Messy Never After

After attending my first GayRomLit, I was invited by the blog, Prism Book Alliance, to write a monthly column for them under their Outside the Margins feature. Each article would be about anything that interested me, particularly if it related to the M/M romance genre. The blog is no longer around, but I wanted to share what I wrote (with minor editing) here on Please enjoy!

As a newcomer to MM and gay romance, I’m not aware of the tropes, clichés, and stereotypes yet, although as I read, I’m getting a good idea.

And by read, I don’t only mean books. I mean blogs, social media posts, blurbs, and (visually reading) cover designs.

One thing that’s come to my attention is the complaint that sex is not real enough. Perhaps there’s too much anal probing? Not enough fluid swapping? No cleaning of nefarious corners of bodies, before and after pleasurable utilization? It’s no wonder, some complainants argue, that a genre largely written by people who have not directly experienced what they’re writing about, and largely watch pornography (talk about unreal!) for research, would create such fantasies.

To be fair, we don’t hear similar complaints lodged loudly and publicly against men gynecologists, although the famous analogy of going to a mechanic who’s never owned or driven a car, has been bandied about for a few decades now. Ouch. Burn. And yet, there are still men gynecologists, and I know there will continue to be women writers of MM and gay romance.

I want to be clear, though, that I’m not one of the plaintiffs who complain about sex not being real enough in romance. In When Harry Met Sally, nobody whined about the wet spot, and I’m okay with that. What’s more, even in work that is not categorized as romance, such as the realistic drama Brokeback Mountain (happy ten year anniversary!), there is no mention of washing up afterward or much talk during sex like, “How ‘bout some more spit, cowboy?”

Stories are told about babies being born and people dying every second of our lives, and rarely-to-the-point-of-never, do they ever mention the mess. Not in Grapes of Wrath, not in The Passion, and not in any romances I’ve read so far and maybe more important, the romances people like to read.

Why? The answer, I believe, is that realism is a convention that we have assumed has value for everyone and every artistic endeavor. Photorealistic art is considered “good art” made by a “good artist.” Movies like Full Metal Jacket are lauded for “showing how it really was.” Even documentaries and reality shows give the impression that realism equals reality, despite the credits revealing writers, editors, producers, etc. And the next time you wait for people to get out of the way for your selfie at a landmark to make it look like nobody else was there, think about how real that picture is—and would you prefer instead to snap a shot of all the other tourists blithely photo bombing your moment?

In cultures that are not Western, the idea of realism being real is confusing—because who has a plot to their lives? And if realism were what we wanted, why are lightsabers so damn desired, and where the hell is mine already?!

This is not to say that some realistic details don’t help us get in the mood—and stay in the mood—of the story we have before us, but what we notice says more about us than about the story. For example, Scully never took off her glove—covered in dissolving human—in the movie, The X-Files, to answer her cell phone;  and Molly, in Ghost,  had magically clean hands with which to paw Sam during a scene that involved making pottery. Yes, I wash my hands a lot, why do you ask?

The truth is, we like our stories to be stories, especially romantics (to which the realists were reacting) and we don’t want things bogged down with banal details that don’t add to those stories. If you want realism, try reading 18th- and 19th-century British novels and then get back to me after you wake up from your coma.

What’s considered mundane is going to be personal, for the writer and the reader; for some, writing the nitty-gritty about depression is meaningful, even therapeutic—and for others, reading about the mechanics of intercourse may be helpful to manage expectations and navigate their own future encounters.

Regardless, it’s helpful to remember that in porn and in romance, in news and in documentaries, in videos and in photographs on our phones, there is editing. None of it is real, unless it’s in the real world.

Originally published on Prism Book Alliance on December 16, 2015

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon from Pexels

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