Is The M/M Community Toxic?
Every few months, as consistent as my unquenchable thirst for approval and affection (and all things fried), there is a scandal within the MM community that results in a checklist of reactions.
1) Blogs are written to condemn the individual who said the thing, or lied, or penned a blog of their own expressing their displeasure with the community in a way that manages to insult everyone in it.
2) Facebook becomes a war zone, with people bombarding said individual’s page with questions and fiery comments. And, if the person so happens to be an author, this extends into book reviews, author pages, websites, etc.
3) People talk about how they can’t handle this anymore, and about how they’re going to “leave” the community by deleting social media off their devices.
4) People who aren’t involved in the circle of conflict, but who teeter around the edge because they love the community (myself included) offer their opinions in the form of long statuses that, ultimately, don’t change a thing.
And you know what happens next? Nothing. Nothing happens after the big shake up. No lessons are learned, no understanding is had, no one leaves, no one holds a burning hatred in their hearts forever, and life goes on—as it should.
With all that in mind, I ask you this: Is the MM community toxic?
I believe the answer is no, but I also attribute toxicity to the behavior of pathological liars, homophobes, overt masculinity that boarders on 80’s jock-trope satire, and that one person we all have on Facebook that just has to tell you you’re wrong about everything and proceeds to explain why even though all you posted was that you’re eating a sandwich.
To me, toxicity is something that spreads, festers, and corrupts, and if the MM community were toxic, it wouldn’t be sustainable.
(Side note: I think the word “toxic” has become such a crutch for people that most of us label anyone who has ever hurt are feelings as such after we’ve finished reading the dozens of BuzzFeed articles pointing out how to spot a “toxic” person in our lives. It’s too easily thrown around to draw a line in our minds between good and bad, right and wrong, extra crispy and original recipe, and immediately labelling a group—or a person—as toxic closes the door on having a dialogue to better understand why they behave and/or say the things they do)
I do think the MM community has some unspoken issues that bubble in the background until they boil over. These issues usually have things to do with Author/Reader interactions, expectations within the genre, and the pressure to succeed in a highly competitive market.
The MM community isn’t toxic—it’s a fandom.
Fandoms are passionate, loud within their walls, and have very strong expectations about how their book/movie/whatever should go. They can make or break entire franchises—they’re the reason supernatural has been running for 14 seasons, and also the reason Solo flopped at the box office. If you’re good to your fandom, they’re good to you, and if you outright ignore them, they’ll ensure that you fail.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying fandoms are a bad thing (having been a part of many myself), but I am saying that their expectations are a lot of pressure, and, sometimes, can make the creator that the fandom is centered around feel like they have no control over their work. After all, if fans threaten to boycott a show over a character’s death—even if that’s what the creator originally planned to move the story forward—then that creator is now forced to choose between their artistic integrity or pleasing an audience who have taken the reins of their show out of their hands.
Intentional or not, this is how some people behave in the MM community. We’re seeing increasing demands for “warnings” in books, be it threesomes, more than one partner, or anything other than a “feel good” romp. And we also see statuses from readers lambasting creative decisions made by authors in not-so-vague-ways where the author themselves can read it and feel shitty for the rest of the day.
Some readers PM an author just to tell them that they like them as a person but dislike their latest release. Some comment on posts about upcoming books stating they won’t read it because of X and Y reasons. And some readers outright complain about the fiction—names included—and discourage people from reading it publicly.
Again, I don’t think this is toxic as it almost always comes from a place of passion about the genre, but I do think it’s a growing issue in a community where authors and their readers are so closely connected. It’s hard for authors to have the freedom to write what they want when all they see on Facebook are lists upon lists of things their fans won’t read. Authors are constantly being told what to write in this genre—and if they’re not, then they’ve seen enough statuses to know what they have to write to be successful.
I can tell you from personal experience that most of my author friends dread writing sex scenes, but they feel compelled to otherwise their work won’t sell. And this fear is only fueled when so many statuses about new releases boil down to how “Hot” the book is, rather than how great the writing is, or how compelling the narrative was. This is also why there is a severe lack of YA fiction in the MM space, and it’s even why we say MM rather than Gay Fiction—because when we say MM we expect certain unspoken rules to be applied (which isn’t helped by the fact everyone has their own idea of what those rules are).
It’s a lot of pressure. Constant, unwavering, soul crushing pressure. And, yes, it’s a part of being an author, but unlike writing fantasy or sci-fi where you’re free to create anything you want so long as it has fantastical or futuristic elements to it, writing MM puts you in a very tiny box, with unclear rules, passionate fans, and a constant downpour of competition in a limited space.
It’s enough to make anyone grow bitter over time, especially if they feel forced to change their work in order to meet certain expectations, or risk not being able to pay the electric for the next few months.
I want to make clear that I don’t think when people complain about a book that they’re unmerited, or even that it comes from a place of malice, but that doing so in a small space where you know the author of the work is going to see it isn’t going to improve the community—and maybe that’s an unavoidable issue with being an indie author, and in that case, I have no solutions to offer, but maybe instead of posting about how hot a new book is, you should throw in how likeable the characters might be, how great their development was, and how amazing the writing is? And that’s not to say that I don’t love how playful, liberating and sexual the MM community is, but that when talking about someone’s work—something that they spend months on at a time—try to look beyond all of that. Try to support what the author has done, and not what the genre expects from them. And if you like the author—as a person, as a friend, as a voice within the community—why not give their new, genre-defying book a try? Why not let them have that one venture into their creativity that breaks the MM mold that might be weighing them down? I mean, at worst you lose a dollar or two, and at best you’re supporting someone’s dream while gaining a great piece of literature. (And if you absolutely do not want to try their new work because you know you won’t enjoy it, that’s fine too, but please—please—please do not go out of your way to post that you won’t be reading it, especially in that author’s group. This happens too often and it does nothing but upset the author and discourage them from writing)
For all the wrongs and mishaps the MM community has, there’s a lot of good here too. I broke away from writing the genre (partly because of reasons listed about, but also because my love for writing romance began to wane) but I stuck around because I truly believe there’s something worth being a part of here. And I get it—I get the passion and the criticism, it’s no different to how I complain about half the TV shows I watch every week, but where the difference lies is that I don’t have the creative team behind those shows as friends on Facebook, and for all the irks I may have with the media I consume, I still have to appreciate that it’s someone’s artistic vision, and that trying to steer them in any other direction than that of their own creativity would be wrong.
Like I said above, I have no real solutions for any of this, I think it’s the catch 22 of being an author in a community where the reader/author lines blur into that of friends and family. But I do hope that this article helps shed some light on the struggles that authors go through, and why sometimes we have these big blow ups where words like “toxic” get thrown around.
PS: As for all the catfish drama we get like clockwork, I got nothing. Those people are just batshit crazy.