I uploaded my fifth Eclipsis story today: Captivity. This is the first work of mine that isn't, in some way, a romance. It is, as best I can describe it, a family drama. But what a family!
If what I've written so far is alternative or unconventional romance, this is definitely alternative, unconventional family drama. What's different about this Eclipsis family, and what's different about my romances, is the same thing, and something that confuses many readers: these stories take place in societies with conventional sex roles and expectations, and the protagonists in these romances and families are, for the most part, people who identify as "men" and "women", and who adhere, sometimes reluctantly, often happily, to old-fashioned and conventional sex roles.
One of the hazards of being a genre writer is that people sometimes think I write altruistically. That is, they think I write "bisexual" or "ménage" romance because I want to portray a misunderstood minority sympathetically, as opposed to the reason a writer of literary fiction chooses her subjects: because they interest her; because she has to tell that story. This genre point of view sees me as a 21-century Harriet Beecher Stowe, hoping to do for the cause of bisexual visibility what Ms. Stowe did for abolition.
This genre POV becomes a hazard when people read my novels. Instead of sensitive, enlightened men who are in touch with their feminine side, who resist sexual stereotypes and who strive valiantly for gender neutrality, readers find swaggering male chauvinists, scornful aristocrats, overbearing, domineering alpha males and, in the case of my sword-and-sorcery novels, a seriously disturbed sick puppy of a hero doing his best to be a good man but not always winning the battle, while also being a swaggering, scornful, overbearing, domineering, etc., etc. And of course, in all of these stories there are the women who marry these chauvinists and alphas, who fight and argue with them, but always end up in love with them, moaning with pleasure at their expert lovemaking.
Yes readers, in my thinly-disguised persona as the female protagonist, I always marry the bastard—and I like him that way. And to be honest, Amalie, the narrator of the Eclipsis stories, is pretty disturbed herself.
The point is: I'm not writing a feminist tract or a treatise against gender stereotyping. I'm writing about something that interests me. In the vaguely "historical" works, the ones set in Regency England, I'm fascinated by the idea that some upper-class bisexual men, those who conformed to their society's rigid and harsh rules of appearance and behavior, might well have been able to indulge in "deviant" sexuality as long as they also married a woman and didn't engage in public acts of sodomy. It strikes me as both subversive and conventional at the same time, that unacknowledged, covert and institutionalized bisexuality was always a part of the most traditional societies.
In the Eclipsis stories, I've imagined a similarly traditional society, one in which men and women marry for the same reasons most people in the real world did for most of human history: to have children, to set up a household, and to form alliances with other families. Romantic love didn't have much to do with marriage, although there was always the hope that a sensible, mature form of love would develop after the wedding.
What interests me as a writer, and as a woman, is imagining what it might be like to marry one of these men—for love—and live in a family and household along with his male partner. In the Regency novels, the partner is similar in age to the husband and wife. But in Eclipsis, I've taken advantage of the freedom of the fantasy genre to imagine a very different situation: marriage to a pederast. Now, before you get out your pitchforks and flaming torches, I will remind you that I'm not talking about a pedophile. A pederast likes teenage boys ("youths"). Barely legal, perhaps, but legal. I thought it would be fun to imagine a marriage in which the boyfriend is a sixteen-year-old military-academy cadet and my husband and I are old enough to be his parents.
And then, what is it like to be the forty-something mother of a five-year-old and a two-year-old, all three of us captured by bandits, and rescued by my middle-aged husband and his by now twentyish boyfriend?
Throw in telepathy and medieval technology, and that's Captivity.
What interests me most in these ménage stories is the idea of family. Sometimes I think I only wrote the romances as a way to get to what I really wanted to write about: the happily-ever-after that follows the end of the romance novel. We're accustomed now to the idea that children might have two mommies or two daddies instead of a mom and a dad—but what if they have a mom, a dad and … another dad? Or dad's companion, as we call him on Eclipsis.
Spoiler alert for the sequel to Phyllida I will probably never write. Many readers were frustrated that I never showed a threesome with the three main characters. I deliberately left it vague because I felt it was a situation that the husband, Andrew, both desired and feared. If he indulged his fantasy with his wife and Matthew, his male partner, he would also, given his nature, be consumed with jealousy, irrational as it seems, having shared his wife with another man and shared his lover with a woman. I thought readers should decide for themselves if it happened.
But in my own imaginings, I figured it was inevitable. And also, inevitably, Andrew and Phyllida's next child would be a blond, blue-eyed boy, fathered by Matthew. Would Andrew accept this child? How would Phyllida feel? I couldn't help thinking that the child would bring the three of them closer, and that despite some initial conflict and a great many harsh words, the bond between Andrew and Matthew would only strengthen. In a marriage of two men, sharing a woman, and accepting one's partner's child as one's own, is the ultimate test—and proof—of love.
In Captivity, because of the age difference, there's little possibility of a threesome, and because of her telepathic abilities, no chance of Amalie bearing a child not fathered by her husband. Yet Niall, the companion, risks his life several times to save his lover's wife and children. In Eclipsian society, as in ours for most of its history, a man's responsibility is to his own family, his own genetic relatives. Niall acts selflessly for people unrelated to him, because they're the family of the man he considers himself married to.
Perhaps I am writing altruistically after all. My bisexual male characters may not be feminists, but they are genuine heroes.