by Author Joey W. Hill
When I was a Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan, I was exceedingly pissed off when the writers decided Willow was just going to wake up one morning and presto! She was gay. I had a real problem with them changing the character mid-stream. But I had a personal bias. I loved Willow and Oz together. So, did it aggravate me because I preferred the relationship she was in, or because I felt the writing had taken a turn that wasn’t true to the character?
To take that question to an even deeper level, as a BDSM romance author, I have written Male/male stories that fall under the “gay for you” trope. Meaning, a story where a heretofore straight guy, who has never been attracted to men before, finds himself drawn to another man (usually already gay or bisexual). Vampire Mistress/Vampire Trinity, my two-part M/F/m story of Daegan, Gideon and Anwyn, had that dynamic with Gideon, who is one of my readers’ favorite characters in my Vampire Queen series. So I had to ask myself, what’s the difference between Willow “waking up” gay, and a “gay for you” formerly straight hero?
Well, to some folks, I may be splitting hairs, but here’s my reasoning. With Willow, there was no foundation or foreshadowing to explain that change. Whereas in a gay-for-you story, we get access to the internal narrative, a front row seat to the building of the relationship between the two men, until it reaches the point demonstrated in this little snippet from my story Naughty Wishes:
* * *
“Do you think Chris is a true submissive?” Logan asked. “No editing, just say it straight out.”
“No. Yes. Sometimes. To me. When it fits the moment.” Geoff’s brow furrowed. “But that sounds like ‘gay for you.’”
“It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Many of us fall hard for one person, Geoff. No one thinks that’s unusual, because it’s what society has romanticized. A man being attracted to other men, consistently and exclusively, is what we call gay. The opposite is heterosexual, and those who are open to being attracted to either sex, bi. But a man who simply falls in love with someone, regardless of gender, regardless of labels, is something different.”
“Enlightened.” Logan smiled.
* * *
When I was coming along, traditional publishers didn’t think m/m romances could be written in a way that would appeal to the primarily heterosexual female romance reader audience. The small presses thought it was worth a shot, and they were right. Female romance readers have elevated m/m romance fiction to a strong niche in the genre. I think a large part of that success is because romance authors dig into the heads of these m/m characters, letting us see the evolution of feelings and attraction in a way that connects to our affinity for a good love story. Where some suspension of disbelief is needed, that’s when the author’s skill in building that environment is vital. As far as the spicy aspects, a tough guy hero being overwhelmed emotionally, physically, by an equally strong guy? That doesn’t hurt - fan and ice water time!
An interesting side note: Gay-for-you was far more prevalent early on in m/m romance. These days, both male characters are far more likely to already be gay or bisexual, or have some history of crossing sexual orientation lines in their relationships. When we started out, I think we were all learning to be comfortable with same-sex relationships. Watching a formerly straight hero open up his mind to the idea of being with a guy was a great way to bring the reader down that road, only on the side of finding themselves enjoying a romance about two men, instead of the traditional male/female relationship.
I like to think that’s why romance readers are now much more open to main protagonists who start out gay/bisexual, and find them every bit as appealing as their heterosexual heroes. Maybe Hollywood will eventually catch up with us and realize that a big action movie star can be a gay man, with a male love interest, and we WILL find that crazy sexy. Don’t get me started on my favorite lead men m/m fantasies. They make my husband cringe, put his fingers in his ears and go la-la-la-la-la!
So if I re-ask myself the question: Did the Willow thing bug me because there was no basis for it, or because I didn’t find her relationship with Tara as appealing as I did her relationship with Oz? The answer becomes: Both. It didn’t make sense to me, and then, add to that, the fact I didn’t want the relationship to go that way meant I couldn’t suspend my disbelief to support it through that leap.
There’s been an ongoing thing about Butch and Vishous in the Black Dagger Brotherhood series by J.R. Ward. Many readers wanted the two of them to end up together. For those readers, the chemistry heroines Marissa and Jane had with Butch and Vishous, respectively, has never matched what Butch and Vishous have between one another. That’s probably the biggest example of mainstream “gay for you” I’ve seen, even if it was mostly developed in readers’ minds (grin).
To recap, “gay for you” seems to work when the reader wants it to happen, AND when the author properly handles story elements, insights through internal narrative, etc, to achieve the chemistry and believability necessary to make it work. And before anyone starts to argue with me about suspended disbelief being a weak tool in good romance fiction, let’s talk about the literal army of male heroes who intuitively know what a woman wants and needs. Said a woman about a man in real life NEVER, lol, but we love it when it happens selectively (with the right timing) in romance fiction.
Let us know your thoughts on the above. For those ‘gay for you’ stories that are still out there, what are your favorites? Or your favorite m/m stories, period?
[* This post was inspired by the comments/discussion we had under the Romance Rehab post “Characters Let Down by Their Writers and the Romance Authors Who Would Have Done Better” At the time, my comment was that Chris Owen (who wrote Bareback) would have done a much better job in bringing in a gay character on Buffy. Like a hot male vampire coming to Sunnydale and turning Spike’s head after Drusilla dies…ooh, the possibilities. I can totally buy Spike’s character as bi-sexual.]
Winner of the RT Book Reviews Career Achievement award, Joey W. Hill has published almost fifty contemporary and paranormal BDSM romances, including six series. Her emotionally-intense love stories offer everything from vampires, mermaids, witches and angels, to boardroom executives, cops and simple housemaids. Find her at any of the following places:
Facebook Fan site: JWHMembersOnly
And for funsies, here are some of Joey’s books that were recently added to the Romance Rehab TBR pile with a quickness:
At Her Command