June is Gay Pride Month, and I would be remiss if our inclusive celebration didn’t confront issues within the romance writing community head-on in order to ensure my voice is among those who support queer Black authors and their efforts to be seen and have their stories reach their desired audience. So, I’m gonna dive into some very important topics that affect queer Black authors and romance readers alike, despite out cries for better and more representation.
So here's the question I want to pose...
Does queer romance have an issue with Black love?
Intersectionality is a term that has gained popularity over recent years, and rightly so. Too many folks fail to understand the importance of it, though, so I’m going to lay it out here. Intersectionality acknowledges the interlocking nature of oppression and recognizes that individuals can experience different forms of discrimination based on their intersecting identities. Within the romance genre, intersectionality is a word that has been bandied about but is still either intentionally ignored or misunderstood. As a genre, romance readers and writers have labeled themselves as the red-headed stepchild of publishing. It also claims to be the most progressive and inclusive genre, but this doesn’t actually jive with how the community reacts to criticism from outsiders or within the community. Too often, voices of underrepresented folks are drowned out when valid criticism points out where we fall short as a community.
Criticism about how we read, react, and promote Black queer romance is one of them.
Black queer folks have been writing about love and relationships for generations. And yet, the romance community still reacts as if this is something new when queer love is an integral part of Black culture and liberation. In recent years, we've done a good job of acknowledging the contributions of our leaders and voices in the community without erasing their identities and the importance it played in liberation efforts. It is important to highlight this often-overlooked history so that we can better understand the present landscape of queer realities in the Black community and celebrate the resilience and beauty of Black love in totality.
While this progress is certainly encouraging, more needs to be said and done when it comes to recognizing how important it is to give queer Black authors space to tell their stories. By giving voice to queer black characters, authors can challenge harmful stereotypes and provide insight into the unique challenges they face.
Interracial Queer Romances and How They Center Whiteness
It is undeniable that while more queer romances have been published in recent years, there has been a proliferation of queer romances featuring interracial couples. I understand that these stories are intended to reflect a more diverse and inclusive representation of love, and it's exciting to see different types of relationships being explored in literature and media. However, it's important to note that these narratives often center whiteness, with the white characters often being the main focus or driving force behind the story. Centering whiteness in a narrative about or including Black and non-Black people of color elevates the perspectives, experiences, or opinions of white individuals, even when the focus should be on the lives and experiences of people of color. This can happen both intentionally and unintentionally, but it often results in the marginalization of Black and brown voices while prioritizing white experiences over those of people of color.
In these narratives, Black and brown characters are reduced to supporting roles, their stories and experiences overshadowed by the white characters' journeys. The narratives also place excessive emphasis on how white characters relate to or "save" the Black and brown characters, rather than focusing on the agency and resilience of the Black characters themselves. Also, it often feels like there is an aversion to pairing two Black characters in a queer romance. As if queer love is only valid when it’s measured against or in relationship with whiteness. It's crucial for authors to remember that diversity means more than just featuring different races and sexualities - it also means giving equal weight to each character's experiences and acknowledging the intersectionality of their identities.
Cisgender, heterosexual white women writing MLM romances exclusively is problematic.
Yes, I’m going there.
If queer romance novels provide a platform for members of the community to see reflections of themselves in the pages of a book, we have to start asking ourselves why cis-het white women who primarily write white MLM romances are the ones who get visibility and dominate this particular corner of the genre.
I know I'm probably going to get dragged for this, but I really don't care.
It's ridiculous that the voices of straight white women drown out gay men in a genre where they should be centered. While this might not seem like a big deal (to you), it becomes problematic when these authors fail to accurately represent the experiences and nuances of their characters' identities. Its ina-damn-ppropriate and harmful to focus on the perspectives, experiences, or opinions of cisgender heterosexual white women when the story should be centered around the lives and experiences of queer men, and especially problematic when it comes to stories featuring Black queer men. Most claim that they’re providing representation that isn’t there, but that seems disingenuous when the voices of cisgender, heterosexual women have set the tone of the genre and made it near impossible for queer men to make money writing about their own lived experiences.
By centering romances written by cis heterosexual white women, we once again prioritize their perspectives over those of queer Black men. The result is that the voices of Black queer men are erased, denying them the representation and visibility they deserve in literature. To create more inclusive and accurate portrayals, it is essential to focus on the experiences of the intended protagonists, in this case, Black queer men, and allow their narratives to take center stage.
I know a lot of y’all are probably thinking, “How do we fix this?” Well, my knee-jerk response is to say shut up and move around if you fall into either of these categories. But a more helpful suggestion would be to start with folks actually thinking about how their work impacts queer readers and authors and do more to elevate authentic queer narratives. In my opinion, they need to take the time to consider how they’re taking up hard-won space that doesn’t belong to them. The art, creativity, writing, and activism of Black and POC queer authors are all invaluable forces of resistance against the systems that seek to oppress us.
As the collective fight continues on for greater representation in books and other media – let’s remember that the efforts of queer Black authors are not invisible. The power of fiction lies in its ability to connect readers to these characters on a deeper level, fostering empathy, understanding, and, dare I hope… change.