MM Romance writers and readers deserve my everlasting gratitude
What has literature ever done for you? It’s a question I’ve often had to think about, not just because literature was one of my majors at university, but because literature (a late version of storytelling) has always been an important part of humanity, our culture, how we develop, evolve, a mirror of who we are, what we can become, our potential. Some say that it is our writing down and passing down of stories that is the very speciality that humanity brings to the table, that which sets us aside from other animals.
Yet I’ve never had much reason to consciously think about what literature does for me, for my happiness, my life. Until recently, when someone questioned my right to attend MM (or M/M, if you prefer. I use MM since my SEO provider doesn’t accept the slash) Romance events “since clearly you neither write nor like such books.” That comment hurt, and I spent a sleepless night pondering about it. Yes, it is true that I don’t see myself as a writer of romance novels, even though my books always contain love and romance, but romance is never the driving force of my books, never the raison d’être of my stories. It’s also true that I no longer want to read romance novels for my pleasure. I wrote about the reasons why last week. I have, however, read loads of romance novels in the past, so I have a good knowledge of the genre.
But, and I think this needs to be said, once and for all:
- Just because I don’t want to read something (any more), doesn’t mean I don’t think others shouldn’t. It’s about my choices, my preference. I would never, ever, even dream of telling others what to do, what to read. It’s unfathomable.
- Just because I don’t want to read romance novels (any more), doesn’t mean they are worthless, or bad. I don’t read 99% of Nobel Prize winners, and clearly they are deemed to be the best of the best. It’s a choice of what I wish to entertain myself with during that little free time I have between my work, my parenting, my husband, my friends and sleep. Not more, not less.
In fact, I think that MM Romance (as well as FF and other forms of LGBT romance novels) are some of the most important books written in the world today, much more important than those who win Booker, Pulitzer or Nobel Prizes. Why? They literally save lives! And I don’t say this lightly, I’m dead serious!
Given that romance novels are written primarily for a female audience, by female authors, it does two things: it entertains, and it informs a very important group of people. Somehow, I find it extremely difficult to believe that people who read about gay men having sex and falling in love with each other, on their journey to their happily ever after, don’t at least tolerate such people in real life. Maybe after your first book you still might, but eventually, you’ll realize that we (the LGBT community) is just like you. I know this to be true. I’ve spoken to enough people who read LGBT books (romance or not) to realize that tens of thousands of (primarily) women and men have made this journey.
What does that mean? It means that these women make an interesting discovery: a) what it’s like to live in the closet, as many of them (initially) don’t tell anyone else about their reading preferences, and b) since most of them are also mothers, I would expect that they pass on their values to their families, more or less subtly. I know that many M/M romance readers are deeply religious, many come from extremely conservative and hateful backgrounds, and I’ve had tears threaten to breach my eye lids more than once upon hearing their stories. Many of the authors of MM romance novels are also very much involved in the LGBT community, too many to mention here, but most don’t have to on account of being LGBT themselves of having LGBT kids. They simply do so because they’re convinced it’s the right thing to do. And they all have my eternal gratitude.
So yes, the more people who read MM romance novels, the more lives we’ll save, the lives of the sons and daughters of these women, who may feel more comfortable in accepting who they are, and subsequently coming out into a loving home, but it’ll also save the lives of strangers. First of all, because these books are available to anyone to read, even closeted LGBT kids around the world.
Had it not been for all the straight women who read the genre, few publishers would ever touch the subject, because the market would simply not be there, but over time, we’ll also see attitudes change in our society, because the more people who read books about “us”, realize that we struggle with the same challenges as the rest of society, the less likely it will be that hateful politicians will be elected into office, that legislation that aims to discriminate against us has a chance to pass (from bathroom ordinances to “serve you” bills.) This is where countless lives will be saved, not just figuratively, but literally, every day.
Coming out, which takes place within us first, is a very dangerous time in any young person’s life, and we all, almost without exception, have (had) thoughts of suicide at some point during this process, which comes during a time of our life when we are vulnerable as it is. Realizing that you are different is difficult enough for any teen, no matter what it is, but realizing that you can’t do a thing to change yourself, no matter how hard you try, is incredibly difficult. Doing so in an environment that tells you that you’re a “sinner”, “evil”, “a freak” and what not, is devastating, life threatening. Unless you’ve been through it, I doubt you can ever fathom just how difficult it is (which is why closeted MM Romance readers learn a very valuable lesson, even though theirs is a choice.)
But MM Romance does more, and that is another important aspect I think people tend to forget: it opens doors to other kinds of LGBT books. I think we all tire eventually of reading the same book over and over. Yes, characters change, settings change, but the plot remains the same. I know this because I’ve read so many of those books. I came to the point when I wanted more, something else, and just as I do, so do many other readers, hence we have historical novels, sci-fi novels, fantasy novels, shifter, vampire and other paranormal novels. It is why BDSM has become a “thing” etc. But it also enables authors such as myself and many others to write books who are not “pure” romance novels, books that may not be huge commercially, but who are picked up by publishers nonetheless, because just like readers, publishers want variety, too, they want to offer their readers different kinds of experiences, based on the commercial viability of MM romance. Without those books, most of those publishers wouldn’t exist, and our books would never see the light of day.
Finally, and I almost forgot this, MM Romance novels provide positive examples to young LGBT kids. Not just the dismal “here’s your future” that we saw in early gay fiction (Isherwood, Mann et al), but happy endings, love, romance, hope. And if those LGBT kids then move on to other fiction in the LGBT area, great. But at least they have literally thousands of books to choose from, books that didn’t exist a decade or so ago, didn’t exist when I was young and would’ve needed them!
It’s odd when you’re accused of dissing a genre that is the very basis of what I do. I’ve read hundreds of MM romance books, but now I’m done. And just as others move on to other books, so do I. I have that right, and nobody gets to question my personal reading choices.
So thank you! Thank you to all the men and women who write LGBT and MM romance novels, be it for young adults, be it erotica, be it whatever. For every new reader, for every new fan you pull into our world, my kind (Christopher’s kind) is served, helped. How could I not think that to be a great thing?
So yes, I will continue to attend MM romance events, because the people there are my friends, they are my family, they are my kind. These events are about inclusion, not exclusion. These events are about love, not hatred. I will continue to sponsor such events, to volunteer at such events, and I look forward to meeting new people and maybe a couple new readers.
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Have a wonderful week.