Since the 1970’s, GLBT crusaders have passionately argued ‘OUR LOVE IS REAL LOVE.’ Back then, the argument was a tough sell because the larger society found that love disgusting, immature, Freudian…whatever the rationale, love between two men or between two women was kept separate and unequal.
There may always be people who do not recognize or appreciate that ‘love is love.’ Just last week, Pat Robertson said that he wished Facebook had a Vomit option he could click when he saw pictures of two men kissing. Clearly, not everyone’s on board. But thankfully the world has changed significantly since 1973 when homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness.
These days, we can love.
We can keep our jobs.
We can marry! (Well, in some states. We’re getting there.)
Turns out, love is love. One definition does not fit all. And although our straight supporter allies may not share the same sexy inclinations toward the same sex that we homos feel, they get it. They love us and support us. Gay rights would be nowhere without non-gays showing up to say, ‘we believe this love is valid.’ They came to recognize that when you’re in love, the feeling is love.
And while we may never have accomplished what we did without the loving support from straight world, activists who have been fighting for decades to expand the definition of ‘love’ can take pride in reshaping the definition. The GLBTQ rainbow reshaped ‘love’ for greater acceptance of that which does not fit the mainstream.
Which confuses me a little bit.
When I published King Perry last year, the book got many gorgeous reviews. I was staggered by how beautifully people articulated their feelings, what happened to them, how they experienced the book, and the parts that touched their hearts. I had no idea I would feel so generously loved by reviews that clearly loved the characters as much as I did.
I say this to clarify that I bring up my next point from a place of gratitude and confusion.
People would often include in their reviews, ‘this isn’t a romance. It’s not a love story.’ They might then say, ‘well, it’s a very romantic story or it’s a very loving story, but it’s not a romance.’ I can see the point being made. If you’re looking for a traditional HEA HFN ending, the first few books in this series won’t have that. The title character, Vin Vanbly, wanders through the world alone, a lost king seeking redemption and love where he can find it.
To not completely alienate romance readers who don’t want their hearts continuously broken, I’ve let the cat-out-of-the-bag on this one: the six-book series will end happy. Big. Fat. HEA. In the meantime, Vin Vanbly wanders the world seeking love.
And doesn’t he find it?
True, his love may only last a weekend it seems, but doesn’t it count as being in love?
The answer I’ve heard repeatedly is ‘no.’ It doesn’t count. This love is not really love.
Can’t we expand the definition of love once again to make room for him and others who do not fit the traditional parameters of a love story? I try to puzzle out why it’s not a love story, even if the title characters don’t end up together in King Perry or the latest release, King Mai.
Is it because they fall in love over one weekend? I don’t think so. I’ve read romances where the title characters feel strong emotions immediately – instant love – or at least intense attraction that blossoms into full-on ‘in love’ within a few chapters. Of course, there’s usually a barrier to these characters saying it aloud or hampering their staying together. After all, what kind of story would it be if they accepted their love by chapter two and encountered no further obstacles?
So it can’t be the amount of time characters spend together.
Is it because the two title characters don’t stay together by the end? I can see this argument. It certainly doesn’t fit the traditional definition of HEA or HFN…but does that disqualify it as a romance entirely? A love story? Can’t the definition of two men being in love encompass more than one or two traditional endings?
During my thirties, I met a man. We felt the instant attraction. He visited me from Los Angeles for an extended weekend and the first 48 hours, I would argue we were fast falling in love. His name was Makoto and I loved his quiet voice, his sexy grin when we headed to my bedroom. We laughed over meals and he was terrified of the Midwestern summer storm that hit Minneapolis one afternoon. They don’t get storms like that in Los Angeles or even in Japan where he grew up. Every time lightning struck, he jumped a foot off the couch and wincing, turned to me and asked, “Did someone just die? Did that just kill someone?”
We didn’t end up together. Once we started talking about long-term relationship goals, it turns out I had some and he did not. He never saw himself coming out of the closet, certainly not for a relationship, and whomever he dated had to accept his closeted status. I had dated closeted guys. It’s not a good recipe for a relationship of equals.
I remember our weekend fondly, how we allowed ourselves to feel love. Doesn’t this count as romance? We didn’t stay together…we were incompatible in a lifetime relationship. But you can’t convince me that it wasn’t romance. One of the most celebrated fictional romances in recent decades was The Bridges of Madison County. (Yes, I read it. Gag.) The two characters never ended up together and it was assumed from the onset that they never would. While you may question the extreme cheesiness of that book, nobody ever questioned that it was a romance.
The other argument I’ve heard is that Vin loves his men in more of a brotherly way. That these KingWeekends are not true love, but agape, the Greek concept of deep, male love, a definition expanded by Christianity to mean brotherly love, love for all of humanity. Sure, Vin has some of this in him. But I don’t think people with ‘agape’ in their hearts spend much time telling their beloved, “Suck my dick.” Vin loves these men physically, spiritually, emotionally. He loves them with every fiber, including sexually.
When you are in love love and you truly love them, you want the best for that other person. You want their life to be better, for them to shine brighter. But that non-selfish part of being in love is one dimension of being in love. Wanting to inspire the best in someone else doesn’t preclude wanting to bend them over a bale of hay and fuck them silly.
Personally, I think Vin wants the love from each King Weekend to last. I think he goes into these weekends with his bruised and broken heart still hopeful, wondering if this time the weekend love will somehow find a way to last. He may be the one who cuts it short, convincing himself it couldn’t possibly work, but somewhere in him remains a spark of hope the other man will not accept that limitation.
Toward the end of King Mai, Vin ponders to himself these words:
Who knows? Perhaps this is the king who sets me free.
I will become a Found King any day now. I know it. I feel it.
Vin is hopeful. Unfortunately, because the book takes place in 1996 and we already know in 1999 Vin remains a Lost King, we know his faith is misplaced…it’s not happening anytime soon for him.
But he hopes. He believes.
And he loves his men with this hope that perhaps one King Weekend will last beyond Sunday noon….
It seems a shame not to acknowledge his love as real. It’s too bad his romances aren’t recognized as a true romance. I don’t think there’s anyone more romantic or more ready for lasting love than the narrator of these fairy tales, Vin Vanbly. He may only get a weekend with these men, but the breakup pains him, and he misses each man the way you would miss a lover who you weren’t finished loving.
One day Vin’s love will be recognized as valid and real. The definition of ‘love’ and ‘romance’ will expand to see him.
The doors of the kingdom will open wide and at last, at long last, Vin and his goofy love, will be welcomed home.
Edmond Manning is the author of King Perryand most recently (July 15, 2013), King Mai. You need not have read that first book to enjoy King Mai. Feel free to email Edmond: firstname.lastname@example.org.