Thursday, 24 June 2021

Paperback's Pondering's: The Fetishization of M/M Romance And Representation That I Need To Read More Of


CW: this post will discuss fetishization of m/m romance, lesphobia, homophobia and transphobia 

If you're on book twitter, then you might have seen the horrid post that someone put on booktok, explaining that they loved author Casey McQuiston's book "Red White and Royal Blue" because they were "attracted" to the two male protagonists and their romance, however they hated McQuiston's new f/f novel "One Last Stop" SIMPLY because the protagonists were two women in a relationship. This post rightly pissed me and a lot of people off. For more info on this matter, you can view this twitter thread. 

The fetishization of m/m romance by straight women has been going on since forever. These novels typically get a lot of publicity and become staples on people's bookshelves. I cannot tell you the amount of times that I've seen someone recommend "The Song of Achilles" on booktok. However, the same cannot be said for sapphic romances. Books with f/f romances are usually not as popular amongst the booktok (and in other book communities) crowd. It's saddening to me that people aren't recognizing McQuiston's talent as a writer with their new novel just because it's f/f. Straight women tend to fetishize m/m romances because their homophobia continues to see gay men as only existing for their entertainment, and they only see gay men as hypersexualized people. This could also be tied to the "gay best friend" trope, in which straight girls in movies in tv tend to have a flamboyant gay male best friend, which leads to many straight girls in real life wanting this for themselves. 

Similarly, there's the fact that drag queens are usually more popular amongst straight girls than drag kings, and trans performers don't get nearly the same publicity as cis-gendered performers. This fetishization will only continue the more us straight readers only read from one group. Now don't get me wrong, there are amazing m/m romances out there, and it is CRUCIAL that we continue to read these, especially from queer BIPOC authors and trans authors specifically. However, we cannot only read m/m romances and call ourselves well-read. We need to give f/f romances the same attention. This discussion has only prompted me to think about the representation that I could read more of, and I want you to think about this as well. 

I have found that for myself, my bookshelf is severely lacking in books featuring trans women protagonists. I have a plethora of amazing books with trans men in the leading roles, such as "Cemetery Boys" by Aiden Thomas, "Felix Ever After" by Kacen Callender, and "Stay Gold" by Tobly McSmith. However, to this date, I can only think of author I've read from who features trans girls in leading roles, and that would be Akwaeke Emezi. Now this is nobody's fault but mine. There are trans and non-binary authors out there who are writing books with trans girl protagonists, however I have pushed myself to read the books that are more in the spotlight, which are typically books with trans men. This goes back to the fetishization discussion, as these books often feature m/m romances. 

I came to the realization that I needed to expand my reading of trans women protagonists a while ago. However, when I googled recommendations, the results that came up pointed me to a few trans women authors such as Meredith Russo, however the books still recommended to me were mostly along the lines of Cemetery Boys, Felix Ever After, and more books with trans men. I LOVED these books, but they're not what I'm looking for currently, and its frustrating when I google specifically to find more books with trans women characters, and the results point me to a general post about books with trans characters, that always offer me the popular m/m books I've already read. I'll also mention that most of the trans women authors that come up in results are white. Seriously, one of the authors recommended to me on google was Caitlyn Jenner. Not exactly what I'm going for. 

I did do some digging, which is of course my responsibility, and nobody else's. We cannot expect trans and queer people to do the work for us. I am looking forward to reading from Meredith Russo, April Daniels, and anything Casey McQuiston puts out next. However, I know that these authors are white, and I need to expand my reading far beyond reading just from white trans women and white non-binary people. Akwaeke Emezi is a fiercely talented non-binary Black author, but their works are quite heavy for me and I prefer books in the contemporary realm. So, I'll keep looking, but I also would like for publishing agencies and people in the book community to understand that m/m romances and trans men are not the only LGBTQ+ books out there. Straight people cannot call themselves allies when they only look out for one group. 

This was a bit of a rambling post. Basically what I'm trying to get at is that fetishization of queer men needs to stop, Casey McQuiston and other authors writing sapphic novels deserve the world, and there is always room for improvement in how we read. I am looking forward to reading some great sapphic novels in the future, especially featuring trans women as the protagonists. If you have any recommendations, please share them in the comments. I would be eternally grateful. 

What do you think about the fetishization of m/m romance? What representation could you read more of? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess


  1. Love this post Em! Wasn't aware of the Booktok thing, but this conversation is one that seems to come around a lot.

    What I will point out is that within the online LGBTQ+ community, as opposed to amongst allies, we always say to read the rep. you need to read - that doesn't mean ignoring or unduly criticising other rep., it just means that... it's difficult to explain. Sometimes we need different scenarios, sometimes we need things to be personal but with a degree of distance from our own situations, sometimes we just like particular character archetypes. There's a general understanding that being Queer in this world is tough enough - any joy we find, especially from LGBTQ+ books, is something to treasure. At the same time, we have our own issues within the community - Cis Queer people don't always understand Trans+/NB+ perspectives, there's *still* an issue with fetishisation, especially among Cis women - although it tends to be a more in-depth and complex problem in terms of rep. than amongst straight women... and ofc the ongoing issues around #OwnVoices.

    The Lesbrary is always a good place to find Sapphic recs, and Danika Ellis, who runs it, is always inclusive of Trans+/NB+ IDs and intersectional identities. Check out this master-post for some of her lists:

    And Sistahs on the Shelf focusses on Black Lesbian fiction:

    And ofc there's always Lambda:

    ...I'ma stop before this becomes an extension of the Diversity Linklist! Lol ;) <3

    1. Thank you for the links, Cee! I will definitely be checking them out. And I totally get what you mean. Amongst the LGBTQ+ community, it's important to surround yourself with rep that makes you feel the most comfortable. Marginalized folks of any group should not be forced to read potentially triggering content of any kind just because allies tell them they need to be reading from a large scope. From the allied perspective though, it is our duty to read from a larger scope to show good allyship.

  2. "Straight women tend to fetishize m/m romances because their homophobia continues to see gay men as only existing for their entertainment, and they only see gay men as hypersexualized people."
    Ouch. So true and clear-cut. I've been noticing how a lot of straight women seem to read M/M romance as opposed to F/F, and I sometimes wondered if there was more to it than their, I don't know, feeling awkward at the thought of reading about two women having sex because they couldn't help but projecting themselves onto them and not wanting that image in their head. Of course, I also realised that it might very well be the case of them seeing "gay men as only existing for their entertainment", but I think you hit the nail on its head when talking about those women perceiving gay men as "hypersexualized people". It's so gross and unfair. And of course, it cuts F/F romance out of the picture completely, not to mention trans and non-binary romance.

    "This could also be tied to the "gay best friend" trope, in which straight girls in movies in tv tend to have a flamboyant gay male best friend, which leads to many straight girls in real life wanting this for themselves."
    Ah, the token, tropey gay character for girls. The one you can exchange nail polish with...I mean, there are probably hundreds of gay men you can exchange nail polish with, but other hundreds who wouldn't wear nail polish (same for women)...and regardless, the use of the first in movies, shows, etc. perpetuates the idea that gay men are "only existing for [women's] entertainment"...

    Alas, I don't read romance of any kind, but I'm going to put the link to your post on Twitter, and I hope you find the books you're looking for! Fab post as always 😃.

    1. Thank you for sharing my post, Roberta! I didn't want to come across as too harsh in the post, but amongst straight girls I've seen a lot of this fetishization which really has been getting me upset. For example, one of the tv shows that's very popular in Canada right now is "Schitt's Creek," which features a pansexual character, David Rose. However, since David marries a man and has a unique sense of style and attitude, I've seen so many straight women ignore his pansexuality and reduce him to the "gay man" tropes that we know so well. David is a complex character who's not just there to make straight women giggle! Anyways, I'm getting off topic here, but I think it's an important conversation to have nonetheless.

  3. This is really interesting, and I'll confess that I'd never given it a lot of thought before. I do read LGBT books, but I've never paid much attention to whether they were m/m or f/f before. I will say that I tend to read a lot more fantasy than pure romance, and many of the fantasy LGBT novels lately seem to have f/f rep. And trans rep is increasing, but I agree that we have a very long way to go. I will definitely have to pay more attention to this in the future, so thanks for pointing it out to me!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    1. I'm glad you're paying more attention, Nicole! It's great that fantasy is representing more f/f romance lately. I hope more contemporary novels follow as well.