I’ve been thinking lately about whether you can say a romance is wonky just because the central sexual relationship is unconventional, non-vanilla, or kinky. I’m leaning towards no.
Take Samantha Wayland’s Destiny Calls, from Ellora’s Cave. It’s an erotic ménage romance about two cops, one straight and one gay, and their best friend, Destiny. The story kicks off when the straight cop kisses the gay one (to get out of an awkward and potentially dangerous situation) and is totally unprepared for his out-of-control attraction to his friend. Destiny sees her two best friends together and wants to join in the action.
That’s not a conventional setup for an HEA. And yet, by a number of measures, Destiny Calls is not a particularly wonky book. The players are loving, reasonably undamaged, and emotionally available. The sex is hot and well-written, but also, by erotic romance standards, relatively vanilla—beyond the thorough use of all available orifices, there’s not much boundary-pushing. The heroes are alpha and the heroine is not too effed up—she’s best-friend material. If the book weren’t pushing conventional notions about numbers and groupings, it would be, well, “just” a romance.
To me, a romance is wonky because it breaks genre conventions and violates readers’ ideas of what can get published and widely read. A romance is kinky because it violates sexual and social conventions—society’s ideas of what people should and do do in bed. A book can be both, of course. But just because society loosens up about a particular more doesn’t mean the genre will immediately follow. I know many strong women who happily love beta men (that kind of couple may even dominate my landscape), but the genre still doesn’t embrace beta men.
Both wonkiness and kinkiness are moving targets. Theresa Weir has noted that in the nineties, when she released the archetypically wonky Amazon Lily, there were virtually no books with male POV. Now it’s commonplace. Likewise, a couple of years ago, no one would have been able to foresee how much in stride readers would take Fifty Shade’s BDSM.
I do believe it’s part of Wonkomance’s job to help transport ideas from the margins to the center, from the minority’s fantasies into the majority’s consciousness. And sometimes that means being an advocate for the kinky or taboo. But I don’t think it’s Wonkomance’s primary job. Wonkomance’s primary job is to push the limits of the genre. And to do that, it has to push the limits of what we can accept about love, not just what we can accept about sex.
What’s unusual about Destiny Calls is not what its characters do in bed (or out). What blows me away is how deeply and profoundly romantic it is. The three characters don’t just screw around—they love each other, fully and fearlessly—and they do it in all three pairings and, somehow, even more than that, as a group. No one feels left out, no pairing overbalances the others. It takes a great deal of authorial skill to manage that, and a brave, wonky optimism.
I believe in Destiny and Brandon and Patrick’s HEA more than I believe in the happy futures of most m/f marriages I’ve witnessed in operation. Wayland changed my preconceptions about the reach and depth of love, and that, as far as I’m concerned, is a wonktastical act.