Wednesday, July 15, 2015

A Piece of Me ~ Kate Aaron

My monthly feature A Piece of Me, where I give this spot to a creative person to talk about anything they want is given to the beautiful and talented Kate Aaron this month. Author of Free Men Series, Blowing It, Balls Up, and so many other wonderful gay romance novels. She's taking over today and giving all of you a piece of herself. Without further wait, here she is.

Celebrating Diversity

I was fourteen when Queer as Folk first aired in the UK; eighteen when I moved to Manchester and became a part of the gay scene which that show represented. In the interim, there was plenty of backlash against the characters depicted in QAF. Plenty of gay people were horrified to see so much hedonism, so many gay men drinking to excess, taking drugs, sleeping around, and chasing their youth (or youths, more generally). “That isn’t us!” came the battle-cry.

Fifteen years later, after an avalanche of PR, court cases, and editorials in newspapers from wet-eyed couples who just want their kids to grow up in households recognised by the state, one could be forgiven for thinking we’re all living according to a new dominant norm. Except that isn’t the community I know and love, it’s just the “That isn’t us!” cries have become quieter.

Maybe these days I’m an old hypocrite, given in a few short months I’ll be living the wholesome, gay-married-with-kids life that we’re all supposed to be living now, but I hate that my community—the diverse, vibrant, multicultural community I came of age in—has prostrated itself before the public and sworn those days are behind it. Like everything between 1969 and gay marriage was a rather unfortunate adolescence but now we’ve all grown up.

I know plenty of people who haven’t “grown up”. Plenty of people who don’t want marriage, or kids, or even monogamy. And that’s okay. There is no one way of being straight, or white, or middle-class, or anything else, so why should there be only one way of being gay?

Kids now are richer in more ways that I was, in more ways than I can count. They have thousands of films, TV shows, and books in which they can see their futures projected—futures with a HEA, not an untimely death, social ruin, or prison walls. I love gay romance for that more than I can say. I write it for that reason, because when I was growing up, I searched for it so hard and never found it. I want kids to see that no matter what their parents, teachers, priests, imams, or rabbis say, there is hope. There is a future for them. And I want that message to reach all the kids out there in need of hope—the kids who don’t identify with male/female-gay/straight binaries; kids who are drawn to various aspects of BDSM; kids who don’t want to settle down or get married.

This is where romance limits us. In part, that’s the fault of the genre. Boy meets boy, they fall in love, and live happily ever after. That’s the nature of the beast. And sure, boy can meet boy who likes getting a little freaky in the bedroom and they can still live happily ever after. Boy can meet boy and together they can overcome the indoctrination of a conservative, religious upbringing and still live happily ever after. But where’s the story for the boy who doesn’t feel like he’s missing part of himself; the boy who’s happy with his own company and maybe a string of somebodies to help him scratch an itch?

The answer, of course, is that romance is stumped when it comes to independent living. The latter boy is what our romance hero should be before he meets the love of his life. Then he’ll realise how empty his prior existence was, the illusion of being previously happy will melt away, and he’ll understand that he was missing something all along.

Except I don’t buy that.

Firstly, I think the narrative that we’re all better when we’re with somebody is incredibly damaging. I’ve seen too many people stay in toxic relationships because they can’t imagine anything worse than being single. Self-worth is too little addressed in our culture, particularly in romance.

Secondly, the thing I love most about my community is its diversity. That’s what we celebrate every year at Pride when we watch LGBT firemen and policemen, athletes, drag artists, Dykes on Bikes, doctors and vicars, old and young, black and white, Christian and Muslim, strippers and dancers and accountants and shopkeepers marching together for a common cause. Whoever, whatever. We celebrate them all. I can’t imagine anything sadder than seeing all that diversity wiped out for the sake of appearing palatable to “everybody else.”

Our civil rights are not dependent on us living lives that other people deem acceptable, and nor is our happiness dependent on us fitting into a neat little box, be that in life or in romance. Which is why I’d love to see more diversity within m/m. Not just other-than-white guys, but effeminate guys, overweight guys, guys who aren’t particularly attractive. Guys who have open relationships without it being a big deal; who don’t long to settle down but want to keep moving, see the world, experience everything it has to offer.

TV offers some strides in that direction, but romance is depressingly uniform. Built, beautiful, straight-acting white dudes meet, fall in love, get married. Don’t we want more than that?

The answer, sadly, is that very few people do. At least as an overall percentage of the genre’s readership. Too many times, I’ve seen people melt down on Goodreads because an MC noticed a waiter was cute after he’d met his intended, and therefore he was cheating. Too many times, I’ve seen brilliant, brilliant books—books that nail the community I know, and the people who inhabit it—passed over because they’re different. Because people don’t want the reality, they want to lose themselves in an alphaman fantasy.

I get that it’s only fiction, and romance is supposed to be an escape where we forget our hang-ups while we drool over someone else’s chiselled six-pack, but there’s also the issue of representation. The LGBT community came together and changed the narrative from hedonism-without-consequences to married-with-kids for a reason: because what one of us is seen to be doing, we are all seen to be doing, and when the actions of that one earn the disapproval of people who are holding our civil rights over our heads, we can all lose everything. That only happens to minorities (look how many people demand their Muslim neighbours apologise for the actions of ISIS, but how nobody expects their Christian neighbours to apologise for the KKK, for example).

In het romance you can have as many silly alphaman/damsel-in-distress tropes as you like, because there are plenty of counter-narratives to remind the impressionable that they’re only fiction. With the LGBT community, those counter-narratives don’t exist (or if they do, they’re frowned upon). Either we’re married-with-kids or we’re going to hell in a handcart, and that’s why I think it’s our responsibility as authors and readers, queerfolk and allies, not to suppress those counter-narratives, but to welcome them with open hearts and minds.

Authors (and I include myself, here) need to be braver about writing more diverse characters, but readers also need to give them a chance. Ten or fifteen years ago, everyone was losing their minds at the idea that flogging someone could be hot. Now you can’t move for BDSM titles. Perhaps it’s time to open another new frontier in romance, celebrate diversity, and make realism the new sexy.

Born in Liverpool, Kate Aaron is the bestselling author of the #1 LGBT romance titles 'What He Wants', 'Ace', and 'The Slave', and other critically acclaimed works. 

She has the best of friends, the worst of enemies, and a mischievous muse with a passion for storytelling that doesn't know the difference between fact and fiction. Kate is engaged to award winning author AJ Rose, and together they plan to take over the world.


  1. *applauds* So well said. I want to be Kate when I grow up.

  2. All the above. I made a mistake writing a story for Goodreads which had cheating in it before I knew the 'rules'. I love a romance, but I like reading about different people with real life problems - older men included because I am past 50 and I don;t want to read about teenagers falling in love for life. Sometimes you have to wait for your HEA.

    1. I don't necessarily disagree with people who want to avoid reading cheating in romance. I suppose it depends how it turns out in the end ;) What annoys me most is when people categorise as cheating things that absolutely aren't, such as polyamory/open relationships, which comes down to imposing rules on the MCs that say there's only one way to conduct a romantic relationship.

  3. Another very well written post, gosh your way with words goes very far beyond fiction.

    I'm not entirely sure I completely agree though. As far as I can tell (and it is quite possible I read the 'wrong' books) heterosexual romance is as tied to the 'must have a happy ending' dogma as any other form of romance. I got myself into a huge and not entirely friendly discussion on that 'rule' before and will try to avoid it here; suffice to say I personally think any story in which love plays a major role is a romance, regardless of the ending. My point is that any book in the heterosexual market which doesn't have that requisite happy ending is just labelled 'general fiction' and presto, problem solved. As far as I can tell the LGBT... book market doesn't seem to have a (sizeable) 'general fiction' group yet. I think the issue is not so much getting readers to accept a wider interpretation of the word 'romance' but to get them to read outside the romance genre, and/or, in an ideal world, get every reader to open up to the idea that a general fiction book can have main characters of any orientation without it meaning the book has to be labelled as anything beyond 'general fiction'.

    I understand what your saying about the real-life situation as well, but once again I don't completely agree. Heterosexuals are subject to standards and expectations as much (if not more) as others. We're all supposed to have our wild times before we hit our mid-twenties by which stage we should settle down, have kids, buy a house and work at least 40 hours a week until we retire and start pottering around in our garden until we die. Deciding you don't want to marry, don't want to have kids, want to stop after 'only' one kid are all questioned and frowned upon. In short, all of us are being forced to live in a way which makes the majority feel safe and 'normal'. Maybe one of the results of equality spreading wider and wider is that society also feels it now has the right to demand and expect that everybody lives according to what society deems acceptable. And yes, that's frustrating.

    (I hope any of this made sense. It did in my head but after getting it all typed out I'm not so sure any more).

    1. You made perfect sense :) I agree that for all romance in whatever sub-genre, a HEA is required. My issue is more with what sort of characters can get their HEA, and what form the HEA takes. If the only representation of queerfolk in common culture is gorgeous, straight-acting white guys with rippling muscles, it implies only those people will be happy IRL. While het romance is just as bad, we know from looking around us that het people of all shapes, sizes, ages, colours, and abilities also live happily ever after. The real world provides a counter-narrative that reminds us fiction is not reality. That's not always the case in queer culture, because we're so under-represented and closeted that plenty of kids grow up without meeting a single openly-LGBT person before they're adults themselves.

    2. Since I started off as devil's advocate I may as well continue and suggest that maybe what 'you' need is time. It is not so very long ago couples had to be the same race and / or same faith in order to be together, and in many countries that is still true. I do realize those are more often than not also the countries where homosexuality or any form of diversity is frowned upon if not illegal. I fear that the LGBTQ.... community is playing a game of catch up, both in real life and in fiction. While that isn't fair, it is the reality of how humans tend to deal with change. Most people resist change, afraid it may pull them out of their comfort zone. As a result, any step forward will, I fear, invariably be followed by a time in which the general public gets used to the situation. Changing/confirming the law is one thing. Getting people (even some of those who approve of the change) to be comfortable with the result is something else altogether.

      As today's kids grow up, watching the Supreme Court decision in the US or the referendum in Ireland, what was 'strange' (if not abhorrent) to their parents will become their normal. And that's how true diversity will find it's accepted and no longer remarked upon place in all our lives.