Lying in bed tonight, once again plagued with insomnia, my mind wandered. I started thinking about love and relationships, about reading romance and what it has done to my horizons. Then I started thinking about some rather (to me) controversial books I had read recently and what kind of paradigm shifts it had done to my thinking. This was triggered by a discussion I was participating in about the impact of romance on people’s lives. That was when I realised reading romance had changed my view of same sex relationships.
Be warned … I think this is going to be a long one!
Perhaps I should start this with some back story of my own.
When I was young and impressionable, I was sucked into the fringes of a lifestyle I did not condone. The people around me who mattered at the time embraced what I then thought was the “gay lifestyle” which involved a lot of partying, clubbing, drugs and drinking. Being extremely young and naïve, I did not know this kind of culture or lifestyle was not limited to the LGBT crowd but that was my only exposure because of the people around me.
I never really participated in the lifestyle but I was dragged into the fringes of it, playing chauffeur to a drunk, partied out partner at 3am when I had to wake up at 6am to go to work the same morning, etc. It was not something I relished and in fact resented greatly.
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Nothing about the lifestyle appealed to me. It seemed wasteful and irresponsible, but that was all I knew of the LGBT people as a group in my early 20s.
Being caught on the fringes of this lifestyle gave me a very bad taste in my mouth and I developed a very negative attitude towards it. Not the people as individuals per se but the lifestyle and what the people represented from that perspective because it brought a lot of hurt and pain into my life for many, many years.
As I got older, I worked hard at putting my resentments aside. I was brought up to love and accept everyone for who they were as individuals and I worked at it. I taught myself to look past sexual orientation to the individual and to befriend and care about them as people. Over the years, I added to my list of friends some wonderful people who are gay (I say gay because I do not know any lesbians, bisexuals or transgenders). Intellectually, I was able to accept them and I got comfortable with the status quo of my feelings and interactions with them as people, as individuals.
But at one level, I was still icked out by them. You see, emotionally, I had not been able to accept them. I could accept and interact with them as individuals but when I saw them as couples or as people who wanted to be loved and in relationships, it was not something I could wrap my head around. I could on an intellectual level but not emotionally. And to me, you don’t truly own it until you feel it. It needs to mean something to your heart.
It was only recently, perhaps three to four years ago when LGBT issues started coming to the forefront and in perhaps the last couple of years where Male/Male (MM) romances started becoming popular that I had to broaden my thinking and my own emotional bandwidth to go beyond my own narrow interpretation (and conservative upbringing) of what a relationship was.
All of this came upon gradually. I have a very good friend who is very pro-LGBT issues and we had long discussions about the topic, me in my narrowmindedness usually on the opposing end. Fortunately, for me, he still loved me regardless of my dissenting views on the topic and in his own way, he educated me on it. No, this friend was not gay, just a heck of a lot more open minded than I was.
Then I read a book by Emma Holly called The Billionaire Bad Boys Club about two self-made billionaires who were in a secret relationship with each other but separately fall for the same woman. One thing struck me, and I’d say it’s likely a by- product of Ms Holly’s writing (she’s good!). The sex was hot between the two guys. I only read the one scene, but she packed a heck of a lot of emotion into one scene and it wasn’t about the sex anymore. It was about feelings and how they cared about each other. I never did finish the book and didn’t read beyond a few chapters because I didn’t care for the heroine. I didn’t like the love triangle she created, pitting two lifelong friends and lovers against each other. I don’t read a book just for the sex and titillation so even though the book was well written and sexy, I didn’t finish it.
After Emma Holly’s book, it would be a few years before I picked up anything even remotely MM related. In between, there were many discussions with girlfriends about the growing trend in MM romances. One said she loved reading them for the relationships and the emotions. Another said she loved it for the sex cos she thought it was hot as heck. And still another was no way, nuh uh, would she read it because same sex sex just icked her out. I think at that point, I was still one of those who was icked out by the whole thing in spite of my one foray into it with Emma Holly’s book.
Then Lily Harlem came into my life. Lily writes erotic romance and I got to know Lily (virtually) after I read one of her books (Scored) and loved, loved, loved it. Lily is a fantastic writer. She packs a heap of emotion and depth into her writing, and even though she writes erotic romance and her stories are sexy as heck, I think if you strip out the sex in her books, you’d still get a fantastic story about people and relationships.
Lily very quickly became a favorite author of mine and I started reading pretty much everything Lily wrote. I went from Scored to Grand Slam which introduced me to some light BDSM and then on to The Glass Knot. The Glass Knot was eye opening for me because it was MMF and I even hesitated reading it because of it, but I thought, heck, it’s Lily. I bet it would be good. And it was. And it didn’t ick me out. Then I moved on to The Silk Tie, another MMF which was also brilliant.
Let me tell you what I learned from reading Lily’s books. It taught me about relationships between not just men and women, but also men and men. The fact that the heart wants what the heart wants. You do not choose your sexual orientation, nor do you choose who you fall in love with. I expect I can’t use that as a blanket statement because it would vary for different people, but as a generalisation, I learned that from reading the books. I also learned that a relationship is a relationship, love is love and romance is romance, regardless of the couple’s gender and sexual orientation. Whaddya know? It made me more open minded.
After The Silk Tie, I read Muscling In. Muscling In was my third MMF book and I guess I was starting to get pretty comfortable about the relationship dynamics of a threesome when I got asked to review an MM book. No F, just straight MM. Two guys.
Let me say, being asked to review an MM book is very different from reading a bunch of MMF books because I had to seriously ask myself if I could do the book justice without my own prejudices getting in the way. I had to take a day or two to think about it before agreeing to do it.
So, I read Tied to Trouble by Megan Erickson. It was funny, warm, engaging and sexy. It didn’t ick me out. I enjoyed it a great deal. You can read my review of it here.
I do not think I could have read the book three or four years ago and done it justice. I could not have been impartial or open minded. And now, having read it, I guess there’s no going back for me. No, I’m not saying I’ll be intentionally seeking out MM books to read all the time, I’m saying it has changed me as a person. It has changed the way I view same sex relationships and it has made me truly and emotionally (not just intellectually) understand the dynamics of a same sex relationship. While I would have been able to say many years ago, I could accept LGBT people as a whole and even as individuals, I don’t think I truly accepted them completely as people because at the back of my mind there was always the ick factor. I think I can safely say, now I do. No more ick!
Conclusion? Reading romance has broadened my horizons. It has also opened my mind and my heart to issues current in today’s world. When the Supreme Court ruled that same sex marriage was legal in all states in the USA, I only had a minor intellectual understanding of what it meant to the people in the LGBT community. My reaction was a brief nod to their ability to marry the ones they love because being able to marry the one you love is a good thing, but now, I *know* what that means. Love is love, and regardless of gender and sexual orientation, if it is true, if it is genuine, it is beautiful and should be cherished.
Romance is romance, and love is love. Doesn’t matter what your race, gender, sexual orientation is. I always knew I was somewhat narrow minded in my interpretation of romance and love, but I don’t think I’m quite as narrow minded as I was. Reading romance taught me that.
I wonder what else reading romance is going to teach me next …
What about you? What has reading romance taught you?
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