M/F and my writings, Part 2

I'm bumping to the top of the blog this interesting discussion between Tharyn and me about m/f in m/m fiction, in case anyone else wants to add their two cents. A warning that our earlier discussion, and my latest reply below, includes spoilers for the already-published stories in The Eternal Dungeon.


Tharyn, I've spent the past week trying to figure out where I broke down in my communication in my earlier reply to you. You could tell me better than I can - and I hope you will - but I suspect that it was due to the fact that I linked to Mr. Voinov's post (where he was talking about bi fiction in relation to censorship), and perhaps also my use of the phrase "reserve the right," which I'd intended in a light-hearted fashion (I use it similarly here). Together these two things must have left you with the impression that I was offended by your comment and felt myself under attack by you.

Not in the least. I took your post to be exactly what you say it was: you explaining why you, personally, prefer not to mix m/m and m/f. And since you had said you didn't understand why some m/m writers included m/f, I was trying to respond by explaining some of the reasons why I, personally, don't mind mixing m/m and m/f.

I don't think that my personal literary tastes in any way cancel out your personal literary tastes, or vice versa, and I'm very sorry that I left you with that impression. It's as you say: "No book covers the reading taste of every reader, and if I as a reader don't like something I read another book."

You said elsewhere in your latest replies:

"I did made the experience that authors tend to be very aggressive at this topic when they are bi"

Really? That's interesting. This is actually the first time in my life I've discussed, in more than a passing fashion, the topic of m/f in m/m stories (as far as I can recall). It never came up before as a major topic with any other m/m readers I've talked to. For that matter, the topic of my own biness (which is biromantic these days) comes up, oh, once in a blue moon, which is why you didn't know about it. I think the last time I alluded to it at this blog (in an extremely subtle manner) was four years ago, when I wrote this:


I've tended to be rather shy about discussing with other people my sexual orientation (and gender identity; I'm genderqueer). Partly this is because I was raised that way, and partly it's because I don't want people to be saying, "Oh, so *that's* why Dusk Peterson said . . ." Which you did in your latest replies to me, so I'm guessing that it would be wise for me to return to my earlier policy of not mentioning my sexual orientation to other people unless they directly ask me about it.

At any rate, I apologize for confusing the discussion by mentioning my personal life. I really should have stuck to discussing literature.

"Mr. Sobel was, at least for me, 100% heterosexual"

This is a matter largely of reader interpretation, since I don't say much about Mr. Sobel's sexuality. However, here's the background I had in mind when I created him:

Mr. Sobel followed the traditional pattern in Yclau of having an m/m relationship with a man when he was an underage teen, then marrying a woman later in life. (If he'd been following the full traditional pattern, he would also have had an m/m relationship with a teen when he was in his twenties, before marriage, but by then he was absorbed in his work at the Eternal Dungeon.) Elsdon mentions this in "Death Watch" when he says, "I asked Seward to tell me what I needed to know. He said he hadn't slept with a man since he was a year or so younger than me [i.e. about seventeen], but he passed on what he remembered."

This custom is also mentioned in "On Guard":

* * *

It was true enough that Yclau's archaic laws prevented men from sleeping with anyone over the age of eighteen, unless their bed-partner was their wife. The Seekers – imprisoned eternally in a dungeon with virtually no underage youths and with no recourse to marriage – had gone their own way in such matters, as in many others. There had been tension in the early years of the Eternal Dungeon, Barrett had heard, when the Code of Seeking began to deviate from civil law, but the Queen at that time had dealt with the matter by enshrining in Yclau law the Seekers' right to create their own laws, provided that those laws were not exercised outside the dungeon.

And so, in the Eternal Dungeon, full-grown men slept with full-grown men, a fact that had shocked Barrett when he first arrived only because such affairs were openly spoken of here. In the lighted world, the old laws against men sleeping with men were routinely broken, but in a covert manner. "I spent the night in bed with my boy," one of Barrett's friends in the army had once said with a wink, and everyone around him had understood that his "boy" was the middle-aged civilian man he spent time with. Here in the Eternal Dungeon, no such coded messages were needed, for the Queen's laws did not extend this far.

* * *

In the "lighted world" of Yclau, the traditional man/youth relationship (which wasn't always sexual, as will be mentioned in my next Eternal Dungeon story) has begun to die away too. In "Death Watch" there's this passage:

"It did not help that Mr. Daniels was of the new way of thinking in such matters, believing that it was wrong for any man to take a male love-mate unless his partner was of equal rank and age. Layle had been raised to believe otherwise."

All this world-building is very subtle and in the background, so I wouldn't have expected you to remember it. But I do drop occasional hints throughout the Toughs cycle that bisexuality is considered the societal norm (though the bisexuality takes different patterns in each of the nations). Throughout the Midcoast nations of the Toughs world, an exclusive preference for either men or women is considered odd - hence Mr. Chapman's slightly apologetic air about his own exclusive interest in women.

In light of what you say in your latest comment, I should add that none of this was intended as a political statement on my part. I was simply trying to create an alternate universe in which our own world's various forms of classical (bi)sexuality had extended into modern times.

Where my own biness comes in (because of course I agree with you that being bi doesn't necessarily mean one wants to read or write about bi relationships) is that I think it would have been much harder for me to imagine such a world if my own leanings had been exclusively fixed toward either men or women, rather than divided 50/50 between those two genders. As it is, a society where bisexuality is the norm just seems normal to me, so that aspect of world-building has been a cinch for me.

"Nearly every mainstream book has straight couples and very few gay characters and often even sex."

I can remember those bad old days, when I squeed every time I discovered some minor character who was gay. But I began reading slash in 2002, and since then, I've had, if anything, an overabundence of m/m in my life. I couldn't possibly read all the m/m stories I want to - there aren't enough hours in my life.

What I still lack (on my personal reading list) are stories in which both m/m and m/f appear. As you say, mainstream stories rarely bring in gay characters. And m/m stories rarely bring in major heterosexual characters, except in a token fashion. And *neither* genre brings in many bi characters (or trans characters, as you mention). So my reading matter is 99% exclusively het major characters or exclusively gay major characters. I could do with a few more stories where there's a range of sexualities among the major characters, and where, if only a single het character (or a single gay or bi or trans character) is brought into the story, he or she isn't there in a token fashion. I have grown so, so tired of reading m/m stories in which the het female is brought in just to provide sympathy/lectures to the gay couple, as though she has no life of her own.

"Theoretically I understand the discussion the include more of the rainbow, that we need more Bis, Trans* etc. . . . but I often think it is a fight which should take place in the mainstream genre not in a niche-genre."

By "niche genre," I assume you mean m/m romance? As opposed to m/m science fiction, m/m historical fiction, etc.?

I've read a lot of m/m romance stories - a *lot* by now - but I actually prefer other types of m/m-gay fiction, especially original slash fiction, such as "The Administration." You understand the distinction I'm making? What makes "The Administration" original slash (m/m) is the fact that Toreth and Warrick's relationship is central to the series, but what makes the series science fiction (rather than genre romance) is that there are other important things going on in the series aside from Toreth and Warrick's relationship. The Administration's treatment of its citizens, and the various crimes that Toreth is trying to solve, are just as important to the storyline as his relationship with Warrick, which is why Manna can go chasing after those alternative storylines without doing violence to the series. Similarly, in M. Chandler's "Shadow of the Templar," the crimes being solved and the friendships between the FBI team members are just as important as the protagonists' relationship. Likewise, Maculategiraffe's "The Slave Breakers" and Rolf and Ranger's "Falls Chance Ranch" and Mary Renault's historical novels all have major plotlines that stand alongside the m/m plotlines. And in "The Eternal Dungeon" . . .

Well, you see the comparison I'm making, I hope. I didn't write any of my series (m/m or m/f) as genre romance, though they all have prominent love plotlines. I wrote the m/m series as gay speculative fiction - or to be more precise, as original slash.

While there's a very heavy overlap between the two genres, I read slash stories with different expectations than I read m/m genre romance. When reading m/m romance, I expect that the plotline of two men having a romance will be of overarching importance, and that the story will end happily-ever-after or happily-for-now. I don't necessarily expect that with a slash story. It frequently happens - a lot of slash is genre romance - but not always. And as I say, my personal literary tastes are tilted toward "plotty" series where lots of different storylines are taking pride of place, not just a romance plotline.

Even when reading genre romance, I prefer romance stories with strong subplots unrelated to the main pairing's romance. For example, I'm currently rereading Mary Stewart's m/f romantic suspense stories, which I've adored since I discovered them as a teen. The blurb of the American edition of her first novel says, "There is a fine love affair [in the novel], but as one English writer remarked, 'For once love interest doesn't hold up the story.'"

Exactly. So when Mary Stewart included an f/f couple in an important subplot in her third novel (though, sadly, she described their relationship in a homophobic manner; she was writing in the 1950s), I didn't blink an eye, even though I don't seek out f/f stories. The f/f didn't bother me because, when I read genre romance, I seek out stories where there's more going on than just the central romance.

Our literary tastes seem to overlap here, because you say, "It is fully fine to me, that [the protagonists] have a heterosexual background, like woman, had woman and still find them attractive."

But then you go on to say:

"What I don't like is to see the actual action: Sex . . ."

Even before I became asexual, I had a greater tendency than most m/m readers to skip sex scenes in m/m stories, because (1) most of them weren't to my taste, and (2) most of them didn't advance the story/characterization/theme in any way. (M/F sex scenes I can't read at all, for personal reasons.) Because of that, I find it difficult to understand why readers who dislike sex scenes (or particular types of sex scenes) don't simply skip over those scenes. It's generally quite possible to do this without missing anything important.

(Well, except in my stories. I don't include sex scenes unless they advance the story/characterization/theme.)

". . . and a relationship."

Ah, well, that's a different matter. I do recognize that not all m/m readers also read m/f - and vice versa - which is why I place any major m/f plotlines in separate stories from major m/m plotlines. So, in "Deception," the m/m relationship is a subplot rather than the main plot, and in "A Prisoner Has Need," the m/f relationship is a subplot rather than the main plot.

But having major m/f relationships in the same series as major m/m relationships? I'm totally fine with doing that. I do realize I'll lose a few exclusively m/f readers and exclusively m/m readers along the way--

But not you, obviously. Thank you for your patience with my personal literary tastes!


June 2018



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