On Listening by Elisabeth Lane

As a romance reviewer, I talk a lot. My basic job in the romance space is to be free with my opinions, thoughts and recommendations. They don’t always have to be authoritative. There are times when mutual exploration is better. And respect for others’ opinions is always important. But basically, my role is to read, consider and write what I think in the service of helping others pick books they might like.

Queer Romance Month last year then was a change of pace for me. I think I left…two comments? Maybe three? And honestly, it was at least one too many for me, a basically heterosexualish, white, cisgendered woman. I suspect that there are those who will disagree with me, but while in general I occupy a middling sort of place of privilege in the world overall, within the romance community, it places me squarely at the top of the heap for no reason that I deserve. The easy rapport and immediate acceptance I’ve experienced in the last 18 months has a bit to do with personality, education and experience, but an overwhelming amount to the commonalities that had influential folks looking at me and saying, “This person is like us. We will welcome her into the fold.” My experience is not, unfortunately, everyone’s experience.

So last year I read every single post on the QRM site and a lot of the other posts that got pushed out to other blogs, watched as conversations unfolded on Twitter, and made friends with people I never would have met otherwise. I laughed with Andi Marquette. I cried with E.E. Ottoman. I nodded with Amy Jo Cousins and Isobel Carr. I baked a cake, which got a lot of embarrassing accolades for what was basically the equivalent of carrying a watermelon in the face of the hard emotional and organizational work going on throughout the month.

Resolving to mostly listen during last year’s celebration was a relief to me, honestly. Rather than struggling with what to say in the face of so many beautiful, difficult, joyful, inspiring, thought-provoking stories, I could sit back and learn. But even that is an expression of privilege. I have nothing to advocate for in this space for myself. It costs me nothing besides a bit of discomfort from being made explicitly aware of my own overwhelming ignorance in the face of what others experience and a whole lot of gratitude to everyone who was and is willing to share their stories in such an open, genuine, heart-felt way. Everyone will have their own way of processing, absorbing and reflecting the messages of the posts this month and that’s good. Listening more than talking is what feels right for me, but I don’t expect that to be the case for everyone.

I still don’t have a lot I think I can contribute to the discussions that will take place during Queer Romance Month except to bear witness, amplify voices that aren’t often heard in our community and, uh, buy books. Which I did a lot of last year. I’ve spent the last year reading romance by writers like Andi Marquette, Kim Dare, Cat Montmorency, KJ Charles, Amy Jo Cousins, Alexis Hall, E.E. Ottoman, J.A. Rock, Lisa Henry and others I was introduced to via QRM or by people I met during QRM. I have fallen in love with the stories and characters these people have written. So, um, just be prepared for your book budget to scream and cry.

What it comes down to is that the best thing I can say this month, and maybe the only thing I will say, is happy birthday, Queer Romance Month. I hope you toddle along for many years to come. And hope you see ever greater love, warmth and acceptance for the stories everyone, and I do mean everyone, has inside them.

Elisabeth’s Queer Romance Recommendations

Five Dates by Amy Jo Cousins features older guy Jay and younger guy Devin navigating the mire of online dating. It’s short, it’s sweet and it’s free!

Winter’s Bees by E.E. Ottoman, two friends get maneuvered into a marriage of convenience they’re each convinced the other doesn’t want. It’s a very romantic story, lovingly told.

All You Can Eat by Andi Marquette and R.G. Emanuelle, lesbian foodie romance and erotica anthology has a little something for everyone. Some stories are sweet, some are hot. All are very well done and include a recipe!

 About Elisabeth Lane

elisabethElisabeth Lane lives in the Washington, DC suburbs with her husband and their dog. She spent nearly 15 years in marketing before quitting to become a full-time housewife. She matches the romance novels she reads with a recipe from her personal archives or just makes up a new one. She loves to experiment in the kitchen, go ballroom dancing and spend lots of time in thrift stores looking for mid-century modern pottery to add to her collection. Read more about her and her adventures pairing romance novels with food at cookupromance.com.

24 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Lovely post, Elisabeth!
    I’ve experienced very much the same emotions during and since last year’s QRM though I comment more often. I’ve met (online) the most amazing people and have become friends with some of them and I’m happy and grateful about that.

    • I know what you mean! I met so many amazing people through QRM. I couldn’t possibly list them all. And in the year since, there’s been a ripple effect almost. Some of my best Twitter buds are friends-of-friends of people I met last year. It’s an amazing community to be a part of.

  • A thoughtful and humbling post, Elizabeth — thank you. :) Last year felt like a gift of discovery — new-to-me authors and now-cherished books.

    • Thanks for reading :-) And yes I was like a little sponge last year too. I bought every book with an interesting premise and some have become forever favorites. I’m just really grateful to all the people who organize QRM. It would have been a lot harder for me to figure out the queer romance landscape without it.

  • Elisabeth, you’re captured my thoughts, from my heart, better than I ever could. Getting thoughts and feelings out is so hard for me sometimes… a lot of the times. I hope I can be here for anyone who needs an ear. For anyone who wants to share. I look forward to all the posts and comments, to learning from everyone. You’ve made this month a little bit brighter. Thank you for sharing.

  • I love this post so much. I really try to do the same (as another straight, white, cis-gendered woman), and listen, listen, listen. Encourage others to listen. Raise up the voices that could use a boost. Also, that cake looks delicious. And A+ for a Dirty Dancing reference.

  • What a lovely piece, Elisabeth. I think it can be difficult to balance a sincere appreciation of and love for something against taking up space in the way we express our feelings about it. I really respect your awareness of your position and the power it gives you. Also I really respect that damn cake.

  • This is one of the most beautiful and personally resonating depictions of what it means to be part of a community that I think I’ve ever read. Most of us arrive with some form of privilege or other, and nearly everyone would be served by listening a little more closely to experiences that are not their own. (I, er, know I could probably do that a bit better than I do…)

    I love this post so much, and I’m glad we’re very different people who happen to both be members of this rather diverse community of readers and writers, Elisabeth!

    • Oh wow. This is great: “Most of us arrive with some form of privilege or other…” I think that’s true. Just being aware if that makes people more empathetic, I think. And I’m glad we’re different too. Sometimes being hesitant to speak really isn’t what’s needed. So we need both :-)

  • Thank you. Thank you for listening, thank you for your self-examination, thank you for raising your voice enough to say “I support you” without talking over the marginalized.

    Entering the online queer romance community after years of silence and anonymity has made me keenly aware of how I am both marginalized and privileged at the same time in different ways, but mostly privileged. I am white, cis, and a feminine bi woman usually read as straight, and I was raised in an upper-middle-class household (despite my utter incompetence at earning money as an adult). I am fortunate to live in a region where most people are fairly accepting and to have a close relationship with my mother, whose reaction to my coming out was “Oh. OK. I don’t have a problem with that.” At the same time, every anti-LGBT remark, and especially every biphobic remark, that I encounter online and in “real life” feels like a punch in the gut. Other relatives, to whom I am not out, post on Facebook that same-sex marriage is the downfall of our culture and butch lesbians are hideous. One close relative ranted at the dinner table that supporters of same-sex marriage are “fascists” (that word does not mean what you think it means). I should come out to them when they say those things, to show them that I and other non-straight people are human, but I don’t, because I am a coward. I have the option of passing, which not everyone does, and like a coward I use it.

    I also have mental and physical health problems that I hide to varying degrees, including one I have rearranged much of my life over the years to conceal. I look “normal” but know all too well that if I let the facade slip I will become a freak, a curiosity to ask intrusive questions. If I let anyone too close, they will know I am repulsive and unlovable. So I retreat into solitude, and into privilege. I know I should be loud and proud and shout everything to the rooftops to destigmatize it, but, again, I am a coward.

    I should raise my voice in solidarity with people who do not have the option of hiding. But I don’t. So thank you for listening to their voices.

  • Thanks for your comment Althea and I’m glad you enjoyed the post. I think (and who cares what I think actually–kinda part of the point of this post) but I think that everyone plays the role they can when they can. When I read, review and recommend LGBTQ romance, I’m doing the thing I know I can do. Just you listening and commenting here is something. And you’ll do it until there’s something else you can do. In the meantime, it sounds like taking care of yourself has to be a big priority in your life. I don’t think anyone who has ever suffered with mental or physical health problems could say any different. We’re all just working with what we’ve been given, I think.

    • Thank you, Elisabeth! Things are going pretty well for me in general, actually; writing stories and commenting online has pushed me out of my comfort zone and been very scary, but also very important.

      And thank you for reviewing. Reviewers are an essential service to readers (and to writers, though we don’t always admit it) – especially for readers who are looking for something out of the mainstream.

  • HI, ELISABETH! I met you here last year, so thanks for that. :)

    And thanks for self-examining and amplifying. And reviewing. And all of that coolness.

    And thanks to everyone who has commented here. Elisabeth’s post leaves a lot of room to do some self-analysis my own self, about privilege and power and community roles and what’s helpful and what’s not. Most of us muddle along, trying to do the right thing, I tend to think, but sometimes beliefs aren’t the right thing and I hope that as things evolve and shift culturally around us that we are all able to let go of some of those beliefs and come to embrace our similarities and work together in building a better place all around. Sometimes lessons are painful, but they need to be learned. I’m honored to be in this space with all of you, and hope to “see” you around in the future.


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