Censured Romance

I once admitted during an undergraduate scholarship interview, “I read romance novels.” As I became personally, politically and academically more aware of queer issues, my relationship to this genre changed. I find some heterosexual romances make me uncomfortable by so firmly reinforcing gender stereotypes and heteronormativity. Other het tales are filled with deliciously subtle cues that create queer spaces. Just last week I told Tough Stuff how much more relaxed I was while reading my then-current paranormal romance, even though I couldn’t put my finger on what queered it. No sooner had our conversation ended than I turned the page and met a gay character. Bingo.

The predominantly gay slash movement in fanfiction increasingly questions the assumption that m/m and f/f pairings are attractive and marketable solely to readers who are gay. We find that self-identified straight women are arguably the most common writers and readers of m/m erotic romance. E-books and small publishers are increasingly recognizing these markets, as well.

So what makes a gay-affirming, HRC-approved hotel chain like the Hyatt pull all of m/m romance author Laura Baumbach’s promotional materials at a recent Romantic Times convention, and what makes Romantic Times allow it?

Here is the poster that was considered most offensive to the businessmen passing by the public promotional display area of the convention:

Now personally, I think that’s a great ad for reading. American Library Association take note! Yet this promotional set, just this one amongst countless others typical of the romance genre, was silently and rapidly pulled by Hyatt staff.

Is it because a naked man is more offensive than a naked woman? We still don’t see full frontal nudity equally between the sexes, true. Just check out this poster they allowed to remain:

It’s okay for us to see a nude woman in a submissive position, hands bound; but a sexily recumbent man is taboo. Can we not objectify the male form yet? Is that what this is about? The businessmen felt their own sexuality commoditized and challenged?

Or, perhaps, rather than being offended by his masculine sexuality, the businessmen passersby were offended by the URL along the bottom of the poster. Is romance between two men itself a paradox and a challenge to the businessmen’s worldview?

And I know we all hate to do the race analogy, but…would the hotel have yanked promotional materials featuring sexually attractive black women, had businessmen passersby complained?

Hey, when the hotel referenced said “offended businessmen” were they using a quasi-neutral masculine form of the word, or did they really mean that only men complained? Is the eroticized male/the suggestion of homosexuality the sort of thing businesswomen complain about?

Oh, the politics of the publishing industry. I know we often look critically at the production and marketing of textbooks and journals in academia, but I’m every bit as worried about popular literature. Romantic Times staff member Carol Stacy replied to the Hyatt fiasco and questions about Romantic Times’s refusal to review m/m romance as follows:

My decision is based on my "print" readership and the fact that the majority of my "print readers" are not interested in m/m books at this time.

As I have explained to Ms. Baumbauch if that readership changes in the future so will my policy to review this type of fiction.

This is a space consideration AND a business decision. If you will forgive the analogy: one does not cover yoga in a NASCAR magazine if you get my drift.

It's that simple.

Romantic Times renders its Queer readers, and its straight readers of queer romance, invisible in further privileging the interests of the assumed “majority” of readership. This majority status isn’t even clear. I’m not going to call it hard science, but in Carol Stacy’s own poll on m/m erotic romance, only 16% of respondents asserted that they would never consider reading a romance with two male leads. That leaves a lot of wiggle room. Not to mention that this kind of thinking—give the majority exclusively what they already know they like—shortchanges the majority as well, rather than providing door-opening reviews of new areas within the very broad romance genre. Finally, the tactless yoga/NASCAR comparison indicates intensive Othering in its assertion that m/m books obviously cannot also be romance novels.

This is an incident that spreads well beyond the world of romance readers. It exemplifies the pervasive obstacles we face in seeking affirmation of different genders and sexualities.

Oh, and while I’m feeling marginalized and unloved by promoters of a genre I’ve been loyally reading for more than a decade, please check out the “About Us” section of the Romantic Times website. If you find room for me there, be sure to drop a line.

Creative Commons License