Most of my ramblings on here have been topical. I usually find a subject that’s currently being discussed and either write up my impassioned opinion on the fly, or give it time to gestate and then proceed. However, this ramble isn’t an issue of-the-week, nor is it something I’ve been thinking about since my last piece.
It’s something I’ve been thinking about for three years.
I’ve spoken at length about my weird relationship to “MM” as a genre. It exists in a weird bubble (with a wonderful community, mind you) in that people don’t call it Gay Romance or Gay Erotica. It’s simply MM, which can mean both of those things, one of those things, or whatever it is the reader expects from it. And therein lies the issue.
MM isn’t definable—or it hasn’t been defined, yet. Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece on why authors shouldn’t complain about reviews publicly, and I stand by that, but sometimes my friends vent their frustrations to me about reviews they’ve received that they don’t quite understand, and during those moments of frustration I often hear about reviews citing a “lack of sex” or, conversely “too much sex” in an MM book.
This happens because, as I said, MM hasn’t been defined as a genre. If you were to say your story was a Gay Erotica and it had no sex, you’d understand the calling out. And if you said it was a wholesome gay romance and it had no sex, you could easily put the review down to the misgivings of the reader. But when you say your story is an MM, how can you expect anyone to understand what your story will consist of, other than LGBT men?
MM as a community is wonderful, but MM as a genre description simply doesn’t work. It causes confusion, invites readers to invent their own expectations based on their preconceived notions as to what the genre means, and often results in reviews complaining that the book didn’t meet those requirements because the author had an entirely different take on what “MM” is.
Some people consider MM to be ANY story featuring an LGBT male protagonist that, in some way, has a romantic relationship with another male. This could mean that Young Adult books fall into the realm of MM, or that books that are mostly Fantasy or Sci-Fi with romantic subplots are also MM. However, there are those that consider MM to be nothing short of the filthiest erotica they can get their hands on. These same people are the ones who will feel cheated if they buy a book masking as “MM” only to discover there’s no sex scenes.
Do you see the problem here?
So, why do authors shy away from calling a spade, a spade? Why aren’t books labelled as Gay Erotica, Gay Romances, etc? I can only speculate, but I think it may have something to do with posturing. MM has become this all-encompassing term that can be whatever the author wants (which is also its biggest issue). It’s not “I write gay erotica,” but “I write MM books.”
Then there are those whose stories aren’t about the sex, but still feature it. There are those that will include one or two sex scenes, but focus primarily on a fantastical plot or a contemporary drama, walking the line of several genres. And there’s also people who don’t write sex into their MM at all, but use the term—I’m assuming—because it’s a more profitable tag than “Gay Romance” and has an established community.
It’s a mess of a phrase that leaves too much up to interpretation. But, let’s circle back to sex for a moment.
Cards on the table—I do not enjoy writing sex scenes and I refuse to stuff them into my narratives where they’re unwarranted, and, y’know what? 99% of my author-friends HATE them too. In almost every instance they’ve told me they’re struggling to write one, and I’ve told them to scrap it, they’ve replied with “but I’m afraid my book won’t sell if there’s no sex in it.”
That breaks my fucking heart.
And do you know why they feel compelled to do this? Because of the term MM. Because everyone has their own expectations of what MM is, and because those that consider MM to mean sex will lambast you for not including sex in their reviews across GoodReads and Amazon.
Being known as an “MM” author only exacerbates these issues, too.
The term has become so ingrained into our dialect that I often find myself having conversations that go like this--
Me: I’m really looking forward to release a Young Adult story with a gay protagonist.
Person: So, it’s MM?
Person: So, it’s Het??
Me: No. It’s YA with a gay male lead that has a romantic subplot but is not MM
Person: *does not compute*
These conversations really baffle me in that I have to explain that my story features a gay male protagonist but isn’t MM (if only to save myself the confusion of the phrasing). The last time I checked no one called Harry Potter a Het or MW Young Adult series despite the romances featured throughout. But the moment you say your story involves a gay male lead, you find yourself battling against the phrase.
Maybe that’s because the inclusion of LGBT people in society still provokes thoughts of sex first and foremost? Gay characters still, to this day, are only introduced in media so that they can have romantic plots. There’s rarely a case of a gay character’s arc putting their sexuality on the backburner so that they can actually be a multifaceted person, go on a quest, etc. And if that’s the reasoning, it’s beyond this article’s scope and deserves someone far more eloquent than myself to tackle it.
But back to the matter at hand.
Using MM as the term for a genre is detrimental to authors and readers alike. It’s as if you’re labelling something “soda” and then people get mad when they take a sip because it turned out to be Coke instead of 7-Up. It doesn’t “define” what’s in your book because everyone has their own expectations of what the word means, and while it may be the more profitable tag on Amazon, it ultimately leads to the aforementioned “this isn’t what MM is supposed to be” reviews.
Look, I don’t expect to single-handedly topple a phrase that has built a wonderful community of people, nor do I harbor any ill-will to those that use the phrase, either. But I want to make it very clear that I’m staying away from the word. I don’t want to be involved in this “is it MM” game anymore, because everyone is playing with their own sets of rules.
If you’re an author reading this, I ask that you consider your usage of the word very carefully moving forward. Look at the work you’re putting out there, and ask yourself if there’s a more accurate description that you can give it. Erotica? Romance? An Adult LGBT Fantasy? And, if you’re a reader, I ask that you don’t go into MM with any expectations (other than it involving LGBT men), especially those of a sexual nature. The last thing any author deserves is getting a 1-star review because your version of MM and theirs didn’t align.
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