Desperately Seeking Gay Chick Lit

As you might know already, I am obsessed with chick lit—you know, women in their late twenties, thirties, living in the city, looking for love and a great job … So I thought: why could there not be a gay version of this genre? That fired off a spark in my mind to make me feel like writing the kind of stories that I could not easily find.

A Bad Day Calls for a Comfort Read

Whenever I’ve had a bad day at work or an awkward date that I’d rather soon forget, I bury my nose in a good book. Some people comfort eat, but I comfort read! It always helps me feel better when I get to read about someone else’s life that is messier than my own, thanks to a healthy dose of schadenfreude.

For years I’ve been traversing marketplaces, bookshops and libraries, looking for these kinds of fresh, humorous stories where the main protagonist is gay. Unlike other genres, I’ve found that the diversity and choice is a bit limited as far as my necessities for gay literature go.

Once more, I go out to my favourite bookshop and, once more, the results are the same as last time. And the time before that. I’m greeted by big prize-winners, or whatever latest bestseller the store has to push. They’re all interesting and solid novels in their own way, but they’re not what I’m looking for.

Where is the Humour?

And so I take my search online, specifically to Amazon, which is full of the coming-of-age or Young Adult (YA) subgenre that pretty much dominates gay fiction. I recognise they can be really helpful for young people going through those issues, but I’m at the stage where I’d like to just read about two people trying to make an adult romance work whilst balancing a mortgage and a tedious office job.

The other big subgenre that tops the bestseller lists in the gay fiction market is romance. Many of these books with the muscled hunks on the covers are often full of clichés that I find don’t accurately depict life in a way that is believable. It’s hard to find a gay romance that doesn’t involve heavy sex, drugs, unbelievable melodrama or the constant identity struggle in some way. I just want something funny to read along with my cup of tea!

I can’t help notice there is a significant lack of humour in gay literature compared to other genres. Perhaps it’s just me preaching to the unimpressed choir, but I have to wonder, do any readers of gay fiction actually want this? Moreover, where can a reader like myself find a simple, relatable, everyday life story where the protagonist just happens to be gay and doesn’t transform into a pregnant werewolf?

Cliches, Cliches, and more Cliches

Gay fiction is often packed full of clichés that don’t translate well to the real world and many of us find it difficult to resonate with. I love a good cliché or trope, don’t get me wrong, but how many times have you read about gay billionaires into bondage? Or the “fake boyfriends”—a genre that seems to be racing ahead in popularity at the moment.

To quote actor and comedian Adam Devine, “I want to see a movie about two gay guys where being gay is not the main issue in their lives. I want to see them on a completely different journey that has nothing to do with them being gay.”

Same here gurl! …

It would be just great to read a light-hearted and funny story in a chick lit style where the protagonist is a gay man living in the city, looking for love and to better his career.

Whatever Happened to Chick Lit

The term “Chick lit” was first coined in the 1990s and is used to describe female-centred narratives that focus on trials and tribulations of women navigating adult life, dating, careers, and wider relationships.

Chick Lit differs from classical romance in that it focuses on the heroine in trouble who is trying to make sense of life in a confusing world. The heroine often has a cool and sought after job in a creative field, or is climbing the ladder in a prestigious industry. Chick lit contains romance, of course, but it often serves as a way for the protagonist to grow as a person and learn something about herself and her place in the world.

The genre used to focus on a particular subset of women (usually young, mostly white, mostly middle class) but, as the genre has matured, it has diversified. We now have classic detective, mystery and domestic noir chick lit authors like Janet Evanovich and Liane Moriarty. We also have very humorous chick lit with the likes of Sophie Kinsella (my favourite author) and sophisticated chick lit from the iconic Candace Bushnell. Other excellent authors in this genre with whom I’m currently obsessed include Lucy Vine, Eliza Kennedy and Holly Bourne.

In the chick lit genre a happily ever after ending is not guaranteed, but there will be a happy ending of some sort. This happy ending usually comes in the form of the heroine learning about herself and becoming a more capable person.

The term “chick lit” seems to have gone out of favour in recent years though. On Amazon, the books we would call chick lit are now considered “Women’s fiction.” The overall vibe I get is that the term itself isn’t really welcomed any more. Recently, I was at a writing workshop and mentioned the term “chick lit.” Several female heads turned to me and one of them whispered “I wouldn’t use that term in a room full of women.” Not that I meant to insult anyone but, judging by their reaction, I’m pretty sure they all knew what I meant when I was talking about chick lit.

What About Chick Lit for Men?

Male centred fiction has Dick Lit and Lad Lit, which are sometimes used interchangeably, sometimes considered distinct categories, and sometimes not considered a category at all. Some readers argue that Lad Lit focuses on interpersonal relationships, while Dick Lit focuses on sexploits and sexual prowess. For those that criticise the genres altogether, they argue that a gender can’t be a genre, surely the themes of the stories can appeal to all. The genre essentially uses male stereotypes to tell a story from the male perspective in the same way traditional chick lit did with female stereotypes such as shopping and gossiping. In Lad Lit the male characters drink beer, play pool, lust after women and have an affinity for alpha male activities. Some of my favourite authors like Chuck Palahniuk, Nick Hornby and Boris Vian (as Vernon Sullivan) would fit into this category.

So we have a version of chick lit with straight men, but what about chick lit with gay men?

Give Us Gay Chick Lit!

Are people interested in Dick Lit or Chick Lit from a gay perspective? I think so. These genres appeal to both sexes because they deal with struggles and experiences we all go through. We all want to be seen, appreciated, validated, to grow as a person and become better in our romantic and personal relationships as well as our life goals, such as career and family. Real people aren’t one-dimensional, they are complex beings who have awkward sex a lot of the time, not highly skilled passionate encounters with ridiculously attractive people. And gay men are real people too.

So why hasn’t this genre been attempted more? Why doesn’t it have a healthy and significant audience base? Most of the time, the critics in the gay fiction genre expect a pure gay romance story and want a happily ever after. I talk from experience here. Once, I got a bad review because there “wasn’t enough romance,” only my book wasn’t published under the gay romance category nor any other romance category. Is this holding writers back from taking risks? Probably. As much as we’d like to think writing is a purely creative exercise, writers have to make money too and sticking to a tried and tested formula is a sure fire way to keep the money rolling in.

I recently started what I call the Gay Lit Hall of Fame, a list of books that contain humour and featuring gay protagonists, in which you’ll find bestsellers such as ‘Less’, by Andrew Sean Greer, and ‘Red, White & Royal Blue’, by Casey McQuiston. I think this goes to show that there is a market for this genre and, if more writers took the risk to try something a little different, then we’d see a whole lot more of chick lit for gay men, and maybe even see it become an established genre in the future, even if the name needs a little tweaking.

A Look to the Future

It seems like there is a big gap in the market for this kind of literature. Moreover, nobody knows what to call this type of literature. Whether that’s down to lack of trying or just plain ignorance is up for debate—a debate that  I would very much like to get started amongst readers of chick lit or those who are interested in novels with gay protagonists.

Do you agree with what I’ve said regarding this missing genre? Would you like to see it emerge in the market and perhaps one day even be a dominant genre? Most importantly, what would it be called? (No prizes for the best one other than recognition and my thanks!)

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