Thursday, July 4, 2013

On Sex, Women, and Respect

By now, word has spread pretty far and wide about the latest kerfuffle in the M/M world. It would seem that submitting books to an M/M-only review site, and having female sexuality in those books, is an act of flagrant disrespect from authors and publishers toward readers and reviewers.

Several people have already commented on this, probably more eloquently than I will. Aleksandr Voinov, for one. Amelia C. Gormley for another. And of course Heidi Cullinan.

This issue comes up, in various forms, every few months. Not everyone wants to read about hetero sex or sex that in any way involves female anatomy. I'm not here to tell anyone that their reading preference is right or wrong. There are things I don't particularly like reading.  Millions of readers don't care for reading gay sex, either, and for that matter, many readers don't like reading sex--explicit or otherwise--at all. That's okay. We all have different tastes.

Where this most recent diatribe rubs me the wrong way and keeps me awake for the better part of a night is the implication that, in our genre, female sexuality warrants a warning label. Further, to produce a book within this genre that lacks a warning--the bigger and brighter the better--is not merely an annoyance, but an act of disrespect.

Review sites can review whatever they wish. And yes, people submitting books should be mindful of that site's policies. Fine. But the sentiments expressed in that post are taking it a step--a very large step--too far.

Look, I'm okay with flagging books for certain kinds of content. If there's rape-for-titillation on the page, I'm okay with an author's note or a general heads up because that kind of thing can be triggery for people. I promise you an emotional roller coaster, but I'm not out to traumatize anyone.

Female sexuality is not offensive. It may not be someone's erotic cup of tea, and some might even find it distasteful to read. But to imply that it's on the same level as rape or graphic violence, something so offensive to one's sensibilities that it needs flags and warning signs? That, I believe, is going too far.

I'm a woman. I'm bisexual. I have dear friends everywhere on the spectra of gender and sexuality. To have my gender, my sexuality, and the identity of my friends reduced to a sexual squick, something that is so offensive it requires a warning, is hurtful on a number of levels. Especially since it goes beyond just sex scenes. I've received a handful of angry letters from people because a male character--who never had sex on the page--was revealed to be female-bodied.

Furthermore, I have the dubious honor of being the author of one of the only transgender books to be reviewed by the site mentioned above. Statements have since been made that this will not happen again, that it was a one-time thing, etc. I was also asked via e-mail, prior to the book being read and reviewed, if any heterosexual activity occurred on the page, seeing as the main character shifts back and forth between male-bodied and female-bodied. While I understand that the site focuses on male-male romance, the enforcement of the ironclad NO VAGINAS policy has, more often than not, smacked of something that has less to do with genre conventions and reader preferences, and more to do with thinly-veiled biphobia, transphobia, and misogyny. Many of the books reviewed are thrillers, mysteries, and sci-fi/fantasy, which can delve into some pretty violent and twisted subject matter, but vaginas are the universal deal-breaker.

This latest diatribe has done nothing to improve my opinion on that policy. To imply that authors and publishers have no respect for readers, that is hurtful and downright incorrect. I respect my readers, and I respect them enough to give them the entire story even if the whole truth involves female anatomy. I write about people, and sometimes people don't fit into neat little categories. Sometimes a story that ultimately ends with a pair (or trio) of men together has, at some point along the way, a man having sex with a woman. If that is the truth for a particular character or set of characters, then it is my responsibility to my characters and to my readers to tell that truth. No one asks me to pull punches when I write violence or heartbreak. I'm not going to pull them when it comes to sex, either, regardless of the body parts involved.

We have made so many strides toward normalizing gay fiction. It's slowly moving toward the mainstream, no longer just a little subgenre that no one respects. The taboo remains, but it's fading a little at a time. All it takes is a visit to the annual RT Booklovers Convention to see that things have changed for the better.  We've got a long way to go, but we've come a long way too.

The statement was made that mainstream romance readers would never tolerate gay sex in their romances. I won't argue about how right or wrong that statement is, but I will say this: even if it IS true, it doesn't make it RIGHT for our genre--the one that has made all those strides against the collective squick that exists against certain sexualities--to brand a pairing or a set of anatomy as offensive. To me, this smacks of someone standing up at a LGBTQ rally, shouting for rights and equality for everyone in the rainbow, but then turning to one group and saying, "Except you people. You're gross."

Or more to the point, I suppose: "Except you people. Do whatever you want, but...keep it behind closed doors where we can't see it."

Because no one's heard that before.

Bottom line: Everyone is free to read, write, and review whatever they want. No one should have to pretend to like content that isn't their thing. But we're going well beyond criticizing acts and scenes, and getting into the very unpleasant realm of labeling human beings as gross, undesirable, and unworthy, something we have all worked far too hard to counter.


  1. Am I the only that doesn't care what kind of sex I read on a page? Give me a good story. Then give me some hot sex. Use dicks, vaginas, toys- I don't care. I don't care if my m/m has hot m/f sex, AND I don't care if my m/f has hot m/m sex. I want a good story and I want my smex to make me have to go be alone for a bit. The rest? Who CARES? Seriously.

    The thing is... not too long ago m/m was CUTTING edge. Now we got some m/m crossover into m/f books. Why can't m/m be CUTTING edge again and allow m/f crossover? It gives me the sads that m/m is becoming so rigid, apparently more rigid than m/f books which has m/m sex in it. In my mind, it should be, should have been, could be, could have been, the other way around.

    That is all.

  2. Couldn't have said it better.

  3. Well, I read and review mostly M/M these days. BUT...I review ALL within LGBTQ writing - bi (including all "bits" in a ménage), F/F, trans, asexual (pardon me if I left anything out)..... And I read and review hetero as well, all on the same blog. The followers of OTDU have never said anything negative to me or Cindi. Nice people that follow our blog - and we do big numbers in terms of looks overall. People can follow what they want but they don't have a right to be rude or segregationist about it. It's getting petty IMHO.

  4. All I can think is "What the hell?" I rarely go to Jesse's site anymore, but man, she's lost any remains of respect I may have had for her.

  5. I'm pansexual, and that's what I write. I find it darkly hilarious that I 'outgrew' M/F romance for almost ten years, and read little but M/M fiction - before I developed a little more and became comfortable again with the idea of fluid relationships and sex scenes.

    I won't be sending any of my future M/M/F books to Wave's site.

    I'm tired of the 'girl cooties' thing rearing up in M/M fiction. It seems a really short mental hop from that to female self-hate and socially-sanctioned genital mutilation.

  6. I can understand having to clarify their policy, if there is one, about including MF sex scenes in an otherwise MM book. But to get so bent out of shape and pitch such a trauma fit, saying it disrespects the readers and creates a bad image for the authors and publishers who dare to release such work without a warning, reflects poorly on the site and its moderator. They could have just posted something "hey, everybody, we don't review books with MF scenes in MM books kthnxbai" and left it at that. But this being teh intarwebz, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised.