What I’ve learned over the years of writing gay smut is that there’s no such thing as too taboo. There’s also nothing that’s not taboo.
Every story is taboo to someone, and every story is very vanilla to someone else.
I once had someone offer to review one of my books and they were looking for something raunchy. I sent them my most taboo title (which, admittedly, isn’t very taboo compared to most of what’s out there) and the review came back saying it was ho-hum and they expected dirtier.
On the other hand, though, around the same time, I came across a reader review for one of my other stories — one I considered to be one of my tamest titles — and they freaking loved it and called it dirty.
I think when it comes to erotica and taboo, it’s all relative to a person’s lived experience and personal desires. But when it comes to gay men and gay erotica, the bar for what’s considered taboo can be much lower for some readers.
An out gay man in the kink scene would be hard pressed to call anything taboo, whereas a closeted gay man, perhaps one struggling to live the “straight life”, would find a rather vanilla but steamy scene to be taboo. For such a man, the simple desire to be intimate with another man is something that he has denied himself for years, perhaps even for his whole life, and a story about a man overcoming internalized homophobia and having his first passionate (yet vanilla) encounter with another man would be exactly what that reader needs. And, to him, it would be very taboo, as it’s something he feels he can never have.
A short while ago, I blogged about how my stories aren’t necessarily the dirtiest, but it’s what I want to write, so I’ll keep writing them. It’s the same with taboos — if I were to attempt a taboo, I might hit a niche with a hot market and start selling better, but my heart wouldn’t be in it. As many of the authors around here have said in the past few weeks, we write what we are compelled to write. Most authors will tell you they don’t really have a choice in the matter — they either write or they go crazy with all the story ideas in their heads. It’s like a faucet — you open it up and what comes out is what comes out. It might not be what’s hottest on the market, but it’s what we’re working with.
Some readers will continue to call my stories boring and for others I’ll be lighting the fuse on their erotic imagination. Writers can’t please everyone; no writer can claim that their target audience is all readers. So, if we can’t please everyone, then we shouldn’t write for everyone, we should write for ourselves.
For me, that means my “taboo” is illicit sex — it’s fairly vanilla (some mutual jerking, move to oral, end with anal), but it tends to be cloaked in the forbidden (teacher/student, jock/nerd, etc.). What I’m after isn’t necessarily “how raunchy can I make this?”, it’s more “how is this story going to unfold?”
Cameron D. James is a writer of gay erotica and M/M erotic romance; his latest release is Forbidden Desires: The Complete Series. He is publisher at and co-founder of Deep Desires Press and a member of the Indie Erotica Collective. He lives in Canada, is always crushing on Starbucks baristas, and has two rescue cats. To learn more about Cameron, visit http://www.camerondjames.com.