I’ve tried a dozen times to articulate my thoughts on the MM (male/male, for the uninitiated) Romance community. I usually give up because I have dear friends who write good stuff and because I’ve felt obligated not to piss off the Powers That Be (and have been instructed not to open my mouth). Being “too political” is taboo. A little ironic in a genre that is, by its very nature, a political statement.
Since giving up reviews and deciding I’m not interested in being a career author, I don’t feel the need to stay silent anymore. Refreshing, really.
Even so, I wasn’t going to speak up yet. Not even in a week when I’ve already, two days in, had bi erasure explained to me by a straight person and had a different straight person try to educate me on how to be a good ally. But then A Thing crossed my path that made it personal.
This book. This FUCKING book. (Yeah, I’m swearing. Because it’s that bad and because some things deserve no less.) If you’re anything like me, you’ll need to make an appointment to have your blood pressure checked just from reading the blurb.
In case you’re not in the mood for a rage sandwich with a side salad of nausea, shock, and dismay, I’ll sum up. It’s a “romance”: Guy A filmed himself having sex with another man and used it to out him in order to take down an ex-gay camp. Guy B is the man he filmed and outed. Meanwhile, Guy B’s daddy dearest is the one running the camp, supposedly because he just loves those youths so very much. Naturally, A and B get their happy ending. The moral of the story is “it’s complicated.”
No. No, it really isn’t.
I’m an ex-fundamentalist. I spent years at a church with an active “ex-gay” ministry. I was a teenager, closeted, and too young to participate anyway. But I knew about it. I had to hear week after week, yelled at us from the pulpit, about sick gay men and predatory lesbians. I had the Bible interpreted for me about the ungodly people who turned away from righteousness and “burned with lust for one another.” All of this was against the backdrop of the dying embers of Satanic Panic, the rise of purity culture, and the peak years of AIDS-related deaths.
This was a life I chose on promise from the church that I’d be given “new life.” It sure sounded better than the shitty years of bullying, loneliness, and hurt I’d already been through. They even had me convinced my problems at home were due to my parents not being Christians rather than my family’s other numerous issues. Here’s the real kicker: For me, it is complicated. It probably saved my life, even while destroying it. I had a reason to go on, something to cling to when the pain everywhere else was too much. But those lessons I learned there left scars. I will live the rest of my life angry for the things stolen from me, even though I gained some good things too.
Writing a book that sympathizes with the wrong people is appalling. There is no love in “ex-gay” anything. It is not an act of kindness. These “ministries” are responsible for emotional wreckage leading to depression, anxiety, PTSD, and suicide. The very belief that someone’s eternal soul is at risk for who they are at their core is horrifying. More modern churches may take the approach that it cannot be changed, but it can be treated like addiction. This is not better nor more loving.
Just as bad is turning an abusive act into a plot point for a romance. It doesn’t matter what reasons the character has for publicly humiliating someone else. Allowing him not only back into that person’s life but sculpting a romantic/sexual relationship between them is appalling. Forgiveness can happen. People do dreadful things for complicated reasons. Pairing those two things for the sake of True Love is a hard no. A loving relationship is built on trust, not abuse. This romanticizes and glamorizes the situation and muddies the waters of consent.
This book has a terrible premise and execution, but it’s hardly unique. Romance, and MM in particular, are notorious for badly handling and romanticizing all kinds of terrible things.
It can’t be blamed on cisgender straight women, either. At least one of the authors of the ex-gay mess identifies as queer, horrifying as that sounds. And it can’t be blamed solely on women, since I can think of at least a few men who enjoy this kind of book-vomit. It is, however, culturally accepted by the MM community. That is a thing I have no idea how to address or where to begin.
We are at a crossroads. MM Romance is a genre populated by readers and writers who are not #OwnVoices. The entire last year has been one shitstorm after another, the culmination of years of simmering frustrations and power struggles. I do not believe there is a way to reclaim MM Romance the way much of FF Romance has been reclaimed. What the answer is remains to be seen, but I don’t believe things can or should go on as they are.
There’s a persistent view that we cannot tell people what to write because that’s “censorship.” No, it isn’t. I can’t create or enforce laws governing what people write in their romance novels. I can, and I will, tell people that there are things they should not write. Certainly there are things that should not be written unless you have gone to the trouble to understand your subject matter. This book was one of them.