While I have come to enjoy all of the many and varied LGBTQIA+ romance stories I’ve sought out since I shed my self-imposed romance reading boundaries, I tend to gravitate often to romance featuring men loving men. Given the vast quantity of publications featuring all kinds of other pairings, I confess I have a long way to go in terms of what I would consider a suitable representative sample of the subgenre, from stories featuring Ace characters to trans characters to M/F pairings with one or more queer protagonist. LGBTQIA+ romance is much more than M/M or F/F or the various combinations of throuple. I acknowledge that right up front. We all have to start somewhere, I guess.
Anyway, I expect I’m drawn more to M/M romance than to F/F romance because typically in M/F romance I tend to zero in on the hero’s emotional journey. I’m sure this has to do with the acculturation that I’ve experienced, and it might not be great, but we can unpack that another day. The point is, I like heroes in general, but here are some specific points that also draw me to read M/M romance:
- We can throw gender roles out the window. This is true of any same-sex pairing, I suppose, and is not specific to M/M. I don’t need to spend brain energy on whether the author is feeding into traditional gender roles or flipping them on their head. Who’s older? Who’s taller? Who’s the breadwinner? Who’s cooking and cleaning? Who’s driving? Doesn’t matter! I’m not emotionally invested in any of that one way or the other. Yes, there are some aspects of the subculture that come into play, but they’re not something that’s been implanted into my brain as either “normal” or “something to fight” for my whole life, so I don’t have an internalized, predetermined reaction to them when I see them on the page.
- M/M romance tends to circumvent many standard hero behaviors and tropes. When I reviewed my reading to identify heroes with domineering behaviors, I found that, in most of the M/M books I read, neither of the partners exhibited much domineering hero behavior. Of course, this isn’t always the case – the Arden St. Ives trilogy is definitely a billionaire romance (with some extra emotional oomph), for example – but if you’re tired of heroes who are constantly swaggering, M/M romance can totally work for you. On the other hand, if you’re tired of heroes being called cinnamon rolls just for treating a woman with basic consideration, that also tends not to be a problem in these books.
- There aren’t heroines fighting things. I don’t waste energy, annoyed by yet another heroine who demonstrates she’s different and feminist and special by being terrible at needlework and music. Or a heroine who felt like she needed to focus on her career and sideline love to be successful. You know what? I love needlework, and I’m good at it. I married my high school sweetheart and also built a successful career that was not secondary to my spouse’s. I get that many women feel social pressure to get life right and be strong and independent, but I don’t feel seen when the majority of heroines are written to represent these things in a very specific way. And once I feel like it’s the default, I can’t get into the “seeing a different perspective” headspace either. I need to leave all that behind sometimes.
- If I’m paying attention, and I choose Own Voices books (in this case, M/M books written by men who engage in M/M relationships) – which I try to do – I get to read a perspective and a life that I’m completely incapable of experiencing. It’s not the same as reading non-fiction or attending lectures or the like, but it’s something that can make me think about a life experience different than my own, and it’s something that can be a springboard for me to learn about things I never knew about before. And, because it’s romance, I don’t have to worry about being miserable at the end.
Anyway, I say all this with the understanding that there’s an ongoing conversation about who is writing and consuming M/M romance, and it’s important to understand how M/M romance is fetishized. It’s definitely something to be conscious of, so if you want to dip your toe in and test the waters, make sure you’re looking for a book that doesn’t promote erasure by simply catering to cis/het/white lady homoerotic fantasies. There are some women who write beautiful, thoughtful M/M romance (look at Holly gushing about K.J. Charles, for example), but since I started delving into this sub-genre, I have found many Own Voices authors who shouldn’t be sidelined by (cis/het) women appropriating their stories. When we focus on who is telling the story, and what story that author is trying to tell and to whom, we can weed out some of the clutter and find beautiful, uplifting love stories that readily stand on their own merits.