Chapter Spotlight: Rainbow Romance Writers

rainbow flag with people holding hands

We Are Beyond Asking to Be Seen

by Rainbow Romance Writers (RRW) members

Sappho’s works were burned in the fourth century. Walt Whitman self-published Leaves of Grass because no mainstream publisher would touch it. Oscar Wilde went to jail for homosexuality. And in 2017, the American Library Association reported that half of the top ten challenged books contained LGBTQIA+ content.

Despite the publishing industry patting itself on the back for LGBTQIA+ inclusiveness, the number of queer books coming out of mainstream publishing are still extremely low and often focus almost exclusively on a narrow portion of the queer experience. The real heroes of LGBTQIA+ literature continue to be small to mid-sized LGBTQ-specific publishers. 

A RRW member expressed the current climate this way: “It used to be that our stories were considered invalid. A romance was between a man and a woman, period. That's not so true anymore (recent political trends in Texas, Florida, etc. notwithstanding). Now, I think the big challenge is acceptance of the differences in relationship dynamics in queer romance from the cis/het template. Conventional relationships (and romance novels) have a nice easy template for relationship roles and queer romances mostly don't. And that's a good thing! But it also means that crafting and reading queer relationships is more complicated.”

We would argue that it also makes getting queer romances published more complicated as well. The mainstream publishing industry continues to see queer romances as unmarketable, despite the clear successes of some recent authors. The fact that those authors’ successes are rare and noteworthy and that some, like Casey McQuiston, were treated poorly when they first published, punctuate the point that queer stories, and queer romances specifically, are not treated equally in the publishing world. A RRW member recently expressed that the biggest challenge for us is still “to be taken seriously and to get support within the industry.”

Knowing this challenge still exists, the Rainbow Romance Writers are striving to boost queer romance. During the past year, the newly reorganized chapter has been holding monthly meetings featuring special guest speakers with expertise and advice on everything from craft, to querying, to marketing. In June, for Pride month, RRW released its first ever anthology, Pride and Passion. The anthology showcases the work of five chapter members through short stories centered around the concept of a “meet cute” at a Pride celebration. The stories illustrate the diversity of our community and include Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Trans, and Asexual characters.

Our goal is to have the larger romance world see queer romance as we do–romance, period. Here’s how one member put it: “I think queer romance is an opportunity to view romance through a different set of assumptions and see the beauty of love in all its forms. We're all human.”

And that’s the ultimate question. Are queer romances the same as cis/het romances? The answer is complex. On the one hand, the answer is “hell, yes!” Of course, we think that a woman loving a woman, or man loving a man, or a trans person loving a cis person, or an Asexual loving an Asexual is just as valid, just as emotional, and just as heart-warming, as a man loving a woman. It is just a romance. Same meet cute, same steamy sex, same HEA. Same.

On the other hand, calling them the same can mask the diversity of the queer experience and erase the importance of highlighting that queer experiences are unique, individualized, and valid in every way–regardless of their acceptance in mainstream publishing. A trans person’s experience in a relationship is not the same as a cis person’s but it is just as valid. A bisexual person in a relationship with someone of the opposite sex doesn’t erase their bisexuality. Two women in love could be trans, cis, bisexual, lesbian, asexual, or none of the above. You don’t know on sight what you are looking at. And two is not always the number either. 

The bottom line is that queer romance doesn’t allow for assumptions. That’s the rub. You can’t pick up a queer romance starring MC’s Chris and Corey and make a single assumption about their identities and how that will play out in their relationship. And yet, those two people, Chris and Cory–and perhaps their third partner Kyle–will meet, fall in love, and have a happily ever after, just like every cis/het romance.

We recently polled our members about what RWA can do to support them in their writing careers. Members agreed that it is essential for the organization to highlight writers of queer romance and support them in their journey to get published. 

What does that really mean? What is the work that has to be done? Queer romance should be showcased, like it is in the RRW Anthology. Publishers claiming to want to publish queer romance should be held to their claims. Let’s check up on them every year and publicly analyze not only the sheer number of queer romances they have published but the identities and themes they include. How many had trans characters? How many included non-binary and asexual individuals? How many included characters living a full, complete, life? 

Let’s make sure queer romance is represented in contests and announcements. What percent of new release announcements were queer literature? What percentage of award winners were queer romance? What steps do you need to take to ensure that queer authors feel welcome in your contests and that they are read and judged by people who genuinely feel that those stories are just as valid and just as deserving as cis/het romances?

Those of us who have resurrected the RRW chapter are putting our trust in RWA. We are not asking you to see us–we are way past that. We are asking you to give us what you give cis/het authors, the mission of RWA “to advance the professional and common business interests of career-focused romance writers through networking and advocacy and by increasing public awareness of the romance genre.” Let’s add the word all in there. “Of all in the romance genre.” That is what we are asking for. Nothing more. Nothing less.