QUEER ROMANCE MONTH –
Week 3 with Beverley, Ulysses and Guest Amy Jo Cousins:
It’s been a strange week with everyone away at GRL. Alexis Hall posted a personal, but promotional type article for QRM, on another blogsite, and very good it was too. Here is the link The title of the post was ‘On Queer and being Queer’. The ensuing discussion exploded quite unexpectedIy – I think the current comments number over 150. This discussion became very heated and in some cases quite nasty.
The problem boils down to finding an inclusive name, for a diverse community. LGBTQ+ does not really suit – we have all become aware that gender and sexuality are far more flexible and intricate than these stark letters portray, they exclude nearly as many as they include.
‘Queer’ had been a clarion call for activists in the 80’s and 90’s – a word to rouse the community to action. I suspect because of its positive political overtones it has been appropriated for quite a while now in Universities for ‘Queer Studies’. It was certainly so when I studied, as Gay studies was too cis, male, white, privilege, terms like Queer friendly are often used, and so we have our wonderful Queer Romance. Unfortunately, ‘Queer’ has an image problem too – it does not have an unblemished past, and has been used as a cruel slur against LGBTQ+ people for longer maybe than it has been re-appropriated.
My feeling is ‘Queer’ is an inclusive, slightly edgy term – I hope we persevere with a word that for many people, myself included, is a freeing non restrictive term of great inclusivity. Sadly, this term still triggers some whose pain is still too raw to use this term, as an innocent descriptor. However, we continue, and help those who still have pain, to reclaim this word if they feel able, and hope as many as possible feel they can. At the same time we, as a community, try to find a word, a phrase that can include, comfort and describe without pain. The main point is we must stop fighting over semantics…however, painful. While we continue to fight a battle amongst ourselves, over a word – we lose the war.
Now onto happier things –
Huge warm welcome to Amy Jo Cousins and her round up of Week 3 of QRM
I love sitting down every night to read that day’s QRM posts. It’s such a delight. Amber Belldene’s post kicked it off for me. “Love is love, and written well, any story that tells of one lover seeing the other can transform and inspire the rest of us. No version of this love should be relegated to a subgenre, based on the orientation or expression of its characters. More importantly, we should seek out books about the unfamiliar or that challenge us to vicariously see and understand beloveds who are different than the ones we have loved.” One of my favorite things about QRM is how constantly it emphasizes the idea that challenging ourselves in our reading is a good thing. That comfortable tropes and characters are lovely, but that pushing ourselves to read books that fall outside of our normal reading habits is both important and rewarding. And in that spirit, there were a ton of terrific book recs this week, as always! I particularly enjoyed Cathy Pegau and Alyssa Linn Palmer’s discussion of the books they read that brought them to LGBTQ romance. Astrid Amara and Rose Lerner both included short fiction pieces and that was wonderful too!
As I mentioned above, Amber Belldene’s post “Will You Make Me a Blue Ocean” is gorgeous. Amber is a minister and I always think that, despite being a nonreligious person, I would really enjoy going to her church. She’s so thoughtful and expressive about things involving sex and love and identity and the work you can do to make sure your community is welcoming to all people.
Liz’s post “Afloat, One Girl – Forging a Queer Identity” was also tremendously moving, a story of her personal journey, both through her reading and in her life. I’m always amazing by how generously people share their stories for QRM, and this one really stuck with me.
I love, love, love Dena Hankins “I Write Sex” post, because she articulates so much of what I find appealing about writing about sex. She wrote, “I love how we reveal our deepest selves in the multiplicity of ways we express our sexuality” and that says it all right there. When people talk about skipping sex scenes in books because “they’re all the same”, those are books that aren’t taking the opportunity to use the intimacy and vulnerability and variety of sexual expression to reveal deeper insights into their characters. An author who writes great sex mesmerizes me with everything they reveal in those scenes. Clearly I will now be running off to buy Dena’s books.
I also really enjoyed both the RoGrayRip post this week and the conversation that went on in the comments too, about the challenges of writing beyond m/m in queer romance and what some of our assumptions are that should be questioned about those challenges, or even how we talk about them. Good stuff.
EE Ottoman and GB Gordon both wrote terrific posts last year that I reread more than once. And their books are amazing. So I’m very much looking forward to their upcoming posts this year. And Carole Mortimer! The woman is an icon. She’s written, what? 150+ books for Mills & Boon (the UK Harlequin)? I was reading her books in the ‘80s! I can’t wait to see what she’ll write about for QRM, given her long experience with the genre in the years when romances about queer characters were very hard to find.
Ulysses views on Queer Romance Month – Week Three
O.M.G. I’m verklempt. Or maybe kvelling. Or both. Having a Jewish husband has been very handy in terms of my vocabulary.
Sooo much to absorb. Yet, again (am I being repetitive?) the overall vibe for me of this week’s many articulate and heartfelt posts was that we all seem to be on the same page. We need stories, we need diversity in our stories; and much of that need harks back to our teen years when we felt isolated and alone. Felice Stevens’ reminder that it is young people who so desperately need these stories just to have hope. Happy endings are great, but hope is what can save a life. Some of us feel more isolated because of differences that compound our queerness in a society that values individuality only through conformity (that peculiar American dichotomy). The essential confusion of being adolescent, when all difference is anathema, just magnifies the isolation and the need for hopeful stories.
This week (the 14th to be exact) marked the 40th anniversary of my coming out “officially” when I was in college. It also marked the 40th anniversary of the day I met the man who has been “the one” for me for those same 40 years. (Notice I didn’t say “the only,” but that’s a story to be left for my memoirs.) The loneliness and isolation of my teen years was made bearable by a story: Andrew Tobia’s pseudonymous memoir Best Little Boy in the World. That book was ME at 18, and it kept me going until I was ready to come out, finally, in 1975. I think I kept that story under my pillow as a freshman. Two years ago when Tobias published a sequel, I emailed him to thank him, and he emailed me right back. His book gave a lot of gay boys hope in the 1970s.
I loved Amelia Vaughn’s post – because I’ve followed her on Huffpost for ages. If every LGBTQ child had a mom like her son has, the world would be transformed. But she had her own loneliness in her childhood, in a world that values a certain kind of pretty for girls and a certain kind of toughness for boys. Her empathy as a mother came from her own need for stories where she could see herself.
Visibility is part of this. How can we be in a society where we can’t see ourselves anywhere? Team RoGrayRip’s second instalment of their three-part dialogue made a point I particularly liked: JK Rowling’s making ‘Dumbledore’ gay after the fact did not help LGBTQ visibility. I have always been disappointed in the fact that JK didn’t make one of her Hogwarts students AND one of the teachers gay, at least by the final one of the seven books. By then she was so rich and so deeply entrenched in the minds of the world’s young readers, she could have afforded to do this – and think how she might have changed lives. Straight writers won’t do this. So we have to.
I also was struck by Team RoGrayRip’s conversation about NOT writing bad reviews of books simply because they’re in a genre you don’t like. There is stuff I don’t want to read, and I have my reasons. But I’ve given four-star reviews to books I hated because they were good books. Now, crap is crap and I really just ignore it. But good writing and good story-telling and good character building need to be praised, even if they fall outside your comfort zone. Honestly, I don’t care if I ever read another straight romance; but I’m not trashing Romeo and Juliet because it’s about straight people. (The ending is sort of a bummer, though.)
I admit I guffawed at Dena Hankins’ assertion that “didacticism kills boners.” I remember being told by an editor that I had to add sex into my first novel. I was scared, but then found that I enjoyed writing it, because it opened up the characters more, emotionally and psychologically. But as Hankins says, it’s a skill. Sex in a romance has to mean something. It needs to work into the plot (to avoid the “we’ll be stopping the narrative now for an obligatory sex scene” problem). It needs to make sense for the characters’ development and connection to each other. It also needs to be hot. I think of Josh Lanyon’s notion: “I’m crying and I’m turned on.” Now that’s a good romantic sex scene.
I also liked J. Scott Coatsworth’s bit on writing something different. Maybe sex doesn’t have to be the point. Maybe finding love doesn’t have to be the point. Maybe just being queer and then taking part in some other kind of story line (detective, space travel, time travel, shape-shifting) could be good. Maybe being HUMAN isn’t necessary (Oh, R. Cooper!). Maybe we don’t have to follow the formulae that m/m fiction publishers have gotten far too locked into. Build a world. Put queer folk into it. Make something interesting happen. And, sure, make them fall in love. Writing something new, different, will open doors to new stories that we don’t even know we need. Yet.
A straight guy in my book club recently asked me: “isn’t all this gay romance the same?” And I said, “There are thousands and thousands of landscape paintings out there. Every one of them is different and offers a unique experience based on the artist’s skill and the setting depicted.” There you go.
Liz’s piece on forging a queer identity struck home. Again, this focused a lot on the isolation of adolescence when one doesn’t fit into expected molds. But her expression of the hunger to read anything that wasn’t about straight people really struck me. I didn’t have that option in the 1960s and 70s; but these days, the world of queer romance offers endless supplies of non-straight reading pleasure. Just thinking about the miracle of that makes my head spin.
Ginn Hale’s comment that the stories we all read are one of the only things that really make the LGBTQ community a community made me stop and think. By our very diversity we are unlike each other – our only shared feature is that we are different. The fact that we all need stories that are queer in the way each of us is, is what ties us together.
Unlike Ana Coqui and Andi Marquette, I have no fear that the rising tide of queer publishing and writing will somehow lead to our stories to be appropriated by mainstream presses and writers. Frankly, the 95% of the world that isn’t LGBTQ just isn’t that interested in us and our lives. Like Hollywood, their profit lies in the majority.
On the other hand, Jessica Scott made me realize that straight folks really need these queer stories, too. The straight women who write so much of the m/m fiction today are themselves proof that queer fiction can make you a queer ally. It can change the way you see the world. So, what if my straight guy book club (long story, it was an accident) would actually read one of Ginn Hale’s amazing gay magical fantasy romances? What if they LIKED it? The idea makes me shiver.
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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