Why Queer Romance Matters by LA Witt

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.

About Static

Static_1200x1800HiResAfter 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.

Grab a copy on Amazon US

Or on Amazon UK


11 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great piece. I know exactly what you mean–my world feels divided into camps, those who are obsessed with queer romance, most of whom I know online, and the rest of my life, where no one reads romance, queer or otherwise. The latter camp only knows the genre exists because I explained that it did. It’s a politically liberal group, so almost all the arguing I do is about why/whether it’s okay to read romance at all–I have that debate pretty often, and it’s a remarkably hard sell, perhaps because a lot of my friends are academics. Still amazing to me how many otherwise tolerant people are willing to condemn the romance genre as worthless trash.

  • Yet another wonderful post! It seems so strange to me in my everyday, real world life, how people don’t know about this wonderful world of queer romance. Because I’m so surrounded by it online & reading it & interacting with all the friends I’ve made since discovering it has become such an important part of my life, it feels frankly bizarre. So I’ve been forced to create my own tiny little community of people who, even if they don’t read it (yet!) I can discuss it with. Because I really want to talk to people about this *ahem*, kinda all the time. In this effort I have “recruited” as my sympathetic listening audience, my husband, 2 (so far) co-workers (one of whom as just bought her first queer romance, yay, & *not* because I lobbied for her to do it either!), my nearly 93 year old Mom (!), and one of her caregivers. :-) So far, I haven’t had a single homophobic response, maybe because I tend to talk to people only about things I already sense they will be cool with 😉 but still, hopeful signs :-)

  • Yours (and Aleks’) weren’t the first queer romances I ever read, but they were the first I read in my new career(?) as a professional reviewer. They were the two most recent entries in the Market Garden series, Hostile Ground, and Static, and I loved all of them. Though I’d been reading queer romance for a while, I’d somehow managed to miss exposure to your books, so I’ll always be grateful to NetGalley for introducing me to your work.

    Static was a life-changer for me. What you had to say about gender resonated profoundly through all aspects of society. For me, you were commenting on the insidious tendrils of intolerance that twine through so many areas of our daily lives. It was about the office worker who can’t wear her pentagram to work while her coworkers proudly display crosses, crucifixes, and Stars of David. It was about that happily married couple and their best friend, who are oh-so-careful never to share a touch or glance in public that might betray the fact that in private they are deeply in love with each other – all three of them. Those people are my dear friends. Those people are me. And it hurts on a soul-deep level that the people around me – my community, who admire my commitment to my children and think that my husband is great because he devotes so much time to coaching kids’ volleyball – would shun us if they knew we were Pagan, and that we have friends who have been living a joyously polyamorous lifestyle for years. Well, joyous except for the fact that only one of their marriages can be legally recognized. Of my three children, one is straight, one is bisexual, and one is gay. They grew up Pagan, though, so they learned from an early age that society would not accept them if they were honest about two of the most important parts of their lives. Faith and love. While their friends talk freely about their faith and who they’re crushing on, my kids have to hide.

    I can’t march in a parade or do anything overt that might cost my husband his job, but I can do something. I can be part of a community of writers and readers who have chosen romantic fiction as a way to prove to the “normal” world that we are really not that different from them. I can review queer romance and recommend the books I love to friends I’ve made in other romance forums. And I can support efforts like Queer Romance Month on my blog and on other social media. Thank you for sharing your story, and for writing books that not only entertain me, but leave me feeling enriched. Blessed be.

  • As a straight male (who has, with some personal surprise, written about a trans teen), I found this post both educational and intriguing.
    I can’t help but give thought to why queer romance has emerged. It seems likely to me but I have no evidence to support it that the fault for its absence may lie with publishers. A book must be this or that; it must under no circumstance be the other.
    Could it be the creation and liberation of the genre is due to self-publishing?
    What is good for the genre though is simple; those of you who write these stories, you will be the writers who inspire future generations to do the same. Maybe in time, your words will help shape a world where tolerance, understanding and acceptance rule.

    • I’ve often had that same thought, myself. And one of my favorite publishers, Riptide, was founded (co-founded?) by a writer whom I admire, and whom has been very generous with his time and work- Aleksandr Voinov. When he learned that I was starting a review blog, he volunteered to be my first interview and to provide other support. I’m shaking in my shoes with excitement and terror at the idea, but via Twitter and email, I’m coming to learn that he’s just a genuinely nice guy with the kind of off-beat sense of humor I really enjoy. Indie publishers in general have laid the groundwork for establishing a high quality of queer fiction. Within roughly the same time span, erotic fiction has found its voice in the ebook industry with publishers like Ellora’s Cave, which has a line of queer romance and erotica called Spectrum. The recent upsurge in self-publishing has produced some genuine treasures, but it’s also created a sort of free-for-all atmosphere that has resulted in some truly atrocious books with little or no editing or quality control. And then there’s my own personal favorite source of fiction, the annual Don’t Read In the Closet event hosted by the M/M Romance group on Goodreads. This event publishes over 100 stories every year by respected authors like Kaje Harper, Megan Derr, K-lee Klein, Sara York, Piper Vaughn, J.L. Merrow, Kari Gregg, Anne Tenino, Kim Dare, Lex Valentine, and many, many more. It also gives a voice to new writers who are setting their feet onto the path of published author for the first time. In my view, this group’s contribution to the genre is incalculable.

      When I was a teenager, there were only a few books available. I remember one called Patience and Sarah, an historical lesbian romance, and the Peter and Charlie trilogy by Gordon Merrick, which gave me an ideal to strive for: ignoring society’s condemnation and simply living with the person you love. Just as you’ve suggested, CJ, the independent publishing, self-publishing, and e-publishing industries are, indeed, responsible for the emergence of queer fiction as a thriving, vibrant genre that is accessible world-wide. We no longer have to search our public libraries for “forbidden” books, endure the scowls of book store employees when we request those books, or go without because our communities have banned books that might give us role models for queer relationships. Today the choices are many and the quality of the writing is as high as anything you’ll find in any other popular genre.

  • “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.”

    Great post! Thank you so much for sharing…and the line above ^^^. This means a lot to me, but tweaked a bit.

    Reading queer romance, quite frankly, is what made me realize there WAS something wrong with me…or at least something wrong with beliefs engrained into me growing up about anyone who didn’t fit in the “one man + one woman = love” bucket. It exposed me to stories about love that made me realize “hey, this isn’t “wrong” as I’ve been taught for so long”. (it sounds wildly naive…but I grew up in a very devout religious environment and wasn’t exposed to much else…)

    I wish that lesson could have been, had been, learned or realized much sooner. And the lesson for me has been expanding outside of just the realms of relationships and romance but to the greater context of identity and…well, just…people as a whole. And for that, I’m thankful to the writers for the stories made available to 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”

    Yes. That. Thank you. (Sorry, I’m woefully behind on comments. And I haven’t forgiven you for Static. Damn you, Lori, I’m still an emotional wreck..)

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