High 5, Low 5 in m/m romance themes & tropes
When Patti invited me to write a guest post for her M/M Romance Month I was very honored and excited! I love this genre and nowadays I hardly read any romance books other than those of the m/m kind. I haven’t been reading this genre (or even romance in general) for that long, but over the past period of one and a half years I’ve come to like and dislike some romance themes more than others. So, for this guest post I like to talk about my ‘High 5, Low 5’ of favorite and not so favorite themes and tropes in m/m romance.
1. Old Friends, New Loves
This first theme is actually one that also works for me in m/f romance. I just love the Friends to Lovers theme! In m/m books it’s often accompanied by an additional tension because one or both friends are wondering if the other friend is even gay or not. But even if this aspect isn’t playing a role, I’m a big fan of the relationship based on friendship.
2. The One That Got Away
Like the previous theme, this one gives the main characters a history together. So, they already have an emotional bond. Reunited lovers usually have to work out some issues from the past while they can also focus on their present attraction and feelings of love. Important is that I can believe in these because they’re not instantly sprouted but usually based on a shared history and on knowing each other’s personalities. One of the best things about both this and the first theme is therefore that the story doesn’t suffer from insta-love between the protags.
3. Gay For You
This is a typical m/m theme: a straight man falls in love/lust with a person, who happens to be a man. He’s never been in love with another man before and most likely won’t fall for other men in the future. It’s just this particular man, who rocks his boat. I like this theme because it’s the superlative of Love with a capital L. Furthermore, this theme usually brings some struggle into the story and (in the end at least) we can be sure to be in the company of an open-minded hero. I love that!
This theme should not be confused with the ‘gay hero in the closet’ by the way. That’s another theme that I can appreciate once in a while. But more often than not it also makes me want to smack that said hero (which is not necessarily a bad thing). ;)
I’m a sucker for men with a disability, especially when learning to deal with it within a (blooming) relationship plays an important role in the book. Damaged heroes, emotionally or physically, usually have this wounded pride thing going on and while gradually growing towards acceptance they have the tendency to push important people away. All the sweeter the happiness in the end when realization of love dawns.
5. Yes Sir!
The D/s relationship is a theme that I like better in m/m than in m/f romance. Don’t get me wrong, I do kinda like it in both genres, but the author of a BDSM romance with m/f protagonists, has to be very skilled to not make me feel awkward. Emotional depth is essential for me in any romance but especially in the BDSM themed ones. In m/m romance I can deal much better with less emotional layers than in m/f books, probably because of the more natural balance in equality between two men. That makes it sexier when one takes control over the other guy.
1. May-December Love
I can’t help it but I’m just not a fan of a big age gap between the heroes. Especially when the gap is bigger than 13 to 15 years I start to feel icky, because I can’t let go of the thought that the younger guy must have daddy issues. Maybe it has also something to do with my dislike of heroes that are much older than 40. I like them best in their thirties or even in their twenties.
I actually have never read a romance which had a male-pregnancy in it, but that’s because I’m shying away from the topic as much as I can. Pregnancy or wanting to get pregnant is something I don’t want to read about in romances in general. Period. I just don’t think it’s sexy, and even less so when it’s a male getting knocked up. Funny thing though is that I don’t mind ‘men with children’ being the heroes of a story. As long as the kids aren’t just props, but well-developed characters, I can enjoy them being part of the story.
3. No Means Yes
I’m ambiguous about non-consensual sex scenes or even when the consent is dubious. Some m/m romances are based on yaoi (m/m manga) in which dub-con or non-con is a fairly common theme. And only that knowledge can make me stomach the dub-con sex scenes in some of those yaoi-based books. Otherwise, this type of sex scenes, for example in BDSM novels, is a big no-no for me.
Twincest or brothercest is another topic I’ve avoided so far. I don’t know, an author must really know what he/she is doing to make me want to read about incest between brothers. Like m-preg it’s very far outside my comfort zone.
5. Stalk Me, Save Me
This theme, where one of the protags has a stalker on his tail and the other protag is there to save his ass, can bore me to death when it isn’t done exceptionally well. I’m not at all against plots where the heroes are being put in danger or find external obstacles on their way, I actually enjoy those action packed stories very much every now and then. It’s the ‘victim meets rescuer’ trope that doesn’t appeal to me. Especially when the ‘victim’ is the princess-in-the-tower type; that is, being very passive until his hero rescues him after which he rewards him with love. Bleh. Furthermore, the conflict in a romance story shouldn’t only be external (like danger coming from a stalker). I need an internal struggle too. In fact, an author can skip the external conflict any time in favor of the internal conflict if it was up to me. :)
Aside from these tropes there are a few character types I avoid more or less if I can. First there’s the drag queen; heroes that are into cross-dressing don’t rock my boat. Second there’s the bear type; big, hairy, muscular types don’t attract me very much. Then there’s the virginal character; it’s not that I dislike this type, but he’s just not doing it for me in a romance (maybe it reminds me too much of the female virgins in historicals). And then there’s the princess-in-the-tower type that I really dislike; I’m just not a big fan of the very passive protagonists in general (see my fifth low too). Lastly, I shy away from romances about established couples; it’s the budding and blooming of a relationship I’m more interested in.
On the other hand, any hero who wears a uniform (law enforcement, fireman, military, medic) easily finds his way into my shopping cart. Alphas make me feel tingly. I can’t help myself. :)
So, which themes, tropes or character types make your ‘High 5, Low 5’ list?