I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You Queer Bashers Aren’t Hot

Yesterday I clicked and read a freebie book on my phone, and it made me so very angry. I clicked it because the blurb made it sound like a “gay guy goes back to small hometown where he grew up and swore he’d never return” story, and I generally like a second-chance romance. I like the stories where the gay guy comes back to the place that made him feel small and wrong and shows them that he is neither, and falls in love along the way, probably with his “arch nemesis” (described in the blurb).

That’s what the book sounded like. But the blurb was way, way off.

It went to incredibly off the rails on nearly every level. If I’d just looked at some of the other reviews first, I might have avoided it (I say might because this book has mostly positive, gushing reviews about how lovely the romance was), but I was on my phone, I didn’t, and there’s a lesson learned.

Instead, I got a book where a former bully is a romantic lead, which… okay, that’s one way to consider an “arch nemesis.” The guy tossed him into garbage cans, for one example, but I’m supposed to buy him as the romantic interest, which is iffy enough.

It didn’t stop there. The book doubled and then tripled down on how it treated abuse survivors.

  • Give the main character an abusive, alcoholic parent who kicked out the queer guy but who deserves forgiveness and a second chance? Check!
  • Main character wasn’t just bullied, but was nearly beaten to death, including broken skull among other bones and long-lasting trauma over the past five years (including passing out at random)? Check!
  • The man who nearly bashed the main character to death turns out to be a closeted gay? Check!
  • Surround the main character with “friends” who constantly suggest he needs to check in with the abusive father who kicked him to the curb? Check!
  • Those same friends non-stop questioning the main character for not being over it (it was only five years ago he almost got beaten to death, but hey, get over it) and telling him the town has changed since then? Check!
  • Main character has a moment of “realizing” that tolerance has to go both ways? Y’know, he needs to be more patient with the “you are sin” crowd? Check!
  • Massive amounts of forgiveness to everyone all around—including inviting the closeted gay guy who nearly beat him to death to come live with them once he’s out of jail, and forgiving his father within moments of being given an AA chip and an apology? Check!

Now, I’ve talked before about the whole how reconciliation with a family that kicked out a queer kid is not a happy ending before and is such a misstep if you’re crafting queer characters, and I’m not going to reiterate it all again, but it’s here if you want to read it.

I should also mention that when we see, over and over, forgiveness as the only path to peace for survivors of abuse that we’re doing a massive, massive disservice to actual survivors of abuse. Moving to a peaceful, happy place and thriving after surviving violence does not require the forgiving of the abuser. Some people do. Many don’t. If only forgiveness is shown as the path, that’s a problem. Say that as many times as it takes until it sinks in.

But, back to the bashings. That’s right, plural, because this novella doubled down, but I’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s talk about the main character’s history—again, the blurb gives no mention of this, just “bad memories”—which has left him with trauma. He was so violently bashed he had multiple bones broken, including part of his skull, and has fainted a few times over the last five years since thanks to said trauma.

As someone who has bled on a sidewalk, I cannot tell you how infuriating it was to watch his friends be surprised he hadn’t “gotten over it” and how much of the narrative centred around the character himself buying into this narrative. He starts to berate himself as a coward for leaving town, for letting it chase him away. Are you shitting me? You do not stick around when people try to beat you to death. Especially when you’re kicked out by your parent. If you can possibly do it, you go, you find somewhere safe, and you never look back. Or at least, you do if you’re an actual, living, breathing queer person who has somewhere to escape to—and he did, he got away for school. But instead, by the end of the book, this character is written to consider that “tolerance goes both ways” and he should be more patient with the people who want to cleanse his soul.

Queer people do not have to tolerate the intolerant. It is not bigotry to oppose a bigot. For crying out loud, this is basic stuff. If someone calls queer people sinful, you don’t have to listen to their freaking beliefs and be patient about giving them a chance to “explain their side.” That’s not a free-speech moment or a rational debate, that’s someone deciding you are less than human because you are queer. That’s just wrong.

But I mentioned bashings plural. And this is the real point I wanted to make today, though it’s taken me way too long to get here, and I’m mad, and this isn’t coming across anywhere near as calmly as I’d like (but see the previous paragraph about not having to be okay with people treating you as less than human): I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: abusive hate, bullying homophobes, and violent bashings aren’t romantic lead fodder.

So, in this book, the main character—who survived a violent bashing, as I mentioned—has one real good gay friend in school. That friend is an athlete and studying to be a teacher, maybe phys-ed or something. Near the end of the book, said friend is bashed nearly to death. His hip is so damaged he will likely never walk again without a cane, and—wait for it—the hero of this book berates himself because it’s not the first time this friend has maybe hit on someone he shouldn’t have, and if only the hero of this book had been around to make sure he didn’t do that.

Did we really just blame the guy who might die from brain swelling, the guy with the shattered hip, the guy who was nearly beaten to death by some random homophobic sociopath for being nearly beaten to death? Yes. Yes, we did.

But wait, there’s more!

The hero of this book asks if his friend can come live with them for recovery, and of course his redeemed bully of a lover agrees and that in and of itself would be decent (because, again, this man’s family has also disowned him), but then we find out that the man who beat the hero of this book nearly to death is also going to come live with them because, after he went to jail/came out, the redeemed bully character said he could come stay with him once he was out of jail.

And his victim is okay with that. Because forgiveness.

If I had only bumped into this “former homophobic bully/abusive asshole” redemption-as-love-interest notion once, I’d maybe have tossed it aside. But I keep bumping into it in book blurbs. And after reading this one? I just… I just need to ask.

Why is this okay?

Why is this a trope in romantic fiction about gay men? It makes zero sense, it certainly isn’t respectful of queer men, and personally feels like someone going out of their way to punch me in the stomach and say, hey, that trauma of yours? It totally made me think sexy thoughts.

A man nearly beat another man to death. He is not a hero. That is not sexy. And when he shows up in book two, he’ll be paired with the best friend from college who has been beaten just as badly as this man beat the hero of the first book. The storyline next time is about a survivor of a hate crime hooking up with a person who went to jail guilty of the same damn hate crime.

I’d like to take a moment to discuss how many fellow survivors I’ve met and how many of those survived at the hands of someone who later came out as a gay person and turned their life around. Respectfully? Dozens, and none. Do closeted queer people make the worst homophobes? It’s up for debate—there are studies out there where arousal responses correlate with more vocal homophobes, but whether or not they make for the most violent homophobes isn’t known, and anecdotally, I can’t think of a single instance, like I said, where after a violent bashing someone (a) came out, and (b) turned their life around, so why is this such a propagated falsehood in what’s supposed to be a romance?

And that’s key. This is supposed to be a romance. I’m supposed to want this man to have a happy-ever-after. I’m supposed to look at a man who was beaten nearly to death by a man because he was queer, and want him to spend the rest of his life happy with someone who beat another man nearly to death because he was queer.

That’s… I don’t even know what that is. But I do know what it isn’t. It’s not romantic. And it would never fly if it wasn’t queer men.

I mean, I can’t imagine this storyline would ever, ever hold up in a heterosexual romance: a woman is nearly beaten to death by a man who can’t control his feelings for her, and the next book in the series is about him finding love with another woman who has survived nearly being beaten to death by a different man, all while they stay together in the same house while this second woman recovers from her assault and the man just got out of jail? Do you see how ridiculous that is? How harmful and hateful and not romantic? No chance. Not redeemable as a romantic lead.

But somehow it’s okay—not just okay, but romantic—because… why? Because it’s gay men?

There is so very much wrong with that I don’t even know how to begin.

12 thoughts on “I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You Queer Bashers Aren’t Hot

  1. Agreed with all of the above, it’s just awful. It reminds me of the old playground bullsh*t of “He’s hitting you because he likes you” which also makes me furious. Abuse and love just don’t go together and then to add on the victim-blaming is heart-breaking. Definitely not qualified as anywhere near an HEA.

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  2. i read many books when abuse felt under the genre of Romance… abuse is abuse … this type of books showing a gay character as a i-will-do-anything-for-a-dick type of man. i just hate it! I’m not saying one must be gay to write an MM Romance book, because not every author is a daemon or a robot neither who writes those genre, but at least do a kinda research! and btw gay porn DOES NOT COUNT!
    so dear Nathan fell free to add title and author name to this article … this is pure HATE!

    Like

  3. Pingback: Conversion Therapy, Revenge Porn, and Criticism | 'Nathan Burgoine

  4. Pingback: Impact, Intent, and Queering While Queer | 'Nathan Burgoine

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