By Cintra Wilson

'I was a complete tomboy,' Erastes explains. 'I went to bed with men, and sometimes with two men -- I just didn't see what it was I was aiming at. Do you see what I mean? I had never thought: Buy a gay sex book. Then suddenly the light came on, and I thought, This makes perfect sense!'

In reading historical M/M romances by Erastes, Beecroft, and a few other M/M authors, I found them structurally similar to straight romance novels'both varieties tended to culminate in a blissful, breeches-ripping penetration scene. But both authors take umbrage when I describe their work as gay pornography.

'It isn't all about the porn,' Beecroft laments.

'I don't believe you,' I say.

'I know. People don't, and it's such an annoyance. Do you think a 300-page book that's got three sex scenes in it is all about the sex?'

Erastes concurs. 'I think people automatically think gay equals sex. That would be like saying heterosexual equals sex, and that is a very unfair thing to say.'

Both agree that the first kiss in their books is 'almost more intimate than sex.'

Explicit sex, however, is a necessary evil of writing M/M romance novels -- at least as far as publishers are concerned.

'When I first started, the publishers demanded a sex scene every chapter,' said Erastes. 'But the more I write, the less I want to write sex scenes. I don't think I would ever write a book that didn't have a sex scene, but everything has to be integral to the story.'

'I don't do explicit sex,' says Beecroft. 'I try not to.'

'Yes, you do,' I counter. 'I read your book last night. It's pretty explicit -- the full anal happens.'

'OK, I'm not saying it's not explicit. I'm saying that's not what the books are about. I don't mind reading the occasional explicit scene, but I'd prefer to fade to black.'

Cultural studies academics have been intrigued by slash fiction since the 1990s.Slashers have been thought of as fans who resist heteronormative culture and gender stereotypes. Since women are not equal to men in society, a straight romance narrative -- the usual machinations that bring a brutish alpha male and a wasp-waisted young female beauty to the point of bodice-ripping penetration -- can't deliver the same heady emotional frisson as a 'bromance,' which slashers and M/M authors alike view as a courtship between equals, which culminates in the emotional jackpot of a true love based on loyalty, trust, caring, and mutual respect.

In Nasa/Trek: Popular Science and Sex in America, academic Constance Penley asks the obvious question: Why are women fans so alienated from their own bodies that they can write erotic fantasies only in relation to a non-female body? She surmises that perhaps men's bodies are simply easier to fantasize with because they aren't the legal, moral, religious battleground that women's bodies are.

While I know organic sexual preferences are neither elective nor politically motivated, I couldn't help but feel, as a heterosexual female, that there was something self-assassinating and a little bit politically disturbing about the M/M fiction I read. Femininity, in this genre, is a culture that is so completely conquered as to be utterly vanquished.

While the men in M/M novels are invariably described as looking like Roman gods, the women -- auxiliary characters such as unwanted wives or nosy scullery maids -- are not portrayed as sexually or emotionally desirable at all. They are usually quite the opposite -- weak, whining simps who cough up blood and lose their hair and/or their minds.

I found myself asking the same question as Constance Penley: Can women like Beecroft and Erastes only feel really sexual in a fictional universe where their own sex doesn't really exist?

'Do you ever get accused of being a misogynist?' I ask Beecroft.

'All the time,' she replies.

'In your sexual imagination, why are there no women at all?'

She levels her gaze and answers in a steady, grounded voice. 'The plain and simple answer for me is that in my sexual imagination, I'm a gay man. I write to
satisfy a sexual desire that I can't physically satisfy in this body.'

'I'm a penetrative gay man as well,' says Erastes.

I ask a hair-raisingly personal question. 'If that's your sexual identity, why wouldn't you just buy a really good strap-on and be gay?'