|UFDC Home||myUFDC Home | Help|
This item has the following downloads:
1 RADICALIZING ROMANCE: SUBCULTURE, SEX, AND MEDIA AT THE MARGINS By ANDREA WOOD A DISSERTATION PRESENTED TO THE GRADUATE SCHOOL OF THE UNIVERSITY OF FLOR IDA IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OF DOCTOR OF PHILOSOPHY UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA 2008
2 2008 Andrea Wood
3 To my fatherPaul Woodfor teaching me th e value of independent thought, providing me with opportunities to see the world, and alwa ys encouraging me to pursue my dreams
4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS I would like to thank Kim Em ery, my disse rtation supervisor, for her constant encouragement, constructive criticism, and availa bility throughout all stages of researching and writing this project. In addition, many thanks go to Kenneth Kidd and Trysh Travis for their willingness to ask me challenging questions about my work that helped me better conceptualize my purpose and aims. Finally, I would like to thank my friends and family who provided me with emotional and financial support at difficult stages in this process.
5 TABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ............................................................................................................... 4LIST OF FIGURES .........................................................................................................................7ABSTRACT ...................................................................................................................... ...............9 CHAP TER 1 INTRODUCTION .................................................................................................................. 11Modleski and Radway: Feminist Be ginnings and Queer Foreclosures .................................. 15The Question of Audience: P ublics and Queer Methodology ................................................19Exploding Genre and Medium: The Protean Nature of Romance .......................................... 22The Future of Romance Scholar ship: Queering the Margins ................................................. 25Overview of Chapters .............................................................................................................312 WHO SAYS MEN DONT READ ROMA NCE ?: THE GAY HARLEQUINS of ROMENTICS ..........................................................................................................................38The Feminine Reification of Romance: Femi nist Precedents and Queer Interventions ......... 42From Queer Pulps to Online Counterpublic s: The Politics and Publication of Gay Romance ....................................................................................................................... .......54Gay Romance and Definitional Argument s: Queering the Harlequin Model in Romentics ............................................................................................................................61Element One: Society Defined .......................................................................................63Element Two: The Meeting ............................................................................................. 68Element Three: The Barrier ............................................................................................ 71Element Four: The Attraction .......................................................................................... 75Element Five: The Declaration ........................................................................................ 79Element Six: Point of Ritual Death .................................................................................88Element Seven: The Recognition .................................................................................... 91Element Eight: The Betrothal .......................................................................................... 923 MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISI BLE: LESBIAN ROMANCE AND UNDE RGROUND COMICS FOR WOMEN ........................................................................ 95Romance and Early Lov e Comics for Women ................................................................... 98Lesbian Looks and Spatial Relations: Deciding What to Make Visible .............................. 101Possibilities for Pretty Pussi es: Fantasy, Play, and Sex in Girly Porn for Women ........... 108Autobiography, Coming-of-Age, and Real Lesbian Love ................................................114Conclusion .................................................................................................................... ........1204 GET YOUR (FANTASY) FREAK ON: CO NF ESSIONAL DISCOURSE, TRAUMA, AND AMBIVALENT DESIRES IN THE EROTICA OF ZANE ....................................... 143
6 Romance, Pornography, and Black Sexual Politics .............................................................. 146The Confession, Trauma, and Mediating Queerness ............................................................ 154Sexual Politics and Confessiona l Discourse in Cyberspace .................................................1815 STRAIGHT WOMEN, QUEER TEXTS: BO Y-LOVE M ANGA AND THE RISE OF A GLOBAL COUNTERPUBLIC ........................................................................................ 1916 CONCLUSION .................................................................................................................... .215WORKS CITED ................................................................................................................... .......220BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH .......................................................................................................228
7 LIST OF FIGURES Figure page 3-1 Amy and Temper in the train car. .................................................................................... 1223-2 Amy watching a man hitting on Temper. ........................................................................ 1233-3 Tempers flashback conversations with her mother. .......................................................1243-4 Temper lying drugged and unconscious in her wedding dress. ....................................... 1253-5 Ominous imagery of the church steeple. .......................................................................... 1263-6 Temper and Amy beco me sexually intimate. .................................................................. 1273-7 Temper experiencing sexual pleasure. ............................................................................. 1283-8 Temper and Amy share a kiss under the night sky. ......................................................... 1293-9 Annie being chastised for masturbating too often. .......................................................... 1303-10 Nibbil enjoying a nipple fuck. ......................................................................................1313-11 Nibbil gives new meaning to th e idea of penetrative sex. ............................................... 1323-12 Nibbil hams up the role of th e romance heroine in distress. ............................................ 1333-13 Alpha Annie to the rescue. ........................................................................................... 1343-14 Annie and Nibbil demonstrate their love. ........................................................................ 1353-15 Ariel is confronted by naked fantasy girls. ...................................................................... 1363-16 Ariel starts to wonder if sh e is only attracted to girls. ..................................................... 1373-17 Ariel makes her newly proclaimed identity as a dyke visible. ........................................ 1383-18 Ariel and Sally express confusi on about lesbian sex to Ms. Salt.....................................1393-19 Ariel experiences mixed pleasure and anxiety as she masturbates. ................................. 1403-20 Ariel mentally confronts the primacy of the penis in heteronormative culture. .............. 1413-21 Ariel becomes obsessed with a perceived imbalance in her clothing. ............................. 1425-1 Shuichi sees Yuki for the first time. ................................................................................. 210
8 5-2 Dee and Ryo kissing. .......................................................................................................2115-3 Shuichi and Yuki kissing. ................................................................................................ 2125-4 Kei finds himself on the bottom. .................................................................................. 2135-5 Uke partner in ecstasy. ................................................................................................... ..214
9 Abstract of Dissertation Pres ented to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy RADICALIZING ROMANCE: SUBCULTURE, SEX, AND MEDIA AT THE MARGINS By Andrea Wood December 2008 Chair: Kim Emery Major: English In Radicalizing Romance, I contend that contemporary media at the margins of the romance industry are driving a counterpublic di scourse that works to subvert the genres traditionally heteronormative paradigms. In an increasingly digital era, romance is a genre expanding to meet the diverse desires and fantasie s of readers of different genders, sexualities, ethnicities, and ages that challe nge the heterosexual assumptions of earlier feminist studies. While previous research generally focused on ma ss-marketed paperbacks, such as Harlequins, I instead examine subcultural and online texts in cluding romantic lesbian graphic novels, gay mens romance novels, African-Ame rican erotica, and queer Japa nese manga. By considering narratives that break out of the traditional format of mass-market paperbacks and present queer visions of love, I show how romance at the ma rgins takes up critical concerns about gender, sexuality, and race that are often ignored or pat hologized in popular romance novels and much of the research that has been done on them. Online technology, part icipatory culture, and media convergence are enabling wide transnational ci rculation of non-normative romance narratives through both commercial and non-commercial venues. Consequently, we need to conceptualize romance readership in terms of more nebulous di scursive publics rather than as a quantifiable and homogenous audience. This project aims to radicalize romance by demonstrating how
10 queer concepts and texts, which have been glarin gly absent from most studies of the genre, can shed important light on the current evolu tion of romance and begin informing new methodological strategies for studyi ng the genre and its readers in the twenty-first century.
11 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Early critical studies of popular rom ance, ma ny written by feminist scholars, attempted to explain why women consumed mass-marketed ro mance novels in such large numbers. These studies characterized mainstream romance ficti on as a feminine mode of writing by and for women, and typically sought to find redeeming el ements in the texts despite their overtly heterosexist tales of conformity. The two most significant feminist works on popular romance, Tania Modleskis Loving with a Vengeance: Ma ss Produced Fantasies for Women and Janice Radways Reading the Romance: Women, Patr iarchy, and Popular Literature were published in the 1980s and remain the foundational studies on the genre.1 While both canonical texts remain fundamental to continued feminist research on ro mance, their increasingly dated material does not adequately address the ways in which the genr e and its readership have changed in the last few decades. Although several special journal issues and edited collections have endeavored to remedy this gap in recent years, they have only ac hieved limited degrees of success. In part, the problem with new work on romance is that it either mimes the arguments of Radway and Modleski with no productive or substantive variat ion, or it alternatively argues in overarching terms that romance has been liberated from its former heterosexist ideology. As dissatisfying as are both of these tendencies, what is perhaps mo re worrying is the fact that the majority of romance scholarship has not managed to break out of the confines of its own essentialist and heterosexual frameworks. 1 As Jackie Stacey and Lynne Pearce aptly note, Modleski an d Radway were not the first feminists to write on the subject of romance, but rather the first to conceive of the genre as something other than clear-cut patriarchal propaganda: In terms of feminist attempts to theorize romance, then, the work of Modleski and Radway in the 1980s signaled a radical departure from the earlier femini sts (deBeauvoir, Millett, Firestone, Greer et al.) who perceived it to be a monolithically pernicious and disabling ideology as a species of false consciousness which could, and should, be resisted ( Romance Revisited 13).
12 By and large, scholars persist in studying and defining romance according to heteronormative paradigms that ignore or relegate LGBTQ texts and their readers to the margins as exceptions to the rule. In part, this te ndency has been fueled by feminist focus on massmarketed texts like Harlequins and problematic assumptions about the gender and sexuality of readers. While some of this work on romance pr ovides relevant insights into certain kinds of texts and reader demographics, th ey consistently ignore queer th eoretical possibi lities and queer texts themselves. Part of the rationale for not st udying LGBTQ romances is the fact that they are far fewer in number than mass-mark et heterosexual romances. While a scarcity of such texts in the 1970s and 80s might have been true, that is no longer the case in the twenty-first century. The proliferation of independent and digital publishing avenues has enabled authors writing nontraditional romance to circulate and sell their work without having to conform to the regulations of mainstream romance publishers. Continuing to turn a blind eye toward these LGBTQ texts and their readers reveals a scholarly failure to en gage with real changes taking place in the realm of romance and its readers. Tryi ng to maintain the heterosexual feminine status of romance in our current moment is not only untenable, but also speaks to a clear undercurrent of homophobia at work in the field. This is something that feminist scholars may be uncomfortable and even unwilling to acknowledge, but it manifests on severa l levels, most notably in definitions of the genre that are predicated on gende r binaries of difference to or ganize the purported heterosexual telos of romance. Radicalizing Romance seeks to interrogate the ex clusionary parameters of previous romance scholarship wh ile demonstrating how the textual interests and online discourse of contemporary romance readers reveal a grow ing receptiveness to and investment in LGBTQ romances.
13 Although a number of critical articles on lesbian romance ha ve appeared over the years (Hermes; Ehnenn; Juhasz; Foote), broader studie s of the genre have not integrated critical engagement with them or other queer texts beyond the occasional footnote or passing reference. Consequently, lesbian romances still remain marginal to the field, and gay, bisexual, transgender, and other queer romances are all but invisible in academic discourse on romance even as they gain greater visibility in onlin e and commercial publishing real ms. In contrast to previous research, Radicalizing Romance: Subculture, Sex, and Media at the Margins contends that contemporary media at the margins of the romance industry are dr iving a counterpublic discourse that works to subvert the genres traditionally heteronormative paradigms. In an increasingly digital era, romance is a genre expanding to meet the diverse desires and fantasies of readers of different genders, sexua lities, ethnicities, and ages that challenge the heterosexual assumptions of earlier feminist studies. While previous research generally focused on massmarketed paperbacks, such as Harlequins, I instead examine subcultural and online texts including romantic lesbian graphic novels, gay mens romance novels, African-American erotica, and queer Japanese manga. By consider ing narratives that break out of the traditional format of mass-market paperbacks and present queer visions of love, I sh ow how romance at the margins takes up critical concerns about gender, sexuality, and race that are often ignored or pathologized in popular romance novels and much of the research that has been done on them. Online technology, participatory culture, and medi a convergence are enabli ng wide transnational circulation of non-normative romance narrativ es through both commercia l and non-commercial venues. Consequently, we need to conceptualiz e romance readership in terms of more nebulous discursive publics rather than as a quantifiable and homogenous audience.
14 This project seeks to radicalize roman ce by demonstrating how queer concepts and texts, which have been glaringly absent from most studies of the genre, can shed important light on the current evolution of romance and begi n informing new methodol ogical strategies for studying the genre and its readers in the twenty-fir st century. By presenting the first book-length study of subcultural romance narratives that challenge both the heter onormative framework of mainstream romance fiction and conventional exp ectations and assumptions regarding readership I show how the future of romance is already being greatly influenced by the margins. While issues of readership remain central to this project, I do not empl oy an ethnographic methodology. Instead, I examine from a feminist and queer theoretical perspective how the increasing importance of textual circulation and participator y culture in cyberspace require us to rethink romance readership in terms of more nebulous di scursive publics rather than as a quantifiable and homogeneous audience. At the same time, I ar gue that we require a broader understanding of what constitutes romance at present, especially now that the genre is evolving and adapting with the rise of new media. It has already been noted that in more recent years subgenres have proliferated, enough so that the generic term romance seems even le ss adequate than before to describe the variety available to readers (Mussell 3). Indeed, many of the texts I examine resist traditional classifications of romance. In this respect, some scholars will no doubt object to the broadness with which I apply the term romance. As Ca rol Thurston has noted, Though often disowned as literature, this popular fiction [romance] noneth eless has been relegated largely to literary analysis and criticism, where the focus has been on patterns in texts that demonstrate universality and continuity rather than divers ity and chance, and on consensus ra ther than pluralism (4). I work against this kind of structuralist approach to romance precisely because I believe it has
15 reinforced a willful ignorance toward those texts that reside at the margins, most particularly LGBTQ romances, which has reified romance as a f eminine heterosexual genre. In contrast, I see the genre as constantly adapting, changing, an d exceeding any efforts to impose limits on it. Much of the fluidity I would as cribe to romance in the twenty-first century is driven by the desires and demands of increasing ly vocal and active romance-readi ng publics that do not remain static, coherent, or uniform. Thus, I agree with Sandra Booth s claim in Paradox in Popular Romances of the 1990s: The Paranormal versus Feminist Humor that the increasing fragmentation in the genre is a result not only of readers seek ing novelty but of searching for different romance fantasies (94). I locate sp ecifically queer possibilities in these acts of resistance to heteronormativity as I analyze subcultural texts and counterpublic discourse about them. In order to give appropriate context for my project first, however, it is necessary to consider what feminist research on romance ha s achieved thus far and to identify the central themes that shape this book. Modleski and Radway: Feminist Beginnings and Queer Foreclosure s Tania Modleskis Loving with a Vengeance: Ma ss Produced Fantasies for Women published in 1982, made the first book-length feminist interven tion into the study of popular romance.2 In this study Modleski skillfully repudiat es the historically masculine tendency to denigrate romance and its readership as silly or frivolous. She relates romance to a patriarchal scholarly tradition that dismisses wome ns writing as lacking li terary value and thus being unworthy of critical inqui ry. Her critique ultimately sh ows that under patriarchy popular romance is generally depicted as a low art form th at appeals to equally devalued female readers. 2 John G. Caweltis Adventure, Mystery, and Romance discussed romance as popular genre but not from a specifically feminist standpoint. But like Modleski an d Radway, Cawelti viewed romance as a particularly feminine genre that appealed pr imarily to female readers.
16 Modleski is careful to note, howev er, that feminist scholars need to be wary of falling into the same rhetorical position that excoriates this popula r cultural mode precisely because it is seen as unrealistic, sentimental, and feminine: In assu ming this attitude, we demonstrate not so much our freedom from romantic fantasy as our acceptance of the crit ical double standard and of the masculine contempt for sentimental (feminine) 'drivel' (14).3 Loving with a Vengeance instead of devaluing romance, suggests that the genre speaks very powerfully about womens experiences in culture. Arguing from a position of deliberate ambivalence, Modleski acknowledge s the problematic ways in which romance fiction reinforces the gender myths of masculinity an d femininity, but simultaneously sh ows that it is too facile to reduce these narratives to straightforward patria rchal propaganda. Instea d, she maintains that while romances generally uphold the gender status quo they tend to depict very rebellious and independent heroines who struggle with their opp ression. Indeed, Modleski does not believe that readers passively accept a subservient position in pa triarchal culture, but rather that the fantasies presented in romance novels demonstrate the myri ad contradictions women face as they attempt to adapt utopian ideals to existing circumstan ces (58). What is perhaps most compelling and enduring about Modleskis argument is the way sh e illustrates womens c onflicting and at times very paradoxical relationsh ip with these texts. Modleski does not study actual r eaders, but instead uses psycho analytic theory to read the readers of romance fiction through the popular texts they consume. She is interested in the interaction between feminine r eaders and texts (31) and claims that it is only by taking psychoanalytic insights into account, by understanding how deep-ro oted are the anxieties and fantasies contained in (and by) popular narratives for women can we begin to explain why 3 My project does not perceive of the feminine as negative, but rather questions how the employment of this terminology has reinforced problematic gender binarisms and reified romance in heterosexual terms.
17 women are still requiring what Jameson calls the symbolic satisfactions of the text instead of looking for real satisfactions (29) Modleski is careful to qua lify this notion as one that does not attempt to reinscribe the negatively construed rhetoric of escapism so often used by critics to denigrate romance and various othe r popular genres. At the same ti me, Modleski directly tackles what she perceives to be a scholarly failure to acknowledge sufficien tly the complexity of womens responses to romance (37). Noting the ambivalent relationship she views at the heart of womens interest in romance, she argues that instead of exploring the possibility that romances, while serving to keep women in their place, may at the same time be concerned with real female problems, analysts of womens roma nce have generally seen the fantasy embodied in romance fiction either as evidence of female mas ochism or as a simple reflection of dominant masculine ideology (37-38). In contrast, Modleski explores the female romantic fantasies presented in popular romance in order to look at the varied and complex strategies women use to adapt to circumscribed lives, and to convi nce themselves that li mitations are really opportunities (38). Two years after Loving with a Vengeance was published, Janice Radways study Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature followed hot on its heels. Ostensibly another feminist intervention into the study of romance as popular genre, Radways book centered around an ethnographic study she had c onducted on a group of regular romance readers residing in the Midwestern United States whom she referred to as the Smithton women. Radways study offered interesting insight into this specific group of women, incorporating direct testimony from actual romance readers abou t their predilections, ha bits, and responses to texts. Like Modleskis work before it, Radways text also employs psychoanalytic theoretical perspectives in order to anal yze the information gathered from her study of the Smithton
18 readers.4 In essence, the larger question frami ng the study is, why do women enjoy reading popular romances? Radway attempts to answer this via a psychoanalytic r eading of her data, as an unconscious desire on the part of the female reader to be nurtured and mothered by a male hero in order to satisfy a need that she herself often provides to others in her roles as wife and mother, but is not r eceiving in return.5 Thus for her, romance is fundamentally a compensatory literature that reflects the ongoing instability of the heterose xual solution to the oedipal dilemmaas a ritual effort to convince its readers th at heterosexuality is both inevitable and natural and that it is necessari ly satisfying as well (14). While Radway is certainly right to poin t out the formulaic tendency heterosexual romances have in privileging paradoxically ultramasculine but nurturing ma le heroes, her thesis is troubling for several reasons. Firstly, Radways readers limited their te xtual consumption to a specific sub-genre of romance, that of the long historical, which neces sarily restricted the scope of textual study in a signi ficant manner. Secondly, despite attempts to refrain from doing so, Radway ultimately uses her one small case st udy to explain the larger phenomenon of female romance readership in general. This ethnographi c and psychoanalytic approach, partly a product of the time at which Radway conducted her research, reflects a provocative but limited understanding of readers that attempts to explain their desires and fantasies in totalizing ways. Lastly, although Radway identifi es the instability of the hete rosexual solution to the oedipal dilemma at the heart of romance narratives, she does not question the solution itself as the only viable means for resolution. The psychoanalytic perspective she adopt s forecloses queer 4 Radway is particularly influenced by the psychoanalytic work of Nancy Chodorow in The Reproduction of Mothering: Psychoanalysis an d the Sociology of Gender 5 This claim is reliant upon female compliance with the institutions of compulsory heterosexuality. The readers Radaway studied all identified as straight (many of them also being married and having children), but the Smithton women cannot be used to speak for the gender or sexuality of all readers of romance.
19 possibilities among readers by reasse rting heterosexuality as the primary erotic paradigm of psychic development and of romance itself, thus dismissing LGBTQ romanc es and their readers in ways that connote pathologization. Although both Modleski and Radway emphasi ze the feminine qualities of popular romance and the act of reading these narratives their claims about womens experiences, fantasies, and desires are always directly or indirectly couched in heterosexual te rms. One might argue that this can be reasonabl y attributed to the fact that both scholars are considering heterosexually-centered texts. However, just because a romance novel produces a heterosexual narrative does not mean that all readers of that te xt are straight. Nor does it mean that the novel is not open to potential perverse, to use Eve Sedgwicks term, reading strategies that queer it in ways that meet different reader s needs and fantasies. Describing romance as a feminine genre certainly has important feminist ramifications, as Modleski most aptly demonstrates, but it can also enact a particular kind of essentialism that is perhaps not intended yet nonetheless works to foreclose queer possibilitiesespecially when it reinforces the idea that the romance form as genre presumes a patriarchal ideology, where heterosexual coupling is the telos and defining logic of womens experience (Ehnenn 121). The Question of Audience: Publics and Queer Methodology As I have shown thus far, the early fem ini st studies of popular romance were deeply invested in questions of readersh ip and the motivations behind readers interest in texts. While both Modleski and Radway offer provocative ideas about womens investment in romances, their conclusions tend to represent romance r eaders in unified and homogeneous terms.6 6 Modleski begins her book by noting that Harlequin Romances, Gothic novels, and soap operas provide mass(ive) entertainment for countless numbers of women of varying ages, classes, and even educational backgrounds, but this is the only specific reference to difference among reader s that she notes (11). Telli ngly, she does not mention possible sexual differences in female readers. In a sim ilar fashion, Radway points out the ways in which mass-
20 Contemporary advances in online technology, and wide spread participatory practices in an era of media convergence, have necessarily opened th e genre to readers of different genders, sexualities, ethnicities, ages. All of these ch anges signal the need for new methodologies aimed toward inclusivity rather than exclusivity, that can take into account how the Internet has facilitated discourse about and textual circulation of subcultural non-normative romances among a wide variety of readers who are part of a nebul ous public that crosses cu ltural and transnational boundaries. Radicalizing Romance reads readers as parts of public s and counterpublics rather than audiences. Michael Warners theori zation of these categories in his book Publics and Counterpublics plays a central role in my thinking throughout this pr oject as I consider in more detail the online dimensions of publics and count erpublics in the twenty-f irst century. Warner emphasizes that a public is always in excess of its known social basis because the selforganization of a public is as a body of strange rs united through the circulation of their discourse (74, 86). Consequently, it is texts and discour se about them that establish connections between readers; and in our curren t digital era, this process of ci rculation is capable of reaching global dimensions. Warner explains that an alyzing, evaluating, and id entifying publics can be difficult precisely because they do not possess the more concrete specificity of an audience. He notes that the idea of a public has a metacultural dimension; it gives form to a tension between general and particular that makes it difficult to analyze from either perspective alone (11). Using Warners ideas as a founda tion, I build my own analysis of romance-reading publics and counterpublics that acknowledges the tensions betw een the general and the particular, especially market paperbacks were produced to be affordable and app ealing to a wide range of r eaders from different economic classes in her chapter The Institutional Matrix: Publishing Romantic Fiction, but she does not engage with issues of race or sexuality, the latter of whic h is always presumed heterosexual.
21 when examining online processes of textual circulati on and other modes of participation in publics. At the same time, because Radicalizing Romance focuses specifi cally on publics and counterpublics in cyberspace it establishes pertin ent connections between Warners theories and ideas about media convergence pu t forth by Henry Jenkins in Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide According to Jenkins, convergence is the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who will go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want (2). Although one might be inclined to assume initially that convergence is primarily technological in nature, Jenkins di sagrees. He claims that convergence does not occur through media app liances, however sophisticated they may become. Convergence occurs within the brains of individual consumers and through their social interacti ons with others (3). Not surprisingly for Jenkins, a well-known fi gure in fandom studies, many of these social interactions occur in online realms. He also emphasizes that the circulation of media contentdepends heavily on consumers active part icipation (3). No longer can consumers be viewed as passive media spectators. In the tw enty-first century, they are demonstrably active participants in media convergence in ways that are profoundly changing our understanding of the relationships between consumers and texts, and consumers and producers. In many respects, Jenkins theories inters ect with Warners notions of public s and counterpublics and his emphasis on textual circulation and participation. Therefore, I frequen tly put their ideas in dialogue with one another throughout this book to develop a better understanding of publics in online contexts.7 Radway argued in the 1980s that the romance community is a huge, ill-defined 7 See Chapter Four in particular
22 network composed of readers on the one hand and authors on the otherthis female community is mediated by the distances of modern mass publis hing, (97) but in the tw enty-first century the same cannot easily be said when distance may be obviated by a few clicks of the mouse. While Warner identifies similarities and ove rlaps between publics and counterpublics, he does specify important distinctions that mark the la tter category as fundamentally resistant to the status quo. He argues counterpublics are, by defi nition, formed by their conflict with the norms and contexts of their cultural environment ( 63). I appropriate this concept when discussing readers involved in the cross-cultural circulati on and consumption of queer texts that challenge traditional expectations and assumptions about romance and its readers. While I do identify romance-reading counterpublics as operating in resi stance to the heteronorm ative narratives that dominate the cultural lands cape, I do not want to suggest that they are entirely separate from more traditional romance-reading pu blics. Instead, this project will highlight ways in which they relate to and inform one another in critically discursive ways. Ce ntral to my analysis, therefore, are considerations of how counterpublics are influencing te xtual production in the romance industry at large while simultaneous ly bringing other romance-readi ng publics into closer contact with LGBTQ romances through both comme rcial and non-commercial avenues. Exploding Genre and Medium: The Protean Nature of Romance One of the most common tendencies in popul ar rom ance scholarship is to begin by explaining the difficulty in attempting to histor icize and define romance, largely because the term itself lacks continuity. As Barbara Fuchs notes in her recent book in the Routledge New Critical Idiom Series, Romance the term is a notoriously sli ppery category. Critics disagree about whether it is a genre or a mode, about its origins and history, even about what it encompasses (1). Within this project, I will be restricting my analysis of romance to its more recent characterizations as a popular genre while addressing how subcultural texts are reshaping
23 the genre in notable ways. One of my central objec tives is to move away from the structuralist approaches that have characterized much of feminist romance research. Jackie Stacey and Lynne Pearce have already made a significant critique of the limitations of such frameworks in their introductory essay The Heart of the Matter: Feminists Revi sit Romance, to the 1995 edited collection Romance Revisited In this piece Stacey and Pearce poi nt out that structuralist analyses of romance have provided us with critical insights into the typicality of the emotion [romantic love] and its narrative cons truction, but they have often failed to point out that typicality is not universality and that the exception often disproves the rule (27). Thus, Radicalizing Romance takes the exceptions to the purported hete rosexual rule, those non-normative and queer romance narratives that exist on the margins, as the starting point for its analysis in order to address why romance scholarship needs to begi n taking these texts and their readers into account. On the whole, this book identifies most clos ely with the recent revised definition of romance promoted by the Romance Writers of America (RWA), which claims that romances have two basic elementsa central love stor y and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Devoid of particular gendered pronouns, this definition remains open to a variety of gender and sexual possibilities, wh ile leaving a certain degree of autonomy in the hands of the reader to determine what constitutes an emo tionally satisfying and optimistic ending. The RWAs definition acts in direct contradiction to those develope d by many romance scholars who often label the genre in heterosexual terms. I interrogate this discrepancy in more detail in Chapter Two, while throughout the book I attempt to illustrate how and why queer theoretical interventions are necessary for us to begin understanding romance outside of heteronormative paradigms.
24 Another area in which I take issue with earlier feminist sc holarship on romance pertains to the studious separation of the genre from pornogr aphy, the latter of which was often viewed as a masculine genre in direct opposition to the f eminine form and fantasies of romance. I argue that more recent shifts in both mainstream and subcul tural romance trends suggest unacknowledged and provocative conn ections between these two categories, especially given the increasing popularity of erotica texts among romance readers. Fema le-authored erotica is now a rapidly growing industry,8 and these texts often de pict explicit sexual rela tionships that resist traditional representations of desire as bei ng heterosexual and monogamous. In our current moment, readers are not onl y articulating their interest in romantic narratives that allow for more explicit sexual expression, but al so in openly transgressive narra tives that question the status quo. The Internet has provided many readers with the means and access to create and circulate such texts among networks of friends and strangers on a growing transnational scale. At the same time, the lack of online regulation has opene d the doors to a contemporary generation of technology-savvy adolescents who can access erotic medi a in ways that they are restricted in the public sphere, which raises critical questions about the boundaries between and policing of adult and child sexuality in our culture. Previous research on romance has focused primarily on the mass-market paperback and occasionally soap operas and the primary media of the genre. This book begins to assess how new media such as graphic novels, Japanese manga (comics), and e-books are affecting the genre and appealing to a range of digitally conversant re aders participating in media convergence. At the same time, Radicalzing Romance considers the ways in which th e visual attributes of some 8 See Chapter Four
25 new media bring to the surface tensions about se xual representation and censorship of narratives that unite pictorial imagery and alphabetic written text. The Future of Romance Scholarship: Queering the Margins In contrast to earlier stu die s, this project troubles the normative status of romance by questioning what it means when, as Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner imagine, the heterosexual couple is no longer the referent or the privileged example of sexual culture (Sex in Public 312). Most of the subcultural texts analyzed in Radicalizing Romance queer the concept of the couple in ways that challenge an d subvert the genre and its overall impact on the romantic cultural imaginary. As a result, a funda mental premise of this project is that queerness in romance narratives, especially in relation to er otic fantasy, is worthy of more intense scrutiny that does not pathologize or render perverse such signification. A lthough both Modleski and Radway identify fantasy tropes as important elem ents of the romance genre, their engagement with the representation of sex and sexual fantasy in romance fiction is limited, in some cases by context and in others by content. Modleski, for instance, spends much of he r time attempting to refute the masochistic diagnosis attached to roma ntic tropes of sexual ravi shment so frequently presented in Harlequins and Gothics of the 1970s. Radway, on the other hand, asserts that the Smithton women she studied gene rally did not want to discuss se x in romance, perceiving it to be of little importance to the narrative. Later st udies addressed the erotics of romance novels in more detail (Mussell, Fantasy; Thurston; Cohn; Pearce and Stacey ; Mussell, Wheres Love) but almost exclusively in heterosexual terms. It is no surprise, therefore, that Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner claim heterosexual culture achieves much of its metacultural intelligibility through the ideologies and institutions of intimacy (317), and the romance genre is no exception. However, by examining non-heteronormative romances that exis t at the margins,
26 Radicalizing Romance begins to imagine what queer intimaci es can and do mean to readers and to the romance genre as it evolve s in the twenty-first century. Since the late eighties, there have been few book-length studies on romance and limited assessment as to how the genre has evolved in recent years. In 1997, howev er, a special issue of Paradoxa entitled Wheres Love Gone?: Transfor mations in the Romance Genre appeared on the relatively quiet scene of ro mance studies, proclaiming that it was time to once again assess the genre because contemporary mainstream romance novels had changed in significant ways since they were first examined by scholars in the 1970s and 80s. Indeed, at that point Tania Modleskis Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-P roduced Fantasies for Women and Janice Radways Reading the Romance: Women, Patr iarchy, and Popular Literature published in 1982 and 1984 respectively, were still the reigning femi nist studies on popular romance despite their growing datedness.9 The Paradoxa special issue on romance therefore endeavored to offer new insight on romance, proclaiming that the genre had shed most of its former ideological baggage, which some feminists argued had worked to pro vide women with a common fantasy structure to ensure their continued psychic in vestment in their oppression ( Loving with a Vengeance 43). In her introduction to the j ournal issue, Kay Mussell claims that romances have progressed in many respects with the times, embr acing certain feminist politics regarding gender equality, and even goes so far as to imply that these texts have a more queer-friendly vibe now that a few romances, with both historical and contemporary settings, feature gay menand, more rarely, lesbiansas secondary characters (4). Presumably these secondary and arguably 9 Even now, in 2008, Modleski and Radways texts s till hold central status in the field despite numerous disagreements with aspects of their find ings. They are the most frequently cited references on romance and continue to be the primary critical texts on the subject used in university classes. Pamela Regiss 2003 A Natural History of the Romance Novel is gaining growing attention but it remains to be seen what impact her study will have on the field as a whole.
27 token queer characters are represented in a positive light, although Musse ll does not specifically say so. In point of fact, queer characters have long appeared on the pages of mass-market romance, but most frequently as pathologized devian ts or evil villains w ho must be killed off or locked up safely behind institutional bars in order to reaffirm heterosexual paradigms of normativity. Rarely, LGBTQ characters are depicted in a positive light in heterosexual romances but this usually depends upon thei r de-sexualization in the narrat ives, rendering their queerness acceptable only so long as their sexual desires and actions are concealed or effaced entirely. Mussells affirmation, therefore, remains an ambiguous and certainly less than convincing testimony to progressive queer politics in contemporary mainstream romance. What is perhaps more interesting about Mu ssells brief reference to gay and lesbian characters is that it raises a very obvious question: What about LGBTQ romances themselves? Nowhere is there any mention of, in particular the many lesbian romance novels that are being published, and have been for many years, by sma ller presses like Bella Books, Firebrand Books, Naiad Press,10 New Victoria Publishers, and The Seal Press. Admittedly, the books put out by these presses do not have the same level of distri bution as Harlequins and their ilk, but they have long been a part of lesbian print culture and om itting any reference to them is cause for concern, especially given the fact that the Paradoxa special issue purports to l ook at the feminist progress Mussell perceives in contemporary romance novels The absence of any substantive discussion of lesbian romances is both glaring and conspicuous. Although Mussell does briefly note toward the end of her introduction that we [romance scholars] need to incorporate analysis of lesbia n and gay romances into our mostly heterosexual models, this seems to be suggested as the task of future inquiry into romance because almost 10 Now defunct, Naiad Press operated from 1973-2003 closing shop when its owners retired. They transferred most of Naiads titles to Bella Books.
28 nowhere else in the special issue of Paradoxa are LGBTQ readers or romances further discussed (Mussell 12). Tania Modleskis contribution to the volume does briefly point out, based on her personal experience with a few gay and lesbian gr aduate students, that romances can generate cross-gender readings among queers who can re-envision the characte rs as same sex (27). In a similar fashion, Deborah K. Chappel argues in he r essay that the language used to develop sex scenes in romances tends to focus on the female point of view and female bodily response while describing the male body in more ambiguous terms th at leave open spaces fo r lesbian readings of the text (118-119). While these two essays offe r some interesting thoughts about the ways in which queer individuals can enact perverse read ings of heterosexual romances, they fail to engage with more than cursory refe rences to actual LGBTQ romances. But Mussell and the other contributors to the Paradoxa special issue are not alone in leaving queerness out of the scholarly equation when it come s to re-assessing romance post1980s. Even Pamela Regiss more recent 2003 book-length study, A Natural History of the Romance Novel elides any reference to gay or lesbian ro mances, and goes so far as to define the romance novel in heterosexual term s as a work of prose fiction that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines (19). Her definition also emphasizes the idea of narrative resolution in the form of marriage or the expectation of marri age as the end goal of romance, which given the prevailingly global efforts to maintain marriage as an exclusively heterosexual institution implies that queer roma nce is not, narratively speaking, possible. Ironically enough, however, Regiss definition hi ghlights the centrality of the heroines perspective in heterosexual romances, which rein forces a female-centered focus at the heart of this genre that easily raises the specter of sa me-sex desire. Regis is by no means the first, however, to point out the emphasis on female e xperience via the heroin es point-of-view in
29 romance novels. Mussell also suggests that she, along with many other feminist critics like Modleski and Radway who were tackling the subject of romance in the 1980s, believed that romance had something to say about womens experience in culture (9). Yet these earlier studies, as well as the more recent ones I have mentioned, conti nue to cast womens experience as exclusively and inherently heterosexua l. Such efforts appear contrived at times, as the lesbian lingers on the subcons cious periphery of ma ny of these studies de spite their glaring absence of direct references to lesbian romance novels and/or readers; apparitional in nature, she is never with us, it seems, but always somewhere else: in the shadows, in the margins, hidden from history, out of sight, out of mind, a wanderer in the dusk, a lost soul, a tragic mistake, a pale denizen of the night (Castle 2).11 Indeed, both Radway and Modleski s studies, with their deep investment in psychoanalysis, seem to repress th e possibility of lesbian or other queer desires being coded in the fantasies they address. Radicalizing Romance questions the frequency with which this kind of erasure occurs so that we ma y begin to address what is at stake in making queer desires visibleas I argue the subc ultural texts I examine seek to do. Stephanie Burley notes in her perceptive ar ticle What's a Nice Girl like You Doing in a Book like This?: Homoerotic Reading and Popul ar Romance, that while most studies of romance to date take the heteronormative aspect s of popular romance as given (128) they have failed to notice or consider the subterranean homoeroticism in the romance industry (127) at large. For Burley, this homoeroticism unde rlying what most scholars would class as heterosexual romances allows for female-centered queer reading practices: Inherent in the female-centered erotic e ndeavor of popular romance is a homosocial apparatus that allows for, and even depends upon, homoerotic desire while simultaneously 11 Since the 1980s, several scholars have published short es says on lesbian pulp novels, lesbian regency romances, and contemporary lesbian romance novels, but this research has not been incorporated into discussion of romance in feminist studies of the genre at large.
30 disguising, suppressing, or surmounting it. That is to say, when we find the heroines irresistible, love our favorite authors, and experience close personal relationships to our fellow readers of erotic literature, we are in fact engaged in a homoer otic practice. (130) This is a salient point given th e consistent scholarly focus on female experiences in romance narratives that privilege the he roines point-of-view. Ignoring obvious possibilities for queer identifications with or desire fo r the heroine on the part of female readers is a rather telling and problematic omission. I bring up Bu rleys ideas at this juncture because I believe they provide a useful starting point from which to consider quee r signification in mainstream romance as well as in subcultural texts. Burley does not try to suggest that all romance readers or texts are queer, but instead qualifies her claims by stating: I do not want to suggest that the difference be tween queer and straight readings necessarily lies in the sexual identities of readers (w hether these identities are self-professed, suppressed, or otherwise). I am not trying to out legions of writers, fans, and critics who participate in this discourse, but rather to point out the importance of homoeroticism to the genre and the recuperative strate gies that always seem to drag popular romance back to its heterosexual moorings. (129-130) Burley allows for nuance and fluidity in the re lationships between readers and romance texts, while pointing out the tendency of scholars to reify the heterosexual pa radigms of the genre despite obvious queer possibilities and significations to the contrary. Burleys queer reading of romance remains restricted, nonetheless, to female readers and characters. Radicalizing Romance seeks to take up where she has left off by considering readers who identify with and texts that reflect LGBTQ sexualities. It is worth noting that there have been some significant critical and methodological disagreements voiced since the publication of the 1997 Paradoxa special journal issue. Tania Modleski, who contributed a personalized essay for the journal that dealt with her experiences as a reader of romances, published a rather scathing response to the edited collection of essays afterwards. Her follow-up piece, entitled My Life as a Romance Writer, expresses her
31 dissatisfaction with the way in which many of the volumes essays about contemporary romance argue that the genre has become liberated from the chains of its past patriarchal ideology of gender and sexual conformity. As Modleski notes in reference to her original article for the journal issue, I was exposing myself and making myself vulnerable to my readers as I wrestled with contradictions in the genr e, in myself, and in my relation with the genre, these woman admitted to nothing but the achievement of a fully developed, absolutely unconflicted feminist sensibility (134). For Modleski, this kind of celebratory optimis m is both highly uncritical of the tensions and paradoxes of the genre and ac ts as a problematic post-feminist response to romance that no longer wants to explore womens conflicted relationship to the fantasies these narratives present and the rea lities in which actual women live. Indeed, although Mussell concludes her introduction to the volume by calling for a better, more nuanced understanding of the various segments of the romance audience a nd argues the need to in corporate analysis of lesbian and gay romances into our mostly heterose xual models, it is not something that actually occurs to any great extent in the scholarship presented in the journal issue (13). As a result, it is at the interstices of Modleskis concerns about uncritical pos t-feminist analyses of romance and the queer theoretical limitations of the Paradoxa issue I have identified that Radicalizing Romance seeks to open a new dialogue on romance th at unites feminist and queer theoretical concerns about and appr oaches to the genre. Overview of Chapters Chapter Two, Who Says Men Dont Read Romance?: The Gay Harlequins of Romentics addresses the conspicuous absence of male readers and writers of romance in academic studies of the genre. While lesbians are largely invisible in mainstream romance and its attendant scholarship, men seem to appear predom inantly as fictional archetypes or patriarchal constructs and rarely as actual readers or writers of romance. Indeed, the major studies on the
32 genre have glossed over men in terms of their po tential roles as readers even though they often note that there are in fact men who write romances for women. Th is raises pertinent questions about sexuality, as virtually none of the femini st research on romance has considered men as authors and readers of romances for other men. Engaging in more subs tantive discussion about men as part of romance-reading publics can be a conflicted endeavorespecially when one reflects on the manner in which feminist scholar s have typically sought to valorize popular romance as a genre belonging to a feminine writing mode that examines womens (heterosexual) experiences in culture often in, albeit ambi valent, opposition to systemic patriarchy. I argue that while this tactic has played a critical role in reclaiming romance from earlier sexist denigration and making it an accepted area of academic study, it has also constrained the genre in some troubling ways by reifying aspects of the gendered binary feminists sought to resist and critique. By analyzing a new line of gay romances, Romentics I consider how the online discursive appropria tion of the Harlequin label subversively challenges current definitions of romance. At fi rst glance, the Harlequin label, with its obvious connotations of formulaic narra tives and heterosexual female-cen tered desires and fantasies, might seem to contradict the very concept of gay romance. However, I argue that it precisely the manner in which Romentics novels queer the notion of the Harlequinfrequently held up by popular critics and scholars alike as the emblem atic representation of genre romancewhich begins to destabilize in radica l ways how romance is currently defined. At the same time, I illustrate how the Internet has played a critic al part in the production and consumption of Romentics novels while facilitating cross-over readership with other reading publics, further challenging the notion of a coherent and uniform audience for romance.
33 My next chapter, Making the Invisible Visible: Lesbian Romance and Underground Comics for Women, examines the marginal realm of lesbian romance comics and queer concerns about visibility. The available scholarship on lesbia n romance to date, which has focused largely on Naiad Press novels or lesbia n pulps, has been invested in exploring the politics of representation and visibility at work in the production a nd consumption of these novels. I enter this conversation by arguing that, as a visual medium, comics are particularly valuable for scholarly consideration because they can literally make invisible possibilities and desires visible, thus offering significant challenges to queer-eradicating impulses so often reinforced by the mainstream romance and comics industries at large. At the same time, however, these comics must walk a precarious li ne in their efforts to work against sexist exploitation of lesbian sex in comics created by a nd for men while trying to take back the lesbian erotic for women. As a result, many female comics artists seek to remake romance by weaving together elements from multiple genres in orde r to envision lesbian relationships that do not adhere to formulaic expectations and tendencies, while sideste pping the more problematic traps of traditional heter onormative romance. By way of example, I focus on three c ontemporary graphic novelsLea Hernandezs Clockwork Angels Ariel Schrags Potential, and Colleen Coovers Small Favors Hernandezs Clockwork Angels appropriates and refashions tropes common to mainstream romance narratives while couching them in the steampunk genre to pr esent a promising vision of queer love that visually emphasizes the importan ce of spatial relations, the fema le gaze, and the politics of revelation and concealment. In contrast, Colleen Coovers adult comic Small Favors establishes a more explicit girly porn aes thetic that manipulates the fantasy and pornography genres to subvert hegemonic conventions regarding ro mance and sexual monogamy while working to
34 thwart heterosexist appropriations of lesbian sex in mainstream pornography for straight men. Lastly, Ariel Schrags Potential explores the tensions between realism and fantasy by employing the autobiographical coming-of-age narrative mode to present a real story of lesbian love that questions the primacy of the happily-ever-after ending in romance. By introducing comics into the current discourse surrounding lesbian romance I provide insight into an as yet unexamined medium for the genre th at unites the visual a nd the written, making visible what romance novels as a medium keep concealed by virtue of their format. In this regar d, I argue that lesbian romance comics confront many of the tensions that exist within mainstream romance fiction; specifically, they disrupt effort s by publishers and scholars to st udiously separate romance and pornography as distinctly diffe rent, and often gendered, genres. They do not shy away from representing queer female sexual desire in dire ct and often explicit ways, and they reveal the romantic and sexual possibilities available to women who are not attempting to embody prescribed notions of femininity or female se xuality that operate under heterosexual paradigms. In my fourth chapter, Get Your (Fantasy) Freak On: C onfessional Discourse, Trauma, and Ambivalent Queer Desires in th e Erotica of Zane, I more dir ectly address the genre slippage between romance and pornography touched on thus far by focusing on erotica as liminal subgenre to both categories. I center my anal ysis on the work of contemporary pseudonymous African-American erotica author Zane, whose rise to prominence presents a compelling example of how the circulatory powers of online publics in an age of media convergence can propel texts at the margins into the mainstream. Formerly an amateur erotica author publishing short stories on a personal website, Zane skyrocketed to bestsell ing status almost overni ght as the circulation and demand for her work on the Internet brought he r to wide internationa l attention. In this chapter I analyze two of Zanes novels, Addicted and Nervous which are part of an ongoing
35 series about the patients of fictional psychiatrist, Dr. Marc ella Spencer. These novels are particularly interesting for the ways in which th ey manifest racial and sexual ambivalence toward the freaky erotic desires and fantasies that structure the narratives. I locate connections between these novels notions of freakiness and theoretical concepts of queerness in order to show how non-normative erotic desires and sexual acts, as conceived in Zanes texts, oscillate between poles of attraction and repulsion as they unconsciously c onfront discourses that have long conflated the racial and sexual identities of people of African descent with excess, deviance, and abnormality. I argue that Addicted and Nervous try to mediate these conflicting sentiments by employing a confessional framework that simulta neously titillates while working to absolve the main characters feelings of guilt for thei r perceived deviant sexual actions by explaining away their desires as the resu lt of trauma. Although the reso lution of each novel attempts to return female characters to the romanticized and safe realm of heterosexual monogamy and true love, I argue that freaky desires and fantasies cannot be fully contained or dispelled as they still linger to haunt the margins of the texts. Consequently, I maintain that this persistent ambivalence in Zanes erotica speaks to la rger conflict with se xually repressive and assimilationist tendencies within certain blac k communities and political movements that have not, and still do not, allow for transgressive or queer desires, especia lly among black women. My fifth chapter, 'Straight' Women, Queer Texts: Boy-Love Manga and the Rise of a Global Counterpublic, explores, on a transnational scale, the gr owing popularity of boy-love mangaJapanese comics that de pict homoerotic love stor ies between beautiful young men. These narratives, written largely by and for t eenage girls and women, ha ve long held a devout following in Japan but have only recently begun to come to larger global attention. Several major manga publishers in the United States are now selling English translations of these texts,
36 which are steadily gaining popularity among adolescen t and adult readers. Despite this exciting cross-cultural proliferati on of texts, the research that has been done on boy-love manga to date has remained largely confined to a Japanese contex t. In general, scholars have been perplexed by the phenomenon and have sought to explain why a purportedly straight female audience would find pleasure reading homoerotic love stor ies between men. I argue that the growing transnational readership of boy-love manga requires new ways of thinking about this particular fandom beyond the confines of Japan and outside of traditional heterosexual paradigms. Indeed, the androgynous visual aesthetic and homoerotic content of boy-love manga resist coherent classification and instead enable myriad possible perverse readings of the texts that speak to a more fluid range of identifications, desires, and fantasies than critics have allowed. I demonstrate how the Internet is already facilita ting discourse a nd textual circulation among fans in different countries, gene rating a global counterpublic th at is both subversive and fundamentally queer in nature. This queerness reveals that the readersh ip is not coherent, monolithic, or singularas other scholars and popular critics have seemed to suggestand opens a discursive space for multiple and diverse readings of boy-love manga to be circulated and shared among an intimate netw ork of strangers around the world. The conclusion takes a broader look at the intersections between media convergence and online publics and counterpublics in order to reiterate how the Internet has expanded discourse about romance and made easier access to non-traditio nal texts possible. Returning to recent work on convergence culture I reflect on the ways online technology in th e era of Web 2.0 has provided both the means and the space(s) for cros s-cultural and transnational discourse about romance by enabling connections among a wider-reaching global constituency. Ultimately, I reemphasize how romance is adapting and expanding in the twenty-first century, in large part due
37 to readers who are becoming active and participatory fans of the genre, and reiterate why it is crucial that we begin conceptu alizing new ways of understanding romance and its readers that can better address these rapid and provocative developments.
38 CHAPTER 2 WHO SAYS MEN DONT READ ROMA NCE ?: THE GAY HARLEQUINS OF ROMENTICS The heroine appeals largely to a female audi ence. The romance is the most female of popular genres. Nearly all of the wr iters and readers are women (xii). Pamela Regis, A Natural History of the Romance Novel When Scott and I went into gay bookstores, we could find books on self-help, books about surviving AIDS, books of erotica, but no line of novels celebrating gay relationships. So we started one. Scott Pomfret, Romentics author Two basic elements comprise every romance nove l: a central love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. Romance Writers of America website To those unfamiliar with the scholarship, a quick examination of the body of academic research on popular romance might lead one to the conclusion that the ge nre belongs solely to women.1 The conspicuous absence of male romance readers and writers in these studies would certainly lend strong credibility to such a hypothe sis. At the same time, however, immediate questions would undoubtedly arise as to whether me n simply do not participate in this genre or have been excluded from the discussion for sp ecific reasons. Taking these issues into consideration, one of the primary objectives of this chap ter is to evaluate why studies of popular romance have largely ignored male readers a nd writers while simultaneously seeking to uphold the genre as one by and for women. While I acknow ledge that past resear chers have noted that there are in fact men who write romances for women (often under female pseudonyms), I am more concerned here with the ways in which they gloss over the notion of men as potential readers or writers of romances specifically aimed at men. Figuring predominantly as fictional 1 In particular, the scholarship almost unfailingly positions female writers and readers as heterosexual. Lesbian readers and texts are typically given a marginal status that implies they are si mply an exception to the rule. See Chapter Two for a more extensiv e discussion of these issues.
39 archetypes or patriarchal construc ts in studies of the genre, men rarely factor as actual participants in romance reading and writing. This omission, whether deliberate or unwitting, seems inextricably tied to the essentialist char acterization of romance as a feminine genre by and for heterosexual women. Initially, this particular stratagem was fundamental to feminist reclamation efforts that attempted not only to validate popular romance as a genre worthy of academic inquiry, but also to expose and challenge the sexist tendencies at work behind critics aspersions against romance and its readers.2 While proving successful on both of these fronts, this approach also had the unfortunate effect of reinscribing and reifying aspects of the gendered binary it sought to resist and cr itique. At the same time, essen tializations about the feminine nature of the genre and its readers were couched in almost exclusively heterosexual terms. In part, given the time period in which feminist anal yses of popular romance began to emerge, this tendency is undoubtedly connected to some of th e limitations of second-wave feminist theory and its emphasis on white middle-class heterosexu al women often at the expense of lower-class women, lesbians, and women of color. Ro mance scholarship has begun addressing and challenging some of these assumptions, but those about the gender and sexuality of readers and their texts continue to persist today. Indeed, it has become a fairly standard practi ce to characterize roma nce and its readers in essentialist terms with very little questioning of the ep istemological and methodological constraints this places on our understanding of the genre and its consistent popularity. The implicit assumption in most feminist analyses of romance is that women are the primary 2 Early feminist studies (Modleski, Loving ; Radford; Radway; Mussell, Fantasy ; Thurston) identified the ways in which literary and popular critics typically characterized genre romance in a negatively feminized manner. They linked this debasement of the feminine with a double critical standard (Modleski, Loving 11) that was inherently exclusionary and sexist. In resistance, they sought to redeem the feminine in romance and locate possibilities for empowerment in these narratives by and for women.
40 producers and consumers of what is percei ved as a heterosexual genre and therefore they must be straight. While it is no doubt tr ue that a large number of romance readers identify as heterosexual, assuming that all do is a logical fallacy that lends credence to Gayle Rubins assertion that feminist theory has a tendency t o fail to distinguish betw een gender, on the one hand, and erotic desire, on the other (32). Co llapsing and conflating th ese two categories to conform to a heterosexual paradigm ignores dive rsity among readers as well as key distinctions between erotic fantasies and actual sexual behavi ors, which are not necessarily synonymous. In a similar fashion, relegating LGBTQ ro mances, as well as their readers,3 to the margins as mere exceptions to the rule perpetuates a discourse of exclusion based on diffe rence while recursively reifying the genre as heterosexual. In some regards, mass-market heterosexual romance novels have become the standard for evaluating the genre primarily because they are published and consumed in such large numbersa fact that has consistently been invoked by femi nists as a key justification for romances relevance as an area of sc holarly inquiry (Snitow; Modleski, Loving ; Radway; Mussell, Fantasy ; Thurston; Regis). This rhetorical emphasis on quantity as a marker of significance and value has characterized a great de al of romance research, and has implicitly negated the comparable relevance of studyi ng LGBTQ romances and their readers whose perceived numbers are far fewer and thus s eemingly do not warrant the same degree of attention.4 Yet much can be learned from examining romances that do not uphold the traditional 3 In the same ways I have tried to point out that readers of heterosexual romance are not always female nor heterosexual, I do not want to claim that the identities of LGBTQ romance readers can be universalized about either. Indeed, queer romances, like their mainstream counterparts, achieve a high level of cross-over readership especially in online spaces. 4 Apart from the small body of work that has been done on lesbian romance, there has been limited engagement with how queer romance affect s the genre as a whole. Some scholars ma ke passing reference to queer readers and romances (Modleski, My Life; Mussell, Wheres Love; Pearce and Stacey) but do not provide detailed
41 heteronormative framework, regardless of their numbers and perceived (often rather erroneously) lack of popularity. These texts, despite efforts to continually marginali ze them, are a valid and vibrant part of the genre. C ontinually ignoring or dismissing them from research on romance demonstrates how flawed and constructed the e fforts to naturalize the genre as feminine and heterosexual are. Although I dire ct some strong criticisms agains t feminist research on romance in this chapter, I do not want to wholesale reject or minimize the importance of the work that has been done. Rather, my larger aim in this chapter, and in the projec t as a whole, is to illustrate how and why queer theoretical perspectives can make valuable interventions in romance scholarship by complicating and deconstructing t hose reductionist tendencies that have led to universalizations about the genre and its readers which no longer, if they ever did to begin with, hold true. Using Romentics, a contemporary line of gay mens romances, as a case study in this chapter I specifically tackle the feminine reification of popular romance, which has played a significant part in constraining fe minist scholarship on the subject since the 1980s. In response, I assess how Romentics novels trouble the hetero normative intelligib ility of the couple in romance, challenging essentialist notions about gende r and sexual roles. At the same time, Romentics novels queer popular romance tropes reliant upon such classifications, aptly illustrating how gender and sexual constraints on definitions of the genre become in creasingly unstable and untenable as romance evolves in the twenty-first century. I begin my discussion by examining in greater detail how popular romance has become reif ied as a feminine genre and then consider the importance of gay pulps as antecedents to contemporary gay romance novels like those published by the Romentics line. The chapter concludes wi th a critical analysis of how discussion of how they potentially problematize current pe rspectives on romance as a genre by and for straight women.
42 Romentics novels begin to unravel the coherency and stability of the genres feminine categorization in fundamental ways. The Feminine Reification of Romance: Fe minist Preceden ts and Queer Interventions Although scholars have traditiona lly taken scant interest in men as part of romance readership and authorship, the need to examine their involvement as active participants in the genre is growing ever more obvious. Most persuasive in illust rating this poin t is the recent Romance Writers of America 2005 Market Research Study on Ro mance Readers, which reveals that % of romance readers are male a significant increase from the 2002 survey that showed only 7% of readers were male (RWA). De spite the fact that the complete details behind this study are not publicly available, these stat istics are compelling enough to suggest that men are now more actively involved in romance readersh ip than has previously been believed5 and that this upsurge has occurred very recently.6 Unfortunately, there is no available public information about whether the sexual identificat ion and romance reading preferences of male participants were addressed in th is study, but it is safe to suggest that recent gay romances have had at least some influence in diversifying readership. Indeed, the dramatic increase in the number of gay romances produced and sold in Am erica in the last five years implies that the popularity of these texts is sufficient for publishe rs to consider them viable products in the current romance market.7 5 While a direct correlation remains suggestive at best, it is nevertheless interesting to note that the first Romentics novel ( Razor Burn) was published in 2003a year after the 2002 RWA survey that listed only 7% of romance readers as male. Thereafter, Romentics published several additional novels, garnering wider recognition in the industry and in online circles, before the 2005 RWA survey showed such a dramatic in crease in male readers of romance. 6 Although this increase appears to be more recent, it is important to note that in part these results might be due to changes in male survey participants willingness to admit to reading romances as well as overall distribution of surveys. 7 In The Politics of Love in Three Recent U.S. and U.K. Films of Young Gay Romance: A Symptomatic Reading of Beautiful Thing Get Real and Edge of Seventeen Bob Nowlan notes that in te rms of film, young gay romance
43 On the whole, LGBTQ romance texts, especi ally in the realm of e-publishing, are being circulated through both commercial and non-commercial means among online publics and counterpublics. In using these te rms I am drawing from Michael Warners theorizations in his book Publics and Counterpublics He argues that a public is a space of discourse organized by nothing other than discourse itself. It is autote lic; it exists only as the end for which books are published, shows broadcast, Web sites posted, speeches delivered, opinions produced. It exists by virtue of being addressed (67). Additionally, Warner emphasi zes that publics lack the concrete specificity of a group or audience and ma intain their existence by virtue of the way people are connected, often indirectly, by texts: W ithout the idea of texts that can be picked up at different times and in differe nt places by otherwise unrelated people, we would not imagine a public as an entity that embraces all the users of that text, whoever they might be (68). Romance-reading publics in the tw enty-first century, th erefore, are also c onnected through texts and discourse about them in material and online contexts that often cross cultural and national divides. What most interests me about this phenomenon is the way participants in romancereading publics are beginning to cross paths with LGBTQ texts circulat ed in romance-reading counterpublics. According to Warner, counterp ublics are, by definition, formed by their conflict with the norms and cont exts of their cultural enviro nment, and this context of domination inevitably entails distortion (63) Consequently, I view romance-reading counterpublics as defined in resistance to heteronormative para digms of mass-market romance texts. This resistance manifests at the level of discourse, texts, and the circulation of texts among readers as romance-reading counterpublics question, challenge, and subvert the meaning of the is the largest and most successful contemporary cinematic subgenre (142) of gay film production after pornography (176). Although I do not examine any films in this pr oject, I want to acknowledge the mediums importance in furthering the transmedia nature of romance as genre.
44 genre in the present day. As more non-heteronormative romance te xts are created and circulated, especially in online spheres that facilitate th ese processes, readers participating in more traditional romance-reading publics are encountering and reading LGBTQ texts. I will return to this point later as it relates specifically to Romentics novels, but in the meantime I would like to further consider how popular romance and its reader s have been perceived and defined. While the 2005 RWA Survey data speaks to a need for more substantive engagement with men as part of romance-reading publics, such an effort can be a conflicted endeavor especially when one reflects on the reasons why feminist scholars have typically sought to valorize popular romance as a genre belonging to a feminine writing mode that examines womens (heterosexual) experiences in culture of ten in, albeit ambivalent, opposition to systemic patriarchy.8 Tania Modleskis Loving with a Vengeance: Ma ss-Produced Fantasies for Women makes a persuasive case for the ways in which popular critics and scholars alike have reinforced the binary of masculine and feminine texts, a ggrandizing the former and viciously devaluing the latter. She concludes that given this pervas ive scorn for all things feminine, it is hardly surprising that since the beginnings of the novel the heroine and the writer of feminine texts have been on the defensive, operating on the constant assumption that men are out to destroy them (13). Thus, with ample justific ation, much of the early recupe rative feminist scholarship on popular romance takes up the defensive positioning Modleski describes. While I do not believe that we need to do away entirely with tactics of defense, I would like to suggest that opening ourselves to critically queer pers pectives can generate relevant and engaging new directions for 8 I would like to avoid equating patriarchy with men in general. In Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center Bell Hooks explains how patriarchy needs to be viewed as a system of oppression and demonstrates that feminists need to include considerations of the ways in which, like women, men have been socialized to passively accept sexist ideology. Men are not exploited or oppressed by sexism, but there are ways in which they suffer as a result of it. This suffering should not be ignored (73). Hooks emphasizes that men who become aware of their indoctrination into systems of patriarchy can often act as powerful allies in feminist movement.
45 feminist study of romance. These directions might be unsettling for some, as queering romance destabilizes the coherency and unifo rmity of the genre and essentiali st claims about it, but they are nonetheless vital to adva ncing romance scholarship in the twenty-first century. Reflecting back on a historical level, however, it is certainly understandable why so many feminists have maintained a feminine classification for romance. As Barbara Fuchs notes in her critical idiom guidebook Romance the genre has been associated with the feminine since as far back as the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in France when romance as literary category became increasingly allied with a feminine and feminized urban aristocratic culture in which some of the most important figures in literary sal ons at the time, both as authors and as patrons, were women, notably Madame de Rambouillet a nd Madame de Scudery (101-102). Feminist scholars writing about romance in the 1980s did no t simply invent this signification, which had marked the literary genre for centuries, but rath er attempted to subvert and resignify it in empowering ways.9 Adding to her historical literary genealogy of roma nce, Fuchs also explains that during the sixteenth and seve nteenth centuries the abandonment of the pastoral in favor of what is known as heroic or sentimental roman ce led to an increasing emphasis on the extreme idealization of the hero ine (102). Whereas earlier medieval chivalric romances focused on the quest of a male hero, sentimental romances bega n to center around the trials and tribulations of female heroines. Jean Radford reiterates this point in A Certain Latitude: Romance as Genre, further adding that it is no coincidence that the critical devaluati on of the genre began at roughly the same time that romance moved from being about a male subject to being about a female one (5). Given this long history of patria rchal devaluation, it is not surprising that early 9 While Modleski and Radway both envisioned feminist potential in romance, they expressed cautious optimism with regard to the possible effects it might have on readers in terms of making them question and actively resist their positions of subordination under patriarchy.
46 feminist scholars of popular romance aimed to re ject and subvert the nega tive associations that had been linked with this process of feminiza tion. Discovering exciti ng possibilities in popular narratives driven by a lead female character, especially in regard to point-of-view and issues of reader identification, feminist scholars attempting to recuperate the genre found much in its feminine classification that could be re signified in potentially empowering ways. The female-centered core of early Harl equins (as studied by Modleski) and long historicals (as studied by Radway) may have initi ally justified excluding men from consideration as readers and writers of romance because they we re, on the surface at least, antithetical to the supposed raison dtre of this popular genrenamely, to convey female (read as heterosexual) experiences, desires, and fantasies. Both Modl eskis and Radways studi es operated on the tacit assumption that female readers identified along gender lines when reading romances,10 thus the overwhelming narrative emphasis on the female protagonists point-of-view in these massmarketed romances which some readers claimed allowed them to project themselves into the story, to become the heroine, and thus to share her surprise and slowly awakening pleasure at being so closely watched by someone who finds her valuable and worthy of love (Radway 6768). In keeping with theories on processes of identification popular at the time, scholars assumed readers necessarily identified with ch aracters along gender lines. In the 1970s, the majority of mass-market romances were told fr om the heroines point-of-view, or a third person perspective that gave greater access to the heroine than the hero (Modleski, Loving; Radway). In later years, however, romance readers played a large part in changing this standard in the industry as they articulated interest in male point of view as well. Sarah S.G. Frantz, in her 10 Modleski does assert, however, that this process of identif ication is not as simple as some critics would like to argue. For Modleski, identification is very much bound up in what she sees as the contradictory impulses and pleasures of romance reading for women: Since the reader knows the formula, she is superior in wisdom to the heroine and thus detached from her. The reader then achi eves a very close emotional identification with the heroine partly because she is intellectually distanced from her and does not have to suffer the heroines confusion (41).
47 article 'Expressing' Herself: The Romance Nove l and the Feminine Will to Power, notes that inclusion of the heros perspec tive in the narrative is the bi ggest change that romance has undergone since Modleski and Radway published thei r studies in the early 80s (18). A change that was the result of fan demand, the introduc tion of multiple points of view in romances contradicted the original assump tions of the romance industry itself, which often forced writers to stick to the heroines perspective because it was believed that female readers would only identify with the lead female character (Frantz 34). Although more recent scholarship has successfully challenged the notion that identification always occurs along gender lines,11 it seems surprising that while newer notions of fluid and cross-gender modes of identification ha ve become accepted concepts in media studies, much of romance scholarship continues to operate under the expectation that there is gender alignment not only on the part of the reader, but the author as well. Barbara Fuchs claims the female heroine is of central importance, as is the authorial voice implied in the associations assumption of a female writer. Men may well write romance novels pseudonymously, but they must be published under female names (125).12 In other words, she seems to suggest that if men want to write romance (of the heterosexual variety at least) they must do so through a process of textual passing as female authors. Conversely, Radways study of the Smithton women takes this to a further extreme as the wome n interviewed claimed to actually be able to 11 In particular, Jackie Staceys Desperately Seeking Difference (1987) and Carol Clovers Men, Women, and Chain Saws: Gender and the Modern Horror Film (1993) played critical roles in expanding our understanding of how identification can not only oscillate but also work in oppositional and subversive ways. 12 In contrast, it seems that there appears to be little opp osition toward female authors writing and selling male/male romance novels, a growing trend especially with independent romance and erotica publishers. Interestingly, many female authors of male/male romance use gender ambiguous pseudonyms, a practice that speaks more to authorial androgyny than an effort to pass as male writers. For instance, M.L. Pearson is a woman who writes gay historical romances under a gender ambiguous name. Her first novel, The Price of Temptation was a 2005 Lambda Literary Award Finalist.
48 tell the difference between romances written by women and those writte n by men (Radway 73) even if pseudonyms were used because they felt very few men are 'perceptive' or 'sensitive' (73) enough to write good romances and that this invariably came across in the texts.13 Examining this discourse of authorial passi ng automatically raises the questionIf men have to pass, via their texts, as women in order to write romances, what must they do if they want to read them? To many scholars, however, such a question is moot as they assume men simply do not read romance. A brief survey of the critical literatur e reveals how deeply entrenched this view has become. Take for instance Bridget Fowlers The Alienated Reader: Women and Romantic Literature in the Twentieth Century, in which she goes so far as to argue that Throughout its long history, the romance has both legitimated female subordination and spoken of the needs of womenhence its lack of appeal for men and, to a lesser extent for 'emancipated' women (7). Fowlers sweeping generalization makes an implicit connection between male readers and feminists that is deeply troubling not only for its gender essentialism, but also for its implication that emancipated fe minists are not women. I point out this example because it is characterist ic of the kinds of blanket statements made about readers in studies of romance that often try to universalize about them as a cohesive and uniform whole. In her much more recent study A Natural History of the Romance Novel Pamela Regis employs similar rhetoric when she stakes a gendered claim on the genre: The heroine appeals largely to a female audience. The romance is the most female of popular genres. Nearly all of the writers and readers are women (xii). Regis s subsequent rationale for the ge nres purported lack of appeal to male readers is broadly speculative and essent ialist as it presumes a particular kind of gender 13 This level of gender discernment on the part of readers is perhaps not as universal as Radways study implies given that a number of male authors writing under female pseudonyms have been in credibly successful in the mainstream. Leigh Greenwood is one of the better known examples, having not only been a successful author but also a former president of th e Romance Writers of America.
49 and sexual coherency: Men have traditionally controlled which books get reviewed, and the effort that they must make to read across the ge nder barrier is very gr eat. Women read across this barrier much more readily, the practice having been acquired early on in their reading lives Thus, romance novels resonate less readily with them [men] (xii). Regis essentially repeats part of Modleskis claim about the critical double standard in l iterary studies and applies it to what she perceives as the gender barrier, in this instance in favor of women, to reading romance. Again, however, the underlying defin ition of romance as a heteronormative feminine genre is the shaky foundation upon which Regiss argument is built. The possibility that men can and do read romances never enters into c onsideration. Nowhere does Regis even entertain the notion that perhaps the marginalization of women and the barriers they have often encountered in the realm of literature might reso nate with other individuals, such as gay men, who have experienced other forms of marginal ization and oppression. Instead, Regis focuses on the gender barriers of patriarc hal systems of oppression, but not on the related compulsory heterosexuality that order upholdsa tendency that still marks much of the current literature on romance as genre. One point upon which critics do tend to agre e is the central importance of love in romance narratives. However, views on how love is portrayed in the genre are more contentious. Jan Cohns Romance and the Erotics of Property: Mass-Market Fiction for Women acknowledges that romantic love was, at one time, more routinel y associated with men but that this is no longer the case toda y: Love was once suffered by lovers by men entranced, enthralled, held in thrall by the ey es and mouth and hair of unobtai nable mistresses. But men are now busy elsewhere, and they have left the fiel d of love to women (5). Cohn highlights the affective trope most central to romancelove and designates it as a dom ain that has become
50 exclusive to women. Although Cohn glosses over w hy this change has occurred, what is far more troubling perhaps is the way Cohns choice of diction to describe love as suffering and enslavement seems to echo some of the early second wave criticisms of womens relationship to the ideology of romance. Well before Modles ki or Radway published their recuperative work on romance as genre in the 1980s, other second wave feminists were as sessing broader cultural conceptions of romance and romantic love, and reaching negative conclusions. In particular, Shulamith Firestones The Dialectic of Sex (1970) and Germaine Greers The Female Eunuch (1971) examined romantic love as an oppressive ideology geared toward the subordination of women for the benefit of men. In both cases, Fi restone and Greer expressed fears about women buying into a culturally constructed fantasy th at encouraged their real subjugation under patriarchy. Fundamental to these concerns wa s an assumption that women could be easily manipulated by this ideology. Similar sentiments were articulated in response to the growing appeal of mass-market romance novels, especially Harlequins. As a result, Ann Barr Snitow suggests that readers of roman ce were perceived as passive repositories, empty vessels into which debilitating ideologies are poured (Snitow 142) rather than critical readers of texts. Later second and thirdwave feminists complicated this issue and belied certain cultural studies perspectives that deemed mass culture products like romance novels to be reinforcing the dominant status quo for passive consumers. T hus, as book historian Alison M. Scott points out in Romance in the Stacks; or, Popular Roman ce Fiction Imperiled, romances (in particular series romances) may be, and have been, readily characterized as formulaic narratives of wish fulfillment and their readers viewed as passive consumers of the worst that popular culture can create for a mass audience (216). Feminist sc holars attempting to recuperate romance from these wholly negative characteri zations have often argued, to va rying degrees, that readers of
51 romance can in fact be active make rs of meaning in the texts they consume. At the same time, other scholars have tempered this libratory rh etoric with cautionary warnings against readily assuming that all readers derive subversive meaning from popular culture texts, and have instead suggested that while the mass audience may be manipulated in some ways and may be controlling the market in others it is also and always omnivorous, capable of digesting contradictory cultural impulses and at the same time resisting suggestion altogether (Snitow 143). Early recuperative efforts were particularly attuned to the fact that the inherent tensions and paradoxes of romance productio n and consumption cannot be easily resolved. In this sense, critics like Modleski, Radway, and Snitow persua sively highlight the often contradictory and ambivalent nature of reading practices, which are multiple, varied, and inherently subjectivea point which perhaps holds even more relevance toda y and lends strong support to considering readers in the context of more nebulous and fluid publics rather than static and uniform audiences. The notion of the passive, and even mindless, romance consumer nonetheless persists in the cultural mainstream even as changes in me dia production and consumption in the twenty-first century render it an ever more obvious fallacy. As Henry Jenk ins demonstrates in his most recent book, Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide transformations in media and technology are occurring in c onjunction with and often as a result of changes in media spectatorship and consumption. Fo r Jenkins, the notion of participa tory culture better reflects the ways in which consumers currently engage with the media industry: Rather than talking about media producers and consumers as occupying separate roles, we might now see them as participants who interact with each other according to a new set of rules that none of us fully understands (3). As Jenkins makes clear, these changes need to be further investigated because
52 we do not yet know how extensive an impact they will have on future media. However, in the romance industry it is clear that consumers part icipatory interaction and exchange is affecting how publishers operate, forcing them to cater more directly to the evolving demands of romancereading publics in ways they never did in the pa st. As diverse and often transgressive fantasies of romance readers are more ope nly expressed, especially in on line surveys, forums, and blogs, new romance narratives emerge first from inde pendent publishers then from the mainstream companies as they attempt to follow the ever more fluid ebb and flow of transitory trends and the increasing sway of niche markets that often provide more stable and reliable consumer bases in an unsteady commercial environment. As a result, the impact of changing media relations on the romance industry in the era of Web 2.0 seems to be altering a producti on system that was previously characterized by a fundamental di stance between the originators, producers, and consumers of the fantasies embodied in those ro mances that caused many readers to feel their particular tastes [were] not adequately addressed by publishers (R adway 49). With the proliferation of romance sub-genres, as well as the rapid growth in erotica and romantica14 texts that depict a wide array of sexualities and fantasies, almost a ny reader is likely to find narratives that appeal to her/his tastes. Granted, transgress ive material is more readily available online than in retail bookstores, bu t since romance-reading publics in th e twenty-first century are already fundamentally connected to and invested in elec tronic and digital modes of textual circulation this does not pose a significant barrier to t hose who might be searching for non-traditional texts.15 14 A relatively new sub-genre classification for texts that have romantic storylines but also contain explicit sex along the lines of that found in erotica, hence the combination of romance and erotica into romantica. 15 E-publishers in particular are far more willing to push the limits of cultural taboos and cater to niche markets by having a wide variety of specific category romances ava ilable to consumers including: gay, lesbian, bisexual, BDSM, interracial, polyamourous, etc.
53 I have already demonstrated some of the prevailing gender essent ialisms at work in romance studies and the sexual assumptions th at generally go hand-in-hand with these tendencies; now I would like to take a closer look at how scholars have defined romance in order to further emphasize the ways in which a presumed heterosexual matrix has been institutionalized and upheld. A quick review of the major studies on romance will reveal how entrenched the heterosexual view of romance ha s become. For instance, Janice Radways dated but incredibly influential Reading the Romance defines popular romance as a narrative with a slowly but consistently devel oping love between hero and he roine that leads to a happy ending (67). Deborah Chappels dissertation American Romances: Narratives of Culture and Identity often cited in earl y studies, defines th e romance as a novel16 in which the central conflict is always about the love relationship between the hero and heroine and the hero and heroine always end up together (7-8). More recently, Pamela Regis A Natural History of the Romance Novel defines romance as a work of prose fict ion that tells the story of the courtship and betrothal of one or more heroines (22)17 and emphasizes that a marriagepromised or actually dramatizedends every romance novel (9). Each of these definitions maintains the notion of romance, via the use of gender specif ic terms like hero and heroine as well as implied narrative closure in marriage, as an excl usively heterosexual genre. If we are to accept such definitions, then LGBTQ romances cannot even be classed as part of the genre precisely because they oppose the heterosexual matrix mainta ined by so many scholars research. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why queer texts remain conspicuously absent from larger studies of the genre that ignore them entirely or ci te them in a brief footnote. 16 I interrogate assumptions about medium and form in relation to romance in chapters Three and Five. 17 Although Regis almost certainly did not intend this statement to connote queer possibilities, as her more extensive definition of the genre continually reiterates gender difference as fundamental to the romantic couple, it nonetheless leaves itself open to potential queer readings or possibilities.
54 I point out these definitions not only to show how queer texts nece ssarily disrupt them, but to establish a compelling contrast with the most recent definition of romance promoted by the Romance Writers of America (RWA). F ounded in 1980, the RWA is a non-profit genre writers association that has l ong set the standard for romance production in the United States. With over 9000 members (authors) and more th an 150 chapters as of 2007, the RWA has a central presence and overwhelming impact on the i ndustry as a whole. Despite its conservative leanings, the RWA actively chose to create a modified and gender neutral definition of romance at the turn of the millennium to better signify the genres evolving nature. As noted in the epigraph to this chapter, the RWA claims that two basic elements comprise every romance novel: a central love story and an emo tionally satisfying a nd optimistic ending By removing gender-specific pronouns, as well as marriage as the final objec tive of romance narratives, the RWAs definition opens itself to queer po ssibilities even as many romance scholars definitions have not.18 Whatever the motives of the RWA might ha ve been, their decision to define romance with an eye toward inclusion rather than exclus ion suggests that the indus try has its finger more firmly on the pulse of its consti tuents than perhaps scholars do.19 From Queer Pulps to Online Counterpublics: The Politics and Publication of Gay Romance Started as an independe nt publishing enterprise, Romentics novels began appearing on the North Am erican market in 2003 with the release of Razor Burn. A collaborative venture by reallife partners Scott Pomfret and Scott Whittier (Scott & Scott), Romentics novels set out to 18 A detailed discussion of how the RW A came to reach this new definition can be found on ro mance author and RWA member Jennifer Crusies website at: < http://www.jennycrusie.com/essays/definingromancegenre.php > 19 I admit that one of the key motivations behind these changes is no doubt financial on the part of the RWA and affiliated publishers whose first priority is making a prof it. However, the fact that the RWA, an overwhelmingly conservative organization, is becoming attentive to what changing romance reading publics want suggests a degree of adaptability that is promising for the fu ture of queer romance in the mainstream.
55 celebrate gay romance and provide gay men with narratives about successful love and desire. The promotional blurb that appears at the beginning of each Romentics novel illustrates this point: Introducing a line of ro mance novels written just for ga y men. Its all the steamy passion, crazy excitement and gay drama youd expect when two men fall for each other maybe even more. And theyre all written with love by Scott&Scott. Drawing from their own experiences, and indeed their ow n real-life romance, Scott & Scott openly stake a claim for gay mens involvement in the genre, thus challe nging the gendered classi fication scholars have continually ascribed to it. As original as they may seem given the re lative paucity of comme rcially available nonheterosexual romances, Romentics novels are certainly not the firs t gay romances to be published in the United States. Much like contemporary lesbian romance novels and comics, which I will discuss in the next chapter, gay romances are indebted to earlier mass-mark et pulp novels of the 1950s and 60s. In Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback Susan Styker makes a crucial point, however, when she explains that lesbian pulps had a wider degree of circulation and social acceptability than their more marginal gay counterparts: What is largely missing from the gay paperb ack genre is precisely what created and sustained the lesbian genrea vast middle ground of mass-market books that portrayed issues of sexual diversity in a manner that could attract sexual minor ity audiences without alienating members of the cultural majority. Le sbian paperbacks flourished in part because they also appealed to men. Women in fiction, even lesbians, remain fantasy objects for heterosexual mens voyeuristic pleasures. The sa me is not true for gay men in literature, and the same mass market for gay-themed paperbacks never materialized. until legal standards of obscenity changed in the mid-1960s [and] ga y paperbacks truly beg[an] to flourish. (97-98) Pulps dealing with male homosexuality were una ble to achieve the same level of cross-over readership as lesbian-themed pulps that coul d be more easily commercialized to appeal to heterosexist male readers. As Joke Hermes explains in Sexuality in Lesbian Romance Fiction, the 1950s and 1960s lesbian romances were situ ated in the realm of pornography: forbidden,
56 unnatural and illegitimate lovers were all the more titillating to their predominantly male readers (54). Consequently, many of these na rratives were not aimed at lesbian liberation but rather deliberate exploitation. Publishers aided these efforts by imposing certain restrictions on authors to ensure that their novels met the criteria of providing titil lating fantasies of illicit love between women while ultimately upholding the status quo by ensuring that the lesbians in many of these novels hate themselves, or think they should [and] often end up dead, drunk, or in psychiatric wards (Hermes 51). In this resp ect, lesbian pulps that conformed to these parameters embodied a literary form of se xploitation targeted toward the presumed predilections of a heterosexist male public. De spite the troubling politic s some of these pulps conveyed, many lesbian readers still found affirma tion in them despite often having to read between the lines and make meaning for themselv es. Thus, as Stephanie Foote explains in Deviant Classics: Pulps and the Making of Le sbian Print Culture, Although pulp novels about lesbians were sometimes written by men and market ed to them as well, they were discovered by lesbians, and they became some of the earliest mass-market texts in which lesbians could see representations of th emselves (178). While lesbian pulps achieved wider producti on and circulation because publishers believed they could appeal to a larger heterose xual male public, gay pulps conversely were not as readily exploitable to a broader pub lic in the past. After the 1960s the number of gay pulps that presented romantic narratives d eclined, possibly as a result of changing obscenity laws which Stryker emphasizes allowed for mo re explicit sexual content thus spurring the production of gay erotica and pornography instead. While I do not want to characterize this shift as a negative one, I do want to draw attention to the paucity of gay romance novels prior to the appearance of
57 Romentics novels on the publishing scene.20 Distinguishing between ga y erotica and romance is important at this juncture, particularly since Romentics authors Pomfret and Whittier view the two categories as connected but distinct. In a Publishers Weekly interview they explain that in the past, we've written a fair amount of short erot ica, and we definitely include some graphic sex scenes in the novels, but Pomfret and Whittier emphasize that ultimately the novels are about celebrating gay relationships (Dahlin). With comparatively few antecedents, Romentics novels stand out as significant c ontributions to gay print culture, especially as artifacts in gay romance genre fiction. Early gay pulps served se veral critical queer func tions that I would argue Romentics novels continue to uphold today. As Michael Bronksi explains in the introduction to his book Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Golden Age of Gay Male Pulps one of the fundamental merits of these texts is pedagogical. Firs tly, he argues that these texts a re recordsalbeit fictional and reflecting and refracting the tenor and biases of their timesof how gay men lived, desired, loved, and survived (1). Consequently, they are important cultural artifacts for both scholars and queer readers that provide insight into the tumultuous clim ate of pre-Stonewall America for gay men. Equally important for us to consider, as Bronski reveals, is how these books were the maps and the signposts, the etiquette manuals and the foreign-phrase books, for gay men entering the half-hidden world of homose xuality at the time (9). Indeed, as Bronski adds, the importance of these novels as educational, self-help, and how-to manuals cannot be underestimated. No one is brought up to be gay, hardly anyone (even now) comes from a 'gay family' (9). Despite their datedness, these texts still serve as significant cultural objects that act 20 This is not to say that there were no gay romances published, but they certainly did not proliferate in the way that lesbian romance novels did, especially during the 1990s under the direction of Naiad Press. I am also limiting my scope for what constitutes gay romance, for the purposes of this chapter, to texts that focus primarily on the successful development and resolution of a romantic relati onship between men as that is the general structure of Romentics novels. In this sense, I construe gay romance as genre fiction and thus distinct from popular fiction.
58 as what Sedgwick would describe as prime resource[s] for survival (Queer and Now 3) for both new and old generations of queer readers seeking representations of their lived experiences as well as their fant asies and desires. Romentics novels achieve simila r pedagogical effects while providing affirming visi ons of gay life and love in the twenty-first century. Romentics novels straddle both commercial and independent online publishing realms, revealing the fluctuating liminal status of gay romance at present. Like a growing number of non-traditional romances, Romentics have relied heavily on Internet marketing and circulation in order to make their texts available to consumers. Most of the novels we re originally published independently by Pomfret and Whittier using BookSurge,21 now a brand of On-Demand Publishing LLC, a subsidiary of Amazon.com Inc. Thus, the majority of book sales for Romentics occur via online purchasing22 rather than through brick-a nd-mortar bookstore sales. Pomfret and Whittier understand the importance of the Internet for advertising purposes as well as enabling fan discourse and partic ipation. At the beginning of each Romentics novel, directly after their promotional blurb, Scott&Scott includ e the URL for their website accompanied by the tagline Log on and fall in love with Romentics. This invitation encourages readers to become more interactively engaged with Romentics novels by visiting the website, which offers consumers a degree of voyeuristic access to the real-lif e romance of the authors. Upon entering the site, readers will soon disc over in addition to promotional a nd sales information a slew of pictures featuring Pomfret and Whittier in a variety of intimate but not explicit embraces.23 The site also hosts a section entitled Our Story that explains how th e couple met and fell in love. 21 Booksurge 2008. 02 October 2008 < http://www.booksurge.com > 22 Although Amazon.com is the most popular website where consumers may purchase Romentics novels, Pomfret and Whittier also sell their books through the online retailer Lamba Rising 23 The most risqu picture on the site depicts the two men in bed together, embracing and playfully smiling at one another. Their upper torsos are bare, hinting that they are naked underneath the covers.
59 Thus, the site juxtaposes th e real-life romance of the Romentics authors with the fictional narratives they write and sell to consumers suggesting that gay romance can and does exist as both reality and fantasy. Although initially aimed at a niche market of gay male readers, Romentics novels unexpectedly found the kind of middle ground Stryker claims earlier gay pulps lacked by appealing not only to their inte nded audience but simultaneously gaining a substantial cross-over readership with female consumers who claim inte rest in heterosexual and male/male romances.24 Consequently, Romentics authors Pomfret and Whittier claim that based on email correspondence they estimate thirty percent of their clientele are heterosexual women.25 It is very likely that a significant percentage of thes e women (whose sexual orie ntations may be more diverse than Pomfret and Wh ittier presume) learned about Romentics novels through online counterpublic discourse, especially th at revolving around slash fan fiction.26 Although many scholars have sought to charac terize slash fans as primarily heterosexual women (Penley NASA/Trek ; Bacon-Smith; Kustritz), I would argue that online discourse indicates such claims about the gender and sexual uniformity of particip ants in slash fandom ar e no longer sustainable, if they were ever accurate to begin with. Fr om comments posted in online forums, slash fiction repositories, and fan-created websites, it is clear that, at least in th e realm of cyberspace, participants often reject specific gender and sexual identity labels or claim ones not discussed in 24 I invoke this term, which is used regularly in online discourse, to reflect cross-over between slash and gay narratives. Some readers an d authors of both types of texts articulate a stronger queer signification to romances between men that eschew specific sexual labels. This ap propriation has also been adopted by many e-publishers, such as Elloras Cave, that sometimes refer to their gay text s as (m/m), their lesbian texts as (f/f), and their mnage texts as (m/m/f or f/f/m). 25 Kristen Lombardi, Incurable Romentics: Gay Love Stories. Boston Phoenix. 6-12 Aug. 2004. 26 Slash fiction refers to narratives written by fans th at generally explore romantic and sometimes erotic relationships between male charact ers in popular media texts (i.e., Star Trek pairings of Kirk/Spock). The character of the slash mark itself is a designation of homoerotic pairings. There is also a sub-genre of slash referred to as femslash, which focuses on female/female pairings.
60 much of the discourse on slash fandom.27 Since the advent of the Inte rnet, slash narratives have become increasingly digitized as the Web has become the primary place for circulating these texts; thus, most readers of slash fiction would already be familiar with online avenues for obtaining male/male romances and would be very likely to stumble across the Romentics website in the course of their participatory practices.28 Similarly, some of these readers would no doubt be familiar with a growing number of ro mance and erotica e-publishers that produce heterosexual and LGBT texts geared toward online readers29 and would already be conversant with modes of accessing independent and digital publications of this nature. Romentics novels originated as independent publications, but in 2005 Warner Books published Pomfret and Whittiers fifth novel Hot Sauce which brought their work to wider public attention and enabled broader commercial circulation. Considering the past commercial exploitation of lesbian pulps, one might question wh at is at stake in the mass-market publication of a Romentics novel. Indeed, it is worth heeding Rosemary Hennessys cautionary warnings in Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism that the visibility of sexual identity is often a matter of commodification (111) and that LGBTQ visibility is often aimed at producing new and potentially lucrative markets, but, as in most marke ting strategies, money, not liberation, is the bottom line (112). Indeed, the objec tives behind capitalist commodification of LGBTQ print and visual medi a should not be ignored, however, in the case of Romentics I would argue that the texts retain an important degree of autonomy by virtue of 27 Of particular interest to me, apart from significant LGBT Q identification, is the fact that a notable number of slash fans claim to be asexual, as frequent comments an d discussion threads on the AVEN (Asexual Visibility and Education Network) online forum attest. 28 To demonstrate this fact, the Romentics website is the first hit to appe ar under a Google search for gay romance. 29 For instance, Torquere Press, Samhai n, Elloras Cave, Liquid Silver, Amber Quill, and Loose ID all publish male/male romances, most of which are written by women. Nonetheless, just as Romentics novels have gained cross-over readership with women, online forum postings and independent blogs suggest that many of these male/male romances written by women have a discerna ble cross-over readership with gay men as well.
61 their primary positioning within online counterpublic s. Online discourse about and circulation of their texts is still the fundamental foundation for Romentics expanding base of readers who are often already engaged in other romance-reading publics and LGBT Q counterpublics. Since their first independent release in 2003, the Romentics franchise has paved the way for a growing body of online commercially available gay romances. Many of these texts remain marginal to the mass-market publishing industry but are very prom inent among e-publishers that attract a diverse array of readers who are digitally savvy participants in media c onvergence. Needless to say, the Internet will undoubtedly continue to play a cri tical role in facilita ting the circulation and consumption of LGBTQ romances, especially those that are inde pendently or electronically published,30 while bringing them into ever closer c ontact with traditional heterosexual romances and their readers.31 Gay Romance and Definitional Argument s: Queering the Harlequin Model in Ro mentics The discursive appropriation of the Harlequin label to describe Romentics novels is part serious, part campy humor. Authors Scott Pomf ret and Scott Whittier, w ho cite their own reallife romance as inspiration for the franchise, admit that they read and assessed a large number of Harlequins before setting out to write their first gay romance novel ( Boston Globe). At first glance, the Harlequin label, with its obvious connotations of formulaic narratives and heterosexual female-centered desire s and fantasies, might seem to contradict the very concept of gay romance. However, it is precisely the ways in which Romentics novels queer the notion of a Harlequin novelfrequently held up by popular critics and scholars alike as the emblematic 30 Electronic publication options have made it far easier for authors to publish work sometimes rejected by mainstream publishing companies at very little cost to them selves. The texts are usually made available in digital formats (PDF, Word, RTF, etc.) for a downloading fee, and some e-publisher offer print-on-demand options for consumers who want a bound print version. 31 Already a growing array of popular romance-related web sites and blogs, like Smart Bitches who Love Trashy Books and Romancing the Blog are beginning to review LGBTQ romances and interview their authors.
62 representation of genre romance in generalwhich begin to dest abilize in radical ways how romance is currently defined. In this section, I organize my analysis of several Romentics novels around the definitional criteria put forth by Pamela Regis in A Natural History of the Romance Novel I have chosen to use these criteria as a framework for my disc ussion for several reasons. First, Regiss book demonstrates obvious resistance to queer texts and concepts in its stringent mooring in heterosexual and feminine classifications of the genre and its readers. In Regiss formula, LGBTQ narratives and readers are entirely absent from the roman ce universe. By consistently reiterating gender difference as essential to not ions of love and coupling in romance novels, Regis performs an overt erasure of possibilities of sexual difference in her analysis. Secondly, as one of the most recent book-length studies on the romance genre with a specifically definitional bent, Regiss text is all the more worrying for the ways in which it essentializes romance even more stringently than earlier work on the genr e. My analysis aims to demonstrate how Romentics novels ironically employ, often via a fine line between seriousness and camp, what Regis describes as the eight es sential elements of a romance nove l, thus troubling the stability of her definition in critic ally queer ways. While other texts examined in Radicalizing Romance do not support Regiss criteria and instead sp eak to alternative understandings of what constitutes romance, Romentics novels most closely mirror the criteria Regis delineates for the genre making them particularly appropriate for co mparison. In the remainder of this chapter, I use the eight essential elements as laid out by Regis to show how the structure and content of Romentics novels critically question the presumed heterosexual foundation of definitions of romance as inherent. Therefore, wh ile I identify key similarities in Romentics novels and Regiss definitional criteria, I do this primarily to challenge the homophobic and essentialist
63 sentiments underlying her taxonomy. At the same time, my analysis will suggest that queerness is already present in heterosexual romances, most notably at the leve l of affect, which I define as a form of queer emotionality particul ar to the genre. This chapter, and Radicalizing Romance as a whole, questions closed-off and exclusionary defi nitions of romance and instead aims to show that the genre is inherent ly protean in nature, constantly shifting and adapting with the times to maintain its appeal to readers in new eras. Consequently, this project perceives of romance in a manner that is more closely ali gned with the RWAs current definition, which remains open-ended and receptive to different genders, sexualities, and textual forms. Element One: Society Defined Near the be ginning of the novel, the society that the heroine and hero will confront in their courtship is defined for the reader. The so ciety is in some way flawed: it may be incomplete, superannuated, or corrupt. It always oppresses the heroine and the hero. (Regis 31) Regiss explanation of how soci ety is defined in romance nove ls immediately lends itself to a queer reading. In particular, the notion of a flawed society that oppresses two lovers will no doubt ring familiar to anyone who has fe lt the brunt of homophobia in heterosexist culture. Characters in a typical Romentics novel encounter varying de grees of disapprobation and oppression from the social worlds in which they live and work; at times, this manifests as a struggle against the heteronormative codes and e xpectations of mainstream society, while at other moments it becomes more particular to th e geographical and cultural dimensions of the communities they inhabit. Consequently, Romentics novels frequently oscillate between the advantages and drawbacks of urba n living versus those of more rural or suburban environments as they interrogate what it means for gay men to live and love in different contexts. In the novel Spare Parts, this dichotomy becomes a pivotal issue for the main protagonists Dan and Trent. Dan, as the back cover descri ption notes, is a mechanic with a chain of
64 successful garages and a lonely life. He runs these garages in the city during the day and returns every night to his quiet home in the heteronormative suburbs where his sexuality has become the subject of gossip and disbelief amo ng his neighbors. Dan has difficulty reconciling what he likes about his hometown with the problems he experiences there: There was nothing wrong with the suburbs, Dan re minded himself. Its not so bad, really. Not even the commute. Usually, returning home was an escape for Dan, a journey of freedom away from his hectic business of six bustling garages sc attered throughout the large city. But on nights like this it didnt seem wort h the long drive north to return to the lies and accusations that awaited him in the li ttle bedroom community of Glen Mills. (1) Dan tries to convince himself that the benefits of having a comfortable home of his own away from the hustle and bustle of the city can outwe igh the loneliness and solitude he experiences there. From the beginning of the narrative, Da n struggles to resolve th e growing tension between his work and home lives. He is aware of a distinct imbalance betw een the two, and as a result, in himself: The real truth about his gayne ss was something Dan had grown comfortable with over the years. He just didnt date. His business and his home and his entire life seemed out of sync with urban gay living. He was not th e mechanic in the porn video. After three decades of denial, just being honest was enough. (7) Trying to balance his professional and personal li ves, Dan has ultimately privileged the former and sacrificed the latter believing that coming to terms with his sexual identity is enough to bring him happiness even though he subconsc iously desires companionship. Much of Dans conflict throughout the novel st ems from his blue-collar upbringing, his beliefs, and his identity as a gay man who came out of the closet late in li fe and does not feel as though he is a part of urban queer culture. This is highlighted for him on a daily basis because although he works in the city he does not feel an affinity with urban li festyle and instead finds comfort in the home he has built in Glen Mills where he grew up. However, that hometown is also a very straight blue-collar community th at cannot understand how a mans man like Dan
65 could be gay: Nobody believed it. Well-todo women from downtown winked and patted his shoulders in a way that wasnt fl irting. They readjusted their ha irdos and said, 'How does a catch like you stay single for so long,' or 'What you nee d, darling, is a relationship to screw up this perfect life you have' (8). Thus, despite coming out of the closet after years of denial, Dan still passes as a straight man within the social environment of his home community and as a result often feels he cannot sustain a ro mantic relationship there with another man. Nonetheless, Dan does not want to leave the place he identifies with as home. This seems to reflect what Judith Halberstam describes in her book In a Queer Time and Place: Tr ansgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives when she claims the condition of 'staying put' in certain e nvironments is often a part of the production of complex queer subjectivities th at are not uniform or necessarily urban (27). She explains that as a result, some queers need to leave home in order to become queer, and others need to stay close to home in order to pr eserve their difference (27). For Dan, preserving his difference proves all the more difficult because it is something that he himself was unable to acknowledge for many years, but it is a struggle that he is deeply invested in. Ultimately, however, staying in Glen Mills is not only about personal comfort a nd familiarity associated with notions of home, it is also a testament to Dan s desire to stop running from his identity and his past. In direct contrast to Dan, Trent the st ruggling photographer is a young gay man who has felt the harsher ostracizing attit udes of Glen Mills precisely becau se he cannot, nor does he wish to attempt to, pass as heterosexual. In particul ar, Trent is haunted by a traumatic but formative adolescent experience of being called a stupid fu cking fairy by a slightly older male neighbor (who later turns out to have been Dan during his cl oseted yearsa point to which I will return in a later section); this incident marks the beginning of th e homophobic treatment he receives as he
66 transitions into his teenage years. However, he al so recalls this event as a crucial turning point in coming to understand his identity: It was the first time Trent remembered anyone us ing homosexuality as a curse. It was the first time someone had ever used it against him Trent wondered if it hurt him more than anyone else because it was true. Hones tly, before that day, he had never given his sexual orientation much thought. It was there, but it hadnt become an issue yet. He ignored it like a birthmark no one ever saw. In the years that followed, Trent heard many choice words about queers and fags and fairies. Sometimes they were directed at him out of hate or humor. Later, he had even heard those same slurs used in friendshiplike codenames passed back and forth between member s in secret clubs. However, that secrecy was displayed under disco balls; it was announced over loudspeakers with a thumping beat. The words couldnt hurt if you claimed them for yourself. They were just names, just truth. They werent sticks and stones. (15) Trent, via this experience, learns the value and importance of what Halberstam describes as queer uses of time and space which develop, at least in part, in opposit ion to the institutions of family, heterosexuality, and reproduction and according to other logics of location, movement, and identification (1). Hence, Trent realizes how the contexts of time and place can go so far as to resignify terms of hatred, turning them into declarations of empowerment. At the same time, for him, leaving Glen Mills and moving to the city is an act of resistance to the heteronormative ideology of the s uburbs. In this new urban environment, Trent is able to find a new form of camaraderie and kinship with ot her gay men who accept and support him in ways the social community of Glen Mills did not. The rural/urban dichotomy becomes a bigger point of contestation in Nick of Time in which the two main characters embody these two places in polar opposition to one another. Nick has willingly chosen to settle in rural Holmstead County where he works as a stone-layer. Brent is a local boy who, in contrast, escaped to the city and now enjoys gay urban lifestyle to its fullest. Indeed, Brent considers his hometown to be an alienating and fundamentally unlivable place: To go back permanently to Holmstead C ountythat would be the death of him. That would signify that Brent had surre ndered all he had ever dreamed about since he was a little boy
67 first beginning to suspect that he was different th an all the rest (4). While Brent associates his hometown with oppressive heteronormativity and th e city with gay liberation, Nick alternatively views urban society as fickle, untrustworthy, and fake: Several times that day, the tinny thumping of cars from the city had disturbed Nick. They drove too fast with the stereo too high. They were outsiders. Unim portant. Transient. Gone in no time. there was something pl astic, something synthetic about these people from away. They had too much of everythi ng and got bored of it t oo quickly, and turned to something new without really having understood or appreciated the old. (12) For Nick, the transience of urban living is what makes it so undesirable. The tone of his thoughts in this passage indicates that he regards urbanites as self-absorbed and superficial. For him, they are synthetic and lacking substance, ultima tely displaying the worst side of commodity fetishism in their willingness to treat people and places like obj ects easily discarded after they lose their initial luster In comparison, Nick is attracted to the prospect of building roots in Holmstead County, where he feels he can create a stronger sense of perman ence in a community of individuals who share more of his values. The protagonists in both Spare Parts and Nick of Time experience different social forces that alienate and oppress them, while simultaneous ly examining the relevance of place and time in the lives of gay men. More importantly, th e narratives never defini tively settle on whether urban or rural/suburban society is more desira ble. Instead, the characters typically reach compromises that allow their lives to mutually extend to both e nvironments in ways that are meaningful to them. As a result, Romentics novels resist developing a monolithic and homogeneous notion of where and how gay identity and gay romance exist. Instead, they suggest that although some places are more welcom ing of difference than others, gay men can still find satisfying ways to live a nd love in a variety of cultural and geographic contexts. At the end of each Romentics narrative the gay couple survive, find happiness, and symbolically remake (Regis 31) to a limited extent the society that has oppresse d them. While these
68 characters may not be able to change the views of world at la rge, highlighting the fact that intolerance and homophobia are not easily eradicated, they are able to gain acceptance and support from those individuals and communities th at mean the most to them in these novels namely, their friends, family, and colleagues. Element Two: The Meeting Usually near the beginning of the novel, but also sometimes presented in flashback, the heroine and hero meet for the first time. Some hint of conflict to come is often introduced. (Regis 31-32) In Razor Burn and Nick of Time the protagonists m eet at th e beginning of the narrative and in both cases the conflict introduced revolves around one of them being in the closet. Nonetheless, each novel emphasizes that in their fi rst meeting, the main characters are attracted to each other and the reader knows that it is on ly a matter of time before the closeted man will have to come to terms with his sexuality after meeting his love interest. By often introducing an element of the humorous in these meeting scenarios, Romentics novels play on the expectations of what Modleski has describe d as the informed reader who knows in advance that which is not obvious to the characters, especially in the realm of sexua l attraction and desire. Although Modleski deploys this concept in reference to the female reader who is able to decipher such truths about the heroine in heterosexual roman ces, this concept of the informed reader can be appropriated to similar ends in queer narrative contexts. Readers of Romentics novels already have expectations about the texts by virtue of the fact that they are labeled as gay romances, and consequently know that a closeted character claiming heterosexual ity doth protest too much in the face of his obvious homosexual desires. They recognize that it is only a matter of time before this subterfuge will fail, a nd I would argue that this is one of the inherent pleasures of this and other LGBTQ romances for queer readers precise ly because this moment of failure signifies
69 a collapse of compulsory heterosexuality. I will return to this topic later when I discuss the relevance of the declaration and its relationship to rhetoric of coming out. In Razor Burn the narrative begins when Blayne goes for coffee in a gay section of the city and is hit on by Ben. Feeling uneasy about the situation and his motivation for being there, Blayne tries to turn Ben down by assert ing his self-deceptive heterosexual status: Im straight. Blayne just came out and said it. Ben didnt even blink. Thats an odd name for this pa rt of town, Ben had his sights set, and he wasnt about to be distracted by such a pathetic excuse. Blayne looked around at the few lone men sca ttered amongst the tables and couches. He knew what part of town he was in. He kne w what went on in places like this on slow afternoons. But couldnt a heterosexual man re lax with [sic] cup of coffee if he wanted one? He looked down at his untouched c up and forced himself to take a sip. This wasnt a gay bar, for crying out loud. It wasnt even sleazy. It was quaint and comfortable, and the coffee wasnt half bad. After all, most things were nice in the gay section of the city. My name is Blayne, he said. He kept an edge of annoyance in his voice to show he wasnt impressed by Bens joke or his company. And youre straight with a name like Blayne? Ben scoffed. ( Razor Burn 2) As this passage from Razor Burn demonstrates, the closeted Blayne tries to make several weak justifications for his propensity to visit the gay sec tion of the city, where he meets Ben, which the informed reader immediately knows are a flimsy pretense for his true desires. The selfreflexive humor of the novel is further revealed when Ben calls Blayne out on his denial and makes a joke about his name.32 Shortly after this introductory meeting, the two men end up having a passionate fling that quic kly develops into a turbulent love affair. Of course, Blaynes gay identity is not something he is able to ac knowledge or accept right away and this remains the 32 This may also reflect a camp awareness of the often exaggerated or flamboyant names used for heterosexual romance heroes and heroines.
70 primary source of conflict in the narrative, introd ucing several different barriers which the lovers must overcomea subject I shall discuss in more detail in the next section. In Nick of Time the first meeting between Nick and Brent establishes a conflict based on their perceived differences in values: Physical attraction is meaningless, Nick le ctured. Im looking for something more. His weird, philosophical tone had more place in a convent than at a bar. Ill give you something, more, trust me. Ive never had any complaints in that department, Brent boasted. Nick sniffed and turned his body away from Brent. A sign of denial? Of rejection? Or did he wa nt Brent to get a bette r view of his fine, muscled ass? Brent could not decide. But what he did know was that all the el ectricity that had passed between them was now charging up his relentless inner bitch. It was not simply the pique of rejection. There was some other pompous, stubborn quality that made Brent want to plague him relentlessly. Get his goat. Raise his ire. He was beginning to hate this guy. ( Nick of Time 21) Again, the informed reader realizes Brents feel ings toward Ben are not in fact hate, as he suggests, but rather a burgeoning de sire that will eventually become a romantic love. Indeed, the first meeting between characters is marked by co nflict but also by attraction. Nick is a gay man posing as straight in order to marry an Irish wi dow who needs a green card in order to remain in the United States. Nick has convinced himself that he will find happiness in a platonic marriage since the widow Una already has children and ac cepts his sexuality. With her and the children, he believes he can establish ro ots in Holmstead County. However, his sudden attraction to Brent in their first meeting produces the central conflict in the story as Nick is forced to re-examine what he wants in life and what will bring him the greatest happiness.
71 Other Romentics novels employ a variety of strategies for representing the first meeting between lead characters. For instance, in Hot Sauce the primary couple, Brad and Troy, are already together at the start of the novel and their first meeting is told in flashback midway through the narrative. In this flashback sequence, the novel em phasizes the mutual attraction between the characters as well as the conflicts that still linger in the present momentnamely, Troys trauma over the death of his first true lo ve and the economic disparity in their social backgrounds. Spare Parts, on the other hand, appropriates a trope often used in popular romance, the case of mistaken identity, in its gay rewriting of the Pretty Woman tale. Successful mechanic and garage owner Dan meets the str uggling photographer Trent by the riverfront one night, a place marked as a site of gay male pr ostitution in the novel, a nd immediately believes he is a prostitute. This generates the fundamental c onflict, or barrier, that drives the rest of the story. Element Three: The Barrier A series of scenes often scattered through the novel establishes for the reader the reasons that this heroine and hero cannot marry. The romance novels conf lict often consists entirely of this barrier between the heroine and the hero. The elements of the barrier can be external, a circumstance that exists outside of a heroine or a heros mind, or internal, a circumstance that comes from within either or both. The barrier drives the romance novel. It is spread throughout most instances of this literary type, and it encompasses a wide variety of issues. Through this element a w riter can examine any situation within the heroines mind or in the world itself. Literally any psychological vi ce, virtue, or problem, any circumstance of life, whether economic, ge ographical, or familial can be made a part of the barrier and investigated at whatever lengt h the writer sees fit. At stake in the romance novel, then, is more than the marriage. (Regis 32) Although Regis focuses a large portion of her study around the significance of the romances resolution in marriage, at this moment in her analysis the conflict associated with the barrier speaks to broader issu es of external and internal oppression not simply the specific circumstances prohibiting two lovers from marryi ng. Her description of this element opens itself to queer interpretation that allows one to view the barrier as something that thwarts the union
72 of two lovers in a romancea union that is not n ecessarily predicated on marriage. If we read Regiss definition through a queer lens it becomes clear that Romentics novels include this essential element as well. Indeed, if the main characters were able to achieve a harmonious union and live happily ever after from the beginni ng there would be little point to the story. Conflict is a standard feature in almost any lite rary genre precisely because it leads to action. Romentics novels are well aware of common barriers that appear in genre romance fiction (economic disparity, emotional tr aumas, family or social oblig ations, misunderstandings, other romantic contenders, etc.) and play up, at times with melodramatic levels of absurdity and camp, the hyperbolic tradition behind many of these barriers. For instance, in Razor Burn the impediments toward Ben and Blaynes romantic union become increasingly fantastical: first, there is the fact that Blayne is married (albe it in a platonic relations hip for business purposes) and is struggling with his homose xual desires and what this means about his identity; at the same time, Ben is suffering from his own identity issues not in terms of his sexuality but rather his past because he is coping with amnesia caused by a car accident ten year s ago. As the narrative progresses, however, the reader discovers that Ben is not the only one suffering from amnesia so is Blayne! In ever more soap operatic plot twists, the reader learns that Blayne and Ben were in fact lovers during college, but Blaynes fath er disapproved of the rela tionship and orchestrated an accident to separate them. Thereafter, he, wi th the aid of a shady psychologist, fabricated a fake trauma for Blayneand using hypnotherapy, th ey make him believe that he was raped by a man in order to try and explain away his same sex fantasies and forcefully turn him straight. In Spare Parts the initial barrier between the two main characters stems from a misunderstanding as well as a secr et past. Dan mistakes the younge r Trent for a prostitute. This error in perception is perpetuated partly beca use Trent does not initially try to correct the
73 misunderstanding and instead decides to play along because he believes it is the only way to hold Dans interest. While Trent is keeping this part icular secret, Dan is hiding something as well namely, the fact that he was Tr ents neighbor many years ago, when he was still in the closet, and was actually the one responsible for cruelly antagonizing Trent about his sexuality. Fearful that they will lose one another if they reveal their secrets, both men struggle to overcome this barrier as their love for one anothe r begins to burgeon. Similarly, in Nick of Time the main characters have to resolve the two major barriers to their union. First, there is the impending platonic marriage of convenience that Nick is planning to enter into. Burned by a bad relationship with a man in the past, he has de cided to give up romance and marry a widowed Irish woman in need of a greencard. Of course in order to fool the federal government, Nick must masquerade as a straight man; a task th at proves increasingly difficult once Brent appears on the scene and arouses desires Nick has tried to forget. At the same time, Brent faces the painful memory of his former infatuation with a straight friend that ultimately led to unhappiness and heartbreak. He is worried about repeating th e same mistake with a c loseted man like Nick as he does not want to become the victim of unrequited love for a ma n who pretends to be something he is not. The novel Hot Sauce introduces a variety of different im pediments to celebrity chef Brad and hip fashion designer Troys romantic union. In part, this is due to the fact that they are already a couple at the beginning of the story but their relationship is still missing equal reciprocation of love. Several factors make it difficult for the tw o lovers to openly share their feelings: first, there is the specter of Troys fo rmer love Kurt Tamweiler, who was tragically killed in a polo accident; then there is the manipulative and co nniving Caroline, Troys mother, who does not think Brad is good enough for her son; finally, there are the evil machinations of
74 the narcissistic peroxide pretty boy Aria Shakespeare who is willing to go to great lengths to break up Brad and Troy. As the barriers buil d, it appears increasingly impossible for the couple to achieve true happinessa concept to which I shall return when I discuss Regiss sixth element, ritual death. The barriers in Romentics novels are often very similar to t hose that Regis claims manifest in heterosexual romance novels. However, the key distinction is that Romentics novels tend to use these barriers to explore issu es pertaining more particularly to gay men. At the end of her description of the barrier as one of the eight essential elements in romance, Regis claims: Removal of the barrier usually i nvolves the heroines freedom from societal, civic, or even religious strictures th at prevented the union between her a nd the hero. This release is an important source of the happiness in the roman ce novels happy ending. The barriers fall is a liberation for the heroine (33). Romentics novels do not tend to situ ate this liberation in one specific character, but rather extend it to both. In other words, barriers impede each main character and it is only when th ey each manage to free themselves or each other from what has been preventing their union that they are able to achieve the happiness th ey desire. In this respect, Romentics novels deviate from Regiss classificat ion precisely because they attempt to demonstrate shared forms of oppression and emphas ize the need for charact ers to work together in order to overcome the barriers they face. Romentics novels do not try to reimagine a hero/heroine opposition within a gay context, nor do they try to claim a universal gender identity for gay men.33 Instead, by representing a variety of gay relationship possibilities, they work toward queering the concept of the couple in romance narratives. 33 I do acknowledge, however, that Romentics novels presume a certain level of gender coherency in the sense that they locate gay identity in characters whose biological sex is male. Thus, although the novels often introduce a range of (somewhat stereotypical) gay side characters (leather daddies, queens, fair ies, bears, etc.) there is never any
75 Element Four: The Attraction A scene or series of scenes scattered thr oughout the novel establishes for the reader the reason that this couple must marry. The a ttraction keeps th e heroine and hero involved long enough to surmount the barri er. Attraction can be based on a combination of sexual chemistry, friendship, shared goals or fee lings, societys expectations, and economic issues. In modern works, these separate motiv es get lumped together under the rubric of love. (Regis 33) In Romentics novels, attraction typically begins as physical desire before evolving into a more complex romantic love; marriage, however, is generally not the end objective. The initial attraction between characters is established early in the narrative, and plac es a strong emphasis on mutual appreciation of the male body. Although Romentics novels introduce varied notions of attractive men, they typically privilege male characters w ith physically fit bodies. For instance, in Nick of Time when Brent goes home to attend his si sters wedding he is completely surprised to find himself at tracted to local man Nick: The last place Brent Sawyer expected to see beautiful shirtless boys was near his mothers house. Brent now lived down in New Yorka nd you did not see the Citys clubs, coffee houses, book stores, chic little storefronts cra mmed with modern design in rural Holmstead County where Brent grew up. You certain ly did not see hot trashy Gucci boys and Banana Republicans. And you certainly did ne ver saw [sic] a man like that. The guy was a massive stud. A walking pornographic fantasyshirtless, lean, his chest carved from stone. He wore a pair of baggy carpenter jeans belted by a loose knot of rope slung low on his waist. He straddled one end of a stone wall at the edge of an open meadow, one boot on either side. (1) As discussed earlier, the contrast between urban and rural/suburban society is emphasized in this passage as Brent finds an object of desire in a place he least expected. Nick is described in idealized terms, but ironically e nough he also sounds very similar to the male image that appears on the covers of many mass-market romances. In this respect, the novel demonstrates its own awareness of conventions of the genre and begi ns to disrupt them in queer ways. Nick, a real question as to whether any of these individuals are men. Consequently, Romentics do not openly address other transgender or queer identity possibilities in their conceptualization of gay romance.
76 physical manifestation of a prototypical male he ro one might expect to find in a heterosexual romance, turns out to be a man who desires ot her men. This representation has symbolic importance as it works to reinforce already ex isting, or to open a space for readers to begin imagining, queer readings of heterosexual romances As I noted earlier, gay romances have not been widely available in the past and it is re asonable to assume that some readers may have turned to heterosexual narratives in which they had to employ perverse readings (Sedgwick, Queer and Now) to make meanings or decode subtext that fit their desires and fantasies. Nicks character re-imagines the fantasy of the id ealized male hero of heterosexual romances, in the context of a gay romance, and begins to en gage with notions of idealized masculinity in heteronormative and gay discourse. Point-of-view in Romentics novels tends to shift between th e two main characters with fairly consistent emphasis on bot h their perspectives, further re inforcing their investment in romance based on equality and mutuality.34 Shortly after Brent sees Nick while driving home along the highway, the narrative shifts perspectives and the reader is provided with Nicks pointof-view: Despite all of Nicks justified contempt [toward city folk], he could admit that one of them had caught his eye at an unt hinking momenta hottie zipp ing by in his tiny Miata, sunglasses on his head, hair tousled, chest bared to the summer sun. He had been youthfullooking with a blush of rose in his cheek and a small frame, but his fine bare shoulders had been broad enough to suggest that he was man enough for Nick. (12-13) While Nicks earlier description through Brents eyes emphasizes his masculinity in relation to his profession, Brents appearance is linked more di rectly with his vehicle. He too is small and agile, and as the reader later le arns, he was formerly a well-resp ected dancer before suffering a 34 In this respect, Romentics novels embody a rhetoric that is more aligned with particular femini st sensibilities than necessarily queer ones. Most notably, mutuality is a fundamental principle behind many of Bell Hookss feminist theorizations and especially her ideas about love. Thes e ideas are examined in more detail in Chapter Four.
77 knee injury. In the realm of th e physical, both men cultivate thei r fit bodies either through work or deliberate design. Similar body politics operate in Hot Sauce and are taken to further lengths because both lead characters work in industries in which a ppearance and presentation hold high value. Thus, mens fashion designer Troy creates clothing to accentuate an idealized male body and acts as the poster boy for his own product line. His lover, Brad, is continually amazed by the beauty of Troys body: Troy let the towel on his waist drop. The mo rning light falling into the room put his abs and pecs [sic] and nipples into perfect relief. Brad gasped, as if it were the first time he had seen what was hidden beneath. Troy was a magnificent specimen of manhood. At thirty-three, three years older than Brad, he had the firm, hard stomach of a high school athlete. His muscles were na turally lean and ropy; he was strong, but had none of th e false bulk of a steroid queen. (2) This description not only accentuates Troys youthful appearance, but also the naturalness of his masculine body. The text emphasizes that Troys image is not created with the aid of false enhancements (in this case, ster oids) but is the product of his natural body make up. In contrast, Brad tends to feel less confiden t about his own natural appearance and puts great effort into maintaining his physique through regular exercise and a beauty regimen: Years in a steamy kitchen had not yet put a lin e in Brads good skin. (The secret was eye cream, applied religiously, morning and night .) He had broad shoulders and Popeye forearms, a powerful wrestlers build, and a lean-meat body, courtesy of regular torturous workouts with a personal trainer who had interned at a Siberian death camp. (8) Although Brad sometimes feels insecure about his appearance in contrast to his partner, Troy constantly reaffirms that he finds him incredib ly desirable through verbal compliments, playful sexual innuendos, desiring gazes, and physical to uches of comfort. Mutual attraction and chemistry are always situated as key elemen ts in the initial meeting of partners in Romentics
78 novels but thereafter they begin to focus on the emotional bonds between lovers that transcend the purely somatic. Attraction and desire in roman ce has often been discussed as being connected to the body but ultimately developing around emotional ties between characters. Indeed, this idea has generally been used to mainta in a distinction between romance and pornography, the latter of which is believed to manifest a sexual desi re grounded entirely in the body. Many romance scholars have focused on romances differen ce from pornography by examining how emotional qualities and characteristics of ma le heroes operate within hete rosexual romance narratives. In Loving with a Vengeance Tania Modleski, referencing the wo rk of J.M.S. Tompkins, makes a correlation between eighteenth a nd nineteenth century English a nd American sentimental novels and Harlequins of the 1970s. She notes that according to Tompki ns, sentimental novels privileged the hero who exhibited an 'almost fe minine sensibility' (17). In a similar fashion, Modleski asserts that even st oic or brooding alpha heroes in 1970s Harlequins eventually succumb to sensibility as in novel after novel, the man is brought to acknowledge the preeminence of love and the attractions of domes ticity at which he has, as a rule, previously scoffed (17). This idea of a masculine hero w ith a feminine sensibility was then reinforced by Janice Radways Reading the Romance which argued that a nurturi ng hero who embodied both masculine (physical) and feminine (emotional) characteristics was the fundamental male ideal in romance. Radway also concluded that the Smith ton women she studied favor ed this kind of hero in romance narratives precisely because of the ways in which he responds to the heroine. According to her, the Smithton women indicated that they prefer to see the heroine desired, needed, and loved by a man who is strong and masculine, but equally capable of unusual tenderness, gentleness, and concer n for her pleasure (81). This c ontrast of physical masculinity
79 and sentimental emotionality parallels Modleskis earlier claims. However, Radway takes it a step further when she argues that while the hero is important to female readers, ultimately the focus never shifts for these readers away fr om the woman at the center of the romance. Moreover, men are rarely valued for their in trinsic characteristics but become remarkable by virtue of the special position they occupy vis-vis the heroine. The romantic fantasy is therefore not a fantasy about di scovering a uniquely interesti ng life partner, but a ritual wish to be cared for, loved, and validated in a particular way. (83) When we begin to consider this argument in the light of gay romances like Romentics however, it becomes clear that this notion does not apply in the same way. Since the narra tives generally alternate between both characters perspectives, they do not central ize one character in the same way Radway and Modleski argue heterosexual roman ces do with the heroine. At the same time, masculinity and affect take on specific queer di mensions when embodied in two men in love with each other. Element Five: The Declaration The scene or scenes in which the hero declares his love for the heroine, and the heroine her love for the hero, can occur anywhere in th e narrative. Their variable placement helps create the variety of plots within the se t of possibilities open to the romance novel. (Regis 34) Fundamental to the declaration is an emphasis on the articulation of love as affect. Thus, I would like to begin th is section by exploring the larger emotional resonances (Jackson 254) of romance, which have consistently been not ed as key ingredients of the genre, before considering how these operate in Romentics novels. The emotional re sonances of romance have long been a central point of interest and key stic king point for feminists be cause critics have used them to describe the genre as negatively sentimental and feminine Modleski argues that this rationale for rejecting romance is but one example of the way texts have been gendered in binary terms. To illustrate her point, Modleski explains that there are several distinct ways in which male texts work to insist implicitly on their difference from the feminine. Sometimes this is
80 done through language: for instance, through rigor ous suppression of flowery descriptions or the tight-lipped refusal to employ any expr ession of emotion other than anger (Loving 12). While Modleski is justified in pointing out how such tendencies re inforce patriarchal hierarchies of value, she codifies this problematic gender bi nary, which necessarily ex cludes or marginalizes those texts that do not conform to either label, by accepting such terms. In her article Kitsch, Romance Fiction and Male Paranoia: Stephen King Meets the Frankfurt School, Rita Felski addresses several of the same concerns and insightfully establishes broa der connections between cultural devaluations of that which is associated with sentimentality or the romantic, arguing that the pejorative connotations of se ntimentality, defined as emotional weakness, mawkish tenderness nursing of emotions, (Concise Ox ford Dictionary) are of course a modern phenomenon. Like romantic, to which it is closely allied, sentimental has come to denote a range of cultural re sponses considered embarra ssing and outmoded, rendered anachronistic by the ironic consciousness char acteristic of the modern age. (par. 5) Felskis claims imply that we culturally view sentimental and romantic feelings as displaying a level of openness and vulnerability that goes against the ironic consciousness we currently privilege. Consequently, she also identifies how these perspectives on emotional excess tend to be couched in a negative rhetoric of the feminine. But rather than upholding the opposition Modleski cites, Felski examines how feminists have typically re sponded to the devaluation of a textual object as a result of its association with a feminin e sentimentality, questioning why there has been a tendency to accept at f ace value an opposition between masculine and feminine modes of perception and reception gr ounded in reified and ahistorical notions of sexual difference (par. 6). Citing melodrama as one of her primary examples, Felski adds that as a result of such acceptance, feminist interventi on has been largely restri cted to a recuperation of that previously ca tegorized as negative with melodr ama now codified as authentically feminine and even subversive rather than a challenging of the terms of the opposition itself
81 (par. 6). It is Felskis latter claim that I would like to take up, as it speaks directly to the challenge Romentics novels present to the he terosexual gendered binary that still characterizes much of contemporary academic discourse on romance. Thus, while emotionality continues to be gendered in essentializing ways, I am far more interested in shifting the discourse to consider how affect operates as a queer system of excess in all romance texts. Linda Williamss engaging es say Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess offers important insight on how systems of excess operate in similar ways among the genres of horror, pornography, and melodrama, demonstrating that alone or in combination, heavy doses of sex, violence, and emotion are dismissed by one faction or another as having no logic or reason for existence beyond their power to excit e (141). The same could be said about how romance has been criticized, and Ann Douglass infa mous description of the genre as soft-core porn for women, with the obvious function of ti tillation it implies, is frequently invoked by scholars and popular critics alike to illustrate this point. In an essentializing move, Douglas qualifies her description of romance and brings it to the level of affect, stating that Harlequins are porn softened to fit the needs of female em otionality. They are located in the female consciousness (27). As this statement reveal s, for Douglas, emotionalityat least in the context of Harlequinsis de facto female. A uni versalizing claim such as this prompts one to ask where texts like Romentics novels might fit in her schema. I raise this question because LGBTQ texts inherently create a conundrum for scholars who persist in defining and understanding the genre according to heterosexual paradigms. While Romentics novels certainly critique the heteronormativizati on of romance in the cultural ma instream, they also embrace and resignify common features of protypical narrativ es like those found in the Harlequin line. In particular, they maintain a consistent focus on the emotionality of characters in love. Thus,
82 rather than gendering affect in these texts I believe it is more productive to begin considering how Romentics and indeed a growing number of non-trad itional romances in general, depict a queer emotionality that can speak to readers across different genders and sexualities rather than trying to speak for a singular or m onolithic conception of the romance reader. Underlying many of the criticisms about the emo tionality of romance is a broader cultural tension between emotion and reason. Sara Ahmed describes this in The Cultural Politics of Emotion as an hierarchy between emotion and thought/reason which gets displaced, of course, into a hierarchy between emotions: some emotions are elevated as signs of cultivation, whilst others remain lower as signs of weakness (3). Despite this tendency to simultaneously valorize and criticize particular emotions, Ahmed emphasizes that It is important to indicate here that even if emotions ha ve been subordinated to other faculties, they have still remained at the centre of intellectual history. As a reader of this history, I have been overwhelmed by how much emotions have been a sticking point for philosophers, cultural theorists, psychologists, sociologists, as well as scholars from a range of other disciplines. This is not surpri sing: what is relegated to the margins is often, as we know from deconstruction, right at the centre of t hought itself. (4) Although Ahmeds discussion pertains to interdisciplinary perspectives on emotion, I believe it is useful to consider her final point about that which is relegated to the margins is oftenright at the center of thought itself, as a starting point from which to begin considering how queer emotionality can operate within romance, for the perceived excessive nature of emotionality depicted in romance narratives is already posit ioned as affect that transgresses accepted bounds of normative expression. The ways emotionality tr ansgresses modes of accepta bility by virtue of its excess already marks it as queer in severa l fundamental ways before one even begins considering it in the contex t of an LGBTQ narrative.35 35 This obviously extends to melodrama as well, which Linda Williams has noted focuses on the spectacle of emotional excess as it manifests on a bodily leve l in the uncontrollable weeping of characters.
83 As with popular romance narratives, Romentics highlight love as the central affect that propels characters and the storyline. Whether protagonists desire it, give it, re ceive it, repress it, or are frightened by it, love is fundamental to wh at fuels the romantic fantasies presented within the texts. For instance, in Hot Sauce Pomfret and Whittiers first Romentics novel to be published by a mainstream press, the lead protagonists have been in a relationship for several years but open reciprocation of love remains the elusive fantasy of true happiness: I love you was an expression they never use d. If Brad had pushed him for a declaration of love, Troy would have gotten all squirre lly. Troy spoke eloquently enough with his body and lips and hands. He was quick with a compliment and a reassuring touch. He might have pointed out that actions were more important than three words that were easy to say but hard to mean. Troy never mentioned love. He was a fortre ss, absolutely impregnable when it came to his feelings. This sexy unavailability only made Brad want him all the more. He plotted constantly about how he would taste that forbidden fru it hidden inside the wall that surrounded Troys heart. (6) For Brad there is something simultaneously pleasur able and painful in being unable to extract a declaration from his partner. Tr oys refusal to verbalize his feelin gs ignites Brads desire to be able to emotionally penetrate the fi nal barrier to his lovers heart. The affect of love is marked in this passage as something taboo, forbidden fruit, that Brad wants to taste. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that other forms of affection are not enough to sustain the couple. Sharing declarations of love are necessary to ensure mutuality of feeling and commitment in their relationship. Thus, as with most romances, the moment of declaration, in which characters utter their love for each other, is central to Romentics narratives as well. However, I believe it is relevant to consider here how queering this trope puts prev ious theories into pr oblematic tension. For instance, Janice Radway argues that at this moment in heterosexual romances the heros
84 declaration of love permit[s] the heroine to relinquish self-control (97). She concludes therefore that Passivity is at the heart of the romance experience in the sense that the final goal of each narrative is the creation of th at perfect union where the idea l male, who is masculine and strong yet nurturant too, finally recognizes the intrinsic worth of the heroine. Thereafter, she is required to do nothing more than exist at the center of this paragons attention. Romantic escape is, therefore, a temporary but literal denial of the demands women recognize as an integral part of their roles as nurturing wives and mothers. It is also a figurative journey to a utopia stat e of total receptiveness where the reader, as a result of her identification with the heroine, feels herself the object of someone elses attention and solicitude. Ultimately, the romance permits its reader the experience of feeling cared for and the sense of having been reconstituted affectively, even if both are lived only vicariously. (Radway 97) Radways analysis here is entirely dependent on a heterosexual paradigm of identification and desire. For Radway, when the heroine accepts th e love of the hero her relative agency and autonomy is subsumed by him as her sole purpose in being is for him. In Romentics novels, characters do not simply reinscribe these roles in a homosexual context. In other words, there is no single hero nor is there a male equivalent of a woman in dr ag. Both protagonists tend to reconfigure masculinity in ways that question idealized heteronormative notions of masculine primacy as well as stereotypes of gay masculinity. Of critical importance then, is the fact that Romentics novels do not display a powe r hierarchy between characte rs that mimics Radways assessment of mass-market romances. One of the central ways in which Romentics novels resist the heterosexual paradigms that inform traditional romances and scholarship on th em is in their representation of sex within romantic relationships between men. In contrast to the active/male and passive/female roles so often used to describe and characte rize heterosexual sex, characters in Romentics novels do not reinforce such power hierarchies. Rather, male pr otagonists typically alternate as sexual top and bottom in the narratives, without fear of their masculin ity being threatened, and are demonstrated as achieving equal pleasure in both roles. For instance, in the novel Spare Parts, the fluidity
85 with which characters alternate these roles is presented as both erot ically pleasurable and empowering: As Trent peeled the shirt fr om Dan, pinning arms behind hi s head, a sudden flash of surrender shot from Dans belly to his chest and he submitted to the younger man above him. Dan released his teeths grip on his lip, graspe d the buttocks before him, and completed the journey of Trents cock. He held and fed Trent into his hot mouth. He tasted him hungrily, famished from the starvation he had im posed on himself. But he didnt control a thing. He surrendered. He encouraged Trents thrusts with gentle hands, but he let the boy above set the pace, the rhythm, the depth. ( Spare Parts 66) Dan, a mechanic idealized by his st raight neighbors for his appear ance of traditional masculinity, finds pleasure in this eroticized moment of s ubmission to his partner. Importantly, the novel does not present this experience solely from Dans point-of-view. After providing access to Dans thoughts, the narrative sh ifts to Trents perspective: Trent was dizzy and unbalanced with the pos ition of power and the pangs of shocking pleasure. He watched Dan below him and reeled from his high point of view. This wasnt like anything he had experienced before. Hed never been with such a hulk of a man, and he certainly had never expected someone like that to take su ch a deliciously subordinate role. ( Spare Parts 67) Trent, who has taken a more submissive sexual role up to this point in th e story, revels in this moment of reversal. For Trent, the pleasure st ems not from dominance over a man who is larger and stronger than himself, but from the fact that Dan is willing to make himself vulnerable and open to him both physically and emotionally. Not surprisingly, therefore, reversal scenarios often occur at key moments when characters allow their lovers both physical and emotional access to them in ways they have not before. In Pomfret and Whittiers first Romentics novel Razor Burn one of the protagonists, Blayne, is still coming to terms with his sexuality. Throughout the novel he has been the top in his burgeoning but secret relationship with Ben. However, he has been fantasizing about what it would be like to take a more submissive role during their lovemaking. It is only once he fully accepts his
86 desires and his feelings for Ben that he is able to turn this into a reality, much to the surprise and pleasure of his partner: He [Ben] waited until the moment was right. He knew what wa s coming. He felt it under him. He felt it pressing along the crack of his ass. And then all his expectations were turned upside-down. Blayne pulled Ben to him. He held him close. And he kissed him. Then Blayne rolled over. He rolled undernea th Ben so that Ben wa s not just on top, he was the top. The hemisphere of Blaynes fi rm, round ass rose above the white sheets and the midday sun. And Bens hard-on hovered ab ove that smooth globe expectantly. He was in complete disbelief, but he wasnt a bout to question his good luck. He glanced up at the muscles of Blaynes shoulders and the place where his hands disappeared under the pillow. Ben saw the taper of his waist and the tilt of his hips that pushed that perfect ass upwards. Ben knew what this meant, or at least he thought he did. Blayne was making himself completely vulnerable to him. Bla yne had already confessed the secrets of his past. Now he was giving up all his fears and reluctance to Ben. And Ben wasnt going to make him regret it. ( Razor Burn 182) This moment acts as a physical d eclaration rather than a verbal one in the context of this novel. Blayne has been denying the depth of his f eelings for Ben, as well as his own sexuality, throughout much of the story. But at this point he finally releases his inhibitions and opens himself to the emotional excess he has been repr essing. He is able to communicate his feelings to Ben even more powerfully by physically maki ng himself vulnerable. Blaynes body acts as the conduit for his emotional expression and Ben alte rnates sexual roles with him as he uses his own body to decipher the meaning from his partners. While the declaration can manifest physically in Romentics novels, it is still the verbal declaration of love that tends to triumph over the barr iers that have impeded the couple. In several Romentics novels the declaration is also directly linked with coming out. For instance, in Razor Burn, after his pre-amnesia memories have been regained, Blayne decl ares his love for Ben openly in front of his autocr atic and homophobic father near th e end of the novel, which acts simultaneously as a coming out declaration: Blayne didnt care. It [his fathers resistan ce] didnt matter anymore. The only thing that mattered at this moment was the truth of their [his and Bens] relati onship, the reality of love that stood in front of Garrett [Blaynes father].
87 A mistake, he scoffed. It wasnt a mistake. It was destiny. I fell in love with Ben all over again. And even you cant control destiny. (247) After this private coming out to his father, Blayne publicly comes out at work during an important meeting for the mens cosmetics compa ny, Mandatory, that his family owns. Blayne is asked about his views on the decision to go fo rward with the production of a new mens razor and responds by announcing his sexual orientation to one and all: So were in agreement on the subject, anot her [member of the meeting] concluded. Whats your position, Blayne? My position, Blayne said to the room full of bosses and investors. Sometimes Im a top, sometimes Im a bottom. But no matter what, Im always gay. Then he stood and left. Every single person of importance in Garretts life was in that room. Every rich, uptight bastard and frigid, business bitc h connected to Mandatory was left in silence around that table. And Garrett just sat there. He couldnt change the truth. He couldnt erase that mome nt from the memories of everyone there. (257) Blaynes public declaration of his gay identity and his love fo r Ben in open defiance of his homophobic father provides the opportunity to cut ties with the fa mily business and the heteronormative expectations his fath er imposed on him for many years. At the same time, Blaynes public coming out declaration, and those of other characters in other Romentics novels, has the potential to resonate on personal and political levels with many LGBTQ readers. As Michael Warner argues: Being publicly known as homosexual is never the same as being publicly known as heterosexual; the latter always goes wit hout saying and trouble s nothing, whereas the former carries echoes of pathologized visibilit y. It is perfectly meaningless to come out as heterosexual. So it is not true, as common wisdom would have it, that homosexuals live private lives without a secure public id entity. They have neither privacy nor publicness, in these normative senses of the term. It is this deformation of public and private that identity politicsand the performative ritual kno w as coming outtries to transform. (5253)
88 Coming out declarations in Romentics novels work to reject th e cultural imperatives of compulsory heterosexuality and imagine empower ing moments of resistance and visibility. For Blayne and other closeted Romentics characters, coming out and declaring love for another man become climactic moments of liberation that open the promise of an utopian future in which they are finally free to live and l ove as their true selves. Not all Romentics novels present coming out narratives, however. In narratives th at focus on gay couples who are already out and confident in their sexuality, there is often a diffe rent barrier that must be overcome to achieve a happy ending. This parallels wh at Regis describes as a certain moment in the romance narrative that marks the pinnacle of opposition to succes sful union between characters, which she classifies as her sixth element the point of ritual death. Element Six: Point of Ritual Death The point of ritual death ma rks the moment in the narrative when the union between the heroine and hero, the hoped-for resolution, s eems absolutely impossible, when it seems that the barrier will remain, more substan tial than ever. The happy ending is most in jeopardy at this point. (Regis 36) Marked as a moment of hopelessness and seemingly inevitable failure, the point of ritual death as Regis defines it appears to be a stronger reinforcemen t of a preexisting, or introduction of a new, barrier that seems insurmountable. For Romentics novels, the point of ritual death often acts as an emotional barrier that mani fests the appearance of unequal love between partners. In Hot Sauce the point of ritual death occurs late in the narrative after several barriers have worked to consistently introduce conflict in th e already fragile em otional bonds between Brad and Troy. Receiving what appears to be in criminating evidence of Troys infidelity, Brad confronts him in a highly emotional moment: Youve never said you l ove me, did you know that? There was a long silence. The two of them we re poised one against the other, as if they were doing battle.
89 Im sorry, Troy said finally. Its just I just cant find myself whispering I love you into empty space again. Like after Kurt died. Brad looked at him and could not fo rgive him. It was not enough. (201) As this scene demonstrates, although Brad beli eves Troy has been unfa ithful to him, what remains the biggest internal stumbling block to ac hieving the happiness he de sires is the fact that Troy will not declare his love for Brad. The specter of Troys former lover Kurt reappears in this exchange, fueling emotional insecurities and fear s Brad has that Troy will never love him more than Kurt. Feeling as though his love will never be equally reciprocated, Brad reaches his breaking point at this moment and ends the relationship. Similarly, in Nick of Time the point of ritual death occurs after Nick and Brent finally share a passionate night of love makingalthough they overcome some of the external barriers to their union, it is the internal emo tional barrier that proves most da ngerous. When Nick fails to declare his love for Brent the morning afte r, and shows no signs of ending his upcoming marriage of convenience, Brent leaves with his he art broken and retreats to a cabin in the woods to try coming to terms with what he believe s to be the demise of their relationship: Looking back on the past few weeks, Brent thoug ht he could see with more clarity, too. He realized that he had hoped Nick would be so overpowered by their coupling that love would come pouring out of him, not matter how he tried to stop it. He had been so sure that Nick was capable of love, that he would be unable to stop it. Brent looked again into the bot tom of the lake. He ferven tly conjured another world among the tangled branches on the lake bottom, a world on the other side of the surface, looking back. It was a much different, fairy tale world, the world he had expected to unfold when he was a boy. The true love he had thought hopeless but had dreamed of endlessly. (172) As with Hot Sauce this narrative emphasizes a perceived imbalance of feeling between lovers and a lack of equal reciprocation of love, which prove to be the fundamental barriers to final happiness and romantic resolution. Brent laments the fact that the fantasy of true love cannot become his reality, a point rendered even more poignant because at this moment Brent believes
90 he has lost out to the allure of marriage in Nicks eyes. This moment of perceived failure on Brents part carries added symbolic weight b ecause it is yet another experience in which the romance fantasy he has always desired is thwa rted by the heteronormative world in which he lives. Hence, his allusions to a fairy tale worl d suggest a specifically queer vision of romantic utopia that remains elusive. In Spare Parts the point of ritual death occurs when the secret Dan has been trying to keep from the beginning of his relationshi p with Trent is revealed. Discove ring that Dan is in fact the man who once cruelly taunted Tren t for his difference awakens th is old emotional trauma and, feeling unable to forgive Dan for his deception, he leaves. Dan tries to search for him and make amends, blaming himself for the fact that what was becoming an emotionally meaningful relationship may never be mended: Dan couldnt stand the thought of Trents an ger or the look of hur t on his face. He couldnt think about the pastwhat he had done to Trent back then or how he had lied to him for the past weeks. He couldnt dwell on these things because he could never make up for them. If Trent wasnt a hooker, then Dan had wronge d him even more. Trent was completely innocent. They couldnt compromise and make concessions or forgive each other for their mutual faults and pasts. Trent had done nothing wrong but play along with the situation Dan had created. Dan had though his acceptance of Trents fals e past had been a gr acious and mature decision of logic. But now he saw that he ha d used it as an excuse for his own deceitful behavior. Now that Trent had no black mark s on his record, Dan alone was the bad guy. Dan figured that maybe he had even treated Tr ent like a hooker. It wa snt for any of the deviant reasons Trent and Nathan [Trents fr iend] probably assumed, but it wasnt really any better. Dan had wanted Trents crimes to outweigh his own. He had wanted to be the good guy who could rescue him. Trent would never be able to forgive Dan for wh at hed done. And Dan wasnt so sure he should. Dan wasnt sure he c ould forgive himself. (134-135) Although both characters have already declared thei r love for each other, the exposure of their secrets makes them question the truth behind that love. Dan is overwhelmed by feelings of guilt
91 and hopelessness caused by the climactic revelation of his true identity, and despairs that he can ever atone for his wrongs. All of these examples reinforce Regiss notion of ritual death as th ey render the hope for happy resolution almost impossible. Once again, however, the informed r eader is acutely aware of this stylistic conv ention and knows that something will ha ppen to bring about the anticipated emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending (RWA ). Regis refers to this event as the recognition. Element Seven: The Recognition In a scene o r scenes the author represents the new information that will overcome the barrier. If the barrier has been ex ternal, these impediments are removed or disregarded. Far more common in contemporar y romance novels is an interior barrier, in which case the recognition scene consists of the heroine understanding her own psyche better. In the course of the book she has le arned to know herself and to distinguish sound perceptions from unsound. She sees the hero clearly and realizes her love for him. (Regis 36-37) As I have already demonstrated, Romentics novels do not tend to fo cus on the internal psyche of one character over anot her. Therefore, while the rec ognition still tends to be based on internal barriers it is clear th at both characters must overcom e their own personal issues in order to reach the desired romantic union. In Hot Sauce Troy is finally able to recognize his feelings and declare his love for Brad, and Brad is able to overcome his own emotional insecurity and doubts when he recognizes that Troy has always loved him despite not being demonstrative in the ways Brad has desired; in Razor Burn Blayne realizes the truth about his feelings and his sexuality, promp ting him to publicly declare his l ove and come out of the closet while Ben, at the same time, regain his lost memories and his trust on his partner; in Spare Parts, Dan and Trent recognize that they have been de ceptive with one another and are able to work together to overcome their pasts while gaining emotional empathy and understanding for each others individual plight in coming to terms with his gay identity; and, in Nick of Time losing
92 Brent makes Nick conscious of his true feelings and propels him to take action, breaking off the engagement with Una and pursuing the man he trul y lovesfor Brent, Nicks declaration of love at the end of the novel is the cata lyst that enables him to overcom e the emotional uncertainty that has shadowed him throughout the novel and finally realize his romantic dr eams. Ultimately, the recognition extends to both lovers in Romentics novels, reinforcing their investment in emotional reciprocity as each charact er learns to share his feelings and desires with his partner. The recognition, much like the declaration, often becomes an in stance in the narrative that reflects the queer emotionality of the text as both characters b ecome overwhelmed with feelings that they cannot control or stop from expressing, regardless of the public or private place of the moment; and, being able to express these sentimen ts end up creating a sense of liberation and joy in each of the characters that they did not expect. Element Eight: The Betrothal In a scene or scenes the hero asks the he roine to marry him and she accepts; or the heroine asks the hero, and he accepts. In romance novels from the last quarter of the twentieth century marriage is not necessary as long as it is clear that the heroine and hero will end up together. (Regis 37-38) Regiss final element, as defined above, is immediately open to queer interpretation. If marriage is not necessary, the fact that two men end up together at the end of the novel seems to fit Regiss formula albeit with a gendered twist. Not every couple in Romentics novels desires gay marriage, but they do all desire to have th eir relationships treated with the same level of validity and recognition as heterose xual unions. In keeping with this, the texts are powerfully aware of the fact that the institution of marri age still operates according to heteronormative paradigms and remains exclusionary toward LGBTQ couples. Hot Sauce speaks to this issue most powerfully because at the end of the novel Troy and Brad do end up getting married in Massachusetts. Published in 2005, this novel uses the 2004 legalization of same-sex marriage in
93 Massuchusetts as the backdrop for the grand fina le of the story. Very much aware of the political climate of the twenty-first century, Romentics novels emphasize in their happily-everafter resolutions the importance of fantasies that give hope and the promise of happiness to gay men. Although I have shown the ways in which Regis s definitional criteria for what constitutes romance is susceptible to subvers ive queer infiltration, it is eviden t that this was not something her study even considered as possible. In some respects Regiss book, like those of many scholars before her, is fundament ally uninterested in or completely oblivious to LGBTQ texts and their readers. While some scholars have at least acknowledged them in passing references or footnotes, they do not even ente r Regiss radar or worldview, wh ich is far more frightening because it supports a hermeneutics of roman ce that wholesale refuses to acknowledge nonheterosexual epistemologies, texts, and readers. This trajectory is not one that we can afford to allow to continue. Indeed, this chapter has s hown how romance scholarship that persists in ignoring or rejecting LGBTQ texts and their readers as mere exceptions to the purported heterosexual rule are already losi ng their grasp on what the genre signifies in the twenty-first century. At the same time, such exclusions, coupled with tendencies toward problematic essentializations and resistance to useful queer theoretical interventions, speak to obvious homophobia in the field that need s to be addressed. Feminist and queer research on romance have a great deal to learn from each other if put into more productive dialogue. This is necessary work that must be done if we are to be able to effectively and accurately assess the current state of romance and its readers in an era of medi a convergence, participatory culture, and ever expanding possibilities for the circulation of non-normative texts among romance-reading publics and counterpublics in cyberspace.
94 I would like to conclude this chapter by re turning to the current RWA definition of romances as containing two basic elements, a cen tral love story and an emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending. The plura lity of possibilities that this definition connotes allow for a wide range of texts that present visions of love and de sire that do not necessarily adhere to or reflect heterosexual ideologies to be included in the romance genr e. As I argued earlier, this definition in contrast to that of Regis and other scholars seems to have its finger more firmly on the pulse of contemporary romance readers who are expressing pleasure in a diverse range of texts that do not reflect a singul ar or monolithic notion of love At the same time, the RWA definition implies, at least in part, that it is up to readers to determine what they find emotionally satisfying in a romance. I will take this idea up in more detail in the next chapter, which examines texts that break out of the traditional format and narrative formula of heterosexual romance novels while questioning th e happily-ever-after ending as the only emotionally satisfying possibility for resolution in romances.
95 CHAPTER 3 MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE: LESBIAN R OMANCE AND UNDERGROUND COMICS FOR WOMEN This chapter examines the intersections between lesbian romance and the medium of comics in order to assess what occurs when the in visible is made visible. In part, the analysis I present is in response to feminist studies of popular romance, which despite their efforts to recoup the genre as having something meaningful to say about womens e xperiences in culture have nonetheless confined themselves to a prob lematic heterosexual framework with an almost exclusive eye on the mass-market paperback as the epitomizing marker of the genre.1 Although these studies have provided considerable insight into popular romance novels targeted toward straight women, they have, perhaps unintentiona lly, constrained our scholarly understanding of and approach toward the romance genre and its readers. Limiting critic al considerations of romance to Harlequins and their ilk imposes ex clusionary boundaries th at ignore how marginal and subcultural texts challe nge the static coherency of the genre that much of the research to date has reinforced. Therefore, my assessment of le sbian romance comics seeks to challenge these limitations while also expanding upon the smalle r body of existing research on lesbian romance novels. A great deal of this scholarship has focused on early pulp novels, sometimes connecting them with the myriad lesbian romance novels printed by Naiad Press in the 1990s. Always addressed in these studies, whethe r directly or indirectly, is th e question of visibility. Some authors examine the actual covers of pulp novels (Villarejo; Stryker), wh ile others assess the voyeuristic appeal of lesbian pulps both in terms of their covers and thei r actual narrative content (Keller Ab/normal; Keller Was it Right). Visibility continues to be a key point of interest 1 Tania Modleski is a notable exception here, as she extend s her analysis of mass-produced romance to soap operas.
96 for those analyzing more contemporary lesbian ro mance novels, although the focus here tends to be on the representation of lesbian(s) in the narratives (Hermes; Juhasz; Ehnenn). By introducing comics into the current disc ourse surrounding lesbian romance, I provide insight into a largely unexamined medium that unites the visual and the written, making visible that which romance novels keep concealed by virt ue of their primarily alphabetic text-based format. In this regard, I argue that lesbian romance comics confront many of the tensions between fantasy and reality, especially in the repr esentation of sex, that exist within mainstream romance fiction; and more specifically, they disrupt the binary discourse of early romance scholarship, which studiously separated roma nce and pornography as distinctly different feminine and masculine genres respectively. 2 The graphic novels that I examine in this chapter do not shy away from representing queer female se xual desire in direct and often explicit ways, and they reveal the romantic and sexual possibi lities available to women who resist compulsory heterosexuality. As a visual medium, comics are pa rticularly well suited to exploring this terrain because they can literally make invisible possib ilities and desires visibl e, (Sedgwick, Queer and Now 3) thus offering significant chal lenges to queer-eradicating impulses so often reinforced by the mainstream roman ce and comics industries at large. It is important to acknowledge, however, that this is no simple task; for with visibility comes challenging political concerns about what is at stake in the visual re presentation of lesbian bodies, desires, fantasies, and lives. As Amy Villarejo cautions in Lesbian Rule: Cultural Criticism and the Value of Desire the impetus toward visibility runs the risk of producing representation that rende rs lesbian static, makes lesbian into (an) image, and forestalls any 2 Janice Radways discussion of the Smithton women in Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature reinforces this division. Radway, drawing on the wo rk of Beatrice Faust, concludes that the claim that women are not excited by the kinds of visual displays an d explicit description of physi cal contact that characterize male pornography is at least true of the Smithton readers (66). Radway then makes some problematic assumptions about female desire and fantasy on a broader scale based on this one not entirely convincing case study.
97 examination of lesbian within context (6-7). Lesbian romance comicsespecially those that depict explicit sexualityare we ll aware of the burdens of so matic and sexual representation, and I would argue create a more nebulous and sh ifting space within which to consider, as Villarejo suggests, how lesbian works as a modi fier, not as a noun but as an adjective for people, places, and things (4). In particular, th ese comics must walk a precarious line in their efforts to work against misogynistic depictions of lesbian sex in comics created by and for men while trying to take back the lesbian erotic for women. As a result, many female comics artists seek to remake romance by weaving together elem ents from multiple genres in order to envision lesbian relationships that do not adhere to fo rmulaic expectations and tendencies. Their narratives often challenge boundaries that have been imposed on the genre as they begin to offer alternative visions of what might be construed as an emotionally satisfying romance with an optimistic ending (RWA). I examine three different lesbian romance graphic novels by women who weave together elements of different genres to develop non-trad itional love stories between female characters.3 This chapter first provides a brief context of ro mance in comics before moving into a detailed analysis of Lea Hernandez Clockwork Angels, Colleen Coovers Small Favors and Ariel Schrags Potential First considering how Hernandezs text appropriate s and refashions certain tropes common to mainstream romance narratives while couching them in the steampunk genre, I demonstrate how Clockwork Angels presents a promising vision of queer love that embraces the 3 Although men have also produced lesbian roman ce comics, most notably Terry Moores series Strangers in Paradise and Jaime Hernandez collection Locas: The Maggie and Hopey Stories I will be focusing exclusively on comics by women in order to better consider how female artists react against male representations of lesbianism in pornographic comics. At the same time, I would like to note that there are a growing number of webcomics that deal with lesbian love and romance, but I have limited my discussion to more traditionally published texts that employ graphic novel format for more efficacious narrative analysis (webcomics tend to run in weekly or monthly strip format, often resulting in storylines that continue in perpetuity). One of the most popular of these comics is Justine Shaws Nowhere Girl available at http://www.nowheregirl.com
98 potential of fantasy while visua lly emphasizing the importance of spatial relations and the female gaze. Next, I examine Colleen Coovers adult comic Small Favors illustrating how her girly porn aesthetic manipulates the fantasy and pornography genres to subvert hegemonic conventions regarding romance and sexual monogamy while working to thwart heterosexist appropriations of lesbian sex in mainstream por nography for straight men. Finally, I conclude by analyzing Ariel Schrags Potential as an example of the autobiographical coming-of-age genre, which is used to present a rea l narrative of lesbian love th at questions the primacy of the happily-ever-after ending in romance. Romance and Early Love Comics for Women Often believed to be produced prim arily by and for men, comics in fact have a significant historical connection to female consum ers. As Trina Robbins reveals in From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of Womens Comics from Teens to Zines, at one time girls made up a large segment of the commercial audience for what were once known as love comics. Although many of these texts purported to present real life stories about young wome n finding heterosexual romance, they were in fact created largely by men. Originating with the 1947 publication of Simon and Kirbys Young Romance love comics were instantly popular with female audiences and by 1950, more than one quarter of the comic books published [in the U.S.] were romance comics (Robbins 54). Indeed, statistics from the 1950s indicate that females ages seventeen to twentyfive were reading more comic books than men (Robbins 54). The popularity of love comics held steady until 1964 when suddenly superheroes returned and romance, as Robbins puts it, went out the door (77).4 4 This is not to say that there were not any love comics still in circulation, but their numbers and popularity began to dwindle as publishers phased them out of production. The first love comic published, Young Romance did manage to survive for thirty years before putting out its final issue in 1977 (Robbins 77).
99 Most love comics, much like Harlequin pa perback romances of the 1970s, tended to reinforce heterosexist gender roles of confor mity. The ideal goal for young girls and women presented within these texts was marriage, and in order to achieve this they were cautioned to remain sexually chaste for the right man. He nce, as Philippe Perebinossoff notes in What does a Kiss Mean? The Love Comic Formula and the Creation of the Ideal Teen-Age Girl, The stories emphasize that love is an overwhelmi ng passion, but the passion never becomes overtly sexual. Sexual innuendos in the form of unde rwater kisses and passionate embraces in the moonlight are plentiful, but the ideal unmarried teen-age girl never goes beyond a kiss (405). Female characters that were coded as more sexuall y available than this always met a tragic or bad end, thus reinforcing Tania Modleskis asse rtion that the cost of revolt is what [mainstream] romances stress most ( Loving 43). Despite their popularity with female reader s, love comics were not satisfying to everyone and with the advent of second wave feminism many female artists found opportunities to create, and outlets to distri bute, counter-hegemonic comics that openly rejected earlier sexist representations of gender and sexua l conformity. Often operating in resistance to the mainstream comics industry, which generally refused to publ ish their work, many of these artists began printing their comics in underground feminist newspapers like Off our Backs These subcultural venues allowed female artists to publish work th at openly addressed pol iticized concerns about sexuality, reproductive rights, and gender roles that other publishers refuse d to distribute. As underground texts, many of these comics remained in relative obscurity on the margins following the industry shift in the mid-sixties back to superhero comics production. During this time, texts aimed at female consumers became a lower priority to comics publishers; th is is not to say that there were no mainstream comics by and fo r women, but mass publishers focused almost
100 exclusively on appealing to a straight male demographic with little to no interest in female consumers. It has only been in more recent years, as the popularity of superhero comics has fluctuated, that publishers have begun to rec onsider the virtually untapped female market. Today, attracted in large part by the im portation of Japanese comics known as manga, female readers are now flocking back to comics in steadily increasing numbers.5 Many of the current Western comics and Japanese manga published for girls and women, similar to love comics, appropriate narrative and stylistic elements from the roma nce genre to appeal to readers looking for stories about love a nd desire. While these contemporary texts have been generally influenced by some of the politics of feminist movementno longer conf ining women solely to the domestic sphere and insisting they remain virgins until marriagemany of them nevertheless continue to uphold basic heter onormative paradigms. Conse quently, queer women who are returning to comics, or developing an interest in them for the first time, may feel that the narratives available to them offer only one vi sion of romance and l ove. Fortunately, the subcultural underground of womens comics, whic h has endured and expanded since the 60s and 70s, does offer promising alternatives for queer readers. Although somewhat hidden in the obscurity of the publishing margin s, there is a small but growi ng body of work by female comics artists that engages in politica lly and personally meaningful ways with romantic relationships between women, while bringing to the forefr ont critical concerns about visibility.6 5 Japanese manga (comics) have a specific genre of texts, classified as shoujo which are targeted toward girls and young women. These comics tend to engage with issues deemed to be of interest to female consumers, including: female friendships, social pressures based on gender, family and school life, fantasies and desires, romantic relationships, etc. A more detailed discussion of queer manga appears in Chapter Five. 6 While my analysis is limited to discussing lesbian romance comics, it is important to note that there are gay romance comics available as well. In addition, numerous mainstream comics have featured gay and lesbian supporting characters in recent years. However, few of these have focused at length on the romantic and sexual relationships of these characters. Therefore, for the purposes of this chapter, I have chosen to restrict my focus to comics that feature queer protagonists and center on the development of their romantic relationships.
101 Lesbian Looks and Spatial Relations: Deciding What to Make Visib le Lea Hernandezs graphic novel Clockwork Angels is often classed as a steampunk romance. A variation on the cyberpunk subgenre of science fi ction, steampunk as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary is science fiction which has a historical setting (esp. based on industrialized, nineteenth-century society) and characteri stically features steam-powered, mechanized machinery rather than electroni c technology. Hernandez unites steampunk with fantasy and romance in Clockwork Angels employing a drawing style th at is deeply influenced by Japanese manga traditions and blended with a Western sensibility to create a signature look very much her own.7 Fellow comics writer Warren Ellis, who pens the introduction to Clockwork Angels describes the work as a Scientific Ro mance (2). While the text makes use of common romance idioms, it subverts the deci dedly heteronormative genre by creating a love story between two young women that appeals to specifically feminist and queer romantic sensibilities about erotic mutuality while simulta neously engaging with the discourse of lesbian visibility during its deliberate moments of visual revelation and concealment. Set sometime in a fantastical version of late nineteenth century America, Clockwork Angels revolves around the relationship between Te mperance (Temper) Bane and her best friend Amelia (Amy). Temper is a young widow earning a living as a parlor magician performing for wealthy socialites with a fashi onable interest in the occult. Amy, her companion and closest friend since childhood, is also her partner in these thea trical demonstrations. Both women, by virtue of their tenuous position within the so cio-economic hierarchy and their resistance to convention, experience the alterity of existing on the margins from the beginning of the story. 7 Lea Hernandezs work anticipated the recent trend toward Original English Language (OEL) manga by Western artists that presses like Tokyopop an d Del Rey are now putting out in response to the popularity of Japanese manga with American audiences. Many online sources class her as the first published female OEL manga artist in America.
102 As a working widow, Temper does not fit the mold of a respectable lady and is often forced to deal with unwanted advances from men who hope to take advantage of her circumstances. Amyas an unmarried penniless orphan without a ny standing in the social orderis more deliberately shunned and treated as Other. Both women consciously reje ct conformity, finding kinship and comfort in their diffe rence and their mutual resistance to social assimilation as their relationship gradually evol ves over the course of the narrative from friendship to romantic love. Visually emphasizing the significance of an oppositional female gaze in establishing intimacy and desire between women, Clockwork Angels highlights key moments in which the two women watch one another. A compelling instance of this occurs when Amy and Temper are alone together in a train carriage. The first panel on the page (Figure 3-1) functions as an establishing shot, depicting the full mise-en-scne of the carriage setting with the women seated in chairs on opposite ends of the frames com position, and a table positioned between them dividing the space evenly. The literal space between the two characters vi sually emphasizes the metaphorical distance they are forcibly keeping from one another on an emotional level. Although Amy loves Temper, she is wary of disrup ting or potentially ruining their friendship by revealing feelings she fears will not be reciprocated. Temper, on the other hand, is depicted as much more ambivalent in terms of her emotions and this sequence of panels illustrates the escalating tension between the two friends. Following the establishing image of Amy and Tempers spatial separation are four smaller pane ls that present alterna ting close-ups of their faces. First the reader sees Amy, casting a furt ive glance at Temper, followed by an image of Temper, not returning her gaze but focusing instea d on the hat in her hands. The next panel shifts to another close-up of Temper, but this time she is covertly gazing at Amy. Again, the gaze becomes slightly voyeuristic when the next image reveals that Amy is reading her journal
103 while unaware that she is now being watched. Th e final panel on the page returns to a larger panoramic view of the carriage, re-establishing the spatial and emotional distance between the women as they sit apart from one another in aw kward silence, their rigid postures and silent faces conveying the tensi on of the moment. In accordance with this sequence of images, the first half of the story frequently represents Amy and Temper watching one another secretively. The reader realizes the signification of these longing looks even as th e characters themselves do not. Utilizing a common trope from the romance genre, Clockwork Angels presents a love that is at first conflicted because it is seemingly one-sided. For instance, early in the story when Temper has finished a theatrical performance as medium fo r a group of bourgeois clients, a man approaches her in an openly flirtatious manner. Hernandez pr esents a series of panels that alternate between images of the man talking to Temper and close-up s of Amys face as she watches their exchange with a growing look of irritation and displeasure (Figure 3-2). She soon intervenes and quickly dissuades the potential suitor from pursuing Temper. Amys protec tive behavior at this moment is occasioned by a clear feeling of jealousy, which Temper do es not seem to notice although the reader recognizes it immediately. In many re spects, this echoes one of the dualities Tania Modleski identifies in romance, in the relation between an informed reader and a necessarily innocent heroine ( Loving 32). Thus, although Temper is oblivious to Amys true feelings toward her, the reader has already easily deci phered the cues in the text that expose them. Temper, as a widow, is already positioned in the text as a sexually experienced woman, but her knowledge is clearly limited by he terosexual expectations. Ther efore, she does not immediately read Amys feelings in the same way the informed reader doesnot because of virginal
104 vacuity, but rather because she has never consciously associated Amy with romantic or sexual possibilities. At an unconscious level, however, Tempers actual longstanding desire for Amy comes to the surface via a series of remembrances. Demonstrated most power fully during a flashback moment rendered in slightly hazy pencil art (Figure 3-3), Temper recalls how her mother rationalized forcing her into marriage to a man she did not love, telling her: We know how you feel about Amy we tolerated her because she kept you from running wild Your new husband will be able to do the sam e (20). Her mothers veiled but provocative language in this recollection suggests that the marriage was actua lly arranged in order to dissolve the budding romantic feelings between the young women. In the context of the flashback memory, Temper does not understand the import behind her mothers words; it is only in looking back from the present moment that she starts to glean some of the undercurrents origina lly at work in their exchange, as well as the truth a bout her own feelings for Amy. This personal re-examination of the traumas of her past allows Temper to create a happier future because now that she is a widow she has more freedom and autonomy to pursue her own desires. While Temper comes to realize and understa nd her burgeoning queer desires gradually, it is clear that Amy, conversely, has always been aware of her feelings for her friend. The narrative goes so far as to show that others, most especially Tempers mother, have also recognized Amys desire and consid er it a dangerous threat. Amy relives the consequence of this when she recalls the events surrounding Tempers forced marriage. Her recollection is presented in detailed and vivid flashback as this sequence opens with se veral images of Temper lying asleep dressed in an elaborate wedding dress, arranged in a manner similar to a slumbering fairytale princess waiting to be awoken with a ki ss (Figure 3-4). However, the reader learns
105 from the dialogue surrounding these iconic images that Temper has in fact been drugged by her mother because she needed something for her nerves (35) in orde r to make her go through with the wedding. Tempers mother tells Amy that her daughter knows its her duty to marry any good woman knows this but you dont, do you Amelia (35)? Her language insinuates that Amy is someone who does not know her heterosexual duty as a woman, thus questioning whether she is a woman at all. Indeed, Tempers mother articulates a vi ew of Amy as deviant Other by calling her a strange little savage, thus invoking the rhetoric of late nineteenth century sexology which, as Lisa Duggan points out in Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence, and American Modernity often linked homosexuality with primitivist discourse of the time that worked to dehumanize racial minorities and those classed as sexual perverts. In many ways, this sequence confronts the pr imary objective of mainstream heterosexual romanceresolution in marriage for the heroine and strips away its ut opian connotations to reveal a much darker reality. The images of Te mper in her elaborately detailed wedding dress, lying in repose, make obvious fa irytale allusions, but the tone of the sequence is ominous. However, the fact that she has been drugged by he r mother in order to forcibly marry her off creates a whole new signification to the images presented, recasting Tempers unconscious and prone body as an object arranged for sexual barter or exchange to an unknown man. To further emphasize this idea, the narrative cuts to a new panel (Figure 3-5) in which Tempers mother tells Amy, You will keep to yourself while the new Mrs. OConner [Temper] gets better acquainted with her husband (36) Her sexually coded language in the context of this scene makes it clear that Amy is expected not to in terfere with the post-wedding consummation. At this moment, the panels deliberately conceal Am y from view. Instead, Hernandez depicts the steeple of the church where Te mper has been married tilted at an awkward angle surrounded by
106 dark clouds and rain. The imagery of this sequen ce recasts the symbolic power of the church as institutional marker of heterosexual hegemony in a foreboding light. At the same time, the positioning of the slanted church steeple surr ounded by storm clouds overhead metaphorically reflects the turbulent nature of the moment and Am ys lack of control over what is happening. In part, this can be attributed in the story to the fact that Amy, as an orphan taken in by Tempers uncle, lacks the agency to interfere precisely because of her precarious socio-economic position and her indebtedness to the family. Yet, this sc ene goes even further to emphasize the way that not only Amys desires, but also Amy herself, are often forcibly rendered invisible when they threaten the heterosexual institution of marriage. Hernandez later subverts this painful moment of powerlessness and erasure when she depict s Amy and Temper sharing a sexually intimate moment that walks a deliberate line between revelation and concealment. Indeed, Clockwork Angels demonstrates that many of the obstacles to Amy and Tempers love are relics of the past, while in the present they are now free from the constraints of marriage and family that prohibited them from pursui ng their romantic feeli ngs for one another. Consequently, after breaking dow n lingering emotional barriers Clockwork Angels as with most popular romances, ensures that the two lovers mutual ly acknowledge their desire and consummate their relationship. In a passiona te, poignant, and slightly playful sequence of panels, Hernandez chooses carefully what to make visible and wh at to leave to the readers imagination (Figure 3-6). At first, the two wome n are presented sitting together on a bed. In contrast to the earlier series of panels in which they were spatia lly removed from one another in the train car, here they are represented as physically and emoti onally close. When Amy begins unpinning Tempers hair it seems evident where this sensual and intimate moment is leading, however, the text delays and withholds full visual disclosure. Instead, the next panel shifts to a
107 view of both womens boots removed and placed side by side on a wooden chest, symbolizing that they have clearly broached the self-imposed distance they ha d maintained in the past. The following frame reveals Temper from behind as she begins removing her shirt, making visible a brief but erotic glimpse of her bare shoulder. Hernandez deliberately disrupts temporal flow and teases the reader visually with the play between expected revelation and suggestive concealment. The final panel on the page is a less clearly defi ned outline of the two womens faces in close-up just before their lips are about to meet. Alt hough it seems at this point as though the narrative might leave it unclear as to whether to they shar e more than a kiss, the following page eliminates such ambiguity by presenting an enlarged and provocative image of Temper with her head thrown back in ecstasy (Figure 3-7). Herna ndez thwarts potential pornographic expectations by refusing to make fully visible Amy and Tempers sexual interlude. At the same time, she gives enough visual cues to make it clea r that they do in fact have sex and that this consummation of their relationship eradicates the last emotional and physical boundaries keeping them apart. Ultimately, it seems that Amy and Temper have control in this momentachieving narrative power and agency by only offering the reader a cert ain level of visual acce ss to their bodies and their lives. In the end, Clockwork Angels concludes with a happily-e ver-after scenario for Amy and Temper, but it is one that holds a different political valence in th e context of a lesbian romance. Indeed, a long literary history of lesbian relationships that end in tragedy or a return to heterosexual conformityas most specifically s een in many early lesbia n pulpshas established a pathologizing discourse about lesb ian love. As Joke Hermes expl ains in Sexuality in Lesbian Romance Fiction, The most objectionable characteristic of 1950s pulp novels is that the lesbians in many of these novels hate themselv es, or think they shoul d. Protagonists have
108 recourse to alcoholism, suicide and violence. They often end up dead, drunk, or in psychiatric wards (51). Although more recent texts have made significant strides in dispelling such homophobic discourse, there is still a need for affi rming representations of lesbian love that do not shy away from making that love both visible a nd possible. Hernandezs graphic novel supports this aim while skillfully demonstrating the ways in which visibility and invisibility can be paradoxically enabling and dise nfranchising in different contexts The final page of the story leaves the reader with an optim istic image of Temper and Amy lying together on a hillside under the night sky (Figure 3-8). Each panel rev eals the two women touching and gazing at one another intimately. While earlier in the narrat ive they had largely been depicted as gazing covertly at one another, now they are able to meet one anothers gaze with reciproc al desire and love. These images suggest that the two women are ready to face the futu re together as equal partners willing and able to share their feelings, dreams, and desires. Rather than closing with an institutionally sanctioned marriage and consolidat ion within the domestic space of the home, the status quo of many heterosexual romances, Clockwork Angels s final image reflects a decidedly queer vision of romantic happiness as the wome n lie together under a va st starry sky that metaphorically reflects the wide vista of possi bilities and new advent ures awaiting them. Possibilities for Pretty Pussies: Fantasy, Play, and Sex in Girly Porn for Women Colleen Coovers Small Favors: Girly Porno Comic Collection develops a sexually explicit lesbian rom ance narrative that lives up to its evo cative subtitle, employing pornographic imagery and humorous fantasy to present a playful erotic view of lesbian love and desire while conceiving of sex as both fun and full of limitless possibilities for pleasure. Coovers text is by no means the first comic to address lesbian se xuality. Indeed, lesb ian-themed pornographic comics abound, but the majority of them are written by and for straight men as a form of sexist titillation. Coovers series, in comparison, is aime d primarily at women. In her introduction to
109 Book One, she states Small Favors is a book through which I (a very shy person, honestly!) celebrate sex and the pretty girl s who enjoy sex. To make it the way I wanted, it had to be funny, cute, erotic and romantic. It had to be the kind of porno comic that women would enjoy, that anyone would enjoy (4). Coover clearly esta blishes her woman-cente red focus from the beginning, and although she expands the audience to include anyone, I would argue that Small Favors is primarily geared toward the pleasures of a queer female audience. In other words, it differentiates itself from comics that cater to straight male fantasies of hot lesbian sex by creating a fantasy aesthetic for women, which Coover coins girly porn. The humorous and self-reflexively kinky approa ch to sex that Coover uses to develop a girly porn aesthetic is reflected in the slightly absurd but amusing premise of Small Favors which establishes the overall playful tone of the series as well as its investment in the possibilities fantasy can offer. Th e story opens with the main char acter, Annie, fantasizing about having sex with her beautiful neighbor Yuriko as she masturbates in her garden one day. In a pseudo-Alice in Wonderland moment, Annie falls through the ground into a subterranean fantasy world ruled over by the autocratic and matronl y Queen of Conscience (an obvious tongue-incheek parody of Queen Victoria ) who informs Annie that she has been found to be shameless and that she, at the age of twenty-one, has al ready used up her entire lifetime allotment of masturbation (14). This ridiculous but funny accusation is then followed with proof in the form of pictures that expose Annie unabashedl y masturbating in a number of different public and private locations (Figure 3-9). The full comedic import of this scene comes when the Queen of Conscience claims that all of th ese pictures were in fact taken on the same day, which, given the number of photos, emphasizes th e hyperbolic nature of Annie s autoerotic tendencies. The Queen decides to punish her by assigning a cosmic keeper of her conscien ce, a pint-sized blonde
110 fairy named Nibbil, who will supposedly repress Annies masturbationcrazy little nympho ways (16). This arrangement proves incredibly ironic because Nibbil turns out to be an ineffectual guard over Annies purportedly ex cessive sexuality, and instead becomes her enthusiastic lover. One thing is made perfectly clear from the outsetAnnie and Nibbil love sex, but more importantly, they love sex with women Perhaps the most compelling and radical facet of Coovers girly porn aesthetic is that there are no men in this comic. Annie only fantasizes about and desires other women, as do Nibbil and th e various other female side-characters that appear later in the series. These are not women simply seeking erotic st imulation with another woman until a man appears to give them real fulfillment, as Linda Williams notes is often the premise of pornography aimed at straight men ( Hard Core ). Instead, Small Favors visually reinforces its woman-centered inte rest by giving pride of place to images of pretty pussies that become aestheticized erotic obj ects of desire between women. Coover highlights the beauty of the vagina with extreme close-up images, draw n in loving detail, of engorged clitorises, quivering labia, and we t vaginal orifices. In keeping with the fantasy tropes of the text, the sexual scenarios in Small Favors are incredibly varied and run the gamu t of erotic possibilities from bondage, to spanking, to sex toys, to voyeurism, and even group sex. These variou s sexual vignettes attempt to present a broader perspective on the myriad ways in which wome n can achieve sexual gratification and pleasure with other women. Indeed, Coovers comic resists representing one static definition for lesbian sex and instead embraces a plurality of pleasures. Central to this agenda is a clear emphasis on fantasy as a stimulant that can enhance ones sex life. Because Nibbil is an otherworldly fantasy character of pint-sized propor tions, the mechanics of sex between her and Annie are often
111 intriguing and inventive, and both characters ta ke great delight in ex ploring different sexual possibilities between them. Nibbil certainly lives up to her name and frequently performs oral sex on Annie, but this is not the limit of their sexual repertoire. For instance, when they first meet, Nibbil is so turned on by the photographic evidence that the Queen has amassed to demonstrate Annies deviant masturbatory ways, that she fucks herself on one of Annies nipples (Figure 3-10). In another scenario, Nibbil manage s to slip her entire body into Annies vagina, giving a whole new meaning to the idea of penetrative se x (Figure 3-11). Throughout the series, Small Favors continually plays with the visual and symbolic politics behind penetration in cultural understand ings of sex, especially as represented via mainstream pornography. In one particular sequen ce, Nibbil demonstrates her magical ability to morph into human-sized big form and appears wearing a strap-on dildo, which she proceeds to use on Annie orally, vaginally, and anally in a sp ate of frenzied love-making. While there has been much debate among lesbian feminist critics about the use of dildos in lesbian sex, I would suggest that Small Favors does not equate the dildo with a penis and the heterosexual significations assigned to it. Inst ead, it is positioned in the text as merely one object that can be used to create or enhance sexual pleasure between wo men in different erotic scenarios. In point of fact, there are many other objec ts that Annie and Nibbil use to play out different fantasies during their erotic escapades, including a woode n spoon, a carrot, dry spaghetti, a hairbrush, a riding crop, and a vibrator. Sometimes these objects are used for vaginal or anal penetration, but they are also used variously for clitoral and br east stimulation as well as spanking. In other instances, Annie and Nibbil require no objects to achieve sexual pl easure with one another. Therefore, I would argue that although Small Favors presents sexual scenarios in which the lovers use sex toys, it does not privilege a phallocentric understa nding of female pleasure being
112 dependent upon vaginal penetration and instead complicates the sexual concept of penetration itself. As Ann Cvetkovich argues in Recasting Receptivity: Femme Sexualities, different kinds of peneteration mean different things, a complexity sometimes effaced in a phallocentric culture that assumes that only peni ses do the penetrating, or that only vaginas are meant to be penetrated (thus, for example, rendering the anus/asshole a suspect orifice). Lesbian sexuality requires a language for penetration with d ildos, fingers, or fists, and it faces the challenge of expanding the erotics of penetrating objects or body parts, which is too often limited to a focus on penises or phallic substitutes. By the same token, an erotics of how different orifices, such as anuses, vagi nas, mouths, get fucked would be useful in order to reveal the wide range of ways th at getting penetrated is experienced, both physically and symbolically. (133) In this regard, Small Favors visually articulates an erotics that admires the complexities of lesbian sexuality and desire while embracing hard-c ore representation that explores the different kinds of pleasure to be found in a wide array of penetrative and non-penetr ative sex acts. Indeed, Coovers girly porno comic claims sex between women as a site for polyvalent pleasures that often intersect stimulation of the mind, in the form of fantasy play, with stimulation of the body. Fantasy play is central to the storyline, and many of th e sexual scenarios in Coovers comic self-reflexively poke fun at certain por nographic tropes with obvious self-awareness, while simultaneously subverting th ose tropes to achieve queer ends. For instance, in one episode titled A Bondage Tale, Nibbil appears in he r tiny form strapped naked to a hairbrush, melodramatically railing against her current pred icament (Figure 3-12). Here Nibbil hams up the romanticized role of sexually vulnerable damsel in distress awaiting the rescue of a hero[ine], as her over-the-top role-playing cues th e reader to the obviously staged nature of the scene. On the following page, this fantasy is humorously decons tructed when Nibbil is left waiting impatiently for someone to appear and ravish her, a cloc k ticking loudly in the background (Figure 3-13). When Annie finally appears as Alpha Annie, clad only in a cape and boots, she presents a visual mockery of superhero machismo in ma instream comics. Annie and Nibbil clearly recognize the slightly ridiculous na ture of this kind of fantasy and are cognizant that they are
113 playing roles within it. Rather than devolving into a violent di splay of non-consensual sexual aggression, or reinforcing the notion that such abuse is pleasurable, Nibbil is instead presented as deriving pleasure in her vulnerability because she trusts her partner. Annie rewards this trust by fulfilling Nibbils fantasy and giving her pleasure rather than taking it for herself. As a pornographic text, Small Favors places sex center stage in the narrative and thus appropriates romance in some unconventional an d inventive ways. On the one hand, Annie and Nibbil have been bonded together irrevocably by the Queen of Conscience. This establishes a special relationship between them from the be ginning. Although there is no deep narrative development of their relationship on anything other than a sexual level, their behavior toward one another during sex always demo nstrates their mutual affecti on. In addition, when they kiss tiny heart icons often appear, surrounding the coupl e to visually emphasize their love for each other. Significantly, however, Annie and Nibbil do not keep thei r relationship restricted to sexual monogamy. In Book Two, they meet another young woman, Sage, who soon joins them in their erotic endeavors. Annie and Nibbil spend the majority of the volume exploring the pleasures that can be had from sex with more than one partner, revealing th at their relationship is clearly open to erotic experiences that incl ude other women. Because most mainstream romances, as well as many lesbian romance novels, st ill tend to operate w ithin a paradigm that privileges monogamy, Small Favors presents a rather radical perspective on romantic relationships that suggests love and sexual desi re are not the same thing. Indeed, while Annie and Nibbil are open to exploring their sexual fantasies with other women, their love for one another is something more exclusive. As Annie tells Nibbil when they finally sneak off to be alone, Nibbil, sex is fun I really enjoy it. But sometimes I just wa nt to be alone with the girl I love [emphasis in the original] (82). Following this declaration is a panel that reveals them
114 sharing a passionate kiss surrounded by a flurry of heart icons in the background once again (Figure 3-14). This conclusion suggests that sexual and romantic monogamy are not necessarily the same thing, nor do they have to go hand in hand; indeed, Coovers co mic demonstrates that desire and love can be interconnected affects, but they are not necessarily co-dependent and can thus function separately. Autobiography, Coming-of-Age, and Real Lesbian Love Potentia l a 244-page queer bildungsroman in gra phic novel format, recounts the junior year of high school for creator Ariel Schrag. Although loaded with teen angst and the social melodramas of everyday high school experience, it is more than just another teenage soap opera. On the one hand a coming-of-age story, it is also a coming-out narrative as Ariel tries to make sense of her increasingly pe rsistent fantasies about and desires for other girls. The autobiographical tale takes readers through a confessional and often highly voyeuristic account of Ariels life that is engagi ng, embarrassing, and moving as Schr ag makes herself vulnerable to readers by sharing some of the most personal an d painful experiences of her teenage years. Potential presents a candid examination of the difficulties Schrag faced as an adolescent in understanding and owning her queer identity an d sexuality, offering direct testimony to a specifically lesbian experience in culture that has been ignored in most analyses of the romance genre. In this sense, Potential eschews metaphor and suggestion in its depiction of lesbian(s) and emphasizes literalness instead ; readers do not to have to 'read between the lines' but instead encounter lines in which lesbians are there: out rather than between (Juhasz 68). At the same time, however, the realism of Schrags text operates in conflict and tension with the fantasies Ariels character experiences. In the end, Potential exposes what the fantasy of romance often conceals in its utopian idealism that relationships do not always end with a happily-ever-after, nor is this always the desirable outcome.
115 As a graphic novel, Potential is able to visually expl ore with humor and nuance the challenges of coming out as a queer youth. In Ar iels case, the first difficulty she faces is the discrepancy between her public hete rosexual persona and her private/ internal erotic self. Caught up in the imperative of what Adrienne Rich has identified as compulsory heterosexuality, Ariel begins dating Darren, the nicest boy imaginable, (1) despite be ing constantly bombarded with erotic fantasies about girls. This is illustrated in a humorous panel in which Ariel stands in front of several lockers in her high school, surrounded by naked girls giving her come-hither looks and openly sexual invitations (Figure 3-15). Ariel is confused by thes e fantasies, anxiously asserting to herself: I had thought Id dealt with this problem last year by after much anxiety and disturbance proclaiming myself bi [emphasi s in the original] (2). Her statement here implies that although identifying herself as bisexual, Ariel is rea lly trying to perceive of her sexual identity as mainly straight but with an in terest in girls she deems to be a problem that needs to be solved. Her stream-of-consciousness reflection is comically interrupted when she walks straight into a naked fant asy girl in the next panel (Fig ure 3-16) who presses her bare breasts in Ariels face with a happy smile proudly exclaiming I only like girls [emphasis in the original] (3). As this example shows, her attempts to ma intain a straight persona fail when she finds that her fantasies thwart her at every tu rntroubling the borders between the real and the imaginary as she understands them. The persistence of Ariels queer erotic fantasies ultimately impels her to embrace her desires for other girls in real lif e. After a sexually charged enc ounter with another girl at her school, Ariel finds herself unwilling to ignore her desires any longer. Drawing from the thematic significance of the graphic novels ti tle, she muses that the potential for what more could come was too much to resist (9). In this instance, the arousal she experien ces from an embrace with
116 another girl is so compelling that she wants to discover where a relationship might take her. Indeed, the potential this encounter causes Arie l to fantasize about allows her to embrace her sexuality with enthusiasm, humo rously proclaiming Dykedom here I come! (no pun intended!) (9). Visually depicted shedding her former self by altering her physical appearance (Figure 317), Ariel cuts her hair and dyes it black. This is a powerful gesture in the narrative because it not only marks Ariels mental co ming out, but also her public coming out. By altering her appearance in a manner she believes will visually reflect her newfound status as a dyke, Ariel demonstrates that she wants her sexu ality to be visible to others. In many respects, Potential locates a provocative tension between the visible and the speakable as it raises epistemological questi ons about sex. Although Ariel embraces her dyke identity, the narrative illustrates a number of sexual conflicts that ar ise for her because she is still grounded in a heteronormative view of what cons titutes real sexnamely, penetrative vaginal intercourse. When she begins dating Sally Jults, Ariel questions her art teacher and dyke role model, Ms. Salt, about sex with a tentative a nd confusedbut two girl s cant have sex ? [emphasis in the original] (61). Ms. Salt explai ns that sex can be lo ts of things, it can be whatever you want (62). But Ar iel remains unsatisfied, arguing no see thats exactly what I dont want, there has to be a defini tion. Its not fair that straight people get a definition and we dont! [emphasis in the original] (62). Ariel seeks out a teacher, as institutional figure of authority, to give her a definition for lesbian sex. At the same time, because Ms. Salt is viewed as a queer adult role model, Ariel hopes to ga in the kind of knowledge about sex between women that continues to elude her. However, rather than offering a definitive answer, Ms. Salts response reflects a queer understand ing of sex that is heterogeneous and open to many different possibilities. This proves frus trating for Ariel, who wants a definition that parallels the
117 specificity of the institutionally -sanctioned understanding of hete rosexual sex. As Rachel P. Maines makes clear in The Technology of Orgasm there is a cultural a nd institutional tendency to define sex in phallocentric terms that priv ilege penetrative intercourse: The androcentric definition of sex as an activity recognizes thr ee essential steps: prep aration for penetration ('foreplay'), penetration, and male orgasm. Sexual activity that does not i nvolve at least the last two has not been popularly or medi cally (and for that matter legally) regarded as 'the real thing' (5). Erotic acts that fall outsi de these parameters are often trea ted and perceived as less sexually authentic. Not surprisingly, therefore, Ariel in itially has trouble viewing sex between women as the real thing. Even though Ms. Salt helpfully tries to explain different ways that women can have sex with other women, Ariel remains skepti cal about the authenticity of these acts. Ariels confusion about lesbian sex conti nues throughout the narrative, revolving more specifically around her knowledge and understanding of her and Sallys differing sexual needs. During their conversation with Ms. Salt about lesbian sex, Ariel and Sally both demonstrate the limits of their knowledge about one another. In this scene (Figure 3-18), Schrag produces a noticeable tension between the speakable and the visible when Ms. Salt as ks the girls, Well dont you guys know when other has come or not? In response to this question, both Ariel and Sally are illustrated looking away from one anothe r in guilty silence. Schrag effectively reveals the tension of this moment by highlighting the girls apprehensive body language and the momentary break in conversati on. The knowing and embarrassed look they share demonstrates that that they cannot tell whether they are helping each other achieve orgasm during sex. However, their awkward silence shows that desp ite this awareness both girls are unable or unwilling to put their dissatis faction into words.
118 As her relationship with Sally progresses, Ar iel finds it increasingly difficult to speak her desires. Although Ariel has decide d she is only attracted to girl s, Sally expresses fluctuating interest in both men and women. This conse quently gives Ariel cons iderable anxiety about whether she is adequately pleasing her. Lying alone in bed one night, she recalls a passionate kiss she and Sally shared, fantasizin g about it as she leis urely begins to masturbate (Figure 3-19). However, her fantasy is suddenly disrupted when she realizes that while sh e is perfectly satisfied with the erotic gratification she experiences just from sharing a kiss, she is not sure if that is enough for Sally. Ariel believes that if Sally li kes having sex with boys then this would mean, no matter how good the kiss was or how much she [Sa lly] enjoyed it there wa s still that ultimate potential she could fulfill with boys and no way she could get there with me (112). Ariels feelings of sexual inferiority make her strive even ha rder to to get [Sally] o ff for fear that if she does not then she will lose her (112). However, in large part, Ariel seems to think that her inability to bring Sally to orgasm is due to the fact that she does not have a penis. This is most clearly illustrated in the pane l in which Ariel imagines, via mental thought balloon, Sally having sex with her previous boyfriend. She even goes so far as to imagine his penis inside Sallys vagina, which is represented in a crude drawing of disembodied genitals framed by the words perfect fit (Figure 3-20). In this scene, Schrag effectively conveys the cultural primacy of the penis as symbol of (hetero)sexual power and agency that works to negate the vagina as a passive organ waiting for penetration. The following pane l reinforces this notion as Ariels mental fantasy is removed from the frame and her face is highlighted insteadher features grotesquely distorted as she agonizes over what Sallys intere st in boys might mean. She tries to rationalize Sallys possible desires for sex with a man, telling herself and she should want it because thats really what is natural and biology says so and if she thinks about his hard dick between
119 her legs than [sic] thats just natura l and natural select ion is the production and I cant do that at all! [emphasis in the original] (111) As this inner dialogue reve als, Ariel still attributes the ability to achieve orgasm with the penis and, si nce she does not have one, remains convinced that she cannot give Sally the same level of gratificati on she mythically ascribes to the penis. At the same time, Ariel mimes heteronormative discou rse about the naturalness of heterosexual desire, seeming to imply that at least unconsci ously she associates he r queer desires with unnaturalness. Although she attempts to initiate sex with Sa lly on numerous occasions, Ariels efforts become increasingly unsuccessful as Sally starts to rebuff her advances with obvious disinterest. The disintegration of their relationship begins to manifest itself metaphori cally in Ariels sudden preoccupation with what she calls her clothes imbalance (131) when she starts to feel as if none of her attire fits or coor dinates properly. Unable and unsu re how to directly face the problems she and Sally are having, Ariel becomes obsessed with what she perceives to be an imbalance in her clothing (Figure 3-21), spending a lot of time and en ergy trying to fix the problem. Her misdirected behavior acts as a co ver for the problems in her relationship with Sally that she is afraid to address. As she e xplains, the attainment of balance had become not only a priority but a necessity th at intruded on all else, without it, casuality [sic] and productivity were a joke (131). Fixing the balance of her attire, however, does not prove to be helpful in solving her bigger relationship probl ems. In part, Ariels inability to confront problems in her relationship stems from her overly dependent ne ed for Sally. As a queer youth living in an increasingly dysfunctional family, Ariel seeks to escape the tension her parents impending divorce has created in their hous ehold by turning to Sally for comfort and reassurance. Unfortunately, Sally has her own problems, most specifically her consiste nt sexual confusion and
120 erotic disinterestedness, and is unable to fulfill Ariels fantasy for an idealized and harmonious relationship. Potential does not end with a happily-ever-after scenario. Instead, the conclusion of the narrative intersects with the end of Ariel a nd Sallys relationship. Fo r Ariel, this ending is marked by ambivalence. While sad that there is no more potential for he r and Sally, Ariel also feels a sense of freedom and liberation from th e emotional trauma their relationship created (224). In this sense, Potential suggests idealized visions of ro mantic love obscure the often painful actualities of real relationships which do not always succeed. Although the potential between her and Sally has ended, the narrative seems to suggest that there is more potential awaiting Ariel in the future as she c ontinues to pursue the desires she no longer feels conflicted or guilty about. Indeed, at the end, Ariel finally comes to the realization that she is the only one who is capable of finding and achievi ng happiness for herselfand that happiness, Schrag suggests, is one that is not ne cessarily dependent upon another person. Conclusion While the three graphic novels ex am ined in this chapter repres ent lesbian life and love in very different ways, they are part of a growing and diverse body of lesbian comics that provide queer perspectives on love that resist romantic normativity. At the same time, these texts reflect the creative approaches female comics artists are taking to explore the sexual and somatic politics of representation at the interstices of romance and other genres. The subjective realities and fantasies at the heart of these comics hold even more potency for the ways in which they confront issues of lesbian visibility in the medium of comics and in the ro mance genre at large. The visibility of lesbian bodies, de sires, and lives in these comics works to counter the ways in which they are, as Terry Castle puts it, 'ghoste d'or made to seem invisibleby culture itself (Castle 4). Hernandez demonstrates the power of an oppositional female gaze in the visual
121 representation of lesbian desire, while simultaneously emphasizing the political and sexual agency at stake in the tension between reve aling and concealing lesbian bodies. Coovers contrastingly explicit text presents vivid images of lesbian bodies and lesbian sex in order to deliberately deconstruct heterosexist assumptions about female sexuality and offer an alternative view of lesbian sexuality that is more interest ed in woman-centered pleasurable possibilities than circumscribed and often phallic erotic limitations Schrags autobiographical narrative pushes at the boundaries between fantasy and reality in order to consider the danger s of utopian romantic visions that privilege the ha ppily-ever-after ending, ultimately suggesting that happiness is much more dependent upon achie ving subjective understanding of and autonomy over ones own self than in being with anothe r person. All three texts open up new and exciting terrain for expanding romance scholarship in order to begi n conceptualizing and assessing queer womens experiences in culture in ways th at do not render them invisible as romantic desiring subjects and as readers and writers of queer romance.
122 Figure 3-1. Amy and Temper in the train car. Clockwork Angels Image Comics. 1999 Lea Hernandez. Page 37.
123 Figure 3-2. Amy watching a man hitting on Temper. Clockwork Angels Image Comics. 1999 Lea Hernandez. Page 8.
124 Figure 3-3. Tempers flashback co nversations with her mother. Clockwork Angels Image Comics. 1999 Lea Hernandez. Page 15.
125 Figure 3-4. Temper lying drugged a nd unconscious in her wedding dress. Clockwork Angels Image Comics. 1999 Lea Hernandez. Page 30.
126 Figure 3-5. Ominous imager y of the church steeple. Clockwork Angels Image Comics. 1999 Lea Hernandez. Page 31.
127 Figure 3-6. Temper and Amy become sexually intimate. Clockwork Angels Image Comics. 1999 Lea Hernandez. Page 82.
128 Figure 3-7. Temper experi encing sexual pleasure. Clockwork Angels Image Comics. 1999 Lea Hernandez. Page 83.
129 Figure 3-8. Temper and Amy sh are a kiss under the night sky. Clockwork Angels Image Comics. 1999 Lea Hernandez. Page 101.
130 Figure 3-9. Annie being chastise d for masturbating too often. Small Favors Girly Porno Comic Collection: Book One EROS Comix. 2002 Colleen C oover & Paul Tobin. Page 16.
131 Figure 3-10. Nibbil enjoying a nipple fuck. Small Favors Girly Porno Comic Collection: Book One EROS Comix. 2002 Colleen C oover & Paul Tobin. Page 18.
132 Figure 3-11. Nibbil gives new meani ng to the idea of penetrative sex. Small Favors Girly Porno Comic Collection: Book One EROS Comix. 2002 Colleen Coover & Paul Tobin. Page 100.
133 Figure 3-12. Nibbil hams up the role of the romance heroine in distress. Small Favors Girly Porno Comic Collection: Book One EROS Comix. 2002 Colleen Coover & Paul Tobin. Page 51.
134 Figure 3-13. Alpha Annie to the rescue. Small Favors Girly Porno Comic Collection: Book One EROS Comix. 2002 Colleen C oover & Paul Tobin. Page 52.
135 Figure 3-14. Annie and Nibb il demonstrate their love. Small Favors Girly Porno Comic Collection: Book Two EROS Comix. 2004 Colleen C oover & Paul Tobin. Page 82.
136 Figure 3-15. Ariel is confr onted by naked fantasy girls. Potential. Slave Labor Graphics. Ariel Schrag. Page 2.
137 Figure 3-16. Ariel starts to wonder if she is only attracted to girls. Potential Slave Labor Graphics. Arie l Schrag. Page 3.
138 Figure 3-17. Ariel makes her newly proc laimed identity as a dyke visible. Potential Slave Labor Graphics. Arie l Schrag. Page 9.
139 Figure 3-18. Ariel and Sally express c onfusion about lesbian sex to Ms. Salt. Potential Slave Labor Graphics. Ariel Schrag. Page 63.
140 Figure 3-19. Ariel experiences mixed pl easure and anxiety as she masturbates. Potential Slave Labor Graphics. Ariel Schrag. Page 110.
141 Figure 3-20. Ariel mentally confronts the primacy of the penis in heteronormative culture. Potential Slave Labor Graphics. 997 Ariel Schrag. Page 111.
142 Figure 3-21. Ariel becomes obsessed with a perceived imbalance in her clothing. Potential Slave Labor Graphics. 1997 Ariel Schrag. Page 131.
143 CHAPTER 4 GET YOUR (FANTASY) FR EAK ON: CONF ESSIONAL DI SCOURSE, TRAUMA, AND AMBIVALENT DESIRES IN THE EROTICA OF ZANE For both women and men, Western social thought associates Blackness with an imagined uncivilized, wild sexuality and uses this associ ation as one lynchpin of racial difference. Whether depicted as freaks of nature or as being the essence of nature itself, savage, untamed sexuality characterizes Western representations of women and men of African descent. (27) Patricia Hill Collins, Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism The confession was, and still remains, the general standard gove rning the production of the true discourse on sex. (63) Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality: Volume One As one of the top-selling authors of African-A merican erotica, the pseudonymous Zane is a compelling example of a writer at the margins who broke into the mainstream via the circulatory powers of online publics. Original ly writing erotica stories as a le isure activity, Zane decided to make her work available on the Web in order to sh are her stories more eas ily with a network of personal friends. Almost overnight, and quite une xpectedly, her website had received thousands of hits and countless requests for more storie s from readers she had never met or expected.1 Zanes experience is a clear example of what Henry Jenkins has labeled convergence culture at work in the twenty-first centur y. Media convergence, according to Jenkins, means the flow of content across multiple media platforms, the c ooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who w ill go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they want ( Convergence Culture 2). Jenkins is careful to 1 In the Acknowledgements section of The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth Zane explains this occurrence: I wrote my first erotic story in November 1997 and never intended for more than two or three people to ever read it. The exact opposite happened. Everybody read it! Before I knew it, I began to receive numerous e-mails from people wondering if I had written anything else. Within a few days, I completed three other stories and placed them all the Web. Within three weeks after that, my site had accumulated more than eight thousand hits. Needless to say, I was shocked. (xi)
144 emphasize that much of this convergence is pred icated first and foremost on consumers active participation rather than on old models of pa ssive media spectatorship (3). Zanes rapid transition from obscurity as amateur erotica writer to mainstream, best-selli ng author occurred in large part due to the processes of convergence th at Jenkins describes. Accordingly, when Zane first published her stories on her website, they quickly circulated beyond the intended private space of an intimate circle of friends to a wider amorphous public of unknown online readers as a result of the rapid exchange of online information through non-commercial viral marketing2 and textual circulation. One of Zanes professed objectiv es is to promote, via her writing, a sexual politics that enables a woman to do whatever she wants [sexua lly] as long as it is not illegal and does not harm or infringe on the rights of someone else (The Sex Chronicles xii). I would argue, however, that her erotic a has a difficult time negotiating a radi cal sexual politics. As one might expect, promiscuity and hyperbolic sexuality, as ke ystones of the erotica genre, are central to Zanes work. In many respects, these narrative conventions serve as th e obligatory motivation for myriad sexual encounters between characters in the novels. At the same time, however, hypersexual desire and sexual exce ssalthough portrayed as hot fantasies in the context of the sex scenes themselvesultimately become pathologi zed in the resolution of the narratives as a whole. Consequently, Zanes erotica exhibits a marked ambivalence towa rd its ideal of sexual liberation and its desire to demythologize long standing cultural disc ourse that conflates blackness with deviant sexual excess. In order to examine these inherent tensions within Zanes erotica, this chapter fo cuses on two of her novels Addicted and Nervous that encapsulate 2 Jenkins defines viral marketing as forms of promotion that depend on consumers passing information or materials on to their friends and families ( Convergence Culture 294).
145 these conflicting attitudes in their discourse a bout the sex that female characters want, and the sex they think they should be having. Addicted and Nervous locate a vision of black female desire that allows for erotic transgression in the realm of fant asy but cautions black women against acting upon desires that threaten the heteronormative para digms of monogamy, family, and tr ue love in their real lives. Those sexual desires that trouble such paradigms are marked by the texts as freakya term that comes to connote both fear and desire, a nd which in my reading becomes closely aligned with the theoretical conception of queer.3 Paradoxically positioned as both desirable and loathsome, freaky sexuality becomes the nexus around which the na rratives build their unresolvable ambivalence toward sexual transgre ssion. Ultimately, the novels try to mediate these contradictory sentiments by employing a confessional framework that simultaneously titillates while working to absolve the main ch aracters feelings of guilt for their perceived deviant sexual actions by explai ning away their desires and actions as the result of trauma. In this regard, the fantasy of black female desire located in these tw o novels is one that attempts to reconcile the transgressive with the normative by psychologizing deviancy as a sickness that can be cured with the help of a medical professionaland for the main characters of these novels, the desire to be cured eventually ove rwhelms the transient pleasures achieved through their freaky sexual escapades because it promis es them entrance into or return to the romanticized realm of heterosexual monogamy and tr ue love. As a result, although classified as erotica, these two novels follow a trajectory ak in to that of popular romance fiction by privileging sexual fantasies and de sires that remain confined to monogamous heterosexual lovers 3 In the context of this chapter, I am invoking Judith Halberstams articulation of queer in In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives as referring to nonnormative logics and organizations of community, sexual identity, embodiment, and activity in space and time (6 ). For Halberstam, thinking about concepts of queer time allow for new ways of understanding the nonnormative behaviors that have clear but non essential relations to gay and lesbian subjects (6).
146 and pathologizing those desires and acts which occur outside of the socially acceptable confines of normativity. Thus, although the novels certainly branch out from the romance genres generally tame sexual allowances to explore the more taboo pleasures of masturbation, oral and anal sex, as well as bondage and submissionthey still try to argue that these experiences are most gratifying, safe, and socially acceptable when had with a monogamous and loving heterosexual partner. However, I would argue that the consistent ambi valence toward the frea ky within these novels does not completely disappear in the final resolu tion of the narratives, but lingers to haunt the margins of the texts as a source of continued if vexed desire. Consequently, the confessional framework that organizes Addicted and Nervous paradoxically works to uphold taboos while never managing to eradicate the desire to transgre ss such boundaries, even if only at the level of discourse or fantasy. In a de monstrable instance of media convergence, however, the sexual discourse of Zanes novels does not remain confined to the texts but in stead spills over into online spaces, most specifically on Zanes blog where she dispenses sexual advice to many of her readers. Thus, the final section of this chapter will consider how Zane employs a confessional framework similar to that depicted in her novels and wrestles with many of the same ambivalences toward non-normative transgression in her online (and public) communication with readers. Romance, Pornography, and Black Sexual Politics Before analyzing Zanes novels, it is necessary to first cons ider their positioning as erotica texts in the oppositional spectrum of romance and pornography. While I have already addressed several specific ways in which th e boundaries between romance and pornography are
147 and have always been constructed and notional,4 I have not yet considered where erotica fits in this dialectic. Often viewed as a more explicit sub-genre of romance, and alternately as a more artistically acceptable versi on of pornography, eroticas limina l position reveals many of the paradoxes behind rigidly separating such genres As discussed in the Introduction, some romance scholars have argued the ways in whic h female readers voice a gendered distinction between romance as feminine genre and pornogra phy as masculine genre (Radway 83). In part, this stance was adopted by some romance readers to distinguish between the emotional emphases on love and mutuality believed to be essential to romance, versus the male-centered fantasies of female sexual subordination perceived as hallmark s of mainstream pornography. In this respect, pornography became the obscene genre from which roma nce tried to separate itself in an effort to resist similar cultural debasement and gain stronger academic and popular legitimization. Similar articulations reappear in the categorical debates surr ounding erotica and pornography. In At Home with Pornography: Women, Sex, and Everyday Life Jane Juffer sums up how the erotica/porn distinction remains partially based on aesthetic claims that erotica is complex, concerned with developing characters and plots in a manner that shows the struggle between mind and body, eventually resolving it; pornography is predictable, stock, concerned solely with bodies and penetration (114). On the one hand, this classificatory distinction is also fundamentally tied to a persistent social a nd cultural legitimization of the literarybroadly definedas juxtaposed to the threat of the image (Juffer 104). The printed word can be artistic, even when describing explicit sex, but the porn ographic image is far more threatening and worrisome.5 While this has severely limited access and di stribution of sexually explicit images, it 4 See Chapter Three 5 See chapters Three and Five
148 has alternatively enabled print literature to push the boundaries of soci al acceptability in a medium that remains widely available to most readers.6 As a liminal genre, erotica often incorporates elements attributed to romance and to pornography in ways that illustrate how problematic separating such categories proves to be. The production of erotica by and for black women, however, necessarily faces a history of racist and primitivist discourse that has constructed negative stereotypes about black hypersexuality. Indeed, as Pa tricia Hill Collins notes in Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism black people carr y the stigma of promiscuity or excessive or unrestrained heterose xual desire. This is the sexua l deviancy that has both been assigned to Black people and used to construct racism (97). Attempting to re-imagine black sexuality within the genre of erotica may seem like something of a Catch-22. As a literary medium predicated on sexual excess there is no r eal way to escape such tropes and still meet the general expectations of the genre. Yet erotica, by virtue of its anticipated content, can become a space in which to explore, question, and conceptua lize sexual fantasies, desi res, and identities in radical and innovative ways. Hill Collins argues that reclaiming black sexuality is not only necessary to subvert mainstream cultural repres entations, but also to interrogate some of the internalized racism within the political sphere: Sexualized Black bodies seem to be everywhe re in contemporary mass media, yet within African American communities, a comprehens ive understanding of sexual politics remains elusive. In a social context that routinel y depicts men and women of African descent as the embodiment of deviant sexuality, African American politics has remained curiously silent on issues of gender and sexuality. (35) 6 My assessment remains limited to the context of the United States, in which many books with sexually explicit content are available to readers for purchase in major retail bookstores or loan through extensive public library systems.
149 Zanes work registers a palpable awareness of th is silence, especially as it relates to African American women, and struggles to challenge imposed boundaries of normativity while also resisting racial stereotypes. However, it is in the tension between reality and fantasy that Zanes work expresses its deepest ambivalence on these issues. Thus, although Jane Juffer argues that literary erotica has provided a way for women to explore, under the le gitimating auspices of aesthetic discourse, the many different ways to reconcile reality and fa ntasy, the everyday and the erotic (105), the ambivalent resolution of Zanes erotica nove ls demonstrates the impossibility of regulating reality and fantasy, instead implying that freaky desires in particular refuse to be who lly contained or eradicated. I wish to take up this concept of the freaky at this point becaus e it becomes the crux of Zanes characters internalized conflict about what they per ceive to be their own deviant sexuality. As Patricia Hill Coll ins explains, the terms freak a nd freaky have had a long and rather vexed history in black cu lture, their sexual signification e xplored most commonly in music from Rick Jamess Superfreak to the more recent Get Ur Freak On by Missy Elliot. According to Hill Collins, the term freak came to permeate popular culture to the poi nt at which it is now intertwined with ideas about sexuality, se xual identities, and sexual pr actices. Freaky sex now consists of sex outside the boundaries of nor malitythe kind of kinky sexuality invoked by Rick James and other popular ar tists. As boundaries of race, gender, and sexuality shift, so do the meanings of freaky as well as the practices and pe ople thought to engage in them. The term initially invoked a sexual promiscuity associated with Blackness, but being freaky is no longer restricted to Black people (120-121). In Zanes novels, freaky becomes synonymous with the transgress ive and non-normativeand hence, in my reading, the queer. Yet, the text s are not entirely comfortable with the queer signification of freakiness, as they constantly distance themselves from and are drawn back to the pleasures freakiness offers while trying to resist longstanding disc ourses that conflate
150 blackness with primitivism and sexual deviance. In the end, Zanes texts use the framework of trauma and recovery to ultimately reject freakiness, albeit with lingering ambivalence. Sexual repression, but more particularly th e sexual repression of black women and the conflicting attitudes surrounding this issue, is at the heart of Zanes erotica.7 African American cultural critic Cheryl Clarke has identified sexual repression as a feature of American culture that takes on a different political and histor ical dimension for people of color: Like all Americans, black Americans live in a sexually repressive cu lture. And we have made all manner of compromise regarding our sexuality in order to live here. We have expended much energy trying to debunk the raci st mythology which says our sexuality is depraved. Unfortunately, many of us have overcompensated and assimilated the Puritan value that sex is for procreation, occurs only between men and women, and is only valid within the confines of hetero sexual marriage. Like ever yone else in America who is ambivalent in these respects, black folk have to live with the contradi ctions of this limited sexual system by repressing or closeting any other sexual/erotic urges, feelings, or desires. (The Failure to Transform 199) Clarke powerfully demonstrates the bind that is created when trying to achieve political and personal legitimization by resisting stereotypes that dehumanize, which in turn engenders a repression of desires or behavi ors that might reinforce such racist mythology. Clarkes invocation of closeting any non-heteronormative sexual/erotic urges, feelings, or desires (199) speaks very clearly to the history behind intertwined discourses of race and homosexuality in the United States. As Siobhan B. Somerville explains in Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture the formation of notions of heterosexuality and homosexuality emerged in the United States thro ugh (and not merely para llel to) a discourse saturated with assumptions about the racialization of bodies (4 ). Somervilles articulation 7 The first page of The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth opens with a dedication that speaks to female sexual inhibitions: Dedicated to all of the sexually uninhibited women in the world that are sick of being judged. People always lash out at that which they dont understand. Do not allow their fears to dictate the choices you make in your life. If we can free our bodies, then we can also free our minds.
151 underscores related claims made by both Hill Co llins and Clarkethat bl ack political focus on upholding and conforming to hete ronormative ideals has long b een an effort to distance blackness from deviance and its sexual significations of abnormality and excess. The psychic as well as physical traumas that racist discourse about sexuality has wrought continue haunt black sexual politics, reinforcing Ann Cvetkovichs idea in An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Public Cultures that as a name for experiences of socially situated political violence, trauma forges overt connections between politics and emotion (3). The need for more sustained and substantiv e exploration of black eroticism, although a subject of great disagreement in black nationalis t politics, is somethi ng upon which most black feminists agree. Significantly, many of these fe minist scholars argue th at black sexuality and black eroticism should be approached and conceptual ized with clear connections to romance. In The Black Romance, Belinda Edmondson identif ies a political connec tion with notions of community upliftment expressed in black romance that can foster intersecting discourse about erotic liberation, stating that r omantic stories in the black comm unity have always been about community uplift in their own way navigat[ing] the historic schism between agape and eros, social upliftment and sexuality (194). For Edm ondson, this literary tendency has often tried to separate sexuality from the politic al aims of equality. She goes on to suggest that, in fact, the erotic has often been treated as taboo and deleterious to the political efforts of black nationalism. Therefore, much like Clarke, she argues the need to break out of this self-imposed taboo in order to reclaim the erotic, and she considers romance as one of the most obvious and effective means of achieving this: Bl ack eroticism must be legitimated and mainstreamed in the black community by containing it within the black romantic tradition, by wedding itso to speakto the social ambitions of the black romance ( 194). On the whole, Edmondson sees productive
152 ways in which articulations of social upliftm ent and sexual liberation need not be mutually exclusive. In her reading, romance becomes a ge nre in which to better examine these ideas in dialogue with one another precisely because the erot ic has always already been present, if only at a subtextual level. Edmonsons argument in tersects with Cvetkovi chs ideas about the connection between politics and emo tion that manifest in the affect s of trauma and responses to it. Here, the traumas of racism affect not onl y black nationalist politics but also black sexual politics. Efforts to sanitize black sexuality that Hill Collins, Clarke, and Edmonson all discuss seem to reflect how the traumas of externaliz ed as well as interna lized racism and homophobia continue to affect visions of and possibilities for black eroticism. One might wonder, however, what particular appeal romance has over other genres or modes, especially since it ha s often been associated with upholding the gender status quo; I would posit, however, that in most feminist expl anations it is the direct emphasis on affect in romance that becomes the focal point of interest and possibility. Coming at these issues from a slightly different angle, Bell H ooks also argues the need for more representations of black sexuality as expressed through romance, but her rationale focuses more specifically on combating the problematic obj ectification of black women.8 In Selling Hot Pussy: Representations of Black Female Sexuality in the Cultural Marketplace, Hooks implies that one way to reject the wild woman pornographic myth of black female sexuality created by men in 8 Hill Collins also discusses the objectification of black bodies, but does not directly suggest that romance may have a politically effective impact on changing these tendencies. The history of she provides, however, is incredibly important in delineating the specifica lly sexual traumas of objectification that women of African descent experienced. She notes: The West African slave trade and Southern auction blocks treated both Black womens and mens bodies as objects for sale, yet women participated in sexual spectacles to a greater degree than did men, because Western ideas about women and femininity itself have long been more tightly wedded to ideas about womens physical beauty and sexual a ttractiveness. Like all women, Bl ack women were objects to be seen, enjoyed, purchased, and used, primarily by White men with money. African womens sexuality may have piqued the prurient interest of Western audiences, but African mens sexuality was seen as dangerous and in need of control. Live expressions of Black male sexuality needed to be hidden from White spectators, especially audiences that might contain White women (30-31).
153 white supremacist patriarchy ( 69) is to connect sexual pleasure with romantic love. She illustrates her point most clearly in a comparativ e analysis of Tina Turners song Whats Love Go To Do With It and the music of Aretha Franklin and Anita Baker. Hooks explains: Whats Love Got To Do With It sung by Turn er evokes images of the strong bitchified black woman who is on the make. Subordinating the idea of romantic love and praising the use of sex for pleasure as commodity exchange, the song ha d great appeal for contemporary postmodern culture. It equates pl easure with materiality, making it an object to be sought after, taken, acquired by any means necessary. (69) Hooks suggests that affect, in the form of romantic love, has a mo re subversive potential because it resists commodifying sex. Pleasure, instead of centering on the wants of the individual, is far more invested in egalitarian ideals of mutual exchange. Hooks s ideas echo earlier iterations from Audre Lordes famous essay Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power, in which Lorde distinguishes between th e erotic and the pornographic by arguing that pornography is a direct denial of the power of the erotic, for it repres ents the suppression of tr ue feeling. Pornography emphasizes sensation without feeling (54). Wh ile Lorde does not specif ically engage with romance or erotica as genres in her discussion, it is clear that she views affect as a fundamental dimension of the erotic and part of its subversive power. Lordes association between the erotic and affect re-emerges in Hookss discourse about black sexuality with a stronger emphasis on resist ing primitivist views of people of color. Hooks makes this most evident when she compares Ti na Turners song with the music of Aretha Franklin and Anita Baker: Contrasted with the representa tions of wild animalistic sexuality, black female singers like Aretha Franklin and younger contemporaries like Anita Baker fundamentally link romance and sexual pleasure. Aretha, though seen as a victim of nogood men, the classic woman who loves too much and leaves the lyrics to prove it, also sang songs of resistance. Respect was heard by many black folks, especially black women as a song of challenging black male sexism and female vi ctimization while evoking notions of mutual care and support. (69)
154 Hooks locates subversive possibili ties in these songs that link sexual pleasure with romance, even if the romance does not last, because they cr itique oppressive forces (often as the cause of romantic failure) and evoke egalita rian and feminist sentiments a bout love and desire predicated on mutual care and support. I bring up these tw o examples from Hooks because I think they appropriately reflect the competing sentiments to ward the erotic that are at stake in Zanes novels. On the one hand, many of the sexual scen arios depicted in the narratives evoke the rhetoric Hooks sees at work in Tina Turners song by subordinating the idea of romantic love and praising the use of sex for pleasure as comm odity exchange (69). Female characters often seek out sex for libidinal gratification and speci fically avoid romantic and emotional attachment for different personal reasons. At the same ti me, however, as the narratives develop these characters are revealed to stil l be yearning for mutuality that establishes a direct connection between romance and affect as leading to the ultimate fulfillment of erotic pleasure. The Confession, Trauma, and Mediating Queerness Addicted is the first novel in Zanes ongoing se ries that revolves around the different patients of the fictional African Amer ican psychiatrist Marcella Spencer.9 The narrative uses a first person point-of-view, which allows the main character, Zoe Reynard, to relate her problems with sexual addiction to Dr. Spencer. The conf essional mode, as employed in this novel, functions on two levels. On the one hand, Zoe is confessing to Dr. Spencer within the diegesis of the text so that she may decipher the truth be hind Zoes addiction and help her overcome it. At the same time, as narrator, Zoe is also c onfessing to the reader who becomes a privileged listener because she is, at leas t initially, allowed complete acc ess to Zoes actionsnot all of which are related to Dr. Spencer. In this sense, the novel is self-reflexively aware in the way it 9 In the introduction to Nervous Zane tells readers that this the second in a planned five-book series that features the psychiatrist, Dr. Ma rcella Spencer (xiv).
155 establishes a more intimate addr ess to the reader who, in turn receives the confession in a slightly different mannera point to which I shall return shortly. First, however, I would like to consider what Foucault says about the act of confession in The History of Sex uality: Volume One in order to better understand its function in Zanes novels. Foucault states: The confession is a ritual of discourse in whic h the speaking subject is also the subject of the statement; it is also a ritual that unfolds within a power rela tionship, for one does not confess without the presence (or virtual pres ence) of a partner who is not simply the interlocutor but the authority who requires the confession, prescribes and appreciates it, and intervenes in order to judge, punish, forgiv e, console, and reconc ile a ritual in which the expression alone, independently of its external consequences, produces intrinsic modifications in the person who articulates it: it exonerates, redeems, and purifies him; it unburdens him of his wrongs, liberates him, and promises him salvation. (62) In Addicted Dr. Spencer is the authorityread as institutionally sanctioned psychiatric professionaland interlocutor for Zoes confessi on. Zoe achieves a degree of relief in the telling of her story because she believes it wi ll be followed by psychiatric salvationnamely, a cure to her self-defined sex addiction. Significan tly, this ritual of discourse escapes the confines of the exchange between doctor and pati ent, as the reader also participates in the experience of confessional transmission as a virtual presence like that which Foucault describes. The confessional mode is by no means a new tech nique to be used in erotic texts. In Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible Linda Williams illustrates that the confessional style has long been an integral pa rt of pornographic litera ture: In eighteenthcentury pornographic works as diverse as Les bijoux indescrets Sades Philosophy in the Bedroom and Clelands Fanny Hill confessions of sexual pleasure are described with varying degrees of explicitness, but in every case the confession of the womans pleasure carries a special, socially satiric or socially subversive, charge (30-31). Such concentrated emphasis on womans confession of pleasure is significant, for as Williams later notes, in all forms of
156 pornography the vast majority of speaking has been by men. anyone who looked closely could always tell that these c onfessions [of female bodies] were written by men for men (229). Although Zanes Addicted also focuses on the womans confession, it is necessary to consider how it produces a more complicated meaning when written by a woman for women. Zane is not the first female erotica author to make us e of the confession, but the manner in which it structures the narra tives of her novels, Addicted and Nervous takes on a reflexive dimension that questions narrative conventions and social norms surrounding the articulation and pursuit of female sexual desires. Confession, especially of a sexual nature, is typically predicated on particular understandings of taboos and tran sgression. Let us first consider how this works in the double presence of both the fictional authority figure and the actual reader as recipients of the confession. The reader, who has purchased the te xt in all likelihood for the expected titillating pleasures it will provide as an erotica novel, is no t readily disposed to hear the confession in the same manner as the psychiatrist in the narrative. In poi nt of fact, the texts first person point-ofview, coupled with the primary function of the text as part of the erotica genre, seeks to position the reader to identify with Zoe, not Dr. Spencer Yet, in the process of reading the confession, readers are also able to shift identifica tionenjoying the titillating accounts of sexual transgression while also upholding the regulatory f unction of the institutional authority that Dr. Spencer embodies. In many respects, deriving pleas ure from the confession presented in a text relies upon an understanding of transgression si milar to that which Bataille presents in Erotism: Death and Sensuality when he argues: We must know, we can know that prohibitions ar e not imposed from without. This is clear to us in the anguish we feel when we are violating the taboo, especially at the moment when our feelings hang in the balance, when the taboo still holds good and yet we are yielding to the impulsion it forbids. If we obs erve the taboo, if we submit to it, we are no
157 longer conscious of it. But in the act of violating it we f eel the anguish of mind without which the taboo could not exist: th at is the experience of sin. That experience leads to the completed transgression, the successful transgression which, in maintaining the prohibition, maintains it in order to benefit by it. The inner expe rience of eroticism demands from the subject a sens itiveness to the anguish at the heart of the taboo no less great than the desire which lead s him to infringe it. (38-39) In other words, Bataille establishes a fundament al link between pain, guilt and pleasure in the process of transgression. On e must know and feel that they are doing wrong, even as they cannot resist the transgression, in order to derive a masochistic pleasure from it that also works to uphold the validity of the taboo that has been infringed upon. In Zanes novels, the confession seems to deliberately set itself up to appeal to the fantasies and desires of the reader herself. At the same time, however, they address potential an xieties and uncertainties about such desires and the pleasures they afford, especially if they requi re transgressing that wh ich one believes to be prohibited or taboo. Similar paradoxical functions have been attributed to the pop ular (heterosexual) romance genre, which erotica often overlaps and intersects with, in regard to the satisfactions it provides for readers. For instance, Modleski argues that female romantic fantasies presented in the genre can reveal the varied and complex strate gies women use to adapt to circumscribed lives and to convince themselves that lim itations are really opportunities ( Loving 38). For Modleski, interrogating the psychoan alytic import behind anxieties and fa ntasies in romance is required in order to explain why women are still requiring what Jameson calls the symbolic satisfactions of the texts instead of looking for real satisfactions (29). While I am less inclined to universalize about what such symbolic satisfactions might be or mean, I am far more interested in considering what is at stake when a genre like erotica, which straddles the divide between romance and pornography, can blur the lines betw een real and symbolic satisfactions.
158 For instance, Jane Juffer identifies the ma terial ways in which many women seek out erotic texts for educational reas onslooking to them to explain wh at is sexually acceptable, as well as for more practical strategies for appro aching sexand illustrates where tensions between reality and fantasy emerge: This negotiation between fantasy and reality becomes particularly complicated given the fact that many women reader s of erotica turn to this fictional genre for information about sex, indicating the hist orical investment in the se xological discourse of the 1970s (139). At the same time, erotica is often used as masturbatory aid for readers, something that occurs with romance narr atives as well, although the prev ailing tendency is to avoid discussing this. Stephanie Burley makes this clear in What's a Nice Girl like You Doing in a Book like This?: Homoerotic Reading and Popular Romance, when she illuminates the fraught connection between romance readi ng and physical self-pleasure: Even when specific physical effects are desc ribed by readers, as in pounding hearts and stomachs full of butterflies, the tendency is to turn a demurring eye away from the narrative of embodied physical pleasu re. Thus, while every issue of Romantic Times every romance web site, every cover of ev ery book is laden with sexual content, one important aspect of the sexual experience of reading romance, masturbation, is never mentioned overtly, except by criti cs of the genre who want to cast romance reading as an illicit, frivolous, or dirty activity. (136) Reluctance to discuss material sexual uses of romance texts suggests a certain scholarly discomfort with the overlap betwee n real and symbolic pleasures that can be derived from texts. Zanes erotica attempts to reconcile some of the cultural tension surrounding womens pursuit of real and symbolic sexual satisfactions in its use of the confessional mode to examine fantasy and reality. Zoes confession begins in a manner that sets out to titillate. She meets with Dr. Spencer for the first time claiming that she suffers from sex addiction/nymphomani a, already a clich of pornography, which is threatening to ruin her ma rriage and her life. From the outset, the narrative sets up the expecta tion of transgression in the form of adultery. Yet, these expectations
159 are temporarily thwarted when Zoe is asked to relate her story from the beginning and recounts how she first met and fell in love with her ch ildhood friend and eventual husband, Jason, rather than chronicling her adulterous escapades. This love story, which frames the first part of the novel, is one that does not fit c onventional romance expectations. Zoe is the heroine but she is also the sexual aggressor, while Jason instead tries to resist such temptations, wanting to wait until marriage before becoming sexually active. Although she and Jason discover the pleasures of heavy petting as teenagers, Zoes confession is largely marked by feelings of frustration and dissatisfaction as well as fears of abnormality. Zoes anxiety revolves primarily around the fact that, from the beginning, her sexual desires are more pronounced than her husbands. Sh e is the one who always initiates erotic play and soon begins to feel insecure about her sexual desires when she finds it difficult to gain reciprocation from Jason. After a long and fairly chaste adolescent courtship, Zoe is able to orchestrate their first experience with intercourse after the high school prom. Her account of this event is marked by a sharp contrast between fantasy and reality: The anticipation of making love for hours on end was overwhelming. I had waited so long for the moment to arrive and had envisioned it thousands of timesno, make that millions of timesin my mind. I was expecting us to explore every inch of one another with our hands and tongues, make love in every position known to man, and pass out from pure exhaustion. (82) Zoes mental fantasies about sex are characteri zed by the excess often at tributed to pornography, but at the same time they illustrate a desire for mutuality in achieving erotic pleasure. She is immediately jarred out of the realm of fantas y, however, by a far less pleasurable reality when she and Jason have intercourse for the first time. Rather than providing a titillating pornographic account, her narration resists pleasure for the reader in its visceral description of displeasure and disappointment: He stuck it in, and it hurt like all hell when my hymen broke. Two minutes and about thirty pumps later, he pulled it out, and I wanted to scream. I lay there, thinking to
160 myself, 'Is this all I get?' (83). Although Zoe is able to fulfill her wish to have sex with the man she loves, she ends up being completely dissatis fied and sexually unfulfi lled by the experience. She and Jason marry a short time later when Zoe unexpectedly finds herself pregnant as a result of their night together. The novel begins, therefor e, after the traditional point of closure in the romance and suggests that what happens after ma rriage in not always a utopian happily-everafter. While Zoe constantly reiterates to herself, and to Dr. Spencer, that she is in love with her husband and views him as the only man fo r her, she nevertheless spends many years experiencing a lackluster sex life because Jas on cannot bring her to orgasm. Although she tries to get her husband to be more adventurous in the bedroom, Jason refuses to experiment and Zoe begins secretly using sex toys and masturbating in private. Ev entually, however, compelled by sexual urges that are never quite fully satis fied, Zoe finds herself embroiled in three simultaneous affairs. As Zoes confession cont inues and moves into the present moment, it becomes clear that the disappointment and frus tration of her first sexual experience become recurring sentiments in her dysfunctional sex lif e with her husband; and the narrative suggests that these dissatisfactions are pa rt of what fuel Zoes growing obsession with sex, propelling her into extramarital affairs. Over the course of the novel, Zoe has severa l sessions with Dr. Spencer during which the details about two of her affairs come to light. Told in explicit detail Zoes confessed sexual escapades with the auto mechanic, Tyson, a nd the artist, Quinton, have the fantastical improbability of the pornographic to them insofa r as the characters coin cidentally meet, are immediately sexually attracted, and cannot resist giving into their uncontrollable desires. Zoes style of narration mirrors what Foucault describe s in the terms of the confessional exchange
161 between patient and psychoanalyst: It is no long er a question simply of saying what was done the sexual actand how it was done; but of reconstr ucting it, in and around the act, the thoughts that recapitulated it, the obsessions that accompan ied it, the images, desires, modulations, and quality of the pleasure that animat ed it (63). This is the kind of confession that the reader is expecting and which Dr. Spencer urges Zoe to give, frequently request ing more detail and description about the events she recounts, and consequently its pur pose in the novel is twofold. Intratextually, it provides the psychiatrist with the information she claims to need in order to understand and decipher the truth behind Zoes behavior so that she may be cured. Extratextually, it provides the reader with detailed pornographic accounts of Zoes sexual transgressions, which in this context are not so much meant to be deciphered as enjoyed for their transient erotic appeal. With Quinton and Tyson, Zoe is free to indulge in every sexual fantas y and desire she has ever hadand more to the point, she is able to achieve orgasm with them because they are willing to focus on her pleasure and experiment in ways her husband refuses. Early on, Zoe explains Jasons aversion to expe rimentation in bed during one of he r sessions with Dr. Spencer: Hes very old-fashioned and thinks a man shoul d have total control in the bedroom. Jason believes in very little foreplay. Hell only have sex with me in the missionary position. Hell only have sex with the lights off, and hes totally against oral sex. I brought up the subject of anal sex once, and he almost had a heart attack. (115) Jasons sexual prudery reflects a dystopian vision of the heterose xual and patriarchal procreative imperative. In contrast, it is only in her affair s that Zoe is able to act on and fulfill the sexual desires that her repressed husband had previous ly denigrated as sl utty and freaky. Addicted takes an ambivalent perspective on freakin ess in relation to sexual fantasies and acts. On the one hand, when Zoe embraces her freaky side with her lovers she is able to achieve pleasure she never receives from the regimented sex she has with her husband. With the artist
162 Quinton, for instance, she experience s the joys of oral sex for the fi rst time. She confides to Dr. Spencer: I let that man feast on me for a good hour, and unfortunately, I loved every minute of it I couldnt imagine cumming as many times b ack to back as I did. I lost count somewhere after twenty. Every time I tried to pull awa y, he would pull me back down toward him, whispering things like, 'Give me my pussy!' a nd 'Damn, you taste delicious!' (132). Zoe is mesmerized not only by the immense polyvalent pl easure of the sexual act itself, but the full reciprocation of her desire by a man who does not s ee her interest in oral sex as abnormal. In a similar fashion, in her relationship with the auto mechanic Tyson, she learns that she enjoys rough sex with elements of do minance and submission: I grabbed his face with my hands and slipped him the tongue. It was a brief, rough kiss, but I was in the mood for something rough for a change. When he came up for air, I instructed him, Rip my pantie s off! He spread my legs open and went to work on my pussy. Tysons technique was different than Quintons. He bit on my clit, and while it was painful, it made me cum almost immediat ely. I was discovering yet another part of my sexual desires I never knew existed. I discovered I liked it rough. (177) Although the affairs allow her to explore these desires, which he r husband previously labeled as freaky, Zoes pleasure is disr upted by guilt and fear about the consequences of her actions. Freaky takes on a signification synonymous with theoretical c onceptions of queer, denoting transgression as Hill Collins suggests, out side the boundaries of normality (120). Addicted displays a clear tension between a desire to embr ace freakiness and fulfill sexual fantasies that transgress the norm, and the desi re to conform to a romanticized vision of love, monogamy, and adult responsibility. While Zoe experiences great pleasure during her freaky sexual escapades, which are rendered in a manner seeking to tit illate the reader as well, she nonetheless always feels guilt and anxiety over her actions after the fact because they threaten the stability of her marriage.
163 Describing her conflicting fee lings after becoming sexually involved with Quinton, Zoe emphasizes pleasure and fear about her sexual excess: The next six months were filled with c onfusion, guilt, and a newfound sexual freedom. Quinton took me to heights I had never known physically, and frankly, I became a nymphomaniac. There werent enough hours in the day to have sex, and when I wasnt with Quinton and Jason was ignoring me as usual, I began to masturbate ten times more than usual. My obsession with sex was getting way out of hand, but it was beyond my control. (154) Zoes hyperbolic insatiability tips over into the realm of excess and makes it difficult for her to reconcile her roles as wife and mother with her ever-present and increasingly dominant libido. Consequently, she tries to separa te these roles and live two live s at oncethe chaste wife and mother at home, and the sexually adventurous fr eak in secret: I had endured a rough day at the office, and I figured a round or two of hellif ied sex was just what the doctor ordered. My game plan was to swing by the loft, get my freak on with quickness, and head on home for a night of videos and microwave popcorn with th e gang (169). These efforts at separation, however, prove impossible to uphold indefinitely and Zoes fears about her husband discovering her infidelity become more pronounced. At the same time, despite her frenzied extramarital affairs, Zoes feelings of love toward her husband do not change; if anything, they become even more pronounced. As Zoe explains to Dr. Spencer and the reader numerous times, I st ill loved my husband more than life itself, and he was the only man I ever truly wanted (188). However, she painfully admits that her sexual desire for him never seems to be equally reciprocated, stating: All I ever wanted was for one man to love me, and he does love me. He has loved me all my life. Whenever Jason and I make love, it is like winning the lottery to me, but at the same time, it almo st feels like he is just doing me a fuckin favor (194). What Zoe truly wants, as expressed here, is a unification of romantic love and sexual desire in her re lationship with her husband. Love as affect is not enough. She
164 realizes that she also needs bodily affection a nd the fulfillment of sexual pleasure. Even while having sex with her lovers, she fa ntasizes about achieving this w ith her husband, explaining: I would keep my eyes closed the majority of the ti me I was with any of them, imagining that their hands and tongues and dicks and ot her body parts really belonged to Jason, the only true love I had ever known (226-227). Zoe s confession to Dr. Spencer at th is moment tries to absolve the guilt she experiences in transgressing the bounds of marital fidelity by claiming that even though she was having sex outside of marriage, in truth she really wanted to be having sex with her husband. This explanation, however, falters to some extent when the reader learns about Zoes hidden third affair. While Zoes confessions regarding her se xual relationships with Jason, Tyson, and Quinton are told in explicit detail one of her affairs remains secr etive and never fully explained. Although Dr. Spencer and the reader are aware that Zoe has one ot her lover, the novel does not reveal this individuals identity until near the end. At this point, the reader learns that Zoe has in fact been having another affair with a neighbor of Quintons, a woman named Diamond. What is so intriguing and infinitely problem atic about this affair is the fact that it is the only one that is never fully disclosed to the reader, who up to th is point has had more intimate access to Zoes life than Dr. Spencer. The revela tion about Zoes third affair b ecomes the moment at which the queerly signified freaky sex that has been a con tinually vexed site of pleas ure, fear, and guilt in the novel transgresses into the re alm of same-sex desire. Although it is clear that Zoe tells Dr. Spencer the details about the affair, that actual confession is the only one not presented in the novel. Instead, Zoe merely summarizes what she tells Dr. Spencer in a reflective summary: I told her about the sexual experiences I had with Diamond after her continual insistence that I try bumping coochies. I told her how I didnt like it at all and never even touched Diamond but just let her touch me. I told he r how my need for affection had gone over the
165 edge and that I regretted that situation most of all, because I was not and had never been attracted to women (226). As this hasty explanation seems to imply, Zoe considers having sex with a woman to be the ultimate transgression of freakin essan erotic encounter that finally tips over into the realm of displeasure. More to the point, th e fact that this affar unlike the others is not illustrated for the reader with a corresponding sex scene, suggests that when queer desire manifests as same-sex desire it is not even viable as fantasy.10 Instead, the novel uses the revelation of Zoes involvement with Diamond as a pivotal turning po int at which to begin th e process of returning her character to the realm of normative sexuality ascribed to the domestic space of the home and marriage. In order to achieve this, Zoe must first c onfess her actions to Jason and then undergo hypnosis with Dr. Spencer and her colleague Dr. Grah am in order to uncove r the root or truth behind her compulsive sexua l behavior. It seems that her prec ocious sexuality and transgressive longings cannot be an inherent part of her erotic identity, but must instead stem from a trauma that has produced her freaky inclinations. In other words, the novel tries to contain Zoes desires under the guise of an abnor mality that can be medically deciphered and treated. Thus, it is only once Dr. Spencer explains Zoes actions to Jason that he is able to accept what has happened. Dr. Spencer convinces him that Zoe must be absolved of wrongdoing because she 10 I find this rejection of lesbian desire a salient point to consider in relation to the documented homophobia of much African American media and culture (Clarke; Hill Collin s; Hooks; Lorde; West). Black lesbian erotica is far less commercial than black heterosexual erotica. However, mainstream authors like Zane have the ability to change these circumstances. Indeed, although Addicted presents a far from supportive stance of same-sex desires, Zane recently edited and published the black lesbian erotica anthology Purple Panties in which she also contributes a story. This anthology has already sparked a great deal of online and public controversy. As Zane indicates in a bulletin on her Myspace page, several Afri can American and other bookstores that have carried her books in the past would not stock or hold book signings for Purple Panties This rejection seems to be primarily due to the lesbian content of the anthology, and the corresponding images of two partially nude black women embracing on the cover. Zane has voiced strong opposition about this homophobia in her online writing, arguing that love and desire are universal whatever a persons sexual orientation. It remain s to be seen how much of an impact this publication will have on expanding the variety of black erotica that is commercially available, but it is at least generating discussion among consumers as well as publishers.
166 had no control over her actions, which were fueled by psychic illness. He tells Zoe afterwards: We can get past this because I realize you didnt do it to hurt me, you didnt do it because you didnt love me, and I know you never loved any of them. When you told me you were sick that night, I didnt believe you. Now, after talking to the doctor, I do th ink you did all of those things for reasons beyond your control (246-247). This statement seems to echo Foucaults notion about the function of the authority to whom one confesses, namely the psychoanalyst: his was a hermeneutic function. With regard to the confession, his power was to constitute a discourse of truth on the basis of its decipherment (67). As Jasons earlier statement demonstrates, Zoes own confession to her husband remains suspect until Dr. Spencer (with the support of a male colleague) deciphers it in medicalized terms as the truth. Truth, however, takes on a troubling valence in the novels use of trauma to explain Zoes freaky desires. Toward the end of Addicted Zoe is made to go through regression hypnosis to uncover the root of he r sexual problems. When she comes out of the hypnosis she learns that she has revealed a repressed memory of a time during her childhood when she was molested by several neighborhood teen agers. Once this truth has been excavated from Zoes mind, Dr. Spencer believes that Zoe is finally ab le to begin the healing process necessary to recover from her sexual addiction and be reunited with her husband, who in tu rn resolves to deal with his own sexual hang-ups so that they may both begin developing a sexual partnership based on mutual pleasure. Foucaults explanation of the medicalization of th e effects of confession, seems to be at work here: Spoken in time, to the proper party, and by the person who was both the bearer of it and the one responsible for it, the truth healed (67). While I do not want to discount the very real ways in which sexual trauma affects indi vidual sexuality, and how therapy can assist survivors in dealing with its effects, I do want to question how and why trauma is
167 invoked at the end of this novel to explain and pathologize non-normative desires. The experience of trauma is hastily introduced a nd then quickly dropped as Zoe and her husband reunite and work on fixing their marriage. At th e end of the narrative, Zoe reveals that she is continuing her therapy and has joined a Sex Addict s Anonymous program to deal with her sexual addiction. Zoes freaky desires do not simply go away, but she tries to regulate and contain them through psychiatric counseling and a chan ging sexual partnership with her husband. Now that Jason is willing to experiment with her in bed, Zoe is supposedly able to relegate her sexual activity to the domestic confines of monogamous marriage once agai n. Yet, freaky desires and fantasies that question such para digms still linger in the margins of the novel in what it leaves concealedmost especially Zoes affair with Diamond. On the surface, this storyline might appear to be nothing more than a means of e xploiting readers homophobia to create a crisis point that moves the narrative to ward resolution. However, for a novel so invested in uncovering secrets and revealing truths the omission of any concrete details relating to Zoes affair with Diamond implies an instance of queerness that is not entirely subsumed within the narrative return to the status quo. Although this affair is ultimately path ologized in the novels resolution, it does open a space for readers to begin imagining their own queer truths about what this affair could mean. Nervous the second novel in Zanes ongoing series about the patients of Dr. Marcella Spencer, continues in the conf essional mode although under a s lightly different narrative structure. The fluctuating ambivalence toward freakiness and normativity expressed in Addicted takes on an even more se lf-reflexive dimension in Nervous which embodies these to opposing desires in the characters of Jonquinette and Jude. The novel opens with two epigraphs that encapsulate this dichotomy:
168 Life has never been what I expected. I onl y hope that one day I can live a normal one. --Jonquinette Life is a bitch and then you die. What more do you want, heifer? --Jude Jonquinette desires and aspires to ward achieving normativity in he r life, which th e novel later demonstrates she associates with heterosexual paradigms of monogamy an d marriage, while Jude conversely exhibits a nihilistic vi ew of life as she seeks out whatever transient pleasures she can find. Following these telling epigra phs, the novel opens with a chap ter previously published as a short story in The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth that inspired the longer novel, and which sets up the provocative context surrounding Jonquinette and Jude for the readernamely, the fact that they are both in fact the same person. Jonquinette, th e main protagonist, is a woman suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder (M PD). While the reader is aware of that Jonquinette and Jude are the same person, Jonquinette is not immediately cons cious of this fact. Although she has always been plagued by distur bing and unexplainable phenomena in her life, such as experiencing mysterious blackouts and being accused of alarming behavior she does not recall, Jonquinette so strongl y desires normativity that she fears acknowledging problems she deems abnormal. Eventually, however, she can no longer deny that she needs help and seeks the medical assistance of Dr. Marcella Spencer. Nervous situates the Jonquinette/Jude split as, on one level, an internalized struggle with the virgin/whore dichotomy. Jonquinette, wi th her rather essentialist desires for heteronormativity, is depicted as a very s hy and awkward woman who is extremely nervous about almost everything, including men. Jude is her alter-ego, a confident woman who knows what she wants and always gets it. As the reprinted short story that ope ns the novel demonstrates in its reflective flashback, Jonquinette and Jude share an uneasy coexistence:
169 I [Jonquinette] had managed to make it all the way through my high school and college years without a single boyfriend. But I was not a virgin by far. The weekends were her time. They were the times that SHE came out into the light. SHE was my wild side, the one who craved to be fucked. SHE was one who felt conversation was never needed, nor were games, because SHE knew within five mi nutes after SHE laid eyes on a man whether SHE wanted to fuck him or not I wanted to wait and give my virginity to the man I would ultimately marry. SHE, though, could not wait. (2) Jude rules Jonquinettes libido, enacting any and a ll fantasies or desires she has and ultimately treating sex with a level of calculating self-int erest and emotional detachment. Consequently, while Jonquinette dreams of roma ntic idealizations of courtship and marriage predicated on love, Jude seeks the transient erotic pleasures of anonymous sex with st rangers. Jude is always in control in these scenarios, as she chooses th e men she wants and seduces them, making them fulfill her desires. The sexualized opposition between Jonquinette a nd Jude hearkens back to the work of the most famous literary pornographer, the Marquis de Sade. In her brief, witty study The Sadeian Woman: An Exercise in Cultural History Angela Carter makes clear how the famous fictional sisters Justine and Juliette function in Sa des work. Justine is a gratuitious victim who clings to a notion of virtue that fails to do her any good: For Justines conception of virt ue is a specifically feminine one in that sexual abstinence plays a large part in it. In common speech, a bad boy may be a thief, or a drunkard, or a liar, and not necessarily just a womaniser. But a bad girl always contains the meaning of a sexually active girl and Justine knows she is good because she does not fuck. When, against her will, she is fucked, she knows she remains good because she does not feel pleasure. (Carter 47-48) In contrast, Justines sister Juli ette uses sexuality as terroris m in furthering her own personal agenda: She is rationality personified and l eaves no single cell of he r brain unused. She will never obey the fallacious promptings of her heart. Her mind functions like a computer programmed to produce two results for herselffi nancial profit and libidinal gratification (Carter 79).
170 Much like Sades Justine and Juliette, Jonquinette and her alter-ego Jude embody similarly contrary views of sex. Jonquinette believes in her own personal chastity, still considering herself a virgin who has never so much as dated a man, despite the fact that she somehow managed to break [her] hymen and even contract one venereal disease ( Nervous 50) while in college. Like Sades Justine, Jonquinette retains her own sense of virtue because she has no control over Judes actions, never remember s these sexual activities, and thus derives no pleasure out of them. Jude, on the other hand, reve ls in her sexuality and how it can be used to achieve personal satisfaction. Simila rly, like Juliette, she is calcula ting. Jude is driven primarily by the desire for libidinal gratif ication and the desire for cont rol, which become inextricably linked to her sexual needs. From the beginning, the novel sets up Jude as a strong, independent, and tantalizingly irreverent woman. Although Jonquinette is the one who perfor ms the more conventional confession throughout the novel in her sessions with Dr. Spencer, it is Jude who makes more direct appeals to the audience as she chronicles her sexua l adventures and her overall irritation with Jonquinette. For instance, the nove l sets up early on the fact that Jonquinette is a reclusive and socially awkward woman who lacks confidence in herself. After rejecting an offer from a female co-worker to go out to a club after work one ni ght, Jonquinette goes home and follows a static routine of eating a healthy dinne r, watching TV, showering, and r eading a book in bed. The next section opens with the words Two Hours Later, followed by and an italicized sub-heading indicating that Jude is now the narrator. The readers first direct introduction to Jude showcases her personality with catty humor and energy: What kind of boring sista falls asleep at ten-th irty on a Saturday night? Jon really needed to wake up and smell some strong-ass coffee. We were young, educated, and beautiful. But the way Jon dressed, which I hated, dete rred people from figuri ng out the beautiful
171 part. I was sick and tired of the ugly-ass, wi re-rimmed glasses. Id broken three pairs and Jon still hadnt taken the damn hint. (17) Jude critiques what she perceives as Jonquinettes frumpy style and ge neral lack of a social life. Her rant functions like a warped version of a pep talk as she identifies those attributes she believes Jonquinette should flaunt and feel c onfident about. Whenever Jude takes over the psychic reigns of control, she takes pleasure in being seductively dresse d, physically poised, and confident as she goes out into th e world and pursues her desires. In her erotic adventures, Jude embraces being a freak and promotes this as her primary sexual platform. She explains her philosophy to one of the men she accosts early in the novel: Yes, adventure. I enjoy sex in unusual places The possibility of getting caught, the thrill of someone else watching, ju st does something to me. He grinned. Sounds kinky. Im not kinky. Being kinky aint shit. Then what are you? I smirked. A freak. A nymphomaniac. A sex fiend. Can you handle that? (20) For Jude, being a freak is synonymous with hyperbolic se xual excess as well as with transgressive pleasure. She enjoys the thrill of having sex in public, of being of watched, and the danger of possibly being caught in the act. Behind these articulati ons, of course, is a level of narrative self-reflexivity that displays the nove ls awareness of the r eader who is already watching as a voyeur drawn in by the lure of the confessions incitement to discourse and the vicarious pleasure afforded in receiving des cription of the respective postures assumed, gestures, places touched, caresses, the precise mo ment of pleasurean enti re painstaking review of the sexual act in its ve ry unfolding (Foucault 19). Judes sexual agency revolves around taki ng control and wielding erotic power in a systemic heterosexist patriarchal world. For J ude, her sexuality becomes a weapon to use against
172 or manipulate men for her own gains. Her attitude mirrors, in part, what Angela Carter suggests is fundamental to the success of Sades Juliette: The life of Juliette proposes a method of profane mastery of the instruments of power. She is a woman who acts according to the precepts and also the practice of a mans world and she does not suffer. Instead, she causes suffering (79). While Carter would no doubt argue that Sade s politics are far more radical than Zanes, there is still a provocativ e similarity between how both authors characters operate. Jude is always in control of the sex that she has. Keenly aware of the heterosexist pornographic imaginary, Jude entices men with sexual provocations that speak to these trite fantasies. Yet, once she has lured them into a liaison, she is always the one who dominates and controls the encounter. In her quest for sexual gratification, Jude displays an almost clinical level of emotional detachment with her partners, as she has no interest in romance, love, or coupledom. Consequently, she allows men temporal access to her body but never to her mind. Jude prefers to keep her sex as anonymous as possible, always withholding her name from the men she fucks. She is driven purely by her libidina l desires and has no interest in what she deems to be useless, bullshit conversation: Do you want to fuck or talk? I asked nastily. Oh, I definitely want to fuck. Then shut the hell up! I took two steps back, released the button on my blazer, and let it fall to the ground. After I was topless, I inched my skirt up and slid my panties down over my hips. I couldnt see Campbells eyes but I could make out his silhouette. He came closer and tried to kiss me, but I stu ffed my panties into his mouth. Maybe now youll be quiet. I undid his belt and yanked it out of the loops of his pants, ran the end of it over his torso, and walked around him. Put your hands behind your back. Campbell followed my orders and I bound his wris ts with the belt. I walked back around to face him, undid his zipper, and lowered his pants around his ankles. I ran my fingers over his chest and pinched his nipple, damn near drawing blood. You ready for this?
173 He nodded and let out a muffled, Yes. Better be. (21-22) As this passage demonstrates, perhaps more than the sex itself, Jude derives satisfaction from being in control. The underlying tone of ero tic domination that marks this scene showcases Judes power and agency as she forces her partne r into submission to her. Campbell is rendered physically vulnerable as Jude gags and binds him. At the same time, by lowering his pants around his ankles, Jude enhances the physicality of his vulnerability by expos ing his genitals to her gaze and ultimately her sexual control. After having sex with Campbell, as with he r many other conquests, Jude discards him with palpable disinterestedness. When she re fuses to see him again, he cannot understand why: Why not? Campbell wanted to know. I dont have to explain myself to you. I la ughed in his face and started for my car. I felt like doing it, you looked enticing at the moment, you served your purpose, and now its over. Get a life! Campbell stopped in his tracks and yelled out, Bitch! I turned and leered at him. Im not your bitc h. If I were you, Id just walk away before you make me angry. Trust me. Yo u wont like me when Im angry. He must have taken my threat to heart b ecause he started speed-walking in the opposite direction. Good for him because I was serious as shit about it. I took no drama from anyone. Not even Jon, and if she really started tripping, she would have to find that out the hard way. (24) Judes indifference borders on contempt as she re jects Campbell, articulating a view of him as nothing more than a disposable commodity that she can discard once it has served its purpose. When Campbell responds in anger, she become s confrontational, threatening him with retaliation, and ultimat ely retains her position of control in the situation when he is the first to back down and leave. Jude is a character fille d with a great deal of rage, which this scene suggests is simmering just below the surface and r eady to erupt at any moment. It is noteworthy
174 that, after this argument with Ca mpbell, the narrative reveals ju st how well Jude can make good on her threats when it presents a flashback of Judes violent reta liation against a group of second grade girls who cruelly bullied J onquinette in school. In this flashback, Jude takes over to protect and avenge Jonquinette in a moment of extreme rage and violence when she corners the bullies in a bathroom and attacks them with a ceramic toilet top. This fl ashback is followed by several others in which Jude ta kes over at critical moments in the past when Jonquinette was threatened or mistreated by others. The reader quickly learns that desp ite her harsh criticisms against Jonquinette, Jude in fact acts as a prot ector personality. Jude is well aware of J onquinettes aspirations toward a heteronormative romance, however, she refuses to allow J onquinette to pursue a monogamous relationship. In the past, Jonquinettes overall timidity and insecurity created an effective barricade to such possibilities, but early in the novel Judes security is th reatened when Mason, J onquinettes new neighbor, arrives on the scene and begins courting her. Jude ponders this scenario, weighing Masons physical attractiveness against th e problematic consequences of allowing Jonquinette to become involved with him: Granted, the man looked good. Damn good. If I saw a brotha with honey-almond skin, hazel eyes, and dreads, someplace inconspicuous, it would definitely be on. But this Mason, hunk or not, lived right below us and th at shit was out of the question. No serious relationships. Just sex and I was the only one entitled to that. Jon was really tripping lately. First calling up that shrink bitc hs office. Now she was holding actual conversations with men. Something had to be done. Something would be done. Id worked too hard for control and Id do whatever it took to keep things just as they were. (45) For Jude, the fact that Mason lives in the same building is a threat to the anonymous distance she always imposes between herself and her sexual pa rtners. Similarly, the fact that Mason is interested in Jonquinette and be gins trying to woo her signals a threatening encroachment on physical and psychic terrain that she belie ves herself to be in control of.
175 Not surprisingly, therefore, Jude begins plot ting ways in which to sabotage their budding romance. When Mason comes to Jonquinettes apartment one night, Jude appears and regales Mason with her myriad tales of promiscuity and sexual excess until he leaves in anger and disgust. Jonquinette learns soon after the fact what Jude has done and tries to salvage the relationship by confessing her problem. Rigidly separating hersel f from Judes inclinations, Jonquinette explains that she was not the one who confronted Mason and that she wants to tell him the truth because of her feelings toward him: Im very serious. Im going to say what I have to say and then Im going to leave you alone. Im only confessing to all of this because I dont want you to misconstrue my actual feelings or think you did something to make me act as I have (180). Jonquinettes emphasis on affect, he r desire that her fee lings be understood and that Mason knows she was not trying to hurt his fee lings, illustrates her no tion of romance as tied to emotion. Her confessional disclosure, how ever, cannot seem to extricate itself from voyeuristic and libidinal significa tion. Toward the end of her story, Mason tells Jonquinette Even though you were acting raunchy and told me about fucking everything that moved, it was strange because I still wanted to be with you. It went against everything Ive ever believed in, but I still craved you (182). At this moment Mason implies a contradictory attraction and repulsion toward the sexually uninhibited Jude w ho functions as alter-ego to Jonquinettes more stereotypical embodiment of chaste femininit y. Mason asserts that he is going to help Jonquinette deal with her MPD, but his desire to do so does not seem entirely altruistic: We sat there in Masons car for a good while and I started telling him about all the childhood memories, or lack thereof, that I ha d. He was mesmerized and so was I. To think that he was still talking to me after wh at Jude had done was all I needed to know to make a final decision. Mason was the ma n for me. The only man for me. (182) Masons fascination with her story, in addition to his earlier claims of desire despite being repelled by Judes raunchy behavior, suggest that he has an em otional attraction to
176 Jonquinette, as an essentialized feminine figure, and a guilty libi dinal attraction to Jude, as a wanton self-proclaimed freak. Mason claims he is willing to accept this duality, but his almost voyeuristic mesmerization by Jonqui nettes confession brings into question his motives for doing so. Jonquinette, however, is so overwhelmed by his acceptance that she re gards it as the ultimate signal that he is the one she has been waiting forsomeone she can share her life and her self with. Shortly after this event, Jonqui nette and Mason consummate thei r love for the first time in a scenario that moves away from the transgressiv e sex depicted in Judes adventures and instead returns to the conventio ns of popular romance. In an ex tremely clichd moment, Mason wines and dines Jonquinette before taking her back to his place. As the culmination of his many romantic gestures that evening, he declares his love for her before they share a lengthy session of foreplay. Finally, after Mason ha s orally pleasured Jonquinette se veral times, they prepare to have intercourse: Are you ready? he asked me, positioning his dick between my legs. Ive waited all my life for this, I whispered in his ear. But I need to say something to you first. Whats that? I caressed his cheek. Im in love with you also. Do you really mean that, Jonquinette? Yes, I do. I really mean it. I never thought I would find love after all these years. Id given up. Youve made me believe that anything is possible. He kissed me on the lips. Anything is possible. Without saying another word to each other, Ma son entered me and we made love for the first time. I prayed it woul dnt be the last. (235-236) In contrast to the other sex scenes in this novel, which all revol ve around Jude, this scene ends with a fade to black as it conceals the details of the experience. The confessional re-telling of
177 this moment romanticizes making love with feeling by rendering the re st of this experience private, thus setting it apart from the other mo re pornographic scenes in the novel. At the same time, however, the rather conventional and c lichd description of Mason and Jonquinettes romantic dinner date and after-sex lacks the sa me impact that the full disclosure of Judes freaky escapades conveys, and thwarts th e more obvious expectations of pornographic titillation. Once again, as in Addicted the narrative ambivalence toward normativity and freakiness remains apparent and unresolved in this contrast. The novel concludes with a grand reveal c onfessional session, which uncovers the final truth of an underlying trauma that Jonquinette has repressed. Since Jonquinettes blackouts began in childhood, Dr. Spencer determines that her divorced parents must also be present at this session despite the tense relati onship Jonquinette shares with them. In contrast to Addicted Nervous presents this final confession from Dr. Spencers point of view Dr. Spencer feels certain that if she digs deep enough, she will be able to find and explain the cause of Jonquinettes Multiple Personality Disorder: It was time. I was determined not to let Jonquinette and her parents leave my office until I exposed the truth (263). Dr. Spencer makes good on this promise as she eventually draws out a third personality from Jonquinettes psyche, who refers to herself as Jetta. When Jetta appears, she reveals th at Jonquinettes father molested her as a child, and that she and Jude came in to being in order to safeguard and protect Jonquinette from harm. In the office, her fath er breaks down and admits that he did molest Jonquinette, and that he too ha d been molested as a child. When Jonquinette regains control after Jetta returns to the recesses of her psyche, she has difficulty believing that she was abused because she still does not consciously recall this trauma: Marcella, Momma, and I listened intently as he [her father] descri bed everything he had been through. He said it was a vicious cycle because his father, my grandfather, had been
178 molested by his own uncle as a child. I still couldnt imagin e not remembering the things my father related in that therapy session. How he would do things to me when Momma wasnt around, mostly when she was out spendi ng money on things we didnt need. (273) The exposure of a hidden trauma at the end of th is novel generates many of the same questions I posed earlier in regard to Addicted After being revealed as th e truth behind Jonquinettes MPD, the trauma of her molestation is once more pushed to the margins. Jonquinettes response to learning about her past is one marked by distance. She does not remember what happened and finds it difficult to believe the ver acity of Jettas uttera nce as well as her fathers own confession. She does come to acknowledge the truth of her trauma, which has been transformed into the discourse of others (Jetta and he r father), and tries to forgive he r father for what he has done. The rhetoric of forgiveness, in this contex t, becomes fundamentally associated with both the religious dimensions of c onfession and penance, and the medicalized understandings of confession and healing. By confessing his transg ressions, Jonquinettes father gains a certain degree of absolution from his daughter as well as from Dr. Spencer. In part, the novel suggests that his guilt is mediated by the fact that he t oo was a child victim of the kind of molestation he later perpetuated as an adult. Following his co nfession, Jonquinettes father asks for forgiveness and seeks psychiatric counseling. The abrupt manner in which Nervous introduces and tries to resolve Jonquinettes trauma at the end of the narrative is very similar to Addicted as it pathologizes Judes non-normative freaky desires and behavior by implying that they are an effect of trauma. Again, I do not wish to trivialize trauma but rather to question how its use in this novel, like the previous one, serves to argu e that freaky desires are only acceptable when they are the result of psychic illness and can be cured. In this respect, the novels locate a problematic correlation between trau ma and sexual perversity. I am inclined to agree with Ann Cvetkovich when she argues: I am especially wa ry of the pathologization of trauma because of its similarity to the pathologization of sexual perversity and sexual identities in the name of
179 constructing normative identities. The shared origin s of trauma and sexual identity in discourses of psychoanalysis suggest the link between the two (44-45). Zanes novels reinforc e this link in troublesome ways, suggesting a natura l inclination toward freaky se x on the part of characters would carry a more marked signification of abnor mality. However, the abrupt resolution of the recovered trauma and the cure to Jonquinettes MP D leave the reader with more questions than convincing answers. Indeed, Jonquinette ends th e novel by alluding to her gradual but successful integration of her personalities. Given Judes dominant and compelling presence throughout the narrative, it is difficult to believe that she has been so easily subsumed by the normative personality of Jonquinette. Consequently, her specter still lingers, haunting the psychic margins of the text and posing a significant roadblock to complete resolution of the narrative tension between reality and fantasy, and the normative and queer. Jane Juffer suggests that normativizin g tendencies, such as those in Addicted and Nervous are prevalent in womens erotica, particular ly of the heterosexual variety, and that the seeds of essentialism that characterizes some c ontemporary womens literar y erotica derive not from the emphasis on the body but from the a ttempt to normalize desire (72). Juffer demonstrates that a great deal of erotica is char acterized by a tendency to try to universalize what desires are acceptable for women, often relying u pon essentialist views of what these categories in fact mean. By normalizing certain desires, er otica can also work to pathologize desires that do no fall in the same boundaries. Addicted and Nervous exhibit this propensity, but with notable moments of ambivalence. As Rana A. Emers on argues in 'Where My Girls At?': Negotiating Black Womanhood in Music Videos, such perspec tives are common in representations of black female sexuality: Every day, young Black women face conflicti ng messages about their sexuality and femininity, as well as their status both in the Black community and society at large. They
180 must figure out how they should construct a nd assert their identity as Black women. Therefore, it is not surprising that within the cultural producti ons of young Black women, themes of contradiction and ambivalence would emerge. (128) Although Emerson situates her discussion primarily in the medium of music videos, the same argument could indeed be made regarding black womens erotica. Zanes novels try to negotiate these tensions by reaching a middle-ground between sexual transgression and normative desire that allows black women to explore diverse erotic desires within the text ual realm of fantasy, but not in the real world.11 As a result, freakiness outside of monogamous relationships is typically pathologized and punished in Zanes texts. In Addicted Zoes lovers are eventually marked as dangerous and deviant individuals who threaten the safety of her and her fam ily when she tries to end her affairs. Tyson turns out to be a convicted felon and Quinton a deranged murderer. Even Diamond is punished at the end of the narrative wh en Quinton murders her. By killing off or incarcerating Zoes former lovers and reuniting her with her husband so that she may return to the normative domestic space of home and family, th e novel rejects the viability of freakiness that refuses to be contained in heterosexual m onogamous relationships. At the same time, it suggests that those who reject such paradigms w ill inevitably meet a bad enda fate that has long been assigned to queer ch aracters in literature. Nervous on the other hand, does not need to punish and remove Judes lovers because they were always anonymous and distanced to begin with; they never infringed upon the private borders of Jonquinettes life. Ho wever, the fact that Jude is made to (supposedly) disappear at the end once she is integrat ed into Jonquinettes normative personality implies that she, at least, has been punished for her freakiness. As a 11 Although Zanes novels rarely mention concerns relating to safe-sex practices, it is possible that some of their cautionary rhetoric about acting upon certain freaky desires speaks to real world concer ns about the spread of HIV among African American women in recent years.
181 result, Zanes novels are far from radical in th eir sexual politics. However, their moments of ambivalence and contradiction suggest that the n ovels relationship to qu eerness/freakiness is complicated and far from resolved. Zanes erotica leaves spaces in which freak iness refuses to be expunged or subsumed by the dominant heterosexual paradigms. These spaces provide valuable insight into the ways, as Bell Hooks explains in Revolutionary Black Women, that the bl ack women who speak the most about love and sisterhood are deeply attach ed to essentialist notions of black female identity that promote a policing of anyone who does not conform (58). The freaky fantasies and desires, and the fears and a nxieties about them, expressed in Zanes erotica present a useful site to begin interrogating the sexual traumas of racism and imagining new possibilities of radical sexual subjectivity for black women who are conflic ted about a status quo based on the perpetual subordination of their erotic pleasure. Sexual Politics and Confessional Discourse in Cyberspace As one of the top-selling authors of African American ero tica today, Zane rose to fame after discovering an unexpected online public for her work that quickly propelled her into selfpublishing her first collection of short stories, The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth in 2000. After selling over 100,000 copies on her own, Zane attracted the intere st of mainstream publishers and eventually landed an extremely lucrative publishing contract with Simon and Schusters Atria Books. More than a passing fad, Zanes work has moved from the online margins to the media mainstream in a big way. Warner suggests that public reflexivity and market reflexivity have been interarticulated in a variety of ways from the beginning and that the consciousness of a public can create a new and expansive circulation for text commodities (101). Hence, the commodification of Zanes erotica stories from free electronic texts to disposable print goods can easily be read as part of this reflexivity at work since it was
182 primarily due to online circulation that Zane de veloped such a large following of readers, and thus garnered the interest of commercial publis hers. To date Zanes novels, short stories collections, and edited anthologies have sold more than 2.5 million copies, with many of her titles frequently topping Essence magazine best seller lists for African American literature (Bellafante 9.1). Her work is even extending into other media realms now that Cinemax has announced plans to produce an erotic television series based on Zanes novels, which is set to debut September 2008.12 As a specialty television network, Cinemax caters to a niche market that is likely to intersect with the public Zanes erotica addresses, inasmuch as it is particularly well know for its softcore adult-themed films pr oduced for adult cable and hotel entertainment channels. Despite the increased commodification and transmedia expansion of her work, public discourse about and circulation of Zanes er otica still depends on non-commercial as well as commercial reflexivity and exchange. Zane seem s acutely aware of this and has not distanced herself or her work from their origins in the online public sphere In point of fact, Zane has worked to sustain and expand her public of readers with a keen eye toward Internet technology in a Web 2.0 era. She maintains several websites13 that include free links to her first erotica stories and occasional new pieces, a blog in which she dispenses free sex advice to readers14 (which I will discuss shortly), and a social networking site15 that has tens of thousands of listed friends.16 12 The show is tentatively titled Zanes Sex Chronicles It remains to be seen, however, as to how explicit the shows content will be given the limitations of television broadcasting. 13 The largest and most popular sites are EroticaNoir.com and BlackGentlemen.com 14 Zanes Blog 2008. 25 September 2008, < http://eroticanoir.com/wordpress/ >. 15 The Official Zane MysSpace Page 2008. 18 September 2008, < http://www.mysp ace.com/zaneland >. 16 Social networking sites facilitate circulation at an expone ntial rate as they foster immediacy as well as direct and indirect interactions between ever-expanding networks of online strangers. Levels of online engagement can vary from mere voyeuristic lurking to email, chat, or even online phoning via applications like Truphones Call Me
183 When I speak of Zanes readership as an online public, I am drawing from Michael Warners conceptualization of pub lics as I envision them functioning within cyberspace(s). In his book Publics and Counterpublics Warner explains that a pub lic is understood as an ongoing space of encounter for discourse [yet] only when a previously existing discourse can be supposed, and when a responding discourse can be postulated, can a text address a public (90). Zanes texts address a public already engaged in intersecting discourse about African American media, pornography, and romance. Her short stories and the website in whic h they first appeared enabled an ongoing space of encounter for di scourse (Warner 90) by allowing readers to interact not only with Za nes erotica but with each other as well via email, message posting, chat rooms, and the sharing of readers amateur erot ica stories. This prol iferation of discourse extends far beyond Zanes individual texts, speaki ng to Warners idea that its the way texts circulate, and become the basis for further repres entations, that convinces us that publics have activity and duration (97). I would add that media convergence facilitates this process to a growing extent in the online realm. I want to bring Jenkinss ideas about convergence, especially his emphasis on participatory culture, into dialogue with Warner here in order to better begin thinking about the discourse dynamics of online publicsa necessary endeavor, because although Warner acknowledges that the Internet may play a role in the continued development or demise of different publics in th e twenty-first century,17 his analysis remains limited and speculative at best. Yet, many of the claims Jenkins makes about convergence culture, with a keener eye toward Internet technology and digital media, seem to echo Warners thoughts about publics, application on Facebook. Zane s site features blogtalkradio in which she has stream ing commentary about her work, her politics, and promotional information about various online chat and call-in discussions she has scheduled to interact with her readers. 17 See Publics and Counterpublics pp.97-98
184 suggesting that Warners notions ar e not antithetical to online adap tation. In particular, just as Jenkins stresses that the circ ulation of media content depen ds heavily on consumers active participation (3), so to does Warner argue that belonging to a public se ems to require at least minimal participation, even if it is patient or no tional, rather than a permanent state of being. Merely paying attention can be enough to make you a member (71). These articulations are incredibly similar, although Jenkins definite ly places more emphasis on the consumptive elements of convergence. However, online public di scourse is not separate from this either, and often oscillates between and shows allegiance to both commercial and non-commercial modes of textual circulation and consumption. Zanes erotica, although open and accessible to a wide array of readers, consciously positions itself to first address a black heterosexual female audience. Much like early massmarket romances, the narratives are told from the female protagonists point-of-view and emphasize black womens fantasies about and desires for black men.18 As Jane Juffer explains, most erotica written specifically by women for wo men functions within a broader genre of what we might call 'identity erotica' which creates a kind of imagined community based on sexual desire and race (6, 121). Juffers notion of an imagined community to which texts like Zanes are inherently positioned as addressing, gains added significance when one considers how readers become aligned around the discourses of sexual desire, gender, and race in the nebulous realm of cyberspace, which is also already imagi ned due to its intrinsi cally virtual nature. The virtual is also a primary characteristic of publics, which lacking any institutional being, commence with the moment of attention, must continually predicate renewed attention, and 18 Although Zane has edited a number of interracial erotica anthologies (such as Caramel Flava Chocolate Flava, Honey Flava, etc.), these books tend to present narratives about sexual adventures among African American, Latino/a, and Asian characters. Ideals of whiteness, and white characters, do not figure as concepts or objects of desire in the texts.
185 cease to exist when attention is no longer predic ated. They are virtual entities, not voluntary associations (Warner 88). Warners emphasis on transience, fluidity, an d the virtual parallel Jenkinss assertions that partic ipatory culture often relies upon shifting and fluctuating allegiance to different media. Consequently, I would ar gue that online publics ar e already enmeshed in modes of media convergence that rely upon particip atory culture to sustain their existence. Texts, like identity erotica as Juffer defines th em, can work to renew and maintain attention in the publics they address. Indeed, as Warner suggests writing to a public helps to make a world insofar as the object of address is brought into being partly by postulati ng and characterizing it (91). Zanes erotica, in its my riad addresses to African Americ an readers, already begins to bring a public into being. Zanes multimedia addresses to her public of readers emphasize participatory and interactive online exchange. This is most evident in Zanes bl og, where readers can find a place to engage in their own confessi onal discourse or enjoy the voyeur istic pleasures of receiving the confessions of others. Unlike many author blogs th at function as diaries chronicling their daily lives and writing experiences, Zane s blog is a rather intriguing sex advice column. Although not a licensed psychotherapist, Zane takes up the mantle of her fictional character Dr. Spencer as she evaluates her fans emails soliciting sexual advi ce. Zane publicly publishes readers personal queries, which tend to read as brief confessiona l texts about relationshi p and sex problems. Additionally, she responds to these confessions, parsing thro ugh the readers problems and offering a nugget of wisdom or advice for how to proceed. Much like her novels, this blog produces a voyeuristic space in which to access priv ate confessions made public, this time in the online blogosphere rather than on the printed page However, there is a new dimension added to this confessional space precisely because the na rratives are supposedly based on real people
186 and real circumstances. Online readers can interface with these confessions, as well, by posting comments and responses to individual en tries/logs, adding to existing, and generating new, discursive threads. Alt hough many of the emails Zane elects to respond to present queries commonly found in sex advice column s, a significant proportion of th em take up the discourse of freakiness as they articulate transgressi ve impulses and actions while questioning what constitutes normative sexuality. The ambivalence I have identified in Zanes erotica manifests in her blog as well, but there is noticeable room for negotiation as re aders are allowed the oppor tunity to agree or disagree with the advice Zane publishes.19 In this blog, Zane articulates a more outspoken support for LGBTQ equality and often answers ema ils from readers who are not heterosexual. Take for instance this r ecent October 7, 2008 entry: Dear Zane, I just read something of yours on how to please your man. Unfortunately, that doesn't apply to me in that matter because I am a lesbian. So I have a few questions for you and I hope that maybe you can help me out. First off, my lover and I have been together for four years now and the sex is slowly drifting away. We are not really turned on by each other, or should I say, we can't please each other like we used to. When I give her oral sex, I put my all into it. Sometimes she says that it was the bomb and then other times she would say that it was okay. The same goes for me. For so me reason, when she is pleasing me while I am on my back or my stomach, it feels really great but I can't have an orgasm! But when I ride her face, its all over, becau se I have the hardest orgasms and it is out of this world. Now my question is, is there something wrong with my body, that I can only have an orgasm while I ride her face? Is there somethi ng that I can do to please her better, like try another technique? Also, when we try and use a dildo, (she is th e male in the relationship) I can't do it. I believe it is becau se I have not been with a ma n in four years. Is there something that I can use or do to make that happen, because she likes to use it? Please help me if you can. I would really appreciate it. Signed, The Orgasmic Face Rider ( Zanes Blog) 19 While Zane seems to have locked the comment function on her main blog site, it is also published through her MySpace page which does allo w readers to respond.
187 This readers query directly confronts th e limitations of Zanes erotica in providing educational/practical advice on how women can satis fy their partner and be satisfied in return when that individual is not a man. The blog, theref ore, offers readers like this one the chance to challenge the boundaries of Zanes texts in ways that open the discourse to queerness. Zanes response, as well, demonstrates a more direct engagement with this issue: Dear Orgasmic Face Rider, Believe it or not, this is not the first time that I have received a question like this. Another female emailed me a while back with a sim ilar situation. She could only climax while she was riding her female lovers face. I do not be lieve that there is something wrong with you. That is simply what turns you on and it could be because you feel more powerful in that position or because her tongue is able to penetrate you better. As far as spicing up your sex life, be adventur ous. Meet her at the door in fishnets, heels and nothing else. Do role-playing. Experiment wi th edible products. Ask her what fantasies you can fulfill for her. In regards to the dildo. if it is uncomf ortable for youif anything is uncomfortable to you when it comes to intimacyyou should not feel forced to engage in it. She will have to understand unless you can find a smaller one that does not hurt you or come up with an alternative solution to a dildo. Blessings, Zane ( Zanes Blog) As this response illustrates, Zane stresses the importance of accepting and not repressing what turns one on, of ensuring that sexual activities are mutual a nd done with the consent of the parties involved, and of experimenting with ones fantasies and with thos e of ones partner. Zane does not profess to be an expert about lesbia n sex, but instead refers to past inquiries from lesbian readers for guidance in adapting her own heterosexually-informed knowledge of sex. While Zane appears engaged with and s upportive of LGBTQ readers, her blog still promotes monogamy as the only acceptable paradi gm for coupling. This is demonstrated in another October 7, 2008 query and response:
188 Dear Zane, First, I would like to say that I love your books. I have a si tuation. I have been married a year in September. I am madly in love with my husband and the sex is great. But, for the past year, I have been craving to be with a woman. I have experienced another woman before, years ago. She wanted a relationship and I did not. We are best friends now and ever since then, this urge has been drivi ng me crazy. Every time I cross paths with an attractive woman, something comes over me. I am in love with nice, rounded breasts and a nice ass. Is something wrong with me? Now mo st people would ask, whats the problem? The problem is that my husband is a deacon and we attend church faithfully. I know that its wrong but I cannot help the way I feel. My husband jokes about my bisexuality all the time, but he has no idea how I feel. I cant te ll him because he talks about how wrong same sex relationships are. Can you please give me some advice? Signed, Wanting to Go Both Ways ( Zanes Blog) This reader articulates a strong c onflict between her desires and the reality of her circumstances. At the same time, she alludes to both internalized and social repression of homosexuality in her life and in her community. Her question, Is something wrong with me?, expresses anxiety over possible abnormality and also solicits an answ er from Zane who is receiving her confession. Zanes response is an ambivalent one: Dear Wanting to Go Both Ways, My advice has to be the only advice in this situation but not because I believe that bisexuality or homosexuality is wrong. People are who they are and they should love who they love. I am going to tell you to leave the situation alone because you are a married woman and you have taken vows to be faithful. There is nothing wrong with fantasizing; all normal people do it. However, cheating is never acceptable and even though you are talking about cheating with a woman inst ead of a man, it is still wrong and the ramifications can be long-standing and harm ful. Thus [sic] I would suggest that you confine your sexual activity to being with your husband, unless or until your marriage ends for other reasons. Blessings, Zane ( Zanes Blog) Zane is unequivocal in her stance that cheating is unacceptable, and encourages this reader to only engage in sex with her husba nd unless or until the marriage e nds. At the same time, Zane
189 leaves the possibility open for the reader to pursue her desire s should her relationship with her husband end, thus reinforcing her emphasis on m onogamy in regards to sex. While Zane does not suggest that the readers de sires are abnormal, and encourages fantasizing about them, she does argue that transgression, in the form of cheating, is morally wrong. As a result, this response oscillates between the same ambivalent sentiments expressed in Zanes erotica. Fantasizing about transgressive desires is fine, but acting on them is another story. I would like to conclude with th is example because what is most compelling about it is not Zanes response, but rather the re sponses of other readers. Ind eed, most of the sixteen comments posted in response to this blog en try disagree with Zane and enc ourage the reader to explore her desires. Most of the readers, interestingly enough, also expr esses an idea that experiencing desire for the same-sex is both common and norma l. One poster, who goes by the name S.D. Denny, astutely identifies the bi gger issues at stake in the query sent by Wanting to Go Both Ways: I feel that she is liv ing a lie because she obviously wa nts something different. And how long can she continue to live a lie ( Zanes Blog )? This idea, that Zanes reader is living a lie in conforming to compulsory heterosexuality, is neve r directly addressed in Zanes reply, but S.D. Denny intervenes in the discourse exchange to iden tify this very real possibility of closeting. Another commenter, whose handle name is I Am Me-Beautiful Me, builds off of S.D. Dennys response and offers a personal confession/testimony about her own similar experience. She writes: I was married for 15 years and just recently divorced a year ago. I too had been with a woman prior to our marriage but once I got married I suppressed every urge I had and was a faithful wife. My husband to was in the c hurch, the musician. A nd although he cheated on me several times I never did in return. I would cry during sex and he [sic] not even know. ( Zanes Blog) After relating a tale of unsatisfying conformity to compulsory heterosexuality that mirrors the original query, I Am Me-Beautiful Me explains that she has now found the happiness and
190 sexual satisfaction that was el usive to her before by ending her marriage and finding another woman to love. This response more strongly argues the need to be honest about ones desires, while demonstrating that happiness may lie outside the confines of marriage and heteronormativity. On the whole, as these exam ples suggest, Zanes readers often vocalize a stronger understanding of queer conc erns and what is at stake in repressing desires that do not adhere to the status quo. Consequently, online spaces like this blog allow for much needed queer counterpublic discourse to begin entering convers ations about black sexu ality and introducing possibilities for pleasure and pers onal happiness that have been ignored or rejected in other spaces of discourse.
191 CHAPTER 5 STRAIGHT WOMEN, QUEER TEXTS: BO Y-LOVE M ANGA AND THE RISE OF A GLOBAL COUNTERPUBLIC In recent years Japanese manga (comics) ha ve exploded onto the North American comics market, rapidly taking over the graphic novel sec tions of book and comic stores and generating fans among adolescent audiences.1 Most comics being translated and published in the U.S. are aimed at this age group and along clear gender lin es. Shonen comics are considered to be primarily for boys and tend to focus on action and adventure narratives, while shojo comics for girls typically present more romantically oriented stories. More than a passing fad, manga have become a firmly established segment of the U.S. publishing industry, and in 2004 total manga sales for the U.S. and Canada were up to $207 millon (Memmott 04d). The manga industry in Japan is even larger, with gross revenues tota ling 531 billion yen ($5 billion) in 2001 (Thorn 169). Japanese manga are flourishing in North America, but the majority of texts translated and sold are heterosexually oriented despite the fact that there is a wide array of more sexually transgressive manga being publis hed in Japan. Therefore, wh en Tokyopop, a U.S. publisher of Japanese manga, released several new queer series in the fall of 2003 they took a brave leap in introducing what I will be referr ing to as boy-love manga to the U.S. comics market. As the name suggests, boy-love manga pres ent romantic narratives that vi sually depict homoerotic love between male protagonists. By and large, th ese comics are created by and for women. They have a well-established history in Japan and have generated a huge following of female readers, particularly teenage girls. It is their recent emergence on the North American manga market that raises several interesting questions In particular, how does the tr ansnational circul ation of these 1 Manga are also being published widely in Western Europe, but for the sake of scope I am confining my discussion to North America only.
192 comics require us to consider their popularity in new ways? And how do boy-love manga, by virtue of their queer content, work subvers ively within a more global context? To clarify my terms, in this chapter I w ill be using boy-love manga as a larger allencompassing genre term, while distinguishing be tween the two separate categories of shonenai and yaoi that fall under it.2 Shonen-ai manga tend to em phasize elaborate romances that contain imagery more suggestive than sexually explic it. A palpable thread of erotic tension is, however, present and maintained, predominantly through visual cues such as sudden longing looks, unexpected caresses, suggestive body language, and intimate kissing scenes. Typical panels are often erotically charged as readers catch a glimpse of tongue here and a wandering hand there, ultimately leaving more to the imagina tion than meets the eye. In contrast, the often pornographically explicit boy-love manga known as yaoi gene rally forgo coherent plot development in favor of using every available oppor tunity to get the beautiful male characters in bed together. In fact, yaoi is an acronym in Japanese that ir onically translates as no climax, no punchline, no meaning (Schodt 37). Despite the steadily growing publishing mark et for boy-love manga outside of Japan, current scholarship has not focused at great le ngth on the increasingly global nature of the readership or the function and effect of such widespread textual circulation. Mark McLelland 2 One of the difficulties with terminology lies in the fact that these words are constantly changing signification in Japan, and new terms are rapidly being coined to replace old ones. In point of fact, the term shonen-ai has apparently become obsolete in Japan, while yaoi has been replaced with Boys Love, also referred to as BL. Internet fan communities appear to be more up to date on these changes than the academic print world, and Aestheticism.com provides one of the more detailed breakdowns of terms at: http://www.aestheticism.com For the purposes of this paper, I will refer to the texts currently published by TokyoPop and their competitors as shonen-ai, in line with their own advertisement of them as such, and re tain yaoi as a contrasting term for more sexually explicit manga which presses like CPM, Digital Manga, and Kitty Medi a are all using. This is partly necessary as well because of the time gap in publication of titles in Englis h speaking countries versus th ose in Japan, as ours are generally several years behind. Various English spellings of the term shonen-ai exist, but I have chosen to use the version employed by Tokyopop.
193 argues that there is a clear distinction between how Japanese and western audiences receive homosexual texts, which necessi tates a restricted cultural analysis. He suggests that: Although Japanese society is no more tolerant of men or women e xpressing a gay or lesbian identity in real life than many western societies, as a fantas y trope for women male homosexuality is understood to be a beautiful and pure form of romance. Hence, it is possible in Japan for mainstream bookstores to carry many boy-love manga titles (among them classics such as June and B-boy ) that depict stories about love between teenage boys often featuring illustrations of anal sex and fellatio, which can be purchased freely by anyone, including their intended audience of high school girls. Japa nese society clearly responds to depictions of male homosexuality in ways very different from societies in the west. (No Climax 287-288) While McLelland is right to point out the fact that Japan has a long artistic tradition of aestheticizing certain male homoerotic relationshi ps as representative of a beautiful and pure form of romance, 3 it is also pertinent to consider the ways in which different cultural contexts may actually provide new readings of texts. Indeed, the growing popularity of boy-love manga in the United States suggests that the differenc es between Japanese and Western readers are not prohibitive to accessing and enjoying these comics. Our current moment, therefore, seems ripe for a new assessment of boy-love manga and the increasingly global nature of th eir circulation and readership fo r several reasons. On the one hand, assessments of the genre have frequently invoked as a key factor in female readers interest in these texts the patriarchally oppressive environment in which Japanese women live, and the ways in which female sexuality in Japanese culture is confined to the reproductive function within the sanctioned sp ace of marriage (Aoyama; Behr; Kins ella; McLelland, The Love). While this information offers insight into the culturally specific context of Japanese female readers, it can also risk oversimplifying the situ ation and Japanese womens responses to it. Nor 3 Although, I would note here that Joshua Mostow suggests in The Gender of Wakashu and the Grammar of Desire that male sexual behavior in earlier periods of Japanese history and artistic production cannot be properly contained within the binary of heterosexual and homosexual, and consequently we need studies that look critically at the whole range of sexual activity and desire (70) in previous time periods.
194 does this cultural information provide an equally accessible frame of reference when considering other readers and other contexts. I would argue, therefore, that the transnational readership of boy-love manga requires new ways of thinking about this phenomenon beyond the confines of Japan. The Internet is alrea dy facilitating discourse and text ual circulation among fans in different countries, generating what I perceive to be a gl obal counterpublic that is both subversive and fundamentally queer in nature. I will show how this queerness both demonstrates that the readership is not c oherent, monolithic, or singular, and opens a discursive space for multiple and fluid readings of boy-love manga to be circulated and shared among an intimate network of strangers around the world. Despite what I perceive to be the markedly queer content of these comics, U.S. publishers of boy-love manga, like their Japanese counterparts, market and advertise to an audience that is generally characterized as both female and straig ht. Consequently, when popular media critics investigate this new publishing trend they reach very normative conclusions about boy-love manga. Such is the case with a 2004 Los Angeles Times article that concludes with the very safe assurance that these comics, because they ar e romantic narratives aimed at women, must portray relationships that are heterosexual at their foundation (Solomon E3). Not surprisingly, therefore, most considerations of the phenomen on continue to categor ize readers of boy-love manga as a group of straight women. While some scholars have been quick to point out that readers sexual orientation is difficult if not impossible to a ccurately ascertain, and undoubtedly more complex than publishers believe, there is st ill a general tendency to refer to the readership as heterosexual (Behr, 25; Kinsella, 117; Mi zoguchi, 56; Thorn, 172). Although some have acknowledged the limitations of assessing these texts and their popularity within heterosexual paradigms (Behr; Mizoguchi; McLelland, No Climax ; Nagaike) there has not been a sustained
195 discussion of how concepts of queerness might help us to consider how these manga function in a global context. I would like to consider this idea in more detail, by first assessing some of the visual characteristics of boy-love manga and questions of identif ication and inte rpretation they necessarily raise. The gender representations and sexuality visualized in boy-love manga challenge and trouble the belief that these categories are ontologically coherent, contained, and onedimensionalsomething that is at the very he art of queerness. For as Eve Sedgewick argues queer involves the open mess of possibilitie s, gaps, overlaps, dissonances and resonances, lapses and excess of meaning [that occur] when the constituent elements of anyones gender, of anyones sexuality arent made (or cant be made) to signify monolithical ly (8). In other words, boy-love manga are not simply queer because they depict homoerotic love stories between men, but rather because they ultimately reject any kind of monolithic understanding of gendered or sexual identity. At the same time, erotic fant asies about love between beautiful and often androgynous young men, as depicted in these comics, transgress and queer how and what their supposedly straight female readers are e xpected to fantasize about sexually. The gender and sexual ambiguities of character s in boy-love manga are rendered visually, generating myriad possibilities for fluid and shifting identifications and interpretations among readers. Lead characters are often highly st ylized and drawn to emphasize their beauty and sensuality, which departs from more traditi onal romance narratives that tend to focus on describing the uber-macho and phallic masculinity of male heroes. While I do acknowledge that this tendency is more particularly a Western one, it is relevant to note th at many Japanese manga by and for men reinforce the notion of an ideali zed man being ultra-masculine and phallic in nature. Female manga artists have been charac terized as reacting against this by producing more
196 androgynous and aesthetically beautiful men (A llison; McLelland, The Love). Thus, one might see a bishonen (beautiful boy) in a typi cal boy-love manga with long flowing hair and rather androgynous facial features, wearing stylish clothing th at can best be described by contemporary Western standards as metrosexual. As McLelland notes, characters in these stories are drawn in a style typical of women s comics: they are androgynous, tall, slim, elfin figures with big eyes, long hair, high cheekbones, and pointed chins (No Climax 277). For example, in Figure 5-1 we see the protagon ist (Shuichi Shindo) of Maki Murakamis Gravitation meeting the man he will fall in lo ve with (Yuki Eiri) for the fi rst time. Two entire pages are devoted to this moment, highlighting its significance to the narrative, and the point of view is predominantly from Shuichis perspective as he gazes at Yuki. Both characters have delicate facial features that emphasize th eir large eyes and artfully coiffe d hair. No language is necessary here as the images are left to convey the eroticized nature of th e moment by themselves. Yuki is highlighted as the central objec t of desire and we see Shuich i gazing on him with open awe. Indeed, bishonen are often posed in a deliberate manner to engage the viewers gaze. This is frequently achieved by taking up an entire page to draw a charact er in a very carefully staged manner that maximizes his sex appeal. Often flower imagery is drawn in the background or around the border surrounding the framed bishone n to emphasize his beauty. Consequently, although bishonen are superficially gendered male, their very androgynous appearance allows for them to be read inside a variety of di fferent gender and sexual paradigms. Most notably, there is the very obvious possibility of lesbian desire being encoded within these characters.4 In Figure 5-2, we see the lead char acters of Sanami Matohs series Fake 4 There is a corresponding genre of girl-love manga in Japan that is often referred to as shojo-ai or, for more sexually explicit texts, yuri. However, the genre is much smaller and has fewer publications in Japan. Interest in these texts is growing though and in the U.S. AniLesbo Con (ALC) Publishing is currently releasing some yuri anthologies with manga from Japanese artists as well as other Western amateur manga artists.
197 standing in front of a fictionali zed New York City backdrop. Dee, the dark haired character, almost appears to be wearing lipstick and has a feminine profile coupled with a more butch haircut. His light haired partner Ryo shares a similar melding of butch-femme/femme-butch physiognomy that upon closer inspection gives the impr ession that their faces are mirrors of one another. At the same time, the bodies of both characters are obscured by the bulky clothing that they wear and by the segmentation of panels th at focus in on their androgynous faces and leave the viewer with great latitude for somatic interpretation. This kind of gender indeterminacy opens up ample space for pervers e readings (Sedgwick) of thes e characters that speak not only to possible lesbian desires and fant asies, but also other queer, tran sgender, and transsexual ones. Shonen-ai manga showcase these possibilities mo st powerfully, because they do not reveal genital imagery. Although most shonen-ai manga are more focuse d on the development of a romantic plot line between male pr otagonists, sexual desire is not simply slight or incide ntal (Thompson 43) as some popular critics sugge st. A successful series like Gravitation relies on sexual innuendo, comedic double entendres, and coded visual references in order to maintain an erotic undercurrent that is not sexually explicit in nature. Such st rategies can often be found in traditional romance fiction as well, and readers become familiar with these kinds of tropes and are able to read beyond the surface in order to gl ean the sexually charged interactions between characters that might otherwise se em innocent. Part of the pleasu re in this kind of reading is based precisely on the fact that sex is not in plain view. The visual nature of manga makes this even more powerfully felt, by establishing he ightened sexual tension between characters imagistically. As shown in the images of S huichi and Yuki kissing (F igure 5-3), bodies are fragmented in each panel deliberately concealing the entirety of what is happening. We do
198 momentarily catch a glimpse of Yu kis wandering hand, but in other panels we are only privy to the sight of their faces as theyr e kissing while the rest of their bodies remain obscured or hidden. This tantalizing and suggestive imagery leaves a lot to the re aders imagination, allowing for many different readings, identificatio ns, and stimuli for fantasies. In contrast, yaoi manga have no qualms about depicting hard-core sex between bishonen that reveal genitalia in explicit detail. These comics raise different questions about the fantasies presented therein and issues of r eader identification. On the one hand, the possibility that female readers find voyeuristic pleasure in scenes of anal sex and fe llatio between beautiful men challenges the desirability of heteronormative constructs of masculinity, which negatively perceive a male desire to be sexually penetrated, as a volunta ry abandonment of the culturally constructed masculine identity in favor of the culturally constructed feminine one (Halperin 422). Consequently, sex scenes in yaoi ma nga have the potential to catalyze certain homophobic fears. Heterosexist understandings of gender generally affirm that being penetrated is de facto disempowering and ultimately feminizing, and that as a result penetration must be performed as an act that asse rts power and masculine primacy. Boy-love manga, however, tend to argue visually for the pleasure of both penetrating and being penetrated, and relationships between male characters display equality and mutuality on an emotional level, especially in their erotic moments together.5 Although the narratives emphasi ze the need for lovers to develop an equal romantic partnership, they do tend to clearly position char acters in roles of sexual top and bottom. 5 While some sexual power play occurs in certain boy-love manga it is generally playful, and erotic encounters between the main characters are still overwhelmingly marked by tenderness and a mutuality that emphasize the equal importance of both characters sexual and emotional n eeds. However, I must note here that there is a subgenre of BDSM yaoi for women in Japan. CPM recently brought out the first yaoi manga containing BDSM tendencies in North America when it released Ayano Yamanes Finder Series 1: Target in the Finder in September 2005.
199 The older male character is usually the sexual instigator and top known as the seme, while his often younger partner is the bottom or uke (No Climax, 279-280). What I find particularly interesting about th e seme-uke dichotomy in boy-love manga is the fact that the possibility of changing roles often serves as a point of teasing humor and even sexual excitement between partners, suggesting that these comics are much more cognizant of th e performative nature of such roles than one mi ght first imagine. For instance, in the third volume of Kazuma Kodakas Kizuna series, which is being published in Nort h America by Be Beautiful, there is a comical erotic moment when Ranmaru initiates se x with his partner Kei, who is the seme. The visually comedic nature of this moment is refl ected in the fact that Kei has been unwittingly forced into the position of uke (Figure 5-4). As Ranmaru (the light haired character) becomes more sexually aggressive, the panels humorously focus on Keis facial ex pressions, which range from confusion, mock fear, and disbelief as he mentally questions what is happening with increasing anxiety. Just when it appears that Ranmaru is going to reverse the roles for real, he instead enacts his own penetra tion and the two exchange teasi ng banter before proceeding to make love. This particular scenario highlights the culturally constructed nature of sex roles, managing to find humor in them while quest ioning them at the same time. While Kizuna merely plays with the notion of switching se x roles, there is a sub-genre of yaoi in Japan categorized as reversible that actually presents reversib le couples who never draw borders between uke and seme sexualities (Nagaike 88). But as of yet, only one reversible series, Youka Nittas Embracing Love ( Haru wo Daiteita ), is being published in the U.S.6 Despite the fact that the mo re rigidly upheld seme-uke dichotomy tends to reinforce notions of active/passive sex roles, it is importa nt to emphasize that in general these comics do 6 The first volume in this series was released by Be Beautiful in September 2005.
200 not visually infuse the role of uke with negative or disempowering connotations. Instead, the uke is often depicted in a state of ecstasy while his partner is more focused on giving him pleasure than simply taking it for himself. In Figure 5-5 from You Asagiris Golden Cain the uke Shuns pleasure is highlighted, as we see his head thrown back, eyes closed, and mouth open in a moment of ecstasy. His partner Cain, the seme in the relationship, is re vealed in profile only. We cannot see his facial response, only that his eyes are focused on gazing at Shun, watching his pleasure and thus implying that this is impor tant and perhaps necessa ry for his own sexual gratification. Therefore, in opposition to a one-sided visualiza tion of pleasure that emphasizes the importance of the penetra ting partners orgasm, a mainst ay of heterosexual pornography, yaoi manga are more interested in illustrating both partners erotic fulfillment and gratification. There have been a wide array of approach es to and conclusions about reader/viewer identification with boy-love manga, but they have nonetheless remained focused primarily within a Japanese context. One of my aims here, th erefore, is to suggest that the increasingly transnational readership for boy-love manga stymies efforts to make universalizing claims about processes of identification. More particularly, I would argue that one of the fundamentally queer facets of boy-love manga is that they can be re ad quite differently depending on the subjective lense through which they are viewed. The gende r ambiguity and sexual fluidity that I have located at the heart of the visu al aesthetics of these comics express a queerness that refuses complete coherence. While these images may be read or perceived quite differently in diverse cultural and artistic contexts, the erotic nature of their content seems to speak intimately to the many desires and fantasies of different women on an increasingly global scale.7 For as Akiko 7 McLelland has noted that there are already numerous yaoi websites in Chinese, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Spanish, although they are vastly outnumbered by those in English (No Climax, 283). This is one compelling example of the increasing transnati onal popularity of these comics.
201 Mizoguchi has noted, fantasies, realities, and representations ar e always related in yaoi texts, but their relationships are never transparent (65). At the same time, transnational readers sh ared investment in queer subcultural texts establishes them as part of a resistant counterpublic, and one that subverts the accustomed expectation of a romance readi ng public of women as only bei ng interested in heterosexist narratives deemed acceptable because they are believed to reinforce the gender status quo.8 As Michael Warner argues, the discur sive exchange of a counterpublic is structured by alternative dispositions or protocols, maki ng different assumptions about wh at can be said or what goes without saying (56-57). Perceived by and large as straight women, and t hus coded as part of a larger mass normative public, female r eaders engagement with boy-love manga concurrently positions them as part of a counter public resistant to blithely consuming idealized heteronormative media. Referring to the comp lex and transnational network of readers of boylove manga as part of a public or, in my view counterpublic is more efficacious than describing them as an audience. My reasoning here is partly due to the fact that read ers often lack the clear specificity of a concrete audience, especially now that these comics are being read across different countries, genders, sexua lities, and age groups. Indeed, a public is always in excess of its known social basis because the self-organizat ion of a public is as a body of strangers united through the circulation of their discourse (W arner 2002, 74; 86). This of course makes it difficult to then quantify and assess a public as social scientists would like to. Because boy-love manga are erotic in content, they necessarily speak to intimate desires and fantasies, both conscious and unconscious among readers. How does one quantitatively 8 As Janice Radway notes in her revised introduction to Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature : Even the most progressive of recent romance continues to bind female desire to a heterosexuality constructed as the only natural sexual alliance, and thus continue to prescribe patriarchal marriage as the ultimate route to the realization of a mature female subjectivity (16).
202 assess individuals sexual desire s and fantasies? The very intangible and often unconscious nature of such things makes this nigh on impo ssible, most especially because researchers interpretations of such information often aff ect how it is presented or read. In her book Female Masculinity, Judith Halberstam elucidates this poin t when she paraphrases R.C. Lewontins suggestion that people tend not to be truthful when it comes to reporting on their own sexual behavior (men exaggerate and women downplay, for example), a nd there are no ways to make allowances for personal distortion within soci al science methods (11). While surveys can provide important insight on small groups of individuals, they can never adequately represent the entirety of a large and nebulous public; nor can they ascertain defi nitive or collective truths about fluid and indistinct fantasies and desires, especially across multiple cultural, linguistic, and national divides. It is my c ontention therefore that a more productive methodological avenue lies in considering the growing global readership for boy-love ma nga as a counterpublic that establishes discursive connections between strang ers, reflecting their intimate engagements with texts and their differing subjectiv e and cultural contexts for reading boy-love manga. Indeed, not everyone has to read boy-love manga in the same way in order to be part of this counterpublic. Publics come into being only in relation to texts and their circ ulation, (Warner 66) which is the foundation of boy-love manga read ership and fandom. Those who read boy-love manga do not remain passive receiv ers of the texts. Instead, these comics often act as a gateway to a concatenation of texts (Warner 90). Fans begin to create their own doujinshi (fan manga), write their own fiction stories, partic ipate in related areas like slash fandom, 9 establish their own 9 Slash fiction is a form of fan fiction writin g that originated in the 1970s among female Star Trek fans who began writing homoerotic love stories about Kirk and Spock. The term slash itself was coined in relation to the tendency to refer to pairings between male characters with a stroke or slash; for example, Kirk/Spock or K/S.
203 websites, begin their own translation and scanlation projects,10 attend anime and manga conventions, chat in online forums, and so on. The discourse of this rather varied and increasingly web-based counterpubli c relies on shared circuits of textual circulation that often transcend even the rather obvious constraints of language barriers. Because so much of boy-love manga requires imagistic reading practices, discours e often happens at the le vel of shared images that do not require words. At the same time, th e concatenation of texts has also established a certain degree of shared terminology among all language groups. Words like yaoi, shonenai, doujinshi, uke, seme, and bishonen become part of the co llective jargon of this particular counterpublic discour se, regardless of an indivi duals native language. A great deal of boy-love manga, especially doujinshi created by amateur fans, focuses on parodyfrequently taking prominent male char acters from other manga or anime and developing romantic and sexual rela tionships between them. This is very similar to the practice of slash writing, a cross-over area of fandom for many Western readers, although more emphasis is placed on the visual images than the written content. In boy-love manga narratives the love between male characters often transcends concer ns about gender and sexuality, which tend to be seen as irrelevant or beside the point. Some critics have noted si milar tendencies in slash fiction, or more particularly the propens ity to leave the sexuality of ch aracters open or unresolved and thus allow for a much greater range of iden tification and desire for readers (Penley, Feminism 488). Although I see boy-love manga narratives as cont aining radical queer potential, I do not want to univers alize them or suggest that they are queerly or otherwise utopian and free of problems in their articulations of same -sex desire. Most stor ies contain moments in 10 Scanlation refers to the fan-based practice of transl ating manga texts into another language (in this case English) and scanning them online with the translations in serted into the necessary fram es and dialogue bubbles of the comic.
204 which lead characters express f ears or concerns about reveali ng their relationships, and being labeled as gay and thus socially perceived as feminine in negative ways What I do want to emphasize here is that characters generally ove rcome these fears and embrace their love for one another despite what society may think of them, which in my mind is a significant fantasy of resistance. Unlike slash fiction, a great deal of boylove manga is commercially published.11 Many prominent yaoi mangaka (manga artists) began their careers as amateur doujinshi artists who gained enough popularity to begin producing and commercially distributing their own original manga.12 It is also worth noting here that independently produced doujinshi is frequently sold non-commercially at fan conventions in Japan like the annual Comiket, and that the internet has provided a space for amateur artists in Japan and ot her countries to share their work with other fans often free of charge. Sim ilarly, the activity /productivity of dojinshi groups occurs outside the mainstream of Japanese society and economy, rendering it invisible to those studying more conventional forms of production (Orbaugh 112). Therefore, although the publishing industry for boy-love manga flourishes in Japan and is growing in the United States, non-commericial production and circulation of text s still plays a predominant role in the development of this counterpublic discourse. The Inte rnet has become an incredibly valuable tool for sharing, sometimes illegally, scanlations and images from both published and fan-produced manga. This then allows for a greater concat enation of texts across cultural boundaries so that, for instance, western fans are now producing their own doujinshi narratives in English, some of which are 11 As Shoshanna Green, Cynthia Jenkins, and Henry Jenkins articulate in Normal Female Interest in Men Bonking, Slash stories circulate within the private realm of fandom, are published in zines, distributed through the mails, through email, or passed hand to hand among enthusiasts. The noncommercial nature of slash publishing is necessitated by the fact that these stories make unauthorized use of media characters (10). 12 There are many examples of this, but one of the more popular figures is Ayano Yamane whose work is currently under license to CPM for U.S. publication.
205 being published by the very newly established Yaoi Press.13 Similarly, Japanese doujinshi artists are creating boy-love manga for popular Englis h texts like the Harry Potter franchise, demonstrating the artististic a nd textual appropriations and fu sions occurring cross-culturally among fans. These connections also reinforce the crucial importance of technology in broadening the network of fa ns and their discourse. Without a doubt, publishers are already awar e of this fact. For instance, Tokyopop makes many of its publication decisions based on the desires of the English-speaking fan community. They conduct online surveys regularly on their website to allow fans to vote for and offer suggestions for titles they want published.14 This requires that fans already be aware of titles currently circulating in Japan, but not yet translated a nd commercially sold in North Americasomething they can usually best achieve via internet communica tion and file sharing. In fact, there are numerous websites in which fans offer up amateur tr anslations, and even scanlations, of texts not yet ava ilable in English. Outside of the world-wide web, fans may also participate in various conventions for boy-love manga in Japan; a nd in the United States there is now an established Yaoi-Con, which takes place each year in San Francisco and offers the chance for fans to meet and share their fan fiction and manga.15 The Yaoi-Con fosters international relations between fans by inviting a boy-love mangaka as th eir special guest each year, as well as welcoming attend ees from all over the world. At present, many of the bigger U.S. publis hers like Tokyopop have been aggressively marketing all of their manga, shonen-ai titles included, at major bookstores like Barnes and 13 Yaoi Press 2007. 10 September 2008. < http://www.yaoipress.com >. 14 Other publishers are following Tokyopops lead, and most of their websites now have surveys and forms for visitors to fill out that usually ask about what titles they would like to see in future. 15 Yaoi-Con keeps fans updated on upcoming conventions and archives information and pictures from previous years at http://www.yaoicon.com
206 Noble, Borders, and Waldenbooks, bringing these comics out of the realm of the internet underground and into the mainstream.16 Even the more sexually expl icit yaoi titles are becoming more widely published and readily available in mainstream bookstores. Central Park Media has launched its very own yaoi publishing line of manga for those 18 and ove r called Be Beautiful Manga.17 Other publishers like Digital Manga, Kitty Media, Viz, and Dark Horse are quickly leaping on the bandwagon as they become more attuned to the demand among readers.18 U.S. consumers are evidently buying these texts and in a quantity sufficient to propel other publishers into the foray of boy-love manga at an increasingly rapid rate.19 Tokyopop claims that their overall manga readership is about 60% female and, as in Japan, this percentage for their shonen-ai reader ship is presumably higher given that they are being marketed primarily toward teenage girls (Reid par. 7).20 However, in the United States strong efforts have been made to restrict teenager s from being able to purchase the more explicit yaoi texts.21 All of the publishers have not only b een shrink-wrapping these graphic novels, but also putting clear warnings on th e covers that indicate they ar e for adults only and adding 16 It is significant to note that thus far, the shonen -ai titles have not been separated from other titles, but rather integrated with them. Bookstores are organizing all manga titles together alphabetically in their graphic novels sections. 17 Be Beautifuls main advertising tagline is Romantic graphic novels by womenfor women. Information about this line is available at their website: http://www.bebeautifulmanga.com 18 At the time that this article was being prepared fo r publication several new comp anies, DramaQueen and Blu Manga, emerged online indicating that they are planning to release a slew of yaoi titles in late fall 2005. 19 According to a recent article in Publishers Weekly boy-love manga titles are indeed selling well. The most recent volume in Vizs shonen-ai series Descendants of Darkness by Yoko Matsushita, has sold 10, 000 copies a few months after its publication. Digital Mangas yaoi graphic novel Only the Ring Finger Knows by Satoru Kannagi and Hotaru Odagiri is now in its third printing and has sold more than 12,000 copies. Other Digital Manga titles are also selling in the thousands according to this report, and more titles are set to be released soon (Cha). 20 It is important to note here that Tokyopop also publishes heterosexual manga. Therefore, the overall readership is somewhat more divided. As of yet, the company has not released any statistics specifically about their boy-love manga readership. 21 Not surprisingly, heterosexual romance novels are not policed in the same manner, even though they often contain explicit descriptions of sexual acts.
207 disclaimers emphasizing that none of the characters depicted are under the age of 18. This is particularly interesting because many characters, due to the androgynous aesthetic of boy-love manga, often appear to be rath er young, rendering the distinction between adolescent and adult murky at best save for the reassurance of the publishers note. As numerous English-language fan-based yaoi websites and convent ions attest, teens are still a la rge part of this market although they often have to employ covert means of getting copies of more racy texts. As a result, many of them are downloading free boy-love manga scan lations from the internet. The fact that young girls as well as women are r eading boy-love manga, challenges Western efforts to maintain a rigid distinction between adult and child sexuality, the latter of whic h is often denied or strictly policed in order to protect a myt hologized ideal of erotic innocence (Kincaid). In contrast, I find it somewhat ironic that teenage girls in Japan can readily buy yaoi manga without the same kind of social constraint. Indeed, J apanese society has not traditionally made as severe a distinction between adult and child sexua lity as has the west (McL elland, No Climax 284). Precisely because the targeted readership fo r these comics, especially shonen-ai titles, consists largely of girls w ho are at a liminal stage betw een childhood and adulthood, they powerfully showcase certain cu ltural anxieties ab out sexual control surrounding bodies, and specifically female ones, that do no t satisfactorily fit into the child or adult category. Indeed, the counterpublic itself queers such unde rstandings, troubling the lines between adolescent and adult in much the same way it complicates gender and sexual identity among readers and characters in the texts themselves. This in itself is what is presumably so worrying to those who want to enforce these distinctions in orde r to restrict access to erotic me dia. As Gayle Rubin has argued, rather than recognizing the sexua lity of the young and attempting to provide for it in a caring and responsible manner, our culture [America] deni es and punishes erotic interest and activity by
208 anyone under the local age of consent [mi nors] are forbidden to see books, movies, or television in which sexuality is too graphically portrayed (20). In light of such attitudes, technology can become a gateway for shared communication between teens who are part of the boy-love manga counterpublic, while at the same tim e serving as a restrictive barrier to their parents and other adults who are often unfamiliar with such methods of textual circulation and networking, and who seemingly remain largely unaw are of the phenomenon itself. The Internet provides the means for teens to not only access such erotic media as we ll as the opportunity to create and distribute th eir own erotic fan fiction and art to others. It also allows them the freedom of anonymity and the potential to constr uct or present an online identity resistant to social constraints surrounding age, gender, race, cl ass, and sexuality. It is reasonable to suggest, therefore, that important shifts in how these readers conceptualize and fantasize about love and sex can be observed through thei r participation in internet communication, discourse, and textual circulation that mark them as part of a global counterpublic. While U.S. media has begun to take more notice of the popularity of manga among children and teenagers, those texts that belong to the boy-love genre have largely remained below the radar of the more conservative mainstr eam as yet. Womens investment in boy-love manga, both here and in other countries, alr eady suggests certain dissatisfactions with the fantasies offered by mainstream media and tradi tional heteronormative roma nce. Instead, these comics and the circulation of fan discourse surr ounding them seem to project a more promising queer vision of love and desire. For as Judith Butler makes clear in Undoing Gender in the same way that queer theory opposes those w ho would regulate identities or establish epistemological claims of priority for those who make claims to certain kinds of identities, it seeks not only to expand the community base of antihomophobic activism, but, rather, to insist
209 that sexuality is not easily su mmarized or unified through categoriz ation (7). I have attempted to demonstrate throughout this chapter that the cross-cultural and global intersections of the boylove manga counterpublic make it problematic to theorize about the popularity of these texts by segregating communities of readers along cultural lines. When this occurs, we run the risk of falling into troubling universalizations of those communities of readers that not only ignore their differences within those cultural contexts, but also attempt to explain thei r individual desires and fantasies in totalizing ways. Examining this phenomenon at the level of counterpublic discourse can offer us new perspective into how boy-l ove manga has become a compelling site for transnational readersh ip and communication among a growing network of intimate and diverse strangers. It is my contention that the global nature of this counterpublic in fact facilitates subversive queer identificatio ns and desires by generating productive tensions between heterogeneous and incoherent transcultural cont exts and the intimate fantasies and engagements of readers that are never fully e xplicit, accessible, or quantifiable.
210 Figure 5-1. Shuichi sees Y uki for the first time. Gravitation. Vol. 1. TOKYOPOP Inc. 2002 Maki Murakami. Pages 26-27.
211 Figure 5-2. Dee and Ryo kissing. Fake Vol. 7. TOKYOPO Inc. 2000 Sanami Matoh. Page 152.
212 Figure 5-3. Shuichi and Yuki kissing. Gravitation Vol. 1. TOKYOPOP Inc. 2002 Maki Murakami. Page 129.
213 Figure 5-4. Kei finds himself on the bottom. Kizuna. Vol. 3. A18 Corporation. 1996 Kazuma Kodaka. Pages 106-107.
214 Figure 5-5. Uke partner in ecstasy. Golden Cain A18 Corporation. 2003 You Asagiri. Page 171.
215 CHAPTER 6 CONCLUSION As m edia production and consumption continue to evolve and change in convergence culture, so too do the relationships between readers and their texts. Consequently, modes of production, circulation, and consump tion of texts must also adapt to meet the fluctuating needs and demands of consumers. Henr y Jenkins asserts in his 2006 book Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide that Convergence requires media companies to reth ink old assumptions about what it means to consume media, assumptions that shape bot h programming and marketing decisions. If old consumers were assumed to be passive the new consumers are active. If old consumers were predictable and stayed where you told them to stay, then new consumers are migratory, showing a declini ng loyalty to networks or medi a. If old consumers were isolated individuals, the new consumers are more socially connected. If the work of media consumers was once silent and invisible, the new consumers are now noisy and public. (18-19) Contemporary consumers of romance media are already demonstrating the tendencies Jenkins ascribes to new consumers in convergence cult ure. Migratory behavior and participatory involvement, especially in online spaces, is provi ding romance readers with access to a variety of media texts that conceive of romance outside of traditional heteronormative bounds. Just as Jenkins argues media producers need to take changes in consumer behavior into consideration if they hope to survive, so too would I argue that romance scholars must examine how new romance readers relate the genre and its prolifer ating media texts in the twenty-first century. Romance readers, as I have demonstrated thr oughout this project, are often involved in both traditional modes of commercial consumption as well as a variety of non-commercial (and sometimes illegal) types of textual circulation and exchange that are enabled by digital and online technologies. Romance scholars need to br anch outside of old ep istemological paradigms if they wish to remain attuned to the genr e and its readers in our current moment.
216 Some scholars are becoming more engaged with the cultural shifts I have identified and are opening the discourse in promis ing ways. It is significant that in 2008 when Tania Modleski published a second edition of her landmark study on romance, Loving with a Veneange: MassProduced Fantasies for Women she included a new introduction that directly speaks to some of the critical ways romance has changed since sh e first published her book in 1982. She notes that the present moment is one that signals the need for new approaches to the genre and its multimedia global dimensions: I look at a future that is already underway, although I do little more than gesture to the enormous cha nges that necessitate ever more sophisticated, challenging, and wide-ranging approaches to popular culture in the mass-mediated global economy (xii). Citing the importance of new media and participatory pract ices, especially those related to fandom, Modleski calls for critical methodologies that can address these connections between cultural and media changes. Radicalizing Romance has attempted to provide one of the first academic interventi ons into the genre that considers th ese issues. Although this projects genesis occurred several years befo re Modleskis second edition to Loving with a Vengeance appeared, its completion following on the heels of Modleskis updated edition of her canonical study appears to be extremely timely.1 While I concur with a number of Modleskis recent sentiments about the genre and the future of romance scholarship, I deviate from her more heavily psychoanalytic framework in favor of queer theoretical perspe ctives, which I have argued are fundamental to the future progress of romance scholarship. Queer concepts and texts can enhance feminist research wh ile forcing us to interrogate and question how we define and 1 Modleski cites the article version of Chapter Five of this project as an example of relevant scholarship on contemporary changes in romance that takes into account texts as well as readers, while employing a queer perspective that opens new ideas about the pleasures of romance texts.
217 study the genre and its readers.2 These issues have been at the h eart of this projects efforts to radicalize romance in ways that productiv ely open the discourse by challenging its longstanding heteronormative para digms. While this book has not been able to cover every instance of romances evolution a nd queering in the twenty-first century, it has located several compelling examples that speak powerfully to th e limitations of past research and the necessary directions we must take now and in the future. In addition to Modleski, a number of current romance scholars have acknowledged the impact of new media on the genre and have even gone so far as to appropriate and utilize some of these forms to conduct and promote their research. In particular, the academic blog Teach Me Tonight: Musings on Romance Fiction from an Academic Perspective is run by several contemporary scholars (Sarah S.G. Frantz, Pamela Regis, E.M. Selinger, Laura Vivanco, etc.) who publish regular posts on their research and res ponses to the work of other academics in the field. The blog site is public and thus accessible to not only scholars but also general readers of romance, many of whom would quickly find this site if they were already regular participants or lurkers3 in the romance blogosphere.4 Expanding their resources and allowing for more interactive input, the contributors to the Teach me Tonight blog set up the online Romance Wiki which has a specific bibliography section on all the major articles and books that have been written about popular romance.5 By virtue of its format as a wiki, this site enables anyone who 2 Even Modleski notes that were she to write her book today she would have to acknowledge the possibility of cross-gender and cross-sexuality identificati ons (xviii) in romance reading practices. 3 A lurker is generally someone who visits and reads blogs, forums, message boards, etc., but rarely participates in the discussions. 4 As I mentioned in earlier chapters, there are a slew of romance-related blogs run by individual authors, groups of authors, readers and book reviewers, romance literary agents, publishers, and other individuals involved or interested in the genre. 5 Romance Scholarship. Romance Wiki 27 March 2008. 15 September 2008. < http://www.romancewiki.com/Romance_Scholarship >.
218 accesses it to contribute and edit content contai ned therein, including par ticipants in romancereading publics as well as academics. Other scholars who are conducting social science based ethnographic research are also turning to the we b as a space in which to conduct their studies.6 One advantage of such online or virtual ethnog raphy is the ability to study subjects from a variety of different countries by obviating th e constraints of geogr aphical boundaries when communicating with them in cyberspace. It is likely that more research of this nature will appear in romance studies in the future. While it rema ins to be seen if this newer mode of ethnography can overcome some of the limitations I have iden tified in past methodologies, I believe that there is potential for some of this work to offer re levant contributions to the field by making heard voices previously ignored or marginalized. As I have tried to show throughout this proj ect, the future of romance does not lead in one finite direction but instead branches out in a growing network of heterogenous possibilities that remain open-ended and variable Modleskis new introduction to Loving with a Vengeance concludes on a similarly optimistic, al beit cautionary, note when she writes: We have arrived at a moment in time where, on the one hand, globalization permits the dissemination of mass-produced fantasies to and from far reaches of the planet and where, on the other hand, new media allows the individu al to rework a fantasy so it more closely meets her own psychic needs and desires and to send it out into the world to join up and intermingle with fantasies fashioned by others. with so much act ivity occurring on and between both the micro and macro levels, the possibilities for forgi ng political alliances and for effecting social change seem to be pr oliferating. It is hope d that scholars will not entirely abandon their analytical skills and political commitments at a time when the future holds such promise. (xxxii) Modleskis hope for the unificati on of critical analysis and po litical commitment, which she implies marked the early work of feminist sc holars of romance, speaks back to her earlier 6 For instance, communication studies scholar Dru Paggliossoti recently set up a website ( Yaoi Research ) and wiki to conduct online ethnographic research about yaoi reader s across the globe. She has presented on her research findings at several conferences and is cu rrently working toward publishing them.
219 criticisms against the 1997 Paradoxa special issue on changes in the genre. As the introduction of Radicalizing Romance notes, Modleski critiqued many of the articles in the issue for their utopian idealizations of the genre and lack of scholarly ambivalence or conflict. I think Modleskis criticisms of that journal issue and her more recent comments are relevant. While I have identified some promising ways in whic h queer romances and modes of counterpublic participation signal progress toward what Lauren Berlant and Michael Warner might describe as the radical aspirations of queer culture building, (312) there ar e still many ways in which nonnormative romance texts and their readers display ambivalence, contradiction, and conformity. As we adopt queer methodologies and texts into our studies of romance we must keep in mind Modleskis warnings lest we presume too much subversive power and effect from romances that resist to varying degrees the heteronormative paradigms of the genre. Nevertheless, like Modleski, I remain optimistic about the future of romance and romance scholarship as I see the genre and its readers expressing fantasies and desire s for narratives that present more diverse and ultimately queer visions of sex and l ove in the twenty-first century.
220 WORKS CITED Ahm ed, Sara. The Cultural Politics of Emotion New York: Routledge, 2004. Allison, Anne. Permitted and Prohibited Desires: Moth ers, Comics, and Censorship in Japan. Berkeley, CA: U of California P, 1996. Aoyama, Tomoko. Male Heterosexuality as treated by Japanese Women Writers. The Japanese Trajectory: modernization and Beyond Eds. Gavan McCormack and Yoshio Sugimoto. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. 186-204. Asagiri, You. Golden Cain New York: Be Beautiful, 2004. Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN). 2008. 18 September 2008. < http://www.asexuality.org >. Bacon-Smith, Camile. Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1991. Bataille, Georges. Erotism: Death and Sensuality Trans. Mary Dalwood. San Francisco: City Lights Books, 1986. Behr, Maiko. Undefining Gender in Shimizu Reikos Kaguyahime U.S.-Japan Womens Journal 25 (December 2003): 8-29. Bellafante, Ginia. A Writer of Erotica Allows a Peek at Herself. New York Times. 22 Aug. 2004. 9.1. Berlant, Lauren and Michael Warner. Sex in Public. Intimacy Ed. Lauren Berlant. Chicago: U Chicago P, 2000. 311-330. BlackGentlemen.com 2001. 01 June 2008. < http://www.blackgentlemen.com >. Booth, Sandra. Paradox in Popular Romances of the 1990s: The Paranormal versus Feminist Humor. Wheres Love Gone? Transformations in Romance Fiction and Scholarship Paradoxa 3.1-2 (1997): 94-106. Bronski, Michael. Pulp Friction: Uncovering the Go lden Age of Gay Male Pulps New York: St. Martins Griffin, 2003. Burley, Stephanie. What's a Nice Girl like You Doing in a Book like This?: Homoerotic Reading and Popular Romance. Doubled Plots: Romance and History Eds. Susan Strehle and Mary Paniccia Carden. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 2003. 127146. Butler, Judith. Undoing Gender New York: Routledge, 2004.
221 Carter, Angela. The Sadeian Woman: An Ex ercise in Cultural History. London: Virago, 1979. Castle, Terry. The Apparitional Lesbian: Female Homosexuality and Modern Culture New York: Columbia UP, 1993. Caweliti, John G. Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Fo rmula Stories as Art and Popular Culture. Chicago: Chicago UP, 1976. Cha, Kai-Ming. Yaoi Manga: What Girls Like? Publishers Weekly 7 March 2005. Chappel, Deborah K. LaVyrle Spencer and the Anti-Essentialist Argument. Wheres Love Gone? Transformations in the Romance Genr e. Paradoxa: Studies in World Literary Genres. 3.1-2 (1997): 107-120. Cohn, Jan. Romance and the Erotics of Property: Mass-Market Fiction for Women Durham: Duke UP, 1988. Clarke, Cheryl. The Failure to Transform: Homophobia in the Black Community. Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology Ed. Barbara Smith. New York: Kitchen Table Press, 1983. 197-208. Clover, Carol J. Men, Women, and Chainsaws: Gender in the Modern Horror Film Princeton, N.J.: Princeton UP, 1992. Coover, Colleen. Small Favors. Seattle: Eros Comix, 2002. Cvetkovich, Ann. An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sex uality, and Lesbian Public Cultures Durham: Duke UP, 2003. ---. Recasting Receptivity: Femme Sexualities. Lesbian Erotics. Ed. Karla Jay. New York: NYU Press, 1995. 125-146. Dahlin, Bob. Theyll Take Romance. Publishers Weekly < http://www.romentics.com/non_flash/press/PW.html >. Douglas, Ann. Soft-Porn Culture: Punishing the Liberated Wom an. The New Republic 183.9 August 30, 1980): 25-29. Duggan, Lisa. Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Viol ence, and American Modernity Edmondson, Belinda. The Black Romance. Womens Studies Quarterly 35.1&2 (Spring/Summer 2007): 191-211. Ehnenn, Jill. Desperately Seeking Susan Among the Trash: Reinscription, Subversion and Visibility in the Lesbian Romance Novel. Atlantis: A Womens Studies Journal 23.1 (1998): 120-127.
222 EroticaNoir.com 2008. 30 July 2008 < http://eroticanoir.com >. Felski, Rita. Kitsch, Rom ance Fiction and Male Paranoia: Stephen King meets the Frankfurt School. Continuum: The Australian Journal of Media & Culture 4.1 (1990). < http://wwwmcc.murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/4.1/Felski.html >. Firestone, Shulam ith. The Dialectic of Sex New York: William Morrow, 1970. Foote, Stephanie. Deviant Classics: Pulps and the Making of Lesbian Print Culture. Signs 31.1 (2005): 169-190. Foucault, Michel. The History of Sexuality: Volume One New York: Vintage Books, 1978. Fowler, Bridget. The Alienated Reader: Women and Roman tic Literature in the Twentieth Century. Hertfordshire: Harvester Wheatshef, 1991. Frantz, Sarah S. G. Expressing Herself: The Romance Novel and the Feminine Will to Power. Scorned Literature: Essays on the Hi story and Criticism of Popular MassProduced Fiction in America Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002. 17-36. Fuchs, Barbara. Romance New York: Routledge, 2004. Green, Shoshanna, Cynthia Jenkin s, and Henry Jenkins. Norma l Female Interest in Men Bonking: Selections from The Terra Nostra Underground and Strange Bedfellows Theorizing Fandom: Fans, Subculture and Identity Eds. Cheryl Harris and Alison Alexander. Cresskill, NJ: Ha mpton Press, Inc., 1998. 9-38. Greer, Germaine. The Female Eunuch New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971. Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham, N.C.: Duke UP, 1998. ---. In a Queer Time and Place: Transgender Bodies, Subcultural Lives New York: NYU Press, 2005. Halperin, David M. Is there a History of Sexuality? The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader Eds. Henry Abelove, Michele Aina Barale and David M. Halperin. New York: Routledge, 1993. 416-431. Harris, Cheryl and Alison Alexander, eds. Theorizing Fandom: Fans, Subculture and Identity Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 1998. Hennessy, Rosemary. Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Id entities in Late Capitalism New York: Routlege, 2000.
223 Hermes, Joke. Sexuality in Lesbian Romance Fiction. Feminist Review 42 (1992): 49-66. Hernandez, Lea. Clockwork Angels. Fullerton, CA: Image Comics, 1999. Hill Collins, Patricia. Black Sexual Politics: African Americans, Gender, and the New Racism New York: Routledge, 2004. Hooks, Bell. Eating the Othe r: Desire and Resistance. Black Looks: Race and Representation Boston: South End Press, 1992. 21-39. ---. Revolutionary Black Women. Black Looks: Race and Representation Boston: South End Press, 1992. 41-60. ---. Selling Hot Pussy: Representations of Black Female Sexuality in the Cultural Marketplace. Black Looks: Race and Representation Boston: South End Press, 1992. 61-77. Jackson, Stevi. Love and Romance as Objects of Feminist Knowledge. Women and Romance: A Reader. Ed. Susan Weisser. New York: NYU Press, 2001. 254-264. Jenkins, Henry. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide New York: NYU Press, 2006. Juffer, Jane. At Home with Pornography: Women, Sex, and Everyday Life New York: NYU Press, 1998. Juhasz, Suzanne. Lesbian Romance Fiction a nd the Plotting of Desire: Narrative Theory, Lesbian Identity, and Reading Practice. Tulsa Studies in Womens Literature 17.1 (1998): 65-82. Kannagi, Satoru and Hotaru Odagiri. Only the Ring Finger Knows Carson, CA: Digital Manga, 2004. Keller, Yvonne. Ab/normal Looking: Voyeurism a nd Surveillance in Lesbian Pulp Novels and US Cold War Culture. Feminist Media Studies 5.2 (2005): 177-195. ---. Was it Right to Love her Brothers Wife so Passionately?: Lesbian Pulp Novels and U.S. Lesbian Identity, 1950-1965. American Quarterly. 57.2 (2005): 385-412. Kincaid, James R. Erotic Innocence: The Culture of Child Molesting Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1998. Ito, Kinko. A History of Manga in the Cont ext of Japanese Culture and Society. The Journal of Popular Culture 38.3 (2005): 456-475.
224 Kinsella, Sharon. Adult Manga: Culture and Power in Contemporary Japanese Society Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 2000. Kipnis, Laura. Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America Durham: Duke UP, 1999. Kodaka, Kazuma. Kizuna: Bonds of Love. Vol. 3. New York: Be Beautiful, 2004. Kustritz, Anne. Slashing the Romance Narrative. The Journal of American Culture 26.3 (2004): 371-384. Lambda Rising. 2008. 28 September 2008. < http://www.lambdarising.com > Lorde, Audre. Uses of the Erotic: T he Erotic as Power. Sister Outsider Berkeley: Ten Speed Press, 1984. 53-59. Maines, Rachel P. The Technology of Orgasm: Hysteria, the Vibrator, and Womens Sexual Satisfaction Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins UP, 1999. Matoh, Sanami. Fake Vol. 7. Los Angeles: Tokyopop, 2004. McLelland, Mark. No Climax, No Point, No M eaning? Japanese Womens Boy-Love Sites on the Internet. Journal of Communication Inquiry. 24.3 (2000): 274-291. ---. The Love Between Beautiful Boys in Japanese Womens Comics. Journal of Gender Studies 9.1 (2000): 13-25. Mehegan, David. "The New Roma ntics: A Local Couple are Passi onate about Publishing Love Stories for Gay Men." Boston Globe 05/22/2004 Memmott, Carol. Japanese Ma nga takes Humongous Step. USA Today 6 July 2005: 04d. Mizoguchi, Akiko. Male-Male Romance by and for Women in Japan: A History of the Subgenres of Yaoi Fictions. U.S.-Japan Womens Journal 25 (December 2003): 49-75. Modleski, Tania. Feminism without Men: Culture and Criticism in a Postfeminist Age New York: Routlege, 1991. ---. Loving with a Vengeance: Mass-Produced Fantasies for Women New York: Routledge, 1982. ---. My Life as a Romance Writer. Paradoxa 4.9 (1998): 134-144. Mostow, Joshua S. The Gender of Wakashu and the Grammar of Desire. Gender and Power in the Japanese Visual Field Eds. Joshua S. Mostow, Norman Bryson, and Maribeth Graybill. Honolulu: U of Hawaii P, 2003. 49-70.
225 Murakami, Maki. Gravitation Vol. 1. Los Angeles: Tokyopop, 2003. Mussell, Kay. Fantasy and Reconciliation: Contempor ary Formulas of Women's Romance Fiction Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1984. ---., ed. Wheres Love Gone? Transformations in Romance Fiction and Scholarship Paradoxa 3.1-2 (1997). Nagaike, Kazumi. Perverse Sexualities, Perver se Desires: Representations of Female Fantasies and Yaoi Manga as Pornography Directed at Women. U.S.-Japan Womens Journal 25 (December2003): 76-103 Nitta, Youka. Embracing Love (Haru wo Daiteita) New York: Be Beautiful, 2005. Nowlan, Bob. The Politics of Love in Thr ee Recent U.S. and U.K. Films of Young Gay Romance: A Symptomatic Reading of Beautiful Thing Get Real and Edge of Seventeen Journal of Homosexuality 50.4 (2006): 141-184. Orbaugh, Sharalyn. Creativity a nd Constraint in Amateur Manga Production. U.S.Japan Womens Journal 25 (December 2003):104-124. Pearce, Lynne and Jackie Stacey, eds. Romance Revisited New York: NYU Press, 1995. Penley, Constance. Feminism, Psychoanalysi s, and the Study of Popular Culture. Cultural Studies. Eds. Lawrence Grossberg, Cary Nelson, and Paula A. Treichler. New York: Routledge, 1992. 479-494. ---. NASA/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America New York: Verso, 1997. Perebinossoff, Philippe. What Does a Kiss Mean? The Love Comic Form ula and the Creation of the Ideal Teen-Age Girl. Women and Romance: A Reader. Ed. Susan Ostrov Weisser. New York: NYU Press, 2001. 403-413. Pomfret, Scott and Scott Whittier. Hot Sauce New York: Warner Books, 2005. Radford, Jean. A Certain Latitude: Romance as Genre. Gender, Language, and Myth: Essays on Popular Narrative Ed. Glenwood Irons. Toronto: U of Toronto Press, 1992. 3-19. Radway, Janice A. Reading the Romance: Women, Patriarchy, and Popular Literature. Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina Press, 1991. Regis, Pamela. A Natural History of the Romance Novel Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania Press, 2003.
226 Reid, Calvin. Manga is Here to Stay. Publishers Weekly 20 Oct. 2003: 250.42. Robbins, Trina. From Girls to Grrrlz: A History of Womens Comics from Teens to Zines San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1999. Romance Writers of America 2008. 28 September 2008. < http://www.rwanational.org/ > Rom ancing the Blog. 2008. 28 September 2008. < http://www.romancingtheblog.com/blog/ > Rom entics. 2008. 28 Septmebr 2008. < http://www.romentics.com > Rubin, Gayle. Thinkin g Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality. The Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. Eds. Henry Abelove et al. New York: Routledge, 1993. 3-44 Schodt, Frederic L. Dreamland Japan: Writings on Modern Manga Berkeley: Stone Bridge Press, 1996. Schrag, Ariel. Potential. San Jose, CA: SLG Publishing, 2000. Scott, Alison M. Romance in the Stacks; or, Popular Romance Fiction Imperiled. Scorned Literature: Essays on the History and Critic ism of Popular Mass-Produced Fiction in America. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2002. 213-224. Scott & Scott. Nick of Time Book Surge, LCC. 2004. ---. Razor Burn Book Surge, LCC. 2003. ---. Spare Parts. Book Surge, LCC. 2004. Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Queer and Now. Tendencies Durham: Duke UP, 1993. 1-20. Siegel, Carol. Compulsory Heterophobia: The Ae sthetics of Seriousness and the Production of Homophobia. Genders 21 (1995): 319-338. Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Books 2008. 28 Septmeber 2008. < http://smartbitchestrashybooks.com/ > Snitow, Ann Barr. Mass Market Rom ance: Pornography for Women is Different. Radical History Review 20 (Spring/Summer 1979):141-61. Solomon, Charles. Anime, Mon Amour. The Advocate 14 Oct. 2003: 86-88. ---. Young Men in Love. Los Angeles Times 30 June 2004. E3. Somerville, Siobhab B. Queering the Color Line: Race and the Invention of Homosexuality in American Culture. Durham: Duke UP, 2000.
227 Stacey, Jackie and Lynne Pearce. The Heart of the Matter: Feminists Revisit Romance. Romance Revisited Eds. Lynne Pearce and Jackie Stacey. New York: NYU Press, 1995. 11-45. Steampunk. Oxford English Dictionary. < http://www.oed.com > Stryker, Susan. Queer Pulp: Perverted Passions from the Golden Age of the Paperback San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2001. Thompson, David. Hello Boys. New Statesman 8 Sept. 2003: 43-44. Thorn, Matthew. Girls and Women Getting Out of Hand: The Pleasur e and Politics of Japans Amateur Comics Community. Fanning the Flames: Fans and Consumer Culture in Contemporary Japan Ed. William W. Kelly. Albany: State U of New York P, 2004. 169-187. Thurston, Carol. The Romance Revolution: Erotic Novels for Women and the Quest for a New Sexual Identity Urbana: U of Illinois P, 1987. Villarejo, Amy. Lesbian Rule: Cultural Criticism and the Value of Desire Durham: Duke UP, 2003. Warner, Michael. Publics and Counterpublics New York: Zone Books, 2002. West, Cornel. Race Matters New York: Vintage Books, 1994. Williams, Linda. Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess. Film Quarterly 44.4 (1991): 140-158. ---. Hard Core: Power, Pleasure, and the Frenzy of the Visible. Berkeley: U of California P, 1989. Yamane, Ayano. Finder Series 1: Target in the Finder New York: Be Beautiful, 2005. Zane. Addicted New York: Atria Books, 2003. ---. Nervous New York: Atria Books, 2003. ---. The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth. New York: Atria Books, 2000. Zanes Blog. 2008. 15 August 2008. < http://eroticanoir.com/wordpress/ >. Zanes My Space Page. 2008. 15 August 2008. < http://www.myspace.com/zaneland >.
228 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Andrea W ood holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from McGill University (2000), and an MSc with distinct ion in English literature from the University of Edinburgh (2001). Her primary research in terests are in lesbian, gay, bise xual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) literature and film, transnational visual and new media, popular genres, and feminist and queer theory.