Today is the fourth outing for Alexis Hall and I discussing the happenings during Queer Romance Month, and today we are joined by a special guest star, Julio Alexi Genao. Yay!
Welcome to Prism Julio! So what has tickled our fancies this week on QRM? I think AJH should start this week.
AJH: I should? But whines Julio is the guest. He should start.
BJ: Maybe we should break him in gently?
AJH: I don’t think we should break at him at all, ideally. I think breaking your guests is frowned upon.
JAG: no, no, don’t be silly. i do love a good breaking-in.
AJH: Okay, well I’m going to start with shameless partially. My dear friend Kat wrote a post called Hair, Holding Hands, Harry & Hope that I thought was absolutely lovely.
JAG: that post killed me. she actually quoted a story i told her, and it was apt. i sit with my bestie on his sofa every week, going over the previous week’s gay marriage happenings, and he’s the one who related that anecdote—the one about the old codger who was waiting on a long line to vote ‘no’ on gay marriage, who happened to be in front of someone waiting to vote ‘yes’—and it simply crystallized the divide between both sides. it’s one of empathy. by the time that old man got to the front of the line, gay people who wished to marry were made, you know, real. were made human. and recognizable. i’ve never forgotten it.
BJ: It was the post that I read after Rhys Ford’s and made the perfect antidote I felt. It also reminded me about the story AJH related in a blog regarding being able to hold hands and kiss in the rain. To be denied such simple human rights and vilified for demonstrating affection is cruelty.
AJH: I think, now that QRM is careening gloriously to its final week, there are definitely broad themes emerging: identity and erasure, freedom and hope, things that are ultimately so painfully simple sometimes, like wanting to touch or be recognised, or be made conscious of otherness.
JAG: i find those types of posts—the personal ones—the most powerful. it’s a thing every othered person has to live with in their daily lives, and it’s like having a poisonous secret. other people who feel as you do know what it’s like, but like all marginalized groups, the dynamics are largely unnoticed by the larger majority.
AJH: For me, it’s the multiplicity of the voices. It feels like you ought to be able to move and affect people, encourage thought and discourse and empathy, without having to tear your heart out dramatically in front of a crowd. It’s why I’ve really appreciated posts like Lilia Ford’s (which I mentioned last week), but I also really liked Finding the Universal in the Particular, by Jo Chambers this week.
BJ: I adored the quote she started the post with from DH Lawrence it fitted her post perfectly, even if it did come from DH Lawrence!
AJH: I seriously hate DHL, but it was an excellent and apposite quote.
JAG: what do you have against DHL?
AJH: I just … like … I hate his books. My hate is so entire I can hardly articulate it. Everything from Lady Chatterley’s haunches flashing palely through the dark trees to Gerald and Wossname mud-wrestling homoerotically to no goddamn purpose.
JAG: it’s been decades, but the mud-wrestling still haunts me. i concede the point.
BJ: What, no forget-me-nots woven through anywhere? I live near Lawrence country and my University has a dept dedicated to him and I loathed his work so much, but kept quiet.
JAG: studied silence
AJH: ANYWAY. I think what’s kind of struck me this week more forcibly than others as I read posts like Jo Chambers’s and Kat’s, and see them as part of this whole collection of voices, this gathering snowball of ideas, is why the romance context is so important. Weirdly I keep flashing back to, of all things, Suzanne Brockmann’s Heartthrob which is, y’know, Suzanne Brockmann and therefore awesome, although very much a novel of its time, which is the early 90s when the way we talked about social justice was with terrible words like tolerance. It’s a love story about alcoholic movie star and a producer, and the movie they’re making is an indie flick about slavery (weirdly it sounds like Twelve Years a Slave) and I am absolutely not directly comparing being queer to being enslaved. BUT there’s a line in the book when the hero is thinking about the plight of slaves in the past … and he is kind of struck very forcibly, as he is falling in love himself with the heroine, how absolute the loss of being unable to choose who you love. Of having that universal and exalting aspect of humanity denied to you.
BJ: Sorry no personal knowledge of Suzanne Brockman. I was deep into academic vampires in the 1990s.
AJH: I read it fairly recently so it’s … odd, being at once of its time and also still very satisfying as a romance on its own terms.
JAG: i’m not familiar with brockman, either. but i don’t think the comparison to queerness and slavery is at all broken. both states of being share devastating similarities. while our understanding of what makes a person queer and in what place on the Spectrum of Queerness they may fall is constantly changing, there is still a rather immutable aspect of helplessness to it. of opposition to one’s environment.
AJH: Again, very wary of comparisons for all the reasons, but I think it ties into that point you were making earlier about empathy: love is something at once particular and universal, it’s something we all have an instinct understanding of, an instinctive need for, and I think that’s why romance as a genre can be so valuable when it comes to making queerness real to people who might not actually have much direct experience of similar marginalisation or even know many queer people. To bring it back to Jo Chambers, I found this line has stayed with me
And this is what draws me to queer romance: its ability to explore the idea of love so thoroughly. Its ability to offer a truly universal perspective on love, one that transcends traditional notions of normality, gender, sexuality and society—even as it explores those very things.
JAG: i agree. i’ve been drunk many, many nights, which means i’ve had occasion to philosophize like a fool very, very often, and i think over time my ideas about what separates us as human beings always center around this notion of empathy. that certain things that are toxic and destructive in our world can only occur on account of a lack of empathy. and i think your point about romance being a means of bridging that gap of understanding is particularly apt. when you leverage universal ideas—like love—in ways anyone can understand, empathy becomes possible. true empathy. eventually.
BJ: I am really enjoying the discussion between you two and the comparisons do not seem too extreme to me. However, I must admit I got totally different ideas from Jo Chambers’ post. I agree with JAG’s comments wholeheartedly. The lines which stayed with me were:
…when I read queer romance, I feel like the specific trappings of my own particular identity aren’t even there with me, in the book. I’m relating to the story at a much more deeply personal level. The reader I am plugged into is the deeply-buried-inside-one who is just Jo. Or maybe even nameless.
…and I’m afraid I slightly disagreed with them. I think it is hard to leave your own personal baggage or ego out of the equation when reading even if we don’t directly relate to the characters. I feel this is sometimes what stops readers having the empathy we wish they would.
AJH: I think identification in reading is a massively complex issue.
JAG: lord, is it ever.
AJH: does not touch with barge pole I think for a lot of readers queer romance can offer that kind of deep escape – and I don’t think escape is necessarily oppositional to empathy. When you read straight romance, again, while these things are complex and it depends very much on the writer, but I think in most cases you’re meant to identify on some level with the heroine. Often because literally the only thought in the hero’s head is: I want to bang that woman. Even assuming you get into the hero’s head at all. But I don’t have problem with identification with straight romance.
JAG: it’s just… so bloody messy, innit. because we all read things for different reasons looking for different things. sometimes we wish to escape, and other times we wish to identify utterly, but most of the time it’s a kind of magical admixture of the two—and that’s damned complicated to navigate. i am known on goodreads for horrendously overblown reviews, and very often i revisit them with this creeping sense of horror, with this sense of—like, that i have misread a text completely—because sometimes there is just no accounting for how i (or any other reader) will approach a given story.
BJ: I stopped reading Het romance because I didn’t identify with either the hero or heroine for the most part. Additionally, in order to instill some originality, plot devices and storylines inclined a lot of titles to become unreadable for me.
AJH: I think because of the empathy/escape clusterfuck Julio articulated, I am often more comfortable in het than in queer, possibly for the same reasons het no longer speaks to you.
JAG: well, look—all queers have to navigate that in this particular way, don’t they? because in the beginning all you have is het fiction. so you develop this… i dunno, ability to willingly engage in that kind of benign disassociation—and then at some point (at least, i found in my case) you find yourself craving identification more than escape, because there cannot be, in the end, true escape in things that alienate you. it’s what makes queer fiction so important. what makes celebrations of diversity like QRM so vital. because it helps bring us all back round to what we all need as people. to what is universal.
AJH: Again, I don’t feel alienated by it. A well-written, well-articulated heroine is just a human. But let’s talk about QRM! Any other posts jump at either of you?
JAG: i am a legit-legit ginn hale fanboy. decoder ring actually on my finger RIGHT NOW. so i found her rundown of queer web comics especially pleasing. always love finding out what lights a favorite author’s firecracker.
AJH: Ginn Hale could hand me one of her socks and I’d treasure it. She’s amazing.
JAG: i’d drink her old bathwater, dude.
AJH: I think we are being legit creepy now.
JAG: whatever. she’s a gaylebrity. these petty concerns cannot touch her.
BJ: I’ve never delved into the murky world of web comics but Ginn Hale made me consider doing so. Although, I love instant gratification so might not be patient enough for the serials.
JAG: i highly recommend The Adventures of TJ and Amal. wot she said, basically. exquisitely human, with well-drawn characters: flawed, and compelling.
BJ: I have really enjoyed the original fiction this week I especially liked L.C. Chase’s Shimmer.
AJH: Oh yes, that’s stunning.
JAG: yeah, that was lovely! little details—jesus, it was so good. they had me at the cup of coffee.
BJ: I loved the intensity where nothing really happened except the looking. Plus the descriptions of the eyes…
JAG: applies lipstick significantly
AJH: The word shimmer is just a really beautiful word, I think.
BJ: Closely aligned to SHIVER…
JAG: goodness. you lot sure do know how to work a boy up.
AJH: We aim to please. Another post I have to mention is Jessica Scott’s Life After Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She’s just one of my favourite humans, end of story, and her post kind of epitomises everything I admire about her: the compassion and the conviction. It’s in her writing, too. Military romance is like my … just … no. I can’t be doing with it on any level: don’t like war, don’t like violence, don’t like DADT, don’t like authority, don’t like the sort of masculinity the characters tend to embody/reflect. But Scott is amazing – 100% convert, right here.
JAG: yeah, her piece gave me chills. i just found it completely and utterly true. i bought her book at once.
AJH: I really hope you like it. Her writing works for me beyond anything I would have believed possible. The way she articulates valour and strength and protectiveness and compassion, the way she decouples those ideas from gender expectations, is stunning.
JAG: yes, that’s—really, that’s exactly the sense i got from her post. well said.
BJ: Tell is like it is AJH…and I missed that one!!
AJH: Her military men are really quite stunningly nurturing – I know that sounds bizarre but when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Like you don’t want some ,macho dickhead standing next to you when your life is on the line.
JAG: yes. it’s basically the… the spiritual definition of a soldier, when one burrows down deep beyond the actual mechanics of the job. sacrifice. the platonic ideal of love.
AJH: That’s it exactly. That’s what she does. It’s a kind of … an almost mythological concept of warrior. And her women are the same. Like I read her books honest-to-God sobbing. It’s pathetic but there it is.
BJ: Emotion is never pathetic!!
JAG: i sob all the time. am sobbing right now. this bagel is delicious.
BJ: I’m sobbing because I want your bagel.
AJH: I think we should probably be looking at wrapping this up, so you can have some alone time with your bagel, but another post that made me think lots was Cara McKenna’s Ode to Trent Reznor.
JAG: casts bagel aside at once omg that post was fantastic. so, lemme tell you: you know how part of the way QRM works is to connect different people with universalities? well, that post brought me back to my teens in a way i cannot even with the anything not even punctuation right now OMG LOOK CAPSLOCK ENGAGED AND EVERYTHING
AJH: Trent Reznor in those opera gloves, right? Manacled to the ceiling!
JAG: i wanna feel you from the inside, papi. the inside.
AJH: Maybe later, when we’re not writing a blog post.
AJH: I feel semi-guilty because obviously while not everything is about me, but in comments Cara references a throwaway line in one of my Wonko posts about not wanting to people to find queer sexuality inherently hot and responded: “The reason I write (and read) M/M is because I find it hot. Am I shallow and horrible? Maybe I should write about something else. Maybe this assignment isn’t for me.”
JAG: i can assure you, miz mckenna: this assignment was totally for you.
AJH: Well, yes, I entirely agree, but that led me to wondering what exactly what it was I meant. Because, honestly, I think getting stirred in a downstairs way by Trent Reznor (or whatever) is kind of something that we can all … uh … get behind … so I’m angsty about people feeling guilty for that.
JAG: this touches on a massively complicated topic for me. i can get pretty hostile with some of the appropriating aspects of genre fiction, and part of that is this… completely unreasonable anger towards the kind of fiction that objectifies things for shits and giggles. but it’s complicated. horribly complicated—bcuz what then is erotica? what’s the difference? i dunno.
AJH: For me – he says diving wildly into deep, shark-infested waters – it’s about particularity of focus. Like if I hold my partner’s hand in the street, that is not an invitation to … speculate about our sexual activities.
JAG: precisely. and it certainly isn’t a thing—in context—that is… that should be… that ever should be fapmatter. not when it’s this great big shining ideal that is denied to so many people. but it is. and while it’s mostly okay—sometimes it really, really isn’t. not for me, anyway. but what do i know? i’m a grumpybutt.
AJH: So I think what’s appropriative is not erotic content involving people who are not you or may be marginalised on a different axes to you … but the assumption that the point of those people is for the provision of erotic content.
JAG: that. what you said. that. right. there. look, i’m getting tetchy. right now. let’s talk about Megan Erickson’s post. because it’s the positive flipside of all that, isn’t it.
BJ: May I say that I felt good from reading that post… reading queer romance can help reset defaults. I like that idea. One day I’ll join the discussion on fetishisation above just not, today.
AJH: Yes, that was a super charming post, and an important one. I think we can leave the “how do we navigate the erotic” question for another spaaaaace and time, but I did love McKenna’s post. I’m very comfortable with the idea of people just finding stuff hot. I find that much less problematic than a lot of more social-justice oriented dialogues.
JAG: it made me feel good, too. because it’s the best of what a queer person can hope for out of queer fiction, isn’t it? being recognized, and empathized-with, and engaged-with on that level. being humanized.
BJ: It’s what we all wish for.
AJH: I think that brings us to a very happy end point 🙂
JAG: thanks for having us, BJ 🙂
BJ: It has been a great pleasure JAG and you are welcome back anytime. Alexis and I will be here for one more week, next Sunday, to wrap up QRM and maybe talk about what we got from the whole experience.
QRM will have more exciting posts all week and I think I’m correct in saying that Harper Fox put a post up yesterday, and there are many more similar treats to come. Including Julio’s treasure on Monday!
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
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