I have a book coming out next week, and I really should be promoting that, but instead, today I’m going to talk about shame.
I adored books while I was growing up. I was very lonely on an isolated farm, and books were my friend. I was allowed to borrow four books from the Council library once a month when we visited. Otherwise I had to make do with the books in my bookcase, and my brothers’ and sisters’ collections. And being the youngest (by a long shot) of nine children meant I had some weird stuff to read.
We didn’t have a computer. I didn’t have friends (for we were too isolated). My siblings were all years older than me and into their own stuff (and mostly moved out of home by this stage). We had one TV and I was allowed to watch Home And Away at 7pm on weeknights, A Country Practice at 7:30pm twice a week, and Friday Nights At The Movies. Otherwise the TV was off.
By the age of nine, my allergies were beginning to manifest, and so I kept to my room for I was allergic to most things outside on the farm. I was… cut-off, dead, going-around-the-twist.
That all changed when I was eleven, and a rare week-long holiday at my cousin’s house introduced me to Dolly Fiction. I was hooked. They were romance stories featuring 15-to-17-year-old girls who did some awesome stuff while dating some really nice guys. And the best part – the books were available at the newsagency, in bulk, for a cheap price. So on our fortnightly shopping trips, I would go to the newsagency and buy ten of them with my money.
A couple of years later I had been shuffled off to my oldest sister’s house (ie Mum and Dad were both busy with the ‘favourite’ child, meaning they needed somewhere to dump me) and I was probably being bored (sulking) as only a thirteen-year-old can be, when my sister shoved a book at me. It was a Mills & Boon novel called Rise of an Eagle by Margaret Way – I still have that very book to celebrate my introduction to the genre. I devoured it. M&B books were readily available in newsagencies (thank the Lord!), and my mum occasionally agreed to take me to the second hand bookstore where I could buy them 30 at a time.
Why did I love them? They were everything I wanted. I travelled the world via those books. I met so many people, ate different foods and dressed in different clothing. I received my sex education via those books (yeah, thanks Mum) and learned about grooming. I learned basic French, Italian, Greek and Spanish. I learned how to address royalty, how to act in a social setting, and how dating your boss is not always the best way to go. I met some tough women, some broken women, some marshmallow women and was entertained. And the best part? No surprises at the end.
As an extremely insecure child, I liked this immensely. I really have no idea what triggered my emotional uncertainty as a child, but I always needed something/someone to cling to. I required constant reassurance that my family were still there and I didn’t like change. Romance books gave me my security. I always knew that on the last page they would be together.
For the next **cough** twenty or so years I continued to read M&B – or at least a variation of them. Silhouette, bodice rippers, erotic romance – I did them all. I did Vikings, vampires, Victorian misses and more. Cowboys and cyborgs, werewolves and westerns, sheiks, shifters and Scotsmen, time-travel and true stories.
Yet, I can count on one hand the number of people who didn’t shame me for my reading material. Twenty years and if someone saw what I was reading, they never said, “Hey – that’s great.” Instead what I got was a roll of the eyes and something along the lines of, “Oh, please. Not that trash.”
I even got to the point where I was self-depreciating about it. When someone said to me, “Have you read *insert latest blockbuster here*” or “You should read…” I would turn to them and say, “If it doesn’t have a picture of two people kissing on the front, I don’t read it.”
But why should I be ashamed of admitting I read that stuff? If you look at the figures, it’s the most successful genre ever. But people would make me feel ashamed to read it. Why? Because it made me happy? Because it offered the reader hope and emotional fulfilment? Because it wasn’t about a secret agent who treated women like garbage, or the latest theory on alien invasion? Because it wasn’t offered in hardback at a cost of $30 per story? Because it wasn’t written by a man???
I refuse to be ashamed that I used to read Mills & Boon. I refuse to be ashamed at the fact I like a HEA ending. Romance may trite, but maybe I like that. And do you know what? Publishing figures show that a lot of people (ie not just women) like that too.
Why am I writing this in a blog? Because today I read something that made me angry. It was an opinion about “women” who write M/M. Now, apart from generalising with their huge, broad brush there about all women who write M/M, this person pushed some buttons with me. They shared their opinion that fictional gay characters in M/M are unrealistic. They claim that all characters are either femme stereotypical gay men, or conversely alpha males who the writer then causes to break down in tears for the creation of soap-opera trope.
Obviously this person has read, what – two books in the genre? Because whoa-there-baby. I just cannot, cannot, cannot agree with you there. I find the myriad of characters in the M/M genre to be fantastic. You can find the entire spectrum of people – brave, hiding, handsome, not-so-handsome, nerdy, butch, nurturing, socially awkward – and everything in between. They range in age and size and experience.
The writer of this opinion, went on to say that women writers create characters to emotionally satisfy the women readers of their books. Tropes such as the alpha male brought to his knees in an emotional scene, the gay man conveniently left with the baby, the feminine gay who needs a big protector. All of these ideas were discussed and ridiculed, and then we were told that women writers should stop writing that sort of crap.
Oh, go and stuff a sock in it.
For a start, if you don’t want to read it, don’t. But I will not have you sermonising at me, and telling me what I should be writing and making me feel ashamed for what I read and write. Don’t make me feel ashamed for liking it when a strong man can be soft enough to cry tears over a situation. Don’t make me ashamed for liking the big protector or the gay-dad. Because this is fiction. This is what provides me with the escape from my life. This is what makes me happy.
And I’m not the only one. Because from sales figures, I would say there are a lot of people (ie not just women) who also like the “cliché” of M/M.
Just like there is no shame if you are homosexual, bisexual, transsexual or whatever you want to call yourself. Just like there is no shame if you like a little S&M in the bedroom, a little bit of role play or even inviting a third. There is no shame in reading what you like.
I’m making a stand. I don’t come over to your house and tell you what to do – in your bedroom, in your political stance, in your eating habits. Why should you tell a collective group of “women” what they should read and write?
So read with pleasure what you like. Because money talks, and if people don’t like it, they won’t buy it, and then writers won’t write it.
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