I’m going to ramble a bit, but I promise there’s a point to this.
Most of the people in my life can be divided into two groups:
1. People who read queer romance.
2. People who don’t know queer romance exists, or didn’t until fairly recently.
That’s not to say that everyone who knows about queer romance reads it, or that it’s everyone’s cup of tea. Not at all. But as an author of queer romance, I mostly interact with readers, authors, editors, and bloggers within the genre. So… a sizeable portion of people I know are, well, one of us.
The rest of the people in my life are the usual—family, former co-workers, friends from school or wherever, the security guard from a concert I went to in 2010 (Hi Paul!), etc. And by and large, when people from that group learn what I write, the reaction is: “I didn’t even know there was such a thing as gay romance.” (I write bisexual, lesbian, and genderqueer as well, but most of my backlist is gay male, so it’s often the conversation starter)
Upon learning that the genre exists, reactions vary. There’s the token homophobic response—usually just a wrinkled nose, but once in a blue moon, someone’s a jerk about it. Most of the time, people are curious. Not necessarily to read the books in the genre, but about the supply and demand (Who’s reading these books? Who’s writing them?), what drew me into it, if I find it more difficult to write queer romance than hetero (which I also write), etc. Some ask for a copy, or at the very least, a link to my website. Others aren’t interested, but in the same way they might not be interested in science fiction or historical—no revulsion, just doesn’t necessarily pique their interest.
When I was a teenager, the genre didn’t exist. Queer characters didn’t show up in books, TV, or film except to provide comic relief or cannon fodder. Portrayals were exaggerated and stereotypical. There wasn’t just some dude who happened to be gay, or a normal woman who made an offhand reference to a girlfriend. The best we could hope for was someone who was eccentric to a fault or provided sage wisdom to weepy female besties who kept screwing up their relationships. Usually both. Sigh.
The absence of normal queer characters is slowly being remedied, and a lot of that is through romance. Instead of being cannon fodder and/or comic relief and/or the super-wise bestie, queer characters get to be center stage as they take part in romantic relationships. We get to see them go through the same crap we all do in real life—meeting people, falling in love, overcoming obstacles to keep a relationship intact—and the differences fade. It ceases to be a romance between two men, and becomes a romance between two people. Or three, or whatever. Queer (LGBT) characters suddenly aren’t so queer (strange/unusual) anymore. They’re just people.
You know how I mentioned above that the genre didn’t exist when I was a teenager? And then went off on this tangent about romance? The point of that is this: I would have given my right arm for some believable, realistic queer characters when I was a teenager. Maybe then I would have seen myself and learned that there’s nothing wrong with me. I might’ve even learned what in the world ‘bisexual’ meant before I realized it also meant ‘me’.
What we’re doing right now with queer romance is putting those normal, non-caricatured queer people front and center. We’re portraying them as real people who experience the same crap we all do (though we probably don’t deal with many werewolves, and I haven’t seen too many romance main characters take out the garbage, but it balances out).
And slowly… little by little… those books are creeping into the hands of people who didn’t know they existed last year, last month, last week. The people who, upon learning that someone writes or reads queer romance, blink and say “That’s a thing?”
Sometimes they read out of curiosity.
Sometimes they read because, secretly—perhaps even unconsciously—they’re looking for themselves.
And sometimes they don’t read the books at all, but simply accept that queer romance exists just like hetero romance does.
So, I firmly believe queer romance is important to those who need and want to see themselves in books, especially since it’s only fairly recently that they’ve been able to, but it’s also important because it’s a subtle but unmistakable reminder of how far we’ve come as a society. Because even though there’s still a long road ahead before queer people are treated equally, I think it speaks volumes that queer relationships and queer people have a place on bookshelves next to hetero romances.
About L.A. Witt
L.A. Witt is an abnormal M/M romance writer currently living in the glamorous and ultra-futuristic metropolis of Omaha, Nebraska, with her husband, two cats, and a disembodied penguin brain that communicates with her telepathically. In addition to writing smut and disturbing the locals, L.A. is said to be working with the US government to perfect a genetic modification that will allow humans to survive indefinitely on Corn Pops and beef jerky. This is all a cover, though, as her primary leisure activity is hunting down her arch nemesis, erotica author Lauren Gallagher, who is also said to be lurking somewhere in Omaha.
After two years together, Alex has been dreading the inevitable moment when Damon learns the truth: that Alex is a shifter, part of a small percentage of the population able to switch genders at will. Thanks to a forced implant, though, Alex is suddenly static—unable to shift—and male. Overnight, he’s out to a world that neither understands nor tolerates shifters . . . and to his heterosexual boyfriend.
Damon is stunned to discover his girlfriend is a shifter, and scared to death of the dangers the implant poses to Alex’s health. He refuses to abandon Alex, but what about their relationship? Damon is straight, and with the implant both costly and dangerous to remove, Alex is stuck as a man.
Stripped of half his identity and facing serious physical and social ramifications, Alex needs Damon more than ever, but he doesn’t see how they can get through this.
Especially if he’s static forever.