The thing about romance is, it’s a huge genre. 17% of the US publishing market is romance. And, being huge, it’s naturally divided into subgenres. There’s all sorts. Historical romance, paranormal romance, SFF romance, inspirational, erotic romance, romantic suspense, queer romance—
/screeching needle-on-record sound effect/
Just think about what it means to say that queer romance is a subgenre of romance. Think how that defines the terms. ‘Romance is a heterosexual thing, and then there’s also the gay stuff.’
Of course we have to put metadata on the books, to sort and label and classify, or nobody could ever find anything. But why is it that my queer books are Romance > Gay > Historical but my het book is Romance > Contemporary > Romantic Suspense? Where’s the > Het > in that tagging? Why is there a default?
When I was a stroppy schoolgirl, I wrote an essay using ‘she’ for the generic pronoun. (‘If the worker wishes to throw off her shackles, she must first control the means of production.’) My teacher said this was wrong and that I should use ‘he’. I asked why, given that I’m a she, and my teacher responded with a smirk, ‘The masculine embraces the feminine.’
No. It doesn’t. Women are not a subgenre of men, and queer is not a subgenre of straight, and multicultural romance is not a subgenre of romance about white people.
Historically, the romance genre has mostly featured straight white characters, of course. But we’re not living in history. We live in now, and the way we define our terms matters. Just like it matters that the default protagonist in a movie or show is a straight white male, and that people talk about ‘tokenism’ as soon as a leading role is given to anyone else, character or actor.
‘Let’s make that [race] not a factor, because we’re trying to deal with everyman’.
—The writer of the film Noah, explaining why all of the cast were white.
It shouldn’t be ‘making it a factor’ to have other characters taking centre stage. It should just be a reflection of our world, where actually lots of people are gay or female or Asian or trans* or mixed race or bi or asexual or or or.
This isn’t trivial. What people see affects how we think. When more than one in six books bought in the US is a romance, that’s a lot of opportunity for people to encounter different stories. Exposure matters, marginalisation matters, and telling people they’re a subgenre that’s separate from and different to the ‘real’ stuff matters a lot.
I have been told straight by TV bookers, when giving my availability to appear on something: “We already have a woman for the 19th…could you do the 26th?”
Frankly, I’m tired of seeing a little bit of space allotted to a whole lot of people, while the default gets the majority of the attention. I have nothing against white heterosexuals. I am a white heterosexual. But if I want to see myself reflected relentlessly back at me, there’s a perfectly good mirror in my bathroom. I don’t need all of popular culture too.
Therefore, I’m thrilled to be part of the first Queer Romance Month, which will run throughout in October. In this (which is open to authors of het romance too—love is love) we’re putting queer romance front and centre, not because it’s different, but because it doesn’t have to be the sidebar. There will be a vast range of amazing authors, allies and supporters contributing posts and flash fiction, and tons of recommendations for awesome books.
Because queer romance is romance, people are people, love is love, and we can all use another good book.