Yesterday, an anonymous gay man made a post about the fetishization and objectification of gay men in the m/m romance genre.
I won’t say he didn’t have some good points. He absolutely did. The fact that people in the m/m romance genre objectify and fetishize gay men is not a new one; it has come up repeatedly since I published my first book. It does exist, and it should really stop.
I also won’t say he tarred all women with the same brush, either. He included the obligatory “not all women” disclaimer. And I think if any woman reads that post and her response is “Not All Women!” then she’s doing exactly what she shouldn’t be doing and missing the point.
However, even though he made a good point, and even though he took care not to generalize, there is some deep misogyny in the post. And that’s not a new thing, either. It’s no surprise that some gay men are not exempt from misogyny. We live in a culture that actively works to undermine women, and no one is free of that influence, even women who are trying to overcome it.
As I mentioned in a comment to AJ Rose on Facebook, a lot of the fetishization and objectification I’ve seen in the genre actually happens outside the books, in the behavior of some readers and writers. In the presence of purely sex and phallus-driven stuff so prevalent at LGBTQ reader/writer conventions. At go-go boys and images of penises and nearly nude men in a space where the subject is supposed to be books.
But then he takes aim at the books themselves, and that bothers me. Because he acts as though all these books are about is the sex scenes, and that’s not true.
He says author’s portray men as “sex-crazed pigs.” It’s true a lot of books in the genre have characters who fuck around a lot. Usually the point of the book is for them to realize that that fucking around isn’t fulfilling them and that being with one person with whom they have an emotional connection is much more fulfilling. So if anything, the point of those stories is that men are NOT “sex-crazed pigs” but that they sometimes act that way for a number of factors.
Gay men are not exempt from the effects of toxic masculinity, which INSISTS that men must have high, aggressive sex drives, either. Nor are gay men exempt from hookup culture, which has spread throughout western society since the sexual revolution of the 60s. To ignore that would be to paint incomplete portraits of things gay men experience and deal with in our society.
Portraying that reality is only fetishization or objectification if the only point of it is to titillate. To portray it as part of a character’s journey is something else entirely. Especially when that portrayal involves the characters in question moving beyond those influences into something they find more satisfying with a single partner.
Now, I’m gonna throw a wacky, far-out concept out here. It’s sort of a big word, and Anonymous might want to write it down. The word is “storytelling.” It’s sort of a thing with authors. We’re kinda known for doing it.
Anonymous also lambasts the fact that protags in the story have sex with each other frequently. Again, that is only fetishization or objectification if it exists only to titillate. If it happens within the context of a new relationship forming, where the sexual energy is high because hello, the relationship is NEW, then it’s not fetishization or objectification. It’s simply portraying the very realistic experience of a newly-minted couple. It happens with m/f romance as well. Hell, it happens in real life. When my relationships were all new, we fucked like bunnies. It’s just a thing people do when they’re new and discovering one another sexually.
Okay, you say, those are valid points that Anonymous got wrong, but they’re not misogyny.
Well, here’s where it becomes misogyny:
He only smacks around the female readers and writers for it. Apparently it’s okay for male readers and writers to portray and enjoy these things, but not women.
As far as I can tell, according to Anonymous’s rant, the problem isn’t that these things EXIST. It’s that WOMEN ARE ENJOYING THEM EXISTING. That’s what he says is wrong with it all.
And that’s because we, as a culture, are very uncomfortable with women as sexual beings. See the phenomenon where women who willingly share nude selfies are whores and sluts and the pictures are disgusting, but a huge number of men in our society have an insatiable appetite for selfies that are shared without the woman’s consent.
Because it’s okay to enjoy women’s nude selfies, as long as they’re not shared and enjoyed willingly by the woman in question.
Men are allowed to propagate and consume sexuality. Women are not. And that, my friends, is bullshit. And it’s hypocrisy, and Anonymous should be ashamed for his lack of self-awareness.
We are uncomfortable with women’s sexuality on a societal level. And I say we because women are not exempt from this. It’s a product of the patriarchy which tells us that men’s sexuality is good and healthy and women’s sexuality is shameful and needs to be buried and repressed.
OH NO! WOMEN ENJOY SEX-TYPE STUFF. THE WORLD IS ENDING. RUN FOR YOUR LIVES!!!
Even I, as sex-positive as I am, still struggle with it. The sight of (cis) women’s genitalia makes me squirm and not in the good way. Yonic imagery makes me uncomfortable, phallic imagery does not. It’s entirely possible that the reason I have gravitated toward m/m romance is because I find it easier to deal with male characters in a sexual context than female characters. Maybe. Back in my fandom days I wrote PLENTY of m/f erotica and erotic romance, so maybe not. Maybe m/m is just where I landed because it works for me as a writer at this stage of my personal development. Possibly the pendulum will swing the other way someday. Certainly I’m not in m/m romance for the money; I’d make far more money writing m/f.
Every day, as I evolve as a human being, I try to be aware of this influence and overcome it. I challenge myself daily to be as comfortable with the sight of a vulva as I am the sight of a penis. I struggle daily to find the same aesthetic value in f/f pictures and porn videos as I do in m/m pictures and porn.
That’s because I’m a self-aware human being, and I know that I am still under the influence of internalized misogyny.
Anonymous could do with a healthy dose of self-awareness. Because the problem made apparent by his post is not the problem he was ranting about.