I wrote m/m romance long before I even knew that yaoi existed. I understand that yaoi has existed for a long time, but back when I started writing m/m romance, I’d never heard of the term. Looking back, I realize that my initial writings really had a lot in common with traditional yaoi. One character always seemed to play a more subservient role. In 1980 when I was 20 and still discovering myself, this was how I had been raised to the world. But for some reason I was writing gay male romance.
Gay male romance is not something I recently “discovered” and decided to start writing. I started writing gay male romance back when I was in high school, long before I understood how tab A inserted into slot B, well, except through what I read in books. In 1978, a suburban teenager didn’t have a great deal of access to certain sexual information. I crept around the problem by reading authors like Gordon Merrick and John Rechy. I also had a great imagination.
Over the years, my scribbling filled notebooks. I loved writing stories filled with romance, partings, angst, and ultimately true love, well, at least for the stories which found an ending. Many of those early, badly written stories languish unfinished in those notebooks. I feel bad for those poor characters. This nasty bitch has trapped them in limbo. The few characters who escaped are damned happy.
Back in around 2000, dōjinshi works exposed me to the yaoi world, even though the concept of dōjinshi, or self-published works, had come first. It didn’t matter; I had never heard of either one. This Lord of the Rings freak had made friends with people in Japan and Thailand. One friend lusted after a US magazine that was impossible to find in Thailand. I had a copy, and sold it to her at cost. She sent me something called a “dōjinshi” featuring Legolas and Aragorn. The art blew my mind. Lord of the Rings characters having hot gay male sex? Really? Wow. They were drawn so prettily, all flowing locks, pointed chins and big eyes. The artists even made Gimli look adorable.
My dōjinshi collection grew, thanks to my friends and a few insane eBay battles to feed my addictions. It seemed as the Lord of the Rings phase passed, the art became cruder and the stories less interesting. More rape and abuse entered the storylines. Of course I couldn’t read the stories, but the art was graphic enough to get the point across.
Collecting dōjinshi guided me to fan fiction, which offered me an insane amount of fun. My original fan fiction leaned heavily on the yaoi tradition, with one character usually in distress, but often in a comical manner. The great thing about fan fic was that I controlled the words. Better yet I could read the stories, not just look at them and wonder what did Aragorn say to make everyone blush?
Still, admiring hot male/male dōjinshi set a fire under me. The stories and art told me that many people out there enjoyed reading about male/male romance. At this point in my writing, I come at the male/male romance tradition from a point of both males sharing strengths and weaknesses. Now that I am older, showing any character as nothing but weak and defenseless pisses me off. I view everyone as having strengths and weaknesses, and no one should be put in a position of continuous weakness. That’s awful. Alpha males are boring. The me so big and bad character is a drag unless there’s great comedy involved. Complex characters owning imperfections, unique quirks and unexpected stinging strengths appeal to me. At first a character might seem weaker than others, but watch out, never corner them. They will show their true character and defend themselves.
When people are pushed, they fight back for love. Everyone needs saving at some point in life, even heroes. Romance is two flawed people caring about and protecting each other. Well, at least that is this hardened realist’s version of romance. As an exercise, I need to write the traditional fairy tale romance, where one character is the alpha male hero and the other clings to him as he rides into the sunset. I’ll mark that on my calendar for, hmm, after I deal with all the flawed romantics clamoring for attention. Those romantics fight like hell when other characters try to line jump.
I still confess to admiring the pretty boys with their big eyes and long hair. That detail will never change.