Conversion Therapy, Revenge Porn, and Criticism

I always feel like I need to start blogs like this with a caveat: I’m not telling someone they can’t write something. I will never tell someone they can’t write something. Much like my latest “Why You?” post over at SpAN, or previous discussions over Pseudonym vs Identity or Gay-For-You, I want to be super clear on this point, again, just in case: I’m not suggesting a limitation who can write what. At all.

What I am suggesting is there are topics that need a tonne of forethought, and that some topics are definitely going to get critical feedback. This? This is critical feedback.

So. A book crossed over to my radar yesterday which had multiple plot threads that gave me pause. I only ended up talking about one of them because I had spoons enough for one go, but I’ll touch on more today likely.

Now, this book hit my radar because of a review, and between the review and the blurb, I knew enough to know this was not a book I was going to read. The set-up is this: a gay man who is the sun of a reverend who runs a conversion therapy camp is outed viciously by another gay man who will stop at nothing to bring down the conversion therapy camp, so he films them having sex and releases it to the public. Years pass, and the man who released the video is now a war veteran returning to the same town, the conversion therapy camp is still running, and the man who was outed speaks at the camp in support, while dating a woman and trying to defeat his gay demons. Oh, and then they fall in love, forgive each other, and the religious fellow finds balance in his faith and his queerness.

And, deep breath.

Now, where I got frustrated yesterday was with the framing of the conversion therapy camp. The review made it clear that while the camp isn’t successful, and the story in no way says “it works, you can be cured!” and even touches upon how damaging it is, the father is presented as not-a-monster, someone who is misguided, who really does love the kids in his care, and that’s a really big problem, and is the first part of my criticism.

RTC - Nathan Teaching

I talk about writing queer stuff at conferences often, and questions of “real life stuff as plot bunnies” comes up a lot.

With respect: there is no loving way to support conversion therapy, and presenting a scenario any other way humanizes a dehumanizing, violently homophobic practice that kills queer people. I get this is fictional, and the character(s) of the father and son (who, again, works/speaks at this camp) might be written as otherwise amazing and compassionate, but no. One of them owns/runs a conversion therapy place, the other works there.

Conversion therapy kills queer people.

This strikes me as similar to the “redemption of the homophobic parent who kicks out the queer kid” plot I struggle with, but—frankly—all the worse. The review read very much like the character is perhaps “meaning well.” Like, somehow the father believes these children will truly be cured of their queerness and that would be better for their souls. Certainly, there are religious elements out there who feel that way. But framing it as coming from a loving place? That’s not loving, not at all. It’s somewhere in the Venn diagram of bigotry, gas-lighting, and brainwashing, just done super politely and with an “amen.”

It’s an imperfect analogy, but maybe compare this plot set up to any story where children die because the parents believe faith means they should use maple syrup rather than any form of medicine. The important thing isn’t whether or not those parents meant well otherwise, or aren’t outwardly abusive, no? It’s that the kid needs the medicine and if the child dies, that’s neglect/abuse/murder. You don’t see empathy levelled at parents who let their children die, nor would a redemption arc be welcomed.

Now, within the book review were mentions of suicide attempts, and mention was also made that this may have been a turning point for the reverend character. A person running a conversion camp is literally, actively, completely responsible for that. Deconstructing their motive as loving/not-so-bad/not-intentionally-awful?

That’s a poor choice. There’s no mention of whether or not the camp is shut down in the review, or whether or not the reverend goes to jail, or whether or not the rest of the children in his care are rescued and removed from their parents or, or, or… But the review did make it clear that care was taken to paint the reverend as a complex man who truly does, gosh darn it, love and care for his son.

No. No he doesn’t. He can’t. Not if he’s involved with conversion therapy.

Conversion therapy is abuse. Supporters of conversion therapy are abusers. They are not loving, misguided parents who just need a NOH8 face sticker and our empathy so they see their institutions are bad. Those places need to be fought to a standstill, outlawed, and torn apart. They still exist. Today. They run. They’re not fictional. They’re awful and evil and kill queer people.

But, like I said, maybe the book does all these things to make it clear the man is evil, the organization is evil, and the queer kids are rescued and the institution is burned to the ground and the reverend ends up in jail. Maybe I’m misreading the review and the blurb, but it sure sounds like these characters are presented as “bad, but y’know, they do love them in their own way.”

And, again: no. All the no.

Conversion therapy kills, maims, tortures and destroys queer folk. Even if it’s wrapped in some “we love you, but pray hard to be different!” snuggie, it’s still all of the above.

So. I said all of that yesterday, and then stopped because I didn’t have more in me, but I also want to talk about the other character, too.

He videotaped himself having sex with the reverend’s son and then released it to the world to out the son. That’s… reprehensible. And, like conversion therapy camps, this is a scenario with a similar occurrence in reality. A young gay man, Tyler Clementi, was outed via a web-cam as a victim of homophobic cyberbullying. He committed suicide. His tormentors were charged, though one got community service.

I imagine the intention was to spin motivation as a key factor. The gay man in question is trying to destroy the conversion therapy camp, which is a solid goal. But to do so by violating and assaulting the closeted gay man is abhorrent (and let’s be clear, he did not gain permission for this act—this is assault). Revenge porn—even to bring down a hateful conversion therapy camp—is abhorrent.

And this character is a romantic lead.

Because, yes, this is marketed as a romance. A happy-ever-after (or -for-now) is in the cards for these two men.

And this is the second part of my criticism. I’ve mentioned this before with the whole “redemption of the gay basher who turns out to be gay” thing, but I struggle to imagine a romance scenario where a man would violate and assault a woman in the same way—film his taking of a woman’s virginity for any reason, without her consent, and air it to the world—and would still be considered redeemable as a hero for a romance novel.

And that’s just considering him a worthy romantic lead. Going one step further and pairing a man with the very person he violated and assaulted publicly? Putting the abused with the abuser as a romantic happy-ever-after or happy-for-now narrative under the umbrella of “forgiveness” is worrisome. Surviving (and thriving) after violence, or assault, or any form of traumatic victimization is in and of itself a lifelong effort. Pairing the survivor of trauma up with the person who traumatized them?

That’s a choice. And framing it as romantic is another choice. If those who’ve survived trauma criticize this choice was abhorrent, and dismissive, and adding to the struggle and stigma that already exists around surviving trauma and the pressure of “forgiveness” from others, I don’t think “it’s a romance” or “it’s just fiction” will really cut it. It’s similar to the whole “gay-bashers-aren’t-hot” discussion I had recently.

Anyway. This is already too long.

Conversion therapy is hateful, violent, and kills queer people; people involved in it cannot be allies or claim to love queer people.

Revenge porn is abhorrent and a violation and an assault; no one has to forgive someone who violates and assaults them.

It’s unfortunate that has to be critical feedback.


Queer Isn’t an Opinion

The other morning, I bumped into this tweet:

Screenshot 2018-01-10 06.37.48.png

“Can someone not agree with homosexuality & still respect those who are homosexual and individuals?”

On the surface, this seems pretty respectful and polite, right? She’s not swearing, she’s not calling for the eradication of queer folk, she’s just asking: can she not agree with homosexuality, but still respect homosexual individuals?

Nope. Nope she cannot.

And, in fact, she’s doing damage.

“Not agreeing with homosexuality” is still (albeit nonviolent and not as obviously impactful) homophobia. It’s still outright telling me I shouldn’t be entirely who I am. That’s not respectful.

And most importantly? It’s not the same as disagreeing with a choice.

It’s the “disagree” that makes this sound so polite, but it’s not polite. Disagreement is  for things like flavours, types of movies, or, say a favourite colour. Subjective stuff. Saying “I respect you but I disagree with you being gay” is like saying “I respect you, but I disagree with you being forty.”

It’s a state of being. It’s not something you can disagree with.

If it helps? Substitute other groups of people into statements about queer people, and you’ll likely see it right away.

Would you say “I respect deaf people but I disagree with deafness?” Or “I respect adopted people but I disagree with them being adopted?”

Of course not. It doesn’t make sense.

Now, I got what the initial poster probably meant when I saw the tweet. They likely meant “I don’t hate queer people, or want to make their lives more difficult, but I don’t agree that men should sleep with other men or women with other women.”

And, lo: here it is, in a reply:

Screenshot 2018-01-10 06.37.59

“They just don’t agree with men being with men and women being with women. They only find it okay for women and men to be together. That’s their belief. It’s just that simple. No hate. Just disagreement.”

And, again: Nope, that doesn’t work either. There’s definitely hate there, it’s by no means simple, and just because it’s hidden behind some “politeness” and isn’t as overt or obvious doesn’t make it less harmful.

Why not? Because voicing that opinion does make queer lives harder/adds hate/is queerphobic. When someone “disagrees” with queerness, they’re telling queers that they don’t get to have (or they would prefer queers wouldn’t have) consent based relationships with other adults because…

Well, because “ew.” Dress it up politely, it’s still “ew.”

And the range of “ew” ends with the individual. You don’t think men should have sex with men, or women with women? Don’t do it yourself. But vocalize that you don’t think other people should? You’re not being respectful, kind, or polite, nor are you “entitled to my opinion, don’t hate on me, LOL.”

When you’re publicly vocal about “disagreeing” with queerness, even when you caveat as much as you want about how you respect queer individuals (though, to be clear, what you’re doing is not respect at all), you’re adding to a cultural bias that already exists and persists under that “it’s just an opinion” fallacy.

You make my life harder. Because you saying “disagree” gives approval to those who disagree with my existence with their fists and boots and discrimination. You’re feeding the flames. To those who want to eradicate queer people, you’re standing there and saying, “Yes, I understand your opinion, and I share it.”

You’re just doing it politely.

Writing Wednesday — Bury Your Trope


(I originally tried to say all this without spoilers, and I give up. Spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery.)

So, last night, the husband and I were watching a television show we’ve really been enjoying. A significant part of really enjoying this show for us? A out, open queer couple who obviously love each other, even when they bicker (and their bickering was fun), and who have some communication issues, and who are quite different from each other and even—fantastic!—not a pair of white guys.


Here’s a picture of my dog. Because I’m annoyed and he makes me happy. 

Now, jokingly (but in that tired, worried way) I recall saying, “Which one do you think is going to die?” when they were introduced, but I’d dismissed being fully serious because, after all, we’d been told this was going to be awesome representation, it’s a franchise I love, and it was finally, finally giving us some queer love.

There was even incidental, albeit nameless/blink-and-you’ll-miss-it queerness: two women dancing together at a party. Rock on, ladies. It’s probably best if you never get names or lines.

Because last night, while we watched, it happened. And the thing is? We just turned to each other and sighed. I think I said, “Well, there it is.” Or maybe my husband did. It wasn’t shocking, it was exhausting. Because in some way, we were both braced for it from the beginning, just in case.

Now, the PR and actors and show runners and even organizations are chiming in to say, “No, wait, don’t get mad! It’s going to turn out not to be as bad as you’re thinking, and we’d never do that silly Bury Your Gays trope, this is a subversion! This was always the plan!” and so on.

And I honestly just don’t care. You made me watch one queer man die, needlessly and pointlessly, in front of the other queer man (who, bonus points, was already suffering and unable to help, and so can only watch it happen).

Do the queer characters have to be immortal and immune to danger and never suffer in any way? Of course not. But you know what? If you’ve only got two queer characters who have names and speak lines and who are given a relationship and you decide to kill one off? It’s Bury Your Gays. You might do something amazing later on. Really. But in that moment, right then and there? I can decide to eject. And that’s fair. Because watching one of the only two queer characters die needlessly?

I’ve been there and done that so often it could have been my subplot on “Cause and Effect.” Forget Beverley’s glass. I’d be the ensign in the science department going, “Welp, one of the queer guys died again. I can’t tell if we’re in a time loop or if it’s just another Bury Your Guys, though, because déjà vu doesn’t begin to cover it.”

And that’s the rub of it. I didn’t want to watch the surviving partner suffer and be oh-so-motivated-by-the-loss. Again. I wanted, just this freaking once, to finally have a show where the queer people fought the bad together. Where they protected each other when things were dire or they were in pain or injured or what-have-you. Where moral dilemmas didn’t mean one queer had to heroically sacrifice himself, or one queer was left behind, or… Well, basically, I just wanted the queer characters to survive the first whole damn season.

Now, it’s science fiction, and the actor is on record saying we’ve not seen the last of the character, and given the show is currently in an alternate universe populated by their doppelgängers, there’s a chance of doppelgängers, and again, I just don’t care.

The last time this franchise did the doppelgänger thing? It did a two-episode run that in many ways set up this show’s visit. It was separate from the main storyline, never referenced within it, and most of the main cast died. Because doppelgängers. These aren’t our beloved characters, they’re an alternate version of them. The franchise show  prior to that that went to this alternate universe was incredibly brutal to the doppelgängers. Most of the main cast’s doppelgängers died, and some characters who had died in the prime universe who hadn’t in the alternate one ended up also being killed off, too. So we could watch them die a second time. Oh, and extra points? Some of the alternate universe—and, by the way, evil—doppelgängers were made to be queer, unlike the characters we got to see each week.

So, if it turns out the “solution” to this not being a trope is somehow the doppelgänger of this character will end up in a relationship with the surviving queer guy from the main plot, I’m not going to throw a parade, and I don’t think that undoes the trope at all, like they’re claiming the plot will do. That queer guy’s love is still dead—he’s still gone. Frankly, if they’re being honest that this character and love story isn’t done, I’m guessing time-travel will come into play, and maybe the whole event will be undone.

I suppose that’s the best that I can hope for, if I keep watching.

Anyway. If you don’t want to have a chorus of “Bury the Gays!” complaints, there’s a super easy way to avoid this pitfall. Have more than two queer characters. At least then it’s not “Oh look, there are queer people. And now they shall suffer a death. Yep. There it is.”

Or, y’know, stop treating “and then one dies” as the only damn plot line you could possibly come up with to tell the story. If the narrative is predicated on the death of a queer person, maybe it’s time to stop and consider how the rest of the queer characters in your tale are handled. If there’s only one other, and they’ve just lost the love of their life because—surprise!—the only two queer characters with names and lines are in a relationship with each other?

Well. That’s a choice. And you sure did make it.

Writing Wednesdays

Whoops. That turned into a bit of a long slog. Sorry. Writing Wednesdays is supposed to be my weekly check-in on how things are going writing wise with various projects. So I’ll be brief.

Triad Magic

It’s going well. I need to polish and put together the actual pitch, but I’m beating my writing goal each day, or—in the case of one day—I let a headache run its course and have redistributed that goal to other days. I was already ahead of goal, but still. I’m looking forward to introducing new characters and revisiting old ones. The plot is gelling, but the synopsis is fighting me as I try to write it.


I doubled my word count goal for this today, so it goes well. I’ve never written a “Fake relationship” story before, and we’ll see how it goes, but so far, this novella has been fun to work on.

Saving the Date

Last year, Angela S. Stone and I submitted an alternate-view novella for the 1Night Stand series, and we just got our edits back. It’s always a little bit of work to get back into the heads of the characters when it’s been a while, but I like Morgan, and it’ll happen.

Short Stuff

I’m going back to my usual goal of submitting something short once a month for the year, and also trying to remember reprints are a thing. I haven’t submitted anything just yet, but January isn’t over.

Open Calls for Submission

I also try to list off calls for submission I find (and find tempting) every week on Writing Wednesdays, so without further ado:

  • Chicken Soup for the Soul—Various titles, various themes, various deadlines, 1,200 word count limit.
  • Mischief Corner Books—Open to submissions for various themes, including Legendary Love, Everyday Heroes, Cowboys and Space; these are open rolling calls, so no deadline.
  • NineStar Press—Open to submissions for various length prose, paranormal, science fiction, fantasy and horror; Click “Currently Seeking” header for details; word count limit variable.
  • Spectrum Lit—This is an ongoing Patreon flash fic provider, 1,500 hard word count limit; LGBTQ+ #ownvoice only; ongoing call.
  • A World Unimagined— Left Hand Publishers; 4,000 to 9,000 word count limit. Speculative fiction, deadline: January 21st, 2018.
  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to F*** Them—Circlet Press; Erotic short stories with magical beasts and shapeshifter tropes; 3,000 to 7,000 word count limit; deadline February 1st, 2018.
  • Lost—NineStar Press. LGBTQIA+ romantic pairing. Both HEA and HFN are acceptable, Click “Lost” header for the theme. 30k to 120k word count limit; deadline April 30th, 2018.
  • Happiness in Numbers—Less than Three Press; Polyamorous LGBTQIA+ anthology, non-erotic polyamorous stories that explore the idea of “Family”; 10k to 20k word count limit; deadline April 30th, 2018.
  • MLR Press—Quite a few different themes are open; 10k to 40k word count limit; deadlines vary, but the earliest right now is April 30th, 2018.
  • Artefacts and Alchemy—Edge Books; Tesseracts 22 is doing a historical magical realism theme; 5k word count limit; deadline May 15th, 2018.

I Shouldn’t Have to Tell You Queer Bashers Aren’t Hot

Yesterday I clicked and read a freebie book on my phone, and it made me so very angry. I clicked it because the blurb made it sound like a “gay guy goes back to small hometown where he grew up and swore he’d never return” story, and I generally like a second-chance romance. I like the stories where the gay guy comes back to the place that made him feel small and wrong and shows them that he is neither, and falls in love along the way, probably with his “arch nemesis” (described in the blurb).

That’s what the book sounded like. But the blurb was way, way off.

It went to incredibly off the rails on nearly every level. If I’d just looked at some of the other reviews first, I might have avoided it (I say might because this book has mostly positive, gushing reviews about how lovely the romance was), but I was on my phone, I didn’t, and there’s a lesson learned.

Instead, I got a book where a former bully is a romantic lead, which… okay, that’s one way to consider an “arch nemesis.” The guy tossed him into garbage cans, for one example, but I’m supposed to buy him as the romantic interest, which is iffy enough.

It didn’t stop there. The book doubled and then tripled down on how it treated abuse survivors.

  • Give the main character an abusive, alcoholic parent who kicked out the queer guy but who deserves forgiveness and a second chance? Check!
  • Main character wasn’t just bullied, but was nearly beaten to death, including broken skull among other bones and long-lasting trauma over the past five years (including passing out at random)? Check!
  • The man who nearly bashed the main character to death turns out to be a closeted gay? Check!
  • Surround the main character with “friends” who constantly suggest he needs to check in with the abusive father who kicked him to the curb? Check!
  • Those same friends non-stop questioning the main character for not being over it (it was only five years ago he almost got beaten to death, but hey, get over it) and telling him the town has changed since then? Check!
  • Main character has a moment of “realizing” that tolerance has to go both ways? Y’know, he needs to be more patient with the “you are sin” crowd? Check!
  • Massive amounts of forgiveness to everyone all around—including inviting the closeted gay guy who nearly beat him to death to come live with them once he’s out of jail, and forgiving his father within moments of being given an AA chip and an apology? Check!

Now, I’ve talked before about the whole how reconciliation with a family that kicked out a queer kid is not a happy ending before and is such a misstep if you’re crafting queer characters, and I’m not going to reiterate it all again, but it’s here if you want to read it.

I should also mention that when we see, over and over, forgiveness as the only path to peace for survivors of abuse that we’re doing a massive, massive disservice to actual survivors of abuse. Moving to a peaceful, happy place and thriving after surviving violence does not require the forgiving of the abuser. Some people do. Many don’t. If only forgiveness is shown as the path, that’s a problem. Say that as many times as it takes until it sinks in.

But, back to the bashings. That’s right, plural, because this novella doubled down, but I’ll get to that in a second. First, let’s talk about the main character’s history—again, the blurb gives no mention of this, just “bad memories”—which has left him with trauma. He was so violently bashed he had multiple bones broken, including part of his skull, and has fainted a few times over the last five years since thanks to said trauma.

As someone who has bled on a sidewalk, I cannot tell you how infuriating it was to watch his friends be surprised he hadn’t “gotten over it” and how much of the narrative centred around the character himself buying into this narrative. He starts to berate himself as a coward for leaving town, for letting it chase him away. Are you shitting me? You do not stick around when people try to beat you to death. Especially when you’re kicked out by your parent. If you can possibly do it, you go, you find somewhere safe, and you never look back. Or at least, you do if you’re an actual, living, breathing queer person who has somewhere to escape to—and he did, he got away for school. But instead, by the end of the book, this character is written to consider that “tolerance goes both ways” and he should be more patient with the people who want to cleanse his soul.

Queer people do not have to tolerate the intolerant. It is not bigotry to oppose a bigot. For crying out loud, this is basic stuff. If someone calls queer people sinful, you don’t have to listen to their freaking beliefs and be patient about giving them a chance to “explain their side.” That’s not a free-speech moment or a rational debate, that’s someone deciding you are less than human because you are queer. That’s just wrong.

But I mentioned bashings plural. And this is the real point I wanted to make today, though it’s taken me way too long to get here, and I’m mad, and this isn’t coming across anywhere near as calmly as I’d like (but see the previous paragraph about not having to be okay with people treating you as less than human): I can’t believe I’m saying this, but: abusive hate, bullying homophobes, and violent bashings aren’t romantic lead fodder.

So, in this book, the main character—who survived a violent bashing, as I mentioned—has one real good gay friend in school. That friend is an athlete and studying to be a teacher, maybe phys-ed or something. Near the end of the book, said friend is bashed nearly to death. His hip is so damaged he will likely never walk again without a cane, and—wait for it—the hero of this book berates himself because it’s not the first time this friend has maybe hit on someone he shouldn’t have, and if only the hero of this book had been around to make sure he didn’t do that.

Did we really just blame the guy who might die from brain swelling, the guy with the shattered hip, the guy who was nearly beaten to death by some random homophobic sociopath for being nearly beaten to death? Yes. Yes, we did.

But wait, there’s more!

The hero of this book asks if his friend can come live with them for recovery, and of course his redeemed bully of a lover agrees and that in and of itself would be decent (because, again, this man’s family has also disowned him), but then we find out that the man who beat the hero of this book nearly to death is also going to come live with them because, after he went to jail/came out, the redeemed bully character said he could come stay with him once he was out of jail.

And his victim is okay with that. Because forgiveness.

If I had only bumped into this “former homophobic bully/abusive asshole” redemption-as-love-interest notion once, I’d maybe have tossed it aside. But I keep bumping into it in book blurbs. And after reading this one? I just… I just need to ask.

Why is this okay?

Why is this a trope in romantic fiction about gay men? It makes zero sense, it certainly isn’t respectful of queer men, and personally feels like someone going out of their way to punch me in the stomach and say, hey, that trauma of yours? It totally made me think sexy thoughts.

A man nearly beat another man to death. He is not a hero. That is not sexy. And when he shows up in book two, he’ll be paired with the best friend from college who has been beaten just as badly as this man beat the hero of the first book. The storyline next time is about a survivor of a hate crime hooking up with a person who went to jail guilty of the same damn hate crime.

I’d like to take a moment to discuss how many fellow survivors I’ve met and how many of those survived at the hands of someone who later came out as a gay person and turned their life around. Respectfully? Dozens, and none. Do closeted queer people make the worst homophobes? It’s up for debate—there are studies out there where arousal responses correlate with more vocal homophobes, but whether or not they make for the most violent homophobes isn’t known, and anecdotally, I can’t think of a single instance, like I said, where after a violent bashing someone (a) came out, and (b) turned their life around, so why is this such a propagated falsehood in what’s supposed to be a romance?

And that’s key. This is supposed to be a romance. I’m supposed to want this man to have a happy-ever-after. I’m supposed to look at a man who was beaten nearly to death by a man because he was queer, and want him to spend the rest of his life happy with someone who beat another man nearly to death because he was queer.

That’s… I don’t even know what that is. But I do know what it isn’t. It’s not romantic. And it would never fly if it wasn’t queer men.

I mean, I can’t imagine this storyline would ever, ever hold up in a heterosexual romance: a woman is nearly beaten to death by a man who can’t control his feelings for her, and the next book in the series is about him finding love with another woman who has survived nearly being beaten to death by a different man, all while they stay together in the same house while this second woman recovers from her assault and the man just got out of jail? Do you see how ridiculous that is? How harmful and hateful and not romantic? No chance. Not redeemable as a romantic lead.

But somehow it’s okay—not just okay, but romantic—because… why? Because it’s gay men?

There is so very much wrong with that I don’t even know how to begin.

Not That Kind of Sub

There are a couple of parallel discussions going on right now that have Venn-diagrammed their way into my feeds, and last night’s #RWChat cemented something I’ve been feeling vaguely “off” about for a while.

I’m not a sub-genre.

Let me explain.

Sub-Genres of Romance

There are a couple of places you can go to get different lists of sub-genres for Romance. Obviously, the RWA has a list: Contemporary, Erotic, Historical, Paranormal, Religious/Spiritual, Suspense, and YA. Wikipedia adds a couple: breaking down part of what the RWA calls Paranormal into Science Fiction and Time-Travel, and adding Multicultural (more on that in a bit).

That was the stage set, so to speak, for the discussion on #RWChat about sub-genres in romance, and one of the questions was “should there be new sub-genres?” and, of course, queer came up as a suggestion.

And that’s where I started to flinch.

Queer as a Sub-Genre?

Now, before I start, I do want to point out where the notion comes from in the minds of most, and that it’s from a good place. Let’s be honest, queer characters don’t get the recognition in romance that their allocishet counterpart characters do. That’s just the current reality.

To ground this in my own experience, I’ve been waffling over joining the local chapter of the RWA. I got invited to a lunch, I already know a few of the authors though awesome events like Romancing the Capital, and my romance output is rising, so it seemed like something worth exploring. Shortly into the dinner, one of the authors announced that they didn’t believe men could be bisexual.

So. I had a choice. I could make a bit of a scene and speak out, or I could wait and see what happened. I chose the latter (I regret that) and nothing happened. I think I managed a weak “I’m not sure you get to decide that,” a few moments later than would be effective.

I haven’t joined the RWA. Maybe another year.

So, when I see organizations like the RWA and their awards go (almost exclusively) to allocishet characters, I’m totally not surprised. And I get why it seems like making a sub-genre just for queer characters is a great idea. I can even see how there’s some merit to it.

Yes, Queer is a Sub-Genre!

For one? There’d be a queer winner of a RITA every year, right? There’d have to be, if there was a sub-genre just for queer characters in romance, rather than the occasional one here and there, and some years not at all.

For another? Visibility. Those titles short-listed would be a quick, easy, one-stop shop to show people some queer characters in romance.

Even more? Legitimacy. If someone like the RWA (okay, maybe not my local chapter) was loud about saying “Queer Characters are Welcome in Romance!” that’s a big deal. Their history with that isn’t so great, and it would go a long way.

So why don’t I like it?

No, Queer isn’t a Sub-Genre!

Honestly? It’s the flip side of the positives I listed above.

For one? There’d be only one winner of a RITA every year with a queer character, because any book with a queer character would be shunted into the queer character box. Never mind if there was a contemporary romance with queer characters that was far and away better than the allocishet character contemporaries on the short list, and also a YA romance with amazing trans characters that blew the allocishet character YA romance shortlist out of the water: only one of them could win. Because they’re queer, and they get one award, competing against each other, even though they’re vastly different sub-genres with only their queerness in common.

For another? The rest of the awards become a queer-free zone by default, and the notion of allocishet characters as “normal” or “default” is increased. Because if there’s one queer romance sub-genre, but thirteen other genres that aren’t, how is that not the message? Books with allocishet characters would get to be considered in groupings of their plots, tropes, and against similar titles. But queer would judged for being queer.

Last? From a publishing point of view, it can actively delegitimize. “We have a sub-genre for queer stories” sounds solid until that becomes a limitation. Think about what women of colour face in the romance world (and, thereby, their characters). “No, we have the four titles we’re publishing for our black-women line this month.” “Oh, but my book is a romantic suspense with a black lead, you publish eight romantic suspenses a month, so…” “No. It’s a black-woman, so it only goes here. Four titles a month. Period.” This is why I get twitchy about “Multicultural” as a sub-genre, too.

Not to mention queer people of colour exist. Where do they go? The multicultural romance, or the queer romance? Which one trumps the other? This is why “people as a sub-genre” gets messy. People are messy. We don’t fit one box.

Oh, yeah, and what happens when that line gets canceled?

Okay, Smart-Guy, Solutions?

Yeah, I didn’t say I had a solution.

Well, no, I do: judge romances with queer characters alongside those with allocishet romances and do so on a level playing field with judges capable of reading them without bias but ha ha ha, yeah. I could barely finish that with a straight face. After all, men can’t be bisexual, right?

Heavy sigh.

The good news is I’ve heard from other readers that romances with queer characters are making strides. Radclyffe, who writes lesbian romances across many romance sub-genres, has been a finalist in many RWA chapter contests in the correct sub-genre category for her books (thanks for that info, Ruth!). That’s progress.

I also totally respect the opposing opinion here. I’m just as tired as anyone else of queer characters barely making it to the foreground of awards and recognition and bestseller lists, and I can empathize with “I don’t care if it means there’s just one winner every year and one short list. At least it would exist and shows we exist.” Like I said above, that’s a fair freaking point.

And maybe it has to go through that step first in places like the RWA, with the ultimate goal of later disentangling it into the sub-genre awards? I don’t know. But I think things like the Rainbow Awards, the Publishing Triangle Awards, and the Lambda Literary Awards (and other queer awards) fill a niche of queer-character writing awards, and they have genre breakdowns built-in. It’s still about the genres there.

I want places like the RWA and Goodreads to step up, not pen us in.

So, I guess, that’s my solution. Not that the RWA and Goodreads will do it, but that we need to make them do it. Groups like Women of Color in Romance (if you don’t follow them, go follow them, right now) do fantastic work to make noise and highlight the incredibly talented women of color writing romance out there who already exist but don’t get the same massive attention the white authors do because publishing is so very, very white.

Publishing is also so very, very allocishet.

I want more noise. Noise about all the #ownvoice writers and characters that exist in romance—queers included—and maybe that’s what it will take to get those books on the shortlists in the sub-genre categories where they belong.

Wait, Goodreads?


Handmade Holidays is a contemporary romance. It has gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and trans people in it. It’s still a contemporary romance.

Yeah, that was the other circle on the Venn Diagram, and I don’t want to say it all again, but once again the Goodreads Choice Awards are up, and soon it’ll be time to vote and there’s a petition going around to create an LGBTQ+ category to vote in.

And all those same reasons for it to be good—and bad—apply. Because I think back to 2014, and Two Boys Kissing deserved to be the winner in YA, not LGBTQ+. Ditto They Both Die at the End this year.

But there were next to no books with queer characters on the initial list of titles. And that’s not a surprise. Because while queer people are expected to read allocishet books and be satisfied, the opposite isn’t true. And no one can force someone to read a book they don’t want to read. We’re outnumbered, and will always be so.

So, no. I’ve got no happy solution. But I did write-in a book with queer-characters into every slot where I thought that book was the best book I’d read this year. That’s what I can do with the system the way it is, and so I do. And sometimes I didn’t add a book with queer-characters (I voted for The Hate U Give in YA, even though there’s zero queer content, because that book was amazeballs and freaking important and I want it to win all the prizes and I hope They Both Die at the End wins all the Lammies and PTAs and Rainbows and that’s why I love that there are queer-character awards, too).

I’m not a Sub-Genre.

My final thoughts on this snarl are exactly that: just mine. I’m not speaking for all of queer kind here. I can’t. I’m only queer in my own way.

As a reader, I want to see queer reality in all the genres. In science fiction, in mystery, in literature, in romance, in YA, in all the categories. All of them. Even horror, which I barely read. Readers deserve to see themselves. The magic of digital tagging means readers can drill down to find those titles, too.

But I—again, just me, speaking for me—don’t want it to be “Queer,” with a sub-category of “Romance” if that means when I click “Romance” there will be no queer. Queer belongs in romance. Period. I want to click “Romance,” and then “Contemporary” and then be able to find the queer titles. And I want to see shortlists for awards where “Contemporary Short-form Romance” includes a novella with trans characters.

If that means places like the RWA have to learn men can be bisexuals first? Well. It’s time to roll up my sleeves and get back to teaching instead of waiting to hear what they currently say.


Voice, Lists, Existing, and Being Heard

I didn’t want to have a discussion today, and I couldn’t help myself from expressing a bit of exhausted frustration about the discussion… and then ended up having the discussion. Again. My own fault.

But, it occurred to me I’ve had this conversation enough that it might be worth putting my thoughts down in once place. I talk about ownvoice a lot, but from this particular angle, I’m not sure I’ve discussed it here, so here we go.


Today’s attempt at a not-discussion happened when a fellow author noted there was one one gay author on a blog shared which was listed as a kind of a beginner’s guide to reading Gay Fantasy. Now, reaction to this was actually pretty soft (I’ve seen much, much worse) and generally open, and the discussion more-or-less went okay thereafter.

But the response that brings the exhaustion every time did show up: “Does that mean as a straight woman I should only write straight women?” and then, as a chaser, “People write about serial killers without being real serial killers. Authors do research.”

And, exhale.

That’s not what’s being said. What’s being brought to the attention is that, once again, a marginalized voice is left outside, rather than being in the position of existing and being heard.

Okay, so let’s break things down a bit.


I don’t think it’s over-the-top to at least note when a list of titles about a marginalized group doesn’t hit even a half-way point with content created by those implicitly in the group.

This issue manifests in a lot of ways that silence voices, and can be as internal as it is external. This also isn’t restricted to the identities of the authors, either. I’ve lost count of the number of “LGBTQ Pride Readings Lists!” that have zero T or B or Q content, maybe one or two L titles, and then the rest is solid G all the way, baby. There’s a fairly easy fix there: Don’t call it what it isn’t.

Ditto how much an author chooses to boost the signal of other authors. If the books read and recommended by an author never (or only rarely) seem to include a gay man, but an author writes gay male characters and suggests lots of other non-gay-male authors far, far more often? Those are choices.

There’s a great phrase I see repeated in many activist circles: “nothing about us without us.” It doesn’t mean exclusion of those not in the group, it means inclusion of those within the group, to make sure the voice of the group isn’t lost among the (likely good) intent of those outside it.

I’ve seen this discussion play out so many times, including recently in autism groups, where so many top-ten or recommended reading lists so often don’t actually include any (or many) authors or experts in question from within the group itself.

So I Can Only Write Straight Women, Then?

Okay, this is such a loaded topic, so to start: I’m not saying only queer men should write queer men. I need that to be clear. There are brilliant non-queer-men writing queer-men stories out there. I love seeing them get the recognition of a tale well told.

That said, do I think it’s important to make sure that the voice of a marginalized people is heard? Of course I do. There’s always danger the authenticity of the voice will suffer if the majority of stories about a living, breathing people aren’t written by them or with them.

To bring this to a specifically M/M place, recently on an online chat the question was posed: What does M/M mean to you? In other words, when someone says M/M, what do you think of?

These were my answers:

  • I generally assume if it’s called m/m that it’s not going to be queer in a “life as I live it as a queer” way.
  • I assume it’s far less likely to be an #ownvoice writing gay/bi/queer men. The world will be more rosy and sunshine.
  • Higher likelihood of the two men in question being the only queer representation in the book. They’ll exist in a queer vacuum. No other queer friends. Or, if there are other queer friends, it will all be half of future pairs in a series.
  • Rarely (if ever) will there be more than gay/bi men. No queer women, no trans characters.
  • Their relationship will likely be quite heteronormative in the sense of a closed pair, monogamy, wanting kids, etc.
  • I’ll also expect to find a high focus placed on penetrative anal sex (and especially someone’s anal virginity). And value placed on it, too, as a kind of declaration of true love.

None of these are necessarily bad things per sé, just what I’ve come to expect as a reader when reading books labeled “m/m.” And they don’t ring authentic to my queer life. But if books that follow these trends are the only books appearing on a list labeled “gay,” and there’s not a single book on the list where, for example, the queer men have other gay and lesbian and bi and trans friends?

That list is missing how many gay people exist. Something I know to expect to find in gay men’s #ownvoice books. All my queer characters have queer friends. As a queer person? That’s my reality.

But you’d never know it—or learn it—from some lists out there.

I’m Not a Vampire Either, But I Write Those


See? Vampire.

Fair enough. So do I. But vampires aren’t a real, living and breathing marginalized group of people. Queer people are. So if you write a queer character (and, yes, even a queer vampire), and you are not using your voice, and you get something wrong, you need to learn. Be open to criticism. And own it.

Also? Non-real things like Vampires can definitely do harm, too. If your good army of elves are all light skinned, sparkly, and have blond hair and the evil army of orcs are all black skinned and ugly? Take a second to think about that. This carries across to shifters, to aliens, to dragons, to whatever you create. If you create an alien race in a far-flung future where same-sex couples are the norm for that culture, and you have your space-faring humans rattled by that, you’ve written a future where queerness hasn’t progressed pretty much at all. Or, conversely, if you write a future where “queer doesn’t matter” but the only couples you ever actually see on page are straight or gay men, then what, exactly, happened to the lesbians?

Writing stuff that doesn’t exist doesn’t get an author off the hook for how they write (or don’t write) living, breathing cultures. I’m not a serial killer either, but if all the serial killers I write are bisexual, and none of the other characters are bisexual? I still do harm.

An author still needs to do research.


Of course authors research. That’s part of the job. Writing a police procedural? You’re likely going to check in with some cops, right? And when an author screws something up, they’ll often make a little note about it on a blog, or joke about it at a Con, and then moving forward they’ll try not to make the same mistake again. Which is great.

And, for some reason, seems not to happen anywhere as smoothly when we’re talking about the representation of queer people.

Now, there’s tonnes of information out there from queer #ownvoices. I try to do that myself, right here in blogs like this. Research is more or less accessible, even without being particularly intrusive (but, hey, I do love respectful questions that don’t assume I’m at the beck and call of an author, and love answering them). An author has a decent chance of writing something with queer characters that doesn’t foul out if they do the homework, sure.

But. (Huge but).

If a living, breathing group cries foul? That’s when it’s time to stop and listen. Because we’re fallible as writers. We’ll screw up. We’ll do some harm without intending to. And that sucks, because harm wasn’t intended, but harm is still done, and the lack of intent comes second to the harm.

It’s my go-to example, but: Gay-For-You. There’s a strong, loud voice from bi and pan readers decrying Gay-For-You plots that erase them. After doing even a modicum of research, you will know that. Thereafter? You can’t unknow that. If you continue to write Gay-For-You stories with that kind of erasure? Now you’re choosing to willfully do some harm.

Ditto dead-naming trans characters (especially in the damn blurb), burying your gays, referring to HIV status as clean/dirty, etc, etc, etc. We are real people, and whether or not an author likes it, if they choose to write in our voice, they are representing us.

Just on Gay-For-You I have seen people fly completely off the handle saying it doesn’t matter, that the m/m Gay-For-You books aren’t for bi people, and that bi and pan people shouldn’t be upset, they’re over-reacting, that they just shouldn’t read them, and on and on.

When I was a kid, my “first time seeing me” reading moment was a gay character in a story. He died. And it was presented very much as an “of course he died, he was gay.” The class all nodded their heads. I sat there trying not to react, learning that I was probably going to die because I was gay.

People outside a marginalized group don’t get to decide what harms those within it.

So, Now What?

That’s totally up to each individual. I’m not trying to tell anyone what to do so much as I’m trying to explain why my eyebrow creeps up when lists of books about a group of people don’t include any authors from that group. It translates across the board, of course: I don’t think anyone would think it unfair to criticize a list of “the best women detectives” books that had not a single woman author on the list, or “the best black fiction” that didn’t include more than one black author. It seems like basic stuff to me, like inviting five white men to sit on a panel to discuss the wage gap.

It would never fly. It shouldn’t. So when it happens, in list form or otherwise, this is why there’s pushback. Why the discussion happens.

But maybe I should try to turn this into some sort of advice?


If an author is writing a character that isn’t their voice as the primary voice from a living breathing culture? They’re taking a risk. As long as they know that? By all means, go where the muse leads, but prepare for feedback and be prepared to be graceful in the eye of unexpected feedback especially. And, I honestly think the author should stop and really ask themselves why they want to write that character.

For me? My experience never seeing myself in fiction is why I choose to write what I write, and why I try to focus on reading and boosting #ownvoices. I absolutely work to write diversity into my worlds, yes, but I also don’t generally write a main voice that’s not at least somewhat mine.

Again: that’s my choice. No one else has to do the same. But I’d rather boost an ace #ownvoice than write an ace main character. Ace supporting characters? I’m absolutely writing them. But I’d never try to be the next ace voice. Because I’m not ace. The same way I try to boost and suggest awesome lesbian and bi and trans authors out there writing amazing books, but also include awesome lesbian and bi and trans characters in my stories. I can write a world that supports all my queer allies without taking the mic from their hands.