the jossing of m/m

I do apologise for the long run of posts all about the m/m genre.  It’s just I’m trying to process its … existence, I think, and my place in it. Or if I have one, or am meant to have one. I’ll go back to talking potatoes any day now.

This is a belated reaction to an interesting post by Kate Sherwood called “Any Lawful Impediment: Conflict in Romance (especially m/m).” Its central thesis, with which I broadly agree, is that a significant challenge for a romance writer is to present obstacles to the protagonists’ relationship which could be reasonably be diagnosed as requiring exactly one novel’s worth of action to overcome. She goes on to point out that, in a lot of m/m, homophobia fits the bill perfectly, but as society has become more tolerant and more accepting, it has become less and less plausible as a source of conflict (at least in contemps).

This is usually the bit when I say “where I disagree is…” but, actually, in this case I’m not sure I have a specific point of disagreement. I just think there are some ideas in the post that bear exploring in greater depth. In particular, I’d like to talk about the different sorts of conflict that keep couples apart in a romance novel, and the ways in which homophobia can fulfil the functions of those different sorts of conflict. And finally, I want to talk about how its ability to fulfil those functions changes as society becomes more tolerant.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Broadly speaking, I think you can define the obstacles or conflicts in a romance novel as either intrinsic (inherent in the characters) or extrinsic (inherent in the world). I don’t want to over-generalise, but I think often the sub-genres (paranormals, romantic suspense, historicals, and so on) tend towards extrinsic conflicts (he’s a vampire/she’s a werewolf, people are trying to kill them, he’s a lord/she’s a match girl) while contemps have a tendency to focus more on intrinsic conflicts. Contemp m/m is unusual in this regard in that homophobia often represents a source of extrinsic conflict and, to an extent, it’s one of the few sources of extrinsic conflict you can get away with in a contemporary romance set in a western, liberal democracy.

Both sources of conflict are easy to mishandle, although I think extrinsic conflict is more suitable to a broad brush style of storytelling. I think, strangely, the biggest pitfall of extrinsic conflicts is that they’ll often take the form of social taboos or, in some cases, actual laws or professional ethics guidelines, and there’s quite a good chance that a proportion of your readers will actually agree with the taboo that the characters are breaking. This is exactly the problem Kate had with The Only One Who Knows. If you want to write about a forbidden relationship, then you basically have two options: you either write about a social taboo that negligibly few members of your audience are going to agree with (like, nineteenth century social mores, or – assuming an m/m sympathetic readership – homophobia) or else you deliberately confront the reader with a relationship that has legitimate and potentially insurmountable barriers (psychologist/client, teacher/pupil, incest).

I think it’s this specific function of homophobia-as-conflict that is becoming less plausible in m/m. Obviously, there are a great many cultures and subcultures worldwide where being gay is still a massive taboo, but in a relatively cosmopolitan city in the industrialised, liberal west, a same-sex relationship is much less likely to face explicit, externally imposed obstacles than it was twenty years ago. And, interestingly, it occurs to me that part of the issue here is that the default setting for books actually tends to be quite limited even within relatively prosperous, English-speaking countries in the west. The vast majority of books set in modern England are set in London, not Newcastle, or Truro. It’s probably true that if you are a middle class university student or white collar worker in London or New York then you’re comparative unlikely to face the kind of explicit homophobia that makes a good source of extrinsic conflict. But that becomes much less true if you move away from the financial and cultural capitals. I think homophobia actually remains quite a strong source of extrinsic conflict in stories set in more traditionally conservative areas.

I still feel, however, that homophobia or internalised homophobia remains a very strong source of intrinsic conflict, but the challenges of intrinsic conflict are very different to those of extrinsic conflict.  Extrinsic conflict goes wrong either because it’s ludicrously improbable, or because it genuinely seems legit. Intrinsic conflict goes wrong for much more subtle reasons that all add up to a lack of emotional plausibility. The baseline problem with internalised homophobia as a source of intrinsic conflict is that it’s very, very easy for it feel one-note and stereotypical: “I hate myself because I am gay.” “But I wuv you.” “I don’t hate myself because I’m gay anymore.” I think I would argue that, in order for homosexuality or homophobia on its own to be an emotional satisfying source of intrinsic conflict, it has to be grounded in a nuanced understanding of queer identity and experience.  Which, I should stress, is not monolithic. And, indeed, I would suggest that an easy way to mishandle homosexuality as a source of intrinsic conflict is to assume that it is monolithic. That is, to assume that everyone’s angst about being gay is basically the same.

Weirdly and, this is no way to related to genre-romance, the best example I can think of to illustrate what I’m trying to say is Cyrus Beene from the TV show Scandal. No-one he interacts with is in any way homophobic towards him – even the really right wing Texan guy whose name I can’t remember – and he’s not in any way angsty about being gay qua being gay. But, because he lives in a society that is still, in fact, deeply heteronormative, being gay has circumscribed his ambitions, and shaped his life in a profound, and very personal, way. To put it another way, his arc is about him as a character, and being gay is part of that, but the important thing is that it remains a story about a man who is gay, not a story about a gay man.

This sort of intrinsic conflict isn’t going away any time soon. It’s probably worth remembering that we’re only just at the point where same-sex relationships are starting to get full de jure equality with opposite-sex relationships. This is to queer rights roughly what universal suffrage is to feminism. And, obviously, de jure equality does close down some plotlines and eliminate some sources of (extrinsic) conflict. Gay men no longer at risk of execution and, if you wanted that be plot point, you’d have to set your book in the past (although not that long in the past) and, to extend the women’s rights analogy, if you wanted to write a het romance between an MP and a suffragette you would, again, have to set it in a time before women got the vote.  But the fact that same-sex couples can get married in a lot of countries now clearly doesn’t mean that same-sex relationships are seen as equivalent to opposite-sex relationships by all, or even most people. Any more than getting the vote meant that women were immediately seen as fully equal to men in all areas.

Same-sex relationships still face challenges that opposite-sex relationships don’t. Most of those challenges are no longer based in law and many of them are no longer based on socially mandated, systematic discrimination, but all that means is that prejudice is less overt, not that it has gone away. For example, it’s basically illegal in England to fire someone for being gay. But I was reading an article in the Times Education Supplement only a few months ago about a guy who’d been applying for a Head of Department job at a posh private school and one of the things he’d been asked at interview was “would you wife be willing to help at school functions?” to which he, of course, had to reply that he was sure his husband would. He did not get the job.

This is a very different kind of conflict because it is a sort of incessant, low key, grinding down. It’s being persistently reminded that when the world talks about loving, romantic relationships – or, indeed, marriages – they aren’t really talking about yours. I can see why that’s a much harder thing to turn into a dynamic, powerful conflict in a romance novel, but I think that’s its own problem. Extrinsic conflict provided by explicit homophobia is very easy to invest in. It provides a hero to root for and a clearly defined villain to defeat. Quiet, more everyday forms of homophobia or heteronormativity are comparatively invisible, and as a result they aren’t something the reader can set themselves up in opposition to. Institutionalised prejudice is not a compelling bad guy, and can’t be solved over the course of a three hundred page novel.

Of course, the other side of the coin here is that whether homosexuality and homophobia remain viable of sources of conflict or not, there’s also the question of whether it’s desirable for them to be the main source of conflict in a large proportion of m/m novels. Realism aside, society aside, progress aside, sometimes I just want to read a book with a gay protagonist where the thing that gets in the way of his relationship is that he’s a vampire, and he fancies a werewolf, or that space zombies are trying to kill him. Throughout this post, I’ve argued quite strongly that the experience of homophobia remains a reality for the vast majority of queer people but it’s important to remember that it isn’t an inherent and inalienable part of queer identity and queer experience. And, even though any contemporary romance is necessarily set in a heteronormative society, a book with gay protagonists doesn’t have to be about homophobia (intrinsic or extrinsic) any more than a book where the protagonist is a doctor has to be about medical ethics.

This clearly doesn’t mean medical ethics don’t exist, or that they’re no longer a potential source of narrative conflict, just that there’s more than one story to tell about doctors.

musing

24 Responses to the jossing of m/m

  1. Kaetrin says:

    I’m actually quite interested in reading stories about queer people facing the everyday heteronormativity and homophobia because I’m the type of person who needs to see/work with examples of things to really take them in I think. So, I can know something intellectually but when I read about a character dealing with it in fiction, it becomes real to me in a different way, kind of like a vicarious experience. And I think I really don’t know a lot about this sort of thing and I think if I want to change it, even in a small way, I first have to understand it better and/or recognise what it actually IS.

    That said, I also want to read about a variety of characters and conflicts, queer or straight – I’d be bored if all my books were about the same thing.

    • Anne says:

      Kaetrin, you said–** I’m the type of person who needs to see/work with examples of things to really take them in I think. So, I can know something intellectually but when I read about a character dealing with it in fiction, it becomes real to me in a different way, kind of like a vicarious experience. And I think I really don’t know a lot about this sort of thing and I think if I want to change it, even in a small way, I first have to understand it better and/or recognize what it actually IS.**

      YES. THIS. Me too!! and honestly there are so many, too many, walks of life that I simply have no real world experience with, that I NEED to read about them and vicariously experience them on an emotional level to even begin to understand and empathize and accept them as just fine, and not scary, or bizarre or forbidden. Books have h

      • Anne says:

        cut off my last sentence…sigh. Anywho… Alexis, I would like to see a broader scope of primary conflict employed now that I have read several stories with that as the couples’ main hurdle to overcome and feel I at least understand the type fear and grief homophobia would bring to a same sex couple enough to imagine and empathize, and reading those stories opened my eyes and my mind in a way I ‘m not sure much else would have. So they certainly serve a purpose, but, yes, I’d like to see authors move on past that and just give me good stories where the couple are just people and their main conflicts in coming together and staying there are just the emotional and personality type that anyone can identify with wether talking about gay or straight, black, tan, white, male or female.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          I’m kind of conflicted on this one. Because, on the one hand, I very much want to read normalising queer stories that are just about people.

          But, since homophobia is a real thing, it becomes kind of politically troubling to me when it becomes reduced solely to a narrative device, particularly when it becomes a deprecated narrative device.

          I think there is a tendency in m/m to treat homophobia in quite broad strokes, when in reality its more subtle and varied and insidious.

          Again, I’m not saying I want all stories to be about this … but currently we have a slightly odd situation where a great many stories use homophobia as a plot device, but very few of them explore it in depth.

          • Susan says:

            Read Josh Lanyon’s Everything I Know. A man loses his job over a careless comment. It is that subtle homophobia, and no one would say outright what the actual cause of the firing was.

          • Alexis Hall says:

            Sorry for the slow reply – I must have missed this. Thank you for the rec, it’s on my TBR 🙂

      • Kaetrin says:

        I should also have said that it’s not the *only* reason I’d like to read those types of stories. I primarily read for entertainment – when a book helps my social awareness that’s an added bonus. As soon as someone tells me I need to read this book because it will improve my mind I lose interest. LOL

    • Alexis Hall says:

      The thing is, there are books out there, about exactly this sort of thing … just not necessarily in m/m. Although, again, you might be not be guaranteed a happy ending, and I know that’s a dealbreaker for you 🙂

      I also want to read about a variety of characters, and situations, and conflicts. I hate the idea that queer books have to be about homophobia all the time because it reduces a wide diverse of experiences to one. And, honestly, you don’t always want to be sending out the message “you will be oppressed and your life will be shit” to young, queer people. Or to anyone for that matter.

      I think part of the great potential of the romance genre is its ability to explore the diversity of love, and the reality of its different forms and expressions.

      • Kaetrin says:

        Well, I only rarely take a walk out of romance – for a little bit of non fiction or a biography or maybe a science-fiction book (in which latter case I will still require a happy ending, just not necessarily a romantic one). But basically, I entirely agree with you.

        I had concerns about the post at DA. I think it was more in the way it was phrased than anything. I didn’t like seeing the real life difficulties that queer people go through being denigrated to a mere plot device – andI expressed that disquiet in the OP.

  2. Pam/Peejakers says:

    Wow, I was gonna say I saw what time you tweeted about this & ask if you stayed up all night writing it – But now I’m, um, almost as bad just writing a dang comment! And – you made me look up a word again. *Sigh* Happens at least once every time you post ;-D “Jossing”? Then I still didn’t quite get the context until after I went over & read Kate Sherwood’s post too : Ohhh – OK, got it now . . .

    Anyway, interesting post, Alexis, as is the one by Kate Sherwood that prompted you to write this. And no need to apologize! These are important questions you’ve been wrestling with, for readers as well as writers in the m/m genre. And this IS your blog, that’s what you’re supposed to do here, right, work through your thoughts & write about what’s on your mind? 🙂 Besides, then we get the benefit of your thoughts on a given subject in processing our own. It’s all good 😉 Oh, & hey, as June is LGBT Pride month, now seems an appropriate time to talk about this sort of thing!

    This is actually a subject that has crossed my mind more than a few times as the law & social attitudes toward same sex relationships (in many countries at least) become more & more enlightened & progressive. Wondering how it will change the m/m genre down the road, as things (hopefully) continue to improve. I guess it’s kind of in the “nice problems to have” category, but still something to think about, particularly if you’re writing it.

    I was thinking it could challenge some writers to dig deeper into their characters psyches for sources of conflict maybe, not always just go for the biggest, most obvious external source. Then again, I guess anyone who wants to could just switch to some other big, obvious, external conflict, or as you say, set the story in the past. But even when there is extrinsic (love that word!) conflict for the characters to react against, whether it’s homophobia or something else, I personally prefer that to be more of a catalyst that sets off the characters intrinsic conflicts, like one big unpredictable chemical reaction. Because that’s the way it we are in real life . . .

    Another thing I’ve been thinking is that as same sex relationships become more accepted & normalized within society, the degree to which anyone reads m/m strictly for the “taboo aspect” will decline accordingly. It’s going to take a while to get there, but it seems like the kind of thing that will, um, sort the wheat from the chaff, so to speak, with regard to m/m readership.

    OK, you can go back to talking potatoes whenever you’re ready. Oh, but before I go – what’s all this nonsense about “if” you have a place or are meant to have a place in m/m?!! You’d better have a place, buster! OK, well, only if you want to, I mean 😛 Just don’t go anywhere, please! You just write more lovely words, about whatever you makes you happy: As long as we can find ’em & read ’em & we’ll be good;-*

    • Alexis Hall says:

      It does strike me a little bit ironic to be discussing the consequences of greater normalisation of same-sex relationships on the m/m sub-genre when, I would argue, the existence of m/m as sub-genre is itself a symptom of the lack of normalisation of same-sex relationships.

      In a sense, I think the big shift we’re likely to see is towards homophobia-as-conflict requiring more explicit justification. I’ve been thinking about this for the last couple of days, and it strikes me that Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner is quite a good example here. The entire premise of the film is that it is intrinsically culturally taboo for a black man to be seeing a white woman, which means the film needs to make no effort at all to establish that as a source of conflict. On the contrary, it needs to do quite a lot of work to convince the audience that the relationship is valid.

      If you were to re-make that film today, you wouldn’t be able to rely on the audience automatically being shocked by the fact you were portraying an interracial relationship on the screen. It doesn’t mean racism has gone away, or that it’s no longer possible to write a movie about an interracial relationships where the fact that the relationship is interracial is a central source of conflict. It’s just you have to contextualise it a lot more.

      In a similar way, I think what we might see a lot less of in m/m is books that can take as read that the mere fact the protagonists are the same sex represents a potentially insurmountable obstacle to their relationship. It doesn’t mean that homophobia will cease to be a valid source of conflict, just that writers will have to do more work to establish why it’s a valid source of conflict.

  3. sofia says:

    Hi Alexis

    Great points mentioned in your post.

    What touches me most is writing that considers the human being as a whole not in parts, you know, man, woman, worker, gay, straight. All facets of human life effect the whole ‘joy’ of being human. Exploring how this happens is fascinating.

    Ciao
    Sofia

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Yes, I very much agree. As I touched on in some other comments, I think what we’ll have to see more of as society becomes more accepting of same-sex relationships is stories in which homophobia is a part of a more detailed and psychologically plausible intrinsic conflict. Rather than taken for granted as the reason a couple can’t be together.

  4. Allie says:

    That is a very clear and enlightening post: thank you. I agree that books which treat gay characters as just human would be a good thing, as would books which reference the more subtle discriminations and exclusions which persist.

    I thought another book by L A Witt, Conduct Unbecoming, was a better example than The Only One Who Knows of external conflict created by the officer/enlisted taboo – the two main characters met out of uniform and were in different branches of the military (so no direct work consequences) and found out about the taboo only after beginning a relationship.

    Truro has a Pride Parade these days, you know – reported in the local paper and all. And a significant number of m/m books have been set in Cornwall (none in Truro that I know of) as well as m/f romances aimed at holiday readers. On the whole, I think English m/m seems pretty good on geographical specificities whereas much USA stuff is disappointingly generic on location (I do love a book where I can Google Earth the locations).

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Gosh, I didn’t mean to defame Truro. 🙂

      Obviously I was speaking quite broadly but I have genuinely found that attitudes differ quite significantly as you move about the country. I’ve been to places where I get shit for wearing a hat in the street.

      I took my examples pretty wholesale from Kate’s original post. I wasn’t particularly criticising the books themselves, just pointing out the potential pitfalls of having characters who violate social taboos that members are of your audience won’t necessarily disagree with.

  5. John says:

    This. So much this.

    I think m/m has some interesting uses as a subgenre – in how it can serve to both Other the gay man but also involves women writing men’s stories vs. men writing women’s stories, though I’m not quite sure if the latter has been explored much and if it’s something people would even care to explore. But that’s for another time. Regardless, the usage of homophobia and queerness has always been an issue for me in m/m, even when written by male authors.

    Reliance on external conflict in contemporaries certainly makes homophobia an “easy target” for the writer that often becomes overblown, melodramatic, and overly stereotyped into a few broad categories of scenarios. It’s hardly ever depicted as an internal conflict that is often based within the heteronormative society and also consistently encounters microagressions because of said society. That call for conflict all too often makes it seem like authors scramble to find something “realistic” and pick homophobia because it does happen.

    The lack of nuance with it just pisses me off. And it also pisses me off because it seems like homophobia is the go-to conflict in the average gay m/m relationship, and that our reality as queer people is one that inherently lives in tragic conflict as opposed to everyday human conflict. Homophobia/coming out/etc. often seem to be fetishized in ways that compound on the tragic elements rather than making them feel honest and real. I see it both in male and female written m/m, too. It’s much like the “gay for you” trope that I dislike in that the dramatic/tragic/angst needs seem to override the needs to deal with the issue in a way that is more realistic, and thus perhaps more low-key.

    I also would just like more m/m that’s light, less about the angst and more about the small issues coupled with the overall joys of a romance. Because I occasionally like to laugh while thinking of men sexing other men. 😛

    • Alexis Hall says:

      This back at you.

      Also men sexing men is a terribly serious issue. What is this laughter that you speak of?

      I think one of the interesting things about m/m, and which you sort of bring up here, is that some of the broader issues that affect the genre can’t necessarily ascribed to the gender of the author.

      I think you raise a very good point about the fetishisation of homosexuality and coming out, which I think can actually be traced to society in general, and ironically to liberal society in particular. I think liberal western society likes to define its minorities quite clearly and so there’s sort of a set of prescribed qualities of gayness which are almost taught in schools. And, basically, it’s homophobia, coming out, HIV, very oblique references to anal sex, and nothing else. That’s sort of what we teach our children that being gay means.

      And there’s very little room in the popular consciousness for stories that move beyond or outside that.

      To pick a random example, the classic coming out story is that you don’t admit you’re gay, and then you “come out” which is something you do sort of once, usually to your parents, and then suddenly you’re “out” and everyone knows you’re gay by magic, and is okay with it. For a lot of people, that just isn’t how it works. Because, if nothing else, most people you meet will still assume you’re heterosexual, unless you’re actively engaged in socially-prescribed gay activity.

      • Kaetrin says:

        As my buddy Sean Kennedy says, coming out, is a process, not an event. It’s repeated time and time again, not just once and it’s done.

  6. Hope it’s okay if I pop in to the conversation (although when I’m done here I want to go read more about potatoes – growing, or eating? Or something else entirely?!? I’m intrigued.)

    I like some of the nuance you’ve added, and agree with it. It occurred to me after writing the original post that my solutions for people who want to write m/m with homophobia as the main source of conflict were too limited. I think I suggested writing historicals, or setting the book in an alternate universe of some sort… but as comments there and in your post point out, we could just as easily take the story to many alternate locations in our own world, places where gay rights are still horribly absent.

    Hmmm… that would be an interesting story! If an established western couple travelled to Uganda or somewhere, and had to deal with the external homophobia there, and maybe the pressure activated some existing fault lines within the relationship! Hard to turn it into a traditional romance, but it could be a cool story!

    And of course I agree with you that there is still homophobia in western society, and lots of “grinding down” to suffer through. I think, though, that using this as the central source of conflict isn’t ENOUGH for a traditional romance, if that makes sense. There’s that tension required by a good romance, where there’s nearly overwhelming reasons for the couple to stay apart, balanced against the nearly overwhelming need for them to be together… if we weaken the reasons to stay apart down to “grinding down”, then for the tension to still be there we’d have to weaken the passion that drives them to be together. Not an exciting book!

    So, absolutely, we shouldn’t ignore modern western homophobia in our contemporary novels. I just don’t think we should use it as the central conflict in the book, at least not as often as we seem to.

    And now… potatoes!

    • Alexis Hall says:

      Of course, thank you for the comment. I would have commented on your original piece but I realised I had too much to say. I think you covered a lot ground in your original post, so I just wanted to pick up on some of it, because it kind of interests me.

      I think we might be talking past each other very slightly. I absolutely agree that the simple fact that the protagonists are both men probably shouldn’t represent the sum total of the conflict, if only because that, in itself, is quite othering. But at the same time I think the fact of living in what is still quite a homophobic society (even in the industrialised west, even in the twenty-first century) is an important part of the psychological realism of a same-sex relationship in fiction.

      Now, I don’t always want my relationships to be psychologically realistic, and I’m more than happy to read books with same-sex couples in which the central conflict is he’s a spy/he’s a foreign agent, or even he wants children/he doesn’t (although that’s kind of an edge case, since obviously raising children as a same-sex couple in a homophobic society presents its own issues) but I’m struggling slightly with the idea that a character who can’t overcome the very real and very damaging social pressures that still exist in our society is somehow insufficiently passionate.

      And I think this partly comes down to a broader question about what is and what isn’t romantic but I don’t think the emotions in a romance necessarily have to be turned up to eleven to be effective. I know some people like, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t lessen the value of quieter, and more down-to-earth stories.

      • I hear what you’re saying. And I agree, I think we’re 95% on the same page and just exploring that last 5%.

        I think I DO expect my romances to be a bit larger-than-life – not necessarily spies and assassins, but certainly not “I don’t want to be with him because it will limit my employment prospects and there will be places we won’t be allowed to feel comfortable and….” … and lots of other things. I don’t mean to diminish these issues at all, they’re just not what I want in a romance.

        In real life, I’m full of sympathy for people who have to work through all that, and I’m frustrated and angry on their behalf. Life is hard enough, and nobody needs extra bullshit thrown their way because of someone else’s prejudices. Absolutely.

        And I’ve probably read books where this is all the conflict the characters need, but I’ve also read far too many which seem to make homophobia, as John says, overblown and melodramatic. I think the books I’ve read and enjoyed with this source of conflict have tended toward lit fic than romance novels.

        I think part of the problem, for me, comes from the third element I mentioned in my original post, the part where things need to be satisfactorily resolved at the end of the story. If the author has somehow made the homophobia powerful enough to be the main factor keeping two people apart, how does the author then RESOLVE the homophobia enough to allow the two to be together? I think too often there’s a personification of the conflict, an abusive father or horrible boss or whatever else who is ‘defeated’ in some way, and then the problem is solved!

        Which is obviously a pretty simplistic and somehow diminishing treatment of the issue. The truth is, the happy couples in our m/m romances are going to have more, or at least different, challenges going forward than the happy couples at the end of a het romance. Societal homophobia isn’t going to go away, so if that was the main thing keeping them apart in the first place, I’m not sure I can believe in their happy ending.

        (I’m a pretty big fan of internal conflict in romance, especially in contemporaries, so possibly this is my bias towards most sources of external conflict coming through. I think MOST of them can seem a bit cartoonish unless handled by a master, not just this one.)

        Anyway, as you may have guessed from the way I’ve been jumping all over your blog, I love the way you think and write, and I’m really enjoying your ideas on all this. I’m just playing with the details, not challenging the core.

        • Alexis Hall says:

          No, I basically think we’re on the same page as well. And I think your points are entirely legitimate. What you want to read about in romance comes down to personal preference, and that’s totally okay. I think my personal preference, when it comes to contemps anyway, goes the other way, in that I prefer slightly more low key stories (I hesitate to use the word realistic, because it seems like a needless value judgement). But, honestly, I would totally dig an m/m romance, or a het romance for that matter, where the protagonists were concerned about their employment prospects or their level of social comfort 🙂

          I think I also agree with you about the potential for mishandling of homophobia as a romance trope. I think that anything becomes a “go-to” regardless of sexuality or sub-genre is inherently likely to start to ring false after a while.

          And I agree about the difficulties in “defeating” homophobia. As I said in the post above, the reality of homophobia is invidious, persistent and omni-present, so confronting your homophobic boss/dad/friend doesn’t really help. I think, for me, the key to resolving homophobia-as-conflict is for the characters to find in themselves a way to function within a homophobia society. Obviously that’s a much more small scale “victory” (if you can call it that) but I think if it was done well, I could easily invest in and believe in a couple of found a way to navigate this sort of thing together.

          Also I should have said earlier, thank you for the original post – I thought it raised some really important issues 🙂

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