Hi! It’s been a little while since our last Authors Unbound guest post went live. But I really love this blog series so let’s revive it!
I am very excited to welcome Parker Foye on Queer Books Unbound! Please give them a warm welcome!
When we’re talking favourite tropes, my absolute number one is identity porn. The trope is somewhat like mistaken identity, but with more moving parts, and it’s perhaps seen more in fanfiction than original fiction. This is likely because the trope is more enjoyable for a reader when they’re able to anticipate the payoff of the misunderstanding/deception/confusion, whereas in original fiction it can be harder to have the initial buy-in, because we don’t actually know who anyone is, anyway.
(This trope does work very well in a book series—I mention Sarah MacLean’s Rules for Scoundrels specifically, below.)
So. What is identity porn, anyway?
Well, first, the stories don’t always have sex in them! I know the name is deceptive, but the porn comes from the identity hijinks and—Okay, let’s look at this.
Fanlore.org describes identity porn as ‘a trope or narrative kink that may or may not involve actual porn, involving “people who have secret identities which focus on the consequences of using multiple personas”.’ It mentions the term was likely coined in comics fandom, due to the multi-identitied superheroes, then notes it has more recently been applied to ‘scenarios where characters interacting online do not realize they know one of their online friends in real life’ (see Courtney Milan’s Hold Me, below, for an example of this).
The stories where I fell hard and fast for identity porn (yes, by the way, it is always ‘identity porn’, I don’t make the rules) were in the Captain America fandom, and specifically Steve/Bucky fanfiction. Brainwashing! Disguises! Betrayal! One character doesn’t know who the other is, and the other doesn’t know who he is! And that’s in canon! I’m making grabby hands at my screen right now at the notion.
There are some other definitions at Fanlore, too, which may aid understanding. For me, I think this gets close to putting a finger on why I enjoy this trope so much:
“…I wonder if the striving for wholeness, for the truth behind the masks, is what other people kink on emotionally. For me, the point of identity porn has to do with the ways it shows the whole person who’s pretending to be only part of themselves. The climax, then, is when all those masks collide and fall apart, leaving the whole person exposed to someone else who knows them better than they ever would have without the playing with masks.” [Citation link]
Another of the comments on Fanlore mentions the concept of ‘overlapping social circles’. This is important (imo) for identity porn. Let’s try and break this down. If the MC is known as Persona A by the LI, but is secretly also Persona B in their night job, then that’s a straightforward secret identity trope. Neat, but not the biscuit. However! If the MC is known as Persona A by the LI, but is secretly also Persona B in their night job where they encounter the LI in that guise, then thaaaat’s what we’re looking for. The classic example (cited in the comment about) is Clark Kent/Superman/Lois Lane.
In the MCU, you can square that off by having a medley of Steve Rogers/Captain America/Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier, for example, because you have a second character with a second identity. And then you just… Put them in a blender (gently, with care, they have traumatic backstories) and go.
(A note: I come toward this trope from a romance reader point of view, but the kissing part isn’t necessary. You’ll see from the recs at the end that SFF supply this trope in non-kissing flavours.)
I have tried to examine my id to discover why this trope works for me. I absolutely enjoy other tropes and narrative devices—marriages of convenience, time loop, sunshine/grumpy, and, oh my gosh, so many others—but identity porn has me invested. It’s the ultimate ‘I know something you don’t know’. (Perhaps, as a younger sibling, the need for this power is imprinted in my soul?) As a reader, the payoff for this trope is (can be) amazing—you’ve read the book carrying this secret throughout, and you know there’s going to be a discovery scene and it’s going to be so good. They’re in love with each other twice! AND THEY DON’T EVEN KNOW.
Ahem. Anyway, a little while back I put the call out on my twitter for identity porn stories from the non-fanfiction realm, because I knew there had to be some, if not labelled as such.
I haven’t read all of the following books, but I hope they show some of the different flavours available for this trope (and if you can think of more, I’m always here for recs, please and thank you). With thanks to @alexbooer, @FeliciaDavin, @LadyTiferet, @readingtheend, and @sophienotemily.
THE TITLE SAYS IT ALL. Classic superhero identity porn themes. I’m very excited to read this one.
A ‘masked hero’ Regency romance, where the heroic identity is passed to different people in the series. I’ve read this one, and the MC/LI meet through a rescue and then wound tending. It is a thigh wound. Hello, taxi for Foye, I am trash for this.
I have been told there is BODY SHARING in this book, which is an added element of exclamation points I had not yet considered in conjunction with this trope. This book sits on my bedside table. As soon as 2020… isn’t… I’m going to eat it.
The fourth book in the Rules for Scoundrels series has a perfect identity porn payoff. I actually read this first, due to the month I spent eating whatever Sarah MacLean books my library had, in no particular order, but for the best payoff I suggest starting with the first in the series, A Rogue By Any Other Name. Spoilers abound if you read Never Judge… first! (But also, it’s great, so. Live your truth.)
This is a sci-fi saga, but I was specifically recommended Komarr, A Civil Campaign, and Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance as a starting point. They, too, are on my bedside table, because at one point I thought I could trick my TBR by having physical books and let me assure you this is not the case.
A contemporary romance between a (apocalypse themed!) blogger and her commenter are IRL enemies. That’s right, some delicious enemies-to-lovers is in there too.
Mal Jones has lost all his family to the sea. He is the only Jones remaining in Lastings, a small coastal town scarred with more secrets than salt. A self-declared hermit, Mal lives on the edge of Lastings with his dogs, his history, and his determination to be left alone.
So the letters from a mysterious admirer come as something of a surprise. As does the monstrous oyster shell unearthed from the foundations of the town’s old port, the discovery of which initiates a chain of events that threaten Lastings and everyone in it.
Reeve—letter writer, avid reader, and one of the merfolk—left the darkwater for Lastings at the sea’s behest, and stayed to learn what it is to be a lander. But when ocean creatures begin stalking on land, and seem to be targeting Mal in particular, Reeve is reminded that the only safety is the kind taken at the point of a claw.
When the sea goes walking, no one is left untouched. Together, Mal and Reeve must work to save Lastings—and each other.
PS. The dogs live.
Letters From Dark Water is the third story from Love Has Claws, a speculative romance trilogy linked by the town of Lastings. They are standalone stories, but your experience may be enhanced by reading Nine Years of Silver (Love Has Claws #1) and/or The Burial Club (Love Has Claws #2).
Content Warnings: bloody violence; gore; consumption of human flesh; death, including that of a child (the latterly mentioned very briefly, off-screen); child neglect; vomiting; allusions to alcohol dependency
Parker Foye (they/them) writes queer speculative romance and believes in happily ever after, although sometimes their characters make achieving this difficult. An education in Classics nurtured a love of heroes, swords, monsters, and beautiful people doing foolish things while wearing only scraps of leather. You’ll find those things in various guises in Parker’s stories, along with kissing (very important) and explosions (very messy). And more shifters than you can shake a stick at.
Parker lives in Oxford, UK, and travels regularly via planes, trains, and an ever-growing library.
You’re interested in participating? Great! Just shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org using Authors Unbound in the reference line and we’ll get things set up.
We can’t wait to hear from you!
You can find all previous guest posts in this series >here<.
Authors Unbound Genre: Paranormal Genre: Romance Pairing: M/M Self Published Tag: Guest Post Tag: Part of a series Trigger Warning: Alcohol Trigger Warning: Violence Authors Unbound Love Has Claws series Parker Foye