Part of the 2015 Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up Keynote, “Read with Pride”.
I was a voracious reader when I was growing up. I still am. However, I didn’t read much romance -at most a few novels. You see, my sister went through a period where she thought she’d pursue romance writing so I read a few that she had on hand. In truth the shirtless heroes and fainting damsels on the covers, did not capture my interest much. What I inferred from that small sample as the standard formula of “Boy meets girl, girl hates boy generally for pretty good reasons, boy seduces girl, girl somehow redeems boy, end of story” seemed uninteresting at best and offensive at worst. I didn’t see myself in these characters. I didn’t realize there were other options in the genre. At that time –and I’m actually going to date myself here because I think the timeline is relevant– around the turn of the century, which seems ancient when you phrase it like that but actually wasn’t that long ago, there really wasn’t that much queer romance that I could easily have found as a kid in the suburbs.
Fast forward a few years. I was out, I was in college, and I went to the Seattle Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. They were screening a free viewing of Tipping the Velvet – were any of you there? Cinerama was full to capacity, mostly with lesbians. The show starts, gets to a climactic moment where our protagonist realizes she has been betrayed by her lover, and the credits roll. Almost 600 people myself included, gasp in shock – we need to know how it’s going to turn out! You can’t roll credits! The story has to have a happy ending – we understand that in our hearts. Turns out it was a miniseries and they did go on to play all the parts. As you might have guessed since I’m talking about this at an LGBTQ romance event, Nan, our protagonist, gets the girl. Happy ending. 600 lesbians and friends leave Cinerama elated.
That night there was also Q&A with Sarah Waters, the author of the novel they’d adapted for the screen. I don’t remember most of what she said though I do remember thinking, my god, someone is writing books like this. And they’re getting turned into TV on the BBC.
It certainly wasn’t the first queer book I’d read (I did go read it after watching the movie), but it was one of the first where the protagonist didn’t die or have some other tragic ending even if things were a bit dicey in the middle. And that’s really the magic of romance, after all, right? The key genre definition – it must have a happily ever after, or at least a happy for now, which is what makes it so powerful. Watching the explosion in the last few years of LGBTQ romance has, to me, been watching the growing acceptance that we can have happy ending too. As the genre (and our society) has matured in recent years, we’re also seeing that those happy endings don’t necessarily have to be in spite of being LGBTQ. In other words, we’re not quite there yet, but I’m looking forward to gayness as a source of underlying conflict driving the will they/won’t they-either due to internalized fears or external homophobia, being entirely relegated to historical romance.And I’m thrilled for the kids of today and tomorrow that, thanks in part to many of the people in this room, they’ll be able to find so many more kinds of romance than I did as a youth in the suburbs -romance not precisely confined to exactly one shirtless guy and exactly one fainting damsel. Thank you.
GRNW 2015 Keynote
Listen to Read with Pride
Jessica Blat sits on the board of Old Growth Northwest and has volunteered at Gay Romance Northwest every year the meet-up has run. She has been an avid reader of lesbian romance since she discovered that a genre existed with happily ever afters that were relevant to her interests. She has a particular weakness for romance grounded in speculative fiction and also coming of age stories. Jessica currently works in publishing, which she came to via a circuitous route that wended through a computer science degree and financial systems consulting. She is a Seattle native that never left for more than a few months at a time, and lives with her wife and two cats.