When I wrote and even found a warm publishing home for my erotic m/m/m novella Three, I suspected I would get questions, and more than questions, about my choice not to mention condoms in the story. After all, isn’t it a sign of knowing your responsibility as a writer of m/m and gay erotica to make your heroes use a condom when they have sex outside a strictly monogamous relationship?
I come out as lesbian (or rather, I kicked the closet into smithereens and never looked back) in 1979. I was seventeen and I didn’t know even a single other gay or lesbian in my school, neighbourhood or family, so I went looking for them. In Rotterdam I found a small and welcoming community of gays and lesbians of all ages, who knew how to combine fun with political activism. We were loud, colourful and full of optimism about the future. Our relationships didn’t have any legal recognition, let alone protection, and in the few instances we were visible on TV there were roughly three choices: dysfunctional and unhappy, cured into heterosexuality or dead. It didn’t matter, because we were untouchable. We made our own stories, our own art, our own culture.
Then came AIDS and with it the end of innocence.
There was a trickle of time between the stories that gay men in America were dying of a horrible disease nobody understood, and the first in our circle of friends telling us he had AIDS. Amsterdam? That’s still not us. I’m convinced it saved a lot of lives, because halfway the eighties gay men around me started to change their sexual behaviour. Having a STD was no longer a badge of honour, but a sign of danger. Still, one friend with AIDS became two, became three and four and then there were friends of friends and guys you just looked at and you knew.
As a Kinsey six-and-a-bit lesbian in a long-term, monogamous relationship with my wife (we’ve been a couple since October 1981) I never had any personal reasons to worry about HIV or AIDS. I was, for all intentions, an outsider. And yet, I feared it deeply, because I feared for the men who were part of my tribe.
Somehow, we learned to live in a radically changed world.
“Use a condom, I don’t care that you don’t like them or the other guy looks healthy or whatever cheap excuse… Use a fucking condom! You have a package on you? Show me!”
And now I write and publish gay erotica and Owen, Sebastian and Davin in Three do things in bed that in real life would be a prime example of how to spread HIV and guess what? There’s not a condom in sight.
I refuse to fool myself, both as a writer and as a lesbian who remembers the time before AIDS reached us. I write fiction. Regardless of how realistic a story might look, how lifelike a character, fiction has to obey its own rules. Fictional men don’t get HIV and AIDS unless we writers decide otherwise, only real existing men do. And non-fictional men have a plethora of excuses to not use condoms, from internalised homophobia to honest misunderstanding of available information and everything in between.
There’s only one reason I’ll ever use condoms in my stories, and that’s when the story calls for it, when it’s an unavoidable part of the narrative. Not because it makes me feel good about myself for being so responsible or because that’s what gay/bi/MSM men in reality (hopefully) do. I don’t like patronising my readers, even if with the very best of intentions.
I fully respect writers who make a different choice for their own reasons, but it can’t be mine.
Enjoy the naïve innocence of romantic fiction, but please, never use it as an excuse for not having to face the realities of life.