Book Review: Active Duty, Gay Military Erotic Romance

I’ve never read M/M erotic fiction before. Aside from my pre-teen days of following Sirius Black/Remus Lupin fan fiction, I fall outside of the gay male fiction demographic. That isn’t to say women do not read M/M, and several of my close female friends do. I just want to preface this review by saying I am a total newbie to this genre. I probably wouldn’t have picked up Active Duty other than to gawk at its spectacular beefcake cover, but my first real task as an intern at Cleis Press has been to manage its blog tour. I read the paperback to get to know its authors and to select excerpts to send to bloggers, a surprisingly difficult task considering I kept forgetting I was reading the book for work and not for my own enjoyment. Active Duty is in turn sweet, funny, sexy, and graphic, and I’m glad my internship gave me a reason to read it.

There are a few key differences between M/M fiction and erotica targeted at women. Obviously the sexual acts themselves are often different, because while oral and anal sex appear in women’s erotica, there is often a coyness about it (aka lots of puns about being “cheeky”). Plus an effort is made to take the distasteful elements out, no pun intended. That isn’t the case in M/M. These men fuck. They suck each other off, they have threesomes in mess hall bathroom stalls, they get dirty. And so does the language. I’ll admit I cringed more than once at certain word choices, reminding me that I still have quite a few hang ups when it comes to erotic fiction. Some notable phrases that do not appear in straight or women’s erotica include:

  • “geyser of spooge”
  • “splayed buttcrack”
  • “hot ass-channel”
  • “spit-gobbed hole”
  • “pee-pee hole”
  • “joy juice”

And hey, that reads well to some people. It’s just not my thing, but it’s always good to venture out of your comfort zone. Reading erotica targeted at men helps me understand the gendered nature of language and discussion of sexuality, and I bet there are plenty of men who would read those descriptors and wince, and plenty of women who would find them incredibly hot. Gender is a weird thing.

I also don’t read much erotic romance, as happily ever after resolutions seem forced to me when they follow a sex scene. But I never felt that way with Active Duty, which managed to encapsulate full relationships in a few pages in a completely believable way. Many of the couples were separated by or struggled with Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and the lifting of the policy was the final push for them to finally end up together. This collection is timely and quietly political, something I really value in erotic literature. This erotica matters because it could not have been published as recently as five or ten years ago. Its existence is a sign of progress, and that’s the sort of book I want to help publish.

Active Duty won’t be for everyone, but I had a lot of fun reading it. Planning its blog tour has been rewarding, fun, and put me in contact with some awesome writers and bloggers who I wouldn’t have connected with otherwise. Check out Active Duty online here, and editor Neil Plakcy’s website here.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

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