Thursday, September 25, 2014

Guest Bloggerman: My Very Male, Very Gay Views On Gay Sex As Portrayed In Gay Romance Stories by Liam Livings

He lives, with his partner, where east London ends and becomes nine-carat-gold- highlights-and-fake-tan-west-Essex. He was born in Hampshire with two club feet (look it up, it’s not nice) and problem ears, needing grommets: this meant he was in plaster from toe to groin until he was two, and had to swim with a cap and olive oil soaked lamb’s wool over his ears - olive oil bought from a health food shop, before it was sold by supermarkets. He started writing when he was 14: sat in French lessons during a French exchange trip, for want of anything better to do, he wrote pen portraits about his French exchange’s teachers. He wrote for his school’s creative writing magazine and still writes a diary every day. He grew up on the edge of the New Forest – not in the New Forest mind, but on the edge. Now it’s a national park, it’s so much more glamorous. He went to uni in London and never really left. One evening, flicking through the channels, he stumbled across the film, Saving Private Ryan, and it took twenty minutes of not seeing Goldie Hawn in an army uniform, before he realised it wasn’t actually the film, Private Benjamin. When not writing, he also enjoys baking. 
He avoided any sport at secondary school by having an orthodontist appointment between the age of 14 and 16, and when he was old enough to drive, just drove home instead of playing rugby/hockey/whatever. He is a car geek, his particular passion is old French classics, and his every day car is what is popularly referred to as a ‘hairdressers car’ a Mazda MX5 in powder blue – Muriel. 

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Note: We talked to Liam about his work and writing style, focusing on his tales of life as a gay man. He came up with some really interesting views about living the life as a gay man, reading M/M romances as written by men and women and how the sex life of gay men are portrayed on text. 

On Bedtime Stories Anthology: Frangipani Kisses 

"This is a love story but without eroticism and we see here that it is indeed possible to depict love without including sex."
"m: You talk about life and men in the gay community but not so much the romances."
"This was a nice story, not really a romance, but a fairly sweet story of a gay man finding ‘himself’."

These are some review comments I’ve had about Frangipani Kisses and I’d like to explore why I write like this a bit in this post. It’s a few thoughts I’ve had as a gay man writing gay romance. I’m not saying women shouldn’t write gay romance, because fiction should be judged on its merits, not the author’s gender but I do have some observations on gay romance as a gay man reading it. I may be barking up the wrong tree as it’s a genre a lot of women enjoy reading, but as I am the type of man mainly portrayed in these stories, I think I can say my piece, even if I end up killing some gay romance fairies somewhere.

Gay romance vs gay fiction

If I’ve understood it correctly, the difference between gay romance, and gay fiction is the former has an origin in slash fiction, and has an emphasis on the romance element and hence has a love story and a happy ever after. The latter has an emphasis on the experience of living/coming out *as a gay man* doesn’t tend to have much in the way of romance, and doesn’t necessarily have a happy ever after, and in fact often has a very sad ending, all ending in drugs or disease filled deaths.

Where’s the emphasis in gay romance – the gay or the romance?

I’m a self-confessed gay romance virgin, so I recently read a few gay romance books, and I’d read a few last summer too, and I have a few observations. I am not mentioning names of authors or stories as this isn’t about mud-slinging, it is about some observations I have made, good and bad. I know that I’ve not read every gay romance out there. I know I’ve not read as many as many other readers have read, but just bear with me on this OK?
From my reading, the emphasis in gay romance is on the romance element. In this romance = graphic sex (in many); happily ever after; strong attraction between two male characters.
Conversely the gay element tends to be pushed into second place, with some of the portrayals of gay men not resembling any gay men’s lives I’ve seen or heard of. OK, there may be gay firemen and policemen, but honestly I’m sorry to say there are loads more gay hairdressers and flower arrangers *g*. I found that some of the conversations the characters had weren’t anything I’ve ever had with any of my gay friends. I have never had a conversation with any of my gay friends about preferred position in sex. I’m just putting that out there. That’s not to say I don’t talk about sex with them, of course we do, but not in that way. Also we don’t sit around giving each other tutorials about how to have the perfect bum sex either; we’ve got other more interesting things to do. There may well be gay men who do this, but I’ve not met any of them.  

Do I write romances?

"m: You talk about life and men in the gay community but not so much the romances." 
"This was a nice story, not really a romance, but a fairly sweet story of a gay man finding ‘himself’. "

At first I was a bit surprised when I read that I didn’t write romances. To me it seems obvious I write about romances. I write stories with gay men as the main characters. Each story has a character looking for, losing, keeping love with another gay man, or a combination of all three. In Frangipani Kisses the story is of a long term couple and how they’re still very much in love with each other. To me all of these are romance.
I tend to write more every day gay men, as I prefer to read about every day characters’ lives. I read chick lit, and enjoy reading a hero and heroine I can imagine being friends with, or having in my life in some way. That’s why I write more every day, boy next door typed gay men I think. You’re more likely to find a gay accountant or plumber in my stories than an astronaut or rocket scientist – not that there’s anything wrong with writing gay astronaut/cowboys/rocket scientist, it’s just I don’t tend to write them. Also it’s because that’s what I have more knowledge of from my gay male friends. And they say you should write what you know, so...
So perhaps in my gay romance, my emphasis is, unwittingly, on the gay, and I show romance in a different way too. I suppose this isn’t too surprising since *as a gay man* I view everything in a slightly gay way.

Why I don’t write graphic sex scenes

I think there are lots more interesting things about gay men than what they do to one another in bed. I prefer to concentrate on the emotions, the love, the romance, than the sex, but that’s me. I suppose that’s what this quote is about. When I read it I thought, of course you can show love without sex. And in Frangipani Kisses, it was the strong loving bond between Keith and John that I wanted to explore, instead of which of them did what to the other in bed.

"This is a love story but without eroticism and we see here that it is indeed possible to depict love without including sex."

I don’t quite fade to black, but I don’t write graphic sex scenes, because I prefer not to read them. I know there are lots of readers and authors who love to write graphic erotic gay sex, and honestly life would be very dull if everyone liked the same thing. I’m not judging, I’m just saying what I like to read and write.
And as I’ve written more I’ve found myself writing longer, more involved sex scenes in my more recent stories. The Guardian Angel (out in autumn 2014 from Love Lane Books) has a 3-4 page threesome scene in it, where I describe who’s doing what to whom, but without using graphic language, as that’s my preferred style. It’s key to the plot as it shows how the main character and his boyfriend’s relationship is dysfunctional, particularly by one thing that happens *in the threesome*. In another story, working title, Escaping From Him (out in winter 2015 from Manifold Press) the main character, is trapped in a controlling dysfunctional and highly sexed relationship with an older man, so it’s not all long-term couples in suburban bliss like in Frangipani Kisses.
I’ve read some graphic gay sex and for me, as long as it was 1) physically possible 2) portraying safe sex and 3) appropriate for the characters and to progress the story, I couldn’t have been happier – unless I had Thom Evans sat next to me feeding me little chocolate muffins, but that’s not for here.

Let’s just unpack each of those three one at a time.

  1. I’ve read some sex scenes that are either physically impossible, or would be very near impossible. Unless you’re a horny seventeen year old, the possibility of having sex *to a conclusion* and then doing it again straight afterwards is pretty much a no no I’m afraid.
  2. One sex scene described something so unpleasant that I retched. It was anything but ‘hot’ or ‘sexy’ as one of the characters described it, it was also something you can only do if you’ve NOT practiced safe sex, which was probably one main issue I had. I grew up in an era of the AIDS don’t die of ignorance tombstones so from an early age safe sex and the dangers of not doing it were all around me. When I came out the youth groups, gay bars and pubs I went to were filled to the brim with free condoms to encourage us all to play safe. I know it’s not a real man having sex with another real man when it’s in a book – I am not stupid. But I think in fiction, as well as reality, if you’re going to describe the detail of what goes where, you should have details about safe sex too. Condoms are freeing as they eliminate the risk of harm. Thirty years of safe sex has been all about condoms, so why shouldn’t the fictional men we portray do this too? The language people use about HIV can be very emotive and I was disappointed to see two HIV negative men described as ‘clean’ in one story; it was the one thing that took away somewhat from a wonderfully entertaining story.
  3. I’ve read some full strength graphic sex in some gay romances but when it showed me something about the characters, a weakness, an addiction, something like that, it was another thing the character did, to make him that character. And when it was a necessary scene to move forward the plot, I could see why it had been included and it was all good. I’ve also read chapter long sprawling double digit page sex scenes which served no purpose to progress the plot, didn’t show me anything I didn’t already know about the characters, and just felt like they were there for titillation. Now, if it’s erotica you’re wanting to read, that’s exactly what the sex should be there for. But in a romance story, I think the sex should, like the rest of the story, move the plot forward. And of course there’s no reason you can’t have titillation and moving the story forward, which I saw too in some of the stories. I understand many readers enjoy reading sex scenes for their titillation factor, and I also understand many readers of gay romance are women. As a man, I would not read fiction for titillation as men – I’m told – are much more visually stimulated. I would *cough cough* watch a film perhaps...but any more of that’s not for here either.

So those are my, very male, very gay views about the portrayal of gay men, sex scenes and gay romance stories. I am not every gay man, I know this. I am one gay man reading about other versions of gay men in fiction and wanting to share my thoughts.

What does gay romance mean to you? Does it have to include graphic sex? Can it include established couples, or does it have to be a first meeting of two men?

If you’d like to try some of gay romance, my virtual book shelf with reviews of published books and story samples is here

Twitter @LiamLivings

Liam Livings xx

Published June 4th 2014 by Wilde City Press
Available Formats: epub, mobi, html, pdf

Kieran, 18, comes out to himself then his family by going to a youth group. There he meets Kev, a cross dressing gay man with awful taste in boyfriends and Jo, a grade A drama student, at college and in his real life. Kieran navigates his way through the maze that is being a gay man in the late nineties, with help from his two new best friends, and his two old best friends; Hannah, just coming out too and trying to work out if Steps are Abba for the nineties; Grace a one woman charity shop bargain hunter with encyclopedic pop knowledge.

by Anna Martin, B. Snow, Blaine D. Arden, Kit Mullender, Liam Livings, MJ O'Shea, Tia Fielding 
Published August 20th 2014 by Wilde City Press
Formats Available: epub, mobi, html, pdf
Amazon US | Amazon UK
From supernatural tales of intrigue to a curious modern romance, a thoroughly British relationship and a classic fairytale all twisted up, Bedtime Stories is a collection of short stories designed to be read one at a time, at bedtime. Let us wish you goodnight with gay romances that are sure to leave you ready for a night of sweet, lingering dreams.
FLICKERS by Tia Fielding
TORCH by Kit Mullender

MILES TO GO by B. Snow


  1. I have to say I prefer to read gay romance that doesn't have a lot of graphic sex. (It all gets a bit stuffing the Christmas turkey at times!) I also get frustrated at the perception which exists in the romance market at large that all gay romance is full of sex; the lack of appreciation that there are a diverse range of books!

    1. Hi Charlie,
      'stuffing the Christmas turkey' that is brilliant! I agree re the perception of gay romance being full of sex. I often explain to fellow Romantic Novelists' Association authors that gay romance isn't all about sex, it's about the romance and plot, just like straight romance - only you have two male leads.

  2. I don't mind either way - I've read and enjoyed books with a lot of sex and books with a little. One thing I've noted is that publishers do push for more sex and having a rating for your book can be somewhat intimidating. As a new writer it does feel like I'm treading a fine line.

    1. Hi Alexa, me too - I've read some great gay romance books with plenty of sexing in them too! That 'right amount of sex' questions is one I've talked about with other authors. My approach is your story should have the right amount of sex for the story, and for you. Nothing wrong with a good explicit sex scene, as long as in a romance story, it moved the plot and characters forward. And if you're writing erotica, that's a different kettle of fish!

  3. You really put your finger on it (if you'll pardon the phrase *g*) - a book should include scenes and actions and dialogue that are appropriate to the characters and the plot, and not gratuitous. It's a combination of talent, craft and a ruddy good edit. I think in a really good book, you don't even notice a good balance - but in a bad one, you can feel clobbered over the head with too much of something, or vaguely disappointed with the lack of something else. This is a fascinating post, it's great to hear an author talk with the "reader" hat on :). Your writing always glows with your genuine enthusiasm and compassionate perception of people, which is really important. Personally, although I love a good sex scene, that's far more important to make a book a worthwhile read. If I don't sound too much like I'm preaching to the choir LOL.

    1. Hi Clare,
      that's a great way of describing it. In the gay romance I read where the sex did move it forward, it felt right, flowed, and I didn't notice it. Where it felt gratiuitous and OTT it felt like a big *insert sixteen page sex scene here* sign around it and I could happily skip it and lose nothing from the story or character development. The post is just my ramblings as someone as a new reader of gay romance. I'm sure there are plenty of women talking about the representation of women in chick lit too! I'm not averse to a *good* sex scene either, straight or gay, but the emphasis is on the *good* in its widest sense. :-)