Rant ahead - you've been warned! ;)
A few weeks ago, I finally got around to seeing Kinsey, which stars Liam Neeson and Laura Linney. It's a well-written, directed and acted biopic of the renowned sex researcher, and, considering its subject matter, I should have made an effort to seek it out much sooner. For one thing, I was surprised to discover that Kinsey's first report, Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, was first published in 1948.
In this report, Dr. Kinsey revealed that nearly 46% of his male subjects had "reacted" sexually to persons of both sexes during their adult lives, and 37% had had at least one homosexual experience. The study also reported that roughly 10% of American men were more or less exclusively gay for at least three years between the ages of 16 and 55.
This report came out over sixty years ago, and yet people's brains still explode when they're asked to consider the possibility that human sexuality might not exist in a state of black-and-white absolutes. I blame some of it on the pervasiveness of heteronormative conditioning in modern Western society, but that excuse only goes so far. There comes a time when people need to stop hiding behind willful ignorance and open their eyes to human sexuality as it truly exists - and very few of us are perfect Kinsey zeroes (exclusively het) or sixes (exclusively gay).
I've been writing fiction featuring gay male relationships for well over a decade now, if you count my long stint writing slash fan fiction. In both fanfic and professionally written m/m fiction, we're dealing with a very specific type of fantasy, which focuses on fetishizing male homosexuality for a female audience. I'm not saying there's anything inherently wrong with that - just don't expect it to be an accurate depiction of the real-life gay and/or bisexual male experience, because it isn't.
Over the past ten-plus years, I've read hundreds of slash stories, as well as dozens of professionally written m/m and menage novels. I also used to gobble up traditional m/f romance novels like jelly beans, until I couldn't stomach the umpteen-hundredth retread of the "secret baby" or "forced marriage" plots. After awhile, all the classic old chestnuts of any particular genre morph into hoary clichés.
Don't get me wrong, it's touching to read about two guys who decide to give up their former sluthood, start picking out curtains and swear to forsake all others forever and ever - the first ten or so times. After about the fiftieth retread, I feel like I need an insulin shot. I know this is romance, and we all want our HEA ending, but could we get a little originality here? Even the big names in the genre are getting stale. It feels like everyone's run out of ideas, so they're just running down the numbers.
And then there are books where two gay guys pull a woman into the relationship to use as a baby machine, then, once she's served her purpose, they kick her to the curb. Readers slurp this crap up with a spoon, but it makes me so angry I could spit.
In fact, I've seen a fair amount of active hostility, even disgust, for the female characters in menage and m/m novels. I find this boggling. The "Ew! Girl cooties!" and other disparaging comments about female genitalia that I've seen thrown around so cavalierly would seem to indicate that many of these readers have serious body-image issues. But instead of taking their neuroses to therapy, they choose to denigrate the work of authors who refuse to buy into this screwed-up mindset, which makes it doubly sad.
I set out to write a series featuring two bisexual male characters and one female character involved in a relationship spanning twenty-plus years. It's received a mixed reception. Readers and reviewers have been programmed to expect that books should contain gay sex or het sex, but not both in the same book. Me, I find it a bit hard to believe that it's even an issue. I write about adult relationships, which necessarily do involve sex, but I'd like to think people read my books for more than just the sex scenes.
From now on, I'm classifying my work as bisexual erotica instead of m/m or menage, because that's actually what it is. Let's see if any of the review sites will touch it now. There's only one I can think of that calls itself a GLBT review site, and actually does review lesbian, bi and trans books. The rest merely pay lip-service to the GLBT label, while at the same time curling that lip against anything but m/m fiction. Not exactly what I'd call truth in advertising!
But there is a silver lining here, in that trends tend to come and go. In a few years I doubt anybody will even lift an eyebrow at books that freely mix gay, bi, menage and heterosexual relationships. Hopefully that will open up the doors for other authors who, like myself, are tired of being marginalized in their own genre.