The plot of Alex Beecroft’s latest historical romance will sound familiar. Two lovers aboard a ship bound for the coast of Algiers, on a mission to stop the illegal slave trade, are caught up in international intrigue, war, piracy and their forbidden love for one another. But the novel has more than one kind of twist—the two lovers are both men, and the straight female author wrote their story for a straight female audience.
False Colors, which is out this month, is one of the first in a series by Running Press of male/male stories—gay male romances aimed at straight women readers. According to Running Press, the women who read M/M romances enjoy the familiar elements of forbidden love, exotic locations and sensual leading men found in traditional romances. And the books will be shelved in the romance sections of bookstores, not in the erotica section.
Personally, I think most people who read romances aren’t reading them for the plot—they’re reading for the hot sex scenes. (Who hasn’t skipped ahead to get to the good bits?) So, what is it about gay male sex that has straight women readers panting for more? Probably the same thing that gets straight men off about lesbian sex: it’s hot to imagine more of the things you think are hot; two are better than one.
M/M romances work because even though the books revolve around gay relationships, the sex is written in innuendo and metaphor. There are a lot of references to “shafts” and, in the nautical False Colors, “yards.” Of course straight women like to read about shafts.
So, are straight women who like books like these exploiting gay men in the way you might argue straight men exploit lesbians who make straight porn? And what does it mean that the “forbidden love” of M/M historical romances is gay love? Is the mainstream becoming more accepting of non-normative gender identities? It’s difficult to measure exactly what lines are being crossed in this new genre, but it is an intriguing new development in publishing.