Romance Fiction VI: Friday 4:30-6:00pm
Beyond the Straight and Narrow: Power Exchange and Gay/Lesbian Romance
Chair: Sarah Frantz,
“BDSM to Erotic Romance: Observations of a Shy Pornographer” Pam Rosenthal
It was wonderful to meet Pam. As Molly Weatherfield, she wrote the BDSM novel Carrie’s Story and its sequel. As Pam Rosenthal, she’s written Almost a Gentleman among others. She also obviously has a long history with the feminist establishment in
Pam got started in the genre through conversations she overheard in the lesbian communities in
“Lesbian Romance: Identity, Diversity, and Power” Len Barot
Unfortunately, Len was not able to join us.
“Fetishizing Patriotic Lesbian Masculinity: Valiant Butches, Wanton Terrorism, and the Homonational Imaginary” Shruthi Vissa,
Combining nervousness about my own paper and the complexity, layers, and theoretical nature of Shruthi's paper, I absorbed very little of what Shruthi was saying. But here goes:
The original title of the paper was “Queering the Marriage Plot? Love and Heteronormativity in the Queer Romance Novel” but it changed as Shruthi’s writing progressed. She is examining the spectacular masculinity of butch lesbians, in which the lovers union makes possible the beginning of nationhood. Lesbian romances have been rarely studied, and they have never been studied in light of female masculinity. Shruthi examines Radclyffe’s Honor series with a patriotic white, uber-butch lesbian hero who is in the Secret Service who guards the President’s daughter, and they end up falling in love….
And that’s all I got. I’m so sorry, Shruthi, but I doubt I could do justice to your ideas anyway, as layered as they were. I know I thoroughly enjoyed the paper, and if you want to add a summary in the comments or email it to me, I'd be more than happy to add it here.
“Polysexuality, Power Exchange, and the Construction of Gender in Popular Romance Fiction” Sarah S. G. Frantz
I presented this paper with severe laryngitis—I figured if Diane Rehm could run a syndicated radio show with her voice, I could talk for twenty minutes. So, I did! I am lucky, however, in that I get to cut-and-paste bits of my paper for your edification, rather than having to remember what my notes mean.
By analyzing popular romance fiction through the lens of BDSM identities and practices, it is possible to interrogate more broadly and more deeply the ways in which popular romance fiction constructs gender and the power dynamics and negotiations between hero and heroine. (BDSM, of course, is a combined acronym that stands for the main components of the sexual practices and orientations more commonly, but wrongly, known as S&M: Bondage/Discipline, Domination/ Submission, and Sadism/Masochism.) I argue with Ivo Dominguez that BDSM is a sexuality and a sexual identity as much as Kinsey’s homosexual/heterosexual continuum indicates a sexuality. So rather than one axis of sexuality, there are multiple axes of polysexuality, all affecting each other differently. In Charlotte Lamb’s otherwise vanilla romance, Vampire Lover, the heroine ties up and rapes the hero; it is only the rather kinky act of nonconsensual bondage that allows the characters to break out of the traditional male dominant/female submissive gender roles that so terrify the heroine, allowing them enough individual control over their fate to strive for their happy ending. I then turn to examining female dominant/male submissive BDSM romances. But while fem-dom romances overturn the traditional gender roles, they reinforce the construction of gender—the heroes are more male and more alpha than other heroes, the heroines more powerfully female and comfortable with being female than other heroines, and the Alpha male submissives thereby serve as an exaggeration of the value of the final submission to love of normal romance heroes. But fem-dom romances also present another problem in that they seem to try to naturalize the concept of a essential, even compulsory connection between the axes of dominance/submission and sadism/masochism where dominance and sadism map together and submission and masochism are inevitably joined. Finally, however, the relationship between the submissive but Alpha male hero and the female dominant heroine is—the best word I can come up with is—consummated in a reversal of the roles, an exception that proves the rule and serves to solidify the female dominant aspect of the relationship. So, while on the one hand fem-dom romances experiment with power structures of gender roles in the sexual relationship by making the heroines the sexual Alpha--and pretty kick-ass the rest of the time too--these novels reinscribe both construction of gender (men as "real" men, women as "real" women) and the connection between Domination and Sadism.