I am grateful for the opportunity to share with QRM again this year. It took me a while to figure out what to write. I wasn’t sure how I could expand off last year’s post, which focused on how authors and readers can work with the community to spread awareness of queer romance.
But after this year’s Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up conference last month in Seattle, where close to 200 LGBTQ romance readers and writers came together to share their love about the genre, I finally figured out what to do. I’ll share what they shared that day—about what they love about the genre, and what they want to see.
After the conference keynote last month, where three readers shared about what it means to them to “read with pride,” we did an activity with the audience. We asked them to take a few minutes to talk with someone next to them about three questions, and then write their thoughts on sticky notes, and hand them to us. During the later lunch break. We would put their responses on the wall, organized by theme, and our last panel of the day would be based on what the audience shared.
The questions we asked everyone to discuss were:
- What do you love about the LGBTQ Romance genre?
- What do you think is missing?
- How do you want to see it grow?
Photo Credit: Alex Powell
We got A LOT of sticky notes back, and it was an amazing activity to both do, and share out later, as people gathered around the wall to read all their responses. It was so thrilling to have people A) participate so fully and b) share their feelings.
- A love of happy endings in queer romance stories
- The pleasure of seeing characters like themselves represented
- A deep desire to see more diversity represented in stories and characters, including race, backgrounds, and more of the queer spectrum beyond m/m
- A wish to see more acceptance of queer stories in mainstream publishing
- To see more stories where queerness isn’t the central focus or conflict for the main characters
- More acceptance of queer stories in other genres like sci-fi and fantasy, as well as in the mainstream romance genre.
I am honored to share a sampling of their answers below. I’ll be honest and say seeing some of these made me cry. I had not participated in the exercise myself, as I was facilitating, but I was so warmed to see so many responses of things I wish to see as well.
1- What do you love about LGBTQ Romance?
I love that it’s different from mainstream romance in that it seems to be a wider spectrum of characters and situations.
They are no different from m/f, and I like that.
There is really no difference between LGBTQ romance and “regular” romance. There is still conflict, love, trials, etc. That’s what I like.
Expanding diversity for minority LGBTQ identities.
Love Most: Not a monolith, Escapism, Stories not told in traditional media, respect for marginalized voices
It’s versatile! All kinds of characters!
The quality of making LGBTQ characters just like everyone else, so I do not feel so isolated in a “conservative community”.
Romance fiction gives us a vehicle to explore sexuality in a safe, non-threatening way.
I love learning about different perspectives. I feel like every time I read a story with a trans main character I learn about some of the different ways to be trans, or similarly with grey-a characters or even bisexuals, everyone is different and there is no right way to be queer.
So much more relatable – even when the books are about vampires.
Positive Role Models
Queer romantic suspense, characters like me having adventures *and* falling in love
I love that “Queer” Romance embraces everyone not het, so all the stories can get told and supported.
Relatable characters that ask themselves questions you never thought of and that help you find your own answer, that allows you to find and accept yourself.
I love that it exists! Representation matters!
Hot Angsty Men – If a book with one hot angsty guy is good, two or more is better.
When I first started reading m/m, it was all about “There is something else to read!” After years of all those m/f formula romances, it was a nice change.
Even old familiar tropes can feel fresh when the central couple is queer.
‘Cause I can relate to the characters, their history, their struggle, their lives
Creation of Chosen Families
Finding stories that aren’t told anywhere else in our media.
I like the creative explosion of variety that a relatively new genre allows
Much better discussions about consent and power in relationships. It’s more complex than the pure virgin falling into the arms of the alpha male.
LGBTQ romance has better discussions about gender roles, power imbalances, and consent than straight, mainstream romance.
The most hope and love. A world I want to see.
What do I love about LGBTQ romance: Hope, Happy Endings, Healing and Acceptance, Hot Sex
The contract with the reader that we will get stories that we’ve been searching for all our lives. (This is also a flaw; readers use this implied contract to reject stories that don’t match their particular desires.)
Fluidity—LGBTQ romance embraces conventions from all other genre fic, fantasy, sci-fi, etc
Learning more about the various stories in the LGBTQ community
The ability to write with more freedom
No boundaries! You can focus your stories on the story regardless of fixed gender stereotypes!
The fact that I can write about people like me and know someone out there is too, and wants to read it.
To be honest, hot guys.
People who are more than their genders and orientations
How freeing it is after growing up without access to these stories.
I love LGBTQ romance because the lovers don’t die.
What do you most about LGBTQ Romance? Happy Endings.
Meeting readers and being able to discuss sexuality, love, and other real life situations with people all over the world. It took a long time for me to admit to myself that I am a bisexual woman. The LGBTQ romance books community feels relatable and it allows me hope and options. It allowed me to read characters like me.
What do you think is missing?
More stories beyond m/m (trans, bi, ace), more diversity in jobs, race, body type, gender
More feminist characters, less hatred of women
Pansexual, intersex, trans visibility
More sexual minority characters (trans, bi, etc)
Authenticity in relation to real LGBTQ lives and experiences
Reality! Some characters are too perfect or don’t have realistic tragedies
More bisexual characters. Also, more stories where monogamy isn’t the end goal.
More post-coming out stories that focus on romance after that.
More main characters who are gender queer
Significant stories about the elderly or any stories with characters 50+
Bi characters acting bi, not just saying it.
More fics about asexuality where sex is not given as much importance. I’d like to feel like someone could love me and not be giving up something important because of that love.
Diversity beyond white, abled, male cis couples
More effort to include diversity and more good faith from readers as writers get past the learning curve
Perspectives not from white western liberals
Ace characters. I want more ace romance.
This may be an abnormal answer, but I think we need more books with the lesser known parts of the LGBTQIA spectrum. More trans, gender fluid, ace, etc.
More relevance and tie-in to actual gay lives. Authenticity.
There is not much sci-fi or mpreg or other genres. I see more contemporary than anything.
There’s not much sci-fi in some books.
More “real” people. Less insta-love and more real people with more problems or “real jobs”. Too many doctors, lawyers, cops, military. What about the person that drives a taxi, works retail, does office work…
Diversity, without it being a “thing”, i.e. the focus.
F/F! Girls are just as interesting and as much fun to write about! I promise!
Happy stories that feature characters that identify as anything beyond male.
More of the rainbow, from alt walks of life, and writing against type.
Awareness and inclusion of trans people (including gender queer people.)
Diversity of queer experience. We’re not all hot, buff white masc guys.
Voices at the most marginalized members of the community. (They exist, but people need to listen and support them.)
More genderqueer romance please. <3
More diverse friends groups or in the people’s world, so the context of the world people live in isn’t so stagnate. (All white people, all gay, all black, etc.)
I think more LBTQ is missing from LGBTQ. Also more gender fluidity.
Erasure of lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals. Gay romance isn’t just for “gay” people.
A large community of readers and writers of LGBTQ romantic: historical, sci-fi, steampunk/cyberpunk, etc.
Permission to write about a wide variety of relationships and identities
Complex endings that aren’t sappy-sweet, goofy deus ex-machina clichés.
More genders. (agender. Gender neutral)
Multi-racial and multi-cultural characters
Where are the gay male authors?
LGBTQ books in the city libraries
Characters of color. As a South Indian, I don’t see many characters from South Asia
Healthy, evolving relationships
True bisexuality or not enough of it (Rather than GFY)
More POCs, more non-anglo characters
More relatable bisexuals. Bisexual doesn’t mean you like m/f 50-50.
More creative settings
Female protagonists doing *interesting* stuff
Middle-aged gay men + older
Children in stories and mpreg stories. They are harder to come by.
Many stories about big events or conflicts. Not much time for the day-to-day moments in the relationship
Mainstream publishing is slow to adapt LGBTQ romance
Books with commercial appeal for the mainstream.
Bigger audience for lesbian fiction.
Channels into straight world. They should hear about us.
More recognition of self-published authors
Younger lesbians are not aware of lesfic. Better targeted marketing needs to be done.
A larger audience. There is a huge number of readers who don’t know the genre exists.
I’d like to see more mainstream review sites review m/m romance books (without giving it a “you may be offended” warning.)
Where the sexuality or the identity of the characters is a non-issue. There are only a few books out there where the angst has nothing to do with judging the person’s sexuality or gender identity.
Strong female protagonists
Books where characters just happen to be bi or gay or trans. Where it’s not a central issue.
Supportive conversations/criticism of when and how diversity fails to happen so authors can (and want to) do better.
TTG: I want to pause and point to that one above. I appreciate that someone is saying that we need more spaces where people can talk safely about how to include diversity in books.
I want to see more straight women reading lesbian romance.
More sci-fi/fantasy! More action adventure! More urban fantasy! More F/F comics! More comics!
Gay space firefighters
TTG: I’m just assuming that above request is from author Alex Powell since they mentioned that same wish in the Evolving the LGBTQ Romance Genre panel. Correct me if I’m wrong!
Asexual/demi-sexual stories where the main plot doesn’t revolve around their interest, or lack thereof, in sex.
An honest exploration of how gender matters
Higher standards of cover art.
Quality writing. Less mistakes, more editing.
Sometimes the focus is too much on body parts instead of emotional connection.
How do you want to see it grow?
Continue to showcase trans, bi, ace, and multi-cultural stories/authors.
More stories around marriage and family, and the issues that are around family as a couple, and not a “gay couple”.
Targeted marketing to increase readership
I’d like to see LGBTQ books that have an alternate genre (fantasy, mystery) be allowed to enter their primary plot genre. (e.g. sci-fi lgbtq romance available under sci-fi.)
I want to see marketing of LGBTQ romance grow so that it’s easy to find quality writing.
I’d like to see more trans or ace or pan characters in stories where the focus isn’t on their sexuality/gender but instead on action + adventure.
I want to see more f/f that builds up from they meet, become friends/enemies or whatever. They learn from each other, grow to respect each other BEFORE jumping in bed. I’d also like to see more books where women may have been in m/f relationships before discovering F/F attraction, and this might include m/f sex scenes (positive or negative.)
Less catering to the straight audience who only reads m/m
I’d like to see less focus on who’s writing (gender) and more on the story and its themes.
More POC authors and characters
Well, more diversity, POC/POC relationships. (Why so many white dudes?) More gender identities depicted sexually. More swashbuckling sword fights.
More “checkered” characters. (i.e. real people and not an ideal.)
More stories about bi, trans, genderqueer, asexual, intersex, etc, characters
That LGBTQ lit would automatically be included in literary sections, and not seen as a separate section.
LGBTQ YA fiction available in every middle school and high school library.
I would love to see more Harlequin-type m/m.
I want many of the books I’ve read to become Big Screen Movies.
I want more curation in reviews, so writing quality is enhanced.
More LGBTQ in the mainstream with acceptance and celebration
More representation, especially for youth.
A more diverse and edgy spectrum. To see authors stretch themselves, take chances by writing characters outside the norm.
More historical regency and alternative paranormal options.
As LGBTQ people become more accepted, write stories where LGBTQ isn’t an issue or source of conflict
With the erasure of LGBTQ people from history, we need to write plausible historical fiction to tell “our story”.
Become an author myself!!!
More in book stores. Even small book stores.
I’d like to see it expand to less formulaic happy endings.
More readers. I’d like to see LGBTQ romance sell like het does.
More diverse stories re: plot, adventure, style, etc. LGBTQ theme is not enough anymore to be diverse.
More bi-romantic stories!!!!
I haven’t seen many m/m books with people with disabilities. (blindness, learning delays, etc.) People with disabilities deserve their happily ever afters too.
Less marginalization of multisexuality (bisexual, pansexual, etc.)
Let’s see more LBTQ!
I want LGBTQ romance stories to break out of the “ghetto,” not to have their own separate world, but to be found w/ all romance.
I want to see fiction where the characters begin being happy with themselves.
More epic/iconic stories/series.
More treatment of queerness as a non-issue, and not the source of conflict. Related, straight authors recognizing they are talking to queer readers, not just *about* queer readers.
Broadening horizons. All of them
I want being LGBTQ not to be the defining feature of the story in more books. I want more sci-fi and fantasy romance where queerness has no stigma.
I definitely want to see more LGBTQ books gain mainstream acceptance and accolades. It shouldn’t be the red-headed stepchild of the romance world.
It should be more mainstream. Part of broader reading lists.
More full-length novels that can be submitted for mainstream review in places like PW and Kirkus.
Divide between romance and other genres is very noticeable. I see great romance in scifi and fantasy and vice versa but cons and publishers often draw sharp lines between them. I’d like to see the big 6 (or is it 5 now?) embrace more queer stories and not treat them like a niche market.
More inclusivity and acceptance with the community. Eliminating all the drama and just supporting everyone. We are all family.
I would like to see LGBTQ Romance continue to grow and develop to the point where the labels will no longer be required. No more m/m, f/f, trans, or m/f. That it could all simply become romance where all love stories can be celebrated as exactly that. Love is love.
Thank you for letting me share these reader responses with you. Did some of their replies stick out to you? Did something resonate? Let me know what you think in the comments.
Also, feel free to share your own answers to these three questions: What do you love about LGBTQ romance? What do you think is missing? How do you want to see the genre grow?
Maybe together, we can come up with some answers and recommendations that we can implement.
Lastly, if you’re interested, we hope you will join us for next year’s GRNW conference that will be held in Seattle on September 24, 2016. Like this year, the majority of the program will be based off of panel submissions, and we’ll open up the submission call later this fall. We’d love to hear what you would like to talk about with attendees next year. (And if you’re interested, you can hear some of the podcasts from this year’s panels below.)
Until then, thank you for all the support of spreading awareness about queer romance to the community. Here’s one last picture from this year’s event, with our 2015 authors, speakers, and presenters. Thank you for helping celebrate queer romance with us!
Don’t forget to enter the massive QRM physical book giveaway pack!
About Tracy Timmons-Gray
Tracy serves on the board of the Seattle writing nonprofit Old Growth Northwest, and as a volunteer, leads the organization’s Gay Romance Northwest initiative, which includes the Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up, the first conference that focuses on LGBTQ romance fiction in the Pacific Northwest. In her spare time, she loves reading genre fiction, drawing cartoony monsters, singing karaoke, sending Jeff Bezo irritating letters, talking incessantly about community action and romance fiction, and avoiding her cat when he gets “bite-y”.
About Gay Romance Northwest
Gay Romance Northwest is a volunteer-run initiative, hosted by the writing nonprofit Old Growth Northwest. GRNW’s purpose is to celebrate and spread awareness of queer romance by hosting author events, community book drives, advocating for queer romance in library collections, and organizing the annual conference Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up, the only LGBTQ romance fiction conference in the Pacific Northwest. Listen below to audio podcasts of some of the 2015 panel discussions: