Queer Romance Month bills itself as a celebration of, well, queer romance. But something we noticed as the first submissions starting coming in was that many of our contributors were concerned that the things they wanted to write about weren’t necessarily very celebratory. We deliberately kept our theme – Love is Love – very broad in order to encompass as many voices and perspectives as possible, and this has encouraged has some people to write very personally about their experiences. Over the course of the month, alongside all the flash fiction, the sharing of favourite stories, and discussion of the things that move us and inspire us and make the world a little shinier, we’ll be seeing posts about erasure, about issues of identity, about challenges and suffering, and the struggle to find and express who you are. And nearly all of these essays came to us with an apologetic message explaining that this probably wasn’t what we wanted.
This got us all thinking about our manifesto. Had we, despite our best efforts, basically done this wrong? Specifically, had our use of the word “celebration” narrowed the focus of the event more than we intended? Or, to look at it the other way, would a broad focus necessarily prevent Queer Romance Month from being a celebration? Normally, this is where I’d say that I’ll be spending the rest of this article working through this question and trying to find an answer, or a non-answer, that works for me. But, in this case, the answer is a lot simpler. The answer is just “no”.
And, obviously, this seems superficially weird because we tend to assume that celebrating something means focusing only on the good things about it – accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative, not messing with Mr In-between, and all that jazz. But the thing is – and maybe I’m just being British here – this strikes me as wrong. And not just wrong, but potentially dangerous. Life is complicated, and many of the things that are important and valuable and worth celebrating are also painful and difficult and frustrating. But so often we convince ourselves that struggle can only be celebrated if it is ultimately successful. And, of course, we need stories of triumph to convince ourselves that everything isn’t completely hopeless, but we also need to remember that all stories matter, even the inconvenient ones. Sometimes being marginalised sucks, and makes you unhappy, and it’s really important to be allowed to say that and to be supported in it instead of being made to feel you’re letting the side down.
We could have insisted that the people who contribute to Queer Romance Month only share their stories with us if those stories have uplifting or positive endings. And – on one level – it would have made sense because we very much want QRM to portray queer identity and queer relationships in a way that shows it isn’t all doom and gloom and suffering, and that we do, in fact, have things to be happy about. But to follow through on a policy like that would be to turn round to people and say “your story isn’t valid because it hasn’t ended the way that makes me feel good.” If you’re struggling with a society that rejects you, being rejected again because you admitted you felt rejected is the very definition of adding insult to injury.
To me: a celebration is, above all, a statement that something is significant.
We celebrate birthdays even though past the age of about twenty-two most people don’t like getting older. We see funerals as a celebration of a life lived – it’s not like we’re literally delighted that somebody is dead. The aim of Queer Romance Month is to celebrate queer identities and queer relationships in the sense that its aim is to affirm that they are as valid, as real and as unique as heterosexual identities and relationships. Because life is wonderful and love is wonderful, even when it sucks, and when it cuts us open, and when it doesn’t look the way you’re told it’s supposed to look. If we only celebrate the things that make us feel good, then all we’re doing is giving power to the things that hurt us. Celebrations are about community, and it is clearly wrong to exclude from a community the people who feel most alone.
I’d like to share a story of my own. One that I carry in my heart always, a gift from two strangers who had no idea how much their kindness and their humanity would mean to me. It happened sometime in May 2013, one of those days on the cusp of summer, all light and long shadows. We’d gone, spontaneously, to the Botanical Gardens because I was honestly slightly taken with the notion of being people who went spontaneously to Botanical Gardens. There wasn’t much to see really, but it was fun, to be out together, looking for the promise of bright things. In one of the glass houses, I don’t know how or why it came about, but we were laughing, standing too close beneath some outrageous palm, his hand against my jaw, turning my face up to meet his close-mouth kissed. A pattering of small feet on stone, and before we had time to spring apart, a small human came pelting round the corner and stared at us, in some bewilderment.
And we frozen, not knowing whether it would make it worse or better to shuffle away like we’d been caught pocketing family silver. I remember feeling quite nebulously bad though, rightly or wrongly, I still can’t tell. I’m not sure if I’ve just internalised some stuff I shouldn’t, but ultimately part of being a parent is deciding what your kid learns, how and when. And while I would hope we’re teaching our children love from the moment they’re born, for many people homosexuality comes under the Advanced stuff, rather than the Basic. We weren’t exactly buggering each other in the herbaceous borders but, still, perception is what it is, and I wasn’t sure how a stranger would categorise what we were doing. If they would see everyday affection. Or something else entirely.
The child scampered off, his voice reaching a frankly incredibly volume as he called out: “Daddy, daddy, why is that man kissing that other man?”
I confess I braced myself for something awful. How dare you defile my son’s innocence! But his father only took the little boy’s hand and, said: “Well, probably, because he loves him like daddy loves mummy.”
And then the family went away, to get on with their lives. As if they hadn’t just made mine immeasurably better in the smallest and the grandest way.
I remember thinking: this is what world is meant to look like. This how it should be. It’s so simple, and we’re so close.
Yet so far.
The truth is, don’t think I’ll ever get to celebrate that world. I think I can only fight for it, and tell stories of how it’s supposed to be.
I hope you will help me tell this story. I hope someday we learn how to live it.
Throughout October, Queer Romance Month will be publishing a wide variety of articles, stories and essays on a wide variety of themes and topics. We hope some will make you laugh, some will make you cry, and some will make you mad as hell. But none of these feelings are less worth celebrating than the others.
Author Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.
His latest book is Sand and Ruin and Gold.