Given recent discussions, I’ve reworked a blog post originally meant for a bit later this month and I’m posting it today. I’ve got a couple more on similar themes, but I don’t want to lump them all in together.
Today I’m talking kinda-sorta about romance, but specifically the relationship between romance and queerness and how the two get conflated and how that’s not okay. This happens on two levels. One is more annoying than anything else, and a double standard.
The other? It erases and rejects some queer people, and despite many of those particular queer voices being loud about it, I still bump into many who just don’t know. Given I try to blog quite a bit on aspects of queerness, especially from a writing/reading point of view, this feels like an opportunity.
So. Queer books and romance. Like chocolate and peanut butter, right?
Short answer? No. (This is the “annoying/double standard” thing.)
Longer answer? No, for more than a few reasons, many of them inherent to the idea of ‘Queer’ in and of itself.
Let me explain what I mean.
There is exactly one type of queer story that requires a romance, and that’s a queer romance. As facetious as that may sound, it comes into play a lot in the world of queer books, especially reviews of queer books and it is often assumed that queer stories will include romantic sub-plots at the least. I write a lot of queer speculative fiction, and the number of times I’ve bumped into reviews (whether or my queer spec-fic or someone else’s queer fictions) where the review criticizes the romance as “lackluster” or mentions how things “faded to black” when the fiction in question isn’t a romance at all are legion. And yet, read reviews of not-specifically-queer science fiction books and you’re not likely to find readers bemoaning the the lack of romance.
This happens, I think, because romance is such a huge slice of the book pie to begin with, and even more so in the queer book world. Readers of queer romance are loud and voracious and basically a force of nature. And I love that. I do. I write queer romances as well as queer spec-fic, and have zero intention of stopping. When I see that energy aimed toward queer romance? It’s awesome.
But if it’s not a romance? It becomes much less awesome when the same stick is used to measure. Because when a story is not a romance, that’s not a flaw. At all. Queer readers absolutely get to exist and be represented outside of romance. We deserve to be in horror, and mystery, and science fiction, and thrillers and… Well. You get the idea.
As you can imagine, this is a giant bugaboo of mine on that level alone.
But it’s that other level where the conflation of queer stories requiring romance does a more visceral disservice.
Queerness can inherently have nothing to do with romantic love and still be queer. Transgender people are queer, and that has nothing inherently to do with romance. And more specifically, Aromantic people are also queer. Stories about them are queer, and the prevalence of slogans like “love is love”—and assumptions about what makes a story queer—exclude some queer people. I want to believe that most of the time, that’s by accident and without forethought, but it’s exclusionary nonetheless. Impact matters more than intent. Squishy stories? Queerplatonic stories? Those are queer stories.
Romance not required.
So. What do we do? Well, for the former issue, there’s a simple solution to conflating romance with queerness in fiction: stop doing it. If a book’s romantic plot (or sub-plot) or lack thereof gives the reader pause, a quick check to the category listing of the book is all that’s really needed to make sure the book is being judged for what it is, rather than what it isn’t. If a book isn’t a romance, complaining about the lack of romance flat out doesn’t make sense.
On the more serious side of the issue, as queer people (and as queer writers) we can do a whole bunch of things to make sure we’re not dismissing/erasing aromantic queers. Mikayla has an amazing series of resources available through their blog and their twitter (drop a coin in their ko-fi, too.)
Also at this point, I want to point out the awesomeness that is Claudie Arseneault‘s Aro and Ace Database (seriously, check it out), which gathers listings of asexual and aromantic (and the spectrums thereof) stories. And you should also check her tale The Baker Thief, which specifically aims to subvert some romantic plot tropes. Claudie has a patreon, too.
As for myself? I’ll often toss in a romantic sub-plot into stories that aren’t strictly romance, but I have written queer tales where romance was the point at all. They’re still queer.
- “Old Age, Surrounded By Loved Ones” is about sisters, and what one would do for another in an extreme moment. Leah’s status as a lesbian is incidental to her familial love.
- “Negative Space” is about André facing down the fallout of being victimized in a hate crime, as well as finding justice for murder victims with unclosed cases.
- “Keeping the Faith” is a noir paranormal mystery about the theft of a priest’s faith. The gay detective is a bit smarmy, but there’s nothing romantic going on.
- “Conceptually Speaking” is about a trans telepath making first contact with an alien race.
- “First Shift” is about a gay time-traveler finishing his training and being sent on his first mission to save someone important.
- “There & Then” is about a sixteen year old gay boy who’s developing the gift to see emotion, as well as peer into the past or future, and struggling to figure out what he needs to do to find a future of his own.