So over on Facebook, Lisa from The Novel Approach posed this question about barebacking in m/m romance:
Okay, peeps, opinion:
Brand new M/M author, chapter one, first few pages, guys are already gettin’ busy. It’s their first time together, neither are virgins. They bareback, no mention at all of condoms or status.
This is a real-world contemporary, not paranormal, not fantasy.
Thoughts – irresponsible on the author’s part? Not a big deal? What?
This question keeps popping up occasion. Leta Blake has had a couple great posts about her research into why gay men bareback over on her blog, and it came up not long ago at Jessewave as well.
Yesterday, people on Twitter were doing a #UnpopularOpinion thing. Well, here’s mine:
The prevalence of protected sex in m/m romance is out of proportion with reality to the point of being a rather trite.
(/me dons flame-retardant suit. Any flames on this post will be unanswered and/or deleted)
I know WHY this is. M/M romance is written primarily by straight women, and we love the gay men we write about and we want to portray them in as positive and responsible a light as possible and never show them doing things which are, in popular opinion, Bad Things.
But we as storytellers have no moral or ethical obligation to show our characters doing the perfectly correct thing all the time. We do, however, have a moral or ethical responsibility to portray minority characters as fully rounded, complete, un-stereotyped beings. And that means letting them do things that maybe aren’t politically correct.
The Perfectly Correct use of condoms is another branch of the same school of thought that says 1-finger-2-fingers-3-fingers-fuck is the only way to gear up to anal sex, and that spit isn’t lube. Except some men–and women–have anal sex without any manual prep whatsoever, and some of them are perfectly okay using spit as lube. What we assume as gospel because our genre has been preaching it as gospel Ain’t Necessarily So. When you scream “SPIT ISN’T LUBE” you are basically telling real people who use it as their lube of choice with no difficulties URDOINITRONG.
I think the insistence on the Protected Sex All The Time Unless They Have The Talk trope in m/m romance is its own form of well-intentioned homophobia. First off, because most people don’t raise nearly as much fuss–if any at all–if characters in an m/f romance have unprotected sex. This reinforces the idea that HIV/AIDS is a Gay-Only issue, and yes, it is an issue in the gay community, except maybe there are members of that community who don’t perceive it that way. Who, for whatever reason, to not consider condom usage to be an Absolute Necessity in any and all circumstances. Maybe they’ve just decided it’s their risk to take, for whatever reason they want to risk it.
Secondly, it trivializes the other issues surrounding the choice whether or not to use condoms, many of which are emotional and personal and subjective to each individual. We like to over-simplify and make it a black-or-white issue, but it ain’t.
If we as writers are going to portray characters within the gay community, we need to give visibility to all its various schools of thought and behavior.
Someday I’m going to write up a blog post about Strain and why I chose the fuck-or-die trope for it. Let’s just say a lot of it has to do with subverting the idea that fluid exchange = death. But this #TeaserTuesday segment is about Saugatuck Summer and one of the many reasons why a character might willfully, knowingly, choose not to use condoms.
And this time I’m going to put it behind a cut because this is actually from Chapter 12 and features a rather significant conflict spoiler.