Avon Impulse, $5.99, ISBN 978-0-06-282157-7
Historical Romance, 2017
Let’s be honest here: despite the bulk of the authors of gay romances acting like they are out to save the queer community from being oppressed with their stories of buggery – save a homo, buy a gay romance today – a bulk of them are written by and for straight women. This is not surprising, considering that the origins of gay romance as we know it today are in fanfiction. That person writing about Trixie Mattel and Katya being lesbian women in love in a time of diabetes could very well be a bestselling author in a few months time. Not that I’m saying there is anything wrong with this, I’m just saying that it is important that we keep a more down to earth perspective about gay romances: they are not going to save the world, no matter how hard the authors may claim.
It Takes Two to Tumble has me thinking about these things, because it is the perfect example of the kind of romances with “Gay! Gay! Gay!” glitter sprinkled on top as the perfect cupcake for straight female readers to read. The “Gay! Gay! Gay!” thing never truly challenges the reader or embody the queer culture and norms of the 19th century England, because despite some angst about one’s love for men could ruin careers and what not, it is basically a straight romance, with a premise commonly used in straight romances, with characters that perfectly capture stereotypical romance novel-style sexual roles and even positions (surprise, the sensitive and more emotional one is the bottom… again).
Captain Phillip Dacre is a deadbeat dad, having never seen his children in two years because, after his wife died, he went off to sea and buggered some bloke there until that bloke also died, and now our hero has no bodily orifice to sink into anymore and has to finally face the responsibility he has evaded all this while. This is a good thing, of course, because the romance genre adores deadbeat dads as heroes for some reason. And then we have our heroine, sorry, the other hero Ben Sedgwick. He is a vicar, although you won’t be seeing him do much vicar things or even experience religious conflict over his love of the peen. Yes, that kind of vicar. He’s been caring for Phillip’s three brats the best he can since he took up his post in this Happy Gaytopia side of the world, so imagine how annoyed he is when Phillip shows up and starts finding fault with how his kids had been raised in his absence.
Phillip starts out a most unpleasant douchebag, blaming his dead wife for saddling him with the three kids, as if that woman somehow created those brats by parthenogenesis or something, but once he gets another man meat to cuddle up with, he gets more tolerable. Men really are simple creatures. The kids are all naughty but secretly vulnerable, with the eldest kid wanting Ben to be his second daddy or something, and Ben is the kind of guy who gets flustered and points out the color of Phillip’s eyes to that man in the middle of an argument because, so cute, squee. Ugh.
The resolution is super convenient. The “good” secondary characters are like, “Okay, so the vicar likes peen. He’s still a man of God, so everybody say love!” A secondary character even compares Ben’s feelings for Phillip to “simply” that of a person’s feelings for someone when that person is committed to someone else. Only the main characters are concerned that they are gay. As far as the other “good” guys are concerned, it’s just business as usual. Happy Gaytopia, ahoy!
Also, Ben is supposed to marry this sick chick, and the conflict arises from his belief that he’d be ditching that sick chick for that hot prick and that’s not good. This is what puzzles me: It Takes Two to Tumble operates as if the “right way” for two gay men to have a happy ending together is the same one for a straight couple: no subterfuge, no beards or sneaking around, just a happy ending full of uxorious bliss.
This is a straight romance, in other words. Take away the “If I come out, I will lose everything!” angst (which leads to nothing big anyway), replace Phillip’s previous “I shagged a bloke on a ship and now he’s dead” with an affair with some Spanish lady, and change Ben to Belinda, and this will be another oh-so-typical “dour deadbeat daddy finds new nanny for his kids” romance. I don’t know whether I should be amused by this or to feel mildly insulted, because I personally would like my gay stories to be, well, gay. More believable, authentic conflicts and resolutions, and less pandering to straight female readers, please.