By Cintra Wilson

'I don't think my husband would like it,' Beecroft replies, simply. 'Had I been younger and just entering my sexual life and sexual identity, I certainly would have done.'

She begins to blush and stammer, looking a bit like a 17-year-old boy, summoning the courage of his convictions.

'For a long time, I thought I was transgender. I thought I literally was a gay man trapped in a woman's body. Now I'm just confused. I don't really identify with either gender. But it's taken me 40 years to get to this point.'

Erastes confesses similar feelings, albeit less conflicted.

'If I fantasize or watch porn, I watch gay porn, and I consider myself to be the penetrative man. But I'm very much bisexual; gender doesn't really bother me. When it comes to a relationship, it's a person. If I were going to have a woman partner for long term, then it would have to be somebody who understood the whole slash thing as well.'

Beecroft concurs: A lover would need to understand the 'slash thing.'

'Wait,' I ask, trying to take this in. 'So slash is really the end zone? Slash is the sexuality. Is slash part of the sexuality, or it is the whole thing?'

Both women agree: Slash is the whole thing. For both of them, and presumably for a number of their fans as well, slash, in itself, literally is sex.

'OK, slash is the sex,' I say, absorbing this revelation. 'So why would you be wanting anyone to take the sex out of the sex?'

'I don't know whether I'm taking sex all the way out,' Beecroft says. 'I identify with my lads. I want to be a man. I want to be a man fighting, a man thinking, sitting at his desk writing, as well as doing sex. All of it. Being a human being. Being a man at work is just as exciting as the sex.'

As Larry Flynt once discovered, erotic fantasies are all fun and games until somebody goes to hell. For Beecroft, who calls herself a 'quite committed Christian,' the hardest thing wasn't coming to terms with her gender identity, but reconciling slash with her religion. 'The married-with-children straight-woman part of my life is external. It's part of the truth, but it's a hell of a lot more complicated than that.'

After discovering slash and happily reveling in it for a couple of years, Beecroft had an internal crisis. 'Suddenly, it hit me: Sins of the imagination are sins too. So if homosexuality is a sin and if I'm getting pleasure from thinking about homosexuality -- if I think of myself inside as being like a gay man -- I must be sinning. I went through this huge thing in which I thought I was damned.'

Ultimately, Beecroft found consolation in books like John J. McNeill's The Church and the Homosexual and other works explicitly written for gay men trying to reconcile their own identities with their church. 'To come out of that, I had to [become] a different, liberal Christian: less frightened, less legalistic. It's been a fantastic thing for my Christianity.'

Beecroft's internal struggle found its way into her romantic M/M fiction: John, the captain in False Colors, struggles to reconcile his homosexual love with his identity as a Quaker. The 'most meaningful letter' Beecroft ever received, she says, was from a man who used a scene from False Colors to help a Christian friend who was agonizing over coming out of the closet after being married. 'That was probably my most treasured piece of feedback,' she says, blushing.

The world, however, has not quite caught up to the broad-mindedness of Alex and Erastes -- there is friction even within the slash community itself, which considers M/M romance a sellout. 'There's quite a bit of controversy, because straight women 'shouldn't' write this stuff,' says Beecroft. 'If I don't write about women, I'm a 'misogynist.' If I'm writing gay porn, I'm oppressing gay men, because I'm doing to gay men what [straight] men do to lesbians. That's wrong. It's not like that. It's complicated. People are complicated.'

Does she still struggle?

'No, not a bit,' Beecroft says with mounting emotion. 'If I didn't write this, I would be being false to who I am. I am as I am because God made me like this. Should I be writing this stuff at all? Should I be trying to ignore it and write something else that is socially acceptable? No. If my characters can stand up and say, 'This is who I am, and I'm gonna do it -- ' '

-- indeed, so can she.

Driving me back to the train station, Beecroft sighs. The whole problem is going to go away eventually, she says. M/M romance is such a rapidly expanding market, it will inevitably become 'normal' -- a part of the cultural landscape, right on the shelves in the romance section of your neighborhood Barnes & Noble (though not, perhaps, Walmart or Target, which still refuse to stock Running Press's M/M titles).

'It's all about tolerance, right? When people accept that these things exist -- that women like M/M, that sex comes in any assortment of genders and preferences -- then we will all tolerate each other.'

I'm reminded of a clip from the TV show RuPaul's Drag U, in which a woman felt unable to wear a dress because she had once been sexually assaulted. 'Girl, you need to feel safe in your body,' a drag queen told her. It was moving to watch a drag queen restoring femininity to a woman whose pleasure in dresses had been stolen from her. It was really about the transference of courage: because where, save for a few neighborhoods in a handful of major cities, is a drag queen ever really safe?

M/M fans already know (and the rest of the world must catch up eventually) that love abhors all limitations, and gender is among the least of these. If the courage of the gay man inside Alex Beecroft inspires her to live openly and proudly as a heterosexual Christian wife -- who are we to judge?