I promised I would keep communication open on this. If you haven’t read the previous post, this is a good time to do it so you can catch up on my initial thoughts and the responses. There’s also been good discussion elsewhere, and I’ve had some dialog via private message from people who didn’t feel ready to take their thoughts public.
Smaller conversations have been happening on and off for as long as I’ve been part of the published book world. My recent post was sparked by a particular thing I read in which there were multiple characters identifying as something other than gay (yay!) but who were drawn so badly it produced anxiety in me just reading it (boo). It felt to me as though the author wanted greater representation but had no idea how to achieve it and was also trying to fit the characters into an “MM” box. A lot of us who don’t write MM romance have had this experience—make the characters fit or expect your work to receive poor reviews because it didn’t.
I’m going to sum up the things I’ve been hearing people say they need in queer lit. This is by no means an exhaustive list, and I’d love to keep adding to it. I’m sure there are things I’ve forgotten or misunderstood or wasn’t aware of. It would be great if in the comments, folks could add to or change items on this list.
- More queer lit which isn’t romance or romance is secondary
- More overtly queer science fiction and fantasy (again, without romance or romance as secondary to the plot)
- Queer romance with a greater variety of pairings across the gender spectrum
- More and better representation of transmasculine characters, especially in MM romance (in particular, allowing transmasculine characters to have a full range of sexual expression; also less emphasis on transitioning)
- Better and more accurate representation of transfeminine characters, including in FF romance (less fixation on genitals, coming out, and transitioning)
- Wider diversity of socioeconomic class, both in characters and in readership
- More asexual and aromantic characters, with a full range of self-expression within that
- #OwnVoices, particularly within LGBTQIA books written by LGBTQIA authors (i.e., trans people writing books with trans characters rather than exclusively cisgender people writing them)
- Uplifting of books by, about, and for people of color (as opposed to white people writing stories about people of color)
- More diversity in books written by white people
- Sub-communities for topical interests, genre interests, and individual letters within LGBTQIA, as well as specific to communities of color
- A place to discuss issues that come up within queer lit, preferably with other LGBTQIA people
- The examination and avoidance of certain tropes which are overtly harmful
- Both books which include spiritual and religious content and books which have none at all
- Books about bisexual characters in which they are allowed a full range of romantic and sexual expression, including romantic pairings with people who are not their same/similar gender (e.g., a bisexual man in a romantic relationship with a woman, a woman in a polyamorous relationship which isn’t a threesome, a bisexual woman in a relationship with a transfeminine non-binary person, two bisexual non-binary people on different parts of the spectrum in a relationship)
- Both gay romance and gay fiction which are not MM romance (this seems to me to be somewhere in between the books of yore which ended tragically and contemporary MM, and they are definitely different from either category)
Again, I realize that’s not a full list, but we can add to it as we go.
So, how do we match readers with books? How do we help authors find readers who are interested in what they’re offering?
The current problem is that a lot of “lgbt” review sites (which is where a lot of people get their recommendations) focus heavily on MM romance. There’s a lot of MM romance out there, to be sure, but this makes it difficult to connect authors and readers. It becomes a problem when an author requests a review of a book with gay or bisexual men in it and the reviewer pans it because it isn’t a romance—even if the author specified that it wasn’t. This is a repeated pattern, and it’s not just one or two authors complaining about it.
This is also a problem for people specifically writing about other letters and genders besides gay and bi cisgender men. It’s become a problem in some discussion groups too, when readers make comments about finding trans people “uncomfortable” or when asexual folks are excluded because they’re “not queer enough.” And not that our allies experience the same things we do, but I’ve seen genuine allies trashed for standing up for us when things get heated (and I wholeheartedly thank you for it!). Some allies understand queerness better than people who identify as “family.”
What I would like to be able to do, rather than creating a “queers-only” community is to be able to connect readers with books that might interest them. But I’m only one person! I can’t read every book every written, no matter how much I want to. I also need this to be something we can do for free. I know there are paid listings where people can share their books, but we need something we don’t have to shell out more money on. Not all of us have the advantage of financial security.
So there you have it. Some of what people are looking for, and the beginnings of what we might need to do about it. I am open to suggestions, but again, I’m only one person. This is going to take team effort to make it happen.