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?

23113675_10156867781706110_1038419415_n

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.

 

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Where I’ll be at @CanConSF this weekend!

NathanBurgoine

This is what I look like. Say hi.

Hey Ottawa people! So, starting this evening and through the weekend is the awesome Can*Con 2017 event at the Sheraton Ottawa, and though I’m sure you’re sick of me saying so by now, a reminder: I’ll be there.

So will some exciting people, so don’t let my presence put you off (ba-dum-tish!).

Registration opens at 5:00p today, and there are awesome panels, discussions, events, and readings to see.

Importantly? The Dealers Room is open to the public throughout the event, so if you see a name on a signing, or you want to check out some awesome books and products in support of the publishers and artists of Can*Con, you totally have access. Also, if you want, there are day-passes available as well as pricing at the door for the whole she-bang.

If you are looking to see yours truly, however? Allow me to make it easier for you.


Friday, October 13th, 2017.

I’m not on any panels or readings this evening, however, I totally think you should check out my husband taking part in “No, You Can’t Actually Do That With a Computer” at 9:00p, Salon D, because he’s cute and he knows his stuff when it comes to computer security; or for the horror fans, “Homophobia and Monster Stories” (which includes fellow BSBer Christian Baines), 9:00p, Salon F.

Also, I’ll be carrying two d20s so we can duel with our official Can*Con RPG characters.


Saturday, October 14th, 2017.

Okay, deep breath…

in-memoriam

Romance! Second Chances! Time-Travel! Tropes aplenty…

At 10:00a, I’ll be talking “Romance Tropes We Love,” alongside Jessica Ripley, Angela S. Stone, and Jennifer Carole Lewis, in Salon C.

At 11:00a, I’ll be taking off my romance hat and putting on my queer hat for “Finding a Home for your Queer Stories,” alongside Caro Frechette, fellow BSBer Stephen Graham King, Kelsi Morris, and Derek Newman-Stille, in Salon F.

Then, at 12:00p, I’ll be taking off the queer hat and putting on my bookstore manager hat for “How to Interact with a Bookstore,” alongside Charlotte Ashley, Leah Bobet, Benoit Chartier, and Linda Poitevin, in Salon D.

At 1:00p, I will likely be running out the door to find something to eat. I’m totally available for nearby food inhalation.

At 3:00p, Leah Bobet and I will have the open-to-the-public Dealer Room signing real estate for half an hour, so drop on by, say hi, and maybe I can scribble my name on something for you.

Finally, w-a-a-a-y in the evening at 9:00p, I’ll be propping myself up beside fellow spoonies Caro Frechette, Cait Gordon, Talia Johnson, Jamieson Wolf, and Derek Newman-Stille, and attempting to be coherent about “Spooning with Spoonies,” in Salon E.


Sunday, October 15th, 2017.

I am foot-loose and fancy free all Sunday, so if you see me, corner me and say hello. Also, much like Friday, I shall ensure I always have two d20s with me so we can duel with our official Can*Con 2017 RPG characters. (I think I’m going to be a wizard).

Hope to see you all there!

They Both Die at the End, by Adam Silvera

coverBefore I say anything else about the book—I was lucky enough to get an ARC, along with what seems like a few hundred others—I want to say, clearly and primarily: I loved this. It was clever, and had feeling, and had me, to my core, resonating with the queerness of it all.

I also want to say that I don’t normally add my voice when there’s a massive release. I try really hard to shout about the titles that don’t have massive campaigns attached to them from big-five publishers with hundreds of ARCs and promos, as they don’t really need my help.

But I loved this so much.

Okay, now to the meat of it. This is spec fic (albeit contemporary) YA, so I want to talk about that a bit. It’s no surprise Silvera includes queerness in a spec fic world, because duh, but every time we’re included in a world that isn’t ours, it’s a reminder—and a celebration—that we do exist in this real one. Spec fic has long been a playground for queer writers, but so often when the writer isn’t queer, we just sort of vanish. Like, if the future has no queers, or this world has no queers, it’s rare anyone really notices, but as a queer reader there’s an obviousness to it that rubs painfully.

Now, in this world, the spec fic element is one thing: the technology (unexplained) exists so that is known what day you will die, with one day’s notice. Not how. Not exactly when. Just, the phone will ring, and the clock is ticking. Some time before midnight? You end. This is almost like a reversal of This is How You Die, and I couldn’t help but keep thinking about those stories at the same time. The fallout of this technology is all along a contemporary, real-world version of what Silvera imagines would come from this technology, and as far as I could tell, it was tone-perfect. People follow the social media of those running out their last-day clock. There are shows. Deals. Public scrutiny. Judgement. Matching services. It’s brilliant. In weaving in occasional POVs from other characters from the outside-in was a great way to display this interconnectivity of the fallout of the knowledge of death-days.

The characters? Puerto Rican Mateo, and Cuban-American Rufus, were done with great strokes. I believed them, liked them (and got annoyed at them), enjoyed their sometimes frantic, and sometimes lackadaisical pace through their last day. I’ve noted a few reviews said the pacing seemed to shift for them, and some of the down spots seemed a bit slow, and while I agree the pacing did slow, it made sense to me and never removed me from the narrative. From an emotional point of view, human beings can’t run on all-out all-the-time. Even in the midst of a crisis, we eventually adjust. Our brains can’t do 100% panic and sustain it. So I really quite found the “breaks” to feel organic, and I liked how—even on the last day of their life—they might just want to stop for a bit, eat some good food, and breathe. Also, it drew broader strokes around the characters families and cultures and added weight to the reality that life was ending for these two, but not for all the lives they were touching.

But, as I said before, it was more than that. I rooted for them in a queer way that I might have trouble explaining, but goes back to what I said about it resonating on a queer level.

So let me try.

The whole framing of the “seize the day” narrative around these queer kids was so spot-on. They had a day. One day. And in that day, they had some choices to make about how and what they would allow themselves to be, and most of those choices were about whether or not they would be themselves. It’s frankly a perfect analogy of a queer life reduced to a twenty-four hour period. This is every day as a queer person: a loop of choices about where, when, and how you can position yourself to be yourself. The notion of so many people watching them live this last day just added all the more authenticity to the allegory for me. When I’m existing in a queer space, like my own home, or Pride, or a queer club, being me is effortless. I can relax. I can be. But the moment others are watching—and boy, how people watched Mateo and Rufus—the more decisions have to be made. Is this a safe spot to touch my husband, or kiss him, or to even say the word “husband” or “queer” or in any other way out myself? Or is this a moment where the smarter and safer thing—even though it’s the diminishing thing—is to not touch, not kiss, not say, not be out, not be me.

These kids? They live all of that in one day. They choose, moment by moment, whether or not to be themselves, and that’s the brilliance of They Both Die at the End to me: Even with just one day? They know how important that is, and show the whole damn world.

What it Says on the Tin

I have a request.

An author friend of mine posted recently about some frustrations he was having with the book world, and I found myself wanting to reach through the screen and offer up a hug. A lot of what he was describing sounded very, very familiar, and I wished I had some sort of advice to offer.

But honestly? I don’t have any.

I feel like I need to caveat a lot of what I’m about to say with a clear, focused statement, so I’m going to do so: I love romance. I love writing romance. I will likely always continue to write romances, especially in shorter formats like novellas and short fiction.

Please re-read that a bunch of times if at any point this post feels like maybe I’m saying something otherwise. Because I’m not.

As a queer author who writes queer (and most often specifically gay male) fictions, there’s a thing that happens quite a bit to me in the reader/reviewer world: assumed romance.

Now, romance—like all the genres—is very much like a contract with the reader. If you pick up a romance, you are completely within your rights to assume there will be a happy-ever-after (or at least, a happy-for-now) by the time the narrative wraps up, despite whatever angst, worry, conflict, miscommunication, random chance, or crazy antics are tossed in the way of the characters. It’s a romance. That’s not up for negotiation, it’s part of the deal the author makes with the reader when they label their book a romance.

The romance world is an awesome one, and the readership is vast and honestly keeps the vast majority of the book industry going. Romance matters. It’s important. I will defend romance against all those book snobs who reduce it to snide remarks or create hierarchies of what’s a “real” book versus what isn’t.

M/M romance readers in particular are a force of nature, and good lord I love the energy in the room at Romancing the Capital when I get to talk with m/m readers. Happy endings are oxygen, and as a queer author who sometimes writes gay romances, I love that my gay romance writing means my readership venn diagram can cross over with the m/m readership.

But. (And you knew there was a but, right?)

But the flip-side to that passionate readership of romance can create real frustration for queer authors like me. Before I get there, though, I need to explain a bit about why—and what—I write.

Ask a million authors why they write, and you’ll probably get a billion answers, but the most central reason I write is to put characters I never saw into the world. I write for representation of queer folk like me, which young queer me never saw. I love that my readership is larger than queer folk, and I also recognize there’s a responsibility there to represent very, very well, as part of my writing does cross over into education, and I do my damnedest to write some queers who could be living, breathing folk who walk a day to day life here in Canada. That matters a huge deal to me.

That young queer me, who never saw himself anywhere in fiction (or the media, frankly), didn’t just read romance, though. He read science fiction. He read mystery. He read thrillers. He didn’t read much horror (neither does his grown-up counterpart, for the record), and he never liked anything gory (ditto!), but my point here is this: queerfolk deserve their happy endings in romance, absolutely, and they also deserve to exist in the mysteries, the thrillers, the science fictions, the horrors, and every other genre and sub-genre, too.

And sometimes, I write those. In fact, my two novels thus far—Light and Triad Blood—were both science fiction books. Contemporary, yes. And Light definitely had itself a romantic sub-plot. But they were both science fiction nonetheless. My third novel, Triad Soul, comes out next month and it, too, is a science fiction book. My novel after that? Young adult (although, again, there’s going to be a romantic sub-plot).

in-memoriam

Gay romance novella. Oh, and wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey.

My novella, In Memoriam (which, as of this morning was still free on Kindle, by the way) is a romance. So, if you read that, despite the blurb, and despite what looks like a potentially depressing topic, you know one thing for sure: happy ending. I have other novellas in the pipeline, too, and they’re all romances. Again, happy endings.

So why am I over-stressing this point?

Because far more often than you’d think, reviews of books with gay characters rate, rank, and describe the book on a romance scale when they’re not romances. This happens to me every time, and it happened to my friend who inspired this post, and it happens to so many queer authors I know.

“For a romance, this was really fade-to-black.”

“I never got the sense that they loved each other—they seemed more like friends and companions than lovers.”

“The romance plot was barely even there.”

When a book isn’t a romance, this shouldn’t be a surprise.

Now, I’m not putting all the blame on the reader, either. As an author there are definitely things to do to ensure the perception of a reader is on-target. The most basic is the cover. One of my erotica shorts, Three, is an example, I think, of a cover that pretty much tells you exactly what’s going on:

threeThat’s Luc. He’s a French Canadian vampire, and he seems to have lost his shirt. That’s okay, though, because frankly a good portion of the short story involves him not wearing one. This is romance, and, in fact, erotica. The hunky shirtless guy on the cover helps make that clear. Now, there are also words on the cover, but let’s be honest, reading those will come second to that view of Luc. Ah, Luc. You can be so prim and proper and a little bit casually pragmatic, but when I see you without your shirt? It’s forgiven.

Sorry, where was I? Right! The words on the cover. If you look at the top there, it says “Erotic short story prequel to Triad Blood.” It’s safe to say there will be sex in this story. It’s also safe to say the story will be short. And hey! If you like the characters, there’s apparently more to read with them.

Reviews of this short story have included:

“This novel was really, really short. It was more like a short story.”

“Woah. The sex was really explicit.”

You see where I’m going with this, I imagine.

I try really, really hard to be clear with the book cover, blurbs, categorization, and discussions of my novels and novellas. There are no shirtless men on the covers of the Triad books, or Light. There will be no shirtless young man on the cover of my YA novel. They will be categorized correctly, and I’m still 100% sure that reviews of the book will contain “heat ratings,” discussions of the romance content, and at least one that will say, at some point, “for an m/m romance, I found this to be…”

So. Deep breath. What else do I do?

Nothing. There’s nothing else I can do. Except maybe this post, which it occurred to me to write after seeing my author friend’s post lamenting similar issues.

So, here’s my request. And before I make it, I just want to say, one more time: I love romance. I love writing romance. I will likely always continue to write romances, especially in shorter formats like novellas and short fiction.

But my request is this: before you review a queer book (especially a queer book by a queer author), please ask yourself: is it a romance?

The answer to that is easy to find. Look at the book’s listing on the publisher website or the e-tailer or the bookshelf in the brick-and-mortar store. If that book’s listing says “romance,” then by all means, judge the book accordingly (and yes, if there’s no happy ending, the author really, really messed up). But if the book is a science fiction, or a thriller, or a mystery, and you’re judging and reviewing it on the basis of the romantic content? It’s going to fail.

And, more, there’s a disservice happening to the reader and the author. Especially when we’re talking about queer folk. We’re more than our romantic entanglements. I’m still queer if I’m single. After I’ve fallen in love, gotten married? Still queer. Stories set both before and after the falling in love are still stories that queer folk need to see, need to have represented. Heck, part of the queer family also includes aromantic queers, which get completely tossed to the wayside when the conceptualization and reviewing of queer books is all done through a romantic lens.

We’re allowed these other genres. We’re allowed to be in the future on star ships, and the wizard behind the power on the throne. We’re allowed to be running for our lives from the undead, and hunting down a serial killer with our non-romantic FBI partners. We’re allowed all those stories, and all those stories aren’t romances.

Imagine how foolish it would seem if someone reviewed every cisgender, heterosexual main character in urban fantasy on how good a romance it was. It doesn’t happen. But throw queer characters into the mix, and there’s such a heavy prejudgement that of course queer means sex (or romance).

So please, please stop assuming that queer means romance. It can. It often will.

It doesn’t have to.

 

Blood and Water

As I’m sure is obvious by now, I read a lot of books with queer characters, and quite a few of them are romances. There are themes and ideas that repeat throughout genres, and romance is no different. Some pop up in queer romances more often than others, and some… Well.

I’m going to do something I rarely do, and I’m going to ask you, gentle reader, to shut up for a second, and listen to a sub-sub-subset of an #ownvoice for a moment. And, especially, I’m talking to writers who don’t belong to that subset.

Now, what subset am I talking about?

triad-soul

Quite a few readers did notice that none of my main characters in the Triad books have family. It’s on purpose.

Those of us who got kicked to the curb. The disowned and disinherited. The queers who, upon coming out, ended up losing biological relatives. Not due to our nature, but due to theirs. Their hateful or bigoted or ignorant choice to cut us off.

Now, I bring this up because I just bumped into yet another book where a queer character is treated abysmally and tossed to the curb by their family and by the end of the book the family has come around, and this is seen by all as a good thing, and the whole they’re family and family is acceptance and love trope has played out in full.

And I hate it.

If you’ll bear with me, I’m going to draw two (perhaps imperfect) romance parallels.

Parallel the first: A woman is emotionally abused by a man she is seeing and living with. He treats her terribly, manipulates her, destroys her self-worth, all because he feels a woman’s place is to be heard, not seen, and he finds her desire to be a sexual being in control of her own choices disgusting and backward. When she dares to tell him she wants to be in control of her body, he locks her out of their home, changes the locks, empties their joint account, and leaves her with nothing. She is very, very lucky and survives being penniless and alone long enough to put her life back together. Then he contacts her, and tells her he’s changed.

Would you want to read a romance novel where they reconnect after he wakes up to the bare bones basics of feminism and they end up together? Would you maybe wonder about the message being sent by a novel that paints this man as the romantic hero, or this woman as the romantic heroine, given that she gives him another chance?

Parallel the second: A woman finds an abused animal that has run away. She nurses the animal back to health, and slowly, over time, the animal recovers its ability to trust human beings. Then, one day, the animal reacts to a man when they are out for a walk. She learns this is the man who abused the animal. He has, however, since entered a discussion group for men with anger issues and come to terms with his reasons for kicking the dog and locking it outside with no food or warmth and letting it run away. He wants his dog back.

Would you want to read a romance novel where she hands the dog back over and falls for this guy because he’s changed? Would you be more in the camp of ‘people like that should never be given another animal ever again, let alone the one they hurt originally?’

You’re probably getting the point I’m trying to make here.

I’m not sure why this specific story—the queer kid kicked out who eventually gets the love of his family and they all get back together in a tearful ‘I’m so sorry’ moment—is told so often.

It’s certainly not realistic.

Now, I know what’s coming: it’s fiction. Fiction doesn’t have to be realistic (though, you know what, I’m not sure I agree there: if you ask me fiction has to have verisimilitude, and that’s harder than realistic—fiction has to make sense, which real life certainly doesn’t have to do).

But, more to the point, I imagine many of you are thinking: it’s not just a fiction, it’s a romance. Romances have happy endings.

Right. I agree.

So what’s so happy about reuniting an abuser with the abused? Make no mistake, abandonment is abuse. Why is it that this narrative about queer happiness includes someone who disregarded their health, safety, happiness, and emotions “getting” that they’re worthy of those things, and why does the story need the queer character to not just forgive them (which, let’s be clear, they do not have to do) but to also invite them back into their lives?

What’s the message of that narrative?

I bounced this one out as a question on Facebook, and the replies were pretty interesting and thoughtful. But there was a single thread I’m going to mention first going back to that whole “shut up and listen” thing I said at the beginning.

Not a single person I know who has lived through getting turfed to the curb wants anything to do with their families. Some might speak with them now—I’m one of those, though it’s out of a desire to connect with my niece and nephew more than anything else—but what none of us showed a desire for? Reconciliation and reintegration with the people who tossed us out.

What’s my sample size? More than you’d likely think. And my little post turned into a couple of posts on friends’ walls, too, and as I read those, the same thing happened: no one who’d lived through it had the slightest inclination to get their so-called “real family” back.

I say it jokingly, but I do mean it: Blood is only thicker than water in one way, as far as I’ve determined: it stains worse.

So. Knowing that, I looked at the books where I’d been seeing this narrative, and I noticed a few of things.

One, when it was possible to find out, the vast majority of these stories weren’t #ownvoice authors. That stood out. My first thought there was to wonder if any of the authors had spoken to someone who’d been cut off from their family, or if they’d just heard the facts about the rates of disowning/LGBTQIA+ homelessness, and used it as a plot point with no further research.

Two, the narratives written by #ownvoices which still included this “reunion/reconciliation” generally had a trace more realism, like one parent coming to terms and leaving the other to stand by the kid, or the queer child in question being very skeptical and not allowing the parent or parents in question access to their life on anything but their own terms. Or, the breakdown from the family wasn’t extremely harsh, or came later in life when the character has resources of their own, which still stings and is horrible, but if the turnaround on the part of the family is pretty quick it can almost read more like a fight or a bad reaction rather than the emotional abuse that is complete rejection and detachment.

Three, it was much, much rarer to find stories that rejected this narrative and lined up with something closer to the reality as I and so many others experienced it: where the queer character forms a chosen family, and the parents don’t return to be a part of the queer character’s life—and those generally were written by #ownvoice queer authors.

So my question is this: why? Why is this facet of queer kicked-out-youth reality dealt with so unrealistically in fiction?

I have a few theories, but no real answers.

  • Maybe it’s intended as a hopeful message that people can change. Well, yeah. Of course that’s a goal in queer culture. That’s the whole point of education and fighting the roots of queer hate in the first place. Obviously we want people to change and move away from hating us queerfolk. But this narrative goes a step further than showing that people can change, in that it takes the abuser and turns elevates them to a position of respect, trust, and love, and assumes (or enforces) a forgiveness on the part of the abused. Let’s talk random bigots who attack us. Do we really want to snuggle up with the people who used to shove us into lockers, throw garbage at us, or beat us up on the street? No. We just want them to stop. When it’s the ones who were supposed to love us who are doing the hating, that doesn’t change. If anything, it makes their initial rejection all the more scarring.
  • Maybe it’s intended to show the reader that family is more important than… something? Anything? Hate? Bigotry? Whatever? That one’s biological family has an inherent value that needs to be maintained and repaired no matter what? Because, well, no. An abusive relationship is toxic and should be escaped for your mental, emotional, and physical health, regardless of blood relation. We have whole departments and organizations to help people escape toxic environments. Hell, a tonne of queer youth on the streets are afraid of those organizations because they don’t want to be forced back to live with their families.
  • Maybe it’s intended to show queer kids want their parents to love and accept them? Well, yes. Don’t all kids want that? But here’s the thing with this: that story is already told when the parents reject the child, too. It’s pretty clear that’s not what the queer individual wanted. So, message received. That sucks, and isn’t what we wanted. But if the story continues to bring in the parents after that, then you’re not telling the queer kid’s story any more. Now the narrative is as much about the journey to acceptance the parents are making. And if I can be blunt, as I said up above, the last thing any kicked-to-the-curb queer I know wanted, after abuse/being kicked out, was the love and acceptance of the people who did the kicking. Some wanted love, sure, but not from their parents. Most would have preferred never having to see them again.
  • And maybe, if I allow myself to be a bit more cynical, it’s just thoughtless. It’s a trope, after all, based on a pretty culturally-pervasive fallacy reinforced by pretty much every kind of entertainment narrative we see. Family comes first. Blood is thicker than water. Maybe these are cases of writers who haven’t lived a certain experience and haven’t realized what the reality is like, and so projecting without considering there’s a message being propagated at all.

So. Where does that leave me?

To put it clearly: I can think of no reason I’d ever want to be closely reunited with my abuser/family under any circumstances, period. I don’t want it—I have faith in the love and trust I’ve found elsewhere that I can’t even imagine trying to have with my biological. And this doesn’t feel like a loss or a failure.

I do not have to forgive. I am not broken if I don’t forgive, or holding on to some toxic poison that will give me a spiritual sickness. Forgiveness is conflated with a lot of things. Reaching a state where someone doesn’t think about it any more, or can think about it without feeling shame/pain/hurt is a kind of forgiveness, and has nothing to do with the abuser. People seem to think reaching peace has to include facing the person and letting them know/letting them apologize if they’re willing, and that seems a dangerous a conceit in my experience. Some people take a path that includes forgiveness, being face-to-face with their abusers, and that’s fantastic. But it’s not the only path.

If that’s the only story ever told, I think there’s a problem. What message is that sending to queers in that position? Hold on to hope, they may come around if you wait long enough, and there’s inherent value to having a relationship with these people just because they’re related to you?

That’s… just not true.

So, that’s where I ended up, and it occurred to me that perhaps it was worth sharing. If you as a writer are including in your queer character’s narrative a familial disowning, emotional or mental abuse, assault, or a complete breakdown ending in a kicked-out scenario, and you’re not drawing on an #ownvoice experience, I’d like to ask you to take a moment to ask yourself why you’re doing so if the narrative ends in a reconciliation.

Writing Wednesday – Branded

There’s a blog post I just read that left me blinking a bit. In it, to paraphrase, the advice given was basically: “don’t post controversial opinions or express views if you think it has the possibility of upsetting readers.”

How to put this succinctly?

Hell no.

Now, granted, I’m coming at this from a different point of view perhaps, in that I’m a queer guy, so by virtue of existing, I’m already a controversial opinion expressing oxygen on a daily basis.

Given that there are readers who don’t like queer people, queer representation, or “all that gay shit you talk about” (direct quote from a blocked comment on a past blog), I completely agree that there are readers who get up set if you put forth a persona that is controversial to them.

And, again, to be succinct: Good.

The notion that I shouldn’t use whatever little platform writing gives me to express my queerness, my queer-inclusive politics, my pro-diversity, pro-#ownvoices, pro-feminist, pro-BLM, pro-whatever-the-heck-else views is anathema. Will I lose readers? You betcha. Would they have enjoyed my books in the first place?

in-memoriam-ebook

Yep. Still queer.

Well, given that Triad Blood is about a group of three queer misfits forming their own chosen family once the people who are the status quo shove them out—probably not? But hey, even if they did read it before they learned anything about me from my twitter or Facebook pages, it’s likely they caught the queer-positive vibe from what I was writing. What with the gay sex and all. In Memoriam? Even my bittersweet-but-far-more-lighthearted romance brings up the whole gay marriage thing. Light? Yep, even the science fiction superhero(ish) story touches on the whole isolation of the other at the hands of some religions stuff.

My brand is queer. I’m not going to hide who I am when who I am is part of the whole damn point. When I was a kid, I didn’t see anyone like me out there as a possible future. I want queer kids to see as many possible futures for themselves as possible, and one of those futures is as a queer writer using their voice to do what good they can, even if they fuck it up occasionally, swear, or admit they inhaled.

Also, there’s the opposite side to consider here. When I see a big discussion happening about #ownvoices, for example (which, again, for the record, BRING ON THE #OWNVOICES!), I also see who doesn’t speak. Silence is just as political as speaking out. I see authors who write gay romances who never once speak up when people are saying some pretty homophobic, transphobic, or biphobic shit.

That silence? That failure to correct, educate, or act in the interest of opposite hate and stereotypes? Sorry, authors, but that becomes part of your brand, too.

Silence = death.

That’s a lesson I already learned from queer history.
(With a hat-tip to Brad Vance, who pointed out the blog discussion.)

Anyway. Ranting aside, back to the whole point of Writing Wednesday, which is to keep myself honest and on track on writing projects.


Exit Plans for Teenage Freaks

I’m on track with EPfTF, and things are going well. Sub-plots are beginning to approach me to be woven into the story, and I’ve had fun working on the secondary characters. The voice of my protagonist is starting to solidify, and I like where Cole is going so far. He’s not like me in many, many ways, which is something I do strive to do in most pieces I write, but there’s just something about getting in touch with your younger teen self that brings on the amusement and anxiety and high-emotion of it all.

In some ways, there’s a wish-fulfillment going on here. Cole is a member of a queer club at his high school, and he has half a dozen queer friends. I never had that, nor anything like it, though by the end of my time at the high schools I attended, I had learned I wasn’t alone, and had met a couple of other queer people, we were silent about it, not out, and terrified.

Being Cole, even through fiction, feels very much like living a kind of “If only…” scenario.

Then again, I don’t think I could handle his teleportation problem, either.

 


Of Echoes Born / Short Pieces

 

I’m actually ahead of schedule here, which is… unlikely to continue?

I’m also finding it’s very, very hard to look at previously written and published short fiction and not want to edit them. Seriously. My first ever published piece, “Heart,” is something I’m very proud of, and will be including it in the collection, but…

There may be tweaks. Is that done? Do people do that? I mean… is that allowed in collections of short fiction?

Uh, asking for a friend?

Also: I do have something coming up that’s rather exciting, and a wee bit terrifying. I signed up for the 11th Annual NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge, which is so far out of my wheelhouse that I’m not even sure I know what to do to finish the metaphor about wheelhouses. But I’m excited about the new challenge, and it lines up with my “stop self-rejecting” goal of the year. I’m going to count it as a submission, too, even though I’ve already hit my quota for January submissions. I’m not going to let myself bank them ahead for future months, but it’s nice to be proactive and see the numbers grow.


Open Calls for Submission

Lastly, Writing Wednesday updates include my list off all the various open calls for submission I’ve found and/or am trying to write for. If you know of any others, by all means do drop them in the comments and I’ll add them to the list. If this is helpful for people other than myself, it’s even better. Also, to keep myself honest, I’m being public about trying to submit something once a month no matter what this year (it worked out well in 2016, so I’m keeping it alive). January thus far: 4 submissions (3 reprints, 1 new piece).

  • Chicken Soup for the Soul – Various titles, various themes, various deadlines, 1,200 word count limit.
  • Clarkesworld – Currently open for art, non-fiction, and short story submissions.
  • Cast of Wonders – Young adult short fiction market, open to story submissions up to 6,000 words.
  • Tales to Terrify – A volunteer-run fan podcast featuring short horror, dark fantasy, and other disturbing fiction, looking for works up to 10k; Deadline January 21st, 2017.
  • 49th Parallels – Alternative Canadian Histories and Futures, Bundoran Press, deadline February 14th, 2017; 1,500-7k word count limit.
  • MM Superpowers anthology – This isn’t the only thing open at Totally Bound (you can click through for the full list), but this is the one I’m eyeing; deadline February 28th, 2017; 10k-15k word count limit, with erotic content.