Scribbled below are my thoughts regarding a recent article from a literary critic bemoaning the lack of gay marriage and long-term gay relationships in fiction. He either is not familiar with male/male romance or dismisses the genre, hence my response. I do not claim to have a great deal of expertise on the topic, but I can provide one fan’s perspective. I also list some of my favorite works that focus on married gay couples (and link to an article commenter who listed ten more serious male/male romance works).
In response to: “It’s time fiction reflected gay married life” by Matthew Griffin
It is easy for literary critics to overlook or dismiss “pulp” fiction when looking for thoughtful and meaningful insights into society and social relations. The author of a recent article lamented the lack of fiction that reflected gay married life. He indicated some popular fiction (e.g. science fiction) and popular cinema (Brokeback Mountain) had been meaningful to him. However, he also stated that much of the gay literature he had read usually focused on past difficulties (such as homophobia and AIDs) and almost always had tragic endings. When he read gay literature that was focused on more positive relationships, he found it generally to be rooted in sex, beauty, physical pleasure, and repeated encounters with different partners rather than long-term relationships.
As a reader of the male/male romance, I do recognize there are many works in this genre that may focus on physical pleasure, superficial appearance, and/or immediate conquest/hook-up/coupling of two men. However, serious readers of this genre will recognize there are many works focused on personal and romantic gay relationships and the societal issues surrounding their long-term struggles and success. Many works have focused on a journey to marriage, both in the newly legal sense as well as in the long-term relationships that has been part of gay culture in the United States for decades. (Before any U.S. state legalized gay marriages, most of my gay friends in long-term, committed relationships used the terms “married” and “husbands” to refer to themselves even if broader society called them “partners.”) The male/male romance genre has always included serious explorations of permanent love and relationships, and gleefully has also incorporated legal marriage into newer plot lines.
It’s possible this author is unfamiliar with this somewhat “niche” genre, or may dismiss it as “pulp” fiction that is not worthy of serious consideration, as some others have done in the past. Whatever the author’s experience or opinions, I do not want to rehash old arguments but I will take this opportunity to say popular fiction has often made insightful comments on current society and aspirations for a better world. Pulp science fiction in print and on film of past decades has predicted both technological and social developments in society, from Isaac Asimov to Gene Roddenberry.
The often maligned romance genre has been too often dismissed by some feminists and scholars as stereotypical fairy tales or simply reinforcing traditional patriarchy, reinforcing a stereotype that a woman needs to be with a man to be complete. Yet there are plenty of examples in this broad genre of powerful women breaking gender norms, and often knocking down men devoted to patriarchal/male domination in relationships, and uplifting those who are willing to join with strong women in challenging at least some repressive gender roles. (One doesn’t have to be a misandrist or totally opposed to long-term monogamy or marriage to support the equality and empowerment of women. I have always embraced the feminist label for myself, and also enjoyed many male/female romance books with strong women as well as male/male novels.) In a similar manner, while some “male/male” romance works seem to be focused on titillation, plenty have social and personal substance in their stories and relationships.
In short, I am arguing that the male/male romance genre has seriously tackled gay long-term relationships, both before and after the legalization of gay marriage, and that romance as a genre should not be summarily dismissed even if some works are simply focused on immediate pleasure rather than more serious issues. (While this is probably not news to any who are likely to read this, it did make me feel better to vent a bit.)
A quote from the article:
The gay literature I read in the years after that never quite answered my questions. Much of it is rooted not in the drama of long-term relationships but in the sharp pang of sex, in the search for love in immediate beauty and physical pleasure, often moving from one object of desire to another in quick succession.
Below are two lists of male/male romance series that have a rich depth and breadth that reaches far beyond the sex/beauty/physical focus which the author describes above.
Ten strong male/male romances focused on long-term relationships:
Provided by a commenter responding to the article on The Guardian‘s website
1. More Heat Than The Sun series by John Wiltshire
2. Cut and Run series by Abigail Roux and Madeleine Urban
3. Stockhlom Syndrome series by Richard Rider
4. Special Forces Series By Alexandr Voinov
5. The Adrien English Mysteries by Josh Lanyon
6. The Shatterproof Bond series by Isobel Starling
7. The Psycop Series by Jordan Castillo Price
8. Shattered Glass by Dani Alexander
9. Captive Prince series by C.S Pacat
10. The THIRDS series by Charlie Cochet
Some of my favorite “gay marriages” in recent fiction:
Comments: The series covers college-aged and new adults from a wide variety of backgrounds and approaches, from jaded players, Disney-princess twinks, gay men fleeing religious discrimination, rich and financially struggling, suburban and rural. (Series is set in a Midwestern college environments that reflect my own experience.)
Comments: Thes tear-jerker novels follow a strong young man who suffers, survives, and thrives in a difficult, homophobic environment, including taking in a friend ejected from his family for being gay, and a couple growing through their taboo attraction, war, and the development of an increasingly broad and inclusive family. (Set in the Sierra Foothills very close to my current location.)
Comments: Extremely humorous and rather irreverent series filled with laughter surrounding serious issues. I must admit, this actually isn’t one of my personal favorites, as one of the characters drives me too crazy, but overall is a fan favorite for a “laugh-out-loud” take on serious issues.
I actually personally prefer the At First Site series, which is even less reverential and more caricature-driven humor. Even so, I see plenty of realistic attitudes and experiences in the characters even if they are driven over-the-top in humorous but endearing caricatures.
Comments: Gay marriage can lead to gay divorce, and this holiday story centers on a gay couple and their kids coming to terms with celebrating Christmas while separated. Interestingly, many of the (female) reviewers found the men’s behavior to be extremely knuckled-headed, and wondered why it took them so long to get their heads out of their a**es. I found their behavior utterly believable. I’m just not sure if it’s a male versus female point of view, or maybe I just have my head too far up my own…
Comments: This short story (available in the free 7&7 Virtue & Vice anthology) centers on a man dealing with the fallout of HIV in the 1990’s but able to survive and move on to love and eventually marriage. In some ways, a relatively pat and simplistic story, but one that resonated deeply with me.