A little over a year ago, I got into a really nasty online argument with a couple of trans men about the issue of non-men finding dude-on-dude romance attractive.
Now, I’m pretty open about my disdain for trans men who exhibit the same toxic aggression that I try to avoid in cis men, especially those of the whiter varieties. This didn’t stop me from being genuinely disturbed by the level of violence in these guys’ responses to a post about watching videos of emo boys kissing on YouTube in the early 2000s.
The post was shared by a black, bisexual nonbinary person. Three trans men (all white) commented to angrily discuss how women who fetishized gay romance should be killed.
No, I’m not joking.
When I met them to explain that there was a ton of nuance that they weren’t considering, they proceeded to shriek and moan about homophobia, misgendered the poster by repeatedly calling them a woman, and eventually just blocked me. They never did ask about that nuance.
Regardless of these particular dudes’ refusal to consider it, the myriad of components to the Gay Romance + Audience questions & concerns are important to discuss. So let’s.
First off: Fetishization of any queer person or couple is wrong. Whether it’s straight men fetishizing lesbians, or non-men fetishizing gay men, or couples fetishizing bisexuals—whatever. It’s all shit. However, there’s a big difference between how you treat LGBTQ+ people in real life, and what media you like to consume.
The first example that is usually brought up is cishet guys watching lesbian porn. As a lesbian, I think there’s a massive difference between a cishet woman reading slashfic and a straight dude treating lesbians as sex objects. A lot of that lies in the intent of the media. While some M/M is incredibly salacious, plenty of it is also focused on love, trust, and cute shit. Women, for the most part, want to see fictional gay couples be people, whereas men are looking for fap fodder.
This is not always the case, but as a fandom veteran who once trudged through the Doujinshi Hills of Yaoi Country, I can guarantee you that it is the predominant mindset.
I absolutely do believe that a ton of slash fans, especially those who are straight, are fetishistic and do deserve to be called out, but wishing violence upon women is hardly a solution, especially when there are reasons for this behavior.
The main reason admittedly can be boiled down to a similar intent to straight men’s: women want media about men they find attractive. Women also tend to dislike portrayals of women in most popular media, due to how horribly they’re written. This makes sense, because men dominate writing and production teams for most TV shows, movies, and books. Occasionally we’ll get wildly popular romance written by women, such as Twilight or 50 Shades of Grey, but plenty of women find these just as alienating.
In my days as a closeted young lesbian who didn’t really see the appeal of M/M romance, the most common explanation I heard for why someone turned to gay romance over straight romance was a) how straight relationships are shoehorned into every-frickin’-thing, and b) how women’s narratives typically revolve around men.
Between discomfort with the portrayal of women, the lack of men in media who fit their attraction model, and boring, overdone cishet romance plots, M/M fiction seemed to be the solution to a lot of problems.
This is the core reason why I think straight women who like M/M are different from men who like lesbian porn. Men like lesbian porn because they’re sexist. Women like gay romance because they are starved.
I do not in any way condone fetishism even if there’s a good reason for it, FYI. If a straight woman shrieks at a real life gay couple, that’s weird. It’s just as revolting as a man who asks a lesbian couple if he can join in. But, honestly? If a guy wants to watch a steamy, emotional lesbian romance and can do that without making the gay women around him feel uncomfortable… good? Cool? I don’t really care, or begrudge him that. It’d be pretty cool to have a straight guy like any of my work, provided he was a fan out of genuine enjoyment and not a sexualized power grab.
That’s why I don’t judge women who like M/M, nor do I assume that a woman who likes gay romance is automatically behaving in a fetishistic way. With how many male characters are written to embody men’s fantasies of male attractiveness, women have taken to creating their own media in which men are based on what they find appealing.
I’ll be candid for just a second more. I don’t think it’s weird for a straight person to like sex between two people of the gender they’re attracted to. I really don’t. If you only enjoy looking at men, there’s a difference between involving your own genitals in the mix, and seeing another woman’s genitals. I think that’s okay—really. Again, it comes down to how you treat real people.
Another element I want to introduce is the autonomy of performers, creators, and sex workers. Emo boys in 2008 knew that the main audience for their videos were going to be women. I know, because I was there. We all knew it. They chose to make those videos anyway.
Even in the presence of institutionalized oppression, it needs to be acknowledged that sex and romance services are often problematic on some level. It’s rare to find a sexual or romantic performance that is completely pristine when scrutinized. Consent to perform, especially as an indie content creator, is important. Two gay, bisexual, or bi-curious boys making out in front of a grainy phone camera are hardly the horsemen of their own oppression, any more than bi women are responsible for violence against other sapphics if they kiss in a bar with men around.
My final point revolves around my own experience as a lesbian. After I came out, I began appreciating M/M more. My strong attachment to boring het romance loosened, and I developed an actual interest in queer stories.
What I didn’t get over were all of the roadblocks between me and F/F romance. While plenty of the backlash against woman characters was misogynist, even toward well-written ones, some of us just didn’t know what to do when we were handed characters we related with.
I love watching lesbian media because I can sit back and be in awe of how amazing girls are, especially when they’re kissing. When it comes to writing, though, especially my own, I nitpick. I get anxious about whether or not the description is too this, too that. Is it too sexualized? Is it unrealistic? Are the lovers going to face Mary-Sue accusations? All genuine fears that have in the past stopped me from successfully writing or reading femslash, and occasionally still get in the way of my creative expression.
For some lesbians, and even some straight women, they relate so strongly with well-written woman characters that fictional romance narratives hit too close to home. Some people don’t want to see themselves in their fiction—and that’s fine, too.
Ultimately, I think it’s disgusting to approach even the worst yaoi fans with violence threats, especially when those doling out the threats are men, whether trans or cis. We shouldn’t tolerate fetishism, but demonizing any and all non-men who enjoy M/M romance as being automatically gross is pretty socially ignorant and, well… It just boils back down to more of the same misogyny that started the whole process in the first place.