GRNW 2015 Keynote Podcast – Read with Pride

The Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up, the LGBTQ Romance Fiction Conference of the Pacific Northwest, held it’s third annual conference on September 26, 2015 at the Seattle Public Library.

The 2015 Keynote, “Read with Pride,” explores the impact of reading LGBTQ love stories. We hear from readers Jessica Blat, Susan Lee, and Austin Chant, with opening remarks by GRNW director Tracy Timmons-Gray.

Listen to the full keynote address


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Read 2015 GRNW Keynote Remarks

Read with Pride by Jessica Blat

Read with Pride by Austin Chant

Read with Pride by Susan Lee

Listen to more podcasts from GRNW 2015

Celebrating and Elevating Underrepresented Characters in Queer Romance

Traditional or Self-Publishing? Which Route to Choose?

GRNW 2015 Keynote: Read with Pride by Austin Chant

Part of the 2015 Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up Keynote, “Read with Pride”.

Brokeback_MountainToday I want to talk about Brokeback Mountain—but more on that in a minute.

When I was growing up, there was no “reading queer literature” as far as I knew. Every so often I would come across a story with a minor gay character in it, or—more commonly—a cartoonish villain who was designed as a caricature of queerness. This feeling of queerness being freaky and wrong and tragic even permeated many ostensibly queer-friendly stories I read as a young person.

I loved all those sad queer characters, because even early on I could recognize that I had something in common with them. But I’d be lying if those characters didn’t make me believe some terrible things about myself. Picture a child feeling that he has more in common with campy Disney villains than Disney heroes. When the only examples you see of queer people are evil, tragic, comedic caricatures, dead, or simply treated as unworthy of having their stories told… it doesn’t lead you to expect that you, the little queer kid, are a good person. Or even a person with a future.

Which brings me to Brokeback Mountain. I love Brokeback Mountain, but I wish it were a romance novel. Or at least I wish there had existed, in 2005, a popular romance equivalent. Because when I first watched Brokeback Mountain, I was still young enough that seeing any film where two guys kissed was a total rarity, let alone one that depicted such an intense, passionate, romantic love between a same-gender couple. But then, as I watched this film for this first time, I started to get scared.

I wanted so much for it to not be a tragedy, but I knew it was going to be. Because that is what queer stories were to me—stories about unrequited love, homophobic abuse, transphobic violence, death, tragedy, death. And I didn’t want another story like that. I didn’t want something about the evils of the human condition, the cruel horrors of how we treat each other.

I wanted a love story. Specifically, I wanted a story that told me that I could be loved. I didn’t want to watch these people who I identified with suffer and die like I always watched the people I identified with suffer and die.

So—imagine with me—what if Brokeback Mountain were a romance novel? We know what would happen, right? Jack and Ennis would have their meet-cute on the mountaintop and there’d be some raunchy sex scenes, some gut-wrenching twists and turns and moments where it all seemed bleak and hopeless—but in the end, we’d see two people fall in the kind of love that lasts a lifetime, and we’d see that love triumph and find a way. We, as romance readers, would know from the start that this was a story destined to end happily. We would know with certainty that Jack and Ennis get what they deserve: joy, forever.

I’m not saying that stories like these always end happily in real life; we know that they don’t. But stories of enduring love and happiness, stories of safety and joy and recovery, are so valuable. So true. And so important. Quite honestly, they are undervalued, but they might be more important—and to me, growing up, they would have been revolutionary. I didn’t read queer romance as a young man, when I was questioning both gender and sexuality, but I wish I had. I wish I had picked up the kinds of books I read today.

Because when I read a queer romance novel, I know I won’t be martyred at the end. I won’t be left alone and heartbroken, the victim of a cruel world. Instead, I’ll be loved. And that’s actually pretty revolutionary. Telling different kinds of stories about queer people is revolutionary, and romance narratives are very different. Romance narratives promise the opposite of tragedy, and let us reclaim ourselves from stories about deviance and shame. Romance says: we deserve to be loved; we deserve to have our stories uplifted. We deserve a world where our partners respect and care for us, where we get the help we need, where we succeed in loving each other the best we can. Where we are beautiful, sexy, and desirable, and safe.

Here’s another example. Do you know how often, since I came out as a trans man, I’ve had people tell me that Boys Don’t Cry is a must-watch for me now? In case you’re unaware, Boys Don’t Cry is a film about a trans man being murdered. What if, instead (or at least in addition), people valued and recommended stories where trans men are respected, loved, protected, and adored by their partners? Give me Burnt Toast B&B by Heidi Belleau and Rachel Haimowitz or A Boy Called Cin by Cecil Wilde or A Matter of Disagreement by E. E. Ottoman—all romance novels released in the past few years that have made me feel touched, blessed, and loved. These stories make me feel as though the authors see my potential—for love, for success, and for joy. These stories are fantasies for those of us who desperately need to dream.

If I’ve reached any personal conclusion, it’s that we must keep reading, writing, and sharing queer romance. We must keep telling these stories. And we must keep loving and valuing each other as best we can—with our words, with our actions, and maybe most of all with books.

GRNW 2015 Keynote

Read with Pride by Jessica Blat

Read with Pride by Susan Lee

Listen to Read with Pride

Podcast: GRNW 2015 Keynote “Read with Pride”

About Austin

Austin Chant is a bitter millennial, passable chef, and avid reader and writer of queer/trans romance. He lives in Seattle with his partner in crime, a pleasant collection of game consoles, and an abundance of tea. In the regrettably large amount of time he spends not writing romance novels, he attends college and works as a game designer. His first publication is “Coffee Boy” in the Silver & Gold Anthology from Less Than Three Press (October 2015). He’d love to exchange words with you on Twitter (@AustinChanted), and his website is AustinChanted.weebly.com.

GRNW 2015 Keynote: Read with Pride by Jessica Blat

Part of the 2015 Gay Romance Northwest Meet-Up Keynote, “Read with Pride”.

Tipping the VelvetI 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

Read with Pride by Austin Chant

Read with Pride by Susan Lee

Listen to Read with Pride

Podcast: GRNW 2015 Keynote “Read with Pride”

About Jessica

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.