Where Are All the Multi-Level-Market—I mean, Men Loving Men?

There’s something I’ve been keeping in the back of my mind regarding queer speculative fiction: there is an overwhelming amount of women loving women (wlw). At first, I thought this was just me—in reading, I prefer to read about women loving other women and so the amorphous algorithm that runs my internet feed (and thus my life) veers towards that direction. As a result, I don’t see a lot of men loving other men. 

And then I came across this Tweet on Twitter, and it gave me pause. So I QRT’d it and decided to change up my topic for this month’s column at the eleventh hour.  

This month, I’m taking a look at some data points to answer the question: “does adult queer speculative fiction veer towards f/f or is it just me?” I am answering this question with SCIENCE. 

About the Data and Its Collection

For the purposes of this article, I looked exclusively at K. A. Doore’s lists of adult, queer speculative fiction. They are a nice one-stop-shop and list relevant information about the book in question without having to click through or do any serious digging. Please note that these lists do not list every adult queer speculative book coming out in a given year. In fact, the list for 2021 has more books on it than the list for 2019; I am assuming this is because the list is getting more well-known and people are submitting their books to it for marketing purposes. This is one way the data in this set is skewed. I’ll explain the other ways in a minute. 

(SIDE NOTE: K. A. Doore is a fantastic human being and you should send them love for maintaining this list in the first place. The data collected and conclusions drawn in this post are not meant to attack Doore in any way, shape, or form. This writer does not support any action that does not involve an expression of eternal gratitude.)

Each title on these lists had two tallies: the type of romantic relationship presented therein, and the gender of the lead; each with four sub-categories. 

Romantic Relationships

The four romantic relationships I collected were: m/m (what I’m looking for), f/f (what I see a lot of), other (these are the bi m/f, polyamorous, m/nb, f/nb, and any other combination of relationship), and unspecified. As I did not do a thorough digging, “unspecified” simply means that the type of relationship was not present on the information in the list. 

This is another way the data below might be skewed—some m/m titles may be overlooked because the data was not present at the time of collection. 

Main Character Gender

The four genders I collected are: male, female, bisexual, and other. I included bisexual as its own gender because the data often said whether the MC was bi or not without other specifications. Additionally, look to your bisexual friends and tell me they aren’t a (fabulous, stupendous, show-stopping) gender all on their own. A lot of the data points did not specify whether a transgender character was a transgender man or a transgender woman, so quite a few of them went to the “other” bucket. They’re too cool for the gender binary anyway. 

I do not mean to be exclusionary. As you will see from the data below, the number of unspecified relationships and other characters outnumber the number of m/m relationships and male leads by a great amount. 

Without further ado . . . 

The Disastrous Data 

Table of Main Characters and Their Genders

2019 2020 2021
Titles with Male MC 5 10 12
Titles with Female MC 23 27 27
Titles with Bisexual MC 5 13 19
Titles with Unspecified MC 12 16 20
Total Titles 45 66 78

Titles with Main Queer Romance

2019 2020 2021
Titles with Main m/m 6 7 15
Titles with Main f/f 17 26 27
Titles with Main Other 2 4 8
Titles with Main Unspecified 18 29 28
Total Titles 43 66 78

Look! Graphs for the Queer Romance Table!

Graphs collected by screenshotting Excel, a very scientific process. Apologies for all the zooming and squinting and overall horrendous quality.

A Very Scientific Analysis

In 2019, 14% of the books on the list were mlm; that percentage dropped to 11% in 2020 and increased to 19% in 2021. 

Compare this to the wlw relationships, which went from 39% in 2019 and 2020 to 35% in 2021. Over a third of the titles on the list are women loving women, where the number of mlm books are less than a fifth for all three years. 

I find it worth pointing out that the number of Other relationships (polyamorous, multiple relationships, etc) increased from 5% in 2019 to 6% in 2020 to 10% in 2021. 

The decrease in wlw books made room for more diverse relationships overall. 

Conclusions

Let me reiterate that this is a very incomplete set of data and the conclusion therein is barely more than an rudimentary assumption with some numbers behind it. I would feel a lot better about the data and conclusions drawn if I had 10 years’ worth of data and a more robust means of collection that records the sexualities, genders, and romantic relationships of secondary characters. 

Alas, I do not live in that world (I have a day job, you know). So we must sit with the knowledge that we do not have a lot of mlm relationships in speculative fiction from the past two years when compared to the number of wlw relationships seen in speculative fiction. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is entirely up to personal interpretation.

My personal conclusion is that wlw speculative fiction has been selling more books, so publishers are buying those books. 

Want to see more mlm in speculative fiction? Go out and buy it! Preferably from your local indie bookstore. In the meantime, please Tweet me your favorite mlm speculative fiction book.

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