It’s nearing the end of Queer Romance Month. I’ve been reading every single post since the beginning of the month (the ones on the site and a lot of the companion posts on other sites too). I’ve followed a ton of new people on Twitter and Goodreads, started reading some new blogs, read several books by new-to-me authors and put probably 50 more on my TBR list. I baked a cake, which was greeted crazy warmly and generously and made me feel all blushy. I feel like I’ve learned a lot.
But what I’ve mostly learned is just how utterly ignorant I really am. It was something of a shock actually. I consider myself a generally smart, engaged, empathic person. I grew up in a place where same-sex relationships were common and accepted even in my childhood in the 1980s. I’ve read a lot of fiction with LGBTQ characters, starting with Mercedes Lackey’s Last Herald Mage trilogy in junior high and then Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City books in high school and just continuing from there. I’d never sought out queer romance though, mainly out of the mistaken impression that it wasn’t “for” me, but also out of a resistance to how appropriating (new word–I could describe my objection, but didn’t have the vocabulary) it seemed to me to have predominantly straight women writing m/m romance for other straight women. It didn’t seem like something I should embrace when a lot of the reviews I’d read talked about how “wonderful” it was not to have romances that weren’t all about sexism and power differentials, where a man could stand in for a heroine, thus eliminating a whole slough of problematic plot lines. It’s still a concern, but it’s not going to keep me from reading.
Y’all know I’ve now read and loved Glitterland (review here) and if you follow me on Twitter, you know I haven’t shut up about Prosperity in a month. I also read Taking Fire, a lesbian romance by Radclyffe and a food-focused lesbian romance and erotica anthology edited by Andi Marquette and R.G. Emanuelle. I’ll be doing a post about that anthology in the next week or so. I read Dear Mister President by Adam Fitzroy and even though that wasn’t without its need for some suspension of disbelief, it was still a fulfilling love story between two older men set in the White House, which was oh so fun. I haven’t finished all of All In a Day’s Work, an m/m romance anthology, but I loved Amy Jo Cousins’ historical drag dance hall story and Shae Connor’s chef meets ice cream maker. And I reviewed Cousins’ Five Dates last week, making what is probably my personal favorite Cooking Up Romance meal to date. And next week, Willaful, Ana Coqui and I are going to start KJ Charles’ m/m romance Think of England. I’m very much looking forward to that.
But despite reading (I figure) almost 90 posts about LBGTQ romance and having countless thoughts about the implications of being a straight, white, privileged reader of anything, not just fictional representations of queerness, I’m not sure I’ve come to any robust conclusions except that love is in fact love. And romance is romance. It’s been interesting to me to read these romances from the point of view of an outsider, having never had a romantic relationship with another woman or, um, been a man. Or genderqueer. Or asexual. The problem of how to acknowledge and celebrate diversity and yet still position diversity as normality (or non-othering) is especially perplexing to me. I need more help navigating that. Not only did it give me insight into how love is both the same and different for everyone, it gave me a different and better understanding of the romance genre.
Just by way of example, there was this post about paranormal romance by Ruth Sternglantz a few days ago that doesn’t seem to have gotten a ton of attention. Or maybe everyone else was just nodding along in agreement, having been exposed to these ideas before. The point I took away from it is that paranormal romance is inherently Other. And it got me thinking about how vampires and werewolves have been portrayed in fiction for so long: powerful, unstoppable supernatural beings to be feared and slaughtered. There has been a trend away from that in fiction. But how many misguided people still view the Other that same way in life? A lot more than I would wish. I haven’t read the series Sternglantz recommends, but Delilah Dawson did something similar by highlighting the oppression of vampires in her Blud series. They’re even about civil rights. I thought it was a clever storytelling device, but now I wonder if it wasn’t more than that. I’m embarrassed not to have made the connection before. And I loved the Radclyffe book I read earlier this month so it’s a no-brainer to pick up these.
Thanks to this past month, I’m now sure it’s not possible to be a serious scholar (ha!) of romance without reading queer romance in its many varieties, in every sub-genre, which I guess was the point. It worked. These posts and books and conversations have been a tremendous gift to my further understanding, even if the main lesson I learned is that there is so much I don’t understand at all.
Finally, thanks to all the organizers and bloggers for Queer Romance Month. It must have been so much work to put it all together and I just wanted to say that I, for one, really appreciated it!