Well. Most of my corner of the internet is making noises about Amazon’s acquisition of Goodreads this week. I’m trying not to panic too soon but I’m wary and not pleased; I really like Goodreads, and if it goes the way of Stanza or Shelfari I’m going to be really disappointed.
More than that, though, I’ve been kicking around an attempt to define my frustrations with reading in m/m. I was fussing at a friend earlier this week and suggested that maybe my standard needed to be “would I still read this if the characters weren’t gay?” …That’s not quite right, though. If the main characters in Alex Beecroft’s The Blessed Isle weren’t gay, what remained of their story probably wouldn’t draw me in. But I loved that book, devoured every sentence like a mouthful of the most elegantly crafted dessert. Her command of her prose is inspiring, and an utter delight to consume.
Other things I’ve picked up have been less thrilling. I tend to skip most contemporaries, in part because the setting doesn’t interest me, but also because if I never read another “omg, I’m gay? do I have to like musicals and interior decorating now?” passage—or even another “just so you know, being gay doesn’t mean I like musicals and interior decorating” passage—I won’t feel like I’m missing anything. Those passages always feel to me like hand-holding for straight people, coaxing them toward the shocking revelation that queers are real people with a variety of personalities and interests. I figured out that I wasn’t straight when I was 13. I’ve had two decades to come to terms with the fact that I’m still an individual rather than a template. I don’t want to read books that include the Meeting Your First Gay Person primer. I’m sure they do good things for some people, but I am not their audience.
…Which is not to say that my chosen spec fic genres are free of problems either. I love fantasy settings but I’ve seen too much d&d worldbuilding, too many cases of “of course gays are persecuted,” too many cases of “women make babies and stay out of public life, duh,” far too many cases of “religion exists to punish those horrible gay people,” and definitely too many cases of “oh no what are these strange feelings for a person of my sex that Nobody Has Ever Felt Before.” It all just feels so cookie-cutter after a while. Give me variety! Give me worlds that seem like interesting places to escape to. Give me queer heroes who have other struggles in their lives than “oh no queerness???” Give me stories where gay characters face an enemy other than homophobia: yes, we deal with that shit a lot, but it is not the only struggle in our lives.
As I write this out I’m coming to the conclusion that there’s a parallel here with straight fantasy’s rape-of-female-characters epidemic. Yes, true, this is a problem that many people in this demographic deal with. But writers: please stop acting like a female character’s sex, or a gay character’s sexual orientation, are the only possible reasons for them to be hurt or struggles for them to deal with. We’re still people. We still want to prove our theories and fight our dragons and find our treasure and discover our magical talents. We are not defined solely by the prejudices against us. Let us face other challenges.
There’s another tangent here about the importance of speculative fiction in suggesting that our society’s current prejudices are not universal, but I’m already wandering. I’ll save that bit for next time.
And if you have any recs for really strong queer spec fic that does the things I’m asking for—especially if you have recs for f/f that does this—I would absolutely love to hear them.