Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth

Have you heard we’ve gone a bit “post” queer?

I’m at the national RWA (Romance Writers of America) in Manhattan. It’s been absolutely amazing. I just got back from the Harlequin Ball and my feet ache from dancing but I had so much fun. It was terrific to see A.M. Arthur’s gorgeous cover for Finding Their Way up on the big screen with titles like The Billionaire’s Bargain. Tomorrow, at the awards ceremony, two books by gay romance authors are up for the “Oscar of romance writing,” something I didn’t think I’d see when I started selling gay romance eight years ago. (And I am going to go crazy happy to hear their names tomorrow.)

Today I was on a panel with some other fabulous writers (and a brilliant editor) talking about constructing authentic queer (LGBTQAI) characters. One of the points we raised was that things have changed regarding our (queer people’s) legal standing. It’s harder to fire us (in some states). We have marriage equality. Some people no longer struggle with their queer identity, so it’s important to be aware of that when constructing conflict for contemporary queer characters. Obviously for those characters who live in places or times where they risk their lives by being openly queer, things are different.
However, one conflict remains consistent. As my fellow panelist Radclyffe pointed out, something that cannot be achieved by laws protecting our equality is acceptance by our family and friends. Coming out to people still holds the risk of losing people close to you.

Sorry for burying the lead. If you’re still with me, let me show you the “ante” queer turn my life took when I got home for the party.

My wife is here with me. She’s touring New York mostly, but as I’ve made many friends among the romance-writing community, she’s become friends with those writers too. When I got home, she told me about running into one of my/our oldest “friends.”

This friend just signed her first contract with a publisher after years (16 of them) of trying. I was thrilled for her. Over the years, I’ve helped anyway I could with brainstorming and advice and support. It’s what we writers do for each other. Especially for friends.

This friend saw my wife in the lobby and exclaimed that it had been years since she’d seen my wife. We’ve missed the last two national conferences. My wife, recounting locations, mentioned that we were at Gay Rom Lit in Atlanta the same year RWA national was in Atlanta though not at the same time. Adopting a wise tone, our friend said, “Well, that’s smart. There’s really nothing for you here.”

Nope, nothing here for us queers. Not RITA award nominations for books with queer characters, not panels for current and aspiring writers of queer characters, and not all the readers and writers of queer romance I’ve talked to this week. Definitely not the fun I had with the rest of the authors at the party tonight. The one given by a publisher whose name is synonymous with romance novels.

So just an update for everyone who came to the panel, things might not be as “post” queer as we thought. When your queer characters feel like they’re living their lives equal to everyone else, someone will come along to remind them they’re not. And it will probably be someone with the ability to cut, just when they thought that wasn’t going to happen again. The panel had a word for this, microaggression, which is preferable to lots of aggression, but it tears a bit into a character’s psyche. And from a friend, it’s disappointing.

I will, of course, be like Daryl, but inside I wanted to go all Cookie. Especially as it bothered my wife.

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4 thoughts on “Sharper Than a Serpent’s Tooth

  1. sorry, k.a., but I’m confused. also drunk—but are you saying you were disappointed by your friend casually acknowledging the enduring and quite ongoing secondary status of queer writers at the larger cons? or were you saying you were upset at the continuing lack of opportunity and representation in our industry overall?

    in other words, what was the microaggression that hurt you? my reduced acuity is very possibly a result of my inebriation, but I don’t follow—who delivered the wound in this anecdote, your friend, or the perpetually indifferent major players in the romance market?

    sorry if I’ve put my foot in it—I mean no disrespect at all. I really do seek to understand your point at 5:41 in the morning after many, many-too-many adult libations.

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    1. Hi, Julio. I’m not offended at all.

      tl;dr It was the kind of thing where someone says, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen you look so nice before.”
      The long answer:
      I was offended that my friend could disparage all that I had achieved, all other queer authors and authors of queer romance had achieved, with such disdain. I don’t expect any displays of gratitude for having held her hand all her years of working toward publishing. What I did find to be rude was that now that she has a publishing contract (and it’s with a small press) she’s feeling entitled to belittle my presence. (And to pass along other facts, I was already on edge with her for her Fox News mentality and thinking Scalia’s dissent on the 2014 SCOTUS decision regarding DOMA was worth proudly supporting on Facebook, so in the scheme of things, this was the last straw.)

      To speak to the lack of opportunity and representation in the industry, I would say, yes, there absolutely need to be changes. First of all, queer romance is a growing market and recognizing that could bring a financial boon to publishers who are willing to push our books to a bigger audience. Secondly, I believe our voices, and the voices of all diverse writers, matter because fiction changes hearts and minds in away that logic and arguments and legislation cannot always bring about. Fiction creates empathy. Living someone else’s life in the pages of a book can change the worldview of a reader.

      I’m not waiting for the old guard to retire or change their blessed hearts, I’m actively working within, staying noisy and open about being queer and writing queer romance. I’m supporting other diverse authors as best I can, boosting their signal. It will never change fast enough for me, but that doesn’t mean I stop trying. When my wife and I decided to put on wedding rings and call ourselves married in 1988, I never believed it would be legal before I died (hopefully of old age). Right now it seems like our books have to be twice as good as a book with putatively mainstream characters to achieve some recognition. I certainly am not advocating for mediocre books, but I want our books, and all books with diverse characters, to have equal shelf-space and equal opportunity to compete for readers. And I’d like my national advocacy group (RWA) to support that. I’m pushing from inside there, and I don’t think I’m the only one.

      Regarding the cons, I can only speak to RT and RWA National as large cons which I’ve attended. To me RT seems very much pay to play. However, I’ve only been once. After this year’s RWA National (or perhaps before it) the board heard the cries for better representation from diverse authors and set up a committee. If you’re a member of RWA, I believe the committee wants to hear about your experiences, at the conference, at local chapters, with industry professionals. You can address the president, Cindy Kirk, or I would recommend reaching out to board member Courtney Milan.

      I hope that your inebriation did not leave you any worse for the wear. I must say, I wish I was as articulate as you were on any sort of beverage.

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