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.
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About Dream for Me
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.