I’m not a romance reader. I don’t have anything against romance authors, it is just not something I enjoy. However, if you ever looked at my Goodreads activity, you’d think quite the opposite. I do enjoy reading stories where the main character is gay, or in a gay relationship. Why is that? I can better relate to the story. I’m not saying there is anything wrong with straight characters, but I want to read something that immerses me in the tale that the writer has created. Sometimes, not always, it is nice to create a bond to the people being portrayed, and sometimes, that means the characters fit more into my life and how it can differ from others.
What I find so frustrating, and what has triggered this latest dribble; is that if you read a book with a straight character and they have a romantic interest in someone of the opposite sex, it’s just a book be it fiction, sci-fi, adventure, etc. However, introduce a gay main character, or worse yet, the gay character has a love interest, suddenly the book is considered a gay romance and all the other genres are second, third, and/or dropped from the list.
There might not even be any sex in the story, a kiss, or maybe a ‘burning kiss of desire’, and suddenly that book is a romance — but only if the characters are gay. Kissing, even more than just kissing in any other book with just straight characters never gets mislabeled as a romance novel. Most people reviewing it don’t even make mention of such a shocking moment. Now, if you say the character is gay and kissing another guy, the book is slapped with a romance/gay orientated label. And yes, I know, there are a few books with gay main characters that aren’t romance novels. But in those books, it is only alluded to, that the character may be gay. Can you name one where the gay main character was kissing another guy, and no one labeled that book a romance? I’d love to read it.
With that said, another observation, if the gay character is a side character — only appearing here and there — even if they allude to sex scenes with that gay character; it appears to be okay and the book is just a book. But, again, once you make that side character a main character, the book is slapped with the romance label.
Why is it okay to have a straight couple getting it on and it not being labeled as romance? Yet just a peck on the cheek between two guys gets a book labeled as a romance (or an M M Romance: Male and Male)? Maybe the authors who publish books are at fault. They allow the publishers, or their agents, to push their books as a romance.
Now, on Goodreads, readers get to tag books by the category they feel the book is intended for, which I find even more interesting. If you find a book that has little, to no, outright gay sex scenes but the main character is gay, it is more likely labeled or tagged as a romance in that books published genre. On Goodreads, the tags are what individual readers get to set. It’s a neat system. I kind of like it. Without having to read lots of reviews, or spoilers, you get a good idea from other readers based off their tags, what a book is going to be about.
The interesting part of the tags, and perhaps helps to answer a few of the questions I pose here, that these book, for instance, the ones with gay main characters and no sex, on Goodreads people tag them as “LGBT” or “Queer”. However, others tag that same book as “Romance” or “MM Romance”. Even more curious, at least for the few books I’ve found that I wouldn’t consider a romance, is that fifty percent (or more) of the tags fall into the LGBT category and not romance. It’s when you start reading the various reviews that you start to notice something related to how people tag things.
I’ve found that many state things about how the story evolved, what people loved/liked/hated about the book, and so on. A very normal book review. But then you start seeing reviews that talk about ‘how cute the two gay characters where’, ‘how they seemed like a hot couple’, ‘the characters are so cute together and they can’t wait to see if they hook up’, and … it continues.
I find that I’m somewhat offended by those ‘gay slanted’ reviews. Are people actually saying they are reading the books to fulfill some strange, horny, undersexed desires? Is that like saying “Instead of just watching porn, you’re being more ‘sophisticated’ and reading a book that lets you fantasize about the sex that ‘could be’ happening?” In all honesty, is that what is going on?
It really does feel like books are very much biased and judged on the orientation of the characters by these casual reviewers. And that some people consider it okay. because it’s a book and read in the privacy of your own home? The stories in these books are secondary in the reviews, over shadowed by the gay characters sex life. Isn’t that what we’ve been fighting against in the gay community for years, we don’t want to be judged as just people who want sex all the time?
I don’t know if this holds true for books with lesbians, I don’t know if the perception plays out the same for those books. I recently started reading a few books with Latin or, more specifically, Mexican characters. I didn’t pick the books for the characters race; I didn’t even know the characters races until I started reading the books. I didn’t see any special tags, or references, to it being a “Mexican” genre, just another fiction book. There were references to kissing and sex, yet the characters where all straight.
That’s probably enough on this, but now I really wonder; are books just ignored in the fight for LGBT rights? I’m really curious to see what others think about this, or if there is any type of movement. I could be reading too much into this and I just haven’t found the (gay) fiction, not romance, novels yet.