When I discovered the MM Romance genre I near went out of my mind with excitement. For most of my life I wanted to be a writer and for a big chunk of it, I gave it a shot….
I would start tons of stories, but could never finish them. Mainly because I was writing what I was told would sell. The problem was, I wasn’t really interested it writing what would sell. I wanted to write what I know. Gay men.
I tried and tried to write fiction with heterosexual “heroes” and it just didn’t work. I can’t write believable het men. And the women who would read what I was writing would let me in for another disappointment. I wasn’t writing very good straight women either. They said my secondary characters were fine. They liked them. A lot. But when I tried to write female heroes, deeply get into their heads, their hearts, my characters just weren’t very real women.
And I had one I was so in love with involving the Hindenburg!
You know, I thought all I would have to do is write women as gay men with women’s bodies. I knew what it was liked to fall in love with a man. That was all that would matter, right? Easy, right?
Wrong. Because to my surprise I found out that gay and straight men have a lot more in common than you would imagine. I couldn’t just write a woman as a gay man “trapped in a woman’s body.”
When I found the MM Romance market I squealed for days. I started writing very soon, and since then I’ve sold around twenty-five short stories, novellas and novels! Not too bad now that I am writing what I know.
It was SO exciting to write about gay men! And I could use the genre to really express what it is like to be gay, to think like a gay man, to be attracted to men, to have sex with men…. I could write about gay culture. I could write about the experience of being gay and growing up in a “straight” world.
But I got a little surprise. The people who were beta-ing and editing my work—mostly women—didn’t like a lot of what I was saying! It wasn’t the writing so much they were objecting to. It was the gay man’s experience of discovering they couldn’t be straight. What I mean is this….
When I would have a character talking about the sex they he’d had with women, he would say something that I have heard from almost every single gay man I’ve ever known, met, read or corresponded with. That being held by a woman felt more motherly, while being held by a man was powerful and exciting and loving and safe. That having sex with a woman felt somehow “wrong.” That the sex was unfulfilling, that even kissing a woman felt wrong (I am not talking about a friendly kiss), let alone being naked in bed with woman. That when he looked at a woman naked, for some strange reason that he couldn’t understand, it was like there was something missing.
To my shock, women told me that they felt that I was telling them that there was something “wrong” with them. That the writing made them feel criticized and attacked and what I was writing was hurtful.
I was staggered. How did they get that idea I wondered? How had I so grossly miscommunicated? And damnit! I’m a writer! If I can’t communicate my ideas, then how was I going to be a writer?
I told them I didn’t think there was a single thing wrong with women, and that there was nothing “wrong” with their bodies or anatomy. I explained that I was trying to write about the shock gay men feel when finally loosing their heterosexual virginity—which pretty much every man on the planet wants to do. How shocking it is when they didn’t like it—or at the very least, couldn’t figure out what all the fuss was about. Because damnit, a man is supposed to like sex with women. They’ve listened to their buddies talk about “chicks” all their lives. And how this can start years of gay men hating themselves because they aren’t like other men.
I remember myself deciding that after a year long semi-relationship with a woman that the only explanation their could be for my not liking sex was that no one really liked sex. I reasoned in my confused state that what was really going on was that there was this big social and cultural “joke” being played on us all, and that no one liked sex (not men or women) and everyone was afraid to admit it due to the possibility that they would find out that they were the only one that didn’t like it. They didn’t want to be humiliated if they discovered that other people really did like sex.
Then one day I had sex with a man.
OMG! I remember just the kiss! We were walking down this stairwell and suddenly he turned around and kissed me!
OMG! WHAM! POW! ALAKAZAM!!! BOOM-BOOM-BOOM!
Fireworks! Explosions! Volcanoes erupting! Waves crashing on the beach!
My knees turned to rubber and my legs almost went out from under me. My heart began to trip-hammer in my chest. I felt dizzy. I felt faint.
It scared the shit out of the guy who had just kissed me!
And that was just the kiss! I would blush WAY too much if I told you about the sex a few hours later.
And then? Well I knew then! People really did like sex. They just had to be having sex with the right sex (for them).
But when I would write about such experiences in my essays and stories, instead of my betas understanding what I was saying—which is that some of us really are gay and it’s not a —what people HEARD was that I was saying that there was something wrong with women. No matter how I tried to explain it, I was hurting or insulting someone and I didn’t know why.
That was until this last year.
This last year I was thrilled when I got the chance to edit my first anthology. I had pitched the idea—an anthology about bears—and they not only liked it but let me co-edit it.
We got about eighty submissions and something happened that really surprised me. A huge percentage of the stores had a similar theme. That theme being that the bears in the stories hated being “fat.” That many of them hated themselves and couldn’t even look in a mirror. That the story was about them having to learn that they weren’t ugly just because they were…well, fat!
So many of these stories were about men thinking they were fat. Or the story would be about a man, who only likes HUNKS, coming to the realization that fat men were okay if you looked in their hearts and ignored their FAT bodies.
And it would get to the point that every time I saw that world fat (or similar words like “overweight” or “obese”) it got so that word got bigger and bigger until it felt like the Hollywood sign.
The message I was getting was that….
YOU’RE FAT, BG THOMAS!! YOU’RE FAT FAT FAT FATFATFATFATFAT!!!
I felt slapped. I felt hurt. I felt like I was being pointed at and there was some not-so-quite whisperings about, “Look—look at that guy over there…. See him? He’s FAT!!
I knew better. I knew that wasn’t what the writers were saying. I know that a lot of men, including myself, even had to go through such experiences—to learn to love themselves. These were legitimate stories.
But it still felt like some kind of overweight version of misogynism.
These writers weren’t talking to me. They were writing a story. But what I was hearing was—Hey BG, it’s okay that you’re overweight, we love you anyway.
And quite suddenly I understood why it was that some women felt like I was attacking them personally and why they felt I saying there was something “wrong” with them.
We are human. And sometimes we feel attacked, even if it isn’t true. We still feel that way and feelings aren’t always logical.
I don’t know what effect this revelation is going to have on my writing because I still want to be honest. I still want to write about what it is like to be a gay man. I still want to write about my feelings. I still want to tell people what it is like to grow up feeling different.
But believe you me I am going to give what I write a lot more thought.
In the meantime, let me tell you something. I don’t think there is anything wrong with women. They aren’t “missing” anything. I don’t feel like men are better than women. HELL! Almost all of my friends are women and pretty much the best friends I’ve ever had were women!
So please please pleasepleaseplease! Don’t ever think I am saying any of this when you read anything I’ve written. And I am going to try and figure out a better way to express myself.
Let me know if I figure it out?
With much love,