was constantly yelling at the author side, Do not fuck this up, you idiot with words, you words idiot. I have black friends who will read this. Show respect to men who are my friends and lovers. You word idiot.
Inner critics. Amiright?
As usual, inner critic had a valid point with a shitty megaphone. This is about honoring. Both author and person sides happily agreed with the book’s dedication: to men of color.
I would argue that ruffled feathers between men and women in this community comes about not because of genders, but property rights. Who owns the rights to the M4M experience? The gays feel like they’re the producers, leasing stories to women. Some women say, ‘Respectfully or not, this story is mine. I’m not leasing. I’m owning, thank you.’
The gays know they’re right, but it hurts, because for a while, we dominated the market once in the gays-telling-stories-about-gays. As a gay man, I gotta tell ya, so many amazing gay male writers pen beautiful stories with sentences bearing more grace than mine ever will, using the same goddamn twenty-six letters. Competing with them is hard enough. Now, I have to compete for readership against all the amazing women authors, too? Crap.
I know, I know. There’s room for all of us. I’m on board with that. I wanted to articulate the nature of the conflict. I think it’s about property rights.
I don’t have the answer.
I have an opinion.
I think arguing over property rights is worth it. We should engage. Why? Because when we listen and learn why it hurts to have a story feel appropriated, we get softer. They get softer. We listen. They listen. (Doesn’t matter who we and they represent.) It gets quiet and respectful in mutual sorrow. Or then silliness. Whatever the mood dictates. We may not agree or resolve things. During conflicting viewpoints we get to be better people to each other. Nobody has to win the argument. But we get to share our views and feel heard, which is amazing, as far as feelings go.
I think this property rights argument lets us talk about real issues, stereotypes, appropriations, what came from a place of privilege. Those conversations sting. No author wants to have readers connecting unseen dots in a published story. That never feels good, whether the argument is valid or not. It’s scary putting your book out in the world.
A new year is beginning.
It feels like we’re headed toward conflict, big ones, in the world.
This is prime opportunity for men and women of too many differences to name, beauty in age and race, kings and queens in wheel chairs who want to be acknowledged, and people who want to go to the bathroom in public without being jumped. We have the opportunity to love so many people different from ourselves.
Thank god the women who love to write M4M fiction are here, an army practicing the art of love. Discussing it, respecting it, getting raunchy with it, like, wow, filthy and hot. The point is, when we keep discussing love, what we experience and how we are different, we keep finding samesies.
When I think of men and women within this romance genre, I prefer to consider us all people who love books, arguing over property rights. Our negotiations will include heartbreaking stories of exclusion and heartwarming stories of greater inclusion as we are loved for who we are and our piece of the puzzle.
Let the honoring begin.
Edmond Manning has always been fascinated by fiction: how ordinary words could be sculpted into heartfelt emotions, how heartfelt emotions could leave an imprint inside you stronger than the real world.
He finally realized that he didn’t have to write like Charles Dickens or Armistead Maupin, two author heroes, and that perhaps his own fiction was juuuuuuust right, because it was his true voice, so he looked around the scrappy word kingdom that he created for himself and shouted, “I’M HOME!”
He is now a writer.
In addition to fiction, Edmond enjoys writing non-fiction on his blog, www.edmondmanning.com. When not writing, he can be found either picking raspberries in the back yard or eating panang curry in an overstuffed chair upstairs, reading comic books.
Feel free to contact him at email@example.com.