There was a time in my romance writing career when sex, meaning S-E-X as spelled out by my publishing advice gurus, was something to be treated with the delicate, featherlight touch of a flower about to drop all of its petals. No more. Writers playing on today’s field, even in the mainstream, are now challenged to write sex with the same daring, unabashed curiosity as the readers who turn their pages. Graphic close-ups of The Deed? Check. Assorted naughty toys? Check. Multiple partners? Check, Check. Bondage? Yeah, baby. And alternate lifestyles—Hooya!
Bodice-rippers may have been regular staples on women’s bookshelves for forever and a day, but the past few years have seen some remarkable changes in the amount and type of sexuality portrayed in romance novels. I don’t believe this is because women (the primary readers of romance and erotic romance) have experienced a sudden, group personality shift, but rather that the publishing world is finally catching up with the sexual power revolution that began somewhere way back in the burn-your-bra era. With today’s instant digital downloads, those freewheelin’, adventurous readers have access to a much larger variety of erotic exploits to explore. (Say that three times fast.) And many are taking plenty advantage of that fact.
All that said, enter the phenomenon of gay male romance. I’ll admit that as recently as four years ago, I would never have imagined I’d be interested in reading ManLove, let alone writing any myself. Don’t get me wrong—I have always had a “Go, Team!” attitude about men falling in love (or wanton lust) with each other. It simply had nothing to do with me, so it was out of my ability to grasp why I should have any personal fascination with it. I might still have that attitude today if I hadn’t been taken to school quite thoroughly on the subject, not as a reader or even a writer, but as an editor.
“In the end, my eyes were forever opened to just how undeniably hot the M/M genre was, and my attitude instantly shifted from ‘Go, Team!’ to, ‘God, when can I read more of that?'”
My “teacher” about ManLove was, as it happens, a gay male author who sent some erotic work my way. It was my job at the time to review any and all submissions, something that had little to do with my personal reading preferences. As such, I was frequently exposed to themes I would never have thought to seek out myself (and occasionally, concepts that I still run from in abject terror).
I sat down with that manuscript, which was a paranormal tale involving vampires and ancient Egyptian lore, and took a deep breath to steel myself. I dove into my first M/M book fully prepared to do no more than My Duty as a submissions editor. All I can say is, I was completely blown away by the end of the first chapter. The professional, yet perfunctory read-through I had expected soon had me captivated. Riveted. Utterly enamored, even. As the romance between men unfolded, I became fully absorbed and intrigued by the passion and intensity of their erotic encounters. In the end, my eyes were forever opened to just how undeniably hot the M/M genre was, and my attitude instantly shifted from “Go, Team!” to, “God, when can I read more of that?”
Since then, I’ve joked with the author that the day his manuscript hit my desk was the day I discovered that while reading about one sexy man in love is great, reading about two is even better. And that, I think, might just well be where the real crux of ManLove’s appeal lies.
Now, I do still thoroughly enjoy (and write plenty of) good romps involving men seducing women and vice versa, whether or not other males are involved. But sometimes it’s nice to ask heroines to step out of the spotlight for a while and let me focus on the way two males relate to each other as lovers, both in the bedroom and out. Men in love are unique creatures, occasionally investigated in the mainstream but still not played out nearly well enough to satisfy my lust for the subject. Did I say lust? I meant detached, purely clinical interest.
“In any case, I credit my “accidental” exposure to M/M romance for expanding not only my reading pantheon, but in pushing my boundaries as a romance author as well.”
Yeah, I didn’t buy it, either.
Anyway, it has been said by psychologists that while one may be more dominant than the other, both male and female traits lie within us all. For us women, who comprise the majority of the romance/erotic romance audience, perhaps we find our best and most thorough exploration of all things fictional male when we (temporarily) ditch the female. Sure, there are plenty of other genres out there that have a much higher focus on Nothing But Manly Men, but that’s not the point! It’s about the romance, baby, that crazy, topsy-turvy part of our lives when everything else dims and our very axis revolves around that breathtaking, overwhelming sensation. And how better to examine all the angles (in various connotations) of the male animal in love than to have multiple specimens going through it at the same-place-same-time?
Or maybe I just like seeing double (or more) the muscles glistening and flexing as they are taken through some naughty paces.
In any case, I credit my “accidental” exposure to M/M romance for expanding not only my reading pantheon, but in pushing my boundaries as a romance author as well. It took little time for me to step outside of reading ManLove solely as part of my job, but a lot longer to get brave enough to try writing some on my own. Once I did, however, writing M/M put me in closer touch with the Y chromosome within, something that has informed the way I write all of my heroes now regardless of their orientation. Still, the more ManLove I write, the more concepts I come up with to explore. It’s a trend that may come and go like so many others have in the publishing industry over the years, but there’s still so much we have to learn from it that I don’t see it going away anytime soon. So many hot, delicious men, so little time…
By J. Rose Allister