For our final QRM-themed piece for the AAR blog, Alexis Hall is joined by Roan Parrish, EE Ottoman and Santino Hassell. They’re going to be talk about where they think the genre is and where they hope it’s going.
AJH: Thank you for joining me, folks. Another year, another QRM. It feels kind of exciting to be in the second year, but it also makes me a bit meditative about the place of LGBTQ+ romance within romance, as well as the nature of the LGBTQ+ romance community itself.
RP: Well, and *is* it even one community?
SH: It’s as much of one as the LGBTQ+ community is in general. A group of people who are minorities in terms of their sexualities and identities, and who get lumped together even though they may have totally different perspectives and ideals.
EE: Yes, I’m not sure it is one community. Or maybe it’s not useful to think of it as one community.
AJH: This is true. QRM got started in an attempt to bridge the gap a between het and LGBTQ+ romance. To draw people together in a queer-prioritising space, instead of waiting quietly on the sidelines of the mainstream. I guess I wonder if we’re any closer to that. Or if, as EE says, it’s even useful to think in those terms.
EE: I think prioritizing the LGBTQ romance perspective in the conversation between het romance and LGBTQ romance is a really good and necessary thing. But there are a lot of differences between the letters in LGBTQ romance–some of those letters have louder voices in some cases.
AJH: I do see the LGBTQ+ romance genre and community as kind of being in flux in the moment. The tension seems to be mainly around m/m (as the genre used to be) and LGBTQ+ (as I hope it’s becoming). I think we’re all just trying to work how m/m and LGBTQ+ fit together, or even if they do. I mean, it can’t just be a re-branding exercise.
RP: I also think that “community” is a word that carries with it a lot of weight when talking about, say queer community. And that is a very different weight than what we mean when we talk about a community of readers, or even a community of writers. So it’s complicated to try and juggle both ideas of community at the same time. As readers—or writers—we may think of community as something defined by taste, or leisure, or pleasure. And those things are measured really differently than we might measure queer community that we, say, turn to for support or political camaraderie.
SH: In terms of how M/M or LGBTQ+ romance fits into romance as a whole, I would say in the past year there’s been significantly more crossover even though it’s still baby steps. But I’ve noticed more press coverage, larger romance blogs including books outside of M/F, and I’ve seen more conversation regarding the lack of diversity and how that needs to change. It’s a marked difference from a couple of years ago when most if not all non M/F romance was about white cis gay men, and people were very vocally saying that’s all they wanted.
AJH: I personally find the crossover thing really exciting and hopeful. Even just a couple of years ago you had m/m (or queer) writers and you had het writers and they were totally separate. But the more people who are writing romances across the whole spectrum, the more it seems to dissolve those sort of barriers. I would much prefer love and romance to be seen as universal, rather than genitally defined.
RP: Yeah, that seems true (and positive!). Also, though, folks seem to be hungry for stories across the spectrum of queerness that aren’t romances in the way that that genre has been typically defined. Which also seems positive to me, and not unrelated. Because the more nuance authors are bringing to those stories and characters the more visible the ways that being a genre that cohered around het love stories shaped our expectations of it are becoming. So, I’m really interested to see a community of what is, ostensibly, romance readers, actually calling for something that looks a bit less like the romance genre we’ve seen in the past and more like something … well, I don’t know yet. We haven’t, by and large, gone very far at the moment—I mean, genre’s entrenched and change is slow—but folks do seem to have feelers up for stories that are asking different questions of romance.
EE: I don’t know, I still struggle with genre expectation though because, as much as I’m all for the genre changing to be queerer or more diverse, it still feels like there is this framework that doesn’t change and that can sometimes stand in the way of me telling the stories I want about queer and trans people. Related to this the m/m “model” I guess for lack of a better term has set up its own expectations of what “queer” or LGBTQ romance is. I also think that this isn’t just about readers. Writers and publishers have expectations too. If you write a story with two male identified characters it’s supposed to look a certain way, and follow a certain format and sometimes that’s not in line with my experience of being queer and being trans.
AJH: I can see that. The ironic thing is that central tenets of what a romance is (and is supposed to be) are broad and flexible and accessible: focus on a relationship, optimistic ending (with the couple meaningfully together). I feel, with both my queer person and my romance writer/reader hats on, engaged and included by that. The struggle and the frustration arises when people in different contexts interpret what those things mean in different ways. I mean, for a lot of people HEA = marriage because, for better or worse (d’you see what I did thar) that’s what we’re culturally told a committed/lasting/worthwhile relationship looks like.
SH: I agree with that. You will still see many people who DO want the HEA with the marriage at the end, (we may have a lot more of that now that the US has finally achieved marriage equality) and readers who are very particular about how they think a relationship should be, and who they want to read about, but I’ve seen talk on social media about readers expanding their “comfort zones” and buying books they wouldn’t have ever tried before, and that makes me optimistic for the future.
RP: The thing about genre, though, to go back to what EE was saying before, is that it has the power to re-shape what’s placed within it. So, placing two male-identified characters in a story that is marketed under the banner of romance really does the work of making a reader expect certain things about them—supplies cues that the author doesn’t necessarily write. So, in a way, the genre has a power that is greater than the author’s. And authors have to contend with that. And, sometimes, if we want to do different work than the genre allows, we have to actively push against it.
EE: From my perspective, it goes beyond the HEA to the way the genre can be very specific about how romance is written. I mean I think m/m is set up to be about normatively attractive, young, cisgender able white dudes so you end up trying to get a disabled trans man’s experience into this format that’s not made for them. So if I’m writing about two trans men together, do I call it m/m and maybe run contrary to the expectations people have of m/m. Or do I call it trans romance and m/m is one diverse book down. But then it brings up the issue of thinking of some books as worthwhile because of “diversity”. It’s very complicated.
AJH: You can say that again. I do get the sense that such rigid expectations are changing with either the separation or the evolution from m/m to LGBTQ+. It seems to reflect similar patterns and shifts in het as well, as the types of romances that are being written (and the types of people they are written about) continues to diversify across the whole romance genre. While I wish this stuff was happening faster and more dramatically in queer, I do find this sense of the genre’s broadening (or potentially broadening) horizon quite exciting. Maybe we could wrap up by talking a bit about what we’d like to see more of in the future.
SH: I’d definitely like to see more diversity in terms of who the characters are, their backgrounds, and where they live. Give me the LGBTQ characters from Brazil or Hong Kong or Egypt.
EE: More focus on the less represented letters in GLBTQ. I really think trans romance needs presses that are focused on/prioritize those stories. Plus trans lesbian stories and bi trans women stories! yay! I’d love to see more asexual romance, queer romance, explicit bi romance that’s all about the threesome, more polyamory in romance. I mean all this stuff is already being written. We just need more, and we need it made a priority, especially by publishers. I would really like to see more GLBTQ presses that don’t come out of the m/m community honestly.
RP: I’d love to see more SFF and horror and mystery and all the things intersecting with romance plots. I’d also be really curious to see what changes in style and form might be possible with online and self publishing. Different kinds of series and multiple visions for any one story … collaborations. It does seem like there is a lot of desire right now for more. Just more. In many different directions. Which is exciting, because … you know, we can do that. Right?
AJH: Omg, all this stuff sounds so exciting. Bring me all of this. Bring it now! I think, for me, I would like to see a move away from m/m as erotica. Err, I quite like erotica, but I don’t like the idea that because it’s queer, it HAS to be erotic or kinky or edgy or whatever. I would like more swoonily tender and romantic stories about queer people who are recognisable to me. Rather than pure fantasy figures that feel neither about me or for me.
Roan Parrish loves bonfires, winter beaches, and minor chord harmonies. She will self-tattoo at the drop of a hat.
EE Ottoman grew up in the woods, farmlands and mountains of upstate New York. They started writing as soon as they learned how. They’ve been writing fiction since they were in their early teens. Ottoman went to Earlham College and graduated with a degree in history. They went on to pick up a graduate degree in history as well. Ottoman started publishing in 2011 and have continued to do that. Ottoman is an outspoken advocate for fiction featuring trans characters. Ottoman identifies as a queer, nonbinary, trans dude and is actively trying to change the world.
Santino writes romance heavily influenced by the gritty, urban landscape of NYC, his belief that human relationships are complex and flawed, and his own life experiences.
Alexis Hall is alive and on social media.