Queer Romance Blog Hop: Diversity & Inclusion Version

Welcome to the Queer Romance Blog Hop, where queer writers and readers of queer romance share their thoughts on the genre, as well as a few recommendations for books to read! Everyone participating in this blog hop identifies as queer and also reads and/or writes (or edits, or reviews!) queer romance. For our purposes, queer romance refers to books with:

1. LGBTQ+ main characters
2. In romantic relationships
3. That have a happy ending. (No Brokeback Mountain here, folks!)

I’m Talya, and I’ve been publishing queer fiction through Less Than Three Press for a little over a year now and writing it for much, much longer. I’ve been reading queer fiction since around 1997/1998 back when fiction selection was slim pickings: one shelf, and we were lucky if the bookstore carried even that much. Interestingly enough, that one shelf always seemed to be across, or around the corner from, the Christian non-fiction. I used to work at a Big&Name bookstore and I would trawl the general fiction section while shelving … sometimes you could find gay fiction that way, but it was like searching for Easter eggs. Not only was it difficult, but often you’d find something that was not really to your taste.

It’s been amazing to see how things have really grown and changed over the past decade plus, but at the same time, it seems like there’s still a lot of room for expansion.

1. Let’s start off with the getting-to-know-you stuff: How do you identify and what does that mean to you? Whatever level of detail you’re comfortable with, of course!

I am a bisexual woman, and I’ve been partnered for over ten years with another woman. To a lot of people this would mean I’m a lesbian, as though my sexual preference is tied to the person I’m with rather than who I am. Being with a woman for this long doesn’t make me a lesbian; it makes me monogamous. I think (and research supports) that a lot of bisexuals don’t self-identify because we’re not really well accepted by either straight or queer communities, so we tend to hide who we are in order to make other people more comfortable. It’s easier for someone with a female partner to simply say they’re a lesbian because that’s what most people understand. But I am, and always have been, attracted to people of both male and female genders.

Bisexuality was something that was difficult, at first, for me to come to terms with because there was virtually no representation when I was growing up. You were either straight (the default) or gay (deviant), and I didn’t identify with either. In fact, I fought being associated with the queer community at first because I was attracted to the opposite gender, so that meant I “had” to be straight. It was only once I got deeper into researching sexuality and gender that I started to realize, and admit to myself, that not only was bisexuality an option—it’s been a part of me from a very young age. I simply never had the cultural background to recognize it.

2. What’s your preferred “flavour” of queer romance (e.g. trans*, f/f, m/m, menage with queer characters, etc.) Why?

I don’t have a strong preference for any unless being “in the mood” for one or the other would be expressing a preference at the time. I’ve read and enjoyed all varieties, from trans* fiction, to f/f and m/m, poly in various configurations, and I’d love to read and write a great deal more permutations including and beyond those mentioned above. I enjoy the full spectrum of “queerness,” if you will, and I absolutely delight in finding and reading more than the standard fare. Diversity in fiction is a hugely important issue to me, and it’s reflected in my purchasing habits.

3. Do you write/read/review? Do you think being queer affects your participation or platform in romancelandia?

I write, and I think it’s absolutely affected my participation in romancelandia. For one, I don’t see an overwhelming amount of bisexual or pansexual characters represented. Because that’s a component of my own identity, that’s something that has been reflected in my own writing. Several of my published works include bisexual characters. In one work, the world-building assumes that bisexuality is the default with acceptable preferences to either same or opposite gender. I’ve also tended to include characters that, in my opinion, go against what is generally touted in romancelandia to be the typical gay male main character.

4. What drew you to queer romance?

This seems like a simple question that has a very involved, complicated answer for me! I can’t really boil it down to any one factor. I think at first I had an intense fascination with queer fiction because it was like an entirely new realm of romance opening up to me, and it was something kind of taboo and compelling and embattled. A lot of queer people both exist outside the norm and feel like they are pushed outside it, and I identified with that very strongly and was drawn to it. I was drawn to it for prurient as well as non-prurient reasons. There was a lot of raw sexuality and boundary-pushing in queer fiction, as well as character dynamics, that didn’t exist in the hetero romances I’d read. There was also tragedy—a lot of gay fiction didn’t get happy endings back when I first started reading it, and I wanted happy outcomes for a lot of fictional characters I came to care deeply for. I’m pleased to say the happy ending has come within our grasp and become more plausible, at least. And the happy ending (not to mention the sweet, sweet sexual payoff) is why I favor romance over fiction in general.

5. What do you love about queer romance in general, and/or your specific subgenre?

I love that anything is possible. The sky really is the limit as far as the kinds of characters I write and what kind of people they become, who they love and how they choose to express themselves. There’s always something fresh and new and interesting to write, and new and compelling stories to tell.

6. What’s your pet peeve?

That’s a loaded question. I’m going to assume this is intended to mean what’s my pet peeve about queerness in romancelandia. I would have to say my biggest pet peeve is placing limits on queerness, as though your characters have to meet some marketability checklist before they’re allowed to go forward. Diversity and inclusion is an extremely important issue for me, and I feel like we see a lot of cis* white stereotypically masculine men in queer fiction when the queer community contains a whole lot more than that. I want to see more people from all walks of life.

Conventional wisdom says write what you know; I say the hell with that. Write what’s out there in the world, and if it’s not your personal experience, ask, do research, talk to people, find out more and give an accurate representation of others’ experiences. I want to see and read about more people of color, people with disabilities, people from other countries, people of different sizes and attractiveness indexes, and absolutely more queer people from across the entire spectrum. It’s not only lesbian fiction that is under-represented: it’s genderqueer people, pansexuals, bisexuals, trans* people, and asexuals. Asexuals can be involved in romance too, people!

Basically my pet peeve is lack of representation for more than just a single, narrow slice of what being queer is all about.

(*Cis = people who identify with the gender that corresponds with the sex they present at birth.)

7. What growth would you like to see in the genre, going forward? Any ideas on how to accomplish that?

Absolutely more representation. I think there’s so much room to grow in every direction. We need to start writing for it, but I think publishers need to be encouraged to ask for it as well, maybe by broadening their submission standards, but also with targeted submission calls.

8. Do you seek out other queer authors when you read?

I’m really wide open with my reading preferences. If the author is telling a good story with compelling characters, then I’m there. What I’ve noticed, though, is if I find out that a particular author is queer, I definitely tend to gravitate more toward their work to check it out if I haven’t already, or to continue to support and read it if I already enjoy them. I was so excited to discover Fiona Patton was married to Tanya Huff! I’d really enjoyed her Branion books and that was just icing on the cake for me.

9. How do you feel, in general, about straight peoples’ participation in reading, writing, and reviewing queer romance?

I think it’s great. I’m all for making our experiences more accessible and relatable to straight people. It’s easier for people to become allies if they have something to latch onto and understand. And fiction—telling our stories and sharing how we love—really brings people together in a way like nothing else besides food, in my opinion.

I would never tell people not to read, write, or review queer romance. I might, however, caution people who aren’t queer to keep an open mind about our genre—it’s not always going to be something from their own experience, and they ought to be prepared to be accepting of “otherness.” If a straight person says “that’s not what gay people are like,” or “that’s not what lesbian women are like,” or “there’s no such thing as genderqueer people,” you’re potentially negating other peoples’ lived experiences, and that’s going over the line from participation into imposing and regulating queerness. And that has harmful consequences on both sides.

10. Rec us 3 titles in your chosen subgenre and tell us why you love them.

This is a tough one. Limiting it to only three is really, really hard.

I don’t have a “chosen genre” smaller than queer fiction in general, so I’m going to pick three titles in that wider genre and say why they made the short list.

“Comfort and Joy,” by Jim Grimsley – I come back to this again and again because it says a lot of things about gay relationships that still hold true today, and there’s a clash of privilege, both in terms of class (rich/poor, differing job levels), and ability/disability. It addresses HIV and shows the ways in which people sometimes really have to work at relationships when they may not even be sure that they want to. All this is interwoven into a holiday tale that shows the differences between the two main characters’ very different families, the ways they are welcome and not welcome in both, and how a tentative accord is reached at the end. I also love Jim’s prose. He simply has not written a book I’ve loved as much as this one ever since.

Liquor by Poppy Z. Brite – the author now identifies as trans* and goes by Billy Martin, which I recently discovered when looking for information on whether the author would ever continue the Liquor series. Liquor and its sequels were the first domino that tipped me into a full-blown passion for foodie culture. Poppy’s queer characters were always outstanding in a landscape of literature that had formerly tipped the hat but not really “gone there.” Rickey and G-man were very real to me, and though the novels became progressively darker, they presented a lot of real issues that gay people face in the macho world of the kitchen as well as outside of it and came across in an overall hopeful, functional, lasting way.

Zi Yong and the Collector of Secrets, by E. E. Ottoman. This is the first story of E.E.’s that I’d read that really made me sit up and take notice of their writing. This is a historical, wuxia-style tale that culminates in a relationship between two women, and it was really well done, restrained and artful, and I just loved it. Between enjoying this story so much and beta-reading another ladylove story of theirs that was just fantastic, I started reading other stories of E.E.’s and the topics this author tackles, as well as the broad range of character representation, have ensured I’ll keep following E.E. for as long as they write.

That sums it up for me. If you’ve made it this far, I salute you and hope this post has given you a few things to think about.

Thanks for reading and for following the tour! Be sure to use the links below to check out more great posts from our participants!

4 comments

  1. great post!

    as usual I agree with so much of what you have to say.

    “I would have to say my biggest pet peeve is placing limits on queerness, as though your characters have to meet some marketability checklist before they’re allowed to go forward.”

    I guess I am super lucky in that I haven’t found a lot of pressure to conform coming from my publishers and editors. Sometimes an editor will mention something to me but for the most part every one has been more than supportive when I want to do something new or portray a type of queerness that doesn’t get portrayed often in the genre.

    Readers on the other hand are a different story and I’m not really sure why. Lately I’ve been pondering whether its because I didn’t start out writing very typical kind of m/m stories and ease myself into the genre before doing something different. Or if it’s because I’m just not skilled enough as a writer to make people feel comfortable with things they might not have experienced before.

    It would be interesting to hear from a more established author who has chosen to write different kinds of characters, later in their career.

    The most exciting thing about this blog hop to me is getting to hear other romance writers talk about queerness, diversity, and how they want to see romance as a whole grow and change. It’s made me really realize how much I crave that. I really want to hear all the romance authors I know engaging with these kinds of topics, thinking about them, and talking about them.

    1. I haven’t found pressure to conform being applied to my own writing, but the general expectation from the industry seems to be “give us the white cis male gay boys and nothing else.” And a lot of what goes outside that box gets pushed aside? So if I want to try to get my name out there more, I would have to…stop trying to write in a diverse manner and write to meet that marketability checklist, you know?

      Readers are where the pressure is coming from. In my experience so far they seem to be pretty harsh about stuff that is outside of the box of their expectations or experience. I don’t know that it’s about skill so much as it may be non-queer readers being uncomfortable with queerness that they haven’t been prepared to relate to, does that make sense?

      I’d love to hear from more established authors–like, do they really get to push the envelope on different kinds of characters? Does it make their sales suffer? I know some of the more established authors at Gay Romance NW were saying their f/f sales are peanuts compared to the m/m. So anything outside that big m/m sphere is basically nonexistent and we need to do better, damn it.

      Let’s hope we’re on the forefront of a wave of change…because in my opinion it can only make the genre bigger, deeper, and stronger.

      There’s a dirty joke in there somewhere.

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