Why I Believe Queer Romance Matters by Becky Black

In Western culture the default hero, in fact the default character, is the straight white male. Their sexuality may never be mentioned. It may never be part of the story, but straight is the assumption. When J K Rowling told an interviewer that Dumbledore is gay she wasn’t simply clarifying a point that hadn’t been mentioned in canon. She certainly wasn’t answering the question “What’s Dumbledore’s sexual orientation?” He was assumed straight until she stated otherwise. If there’s even a passing reference in a book to a character being queer the whiners start saying “but why do you need to mention it? You don’t mention which characters are straight!” But characters are assumed straight unless stated otherwise. Differences have to be mentioned or most readers simply won’t think of them.

Difference is important to represent in fiction. Because not everyone reading or watching matches that default character. They’ve nothing against Mr. Straight White Male, but god, does he have to get all the good parts? People naturally want to read about and see someone like themselves get a shot at being the hero too.  As more than just the sidekicks and gay BFFs. Young people especially need to see and read about characters they can relate to even more than adults. Those characters tell them that people like them are real and are not alone. And that they can be everything Mr. Straight White Male can be.

Representation doesn’t only matter to the people in that group though. I grew up in very non-diverse place and culture where I heard a lot of prejudiced crap and stereotyping of minorities. Fiction opened my eyes to people different  from myself, but sharing a common humanity. Good, well-written representation in fiction is not simply “pandering to minorities”, it’s a reminder that the experience of the majority is not universal and makes us expand our minds.

So representation of minorities, including queer people matters. That’s clear. But why does it matter so much in romance? I mean romance is just fluff, right? It’s not about real life. It’s a kind of fantasy. But even if that’s true, why should queer people not have their share of the fluff and the fantasy. Must all stories told about them be “issue” stories? That gets old very fast. Queer characters have the right to be in all kinds of fiction and to have every kind of story told about them, without the stories being seen as something “daring” and “edgy” just for the fact they include queer people. Queer stories deserve to be part of the literary canon like anyone else’s. Whether it’s in realistic or escapist fiction, literary fiction or genre. For such a long time queer voices and their stories were silenced for fear of prison and death. Historical authors can make an attempt to tell some version of those stories, but the real truth of them is lost forever.

Romance in particular is important, because it has something different than all those “issue” stories. A happy ending. Until really quite recently even positive sympathetic portrayals of queer people painted them as sad characters, and they were lucky if they made it to the end of the book alive. A happy ever after ending for them with someone to love was almost unheard of. But make them the lead characters in a romance and they HAVE to have a happy ending. It’s genre-defining. It’s compulsory.

And lastly, I think it’s good for the genre itself. I’ve seen people say it’s revived their enjoyment of romance when they’d got burned out on it. It expands the scope. It gives us more stories to read and tell about more types of characters.

About Becky Black

Becky lives in the UK and her writing is primarily fuelled by tea and rainy days. After spending far too many years only thinking about writing she finally started putting words down back in 2003 and hasn’t stopped since, still trying to make up for lost time. She’s a long time science fiction fan and a lover of all types of stories, but especially those about people who find themselves in the trickiest of no-win situations. She likes nothing more than chasing her characters up trees and throwing rocks at them until they figure a way down.


 About Dream for Me

DreamForMe_for Web In a society awake for twenty-four hours a day a man who sleeps is a freak. But not to neurobiologist Shay Mistry. Jacob Garcia, the last known sleeper in America, is the test subject whose brain Shay has been dying to get his hands on for years. When they meet, Shay discovers the sleeper’s brain comes accompanied by a gorgeous body and a hostile attitude. As Jacob sleeps night after night in his lab it’s harder and harder for Shay to resist their mutual attraction.

Jacob is tired of being a lab rat, but he’s got his reasons to be in Shay’s lab—one of them he’s not going to tell anyone about—and his plan is to do what he came to do and leave. So falling in love with Shay is like adding a hand grenade to all the other balls he’s juggling. He doesn’t need this added complication, but his desire for Shay is too strong to resist. When Jacob’s secret comes out it triggers a chain of events leaving Shay irrevocably changed and forcing Jacob to choose where his loyalties lie.

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8 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I have been posting just about everywhere I can regarding an article in the New Statesman by Grayson Perry about Default Man http://www.newstatesman.com/culture/2014/10/grayson-perry-rise-and-fall-default-man, and so the timing of this was kind of spooky (I thought initially), but of course it isn’t – that default position permeates pretty much everywhere. Within queer romance, and queer fiction generally, while there is greater diversity than elsewhere, my totally unscientific conclusion is that most books (please note I said totally unscientific – as I can’t possibly have read everything) still has a version of default man as a main character. While I think that this slowly changing if it’s going to happen anywhere, it should happen here.

  • That is pretty spooky timing, Karen. But like you say, not so surprising, since Default Man is everywhere. It’s good this all-pervasiveness is being questioned in lots of places now.

  • Hi Becky, thanks, I like your post :-) I particularly liked this: “Representation doesn’t only matter to the people in that group”.

    I think, for marginalized people, seeing yourself represented in the media you watch & read is crucial because it’s inclusive, mirroring, validating, & lots of other good stuff you need to feel a part of society, a part of life, not on the outside looking in, that, as you say “people like them are real and are not alone.” It’s something I understand, not as a member of a marginalized group, just as an individual who hasn’t always fit “the mold”. Though it’s not the same, I know the power of recognizing yourself in a what someone else has written or said, of thinking maybe you aren’t the only one, an alien speaking a language no one else understands.

    But, whether you’re marginalized or not, I think it’s important to see people different from yourself in media you consume, particularly if they’re folks you might not run across or closely associate with in everyday life. Because I think this helps us see *people*, not statistics or politics, which drives attitudes away from the direction that marginalizes people in the first place. Particularly with kids, whose attitudes are still malleable.

    And I think it can make a difference for adults as well. For some time I’ve been struck by how the recent explosion in popularity of m/m romance has seemed to parallel the rise in popular support for same-sex marriage, particularly in the U.S. I can’t help but wonder if it isn’t coincidence at all, but if the former has positively contributed to the latter. The queer romance reading community may be relatively small, but altered attitudes expand beyond the confines of the group to touch minds & hearts of others, in large ways like political activism to small but powerful ways, like conversations.

    So yeah, I definitely think it queer romance matters, in all kinds of ways 😉

    • Thanks, Pam. I definitely don’t think representation should be seen as something that’s sort of being done as a favour to the people in that marginalized group. Like they’re graciously allowed to have a part in a story, because it’s the “nice” thing to do. But that nobody not in that group actually cares about what they have to say. That’s definitely tokenism.

      It is great to see the spread of both laws to allow it and acceptance of save sex marriage across the US. But there’s still so much opposition, from people actively seeking the power to change the laws at least, that I think it’s a mistake to think things can only more forward and get better. There are plenty of folk out there who want to pull things back into the dark ages.

      • Oh, no, I’m certainly not advocating for tokenism or doing anything as a favor to anyone. I hope I didn’t sound like I meant that? I was just assuming as a default we are talking about authentic representation, stories that are genuinely about the people in them. I wanted to recognize the power of that, for people finally seeing themselves in stories, but at the same time, that it can be a force for positive change in other people as well. I guess I was basically just sort of trying to reiterate what you said in my own way, probably with way too many words & obviously not very well. I guess I might have done better to just say “ditto” :/

        I definitely agree we are not yet out of the woods with regard to getting same sex marriage legalized in the US. I don’t take for granted that things will continue to get better, but I think there is more reason to hope they will right now than there has ever been. However, I think we need to take advantage while we’re on a roll, as I’m very nervously aware that pendulums have a nasty tendency to swing back with a vengeance. I feel we need to accomplish everything we can before that can happen.

        • No, that’s okay Pam, I was just saying some things your reply made me think of, not that you were advocating that. :) Good point about making as much progress as possible as fast as possible, to make it harder for the bad guys to reverse should they ever have the chance to try.

  • I agree with all you say, especially about the power of books and how they can result in someone realising that there is a different point of view from that which they have heard all their lives. I also love it when the default position is challenged.

    • Thanks, HJ. I’m convinced reading makes people better, more empathetic people, who understand that there are many ways to think and that everyone has their own struggles, but at the same time, we’re all similar in many ways.

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