Why M/M Might Be a Better Label Than LGBTQ
I witnessed a fairly interesting Twitter exchange a while ago. The initial comment suggested that writers whose books feature cis, gay men should labeled M/M or gay romance. We shouldn’t label them “LGBTQ.”
My knee-jerk reaction was, “They’re gay. What the fuck do you think the G in LGBT stands for?”
The LGBTQ acronym is contentious acronym in almost all its forms. The shorter, more commonly used version, includes lesbian (L), gay (G), bisexual (B), and transgender (T) persons. The longer acronym includes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning, transgender, and “plus”—which includes pansexuals, Two-Spirits, and asexuals, among others. Even the label “homosexual” doesn’t encompass all of these myriad identities.
Not just this.
The conversation went on to explain in more detail. If the book featured only cis, gay men, then it didn’t really qualify as “LGBT.” Instead, M/M or gay romance would be the more appropriate label. I was still leery on this. By this logic, books featuring a lesbian couple alone would need to be labeled as F/F or lesbian, while books featuring transgendered characters would need to labeled “trans” or something like that.
Why break down an acronym that’s meant to be inclusive?
Representing Just One Color in the Rainbow
The practice of writers and publishers labeling their romance works featuring cis, gay men alone as “LGBTQ” was harmful to the other members of the community.
If the book doesn’t feature anything beyond cis, gay men, then it only represents the “G” portion of LGBT. It excludes all other identities. And if the work is exclusionary, so the label should be exclusionary.
Isn’t One Enough?
One could argue a work featuring cis, gay men is going to appeal to that particular community or segment of society. Thus, if we use “LGBTQ” for lesbian fiction or transgender fiction, it’s okay to use it for cis, gay men too. But many of the books in question feature only cis, gay men–there are no lesbians, no bisexuals, no trans people.
LGBT culture is centered on the idea of community—which includes lesbians, gays, bisexuals, transgendered persons, and more. A book that features just one of these identities doesn’t represent the culture as a whole. Many of these m/m books don’t make much reference to the LGBT community as a whole, even though that would be realistic. After all, gay men often have gay friends. They might attend a Pride parade and hang out with lesbians or bisexuals. They might help a friend who’s struggling with their identity.
Cis, gay men are rarely that truly isolated from the rest of the LGBT community, so to exclude the other identities fails to represent the community. It fails to represent the culture as it functions in real life.
We’re Writing for Different Audiences
Many authors and publishers are guilty of labeling their work “LGBTQ” when it only features m/m, primarily because they’re not writing for the LGBT community. They’re writing for a community of straight female readers.
That’s not say there’s anything wrong with that. That’s not to say that there isn’t fiction for this audience that is more inclusive and representative of the LGBT community as a whole. And that’s not to say there’s not fiction for that community, often by members of their own community.
What it does mean is that those works more accurately use the label “LGBT,” are more deserving of it. They get to use the inclusive label because the work itself is inclusive.
An added bonus of this is that it helps readers sort out what exactly they want to read. Imagine a straight female reader who wants to read about sexy times between two dudes picking up a book labeled “LGBT,” and it features gay characters, but also focuses primarily on the “L” portion of that acronym. Using M/M or gay romance helps readers gravitate to what they want. Similarly, bisexuals looking to read about characters that share their identity could look for books to be labeled M/F+F/F or “bi” or any number of things to indicate to them exactly what they’re signing up for—no more nasty surprises when they curl up a book labeled LGBT only to find themselves completely unrepresented.
Breaking It Down
When you look at it that way, it’s only practical to break out the LGBTQ+ acronym if only one or two identities are represented. (It makes even more sense if the characters don’t explicitly identify as “gay” or “bi” or what have you in the text.)
I mean, we don’t want romance books labeled as horror, now do we?
I’ve always labeled what I do “M/M” or “boyXboy” or something similar, because, as a cis, straight woman, what I write isn’t representative of the LGBT—or even the solely G—community and culture. My writing is geared to an audience that reflects my own identity. I freely admit it. While I strive to be an ally and hope to give sympathetic and equal representation to characters of all identities in my work, I know is the work of an outsider. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear accusations that my work is biased, ill-informed, or unrepresentative. All I can do is strive to correct those weaknesses by listening, learning, and shutting up when I need to.
The salient point, of course, is I’m not writing primarily for a gay audience. I hope that persons of all identities can enjoy my work. I want to help further understanding of the community among my primary readership. As a long-time reader of M/M fiction myself, I find myself wanting a more nuanced and complexified representation of the LGBT world. It’s realism. Fiction always strives for verisimilitude. The flat, ill-informed, and frankly offensive depictions of LGBT characters and their relationships in fiction geared for straight women has been far too prevalent. It needs to change.
The good news is that I think these depictions are changing. This generation of writers is much more sensitized to the need for far more nuanced and realistic depictions. That includes exorcising this idea of cis, gay men who exist in some sort of bubble. This isn’t the case in the real world, so why would our fictive worlds be so selective and exclusionary? If we seek ideals through fiction, then we should seek to represent a multiplicity of identities, perhaps more sympathetically and equitably than they’re represented in the real world.
Fiction writing is a cultural act. Failing to be more sensitive to the entire spectrum of LGBTQ+ identities is a form of cultural imperialism. It writes out a portion of your readership and alienates them. Including them in your work creates space for them in culture more broadly.
And if your work is exclusionary? Simply label it that way. There’s no shame in calling a spade a spade. If you’re writing about cis, gay dudes and cis, gay dudes alone, don’t try to use the inclusive label—because the absences and exclusions are glaringly obvious.