Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Essence of Paranormal Romance?

In Issue 61 of CEMETERY DANCE, Michael Marano's "Mediadrome" column includes a diatribe against paranormal romance. In his view, this subgenre is "about sexual frustration" and represents "a screwed up rejection of one's own sexuality." Vampires, werewolves, etc., he says, "are presented as sexual ideals because of their *otherness*. Their sexiness comes from their inhumanity." Through these figures, "human sexuality is pushed into the inhuman" and "made alien and 'other' through that act of projection." Thereby, paranormal romances "present human sexuality as a thing not best-suited for humans. It's *other*. It's not of *us*."

As a devotee of relationships between the human and not-quite-human—going all the way back to my teenage ardor for vampires and, later, my fondness for Spock in STAR TREK—I feel there's something wrong with Marano's argument. For one thing, the allure of the Other surely goes beyond sexuality, or, rather, precedes it. The Other as an erotic object is a subset of the Other as fascinating for broader reasons. The friendship between the human riverboat captain and the vampire in George R. R. Martin's FEVRE DREAM, for instance, has no recognizably sexual component. When eroticism does enter the relationship, in the best-written of these stories the nonhuman character finds the otherness of the human character equally alluring. For the reader, moreover, I think a well-constructed werewolf, vampire, or demon embodies some aspect of humanity (whether erotic or otherwise) isolated and expanded upon in the image of the "monster."

Anyway, as illustrated in James Tiptree's classic story "And I Awoke and Found Me Here on the Pale Hill's Side," human beings instinctively tend to exogamy. The old adage "opposites attract" confirms the universality of Tiptree's premise that, among ourselves, the urge to mate with the exotic Other from the far side of the mountain (or from another race—there's a reason why Young Massa on the plantation spent so much time visiting the slave cabins) keeps the genes circulating and the species healthy. Why else does the "Romeo and Juliet" theme perennially attract audiences? (Not that Romeo and Juliet offer a prime example of the premise; aside from that silly feud, they would have made a perfectly matched couple, coming from the same social class, culture, and religion.) The currently dominant opinion among paleontologists seems to hold that our fully human ancestors never mated with Neanderthals, but I suspect they did, even if those encounters left no descendants. The fact that Neanderthals and Cro Magnons didn't look much like each other wouldn't have prevented a few illicit romances from occurring. Similar differences don't prevent cross-cultural and interracial romances nowadays. Would Marano categorize such matings as a sign of "rejection of one's own sexuality"?

For the record, I’m a big fan of human sexuality. :) (I’ve been married over 40 years and have four children.) However, I don’t see a need to write about it in exhaustive detail unless it’s the couple’s first sexual act or a turning point in their relationship. Human-nonhuman sexual encounters, though, are another matter. Aliens, ghosts, vampires, and werewolves presumably make love differently from the rest of us. I want to see what goes where and how those differences play out in the couple’s journey toward intimacy. In a love scene with the Other, if the details aren’t supplied I feel cheated.

So, as I said, Marano's argument feels wrong to me, but I'm having trouble pinning down my problem with it. Any suggestions?

Margaret L. Carter
Carter's Crypt