The other day I was looking at a well-known book mailing list advertiser who shall, for this post, remain nameless. Just checking out pricing, the sign-up process, etc. And while I was looking at the form to submit, I was faced with a dropdown that asked me to pick a category. In that list were the expected genres of fiction, but what jumped out at me were just two:
African-American Interest, and LGBT.
Huh, I thought. That’s just odd. Not only were they called out as their own genre, but they were the only ones called out. There was no category for queer, intersexed, asexual, poly, pan. No category for, oh, Asian Interest, or Hispanic/Latin@ fiction. Are all those just rolled up into general genre fiction, while African American Interest and LGBT are separated out? You can only pick one category; what about stories with POC characters who fall somewhere on the LGBTQIAPP spectrum? Is there a way to check off both, or am I stuck with one, or—
Why the hell am I checking boxes based on ethnicity, sexuality, or gender identity at all?
I didn’t know what was worse: that for these two groups, just a natural state of being was sidelined into a niche category, or that by creating these niche categories—categories that make it just as easy to avoid diversity as they do to find it—it erases anyone who doesn’t fall into either those specific groups or into the generic categorization of assumed white cis-gendered heterosexuality.
Here’s my problem.
I’m not white. I’m not straight.
But you won’t find many—if any—stories about me in any category, because by being complex, by being diverse, I’ve fallen into the cracks of non-existence somewhere between either and or.
I’ve been erased. And in erasing me, the voice of people like me has been erased; I’ve been told that my story doesn’t matter, that people like me don’t matter or don’t exist. Yet I know we do. I know we do, and I want to find our stories. But even more, I want people who aren’t like me to find our stories. I want them to read those stories, love them, and identify with them in the same way that I’ve been reading, loving, identifying with stories about white cis heteronormative protagonists for my entire life. Yes, I’ve at times felt a disconnect between their experiences and mine. But much of that disconnect came from knowing that there weren’t any stories that told my experience in an equal way, even though I’ve wanted to write one.
And I’ve tried; it just hasn’t gone very well, and so instead I’ve been playing it safe.
That’s right. I’ve been guilty of whitewashing my stories. Of straightwashing them. I’m still doing it: writing romance and erotica about straight white cis-gendered people, as though if I make a name for myself doing that I can then have the freedom to branch out more. Don’t get me wrong, I sneak some diversity in there. The hero in my first novel is a swarthy modern-day Roma; his agent and best friend is the angriest gay Chinese man on the planet, and isn’t particularly fond of “gay best friend” stereotypes. The hero in my recent release, The Lost, is half Native from the Arapaho tribe, and the entire fictional setting of Crow City is based around the idea of what would happen if a modern-day massive urban center was built by and heavily populated by the people of an Arapaho village that underwent industrialization and modernization in the same way that many early American towns did. There are several side characters who are Native or black. And while the heroine in The Lost might end up with a man in the end, she has multiple detailed sexual encounters with women without ever labeling her sexuality or even talking about it, because it’s a commonplace and ordinary thing for her. I flirt with the edges of what I really want to write, at least trying to have open representation, but I never really cross the line.
Because I’m scared.
I have reason to be. Most people don’t know this, but A Second Chance at Paris isn’t my first book. I have another out under my real name. M/M. POC central protagonist. And it flopped miserably. People bluntly stated they were skeptical of reading a book entirely in the POV of a man of color, and shied away from it. I was actually a little stunned when I got those responses, because I thought we were beyond that. I was also a little stunned when the people who did read it made similar comments about actually being surprised they could identify with an ethnic main character, but also complained that for an M/M book, it didn’t have nearly enough kink.
Because every gay relationship is all about kink. Right. Got it. I guess I need to have a talk with my last few boyfriends; no wonder we didn’t work out. We didn’t align closely enough with the fetishized fantasy of our genre label.
It’s that kind of fetishization and classification of someone’s life, someone’s existence, as a genre kink or niche interest that makes it so hard to take real steps in finding genre representation for even LGBTQIAPP or POC (and do not get me started on my grudge against BWWM), let alone making it into a real and viable and; the kind of and that’s needed for intersectionality. Don’t get me wrong—we’re making strides. There was the fallout over the lack of diversity at BEA. You see more and more people talking about how diversity matters in fiction, even though it bothers me that the preference seems to be more toward encouraging white heterosexual cis-gendered writers to include more diverse characters, instead of seeking more authentic POC and LGBTQIAPP authors to raise their voices. I’ve even been told directly on my own queried stories that my black teenage heroine was hard to identify with because she was black. That my shy gay Japanese high school student couldn’t be both; he could only be one or the other, because both was too much for the general market…and apparently getting my chocolate in your peanut butter and your peanut butter in my chocolate would make for terrible, terrible consequences unless said peanut butter / chocolate hybrid was a side character intended to cover every token in one.
If the world was either/or, I wouldn’t exist. I’m a panoply of things. I’m Asian. I’m black. I’m Native American. I’m Irish. I hate gender roles and do whatever the fuck I want regardless of my anatomy, whether it’s woodcraft, painting my goddamned nails, autobody repair, or having multicolored hair down to my narrow brown arse. I’m bi…pan-something, I can’t even figure that one out when I fall in love with people and not their sex, sexuality, gender, or gender identity. Point is, I’m not the heteronormative box I’d be lumped into without a category to easily label me as other. I’m not just one checkbox; I’m not an either/or. I’m many. I’m a complete, complex person who doesn’t want to be otherized by a genre label and cast out of the mainstream or shuffled into someone’s side story. My being is not a genre. And when you tell me that my many checkboxes are too much for the general market, what you’re telling me is that there’s no place for me to see myself in these stories.
You’re telling me that there’s no place for me to write in this market.
And that often makes me feel as if there’s no place for me in this world.
Because I live in a world without checkboxes, where ideally no one has to be informed of just what terrifying aspect of diversity is represented in mainstream fiction just because that makes it easier to hide from it.
About Cole McCade
Cole McCade is a New Orleans-born Southern boy without the Southern accent, currently residing somewhere in the metropolitan wilds of the American Midwest. He spends his days as a suit-and-tie corporate consultant, and his nights writing romance novels. And while he spends more time than is healthy hiding in his writing cave instead of hanging around social media, you can generally find him in these usual haunts:
You can also get early access to cover reveals, blurbs, contests, and other exclusives by joining the McCade’s Marauders street team.
About The Lost
There’s something wrong with Leigh.
She’s known it her whole life. She knows it every time she spreads her legs. Every time she begs for the pain, the pleasure, the heat of a hard man driving deep inside. She’s a slave to her own twisted lusts–and it’s eating her alive. She loves it. She craves it. Sex is her drug, and she’s always chasing her next fix. But nothing can satisfy her addiction, not even the nameless men she uses and tosses aside. No one’s ever given her what she truly needs.
Until Gabriel Hart.
Cold. Controlled. Impenetrable. Ex-Marine Gabriel Hart isn’t the kind of man to come running when Leigh crooks her pretty little finger. She loathes him. She hungers for him. He’s the only one who understands how broken she is, and just what it takes to satisfy the emptiness inside. But Gabriel won’t settle for just one night. He wants to claim her, keep her, make her forever his. Together they are the lost, the ruined, the darkness at the heart of Crow City.
But Leigh has a darkness of her own. A predator stalking through her past–one she’ll do anything to escape.
Even if it means running from the one man who could love her…and leaving behind something more precious to her than life itself.