Why Male/Male Romance Speaks to Me

  Recently my friend and fellow author of male/male romance, Tibby Armstrong, posed a fascinating question. She wanted to know what speaks to me in our genre. Seems simple enough, right? Especially for a talker and communicator like me.

Funnily, I didn’t actually have a ready answer. I had bits and pieces of why the genre moves and awakens me, but Tibby’s question provoked me to honestly plumb the question. Perhaps the best place to begin tackling the topic is to admit that, for me, the answer is complex.

I’m a woman. I am a woman who loves to read, write, and consume male/male romance.

I’m also a woman who, in subtle, internal ways, feels like a man. And that’s a hard statement to make in our society, especially on a faceless blog where I can’t be seen for who I am, even as the safety of the Internet allows me a certain comfort in putting that statement out there.  But even as I do, I fear seeming “less than” what I’m supposed to be—and I worry that labels will be slapped on me. I also cringe, because admitting that a part of you feels masculine, when you’re a woman—or feminine if a male—is a dangerous thing in our society. It’s threatening; it overturns familiar roles. It leaves people blinking at you blankly, unsure where you actually fit in their world.

  There is a man inside of me. I’m the breadwinner of my family, a highly successful entrepreneur, and hard-driving in many other ways. Yet I’m still a woman. A mother. A wife. A person with just as much softness, and the same need to feel love—and embrace the gentlest part of my nature. I am both genders, intricately twined in the body of a woman.

  Given this dichotomy, it’s no wonder that I’m drawn to writing stories that blur gender lines. In TAKING YOU HOME, Max explores transvestism. He is a man who sometimes feels, deep inside, like a woman. It’s a contradiction I know well in my “real-world” life. People tend to find my marriage confusing, and question how my husband and I balance our roles—with him being the proverbial “Mr. Mom” and command pilot of our family world— and me running our company. The company we both own equally.

From family to friends, one question occasionally surfaces: “What does he do all day?” And there it is again, that squirmy reaction whenever someone reaches beyond an easy label, a swiftly understandable slot. When I say, “I couldn’t do what I do without him,” I often get a quizzical look. Does that reaction actually reveal how these people perceive women at large? Perhaps indicate what they think of the women who run the home, the family, the endless after-school activities, the shopping, the couponing, the scheduling, the doctor appointments? I would venture that the answer is yes. My husband’s contributions are devalued precisely because he is fulfilling a traditionally female role.

Which brings me to a question about the criticism women get for writing and reading male/male romance. I once stumbled across a review of my work out in the wild (The Amazon!), and a man accused me of trying to masquerade as a man simply because of my pen name. The point he missed is that my bio clearly states that I’m a woman. He failed to consider that I deliberately chose an androgynous pseudonym. His reaction was incensed: that I, a woman, should write about men together, and do so under an ambiguous nom de plume.

I’ll venture to say this male reviewer was upset for one reason: because we live in a society that, even in the name of freedom and liberated identity, still wants to box people into tiny little corners. That mindset doesn’t bring more freedom—it puts us in chains.

We are who we are. We are a thousand subtle identities, variegated colors in the prisms that reflect our selves. When a label is slapped on us, it becomes a manacle around our wrists. For me, the beauty of reading male/male romance, and of writing it, is that I am free. Free to explore anything I want on the page—to push boundaries, to see what clashes and what fits.

I write and read male/male romance because it brings me more freedom, creatively and personally. My wings flutter as I write, then suddenly a hidden part of myself flies off the page, and I’m better than I was before I undertook that story. Our genre liberates me.