I always look out for stories about gay families. Though I’ve found more that I didn’t like than the ones I did, since I started reading m/m romance, those few gems that I have found are some of my very favorite romances. It seems to be a less popular relationship configuration found in our genre, man + man + child(ren), or any other variations. I want to welcome SL Armstrong to TAR today to talk about heteronormativity and her latest novel written with K Piet.
I offer the floor to Saundra, and after I’ll give you a little more of my thoughts
Here’s a story synopsis for you: a pair of young lovers strive to make a life together while raising a young daughter. Now, what can you tell me about the genders of the lovers? If you said a boy and a girl… well, you’re wrong for one thing, but for another, you’ve demonstrated heteronormativity.
Heteronormativity is the term erroneously given to those things which are assumed to be desired only (and universally) by heterosexuals. These include things like marriage, family, and the ubiquitous “white picket fence”. There are only two problems with that assignment: not all heterosexuals want those things, and many homosexuals do.
In our new book, Making Ends Meet, K. Piet and I explore the life of 17-year-old Zach, a gay single father who starts dating Wil, a pharmacy student from an affluent family. All that Zach wants is a stable relationship with someone he loves and a home of his own where he can give his little girl the life he thinks she deserves. But our dev editor worried about the portrayal of Zach and his desires. One of her biggest notes on the story was that the entire thing seemed too heteronormative, as though being gay automatically means that Zach couldn’t possibly desire these things.
But here’s the thing. Not every gay man wants to be Brian Kinney, going out to a club every night and banging the first guy who catches his eye with no strings and no commitments. For plenty of gay people, that isn’t the life they want. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. I can immediately come up with a dozen gay couples who married―or want to be married―and who have children. That doesn’t make them less gay. It doesn’t make them posers, falling into the heterosexual patterns foisted upon them by the world, and thus, bad gay people. It makes them a couple who wants to be together, a couple who wants to raise children together, nothing more or less.
But, that’s what I mean when I say heteronormativity isn’t bad. Not that the assumptions that gay and straight people are inherently different in their desires aren’t ill-founded, because they are. But when you define heteronormativity as a set of desires to have what is traditionally considered to be sought by heterosexual persons, it is not wrong or bad for non-heterosexual persons to seek those same things. People are people, and each person’s desire is valid and individual. No one should judge anyone else’s happiness or how they gained that happiness based on sexual orientation or societal labels. Why should it matter that it makes Zach happy to raise his daughter with his boyfriend? Does it make their lives less? Does it make their identification as gay men suspect? No. It makes them a two income household with a precocious daughter to raise, just like so many other households in America.
Writing characters with those desires is not an erasure of the ‘homosexual experience’ (what is that, anyway? A ride at Gay EPCOT or something?), because there is no such thing as a singular experience. People are diverse, and regardless of their sexuality or gender expression, some people will always want that long-term relationship with partner and family. Telling their stories is not being heteronormative; it’s showing the diversity of human desire.
The beautiful thing about the m/m romance community is the diversity and acceptance of a plethora of ideals. Of course, the indie e-publishing market is the real superstar here, because I’m specifically talking about the diversity in publishing. As I said above, I love books about gay families, and it has only been recently, in the past couple of years that I really understand why. While I’ve not really thought seriously about kids (nor would I at this point in my life), it’s something that I don’t think I’ve ever specifically decided against. I never had the feeling that since I was gay I couldn’t have them, maybe because I’m fairly young and at the time I came out, gay adoption had been seen mostly as a positive move in American culture (I’m being optimistic here, lol).
The truth is, it took me a long time, as a gay man, to realize that the way I wanted to live my life was just fine. I was pretty self-consious about this issue in college. Almost all of my gay friends were having casual sex and loving it and.. it really just wasn’t for me (after a few failed attempts). I thought I was screwed up, honestly. I thought, growing up in the bible belt had made me feel that something was wrong with having a healthy gay sex life, or feeling guilty about my sexuality period. I never really felt that way, but what if I wasn’t really sure?
Saundra makes a really great point with this post. I like reading about gay families because it grounds the relationship into reality for me, when reading about so many gay men falling in love tends to roll together into a mish-mash of romance-land happiness.
Thanks, Saundra, for stopping by today and giving us some insight into her new book!