He wanted to see Enrique naked. Soon after, the men wake up to find a dead chicken on their car. Those in the Hustler store audience love it. At first glance, the reading seems fairly conventional — except for the fact that James Buchanan is not a man, she is a heterosexual mother of two, whose husband watches her read from the back of the room.
They know Buchanan is a woman, just as they know that most gay-romance novels are written by women like her. Which leads us to the other oddity on display at the Hustler store this night.
The audience of some 20 is mostly female. In fact, most readers of gay-romance novels are — like most readers of straight-romance novels — women who devour page stories of men falling in and out of love with each other, all the while having abundant, glorious and oh-so-graphic sex. With an eager audience urging them on, Buchanan and other female authors are reinventing the ages-old romance novel to accommodate — and accentuate — gay love. To read widely in this genre is to delve into the minds and hearts of male cops, detectives, private investigators, spies, assassins, pirates, sharpshooters and military officers who let nothing stand in the way of love.
The brooding sea captain falls not for the blushing maiden but his own dashing first mate. On the receiving end of these books are people like Nichols. In some ways it defeats the novelty, but it comes back to them being on equal ground. And two guys together? This being the youngest of the romance disciplines, there are no definitive industry numbers on gay-themed love stories.
The first house to take the plunge, Running Press, sent out its initial raft of books just this year. Hot and steamy gay-romance literature is to women what Internet porn is to men: They get off on it, mostly in secret, and keep coming back for more. And like porn, reading gay romance can be downright addictive.
Through the safety and anonymity of e-mail, women from around the country responded to our questions and confessed their obsessive reading habits. Emmy Frost, a young nurse in Hawaii, admits that she reads 15 to 20 gay romances a month. Nearly one book a day? A year-old accountant named Ana Maria can top that: She reads 25 a month. The reasons these women give for reading gay romance range from curiosity and escapism to empowerment in seeing the age-old struggle between the sexes reconfigured.
A love story between two men, Kerrita K. Mayfield points out, creates new, enticing questions: The bottoms, in other words, as well as the tops.
Rapone, a retired commodities day trader in Montana, speaks of her love for the archetypal loners. Forced into isolation or desperate circumstances, these guys depend on each other to survive.
Would you ask men why are they so turned on by two women together? We take it for granted that guys love their girl-on-girl. It is as deep-seated a fantasy as the male fantasy of putting two women together. She was certainly the first to bring in industry experts.
Over the phone, Penley is pleasant, affable and irreverent, with the remnants of a Southern accent flitting in and out of her voice. The idea that men only identify with the man in a sex scene, she says, or that women only identify with the woman, is too simplistic. Has Penley ever heard of anyone doing that? People are capable of a much greater range of fluidity of who they identify with, and whom they objectify, or take as a sexual object of desire.
Women are told how to behave, and whether or not they can abort fetuses. They are held to impossibly high standards of beauty. Linda Williams, a Berkeley professor who wrote the first serious book about porn film, Hard Core: The main pleasure comes from the romantic story, i. And the plots are essentially female. The sex is just the cherry on top. Six Ethical Principles for the 21st Century, pornography is to male psychology what romance fiction is to female psychology.
If you make it two males, they still embody female psychology. They may look like boys, and make love with male bodies, but they think and act and love like girls.
But can the body and mind be divorced so readily? Desire, after all, is shadowy, the daughter of both flesh and mind. Penley finds evolutionary biology too reductive, but ironically certain biological studies bear her out when she says that who we are aroused by, and who we identify with, is much more fluid than we might expect.
At least, the studies support her thesis where women are concerned. In , Northwestern University Professor Michael Bailey published the findings of his study on sexual arousal. He had shown to men and women brief, sexually explicit films of two women having oral sex, two women with a strap-on dildo, two men performing fellatio, or male-female couples. For male participants, a mercury-in-rubber ring was placed around their penis. As an erection developed, the ring expanded, and Bailey recorded the change in circumference.
For the women, a clear acrylic rod inserted into their vaginas contained a light source that shone on the capillaries of the vaginal wall. The more aroused a woman became, the more engorged with blood her vagina became and the more darkly her vaginal walls glittered with moisture. The results for men, Bailey says, were as expected. The women, however, had a different, far more surprising pattern of arousal: As you might guess, Bailey is a controversial figure.
That study, published in the journal Psychological Science, as well as his other research concerning the etiology of sexual arousal, has been attacked by everyone from The Washington Times and conservative congressmen to gay activists. Bailey was also one of the first researchers to suggest that homosexuality is substantially genetic. But why should a woman be turned on by a variety of stimuli any more so than a man? Becoming physically if not mentally aroused by a whiff of sex in the air, in other words, is evolutionarily adaptive for women.
Which is not of course the same thing as pleasure. He showed his subjects films of people masturbating to orgasm. As in the other studies, straight women were aroused equally by both genders. Abramson concluded that women are equally adept at imagining themselves as either the pleasurer or the receiver. Or simply the observer. Women, it seems, are hardwired to love gay, male sex. For that matter, neither are those by Buchanan or other gay-romance authors.
Not even in the gay and lesbian section, which is lumped in with philosophy. Vaughan flips through the guide, turning it this way and that. With auburn, bobbed hair, wearing a necklace of colored hearts, and a blousy red sweater, Vaughan is the quintessential suburban soccer mom. She lives and works in famously conservative Orange County, and has a husband and a year-old son.
It is an attraction of opposites, set in outer space. Her first five books were straight romances. Then she ran across an ad on craigslist: Next came a short story in the gay-romance anthology Kegs and Dorms, about college boys. It takes place on a train. Grant and someone else hook up en route. Not even copies. Off World did better, though, selling in the thousands.
Vaughan once wrote four pages at the company where she is a health-care administrator. When she got home, a page was missing.
A sense of the illicit. It starts with a look, a charged moment. Women would write stories as part of what Prof. Penley first came across it in , when slash stories were being distributed as photocopied zines, like comic books. In the process, their act of consumption had turned into an act of production.
These writers picked up on the homoeroticism of every male pair on television and gleefully ran with it. They slashed Kirk and Spock. Or Starsky and Hutch. Riley, by day a film editor for PG animation, describes her descent into slash fiction as an act of rebellion: I went home and took Winnie the Pooh and slashed him. Winnie, Tigger and Piglet have sex. Riley is slim, with shaggy, cropped dark hair and expressive eyes. She snuggles deeper into the hood of her sweatshirt.
Evening is falling, and in the half-light, the G.