There’s a word I used to use a lot, but now that I’ve really considered the word itself and its history, I’ve decided to stop using it, or at least tone back on its use: Hipster.
You see, hipster used to mean a person who eschewed mainstream culture and instead pursued more Avant-garde fare especially in regards to music and the like. Now? It’s commonly used as a label for a caricature of a human who drinks PBR and likes Arcade Fire, but honestly?
It’s just become an easy shorthand for “smug asshole”.
And while I doubt the epidemic will ever be stopped in my lifetime, it’s smugness that I think we really need to move past in real life and the internet if we’re ever going to progress as a species. Thing is, a lot of words have deviated from their original meaning to become an easy buzzword shorthand, such as “lazy” being substituted for everyone’s favorite insult last year, “Entitled”.
But what I really think needs to be addressed in my own field? The big one, the High Unholy Blasphemy of the community I write in:
I’ve grown to hate the term “M/M “.
You see, I’ve had a troubled relationship with M/M here. We met while I was in college, a year after I’d come out and was still enjoying the bounty of free porn that was the Internet. This was back in the day, you realize, before the rise of Xtube and Fanfiction.net, when the best place for a guy like me to find something to read was the Nifty archive. Some of the stories I’d find there would have a list of letters and words that I didn’t really get, but luckily Google was about to supply answers. The first thing I checked was M/M, which translated literally as “male slash male”. M/M was a fetish tag, simply put. It let you know that two guys were going to be screwing somewhere in the story. For those of you who don’t know all of them, there’s likely a website out there with info, but it was always the slash that was important. The slash always meant one thing was guaranteed: Sex.
M/M grew in influence, spread through the fanfiction communities, particularly the Yaoi and lemon fics, which were written primarily by women, and still are. Back in my angsty days when I lurked on Livejournal, I knew of several communities devoted to writing slash fiction about members of bands, actors in movies, TV shows, and nearly all of them were populated and maintained by women. Then it mostly grew into the M/M romance genre, which again is largely written by and read by women. It’s not a knock, it’s a fact. Hey, if it’s what they’re into? Have at it, ladies.
Then there’s gay fiction. Gay fiction and I don’t get along that well either. When I went to grad school, my dream was to write an urban fantasy with a gay protagonist. I was initially assigned to a professor who felt it was necessary that I read every major gay literary work from the 70s on. Never had I read so many stories where someone was beaten for being gay, contracted AIDS, came out to parents who threw them into the street, and God knows how many fucking stories about park boys/hustlers finding true love while having deep philosophical conversations on the nature of being. Oh, and a LOT of stories about one night stands or even one-hour stands in public restrooms or under piers that were pathetic rather than erotic. I get it, okay? Shit used to be bad. Any stories where someone like me can be the hero? Not really. Luckily, I ended up with a professor who wrote for comics, wrote the bible on the Tarot, and could talk for hours about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
But bringing this back around… How did M/M become shorthand for anything with a gay character in it?
I want to walk you through this, because this is what concerns me. M/M in and of itself implies sex first and foremost, no matter how it’s been co-opted by the slash community. What happens when a writer puts out a book that focuses more on the plot than the sex or a romance between two characters? Some of you might have read the “warning” for Lightning Rod and seen that it’s my first that isn’t tongue-firmly-in-cheek. There’s a reason for that, I’m worried that it’ll be tagged as “M/M” (which it already has been on Goodreads), and instead of reading a story about an abuse survivor facing his demons, it’ll be read instead as a story where two guys screw, and will be judged on the characteristics of the two men involved. This isn’t me arrogantly pissing down on the M/M community, I know better than to even think of doing that. This is me honestly worried that a porn tag becoming shorthand for “gay” will create expectations that a book I spent six years of my life working on won’t be able to fulfill because it simply wasn’t written for that.
I guess what I’m asking, ladies, is this: Is it okay if I don’t want to write romance? I mean, I don’t mind doing a romantic subplot over the course of a series, but the main plot? The canon? Is it okay if it’s not a romance? Because, that’s not really what I grew up wanting to write. And I’m truly sorry if I’ve disappointed you with this.
We still cool?