Where did the Good Gay Romance Go?

Image Credit: Emma Lambkin

Ciara Darling discusses the lack of easy-going, cheesy romance in queer novels.

Although some people may argue that romance in real life is overrated, when it comes to literature, it is a highly underrated genre. The romance genre is generally swept aside as something for teenage girls to giggle over, or for older women who wish to relive their fantasies of youth. However, romance can be a fun and powerful way to convey nuanced ideas about human relationships. The genre can act as a tool to convey genuine heartbreak and real relationships, or to show toxicity in love, or even the story could be a terrible, cliché retelling of a love story that just never gets old. Whatever it is you are looking for, there is one thing that is undeniable: if you are a member of the LGBTQ community, then it is time for you to pick up a rifle because it is going to take some hunting for you to find the cheesy romance you are looking for.

In recent years, representation has improved, leaving LGBTQ folk with more people to swoon over in both digital media and literature. However, there is still a long way to go. This can be seen when it comes to showing the normal, everyday lives of marginalised groups. Instead of just showcasing their struggles, using the very few diverse characters present as a way to discuss political issues, entire novels circle around the characters issues as a queer person. A very prevalent example of this would be the way queer attraction is portrayed in the romance genre. There is a large focus on homophobia and coming out and self acceptance, which are all incredibly important topics that need to be discussed and addressed, but this becomes an issue when readers realise that most queer media features these heavy subjects and that it makes it hard to find anything to casually read for fun. If you want a cute romance you'll have to deal with the main character either being bullied for their identity for the first 50 pages or being ostracised by their community. This creates a major problem within the romance genre, and a question too: why can’t we have fun, cheesy, romantic novels with gay characters without all the heavy stuff? Romance is the same as every fiction genre. It is fiction, and so there should exist a universe within these book that queer characters can date and be couples in, minus all the inner turmoil and homophobia every two seconds.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli showcases the template which most gay romance novels tend to adgere to. It follows the typical narrative of the main character slowly realising they’re queer, subsequntly falling in love with someone, and then facing the reality of having to come out to their family and the community. This narrative in of itself is not a bad thing. Discussions of homophobia and the struggles that LGBTQ people face in their daily lives are important and have their place in literature. However, this becomes an issue when we realise that the majority of queer love stories run somewhere along these lines. Our struggles are simplified or fetishised for ‘normal’ people to pity us and be glad they are not in our shoes. We are only our struggles and nothing more. Our lives revolve around our queerness and how different we are, because that's our only characteristic, of course. We don't have hobbies or personality traits or social outings or life goals. Queer characters are portrayed as a shell of a character, a token to represent how horrible life as a homosexual is. 

...and so there should exist a universe within these book that queer characters can date and be couples in, minus all the inner turmoil and homophobia every two seconds.

This is not to say that discussions of homophobia should never come up in queer romance novels, but it should take up less space in our love stories. Make homophobia more of a background theme, and devote more space and time to how our protagonist can't maintain eye contact with the new guy at his school or how the leading lady finds her new coworkers annoying antics so endearing for a reason she has yet to figure out. More hand holding and flirtatious banter is needed and less heavy family conversations and accusatory stares from strangers. We need to be shown the love, to feel those romantic feelings grow between two people, just the same as in a romance novel with two straight people. As a community that suffers through a lot of hatred and exclusion day to day, more of our fiction should aim to show the ridiculousness of romance. It's a gift to be able to relax back in a chair, worrying over how the five-foot-tall heroine is going to win over the affections of her love interest who is attracted to tall women, instead of being reminded of the hardships that we already know too much about. 

In addition to this, the representation of gay romance without the focus on homophobia and societal issues in literature helps normalise queer relationships. Media featuring a same-gender couple that doesn't make a huge deal of their homosexuality gives the audience the sense that it's not a big deal. It's just another love story, another couple going through the ups and downs of allowing someone into their life, of falling in love, of dating, and feeling all these emotions; the first meeting, the butterflies in their stomach, the first date, and on and on. An increase in this form of representation will leave people with a more casual view of non-straight couples. They will be seen less as alien and our society can relax and realise that the LGBTQ community is made up of regular people who feel love and attraction very similarly to their heterosexual counterparts, instead of their love stories all being about the issue of homophobia and hatred amongst communities. 

An increase in this form of representation will leave people with a more casual view of non-straight couples.

But, despite this desperate need for queer love stories that don’t focus solely around coming out, realising one is queer, and all the nuances that come along with it, the discussion of significant issues such as this in minority communities is very important and helpful. Still, queer people need and deserve fun, easy reads for when we need a break from all the hatred in the world. Fiction, especially romance, contains a huge element of escapism that makes all the difference to someone who has to endure their rights being argued against on the news on a regular basis. Being able to let go of the defensiveness that keeps us safe most of the time and being able to enjoy a sweet love story is important for the wellbeing of our community. It leaves us with hope that we may someday find our place in the world next to someone who loves us without us having to compromise our identity and needs.