Sexuality and Same-Sex Romance: Placeholders, Power Dynamics, and the P-word

A guest post by romantic suspense author Jill Sorenson

Assuming that most romance readers aren’t familiar with all of the terms above, I’ll start with a few definitions.

  1. Same-sex romance.  In addition to the ever-popular m/m (male/male), there is also a little-known subgenre called f/f (female/female).  Same-sex romance doesn’t necessarily mean gay romance.  It refers to a sexual relationship or sexual contact/experimentation between two characters of the same sex.  These characters may or may not identify as gay or bisexual.  F/f and m/m romances are often written by straight authors.
  2. Gay or LGBT (lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender) romance, on the other hand, is usually written by gay or LGBT authors.  The characters identify or “come out” as LGBT.  Some authors of gay romance dislike having their books labeled m/m or f/f.
  3. Straight romance, aka heterosexual romance or m/f (male/female).
  4. Placeholders.  I believe this term was coined by Laura Kinsale.  It’s a theory about the reader’s identification with a character.  Many m/f readers “take the place of the heroine” and fall in love with the hero, for example.
  5. Sexual politics.  Macmillan defines this as “differences in the amount of power men and women have in a society or group.” Some readers are turned off by the sexual politics in m/f romance.  Or are they just turned off by the “weaker sex”?  M/m gets a lot more credit than f/f for having an equal power dynamic.
  6. The P-word.  It’s pussy, people.  This one makes so many female readers uncomfortable, I’m almost afraid to use it!

My inspiration for this blog post was a feeling of frustration towards m/m “purists” who express negative attitudes about straight romance and women.  Not all m/m readers hold these views, but there are those who think m/f romance is lame and sexist.  Others don’t want girl cooties in their smokin-hot manlove.  They certainly aren’t interested in reading about two women.

Because I write straight romance, I read f/f romance, and I’m a woman, I take offense.  In some ways, m/m seems like a rejection of female sexuality, an erasure of women.

But my self-righteous indignation is just an initial reaction.  Romance readers can be sensitive.  I get emotional.  You know how it is.  This post isn’t actually about male vs. female or “us vs. them.”  My agenda isn’t to shame m/m fans or rally around f/f.  It’s an attempt to understand why we read what we read and like what we like.

Let’s begin with placeholders.  Earlier this year, I read an interesting comment at Smart Bitches from a reader who only buys books with blond heroines, because she’s blond, and she likes to imagine herself in the heroine’s place.  This is an extreme example of place-holding, no?  Maybe it’s even “replacing.” I’ve also seen some Bitchy ads in the sidebar that feature middle-aged women fantasizing about getting it on with romance novel heroes.

Although I think the placeholder theory has merit, I don’t take my reading engagement that far.  I’ve never pictured my real-life self in the book, shoving the fictional heroine aside.  I don’t want to paste my face over hers, if that makes sense.  But I am inside her head, inhabiting her space and feeling her emotions, not just passively watching the action.  I am becoming her, rather than replacing her.  I can also slip into the role of hero, and especially enjoy sex scenes from the male perspective.

Not everyone experiences romance novels the same way I do, of course.  Obviously, there are various levels of engagement.  It may depend on the book, the reader, the situation, the sexual pairing—any number of variables.  The variable I’m most interested in is the reader’s relationship with her sexuality.

M/m creates a sexual space that’s difficult for me to get into.  I feel more like a voyeur than a participant, one step removed.  Part of this may be my unfamiliarity with the subgenre, or my general disinterest in two guys having sex.  I can also understand why some gay people feel objectified by this “eroticization of the Other.” Not that my reading of f/f sex is any less offensive, ideologically, but it feels more innocent because of my ability to lose myself in the story and connect with the characters.

For other women, the sexual space in m/m feels totally natural.  In a fantastic thread stemming from Robin/Janet’s thought-provoking piece on ethical responsibilities beyond the book, author Heidi Cullinan said:

    “Sexual identity is so hard to define. I can’t tell you why I am so at home in m/m, but I am. I’ve had it explained that this is some sort of psychology, or something, about how it’s my way of accessing my inner male, or how I wish I were male—honestly? I don’t know. I just know that I love it. Somehow it does feel like it’s about my sexual identity, but I can’t explain it. I am intellectually (and yes, often physically) attracted to gay men.”

It follows logic that some women find it easier to identify with gay men, sexually.  They aren’t just attracted to men, but attracted to the fantasy aspect of being a man, having a man’s strength and sexual power.  This is an odd concept for me because I’ve never felt that way. I love being a woman. I like sex scenes from the hero’s POV in m/f romance because I relish his enjoyment of the heroine, not because I’d fancy having a penis instead of a vagina.

But I can’t assume that all women, gay or straight, embrace femininity the way I do.  I’ve heard that some lesbians love m/m.  Say what?  Here’s a comment from another interesting thread about the differences between straight and LGBT romance at Babbling About Books:

    “It’s worth noting that a lot of GLBT sex is similar to straight sex in limited ways. It’s not as simple as one person penetrating another. If what every straight couple wants most in the bedroom is different, queer couples differ even more dramatically from each other. Just from an f/f standpoint, stone butches, often those who present as most masculine and would seem simplest to slot into the m part of the m/f trope, are so uncomfortable with their female body and experiencing female pleasure that they would rather their lover fellate a strap-on than give them direct stimulation.”  –Thursday

When I saw the above comment, I thought of a puzzling scene I’d just read in a lesbian romance.  One of the heroines wore masculine clothing and lived as a man.  She used a strap-on during sex and reacted with arousal when her lover caressed it.  I didn’t understand what could possibly be pleasurable about donning a fake penis or having it touched.  But now I get it.

Sexuality is more complicated than liking men vs. liking women.  It’s also about which sexual parts we identify with, and they may or may not match our biological parts.

I have another theory, on the opposite end of the placeholder spectrum: some readers actively seek out characters that are not like them.  They are different from the blond reader who only reads blond heroines.  Rather than inserting themselves into the novel, they want to visualize or “become” someone else.

I can understand the fantasy aspect of this tendency.  Although I have to identify with a character in order to inhabit his or her space, it feels more comfortable for me to become someone else.  I rarely make an appearance in my own fantasies, in fact.  It’s one of the reasons I started writing romance.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve created characters in my mind and imagined them making love.  To each other, not to me.

Is part of the popularity of m/m the anti-placeholder?  If it’s impossible for the reader to imagine herself in the scene, taking the man’s place, does the fantasy become sharper and more pleasurable?  A pure escape, not grounded in reality or spoiled by any of the reader’s real-life experiences, separate from the reader’s sense of self?

As an aside, I don’t mean “escape” or “fantasy” in a negative way at all.  I see these as healthy, important facets of the romance genre.  Feel free to disagree!

On to sexual politics.  Many m/m readers enjoy the lack of traditional gender roles in a romance “between equals.”

At RRR Jessica’s, I read the following comment, which I believe was made by m/m aficionada Dr. Sarah Franz.  “F/f romance doesn’t work to dispel power dynamics the way m/m does because readers are women.”

My initial reaction to this statement wasn’t positive.  It sounded like another diss on f/f, very similar to the constant criticism of all romance as “for/about women (therefore lacking value).”  Then I read it again, and realized I’d misunderstood. Now I think it means that women have been historically oppressed by men.  When we write and read about two hot guys doing it for the female gaze, it’s like taking a piece of that power back.

I still don’t know if I get this power dynamic thing, or agree with the concept that m/m “does it better.”  I do know that m/m celebrates men, and I like men.  I like open-minded readers and rainbow coalitions.  But when penis = power, are m/m writers really subverting stereotypes by championing male sexuality?

Maybe m/m isn’t pro-feminist, or even gay-affirmative in some cases, but I’ve read many comments from readers who say the subgenre has changed their views about sexuality.  They are more accepting of differences and knowledgeable about the gay experience.  This is a good thing, and I think it happens when character portrayals are authentic.  I know I’ve gained a wider perspective from reading f/f.

Which brings me to my last point.  Again, I can thank m/m readers for bringing the issue to my attention.  Why do we have such a serious aversion to the word “pussy”?

M/f authors also discuss this troublesome dilemma, on Twitter and everywhere else.  Flowery euphemisms are out, clinical terms a turn-off.  There is no “perfect word” for female genitalia. We bemoan the fact that guys get all the sexy slang terms, like cock.

The words for lady parts are so unappealing they make some readers sick.  Several m/m authors claim it’s the reason they write about men.

Oddly enough, I’ve never heard anyone complain that there’s no sexy word for anus.  Authors can’t wrap their minds around “moist channel,” but they’re hot for “rear entrance”?  What is that about?  Why are we so comfortable with cock, and uncomfortable with cunt?

Well, I’ll tell you, fine reader!  I think it’s the actual parts, rather than the representative terms, we react negatively to. I, for one, like pussy.  I’ve used it in sex scenes.  It doesn’t freak me out.  I’m not offended by cunt, unless you’re calling me one.  I can appreciate female parts just as much as male parts.  I like sexy words.

I’m not trying to tell authors what to like, or which words to use.  But I do think we devalue female sexuality when we shy away from descriptions of female genitalia.  If moist channel doesn’t get your juices flowing (ha), choose something else.  Make up new words.  Be creative.  Find your own way.

Or…write about hot man-on-man love. Just don’t do it because you hate girl cooties.

Thanks so much for reading!  Comments welcome.

Questions:

Do you have the placeholder experience while reading, or are you more of a voyeur?  Does the sexual pairing (m/m, m/f, etc.) make a difference in your engagement with the text or your enjoyment of love scenes?

How are power dynamics different in same-sex romance?  What appeals to you about m/m or f/f romance?  What turns you off?

Which slang terms do you like or dislike?

Related articles:

37 responses

  1. Does the sexual pairing (m/m, m/f, etc.) make a difference in your engagement with the text or your enjoyment of love scenes?

    No. Sometimes I’m in the mood for a particular type, but usually it doesn’t matter much to me, so long as the characters interest me.

    What appeals to you about m/m or f/f romance?

    One of the main appeals for me of m/m and f/f, particularly in science fiction or fantasy, is that those stories can demonstrate what could be, and can give us new ways to think about sex in our society. Those stories can present images of change.

    M/m and f/f in general: anyone – heterosexual or homosexual or otherwise – needs to find themselves in, be validated by, fiction. Our society is made up of stories. It’s better that we have a variety of them, just like we have a variety of people. Seeing inside of others and learning to empathize with them is part of being human.

    …I apologize if that sounds a bit preachy. I don’t know what came over me!

    Which slang terms do you like or dislike?

    I absolutely hate “a dance as old as time.” *shudder*

    I’ve used both “pussy” and “cunt” in my erotica. A lot of people have expressed their discomfort with my use of those terms. I use them because if I, a woman, can’t use them, who can? And if we let only men use those terms, as insults, what does that do to women in our society?

    Like

  2. Writing m/m for me is not about penis=power, nor the erasure of women. I think the intriguing aspect of m/m is more that penis=vulnerability. Men are often such a mystery to me. I write them to get under their skins (not just sexually :D) and understand their relationships and their humanity. To understand my male characters’ strengths and weaknesses, and expose their hearts and their ability to fall as deeply and hopelessly in love as women do.

    I like f/f, too, but don’t read as much of it, maybe because, being a woman, I’m not as intrigued by female relationships. F/f has its own interesting power dynamics and the f/f of equals appeals to me as does the equality inherent in a lot of m/m. F/f appeals to me more than m/f, again partly because m/f relationships I understand best. Familiarity breeds less fascination, I think.:)

    There is no erasure of women in m/m as I see it, because I don’t see the characters as an isolated pairing, but as two human beings developing a relationship amidst friends, family, and the wider world–and throwing complex female characters into the mix is necessary if you want to create an appealing and believable story setting.

    I don’t often respond to discussions, despite writing in this genre, but I enjoyed your post and thought you tackled the whole issue in such a fair, straightforward way. I like your honesty about your uncertainty in regard to some issues.
    I’m still figuring out why I write what I write, so I understand how you feel.

    Like

  3. Do you have the placeholder experience while reading, or are you more of a voyeur? Does the sexual pairing (m/m, m/f, etc.) make a difference in your engagement with the text or your enjoyment of love scenes?

    I don’t do place holder per se, but I need to feel some connection to the characters. In m/f, if I don’t connect to the female, I can be OK if the hero is someone I can get into. However, If the hero is an ass, then I tend to identify more with the heroine if she’s a good person. If the heroine is TSTL, then I might loose respect for the hero for liking her.

    In sex scenes though, I definitely identify with the heroine.

    How are power dynamics different in same-sex romance? What appeals to you about m/m or f/f romance? What turns you off?

    I think in both m/f and f/f I like when one character is seduced by the other. In m/f of course, I like the male to seduce the female. But in f/f it gets a bit tricky because often one female is given male qualities instead of just having one be more dominant than the other in personality or situation.

    Lately, I only read f/f. I prefer it I think because the dynamics between two women are different for me as a straight woman, but I can still identify with one or both. I read m/m, but I really don’t identify with any of the characters so it’s not as much a turn on for me. The m/m that I have enjoyed is more yaoi in which you get that feminine male with a dominant male thing going.

    I do get a bit frustrated with some lesbian or f/f when it gets too egalitarian. Women like to share their feelings and talk and talk and in some lesbian written by lesbians that can go on and on and get really boring.

    My favorite f/f is one in which a straight woman or inexperienced lesbian identified woman is seduced by someone more experienced. In this way there is a power differential without the stronger female having to come across as a man.

    I also prefer reading f/f sex over m/m mainly because again, I prefer to be the seduced. In f/f I can identify with the seduced and receiver as is natural to me. And f/f sex I get. I know what that feels like.

    In m/m sexual scenes, I don’t really identify with either party. I don’t have a penis, I don’t know what it’s like to have one sucked or to penetrate someone’s butt, so I’m more of a voyeur in m/m, which means I’m less engaged in the characters.

    I pretty much stopped reading m/f because it’s boring and I know it. I’ve lived it and for escape I prefer not to read typical m/f dynamics.

    Which slang terms do you like or dislike?

    I like them all. I like pussy, cunt, cock.

    I think you have something though when it comes to slang. I think women feel uncomfortable with pussy or cunt because in some ways those terms do diminish and degrade women so they don’t want to look at it on those terms. But I also think that many women have an aversion to their own sexual bits, which we are taught and brainwashed over and over are dirty and smelly.

    I don’t get that really. For me, my female bits give me lots of pleasure. Why would I have an aversion to them? The men I’ve been with have loved it. I’ve never had any complaints, nor have I ever heard a man bitch about any woman’s pussy or cunt. They all love them. So why do women have all this squickyness around it?

    Like

  4. Thanks so much for having me, Jessica! I’m thrilled that you found my scribblings post-worthy at RRR. :)

    @Victoria Janssen: Preach on, Victoria. I like your take on the variety of stories and validation through fiction. And I totally agree with you about the sometimes-offensive slang. If we can’t, who can? indeed.

    @Mara: Thanks so much for the thoughtful comment. I feel the same way about my male characters–men seem less complex but are still so intriguing. I’m smiling and nodding at the part about men falling in love just as deeply as women. The differences between the sexes are endlessly fascinating for me, which is one of the reasons I love m/f, actually.

    Glad you liked the post.

    Like

  5. Wow, I am so impressed with this thoughtful article. There is so much good stuff to think about in here! I find your idea that our discomfort with terms like cunt and pussy stem from discomfort with the actual body part to be very intriguing. Now I’m trying to imagine…I think it must be true. Or some cultural conditioning toward that? Which I guess is the same thing. This article makes me want to get over that. I want to fearlessly root that oppressive conditioning out of myself!!!

    Though, re; oppression, since gays have been traditionally oppressed by heterosexuals, I do not see reading M/M as women taking back power, or at least I’ve never felt that working in me like that personally.

    As far as placeholders, my thought on that is that most fiction in general involves tension and relief, which is a universal sort of meta-trope that is just easy to relate to. Good gets rewarded, the jerk who cuts you off in traffic is nailed by the cops, the question is answered, and sexual longing is satisfied and everybody’s happy.

    A strong, well-written buildup of tension on behalf of any character, no matter the gender or orientation, connects me to that character and makes me feel an analogous tension and relief, as a reader, and on behalf of the character, but I don’t put myself in that character’s place.

    That said, I think a really strong and wickedly prolonged buildup will push me into a placeholder position (example: when Anita Blake FINALLY had sex with Jean Claude in that bathtub in book FIVE or whatever. LOL. I was like, OMG, hurry! finally!). There have been transportive scenes like that, but it’s story based, not gender based. It could be any coupling, any pov.

    Like

  6. @LVLM: I think one of the things I like best in m/f is a subtle power struggle, in which there is a back and forth between the characters. If the hero is always stronger, smarter, or on top, I feel frustrated. I like a bit of girl power in my m/f. I like a female seductress and a reluctant or conflicted hero. The all-alpha all the time mate-mate-mate isn’t for me.

    How does that translate into f/f? I’m not sure. I don’t think I’ve read enough to decide. Again, a balance sounds nice. I want both heroines to have strengths, but not for one to “be like a man” if that makes sense.

    Like

  7. Hey! I’m still busy thinking about the “good life.” Now you hit me with this? Good thing I don’t have to prep classes this fall.

    Embarrassingly, Jill, my first thought was “OMG, someone who fantasizes like me!” (I feel weird saying this). My fantasies are “stories” and none (or all) of the people are me or anyone else “real.” And I slide from one point of view to another. I like to think I get more fantasy bang for my buck thanks to this polymorphous perversity. (Now I wonder if this is more common for women than for men).

    Anyhow, that’s the way I am as a reader, too. I don’t need to identify with any character, certainly not in a placeholder way. I need to understand them, see them as consistent and believable, but not as “like me.” There are moments where I feel flashes, or more, of kinship with a character, but I’m interested in getting that person, not hogging their place. So gender doesn’t matter to me that way. From conversation with my students, though, I think a lot of readers are not like this; they want to identify and to do that need to see the character as “like me,” if not to the blonde heroines only extent.

    I’m not sure how I think this relates to the m/m vs. f/f thing, though. I don’t think romance is porn for women. But I’ve seen women say that they prefer to watch gay (male) porn, because it focuses on male bodies, which is what attracts them. I think the preference for m/m over f/f probably has something to do with this. On the other hand, studies suggest that women (gay and straight) react physically to ALL kinds of porn much more than men do (gay men pretty much only get off to gay porn). Our desires are more fluid. So . . . maybe it’s about getting your body, heart, and mind to line up? There are things I react to physically that, intellectually or emotionally, I have trouble with.

    I’d like to see people deal with the often traditional/retrograde/unequal sexual politics of m/f romance by diversifying it, not by “escaping” to m/m. [That doesn't mean I think m/m is bad, just that I do see this as a kind of "girl cooties" argument]. The power dynamics in real straight relationships I know are varied and complex, and I think that this is truer in m/f romance than most people who use this argument for m/m acknowledge, although there is a long way to go.

    Re. slang. The thing is, cunt is used as an insult. Cock isn’t. So I’m uncomfortable with it (though like the idea of reclaiming it). Pussy is used to insult men, not women, so it bothers me less. (Dick bothers me for the same reason–it’s an insult, plus boys used it when I was a kid, so it seems babyish).

    This is all so complicated.

    Like

  8. I admit I put myself in as Eve as I read the In Death series. used to do that when I read Anita Blake.

    People should just write what they want and see where it goes.

    It’s so hard to decide what appeals for me because as long as the story is interesting and with characters I can bond with, I don’t care if it’s MM, FF or MF.

    Like

  9. How does that translate into f/f? I’m not sure.

    Maybe it doesn’t really. Maybe m/f, f/f, and m/m just can’t be translated into the same things.

    I know we all keep having these discussions and I’ve often wondered why I prefer f/f over m/f and m/m. I think there’s probably no easy answer. They are all just a bit different.

    Maybe it just all boils down to lizard brain preferences and attractions that can’t be figured out why.

    I really have no idea why I’m attracted to reading f/f over m/f and m/m at this point. That could change and probably will. I think my reasons change as well over time.

    In the beginning reading f/f was about illicit titillation. It was taboo for me. Now, it’s not the case, but something different that I can’t put my finger on. So even trying to answer your questions I felt conflicted on trying to pinpoint why they are all different.

    But you wrote an interesting post and put your thoughts about it in a clear way. : )

    Like

  10. Pingback: Tweets that mention Sexuality and Same-Sex Romance: Placeholders, Power Dynamics, and the P-word « Read React Review -- Topsy.com

  11. I’m mostly reading m/m (along with some gay fiction) these days. I have been known to say “no girl cooties”, but primarily as a sort of shorthand within a group of people also reading m/m near-exclusively.

    I can’t say anything about the power balances or dynamics in f/f fiction, because f/f hasn’t appealed to me so far. A lot of why m/m appeals to me has to do with being sexually attracted to men and not to women. But part of it is also because in m/f romance, I’ve tended to be able to identify with the m and not the f. More than one guy I’ve dated has called me a very unfemale female…

    And, randomly, I tend not to identify at the placeholder level – I’m not substituting myself into the story.

    Like

  12. “Why do we have such a serious aversion to the word “pussy”? ”

    Because it reeks of really nasty male-authored porn to me. It reminds me of demeaning and ugly imagery and ideas about women. It’s a stupid word for a cunt, which is a much better word. I like cunt, like I like fuck. It’s a wonderful, multipurpose word. I also like vagina. I don’t find ‘rear entrance’ sexy or appealing at all.

    This was easily the most offensive piece (or rather the comments were) about ‘girl cooties’ in m/m and I couldn’t disagree more with the sentiments expressed there. Unfortunately those sentiments dominate. I had trouble selling my first pro m/m (Interstitial) because of a prominent female character, and I didn’t even bother subbing the sequel to Samhain since I knew a strong het subplot would deter most m/m readers – or at least, that would be the perception. Drives me nuts, that kind of logic.

    But at the same time, I don’t want to read f/f (or m/f) particularly – and I really dislike those f/f proponents who claim their love of the genre makes them better feminists than the rest of us, because it doesn’t. I don’t want to read or write m/f or f/f because I live in a world dominated by gender imbalance, of sexism, misogyny, and het and f/f stories don’t allow me to avoid that. Perversely, writing about two men in a relationship is my way of escaping the patriarchy, because I can immerse myself in a fantasy where gender imbalance is erased, where male privilege is what I say it is, and where the men are forced by my authorly hand to treat women as equals. I can then also include strong female characters without feeling invested in them to the same degree. And to be honest, my relationships with women have always been far more problematic than those with men because no one can stick the shiv into you like someone who knows you and your weak points very well. Women are crabs in a barrel, and I’m sure you’ve seen that in action in the Romance genre.

    I find when I try to write a female dominated story, that it arouses such strong and negative emotions in me, that the very act of writing becomes a trigger for a depressive episode. Now you can say that’s a flaw in me, but I can’t really help it. Writing m/m means working on my feelings towards women and male oppression in a way that’s safe and manageable. And as Mara says above, it’s also because writing about men, and trying to understand them, make them vulnerable and open emotionally, is fascinating. At the same time, it makes me feel powerful over them. I am in control, and I make the rules.

    So for me personally, m/m is a pro-feminist act. It’s not a particularly powerful form of GLBT activism, though done right and in a respectful, non-appropriative fashion, it can act as a formal of normalisation – people get to see what was formerly considered shocking or perverted, treated as utterly normal and routine, and stop being so horrified by it. That’s another attractive aspect of it, but it’s not the primary reason I read or write it.

    Can I also just say I am bored to tears with the constant refrain that women only read or write m/m because it’s a sexual turn on. There are as many reasons to read and write any genre as there are readers and writers, so I get very cranky when people presume to speak for me, or anyone but themselves on the subject.

    Congratulations on creating a wank-free discussion, Jill! I don’t agree with all your points, but considering how much more offensively I’ve seen those points made elsewhere, you’ve done well :)

    Like

  13. Why do we have such a serious aversion to the word “pussy”?

    It makes me think of cats, and “cock” makes me think of cockerels, (which in the US would be “roosters” I think). But when I read about heroes wandering around in their pants, it makes me think they’re walking about in their underclothes, so for me it’s just another US/UK English difference. Maybe other people from the UK are more used to “pussy” referring to women’s genitals, though.

    men seem less complex but are still so intriguing. I’m smiling and nodding at the part about men falling in love just as deeply as women. The differences between the sexes are endlessly fascinating for me, which is one of the reasons I love m/f, actually.

    The real men I know are just as varied as the women I know, and I find most people complex if I think about their personalities for long enough. That said, some of the heroes in American romances make me wonder if American men are more likely to behave in more stereotypically “masculine” ways than British men, and similarly some American heroines make me wonder if American women are more likely to behave in much more gender-specific ways than British women. It’s difficult to pin down precise examples of the kinds of things that make me wonder about it, though, and it’s not as though I know a randomly selected cross-section of the UK population, so my circle of friends and acquaintances may not be representative of the UK population as a whole. I’m also aware that fiction is not the same as real life, so I don’t want to draw conclusions about Americans on the basis of having read about fictional American characters.

    Like

  14. This is a great post Jill. You’ve managed to articulate ideas that have floated around in my head over the years in a confused way. I’m definitely a placeholder reader. I enjoy m/m writing in the way I enjoy any writing (ie it has to have a good story, characters etc), but I don’t seek it out. I seek out f/f because I relate to it on a visceral level as a woman. I can place myself in that situation in a way I can’t in m/m writing. Same goes with m/f writing.

    I write both m/f and f/f for similar reasons. I’m not a fan of traditional m/f relationships being replicated in f/f because I’m attracted to women who are like me ie not men (lots of narcissism here :-) ). My problem with some f/f erotic romance is it can be a bit wimpy. Sometimes I think the writers get lost in a fantasy of softness and can’t get a handle on women having earthy, gritty sex with each other.

    I love the words pussy and cunt. Cunt in particular is a great middle english word that we should reclaim. I also love quim.

    Like

  15. @Ann Somerville: I think your link made my eyes bleed. I am not sure what to make of women demanding warnings if a vagina dares to rear its head (oops, wrong metaphor) in their books. I hesitate to use the term “self-hatred” about complete strangers . . . .

    I really appreciated your comment. I am not totally comfortable with this argument for m/m (nor is it your job to make me so), but you expressed it so clearly and thoughtfully that I understand and respect it more now.

    I have lost a whole afternoon to the interesting ideas and links and comments here!

    Like

  16. Thx Jill for such an interesting post. And the comments too are pretty thought provoking.

    I haven’t read any f/f – yet. I may do so but I’m not terribly active in seeking it out. I’m not sure whether I’ll like it – I have a *ducks head cautiously* curiosity about “what do they do?” which was probably what led me to my first m/m romance. (That’s really politically incorrect and I apologise to any I’ve offended. It is however honest – I am a hetero woman and I haven’t rubbed shoulders with many gay men or women so finding out “how the other half lives” is interesting to me.) Having said that, I like m/m probably because I’m attracted to men and I can relate to a character being attracted to men – after all, that makes perfect sense to me!! I like m/f and m/m romance, I like getting into the hero’s mind – if there are 2 male minds, cool. I have to connect with the characters and I can connect with a woman being attracted to a man and I can connect (so I have found) with a man being attracted to a man – the “attracted to a man” part being key. I can certainly appreciate beauty in women, not just men but I’m not attracted to it in the same way.

    I can say that I’m one whose beliefs have been challenged by reading m/m romance and that reading it has made me question things that I “believed” (query whether I believed it because I was told to or because that was the “norm”?) and as a result, I’ve changed my worldview.

    I’m not much of a feminist – I believe in equality but I’m quite happy for men to take out the trash and lift heavy things so some of the stereotypes suit me very well. I’m not trying to diss feminists or anything, I’m just saying that that doesn’t have anything to do with my reading. I’m not looking for empowerment. I’m looking for an escape from reality, the fantasy of the HEA, where everything works out well in the end, no matter how difficult the struggle, where the ending is known and available before you even begin – unlike a lot of real life. I don’t think I’m a placeholder – I’m more like you Jill I think in that respect – I imagine stories in my head with other characters (although I’m not a writer) – when I’m reading, I don’t want to be myself, I want to be taken away from myself and whatever is going on in my life. I don’t want to pretend to be someone else (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but I don’t consider myself a voyeur either – I’m kind of the cheer team on the sidelines – if that makes sense :)

    *apologies if I have inadvertently offended anyone in the above ramble*

    Like

  17. Really interesting topic and discussion. Liz said pretty much what I wanted to say. I think m/m is probably about a third of my reading now. I like seeing inside the beings of men and the equality stuff. Maybe if one character is TSTL I can write him off as’ just a bloke’ and get on with the story but I can’t do that with a TSTL heroine. I don’t read place holders. What I do want is that the female character is capable and active and contributing – not just along for the ride. Actually thinking about all this I have realised that power in the relationships is very important to me. Who has it, how it is used and balanced. The HEA is built on this I think. So I am choosing and reading books that give me a positive experience of this and m/m more often does that. I have read some f/f and sometimes the relationships are almost cloying which is strange because in real life I am surrounded by strong lesbian women who are not sweet.

    Re the language/slang – I think of ‘pussy’ like ‘pants’ as Americanisms (in Oz we wear knickers or undies). Pussy isn’t really isn’t used here in Oz. I have a vagina or a cunt depending on to whom I am talking to about what. I might say ‘punani’ if I don’t know the person well. ‘Pussy’ also seems like a dis-empowering word to me. I think it is belittling. Also I think of Cordwainer Smith’s ‘Mother Hitton’s littul kittens’ which are rabid minks used to defend the planet of Norstrilia.http://edsfproject.blogspot.com/2006/03/mother-hittons-littul-kittons-by.html

    Like

  18. @Carolyn Crane: Be fearless! Root it out! You are really impressing me with meta-tropes and that tension and relief idea. I am learning smart author stuff. YES!

    @Liz: I’m not the only one! I was embarrassed to admit that fantasy stuff. Now I’m glad I did. Thanks for saying that. And this:

    The power dynamics in real straight relationships I know are varied and complex, and I think that this is truer in m/f romance than most people who use this argument for m/m acknowledge

    Totally! Not all m/f romances reinforce gender roles and stereotypes.

    This is all so complicated.

    Agreed. :) I feel a little overwhelmed and I wrote the damn post.

    Like

  19. Okay, I’m back! I had to do some really pro-feminist stuff like soccer practice and dishes.

    @LVLM: There is a titillation factor for me in reading f/f but it doesn’t feel taboo or much different from my enjoyment of m/f. I like explicit sex scenes, period.

    @Chris: Thinking a bit more on the girl cooties thing, there seems to be a strong camraderie among m/m readers. We (m/f readers) rejected you first, didn’t we? So maybe this is a way of banding together, an in-joke of sorts. As romance readers, we are often put in a defensive position, ridiculed for the books we love.

    I believe it was one of your comments that inspired some of my ire, so I appreciate you speaking up.

    @Ann Somerville: I think we need to have a pussy vs. cunt smackdown. You non-American ladies seem to like cunt better. Even East Coast Americans do, I think. For me cunt is far more degrading and porny, so cultural differences are working here.

    I know women can be petty and mean, but I’ve had a lot of positive interactions in Romland. This one with you, right now, for example.

    Oh no Top Chef is starting! I’ll be back tomorrow.

    Like

  20. @Liz: Hi Liz, I’m sorry my journal made your eyes bleed. I also don’t think the women commenting there have any self hatred. It’s a matter of preference, also a matter of sexuality, which everyone seems to ignore. Strong female characters in m/m romance are not hated by readers. In fact a lot of women who read m/m ENJOY strong female characters. It’s not that the presence of a vagina sends readers running for the hills.

    It’s simply a lot of women prefer not to read m/f sex in a m/m book. I use a similar analogy about imaging if you came across a hero and the best friend having a masturbation scene or a blow job together in an m/f romance book. You really think there wouldn’t be a huge backlash? Sure there are definitely some issues readers have about women and I’m not getting into that – but I think most simply prefer the sexual erotica to stay between two men.

    What’s most interesting about that post is that everyone reads into what they want, a lot didn’t read exactly what I was saying.

    Like

  21. Thanks for your post, Jill, and to everyone for the great discussion.

    I don’t have anything to add at the moment — just taking it in — but I will say that one result of my reading romance, especially erotic romance, is that the revulsion I used to feel towards certain slang words for the female (and male) sexual anatomy has completely disappeared. In the right context, with a good writer, almost any word can be sexy and empowering.

    Like

  22. Excellent post, Jill!

    I’ll be honest — I follow along a lot of these blog conversations about f/f, m/m, and LGBT romance, but I don’t often comment.

    Partly because, I’m a reverse case — a lesbian who prefers straight up (HA), mass produced, m/f romance. You know, the romance section of the bookstore romance. And this is kind of tricky place to be. I’m not really in the mood to justify why I go home and have the gay sexxoring but read about the straight sexxoring to any old internet comment board.

    For me, as a queer, there is a clear demarcation between FQBQ fiction (For Queers, By Queers- I just made this up, it’s not the new gay slang) and slash. I also want to make it very, very clear that this is FOR ME. And allow me to illustrate why:

    A lot of m/m or f/f book reviews make a point of saying how nice it is, how great, how indicative of social progress, that such and such gay character was just simply gay. There was none of that terrible angsty coming out, political stuff. I have myself said the exact same on occasion, when reading a nice, happy book with lesbians who were just lesbians.

    But on the other hand, there are so many times in my life when the political intrudes into my personal space. Being gay at specific moments in life has made me weaker, more vulnerable, confused (esp. on tax forms), and angry. Very, very angry. So when a straight person reads a gay character and makes a comment about the acceptable level of “gayness”, this small thought pops into my head:

    What state do you live in? And I mean, literally your state of residence, not a metaphysical state. Does your state have a rigid and enforced animal protection law? Does your state allow cousins to marry? Five bucks says your state has a DOMA and makes it illegal for gays to marry. Does this reader even know?

    I am not a member of the HRC. I go to gay bars, occasionally, and show up for Pride parades, and that is about it. But I know what states I can live in and what states I can’t! And I also know that there are books that gets these terrible, rage inducing small moments of life right. Or, even the humorous ones– one gay woman making eyes at another woman and wondering, “is she? isn’t she?” and the funny, warm, sweet sound of “yes! she is!”

    So, I can’t get behind the escapism or fantasy of slash. I feel the writer or the intended audience as voyeur. I also completely agree with Ann Somerville’s comment, it is possible to write non-appropriative slash fiction.

    But for me, it’s too often, “why did she make the lesbian so butch? Doesn’t she know how hard it is to live with that mullet-wearing, truck-driving stereotype?” And “why is that lesbian so femme! LIPSTICK LESBIAN ALERT!” And “why is that damn lesbian hitting on a straight woman, GURL YOU KNOW BETTER!” And “NOT ALL GAY MEN LIKE BARBARA STREISAND!” And so on and so forth, into a blinding rage.

    Also, anal sex. Strap on sex. Weird, kinky, non-heteronormative sex. If you want to read about gay characters, welcome to our world.

    Like

  23. Do you have the placeholder experience while reading, or are you more of a voyeur?

    I suspect I am voyeur.

    Does the sexual pairing (m/m, m/f, etc.) make a difference in your engagement with the text or your enjoyment of love scenes?

    The gender of the characters, no. However, how the writers seem to respond to the gender of the characters does influence me — see answer about power dynamics.

    How are power dynamics different in same-sex romance? What appeals to you about m/m or f/f romance? What turns you off?

    Once I discovered slash fan fiction, I actually found it really hard to go back to straight romances because I saw such a difference in the power dynamics. I often find this frustrating and disappointing when I’m reading straight romance writers. I particularly like rough and kinky sex scenes and questionable consent stories. While there are m/m stories were one guy is slotted as a traditional alpha male and one guy is slotted as a traditional submissive female, I have found that has become less common. Most of the stories I have read in the last 5 to 10 years, the male characters seem to maintain a relatively egalitarian relationship outside of the bedroom, even when there is dominance play, rough sex, kink, etc. Where there is a male and female character, the males are often very paternalistic and the females often take indirect routes to achieving their goals.

    Rather than a base expectation of respect or equality, it’s because the guy loves her that he starts acknowledging her or doing what she wants. Some people like to put this down to “historical accuracy.” I think this claim is pretty fatuous — even in books with good historical detail, the main characters, in terms of politics, treatment of servants/inferiors, grooming, fashion, physique, etc. are usually about as historically accurate as a Timex in a clockwork era. I realize that these are generalizations and that there are exceptions in stories on both sides of the fence. But when I think about the genres, that is what my cumulative experience feels like.

    Which slang terms do you like or dislike?

    I haven’t ongoing rant about “cunt.” It drives me nuts that every woman in the country isn’t pissed off that the last of the seven dirty words to be truly unspeakable and insulting is a word for vagina. I encourage people to use “cunt” much as possible. The idea that “cock” is more sexy than “pussy” or “cunt,” is a bizarre social fabrication based on an internalized disgust of female sexual organs. Which, again, pisses me off and I wish pissed off every other woman.

    Like

  24. @Kassa: I apologize for the way I expressed myself, which was rude. It’s not my place to judge others’ preferences, either (though I do).

    It was not so much your post as the tone of some comments that troubled me. Maybe that is simply a result of walking into an ongoing conversation with no context.

    Your example of wanting to know about an m/m scene in a m/f romance doesn’t really resolve this for me, as I think objections to this would mostly be of the “ewww, gay sex” nature. If a reader liked m/m, why would s/he object to a love or sex scene between two men in a book focused on a het romance? But I am not a genre purist. Women who read m/m aren’t having m/m relationships, obviously. So if they object to m/f or f/f scenes in their m/m books, they are, in part, objecting to depictions of something closer to their own reality. And I have to admit, I find that odd. But I also don’t mean to derail this conversation.

    Like

  25. @Liz Sorry to continue to hijack the conversation, many apologies to the authors and other commenters.

    You bring up a very interesting point that I wanted to touch on because I do understand where you’re coming from. In fact I’m not even saying I disagree personally but I do understand where most of the readers of m/m are coming for and why they prefer certain things. It’s not even genre purism that’s the issue but that it’s fiction. They’re not denying their own reality because the story has nothing to do with reality. Romance in general as a genre is not about reality (huge generalization and I apologize) but it’s about escapism fiction with heart, emotion, etc.

    So yes readers recognize they aren’t having m/m relationships but they’re not denying their reality, since really reality has nothing to do with it. They’re looking for a totally fictionalized world for escapist fiction (or in many cases erotica). I doubt many readers of f/f romance or m/f romance read it for the “true to life” sentiment. It’s similar to any other genre. Historical fans likely don’t want a random alien thrown in to their fiction for the most part. Although that’s probably not a great example since most readers object to the graphic sex more than mere presence.

    Anyway I’ve rambled and apologies for going off on a total tangent.

    Like

  26. Ack! More fascinating comments and ideas!! I can’t keep up.

    I’ll start by saying that this post is an accumulation of thoughts I’ve collected over YEARS of lurking on the internet. The task of articulating meaningful responses on the fly, over a few hours or days, seems too big for me to tackle. I hope you will forgive me if I don’t acknowledge every comment or point–there is just too much good stuff here!

    Mara and Ann S. mentioned vulnerability, which I find appealing in male and female characters. I don’t know that I agree that penis=vulnerability, but I recall a scene in a movie with Viggo Mortensen (Eastern Promises?) in which he fights several men while naked in a steam room. With knives! Talk about vulnerability. I thought his penis might get lopped off.

    @Ann Somerville:

    I live in a world dominated by gender imbalance, of sexism, misogyny, and het and f/f stories don’t allow me to avoid that. Perversely, writing about two men in a relationship is my way of escaping the patriarchy, because I can immerse myself in a fantasy where gender imbalance is erased, where male privilege is what I say it is, and where the men are forced by my authorly hand to treat women as equals

    In that same vein, can’t we also create whatever we wish in f/f or f/m? Or set a romance in a matriarchal society? I’m not trying to be obtuse but I really don’t see how the presence of a female negates any hope for equality. I totally understand the basic preference for writing about men, however. To each her own.

    About sexual turn-ons, I admit that I want that in my romance. I’m usually not interested in sweet stories or fade to black scenes. From what I’ve gathered, most m/m fans like a lot of sexual content. And there’s nothing wrong with that, although I understand how the focus on sex can be dismissive. I’ve been called a smut dealer by a nosy relative, so I get it.

    @Keziah Hill: I like quim, too. Even cunny is okay with me. I also find femininity very attractive, so some of the women in f/f are too masculine for my tastes. And I’m always looking for something a little more graphic. Not rough, because I like softness in women. Just fully described and earthy, as you said.

    @Kaetrin: Not offensive at all! Well, I’m not easily offended, but I think you did fine. Being attracted to men is a natural reason to read m/m, of course. I don’t expect the majority of straight women to be interested in f/f. Even though I am.

    Like

  27. Do you have the placeholder experience while reading, or are you more of a voyeur? Does the sexual pairing (m/m, m/f, etc.) make a difference in your engagement with the text or your enjoyment of love scenes?

    I’m not even a placeholder in my own sexual fantasies–in fact, I’m usually not even there except as orchestrator and observer. Which has made it difficult and confusing for the men I’ve been with, who assume that because I may fantasize about something it must mean I have a desire to try or explore it. I don’t. My voyeuristic streak is strong, but it runs pretty deep into the psyches of the characters–if I can’t relate to why a character would want a certain kind of sex or sex act, it won’t turn me on. If I can relate, even if it’s something I would find a personal turn-off, it will get me going.

    How are power dynamics different in same-sex romance? What appeals to you about m/m or f/f romance? What turns you off?

    I almost always prefer a top/bottom dynamic in anything I read, at least as pertains to sex. It can be very subtle, but it needs to be there if it’s going to be interesting to me.

    Which slang terms do you like or dislike?

    I adore cunt. Pussy, I’m kind of meh about. It’s a weak word, silly and infantilizing. Strong words, especially for female parts, feel empowering to me. Hell, even when used as an insult, I’d rather be called a cunt or a bitch than a pussy.

    As for the barriers for women’s enjoyment of f/f, well, women get turned on by pretty much anything, and I think for many–those who believe enjoyment of f/f sexual material translates into them not being as straight as they thought they were–it can be really uncomfortable. And there is internalized misogyny out there, for sure. I mean, I know there are products out there marketed to men who want to make their penises smell better, but they aren’t advertised on TV at dinnertime, are they? We’re told from such a young age that boy’s parts are naughty, but girls parts are smelly, gross, unclean, etc. And boys start developing a love affair with their parts from the moment they stick their hands down their diapers and discover something fun happens. For girls, they may not discover that until they’ve watched decades of Massengil and Vagisil ads and that’s a lot to overcome.

    And on top of that, to me, gender roles exist for reasons beyond what society has imposed on us–reasons that go back to the cave. But that doesn’t mean I don’t like to see them subverted, or do the subverting myself. I’m not a feminist by any stretch, but that would probably come as a surprise to many.

    I’ve been called a “masculine” woman. I’ve often joked that it’s a good thing my figurative pants are huge, because the metaphorical balls they contain are monstrous.

    I’m in charge of my world, am raising three kids entirely on my own, am as comfortable operating a tablesaw as a sewing machine, played with legos and trucks more than Barbies as a child. Yet at the same time, I adore being female. I love my female body–even the moist, squishy bits of it–I don’t see my femaleness as a weakness to be overcome. I don’t feel oppressed–not for my gender, not even for my orientation. And yet at the same time, I want the man I’m with to be stronger or smarter or better than me in enough ways that I feel I can lean on him when I need to.

    And I think this is why I’ve always been reluctant to pursue a relationship with a woman, despite my attraction to them. I feel like because those dynamics–top/bottom, D/s, male(ish)/female(ish)–are what I crave and what I miss when they’re lacking in any relationship–fictional or otherwise–my masculine side would end up taking over.

    And because of this, f/f often doesn’t work for me, even though it’s what I love and would love to read more of. Either the dynamics are missing, or the femininity of one character is overpowered by her more traditionally masculine role in the relationship.

    It’s complex. It’s difficult. And I think because most romance readers are women, the characterization and dynammics within f/f are much more tricky to pin down and make work than in any other genre.

    In m/m, no matter how well a female reader might relate to a male character, she isn’t shoehorned by her gender into experiencing his POV in quite the same way as she does with f/f, or even m/f. She may relate to how a man would feel in a given situation, but isn’t experiencing how she herself would feel in the same situation.

    And I think for some writers and readers, not having to profoundly experience any female POV–especially if it differs from her own, or makes her question her own values, beliefs, understanding of the world, etc–can be comforting. It feels less visceral and more safe. She doesn’t have to think about those aspects of her femaleness that make life difficult or unfulfilling or upsetting. There are gender and power dynamics in m/m–there are in any relationship story, even same-sex ones–but they aren’t going to be the same dynamics that frustrate a female reader in real life, either. And if they are, she’s still one step removed from them, so it may feel more comfortable exploring them in that way.

    Like

  28. Before I read any of the probably awesome comments to this great post, I just have to say, cunny.
    Okay I sort of winced at the diminutive sounding version of cunt but dealt with it based on my assumption of historical accuracy (yes, no?). And now, it’s downright grown on me. Pussy does have too many ties to what men call something they want to get. Honeypot just sounds too sweet (ha!). But maybe I could advocate for Moist Well of Feminine Power.

    Like

  29. Great post and interesting comments that I’ve had to skim over for lack of time. Re: why I read what I read, for me, I don’t think it’s as simple as identifying with or becoming one or other of the protagonists whatever the gender is. The kick/satisfaction I am looking for in a romance I think has something to do with the contrast/ power differential/obstacle between the characters and bridging the gap between them. I think this is why certain plot hooks can really *get* me and I can feel an overwhelming desire to read certain books based on blurb. In an historical, a gender differential almost always creates a power differential and because I love print version single title historicals, I mainly read m/f. But I would happily read m/m or f/f if the premise hooked me. What wouldn’t hook me, however, would be two protagonists with little contrast or obstacle between them facing mainly external obstacles. Sarah Waters writes literary fiction rather than romance but she has written a couple of books I’d classify as lesbian romance with lots of wonderful conflict, both internal and external.

    I like sensual scenes and don’t care what gender the characters in the scene are. It’s not *me* in there. I’m not merely a voyeur but I’m not participating either. It’s how well done it is that I’m interested in.

    I’m not turned off or annoyed by explicit language. Cunt, pussy, whatever (though I agree with Laura V that pussy is not as generally used here in the UK). I’m more annoyed by coy euphemistic language actually.

    Like

  30. @Merrian: Where is Oz? I thought punani was a Hawaiian word. That wouldn’t be used in polite conversation where I live (California) but I agree that it isn’t harsh. It’s funny that the sweet vs. gritty in f/f keeps coming up. I like a lot of the “let’s share our feelings!” stuff so that might be another reason for my disinterest in m/m. I mean, I LOVE the strong, silent type of guy (my husband is one)–but two of them? OMG.

    I’m glad you brought this up because there is a non-sexual but still gender-related basis for my attraction to f/f: adult female communication! Sometimes I am starved for that in my real life as a stay at home mom. Hence, my internet addiction.

    @Kassa: I didn’t find anything objectionable about your post. I prefer not to have m/m in my f/m. However–the couple of times I’ve encountered male homoeroticism in het, my response wasn’t revulsion. One was a threesome and the other included group sex. It wasn’t…random. Anyway, I’m really not *for* content warnings, as an author or a reader. I’d rather just see what happens.

    Like

  31. @Mfred: I’m glad to know a lesbian who reads m/f! It helps to illustrate my point that there are so many variables to this big puzzle of reading preferences and escapes.

    A lot of m/m or f/f book reviews make a point of saying how nice it is, how great, how indicative of social progress, that such and such gay character was just simply gay. There was none of that terrible angsty coming out, political stuff. I have myself said the exact same on occasion, when reading a nice, happy book with lesbians who were just lesbians.

    But on the other hand, there are so many times in my life when the political intrudes into my personal space. Being gay at specific moments in life has made me weaker, more vulnerable, confused (esp. on tax forms), and angry. Very, very angry.

    Yes! Thank you for saying this. I’ve enjoyed the angsty lesbian romances I’ve read AND the ones where sexuality isn’t an issue. But when straight readers say they don’t want any of that “gay angst” in their fantasy material, it rubs me the wrong way.

    @Charlotte:

    Rather than a base expectation of respect or equality, it’s because the guy loves her that he starts acknowledging her or doing what she wants.

    This is a very keen insight! I think you’re right.

    I encourage people to use “cunt” much as possible. The idea that “cock” is more sexy than “pussy” or “cunt,” is a bizarre social fabrication based on an internalized disgust of female sexual organs.

    Fist pump! Well said.

    Like

  32. @Jill Sorenson:

    In that same vein, can’t we also create whatever we wish in f/f or f/m? Or set a romance in a matriarchal society? I’m not trying to be obtuse but I really don’t see how the presence of a female negates any hope for equality.

    In theory, yes. But I find creating a female dominated society less than ideal because of my aforesaid issues with my own gender (and to be honest, a world dominated by women strikes me as equally horrific and oppressive as that dominated by men – I went to single sex schools all my school life and trust me, I do not want to be ruled by women exclusively. We’re scary!) And I find men colourful and interesting – yes, admittedly because of the incredible dominance of colorful and interesting and heroic presentations of males in the media – so excluding them feels artificial to me. I hasten to add this is all about my fucked up head, not about absolutes. Ideals and reality are different things, and I would applaud an author who could create equal or matriarchal societies that worked for me.

    Writing a society with full equality is preferable, of course, but because of my lack of experience with such a creature, I find it difficult to write it credibly.

    There’s also another aspect of writing women-centric stories – the inescapable facts of biology. Yes, you could write a story where women incubate babies in external wombs and hand them off to robots to rear, and where periods and contraception failures are non-existent, but given that real world human women have to deal with this stuff, you can’t really say you’re writing the authentic (cis-gendered) female existence if you don’t mention them at all. Given my highly personal issues surrounding these matters, I don’t find it appealing to have to worry about them in an action-adventure type plot (though I’m working on it.) That’s another way writing men is quite freeing – you don’t have to worry about pregnancy or tampons :) (Although I did write some mpreg :) and it was fun! )

    I have no idea how many women find m/m appealing for the same reasons I do. I’m just saying here are my limitations, here are my reasons. It’s good to struggle against one’s limits, but it’s also important to recognise them.

    *Fairly obviously there are many women – transgendered, or those born intersex, or who have anomalous hormonal or physical features – who don’t have to deal with reproductive issues (and it would be lovely if more fiction acknowledged their existence). But a story focussed on such women isn’t any more realistic than where foetuses are raised in incubators.

    Like

  33. @kirsten saell:

    there are products out there marketed to men who want to make their penises smell better, but they aren’t advertised on TV at dinnertime, are they? We’re told from such a young age that boy’s parts are naughty, but girls parts are smelly, gross, unclean, etc

    Wow, I’ve never heard of that type of product for men. Which proves your point neatly.

    It’s complex. It’s difficult. And I think because most romance readers are women, the characterization and dynammics within f/f are much more tricky to pin down and make work than in any other genre.

    I think you’re on to something here. I’ve been wondering if I’m nitpicking when I read f/f. It’s so hard to find decent writing and a satisfying relationship dynamic–perhaps also because there are far fewer f/f books published compared to m/f and m/m.

    There are gender and power dynamics in m/m–there are in any relationship story, even same-sex ones–but they aren’t going to be the same dynamics that frustrate a female reader in real life, either. And if they are, she’s still one step removed from them, so it may feel more comfortable exploring them in that way.

    I can see the appeal of this, for sure.

    @Ann Somerville: Defeated by our own biology! heh. I’m realizing that part of my disconnect with m/m is that I enjoy many of the traditional aspects of f/m. Baby epilogues, check. Protective hero, check check. Also, I started reading romance in the 80s and think the heroines have come such a long way.

    Like

  34. It was really helpful to read your last para (tried the block quote thing but stuffed it up) Kirsten. It made me reflect that I live and work in a very female dominated world and that maybe m/m gives me something of the other, I miss.

    Also I have to add myself to the list of fantisisers who doesn’t appear in her own fantasies, but creates and watches a story. May be this is what makes it possible to read m/m or f/f? I read little contemporary m/f romance because it doesn’t work for me where UF and PNR does. I have usually said I find the contemporary more of a fantasy than UF/PNR and struggle to suspend my disbelief so I can get into a story. But now I think it is more about what you have so eloquently said.

    @ Jill
    Oz = Australia. Oz is a usual, local slang term for the wide brown land/land down under…. and shorter to type than Australia!

    I don’t know where I picked ‘punani’ up I think of it as an Islander word and we are a pacific nation with lots of Islander migrants. That thing about polite conversation – I would simply say vagina.

    Like

  35. @Merrian: Aha. I thought that might be it. I was born in Kansas, a US state we sometimes refer to as Oz because of the movie The Wizard of Oz!

    Thanks to Jessica for having me, and to everyone for a great discussion!!

    Like

  36. @Jill Sorenson: Thank you Jill!

    When Jill proposed this post, I sent her an email saying: I will post it, but I hope you won’t be offended if (a) you get no responses, and (b) the discussion becomes unpleasant. Glad those worries were groundless.

    Thanks so much to Jill and everyone for your comments.

    Like

Prof's Progress

... on making sense, one word at a time

Bkwurm.com

Bkwurm: /book*worm/ n. a person devoted to reading and study

VacuousMinx

Blog in Progress

Nyssa Harkness

Media and Cultural Studies with a focus on Genre Fiction, Gaming and Creative Society

Shelf Love

live mines and duds: the reading life

Love is the Best Medicine

Harlequin/Mills and Boon Medical Romance Authors

Blue Moon

Audiobook reviews and book reviews. Occasional opining.

specficromantic

reviews by a speculative fiction romantic

Centre for Medical Humanities

News, updates and insights from the Centre for Medical Humanities, Durham University

Miss Bates Reads Romance

Miss Bates is the loquacious spinster from Austen's Emma. No doubt she read romances ... here's what she would have thought of them.

Badass Romance

heroes, heroines, and books that demand to be taken seriously

bad necklace: not quite pearls of wisdom

mala, media, maladies, and malapropisms

Thinking in Fragments

but making connections too

Tales from the Reading Room

A Literary Salon Where All Are Welcome

momisatwork

thinking about teaching, learning, home and family

Feminist Philosophers

News feminist philosophers can use

Fit and Feminist

Because it takes strong women to smash the patriarchy.

Fit Is a Feminist Issue

(previously known as "Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty," but we're not "almost fifty" anymore.)

Heloise Merlin's Weblog

Virtual people read books, too!

Victoria Janssen

Just another WordPress.com site

Bblog Central

Your source for book blogging.

Insta-Love Book Reviews

Deflowering romance - one book at a time

A Striped Armchair

Bookish thoughts from a woman of endless curiousity

Sonomalass's Blog

Another day in paradise

RR@H Novel Thoughts & Book Talk

Featuring Author Interviews and Commentaries

Something More

my extensive reading

The Romantic Goldfish

"Cheapest mother fucking goldfish on the planet"

Shallowreader's Blog

...barely scratching the surface of romance literature, reading and libraries

Joanna Chambers, author

Historical romance

THE DAILY RUCKUS

ROYALTY, ROMANCE NOVELS, AND A LITTLE RUCKUS

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,477 other followers

%d bloggers like this: