So non-con, huh?

I’ve been aware for a while now that a surprisingly – or perhaps not so surprisingly – large amount of m/m is non-con or dub-con. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it made up a majority of the genre, but I think I can say it ranks alongside college boys and men in uniform as one of its mainstays.

Now, before I go any further I should say two things. The first is that this post is about, well, non-con so naturally comes with trigger warnings. The second is that the cons, be they non or dub, are not my preferred sub-subgenre so I’m very much not writing this as an insider. In fact, to put my cards fully on the table I tend to find non-con problematic in a lot of ways, and this post is my attempt to sort that out to my satisfaction.

There are, of course, as many reasons for reading or writing any subgenre as there are people who read or write it, and I understand that, for many, these sorts of books are a way to explore important, powerful, and challenging issues in a controlled environment. I also appreciate that some readers just get off on them, and that’s okay too.

Broadly speaking, I think there are two things that trouble me about non-con in m/m and, to an extent, they might be different facets of the same thing. One is its prevalence in m/m relative to het, and the other actually comes back to something I mentioned above, which is the way in which relationships between two men seem to be seen as a safer environment to explore these issues than a relationship between a man and a woman. Also I should say that this shit is complicated, and that, insofar as it is even possible for there to be experts on it, I most certainly am not one.

By my limited understanding, there’s been a bit of an uptick in the amount of non-con and dub-con across all subgenres recently, obviously less so in some, for example inspirationals, and more so in others. I hear that at RT Carina were actively soliciting non-con and slavery stories. But while non-con has a growing niche within the het market, in m/m it seems to be a mainstream fixture, and that disparity troubles me because I’m always troubled when I see stark differences in the way homosexual and heterosexual relationships are portrayed in any medium.

I should probably point out immediately that I suspect a big part of the issue is just the relative size of the genres. M/m is clearly a smaller pool, and so it’s easier for particular trends to ripple across it. That said, I do wonder if there isn’t some component of writers and readers seeing straight and gay (and particularly gay male) relationships through slightly different lenses. If nothing else, the fact that m/m is seen as a sub-genre of romance, rather than as a way to describe romances that happen to have two male protagonists, would suggest that the market does see a relationship between two men as something quantifiably distinct.

This itself becomes problematic because there are genuine disagreements within the queer community over the best way to think about the intersection, if any, between heterosexual and homosexual relationships. I tend to be of the school of thought which holds that, while relationships in general are diverse, the gender-identities of the people involved are not a meaningful way to categorise them. A relationship between two women can be legally recognised and monogamous, with a white fence, two kids and a mortgage. A relationship between a man and woman can be legally unrecognised and non-monogamous, with sex parties, spanking and shibari. Neither relationship is more or less valid than the other.

The other school of thought, however, is that stressing the normality of queer relationships is to try and force them into a heteronormative paradigm.  To this second school of thought – and as always its hazardous to try and describe the opinions of people you don’t necessarily agree with – queer relationships are inherently subversive.

I suspect that part of the reason there is significantly more non-con in m/m than in het is that both non-con and m/m are, to a degree, seen as edgy, subversive, and outside the mainstream. Someone who is more interested in one is more likely to be interested in the other. To put it another way, non-con and homosexuality are both, to an extent, sexual taboos, and I can see that people who are interested in pushing boundaries might be interested in both. Where I find this difficult is that, to me, taboos surrounding same-sex relationships and taboos surrounding, to put it bluntly, rape are of different categories. Prohibitions against homosexual behaviour are culturally relative and, I would argue, harmful by their mere existence. Prohibitions against rape, well, not so much.  And obviously there are cultural differences in attitudes to rape as well, but tolerance of it is not considered to be a marker of a liberal society.

As a consequence, I feel the association that is apparently emerging within the genre between culturally disparaged sexualities and acts of genuine immorality is – and I acknowledge that I am currently using this word a lot – troubling.

You may have noticed that in the last two paragraphs, I shifted from the using the word “non-con” to describe the sort of content I was talking about to using the word “rape”. This sort of brings me to my second observation which is that I sometimes get the impression that non-con in m/m is somehow seen as less rapey or less bad or possibly even less real than in het. A sense I get from reviews and blog posts is that there are a large number of readers who will only read non-con in m/m. Once again this is (and I’m using this word a lot as well) difficult because there are very sensible, very valid reasons why a person – particularly a woman – would be massively less comfortable reading a non-consensual sex scene from a female perspective than from a male perspective. But this intersects quite problematically with some very gendered and very heteronormative ideas about what sex is, what rape is, and, to some extent, what the roles of men and women are.

There is a cultural stereotype which suggests that sex in general and rape in particular only count if there is a penis and a vagina involved.  This notion erases the experiences of a great many people, men and women alike. Clearly — on a personal level — people are entitled to be comfortable with what they are comfortable with, and uncomfortable with what they are uncomfortable with, and I believe people should have the freedom to explore the ideas they want to explore through the medium that makes most sense for them. But non-con is so prevalent in m/m that it feels to me almost normalising. The cumulative effect of which, when spread over a large number of books, is to present a model of homosexuality of which non-consent is an integral part.

Essentially, the stories we tell ourselves as a society are how we construct our ideas about what the world is like, and the current trends in m/m offer a view of reality in which rape is significant component of the experience of being a gay man. I should stress that this is not an issue with individual books but with the aggregate effect of a large number of titles forming a sizeable proportion of the market. And, once again, I find this… troubling.

My final concern with this whole phenomenon is that I feel it reinforces unhelpful ideas about sexual power and sexual behaviour which pretty much go back millennia. In a number of cultures, ever since antiquity, it has been perfectly socially acceptable for men to shag other men as long as they don’t go on the bottom. Indeed, in a great many societies homosexuality and heterosexuality were not a meaningful distinction. What mattered was who was penetrating and who was penetrated. In both ancient Rome and ancient Greece it was considered perfectly normal and healthy to bugger young boys or slaves, but perverse and effeminate to be, as it were, the buggeree (at least in adulthood).

And a tiny part of me wonders if non-con in m/m is an echo of these attitudes. I understand that, in the bodice rippers of the 1970s, non-consent or forced seduction was a way to permit the heroine and the reader to explore sexuality in a society where female desire was still, to some extent, taboo.

Not that this is an entirely solved problem, even today.

I have a feeling that non-consent in m/m might serve a similar function. I suspect that we, as a society, find it comparatively easy to accept and understand, within our cultural frameworks of masculinity, a man who desires to penetrate other men. I’ve sometimes heard this expressed as “he’s so manly he can fuck dudes, and it doesn’t count”. It’s much harder for us to condone a man who wants to be penetrated.

This goes directly against everything we are taught comprises male sexuality. And since a hero in a romance – het or m/m – is successful only insofar as he enacts male sexuality in a manner that the reader finds acceptable and, well, sexy, there’s an extent to which a hero who consents to be penetrated will, for many readers, cease to function as a hero. Tangentially, I notice very similar reactions against sexually submissive heroes in het, unless the author goes out of her way to make them uber-manly in other contexts.

I should probably end by reiterating that I do think it’s primarily a consequence of the size and relative infancy of the genre – but this is precisely why I believe this is such important issue to consider. M/m is still establishing itself within romance, and within genre fiction as a whole, and the trends that exist today are likely to shape what is written, published, and read for years to come.

romancelandia

48 Responses to So non-con, huh?

  1. Very interesting. And while I have read dub-con it was only after being warned about it and deciding I wanted the rest of the story more. I don’t read non-con and I am very glad I got past that era in het romance. To me there is a vast difference if the individuals involved have a conversation first, outlining the rules ability to halt the process if necessary because there is now consent vs non-con. I don’t like the thought that literature is providing the image m-m has to involve dub/non-con or violence in the relationship. Messes with my romance 🙂 but I also understand that some people enjoy reading it. I just hope for a healthy variety.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think variety kind of the watchword here. I have no problems with the existence of non-con, dub-con or anything-else-con, it’s just the sheer prevalence in m/m at the moment concerns me, and I’m concerned it’s turning into an assumed feature of the genre. Especially when the idea of same-sex romance is still not widely accepted.

      Obviously lumping non-con and dub-con together is problematic in itself – since there’s a world of difference between an consciously ambiguous situation and one in which consent is explicitly absent.

      I’ve actually quite a lot of het that plays with consensual non-consent, and it can work very well. Cara McKenna’s WILLING VICTIM is one I always remember for being basically awesome.

      • Yes, Willing Victim, didn’t bother me because there was consent for what happened. It didn’t end up being my favorite of what I have read for her but I don’t think that was the reason why. Katie Porter did a good one as well, Hard Way, that worked for the same reason.

        I also agree that non-con and dub-con are different but still sometimes hit the same nerve for me. As much as possible given my umm life circumstances *grin* I understand your concern.

  2. Vanessa says:

    Gah…

    Just…GAH.

    Okay, I can totally relate to this post on so many levels. One, as a reader who is very particular about how/where she will read rape or dubious consent. Two, as an author who straddles both het and M/M fiction and is very wary of how she navigates gender issues. Three, OMG–I can’t refer to myself in third person anymore–I’m a rape survivor and I need to be careful of potentially triggering content.

    I do occasionally like to read dub con or non con content, if handled in a way that is not triggering to me. I am less likely to be triggered by content not involving vaginas, however–plenty of M/M dub-con and rape is triggering as well, so I have learned to read authors I trust and DNF books that don’t work for me.

    It is troubling. And I am troubled by the fact that I prefer to read dub-con in M/M even though I actually know exactly why–it is less likely to trigger me personally.

    I don’t think there are easy answers to these questions you raise, but I do think this is a valuable discussion to have.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I totally understand that there are many reasons to find non-con/dub-con scenarios less triggering in an m/m context. I certainly don’t think there’s anything wrong with modifying your behaviour, or choosing your reading material, to preserve your emotional safety.

      As I said in the post, it’s a hugely complex issue, that intersects with other hugely complex issues but, like you, I feel it’s a discussion that’s very worth having.

      So, err, here we are 🙂

  3. Shylon says:

    In my opinion, the connection to rape and M/M returns to your previous post relating to fetishizing of gay men. I may be in the minority, but I find it infuriating when someone proudly declares that they were turned on by a book featuring men being raped, but would be offended if they read a similar M/F book. Why is it sexy when a man is being raped? The excuse of “I don’t feel threatened by it, it doesn’t trigger me like M/F does” is not one that holds weight with me. If you can identify that rape in one context is unacceptable, why should it be acceptable in another? Rape is rape no matter what your “kink” is.

    There will always be books that push the envelope by dealing with darker themes such as rape, but there’s a difference between DEALING with those issues and what comes after, and merely writing rape for titillation and erotic purposes. There is a place for it in erotica for sure, but to deny that it can be just as marginalizing and offensive as media that depicts violence against women as sexy, is a problem. And that is my biggest issue. The normalizing it, as you said, and the accepting it as “well, it’s not MY kink, but i wont judge you if you like it.” becomes disturbing when the majority cannot see that they are making gay men objects and instead, defend it wholeheartedly without once considering the other side of the equation.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      It’s very, very difficult. To me the distinction lies between identifying that something is less problematic for you personally, and trying to make the blanket claim that something is unproblematic. As I said in the post, I absolutely support anyone’s right to be turned on by what they’re turned on by, and to avoid things that personally distress them, but I agree that it would feel a lot like a double standard for somebody to have a moral, political or even aesthetic objection to rape in m/f and not to the same sort of content in m/m.

      The thing that concerns me most is the idea that rape of a man is somehow inherently less rapey, and I think even this is difficult because it intersects differently with different things, and so won’t necessarily affect people the same way. But I do sometimes worry that different, to some people, can mean lesser.

      Of course it’s difficult yet again because we are naturally very much inclined to give things we personally like the benefit of the doubt. I think if I read non con in a book I enjoy, I’ll tend to see it as a sensitive handling of the subject, even if there isn’t any real difference I can point at between its presentation and that of a book I disliked, and found really problematic.

      I think basically this comes back being a fan of problematic things. There’s nothing wrong with liking what you like, but it’s important to have awareness of the ways in which the things you like could be harmful to other people.

  4. Kaetrin says:

    And here I go rolling along in my own little oblivious world! LOL. I read a lot but I only skim the very surface of the surface of everything that’s out there. My own reading and most of the books recommended to me are not usually non-con or dub-con. I didn’t even know it was a thing that was becoming so prevalent.

    I don’t mind reading a story that contains rape but it would be a very rare circumstance these days where I could accept it from one of the main characters to another main character. (There are always the rare exceptions and the beloved but terribly problematic older books from the 80s and 90s.)

    There was some (some?! LOADS of) discussion at the time Captive Prince V1 and V2 were released about whether it would have been different if Damen had been a woman rather than a man. Honestly I can’t remember what I said then, but I think I went back and forth on it.

    Generally speaking though, I don’t like it any better if the violence is against a hero as opposed to a heroine. At least, I don’t *think * I do…

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I have mixed feelings about CAPTIVE PRINCE and, in the spirit of full disclosure, haven’t actually finished it yet. I’ve been told repeatedly by people I genuinely trust and think are probably right that it’s really subversive and clever and interesting … but the opening just pushes all my “no way” buttons, and I’m having a lot of trouble getting past that to the good bit.

      For what it’s worth, I think blind gender reversal is not always illuminating. Gender is a thing, and context can change massively depending on whether you’re dealing with men’s behaviour towards men, women’s behaviour towards men, men’s behaviour towards men, or women’s behaviour towards women. So I don’t necessarily think it’s a problem if you accept a level of violence towards a male character that you wouldn’t accept towards a female character – although, I suspect, it’s more complicated if you’re talking about a level of sexualised violence.

      James Bond is quite a good example here. There’s a scene in, um, one of the Daniel Craig ones (Casino Royale I think) where, at one point, he’s captured, stripped, tied to a chair and has his genitals whipped. I kind of can’t see that going down well if it was gender-reversed, and I think that automatically makes us tremendous hypocrites. In a sense I think it’s a reflection of wider social injustices. In a strange way, you could argue that – in a more just society – you’d be able to have a female super spy stripped naked, tied to a chair and whipped without it having horrendously misogynistic connotations. But because our current social construction of gender is such that enduring physical hardship and humiliation reinforces power in men but strips power in women you, well, can’t.

      Obviously this intersects interestingly with rape in m/m but I think possibly for some people there’s a similar affirmation of masculine power in surviving sexual assault. But I think the overwhelming (and intensely problematic) perception in our culture is that any form of sexual abuse, particularly if it involves penetration, is inherently emasculating or, indeed, feminising, and that itself is a whole other can o’ worms.

      • I think the Casino Royale scene is about torture, not sexual violence. I don’t know if his genitals make it sexual, or if that’s just a vulnerable male part. I’m also thinking of a shower scene in Eastern Promises–the protagonist is naked and this element doesn’t ramp up the sexuality of the scene. It’s not sexual, at least not to me. It’s about his vulnerability and the proximity of his genitals to flashing knives! The threat of rape is not there. The audience is perceived as male, because male is the default and these are action movies, targeted at men. Objectification and sexualization of the subject isn’t the main point (in these/most films). You can’t say that when a woman is on screen naked, tied to a chair and being whipped between the legs.

        With m/m, I definitely see the objectification issue there. When a female author writes about noncon m/f, she’s not necessarily objectifying women. It’s hard for me to say the same of a female author writing noncon m/m. The safety and distance from the subject suggests objectifying, rather than relating.

        That said, I’ve heard it argued that gay men and straight women have similar social power. Maybe similar brains also, but I don’t know if that is backed up by science. As far as privileges, we are about even. So I personally find men objectifying women a lot more problematic than women objectifying men, even gay men. The privilege-distance from the subject matters.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          Re Casino Royale – I think that was sort of my point. Sorry if that that didn’t come across clearly. I was using it as an example of why just because something would be unacceptable with the genders reversed, that doesn’t make it unacceptable in its original context. So I think we’re basically on the same page here.

          I honestly don’t think it’s productive to get into the question of who has most power / privilege / whatever between basically any two marginalised groups. These things just aren’t comparable. I assume gay men still get paid more than women on average. On the other hand, Westboro Baptist Church don’t run around with signs saying God Hates Chicks. But, importantly, these don’t cancel out. I don’t think it’s about identifying who is most oppressed, I think it’s about a constantly shifting mess of contexts.

          I think you can just about make the case that the sexual objectification of women by men has a longer history and, therefore, may be more likely to have psychological impact on a reader than the sexual objectification of gay men by women, but I think that’s sort of a call that individual women and individual gay men have to make for themselves.

          Obviously, in general, less objectification all round is better, and I don’t think the existence of one type of objectification justifies another, but this intersects problematically with a whole bunch of other issues. For example, a lot of women do use m/m non-con to explore rape in a safe context, and it’s important they be able to do that. I’m not completely sure it counts as objectification per se, although I think it might be quite othering (in that what makes it safe is that it’s explicitly about people who are not like you), and so, to an extent, it might be a similar issue anyway.

          • I wasn’t trying to play the “women are more oppressed than gay men” card. Just repeating something I’d heard and found interesting/relevant. I’m not really worried about objectifying men in the way I currently do, such as admiring that shirtless pic on a previous post of yours.

            About the other link you shared. I’m not sure if you mentioned this in the post, but I think you can make an argument that rape is far more prevalent in m/m than real life. If 1/4 women are raped, and only 1/33 men are.

          • KJ Charles says:

            Just for the sake of statistics, among gay men the likelihood of rape rises to 1/11 or so. Among trans people it’s hard to say, but in one study 50% of respondents reported having been raped or assaulted by a romantic partner.

        • Speaking only for myself, I definitely still empathise and relate with my victim characters in M/M non-con. They’re my avatar. The “safety” doesn’t come from dehumanization of the man (who isn’t even always gay in my stories), but from being able to explore rape fantasy without having it echo the specific misogynistic male-female power dynamics that directly relate to my experience. Much as M/M readers on the whole often justify their reading habits because M/M romance (in the conventional consensual sense) allows them to explore relationships and sex without the baggage of the power dynamics between men and women, I’d say that M/M non-con appeals in that same way.

          Not that I don’t think objectification and fetishization aren’t an issue in M/M (especially when it comes to straight people in the genre), but I don’t think it’s fair to say that the “safety” of reading M/M rape must come from that place. If that was the case, we’d see non-con about, say, POC or trans characters of multiple genders, because they are also “other” and are frequently dehumanized in the dominant culture. But non-con in fiction is mostly about white cis men, which suggests (to me) that dehumanization isn’t a key factor.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            For what it’s worth, I don’t think othering and dehumanising are necessarily the same thing. I think othering can feel dehumanising if you’re the person being othered, but that’s a call people have to make about their own experiences.

            This all very tricky and beyond the scope of the original post.

            Intersections between marginalised groups are hellishly complicated. I can see that some people might find the idea of people using queer identity as a form of escapism – even if what they are escaping is marginalisation along a different axis – to be appropriative or othering. On the other hand, people have an absolute right to manage their own behaviour in a manner that is supportive of their own emotional well-being and, if some women are happier reading m/m, that’s perfectly okay.

          • I absolutely believe you relate to and empathize with your characters. I think I’m just not familiar enough with noncon or m/m because in my mind there are two kinds of rape on the page. Rape as horror/trauma and rape as titillation. It didn’t occur to me that they could be both because I can’t imagine being titillated–by any kind of rape, really, but esp not the first kind. Your comments have helped me understand a little better, so thank you. I appreciate the mention of male-authored hate-rape vs. sympathetic rape in m/m. Author intentions matter to me. So do the reactions of real-life people. You as a rape survivor and AJH as a gay man.

            This might be off topic, and it deals with rape as trauma (def not titillation) but another Daniel Craig movie I’ve been thinking of is The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. There are several very graphic rapes on screen. First the female victim (Lisbeth) and then she turns the tables on her attacker. My husband had a much stronger reaction to the second scene. I squirmed and was horrified for Lisbeth. He was clearly more disturbed by the male rape. Not that he sympathizes with rapists, in general, but a scene like that is so unusual, and I think many or most people identify with same-sex characters. I felt like he finally knew how I felt watching female trauma on screen, and I loved that. I cheered for Lisbeth.

  5. Karen says:

    About two years ago I read a series of m/f ‘romances’ with slave/ kidnap/ non-con and found them more than a little disturbing, there was then a plethora of similar books published, and it seems that this trend has now filtered into m/m.

    For me non-con/ rape as a workable plot device can be used, but not to start a relationship, irrespective of the sexuality of the protagonists. I have recently read a m/m that does this really well, and it’s totally integral to the plot (in fact the book doesn’t work without the rape) – but in three years of reading romance this is about the first time that this has worked, and the book itself isn’t technically romantic. Generally if non-con is featured, I won’t read. Rape is not something that should be glamorised, and the psychological ramifications are nearly always brushed under the carpet.

    Totally agree about non-con and bodice rippers, as sexual explicity has become more acceptable then the forceable kiss taken and then gradually returned has become more sexual, and quite overused by some,

    I read a female author discussing why she writes m/m and it centred around men being stronger and women being fragile/ delicate – which is about as insulting to women as cooing over a gay couple and calling them sweet.,But I think that this is why readers are more accepting of dub-con in m/m though, as both protagonists are seen as ‘strong.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think your point about the perceived ‘strength’ of men is an interesting one and – as you say – this intersects with gender and sexuality issues in a variety of complicated ways. On the one hand, it is natural to be more bothered by acts of violence (sexual or otherwise) against people who are perceived as being incapable of defending themselves (just as military attacks against civilian targets are seen as inappropriate in most contexts).

      On the other hand, this ties in with really difficult issues of masculinity, victim blaming and the moral worth of men. Because it is considered “worse” to victimise women because they are seen as weak and defenceless (which is, as you point, kind of insulting in itself) the flip side of that is that it’s considered perfectly kosher to victimise men because they are assumed to be able care of themselves. Which means that a man who is beaten up, or raped, or otherwise abused is seen to have brought it on himself by failing to be sufficiently masculine.

  6. sofia says:

    Hi Alexis

    Thought provoking post as always.

    Some points:

    Yes I think this trend is troubling both in m/f and in m/m. As a fledgling m/m could be shaped by this and thus harmed.

    Lots of readers have difficulty accepting non ‘male’ men in their m/m romances. By non male, I mean not displaying the alpha maleness, have some ‘feminine traits’ etc. So this I think links in with when you wrote about accepting those who are being ‘penetrated’. So by including force the choice is being taken away. I do not like this for diverse reasons. With rape we are giving the reason for being penetrated as ‘being forced too’ instead of exploring penetration in its entirety.

    It angers me when ‘normal’ people lump minority issues with immoral issues like lumping homosexuality with peodophilia, or rape or divorce with abortion etc. Dark Ages scare tactics I call them.

    Ciao
    Sofia

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Hi Sofia 🙂

      I suspect part of the reason so many people lump minority and moral issues together is that, for many people, they’re sort of all moral. There are a great many value systems in which homosexuality, extra-marital sex, divorce and abortion are seen as equivalently morally wrong to theft, paedophilia and murder. So, obviously, very conservative people treat them like they’re the same because, from a very conservative view point, they are. But you sometimes wind up with a backlash against where very liberal will also treat them as if they’re the same as a result of a wholesale rejection of conservative values.

      An interesting, if somewhat depressing, example of this is the way that the news in the UK has been dominated for the last year and a half by something called Operation Yewtree. Basically it’s come out over the last couple of years that masses and masses of people who worked in TV in the 1970s were serial sex abusers, child molesters or rapists. And I suspect a big part of the reason for this is that, in the 1970s, particularly in the performing arts, you had a tremendous liberalisation in sexual behaviour while retaining a fundamentally conservative value system. So you wind up with an environment that has a very open, very devil-may-care, very anything-goes attitude to sex but which also retains the 1950s notion that women’s bodies are public property.

      I think, in general, whenever you move out of a broadly repressive environment into a broadly permissive one people spend a while not being sure which of the old prohibitions still apply. As I think I mentioned in the post, we seem to have gone from a position where same-sex and non-con are both relatively taboo to one in which they’re both relatively accepted which results in a slightly unfortunate association between them.

  7. Not surprisingly, I have thoughts on this subject.

    Putting my cards on the table: I am a rape survivor, I have had a rape fetish for as long as I’ve been aware of my own sexuality, and I write (and sell) non-con erotica.

    I honestly think you’re off-base here, sorry. I really don’t think it’s the “taboo” nature of gay sex that makes non-con more visibly acceptable in the M/M genre than in M/F. I think it comes down to a couple of things:

    1. M/M’s strong ties with fandom
    2. M/M being largely small-press and e-published

    Non-con is a very popular and well-trod theme in fanfic. Fanfic is its own culture with its own set of rules, and non-con is largely acceptable so long as it’s appropriately warned for. Pick a fandom, and you’ll find a plethora of rapefic written about it, and that’s largely socially acceptable in those circles. I mean, there’s a taboo in fandom against insulting people’s offerings AND the commonly heard YKINMK And That’s Okay (which I don’t personally agree with, but it is very commonly stated and agreed upon in a lot of fandom circles). Even on anon memes where people go to air their grievances, I can’t remember a lot of anti-non-con talk. M/M as we know it having come out of slash fanfic, I think those attitudes have carried over. I wrote non-con in fanfic and was very well received, and I write it in M/M and it sells better than anything else I produce (occasionally to my frustration).

    Also the WAY M/M is published makes a difference. Large press publishers are naturally more conservative about what they produce and sell, but when you’re with a small press on the fringes, or in self-publishing, you’re able to take risks about the content. The fact that Angela James from Carina specifically requested non-con is a pretty major coup, and I’m SURE has to do with seeing the success of these stories in self-publishing and coming from smaller presses.

    I think there is ABSOLUTELY a demand for M/F non-con (and I know for a damn fact that there is a demand for male-centred misogynistic rape fetish material, which differs from non-con in several ways).

    As a consumer and producer of M/M non-con, I don’t think it’s about penetrative/penetratee sex, and I don’t think modern M/F non-con reflects the same desires and needs as the bodice rippers of yesteryear. Rape fetishes aren’t necessarily a way for women to avoid their own sexuality, but rather just one way many of us express our sexuality. Why we HAVE this cultural phenomenon of rape fetishes among women who otherwise disapprove of rape, that I’m really not sure of, but it’s something I’ve examined in myself, and written about, and will continue to examine in myself and write about because I’ll probably never figure it out definitively.

    Do I think there’s an unhealthy focus on so-called conventional masculinity in M/M to the detriment of real gay men, effeminate or otherwise? Yes, 100%. Do I think women’s rape fetishes (that they have carried into M/M from them, not CREATED within M/M) have anything to do with that? No, I really don’t.

    I do prefer M/M non-con over M/F non-con. I won’t read consensual M/F femsub either. Growing up with a rape fetish, I read a lot of by-men-for-men rape fetish material, and it was gleefully misogynistic and culturally and emotionally violent against women, and absolutely toxic. So is our mainstream presentation of rape of women, even when it’s not explicitly or openly meant to titillate. (Although I’d argue that just because people don’t cop to it doesn’t mean that isn’t exactly what’s happening in a lot of our mainstream/non-pornographic representations of rape.) Having been raped and abused by men, these narratives even presented by/for women (and even when they’re explicitly consensual within the text) have bad associations and I can’t read them with the intention of enjoying them. I write M/M non-con because I still do have a rape fetish and I still do have stuff to work through about rape, but the male body gives me a level of distance and thus safety. Which is what rape fantasy for by/for women is ultimately all about: processing rape, rape culture, our personal histories with rape, in a SAFE (to ourselves) way.

    I won’t try and claim that what I do isn’t problematic or objectionable, but it is what it is.

    • Also, my personal preferences/triggers don’t mean I think rape against men is “less serious” or “less violent” or “less terrible for victims”, or that I think in fiction M/M rape is magically less rape than M/F rape in fiction, only that writing and reading about it in fiction is a different experience for me because of my individual history.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I suspect we agree more than you think. I think we’re mostly disagreeing about terminology here.

      When I was talking about the taboo nature of same-sex / non-consensual sex, I was thinking very much in terms of what you might call a C causes A and B relationship. This is more or less the same as your point about non-con and m/m both tending to be published by smaller e-presses. A conservative mainstream is not interested in non-con and it’s not interested in m/m. Less conservative markets are, therefore, more inclined to be interested in both, which leads to an association between with two, which I think we both recognise as problematic.

      I also agree that fandom probably plays a role since, while I don’t think it’s true that m/m grew out of fandom per se (people have been writing about same-sex relationships since Achilles and Patroclus), it would be foolish to deny the influence slash and fandom have had on the sub-genre. Again, this is also something I find lowkey problematic because, although I think what slash does is quite important, I think it’s quite different to what I value in queer fiction

      It comes back to the subversive / normalising distinction I mentioned in the post. I think a big part of the point of slash is to explicitly subvert the base text by inserting queer elements into it, or reading them out of it. This is pretty much the opposite of what I’m interested in, which is living in a world where it is simply normal for mainstream fiction to contain canonically queer characters, and for queerness itself to be an accepted part of texts (and life) in general.

      I’ve also never denied that there was a demand for m/f non-con, but – as you observe yourself – there seems to be broad demand for non-con in the m/m market in general, rather than a demand within a specific sub-set of that market. There definitely seems to be a difference in the way non-con is seen, and engaged with, in m/m and the way it is seen, and engaged with, in het. And I also think there’s an important difference to be made here between genre romance (or erotica) and porn. I have no doubt there’s an awful lot of male-centric, misogynistic rape-fetish material out there but mostly not in genre romance/erotica, and genre romance/erotica is kind of the comparison I was making here.

      To put it another way, I’m sure it’s true that there are numerically more instances of m/f rape fetish material extant across all genres than there are of m/m rape fetish material, but what I am mostly concerned about is not the existence of m/m rape fetish material but the fact that rape fetish material comprises a substantial proportion of the m/m genre. Even, leaving aside the, well, rape, it troubles me that a specific sexual fetish seems to so dominate the sub-genre that is supposed to represent gay men as a whole.

      I also think we mostly agree about bodice rippers. As I said in the post, my understanding was that forced seduction was a way to allow women to explore their sexuality. I don’t think I ever used the word avoid, and it wasn’t my intent to suggest that non-consent is a way to deny or suppress desire. I think where we might disagree is that I don’t think non-consent (either in the bodice ripper or in m/m) is always explicitly about exploring the idea of rape. My understanding is that, while it can be, it has very often been about allowing a character to escape moral censure for behaviour which a conservative society considers inappropriate. I’m vaguely aware that a problem het romance writers often face, and particularly would have faced twenty or thirty years ago, is allowing their heroine to enjoy sex without her being labelled a slut.

      And, to an extent, I think for some m/m writers and some m/m readers there is a similar dynamic in play. We do consider taking it up the arse to be unmanly and we do consider being unmanly to be an unattractive quality in a hero, and one function that non-consent can have is to mitigate against that perceived emasculation. I should stress I’m not making generalisations about all m/m readers or all m/m writers. I’m certainly not making any claims about why you write your books the way you write them, but given how hostile the romance genre in general can be to heroes who are anything other than the epitome of masculinity (I was reading a review of a really nice femdom novella the other day, and the reviewer said that she lost all respect for the hero when he crawled) I don’t think you can discount the function of non-consent in rendering socially unacceptable behaviour acceptable.

      I should probably close by reiterating that I respect the right of women (and men, for that matter) to explore issues of rape in fiction by whatever means they feel necessary. And I understand that writing about men allows people to maintain personal distance from what is obviously an extremely emotive (and potentially triggering) subject.

      But at the same time, I think it’s important to recognise that while m/m fiction, like most of romance, is primarily by and for women, it is nevertheless about gay men, and I feel the genre, as a whole, needs to be aware of how it is portraying them, and how that portrayal feeds into wider discourses about masculinity, sexuality and homosexuality. Rape as cause of, or punishment for, homosexuality and/or effeminacy are both extremely powerful and extremely harmful stereotypes, and the apparent trend in the market towards non-con stories runs a real risk of reinforcing them.

      • Well I talk about M/M as a genre as distinct from gay romance, which is why I say it comes out of slash fandom. I obviously don’t think Kirk/Spock invented gay men or same sex desire in literature, but modern M/M is heavily tied to slash fandom, and that’s why norms from slash fandom have been transported to M/M (see also: content warnings as a matter of course).

        I also think there’s a distinction to be made between rape fetish porn by/for men, and non-con rape fantasy by/for women (regardless of the gender of the characters). Rape porn for men is about punishing and humiliating women for misogynistic wish-fulfillment. Non-con and rape fantasy for women are largely sympathetic to the victim character and the fantasy surrounds that extreme power dynamic and loss of control.

        The only demand for non-con in M/M is by people with rape fantasies, just as people with rape fantasies create a demand for non-con in M/F. Some of these readers cross over. Others only read M/M and others only read M/F versions of that specific trope, whether that aligns with their usual reading habits (ie. M/M non-con readers who only read M/M full stop, or M/M non-con readers who only read M/M non-con but will read M/F without non-con elements for whatever reason)

        I really can’t agree with you that non-con in M/M comes as a response to the very specific problem of masculinity and receptive sex. I know M/M and romance in general have issues with the masculinity of heroes, but rape fetishes exist outside of that issue. PLENTY of M/M features “alpha males” that have consensual enthusiastic receptive sex, because I’d argue a MAJORITY of M/M doesn’t feature effeminate men in ANY context. Obviously M/M has reconciled masculinity with receptive sex since masc/masc pairings in the genre are overwhelmingly common AND penetrative anal sex is also a fixture to the genre in those same novels, all without requiring rape to “justify” the act.

        I feel like you’re misunderstanding the individual relationship M/M has with rape by bringing this conversation about masculinity into it. I genuinely think that what you are seeing is something that has always existed (women with rape fantasies) but now you are seeing a genre where it is more visible (due to the fandom ties and the small-press or self-published format that I discussed above). Styling non-con as being somehow more common in M/M versus simply more visible misrepresents it.

        If you want to talk about the impact of that and how the two are becoming linked, then by all means, but your post implied an intention and a motivation that I genuinely do not think exists. Basically, rather than asking “what impact does non-con in M/M have on the perception of the genre and on queer men in general”, your post reads to me as “this is why I think women in M/M write so much rape” and not surprisingly since you 1. admittedly don’t have rape fantasies yourself 2. you’re not a woman, that really isn’t a question you can answer.

        But sure, I’d love to talk about the ethics of non-con and how it can (or always does?) reinforce unhealthy and dangerous attitudes and cultural beliefs, whether M/M or no.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          Okay, I think we have a couple of points of disagreement here.

          The first is that I think drawing a distinction between m/m and gay romance is both incorrect and profoundly problematic because it essentially takes a huge chunk of stories about queer people and sticks a Not For You label on them, which seems – from my perspective – to benefit nobody.

          I’m perfectly happy to accept this terminology but, in that case, I’m genuinely quite confused because I don’t know what gay romance is. Apparently no-one writes it because the vast majority of romantic stories you can find with male protagonists are within this thing called “m/m” which you tell me isn’t gay romance. Or, alternatively, perhaps I don’t know what m/m is and all the things I thought were m/m that were perfectly straightforward romances that happened to have gay protagonists are actually just gay romance, and are something different from whatever this m/m thing is that you’re talking about.

          For what it’s worth, as I mentioned in a previous post, I don’t think content warnings as a matter of course come from fandom either. I think they’re a feature of digital media, of which fandom happens to be a part.

          I do appreciate there are differences between rape-fetish material by and for men, and rape-fetish material by and for women, but I am once again slightly confused by your position here. You mentioned in your first comment on this post that you do not deny that rape-fetish material produced by and for women and involving gay men can be seen as problematic and objectionable, but now you seem to be explicitly arguing that it’s okay in a way that materials by and for men aren’t. And since this post very much wasn’t about whether non-con is okay, or whether it’s okay for women to write non-con about gay men, I’m not really sure where you’re going with this. I think we got onto it because I said there was a difference between mainstream romance and porn. I suspect there’s a fundamental disconnect here in what we’re comparing. I’m comparing m/m romance and erotica with het romance and erotica. You seem to be comparing m/m rape-fetish material with het rape-fetish material targeted at men. This strikes me as a different conversation.

          The second point on which I disagree with you is your assertion that the only demand for non-con comes from people with rape fantasies. I think this might be partly my fault because I’m using non-con as an abbreviation for non-consent in its most general sense, whereas you seem to be using it to describe quite a specific sub-genre of fiction aimed at a particular fetish. The use of rape in romance has gone through trends and fashions and conventions. There have been times when it has been a genre staple, there have been times when it’s fallen almost completely off the radar. Angela Toscano has written a whole academic paper on the literary function of various types of rape in romance novels. It’s really complicated, and the idea that it exists solely to serve one specific function strikes me as an over-simplification.

          You seem to be operating from the assumption that only reason to include rape in fiction is a rape fetish. I’m very much aware that rape fetishes are a thing, and I’m happy for them to be explored and represented, but I don’t think that rape fetishes by themselves explain all the occurrences of rape in m/m, or its relative prevalence. I appreciate that you disagree about the issue of prevalence, but, again, I think this is a question of terminology. I’m happy to go with visibility if you’d rather but, to me, it amounts to the same thing. A higher proportion of m/m books have rape as a central device, than of het books, and within het romance it’s a sub-genre, whereas with m/m it’s part of the genre mainstream. You even point this out yourself by highlighting its popularity within fandom which you stress (and I would agree) has a strong influence on the m/m market.

          On a more personal note, I’m not sure why you think you know whether I have rape fantasies or not. I said I don’t particularly like reading non-con. That’s not the same thing. Again, you seem to think there is exact one-to-one correlation between people who read non-con and people who have rape fantasies.

          Part of the whole point of this post, was that I think rape and non-con and dub-on and all of the things associated with them have a variety of functions within romance, and within m/m (or, if you prefer, within gay romance) and that they transparently do manifest differently in het and queer narratives. What I was exploring were some of the functions they fulfil within these narratives. And, to an extent, I even included rape fantasies right at the beginning, when I suggested that one of the reasons people read or write this stuff is that they just get off on it. I didn’t go into much detail, because I generally don’t think it’s my place to speculate about why people are turned on by the things they’re turned on by.

          Again, I think we are coming at this from very different perspectives in that I believe there are multiple reasons that people read and write about rape, and you seem, well, not to. I believe that the greater visibility of non-con within m/m says something about the way people (and, because of the demographics of the genre, those people happen to be primarily women – but that’s kind of incidental) think about relationships between men. Again, you seem to believe that gender is irrelevant here or that it is relevant only in that it allows women with rape fantasies to maintain a sense of emotional safety. You state quite explicitly at the end of your most recent comment that you’re interested in talking about the ethics of non-con in a specifically non-gendered context.

          But while I’m happy to discuss that, it’s not really what I was talking about in this post, and, to a degree, because I don’t read much non-con that’s not a discussion I feel I’d have much to contribute to. As I said in the post, I’m not all that concerned with the ethics of non-con. What concerns me is the sense that non-con seems to be becoming almost synonymous with m/m.

          To put it another way, you say that this post reads like I’m saying “this is why I think women in m/m write so much rape.” I think I’d argue that I was trying to explore why rape is mainstream in m/m in a way it is not in het. To my mind, there’s quite an important difference between the two. The first concerns the motivations of individual women, which are simply none of my business. The second concerns broad trends, conventions, and attitudes within the genre, the community and society as a whole, which both interest and directly affect me.

          • I differentiate M/M (as written and read by women) from gay fiction and gay romance because I was lead to believe gay men don’t appreciate M/M being considered the same thing because of those differences in audiences (especially when you introduce the “straight women” trope to the mix). So by/for/about gay men= gay romance, but if the producers and intended audience are women, then it’s M/M. If you’re in favour of integration that’s fine, but I do use M/M specifically to refer to the woman-dominated genre of small-press romance versus fiction by and for gay men. This is actually a pretty common distinction so I’m not sure where your hostility toward me on this point is coming from.

            When I talk about “materials by and for men”, I’m talking specifically about rape fetish that exists as misogynistic wish fulfillment for men wanting to punish women for 1. being provocative, 2. refusing mens’ advances, etc. I realize you’re not as versed in eroticized rape as I am, but a search of the term “dofantasy” should lead you to some pretty explicit and horrible examples. I think all non-con and rape fetish is problematic and can be deeply offensive and upsetting to a degree, but you best believe I set aside a specific “this is worse” designation when the fantasy is centred around the male oppressor enacting violence on an oppressed group. As fucked up as I can be, I’m not on that level and I feel perfectly fine stating that.

            However, that’s NOT what I”m comparing. When I say “m/f non-con” I’m talking about non-con by and for women that sympathises with the victim, much as m/m non-con is largely by and for women and sympathises with the victim.

            I think the actual disconnect here is that you seem to be using “non-con” to refer to “fictional rape”, whereas I use it to refer to “eroticized rape for titillation”. People write about rape for lots of reasons, but if you’re writing it in an explicitly eroticized context?

            I actually did tell you why I thought non-con was mainstream in M/M in a way it isn’t in het: politics of respectability, fandom origins, the method of publishing (traditional publishing makes up a huge chunk of all m/f, it makes up almost none of m/m, so it’s not really a surprise to me that one is overwhelmingly more conservative on that front than the other).

            Basically, I just don’t think your stated reason of “so that manly men can still take it up the ass and be manly” holds any water in the genre of M/M or the trope of non-con as I’ve experienced it. And while you are extrapolating on second-hand knowledge and academic studies of M/F bodice rippers, I am telling you as someone who reads and writes in the genre that that really has not, in my experience, been the case AT ALL. That doesn’t mean “gender is irrelevant”, it means in this very specific case, aka. non-con, your explanation doesn’t seem to hold true. If we needed rape to make it acceptable for manly men to have receptive sex, then there wouldn’t be numerous and very popular/widely read examples of manly men having receptive sex. M/M has a strong frankly offensive and embarrassing aversion against so called “feminine” attributes in men, but being the receiving partner in anal sex doesn’t actually seem to that much of a sticking point, just so long as the men are sufficiently masculine and muscular and drink beer and are never flamboyant and they don’t talk about their feelings too much.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            I think there’s a difference between m/m and mainstream queer fiction, but that’s a genre versus literary fiction distinction. To me, while I have no problem with people writing whatever they want, for whomoever they want, I can’t help but look slightly askance at a sub-genre that self-defines as being about marginalised group [x] but explicitly excludes marginalised group [x] from its audience. I sort of appreciate the desire not to claim legitimacy you do not have, but it doesn’t feel like a helpful distinction to make to me.

            I absolutely don’t want to go down the route of arguing over which marginalised groups it is worse to portray of victims of violence because I don’t think it can ever be helpful.

            I appreciate you told me why you think non-con is mainstream in m/m in a way it’s not in het and – as I mentioned in my first reply – I actually think two out of three of your reasons are the same as my reasons, in that I think joint rejection by a conservative audience is effectively the same as your “fandom origins” and “publishing modes” arguments. Fandom is big on taboos: same-sex pairings, non-con, incest. I don’t see how this contradicts my suggestion in the original post that part of the reason for the correlation between non-con and m/m is that people who are interested in breaking taboos or pushing boundaries, tend to be interested in groups of related things. And, similarly, a relegation to small presses is a feature of interests that are outside the mainstream.

            I’m happy to accept that you disagree with me about intersection of masculinity, homosexuality and non-con, but you seem be asking me to take your statement of disagreement as evidence that I am flatly incorrect. These are complex issues, and open to multiple interpretations. You still seem to be arguing for a very black and white position. I never said we needed rape to make it possible for manly men to have receptive sex, any more than I said we needed rape in order for heroines to have sex in the 1970s. But I strongly suspect that, given the hostility towards non-masculine characters and given that being penetrated is seen as an effeminising or emasculating act (both of these are, I think, uncontroversial statements about our society) it follows that one of many possible consequences of or uses for rape in an m/m context is to absolve a character of the responsibility of taking it up the arse. Is that always the case, no. Is sometimes the case, quite possibility.

            I’m not talking here about novels, I’m talking about instances of reading. I’m not trying to point at a particular book and say “that character in that book got raped so they wouldn’t have to start off liking anal.” I am suggesting that it is probable that there are readers for whom a character who does immediately, enthusiastically and consensually engage in receptive sex but, instead, must be coerced into it, is a character to whom they react more positively.

            As I’m sure you know, the politics and symbolism of who bums whom is a really, really big (and, honestly, slightly bewildering) thing in m/m, and the notion that those politics and those ideas, those preferences and those preconceptions aren’t in play in a non-consensual situation seems simply implausible to me.

          • I’m not drawing a line between M/M and Gay Romance in order to exclude gay men, and I absolutely don’t want to leave anybody with that impression. I make the distinction out of respect for gay men and their right to not have their literature subsumed, and for no other reason.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            Sorry, I probably reacted too strongly to this as well. It just felt very strange to have a genre in which I write, and in which I read, defined as not written by or read by, well, me.

            With hindsight I do see where you’re coming from and why you might want to avoid claiming or being seen to claim to speak on behalf of gay men.

            And, obviously, with so much concern about appropriation and misrepresentation in m/m I can see why you would want to define the genre as something valid but ultimately different to queer people writing about their experiences.

          • And I’m sorry for assuming your stated lack of interest in non-con must mean you don’t have individual rape fantasies. I understand there are many reasons why someone with rape fantasies might not make the step to reading/writing non-con. Your post just took the stance of a complete outsider and I responded to it as such.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            Whether I have rape fantasies is not the issue – it was you making a random assertion about my sexual preferences which has no bearing on the discussion.

          • Well I don’t actually consider that to have “no bearing” on the discussion I thought we were having, but I apologize for the assumption all the same.

            I’ll leave your space now since this conversation has obviously gone past the point of productivity.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            Sorry, I probably expressed myself too sharply there. I’m just quite a private person and I’m discomforted when my sexual preferences, behaviours or experiences become part of the conversation.

  8. Kaetrin says:

    Hi Alexis – I thought I’d respond down here rather than in ever-decreasing threads above. 🙂

    2 things. I really liked Captive Prince (well, that’s an understatement). But I know people who really didn’t like it and couldn’t finish it even after being spoiled as to the events of book 2. I was warned that there was violence, brutality, slavery and torture in the first book. In fact the warnings were so thorough, when I actually read the book, it didn’t seem as bad as I had been expecting (apparently I have a twisted imagination). But I have a different tolerance, based on my own context and experience and I’m not saying that the events of book one aren’t or could not be upsetting to others. They absolutely can be and I’ve read posts from people who were really bothered (understatement) about some of it to the point they DNFd the books. So all that to say this: I think the payoff in book 2 (and I’m hoping so much that book 3 when it eventually is published will live up to expectations) is worth it and I loved the way there were so many twists and turns and how some things are presented in one way and then, with virtually a flick of the wrist (or a sentence of insight) those things are turned on their head. I loved how the prince you think is the captive is not necessarily the one the title talks of. I love how, in their own way, both princes are captive and the discussions of power and dark and light and even to a certain extent, muscularity and intellect and the way they are contrasted. It was one of those books, for me, that generated literally weeks of in depth discussion which only fueled my interest in the story, even while it raised my awareness of some of the more problematic aspect which went over my head for the most part.

    I don’t know if you will like Captive Prince. There’s no rule that says you have to of course. I did and I find it endlessly fascinating to discuss, but the first book is very dark and whether the second book is enough to make the journey worthwhile, is a matter for each reader.

    Point the second, until I read your post, I’d never really thought about masculine/feminine in terms of penetratior/penetratee – although when I think about it of course it makes a lot of sense. A guy being pegged by a woman is seen as a subversive thing I think and I expect that’s all about the masculine/feminine dynamic. For myself personally, I don’t think of the way gay characters have sex as being masculine or feminine. I’m not saying that others don’t; I’m just talking for myself. It was kind of nice to realise that actually. 🙂 I like reading about all types of heroes – I can enjoy an alpha or a beta or any other letter of the greek alphabet. I’ve read m/m with characters which are less “traditionally masculine” – as usual, that reading has led me to a greater acceptance on a personal level – and I like them just fine. Ultimately, I like a variety of characters in my reading – I don’t want to read the same book over and over again.

    Perhaps because, first and foremost, I’m a romance reader and I’m all about the happy ending, I’m not seeing as much of the dub-con/non-con stuff. My browsing, buying and reading is about a central romantic relationship and happy ending and it’s going to be a very hard sell indeed to accept rape in a romantic pairing even though it’s not a trigger issue for me. (Consensual BDSM play or rape fantasies such as in Willing Victim are a whole different thing and I’m just fine reading those things but actual rape or even dubious consent – well it usually makes me very uncomfortable and the more I read the more I’m likely to call it out.)

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Probably wise 🙂 I’m not sure how deep the threading goes, but I can well imagine the comments compressing to about one word per line. It already looks a bit like that on my mobile actually.

      I have heard really good things about CP, sort of similar to some of the points you raise here, and I know I’m doing myself a disservice by not reading it. The bits I have read – before I freaked out – were certainly incredibly engaging and well-written, but … yeah … I freaked out. I’m half-wondering if I misread something or got my socks in a knot for no reason actually, but I know there was a scene to which I reacted really badly (I mean, personally, not … as a criticism of the text), but whenever I mention it, people are really confused. I think I was probably stressed out in general about the persistent threat of sexualised violence.

      So basically I should probably try again.

      As for, err, penetration politics, as I said in the post I think penetration = action = male is kind one of many quite problematic stereotypes linked to homosexuality, masculinity and who puts what where. From the m/m I’ve read (and some of the edgier het, where there’s penetration of the man by the woman) I think there can sometimes be a sense that there is always inherently a power dynamic in penetration, regardless of the gender of the protagonists. I also like a variety of protagonists, in m/m and het, though I confess alpha is probably not my blend 🙂

  9. faye01 says:

    I think this has potential to create a fascinating discussion about the prevalence of non-con/rape and dub-con in m/m. However, I can see some serious problems in the construction of the argument as stated.

    1. There is a greater prevalence of non-con/rape and dub-con in m/m than in het. As stated this is an anecdote and as such a fallacy. If you have evidence of this please share it. I shared this blog post with several readers of het romance and they felt there was a very significant prevalence of non-con/rape and dub-con in het romance. The good news for your argument is their anecdotes are just as fallacious as yours. If the disparity between the genres is significant, as a reader, I would very much like to know how it’s broken down.

    2. It’s easier to explore the issues of non-con/rape and dub-con in a male/male pairing. How do you come to this conclusion? Do you have evidence to support it?

    3. Some people viewing homosexual relationships as inherently subversive has lead to a greater prevalence of non-con/rape and dub-con in m/m. Because these things correlate in no way means one causes the other. To blanketly state one causes the other is a fallacy. Do you have evidence to support this claim?

    4. Readers view m/m rape as less “rapey” than m/f rape. How do you come to this conclusion? Do you have evidence to support it?

    5. Many people feel the receptive sexual partner is inherently unmasculine. Non-con/rape and dub-con are prevalent to shield characters from being viewed as masculine. Because these things correlate in no way means one causes the other. To blanketly state one causes the other is a fallacy. Do you have evidence to support this claim?

    6. Is the harm caused by the perceived prevalence of non-con/rape and dub-con in m/m that it will become normalised? If not, then the only thing I can see you’ve stated as potential harm is you being troubled. As much as I think you’re most likely a wonderful person, you feeling troubled is not actually an example of harm.

    7. You have failed to define your terms. This is actually really important as you don’t want your oponents doing it for you. What, specifically, is non-con? Is non-con the exact same thing as rape? What, specifically, is rape? What is dub-con? Does a rape have to appear on the page for it to count? Does a main character have to be raped? Does a main character have to be raped by another main character? What is m/m? How is m/m different from gay romance? Failing to properly define these terms and situations causes confusion.

    I will reiterate I think this has potential to create a fascinating dialogue. I would love to discuss some of your claims if you can find evidence to support them. As is, your argument is too filled with logical fallacies for me to attempt to tackle any kind of comprehensive rebuttal. I’m simply not comfortable including that many ifs in one response.

    Please understand, I intend no ill will at all in this response to your post. When I state this has potential to be a fascinating dialogue I mean that sincerely. I will say it’s not a dialogue that I feel will have any impact at all on sales of books with rapey content. I think everyone would agree that’s market driven and won’t change until people don’t want to read it. No, I have no evidence at all to support that claim.

    • Kaetrin says:

      Jeebus. Apparently blog posts have to be affidavits and/or PhDs now.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thanks for commenting, and I’m glad you think this has the potential to be an interesting discussion. That said, I’m afraid I disagree with your diagnosis of some of the problems with my argument.

      Most significantly, I am very confused by your use of the word ‘fallacy’. You seem to be using it to mean ‘based only on anecdotal evidence’. This is not a fallacy in either the formal or informal sense. I make a number of assertions based on observation and you are free to disagree with those observations, but neither I, nor people who disagree with me, are being “fallacious” merely because we don’t back our qualitative observations up with quantitative data.

      You also seem to believe that I am confusing correlation with causation. In fact, I am merely identifying correlation. At no point, do I suggest being interested in m/m causes people to be interested in non-con or that being interested in non-con causes people to be interested in m/m. I observe only that there are a number of factors that could cause people to be interested in both. An interest in exploring sexual taboos is one and, as Heidi points out above, being involved with slash fandom or simply working for a small press is another.

      However, your point about failing to define terms is well-taken. I think part of my disagreement with Heidi is that I was using a broader definition of non-con than she was. Although, for what it’s worth, I don’t see myself as having opponents. This is a conversation, not a debate and disagreeing with me doesn’t make someone the opposition.

  10. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Wo-ow. Um, to say you write a thought provoking post, dear Alexis, is to massively understate the case! Anyway, it was very good, and I wanted to say some things, but so much has already been said that, after reading it all at once the inside of my head is like a massively convoluted tangle of yarn and I have no idea how to find the end of it. You . . . seem to do this to me a lot 😉 Or maybe it’s just me. Yeah, probably that. Anyway, maybe I’ll come back and try to actually say something intelligent later, if I ever untangle my brain 😉 Or not . . .

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Thanks for commenting, and I am glad you found interesting. I look forward to any comments you have. This is a really complicated and sensitive issue, and my own head is pretty tangled right now too 🙂

  11. KJ Charles says:

    Coming in very late to this but it’s been bothering me.

    Fundamentally: I don’t like rape culture. I don’t like the fact that the rape of women is widely presented as somewhere between normal, deserved, inevitable and titillating. I don’t like the fact that, for example, rape of women is presented as routine in the Game of Thrones books, but has to have extra rape added for the Game of Thrones TV, in case there was insufficient rape for the audience. I think that the relentless presentation of rape in media creates a hostile atmosphere for the ‘targets’ of the raping, which reinforces the idea that *this* is where they are in society, *this* is what they’re going to get. It doesn’t matter if the rape is portrayed as being a bad thing carried out by a villain, the point is the overwhelming *amount* of rape portrayed, to the point where you start to see it as normal.

    That’s how I feel about rape culture in the wider media towards women, and I don’t see any difference between that and how gay/trans men are being treated in our tiny pool of m/m.

    I don’t think that treating the victim sympathetically has anything to do with it. Lots of the rape in mainstream media is portrayed sympathetically to the female victim. The point is that it’s *constantly there*.

    I’m not into censorship. I’m aware many women have rape fantasies and I object to female sexuality being stifled or denied. I’m not saying people can’t write what they like. I don’t have any easy answers. But, as a woman, like all the rest of the women here, I know what it’s like to live in a world where you are constantly bombarded by the prospect and likelihood and inevitability of rape. And I can therefore imagine what sort of face m/m is currently presenting to the gay/bi/trans men who read it. And it is not a pleasant face.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I think basically ‘there are no easy answers’ sums this one up. Like you, I’m not a fan of telling people what they can and can’t write (or read for that matter) and, obviously there are people – including rape survivors – who find this sort of fiction to have value. As I said in the post, I can genuinely see why people might feel safer exploring these kind of issues in an m/m context.

      But, like you, I do worry about the potential for the normalisation of sexual violence against gay men, and I think also feel that sympathy for the victim is not really the make or break feature here – although, obviously, you can make a good case that a lack of sympathy would be worse – because, as you say, an awful lot of extremely problematic portrayals of rape, regardless of gender, invite sympathy for the victim. GoT is a good example here. It presents a lot of rape scenes in which it is clear that Bad People Are Doing A Bad Thing, but in which you’re also clearly – on some level – supposed to enjoy seeing an attractive woman naked.

      And, as you observe, while it is possible to have a fictionalised portrayal of rape that challenges rape culture, it is also extremely possible for them to reinforce it – again, regardless of gender, or who you’re supposed to think the bad guy is.

      So … yeah … complicated :/

  12. Sunita says:

    I hope you don’t mind if I comment; I don’t read your blog regularly but I followed a link a few days back and am very glad I did. I just wanted to say that I thought this was a terrific, important post. I don’t agree with everything in it, but I really appreciate getting an alternative perspective on m/m romance, especially on the noncon/dubcon issue, since most of the people I talk to about it are women. I’ve recommended quite a few m/m books to gay men friends, but rarely ones with these storylines.

    I agree that there is a long history of noncon/dubcon in m/f mainstream romance, but I’ve never seen it normalized there quite the way it has become normalized in m/m. For one thing, it’s generally dubcon (which in historical romance is usually called forced seduction), and if it’s noncon it doesn’t usually involve the hero. There’s a ton of noncon/dubcon in erotica, but if we limit the discussion to romance, that’s not the case. And here’s what I see as a crucial difference: in mainstream romance discussions there have been huge debates over the acceptability of dubcon in a romance novel. To Have and to Hold, for example, was deeply divisive from the time it came out.

    In m/m, by contrast, I just don’t see the same pushback. I see people saying YKINMK, but I don’t see a strong and sustained position that noncon/dubcon doesn’t belong in m/m romance. And I agree with you that as a proportion of the total output, it’s greater than it is in m/f. The normalization, and the idea that somehow it’s “different,” really bothers me. And while I’ll always defend the right of readers to read these types of stories, I don’t know how we can get around the fact that the distance that the male character and m/m relationship provides the reader means that gay men are being fetishized (and if the story is bought/sold, commodified) in a specific and problematic way.

    • Alexis Hall says:

      I don’t mind at all, thank you for commenting.

      I think I basically agree with everything you say here. Like you, I very much believe that it’s important that people feel able to write what they want to write, and read what they want to read, but I do have concerns about the visibility and comparative, err, mainstreamness of non-con/dub-con in m/m.

      In particular, I very much agree that there seems to be real a difference between the on-going debate over the role of non-con/dub-con/forced seduction in het romance, and the – for want of a better term – no holds barred attitude that seems to predominate in m/m. On reflection, I wonder if this isn’t partly a consequence of the difficult distinction / non-distinction between “m/m” and “gay romance” that I was discussing with Heidi above.

      To an extent, m/m as a label says a lot less about genre, and a lot more about who wrote, published or is expected to read the book. Or even, more simply, just means that the book contains a relationship between two men. So while in het there’s a fairly clear understanding that some books are supposed to be primarily about sex and exploring sexuality, and some are supposed to be about loving relationships (of which sex is often a part), and people are naturally (and for good reasons) resistant to the idea of non-consent as a function or feature of a loving relationship, in m/m it just sort of all blurs together.

      The question of fetishisation bothers me too, and while some people seem to feel it isn’t a thing, I kind of feel it is. Basically it’s a really complicated intersectionality between female desire, power and marginalisation, and queer identity, culture and marginalisation. And, as KJ Charles succinctly puts it above, there are no easy answers.
      But talking about it helps.

    • KJ Charles says:

      It’s the commodification that really bothers me. I will defend anyone’s right to their sexual nature to the death, I have no say in other people’s sexual fantasies, but… when you give it an ISBN and a barcode and a marketing plan and a sales target and a global distribution network, that’s not simply ‘my sexual desires’, that’s ‘my product in the marketplace’. Which is a different thing. And then you have editors asking for non-con, not because they want their writers to express themselves sexually, but because it sells, and writers who write it for no other reason than because it sells.

      And of course readers *buying* it because it hits their spots, helps them explore their feelings, etc, no matter the writer’s motive. So once again, there are no easy answers. But, as with the relentless commodification of female rape in mainstream media, I think it’s fair to question a profit-driven attitude to depictions of acts that humiliate and terrorise specific groups of people. And that’s very much a question for publishers, too.

      I mostly feel that I’d be a lot happier if all the noncon was happening in a separate genre – if you could actually search for m/m romance without being confronted with rape, if the two weren’t so conflated. And maybe, as the genre grows in size, that’s something we’ll come to, just as you have in het. Because I don’t think it’s dismissing people’s right to their desires to acknowledge that those desires can create a hostile atmosphere for other people, and to look for a means of coexistence.

      • KJ Charles says:

        Just to be clear, I’m not suggesting that all non-con writers are purely profit-driven. But looking at the prevalence of it, and the fact of editors actively soliciting it, some will be.

  13. mab_dii says:

    I stumbled onto this blog while tooling around for new authors to read in the m/m genre. I hope I’m not beating a dead horse or sticking my nose in (or performing any other unwelcome idiomatic faux pas) many months too late, but I can’t resist leaving a comment. I should say at the outset, if I sound argumentative, it’s really an argument I’ve been having with myself rather than aimed at anyone else’s views. It’s also a discussion I’ve been having with friends over on twitter for the last couple of years so I may be dredging up past disagreements.

    I spend a lot of time turning similar questions over because I read an obscene amount of slash fanfiction and m/m (or gay romance, or whatever folks want to call it), write a little. And, in my day job, my work is aimed at addressing sexual abuse in confinement (prisons, jails, juvenile detention, etc.). The prevalence of rape and dub-con in this genre that has so grabbed my attention is something I have been grappling with since I first started reading in it. I haven’t read het romance so I can only assume you’re correct that there is more rape and dub-con in m/m, or that it’s more mainstream in m/m. I’ve assumed this is true, and really, either way what I want to say holds true. Which is, I don’t believe it’s responsible for those of us who read and enjoy it to pretend that it isn’t at least in part about an unwillingness or inability to empathize with men as victims of sexual abuse. And I think it’s irresponsible to pretend that it isn’t dangerous.

    It’s clearly something a lot of readers enjoy, and I agree with previous comments that for at least many women readers it is fantasy and not unhealthy for them personally. Since I’m going to say what I’m going to say, it’s only fair to acknowledge that I actually read quite a bit of it–at least the dub-con, and at least in fanfiction. And, despite the fact I’ve just admitted I think about these issues all the time, I actually actively avoid dissecting what it is about my own psyche that is turned on by reading dub-con, and even on rare occasions, what is essentially rape. I’m not ashamed of it. I think, though, that it’s incredibly irresponsible to dismiss concerns about it even if the audience were only women. The audience is not only women. But really, we should all be concerned about it, especially when, as the previous commenter remarked, it is in the marketplace.

    So, to the actual point. Since I work with men and women (and boys and girls) in prisons and jails, one of the things that is obvious to me is that men are sexually victimized at nearly the same or possibly the same rate that women and girls are. And not only while incarcerated. Recent studies (in the US) suggest that boys by the time they are 18 have nearly the same likelihood of having been sexually abused that girls do. And LGBT youth are at significantly greater risk. In prison/jail, the risk of being sexually abused for LGBT people is TEN TIMES what it is for straight people. TEN TIMES. To put it bluntly, gay boys and men are targeted. So are lesbians, for that matter. There are complicated reasons for that, but one is the most obvious, which is that gay male bodies are sexualized and objectified in an all male institution, and lesbians are sexualized and objectified in an all female institution. And what do you hear? Well, ‘they want it.’ ‘It’s not really rape.’ ‘They asked for it.’ ‘They like it.’ We are kidding ourselves if we can’t acknowledge that these same stereotypes play themselves out in m/m fiction. Sometimes I think we get so esoteric in our dissection of these issues that we can’t see the performance of the basest stereotypes in the stories we’re reading. The hyper-sexualized male whose body wants it for him, even if he is thinking no.

    I don’t see why the fact that women are the largest segment of the audience makes this any less problematic. That assumes that women have no role in rape culture. It assumes women can’t rape men (boys, most often). It assumes that men who are victims are not also perpetrators. One of the things that strikes me as most troubling is that many of the people I’ve met who have committed serious sex offenses (I sometimes work with those prisoners too) were victimized themselves as children. The notion that victimizing men–even if only fictionally and for female pleasure–doesn’t have the power to hurt women is myopic. We can’t reject the hyper-sexualized female body, the wanton woman who wants it and maybe just doesn’t know it yet as dangerous and harmful and sit comfortably with the same stereotypes mapped onto male bodies, no matter how strong and muscular they are written, and not commit some of the same violence.

    I certainly won’t argue that the m/m genre has a great deal of influence over popular culture. The readership is relatively small. And perhaps not especially influential or powerful. But that can’t possibly excuse an unwillingness to problematize what we’re reading. I’m a woman. I’m a lesbian. Does that mean I’m absolved of the responsibility to pay attention to destructive stereotypes that might claw their way into my psyche? It certainly doesn’t absolve me of the responsibility to notice racism in the novels I read. So I hope it doesn’t absolve me of the responsibility to notice other harmful stereotypes.

    And didn’t I say that I read dub-con and enjoy it? I do. I have no interest in policing what’s written or read. I certainly am no one to judge other people’s fantasies, and I don’t need to rehash what has already been said but I do understand that for many women, reading rape and dub-con in a completely safe space that, maybe because it is about men, about other, doesn’t trigger trauma, feels good or productive or whatever else that isn’t destructive. But if part of the reason it isn’t triggering is because we are deadening our ability to see men as victims of sexual violence or we begin to go blind to the stereotypes that drive our enjoyment of these stories, we are actually doing harm, however small our genre’s influence may be. If we’re going to read and write this stuff we have an enormous responsibility to be honest about what is problematic…to examine what is problematic about it…to interrogate ourselves, to write and discuss and question it.

    I’ve had some disturbing moments of self-reflection after talking to men who have been victimized in prison, who were targeted because they were gay, who before they were sexually assaulted were subject to constant harassment, a kind of sexualized flirtation and objectification of their bodies in a manner that sounded faintly like the objectification of male bodies that I read and enjoy. And if I can’t see that and see the problem in that…well, I have a problem. I have no answers, but I’m incredibly grateful that you brought this up.

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