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Ménage Subgenres in Erotic Fiction (or Biphobia vs Bisexuality)

August 27, 2012

Does anyone remember my series of posts on labels in marketing? If you don’t and are curious (and have a bit of free time XD), you can check out the three parts here, here, and here. ^_^ Today’s blog post is in a relatively similar vein. I’d like to discuss the differences in labeling erotica and erotic romances involving ménage content. Ultimately, I think there’s a difference between M/F/M and M/M/F (or F/M/F and F/F/M), both in marketing and in labeling, but both spark some of my pet-peeves. Have I managed to make you curious? Read on!

One thing I noticed while attending Authors After Dark a couple weeks ago (and their BDSM panel, specifically) was that the majority of writers within the mainstream (primarily hetero) crowd don’t deviate from their M/F very much. Even those who write BDSM, a subgenre full of complexity when it comes to identity and expression, rarely reach out to embrace the other sexualities. Those who do most often write what I usually call non-contact ménage. This is where the two of the same sex focus completely on—or take turns with—the one character of the opposite sex. In shorthand, this would be the M/F/M and F/M/F kind of ménage. In this case, both kinds are pretty common, though M/F/M gets a bit more attention in the romance crowd, and F/M/F tends to stray more into erotica. (Anyone ever heard of the ‘hot bi chick’ trope in the romance world? Yeah. A lot more common when you move toward erotica.)

What I dislike about non-contact ménage is the rampant biphobia (and therefore homophobia) that is often displayed through the writer’s choice of words and the characterization of the individuals engaging one another on the page. M/F/M and F/M/F operate on the assumption that the two people who are the same sex as one another will not touch one another sexually throughout the encounter. For those who have engaged in any sort of threesome, you’ll likely shake your head at this. Assuming you’re doing more than taking turns or having one of the three act as voyeur, accidental touches are inevitable. And just because you touched someone the same sex as you doesn’t automatically ‘turn you gay’. Oi! I wish people would stop seeing it as black and white, gay or straight. That mindset is damaging to all involved, if you ask me. The common “but I ain’t gay” message that is typical in M/F/M fiction in particular just makes me grind my teeth every time! Of course you aren’t gay for being in a threesome with another guy! It doesn’t make you gay; it makes you bisexual.

Oh, no! I can hear the protests already as I type it. Bisexual. Yep. I said it. And I meant it. 😉

Bisexuality exists, and it exists in a spectrum of colors, shapes, sizes, and flavors. While I understand that people like their binary of ‘gay or straight and nothing in between’, it simply isn’t the way sexuality works. The non-contact ménage crowd often wants you to completely forget the existence of bisexuality. No, no. Don’t worry about the men touching each other. They’re into the woman. Focus on the woman getting smexed by two guys. We won’t ruin the het with any of that gay stuff. Uh… yeah. Do you see the bisexuality in that message? I don’t. And that’s the point. Complete erasure. And it makes me angry! ANGRY FACE! CAPSLOCK!

The problem only deepens, however. The more you look at ménage fiction, the more you see that delineation between non-contact (M/F/M or F/M/F) and full-contact (M/M/F and F/F/M). Full-contact means that all parties are engaged in sex with one another. It varies on the threesome, of course, but the general idea is that all those in the sex scene feel some level of sexual desire for one another. This is my preferred kind of ménage, since I’m the kind who happily reads two (or more) men together or two (or more) women together in addition to the heterosexual content. It doesn’t bother me. Not in the slightest. I don’t mind mixing my girl-bits with my boy-bits in my fiction, both as a reader and as a writer.

It’s bisexuality, and I love it. And I’m unapologetic about it.

Where my problem lies in full-contact ménage is once again in the labeling. I just did it. Did you notice? Full-contact ménage is rarely labeled as anything but just that: ménage. Once again, you’re erasing bisexuality in the labeling, even when it’s clearly present! You’ve written or published a story with this content inside it, but you don’t label it bisexual. Why not? I honestly am baffled and wish I knew why bisexuality is a label so many fear to put on their fiction. Even more than that, I wish I understood why readers shy away from anything labeled bisexual. I know not all readers do, but it comes from both sides of things.

Many lovers of het don’t want anything homosexual in their fiction. Long story short, that’s an extension of homophobia right there. Anything deviating from the ‘norm’ (read: heterosexual) is unacceptable to them. On the other side of the coin, you have the camp of readers within the M/M category who get squeamish whenever they find girl-bits mixing with the boys in their sex scenes. In that case, they’re perfectly all right with homosexual content, but not with bisexual. Once again, the biphobia is rearing its head.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying every reader who prefers het or gay/lesbian fiction and just doesn’t care for ménage is biphobic. Some may be, but certainly not all. People are definitely allowed their preferences, and I’m not trying to say they’re bad people for having them. ^_^ All I’m saying is I dislike the prominence of the mindset that there is gay (or lesbian) and straight and nothing in between, and the way that mindset translates into romance, erotic romance, and erotica fiction. It’s troubling to me when I see ménage fiction displaying an undercurrent of biphobia, and the subsequent erasure of bisexuality from the books. And for those books inclusive of bisexuality, I just wish they’d label it as such instead of sticking the broader ‘ménage’ tag on it. All that does is lump it in with all the biphobic fiction on most websites, and I feel that can be a disservice to readers.

What I wish… what I really, really wish… is that there was no need to separate the different kinds of ménage from one another. I wish society were in a place where bisexuality was accepted just as readily as the binary of heterosexuality and homosexuality. I wish there was no need to placate people with the words Don’t worry. There’s nothing gay going on when the three of them get together. I wish we were all in a place where the spectrum of sexuality wasn’t something to fear, but something to embrace. There is more than black and white. All the colors between can be just as beautiful. You might prefer the colors closer to black or white, but magenta or chartreuse or cerulean should be just as acceptable, even if they aren’t your faves.

Of course, this doesn’t even delve into the spectrum of gender identity, which just adds even more layers of complexity to everything I just said. That, however, is a blog post for another day. 😄

Read and tell stories of love, no matter the gender or identity!

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 27, 2012 3:47 pm

    I’m familiar with and share your concerns. I have only once ever seen an M/F/M scene done in a way that didn’t bother me, and it was a romance where brothers fell for the same woman and decided they could share. And you’re right that it doesn’t get rid of accidental touch.

    In our mutual distaste for bisexual erasure, however, we should probably take care not to accidentally erase types of polyamory in the process. I love my honest, full-contact literary threesomes, but it’s not the only way to do poly. And if I’m going to find other numbers and combinations of people and relationships worth both portraying and reading about, I have to accept that a romance consisting of two people taking turns with a third person is still poly, and not something to be inherently avoided. Even if it’s not my reading preference.

    Unless it’s one heterosexual pairing and one homosexual pairing involved, it’s not bisexual–as you pointed out, bisexual is an entirely different label that we should be using properly and separately, not dodging by calling it something else. But it’s still poly, and may still be part of a story worth telling. I confess, one of my favorite literary threesomes of all time falls into this category. Despite not being my reading preference. 🙂

    • August 28, 2012 2:53 pm

      That’s an excellent point! I fully agree that polyamory shouldn’t be erased as well. There certainly are cases in which the M/F/M or F/M/F label is quite accurate for the type of polyamorous relationship that is shared by the characters, and I don’t mind fiction that delves into that at all! I think that there are a lot of stories that don’t even deal with the poly aspect of the relationships that they so clearly portray, and that’s also doing a bit of a disservice, since the dynamic in non-monogamous relationships is complex enough that it can be confusing if not explained to a bunch of readers. (Which is kind of sad, but I have to even admit that I was sheltered enough to not even understand what poly was until I was well into college. 😄 I’ve since been edumacated, and I’m glad for the learning!)

      Threesomes definitely come in all shapes and sizes. I just wish people would be accurate in their labeling if they’re bothering to label it. Like you said, there are all flavors of polyamory out there. My personal tastes are usually along the lines of full-contact ménage, but I wouldn’t mind non-contact so much if they approached it from a poly standpoint, which many stories just… ignore… rather than truly explore the different relationship dynamics. There isn’t “one true way” that poly or bisexuality needs to be shown in fiction, but I do wish there were more of a spectrum available to readers in a way that would allow people to shop to their tastes. Poly that doesn’t involve bisexuality definitely isn’t something to inherently avoid; I just want such poly to be dealt with respectfully, so it doesn’t come across as yelling “but I’m not gay or bi, because that stuff is disgusting” from the pages. ^_^

      Thanks for bringing that up, Ruth!

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