GRL: maybe a very good place to start?

I spent the last five or so days at two conventions in Chicago: GayRomLit, and the Kinky Kollege Homecoming. Both were fun, and I had an awesome time meeting new people and reconnecting with friends, not to mention getting to spend time in Chicago while the weather was perfect (bonus: all the canoodling with Sarah Frantz).

But here is the thing about GRL and the Kinky Homecoming. One of these cons wasn’t a particularly queer-friendly space, and involved a lot of sexual fetishization I was sometimes uncomfortable with…and the other was a kink convention.

It’s been a Very Queer Month for me, between Queer Romance Month and GRL and other things. Although I’m completely out as queer in my personal life, I’m also divorced from a guy, have two kids, and don’t particularly flag as queer—so most people’s default assumption about me is that I’m straight, because that is just most people’s default assumption, period. And since I usually write het (I have no idea why, that’s just what usually comes out when I start typing), the same is generally true in my professional life. Not through any design or intent on my part, I get the benefit of a lot of straight privilege most of the time, and one of the obvious benefits of privilege is not having to think about things from the perspective of the non-privileged groups. So it’s been interesting this month to shift my focus a bit and deliberately spend some time thinking about issues and challenges relevant to queer romance and queerness in general. And it’s made me realize that I probably have been letting the convenience of borrowed privilege keep me from expressing an important part of myself. It feels good to have a voice, to demand to be heard as who I am, not who people assume I am. That shouldn’t be only a once-a-year experience.

I went to GRL hoping to keep that theme going—to go ahead and let myself be queer, be seen as queer, and maybe find some spaces where that was not only tolerated but celebrated. I really wanted GRL to be a space like that, and I was disappointed that it wasn’t. It was a splendid event in many ways, with a lot of great talks by a lot of great authors, and I had a lot of fun (I got to spend time with some of the Riptide Publishing folks I hadn’t met before, and they are all delightful!). But it was very much a space for writers and readers of m/m…and that’s just not the same as an LGBT/queer-friendly space.

Our own AJ Cousins spent some time talking about GRL on her blog (she was there longer and did more) so check out her post if you’re interested in further deets about the con itself. My own takeaway was pretty personal and had less to do with what I saw at the con, and more to do with what I didn’t see there: I saw room for “gay” (m/m) voices, but I didn’t really see a venue for queer voices. And I saw a lot of fetishizing of m/m sex, in particular. If you name events things like “Cockwalk” or “Sausagefest,” it’s really hard to then claim you’re primarily interested in giving marginalized orientations a voice in romance fiction; you’re focusing on sex, not romance. Instead of saying, “the important thing is the relationship, not the genitals of the people having it,” you’re literally showing that the important thing is the phalluses. Especially since there was no “Fix-Your-Own Fish Taco Night” or “Ace Awareness Bingo” for balance.

I don’t lay all this on GRL, of course. They’re just bringing together existing writers and readers. The publishers are still perpetuating this focus on m/m marketed to primarily straight female readers. Samhain sponsored the Sausagefest. Carina press recently had a “pride month” submission call where they name-checked “the LGBT community” at the top but then asked for exclusively m/m submissions. That isn’t pride (sorry, Carina); that’s an unhappy combination of fetishization (of m/m) and erasure (of every other queer identity under the LGBTQUIA umbrella that “pride” is supposed to apply to).

Publishers are businesses, and they want to acquire what they can sell. Sadly, a lot of publishers tend to lack vision regarding what could sell if they marketed it more widely. Twenty years ago, did any of them imagine they’d have a solid and growing market in m/m? Of course not. So there is progress, even if it’s slow and incremental (AJ mentions this, too, by the way—she attended a panel where somebody asked about interest in more non-m/m queer pairings, and over half the audience raised their hands, so I think there’s definitely hope). But that doesn’t really lessen the sting of being queer and seeing “pride” and thinking, “yay, maybe that means more books about people like me,” and then finding that—once again, and pretty much as always—I might as well not exist in the eyes of most publishers (Riptide is a glorious exception, and I’m proud to edit for them). Or in the eyes of the GRL organizers.

I probably wouldn’t have been struck so much by the “this isn’t actually a space that celebrates me” quality of GRL if I hadn’t also attended the Kinky Kollege Homecoming that weekend, and been struck by how very much that event was a safe, welcoming space for queer voices of all kinds. Trans people, gay dudes, lesbians, poly/leather household groups, whatever. All the identities, all the orientations. Everybody doing their thing and being accepted and celebrated, inclusivity instead of exclusivitiy. And it was absolutely delightful, and just such a relief. And okay, sure, like some of these events do, this one leaned toward maleDom/femsub combos (less of a supportive vibe for femDoms, particularly for the few femDom/malesub pairs in attendance). And there are kinks not everybody gets, so there are always going to be conversations about that. So it wasn’t perfectly balanced or anything. But the conversations were respectful and inclusive of all the perspectives involved. The fetishes were presented as options everybody was perfectly free to take, leave, sample, without value judgments. And overall, in many ways, the convention that was actually about fetishes was engaging in…less fetishization than the convention about romance books.

And no erasure. And far fewer representations of phalluses.

For me, the openness of the kink conference was a hopeful thing, because it proved such a thing is possible. That vibe is what cons like GRL (or cons in general) could aspire to.  That openness to different perspectives is what publishers could aspire to. To reflect all the options out there, rather than focusing nearly all the attention on one “norm,” then allowing a very narrow subset of the marginalized groups in to play on a limited basis and calling that diversity. The open, inclusive model is what GRL could become, and I think they’re off to a great start. After that…RT? And after that, obviously, world domination.

Blog posts are supposed to end with thoughtful questions to prompt discussions, but I’m the worst at that, so…insert your own thoughtful question here, I guess. Something-something-did you go to GRL, what did you think of the Cockwalk-something-something-sure, ask me about the kink con!-something?

Posted in Life & Wonk, Thinky | 16 Comments

a tongue twister, bi-erasure, and some gifs


Please excuse me while I engage in some shameless self-promotion. Last week, Amber and I finished our second collaboration. Let’s pause for some honey badger dancing. Feel free to fire the glitter cannon.

It’s another round of raunchy rollicking rock stars (say that three times fast!) filled with some of my favorite things.

If Stefon from SNL were describing One Kiss with a Rock Star, he’d tell you it has everything: sad wanking, boundary issues, epic blow jobs, bi-erasure, finger-banging, double standards, and an ill-advised threesome.

It is totally spicy. But between all the boning, it’s also sorta-kinda an issue book. Maybe. If you squint. Like, it’s possible I may have referred to it as “the bi book” on more than one occasion. So, AJ’s post on Tuesday really resonated. You should go read that if you haven’t already. (Why haven’t you?) She says lots of thinky things about orientation and self-definition and the intersection of sexuality with love/lust/friendship. I nodded my head as I read it and then I talked about one of my favorite lines from One Kiss in the comments:


Here’s what I had to say: On the surface it’s very much about sex acts and using/not-using them to define sexuality. But it’s also about railing against a binary, against erasure, against having sexuality dictated. (*snort* Dick-tated.) Because orientation can be endlessly complex…a lifetime of searching and questioning and exploring…but it can also be dead effing simple. And maybe sometimes, that simplicity is the hardest to understand.



There’s a moment, the start of an M/M/F threesome, in the first book that people either love or hate. I’m sure there are some readers who are ambivalent about it, but we don’t tend to hear from those. What I did hear, in between all the omglovewhatjusthappenedyes were things like “so, was he gay?” or “ewww I don’t like M/M” or “that didn’t make any sense.”

And yes, it is possible for a male bodied person to be gay while engaging in sexual activity with a female bodied person (see above where orientation is NOT dictated by sex acts) but that isn’t what caused the confusion here. And it’s also possible that we didn’t set it up enough…but it seemed pretty simple to me. They’re bisexual. Which I guess is hard to believe in or accept? No, that can’t be right. Oh, wait…




Krist and Madeline like what they like. Mostly they like each other, except for when they don’t. Their attraction (and its opposite) doesn’t have anything to do with gender. It’s about respect (or lack thereof), appreciation, admiration, and hot back alley smooching. Their sexuality isn’t a choice, a phase, or a trend. Their angst isn’t about navigating the interiority of their desires, it’s about navigating the media’s (mis)perceptions.

I really enjoyed the challenge of tip-toeing through the minefield of Krist’s ultra-masculine rocker world and Maddy’s hyper-sexualized pop arena. And by tip-toeing I mean blithely blundering and frantically groping.

You’ll be able to buy One Kiss with a Rock Star in early November. For now you can add it on GoodReads.

Posted in Shameless Self-Promotion | 7 Comments

Orienting Myself: Love and Lust and Liking

I have had the great good fortune to participate in Queer Romance Month, with a post about writing queer romance and parenting. I often learn something about myself when writing blog posts, but with QRM I’ve had the privilege of learning many, many things from reading other writers’ contributions too. JP Kenwood’s post about masculinity and gay sex in ancient Rome was fascinating, as was Thorny Sterling’s about gender fluidity and Lilia Ford’s about the subversive nature of being a historical outsider in publishing. G.B. Gordon’s post, Love Is Love, reminded me that even blog posts can be beautiful and poetic.

I’ve read posts about the word queer, about bi-erasure, about being the small voice that says “I support gay rights” when an acquaintance makes a casual slur. Many fascinating voices, many thoughtful perspectives.

I’ve been left with some additional thoughts though, and conveniently enough, a Wonko post in which to deposit them.

think of englandAlexis Hall (who conceived of and organized Queer Romance Month, for which I throw grateful hugs and kisses his way) wrote an excellent QRM guest post for The Book Pushers, most of which is an explication of exactly what makes KJ Charles’ Edwardian romance, Think of England, such a brilliant read. The post, Queer Is Intimate, begins, though, with an interesting look at how—whether due to the historical criminalization of homosexuality or to our own human patterns of hitting puberty and getting excited about having sex before a more mature excitement about having love sets in—what we end up with is “a preliminary understanding of sexual identity that is largely defined by sex acts.” So being gay or lesbian or bisexual is more generally defined by who you’re fucking than by with whom you experience the less dramatic day-to-day moments of love.

If you have a few minutes, you should go read that post. It’s worth it. I’ll wait. It gave me many thoughts, and while you’re reading, I’ll attempt to put them in order.

Okay, right. I’ll try not to make a hash of this. First, Queer is Intimate reminded me of one of my favorite books of all time, A.S. Byatt’s Possession. Possession is the story of two couples, the first a pair of Victorian poets who fall in love while both being involved with other people, and the second being the two contemporary literary scholars who discover hints of the Victorian poets’ relationship in their letters and poetry, and go on the hunt to track down concrete evidence of it, while also developing an intimacy of their own.

possessionOne of the most fascinating parts of the book to me was the depiction of the Victorian poet Christabel LaMotte, who is happily ensconced in domestic harmony with a woman painter when she meets Randolph Ash, a much more well-known (in the story) poet of their time. The two poets develop an intense intellectual connection before finally meeting in person and finding they have an irresistible physical attraction to each other also. They are both, however, effectively married. Ash, to a woman who he loves and who loves him, but who denied him consummation of their marriage. LaMotte, to Blanche Glover, a painter, with whom she has been living in quiet happiness, retired generally from society, in what is an implied lesbian relationship.

From the point of view of queer romance, Possession is a disappointment in that none of the queer relationships in the book have happy endings. (The book, although subtitled “A Romance,” most definitely means that in the scholarly sense of Romance with a capital R, and not romance with a happily ever after.) The current day literary scholar Maud Bailey, has had relationships with both men and women, although one gets the sense while reading Possession that Maud’s queer relationship was more of an intellectual exercise in feminist and lesbian theory than a mad passion or irresistible love. She finds happiness in the end with the very quiet and withdrawn Roland Mitchell, a less brilliant scholar than her with whom she can feel intimacy that doesn’t overwhelm her. (Mind you, if you’ve seen the movie, you will have an entirely different image of Roland Mitchell in your head, since he was played there by the very foxy and not at all retiring Aaron Eckhart.)

As for Christabel LaMotte, her quiet household is disrupted by the passion she finds in her brief affair with Ash, as a result of which Blanche Glover drowns herself. Ugh. Not a happy ending there. But Byatt’s book is not about Christabel and Blanche. That relationship is a side bar to the Victorian poets’ love affair and to the main mystery of the contemporary scholars’ race to discover the truth about this explosive (within their world) new research.

Still, what Alexis Hall’s post brought to mind was the idea, that lingered with me long after finishing Possession, that Christabel’s relationship with Blanche should be valued. Their quiet domesticity and emotional love, even with limited sexual connection (as hinted at in the book), is still queer romance and has equal worth in comparison to overpowering sexual and intellectual passion. In real life, that is. In a novel, not so much. It’s hard to make much of a story out of: “spends days writing and painting together, with occasional conversation but many soft, warm looks at each other.”

I read an excellent article a year or two ago (which I absolutely cannot find…my Google fu has failed me) about the idea of homo & hetero attraction (or somewhere in between the two on a spectrum) applying to a variety of relationships/orientations. So we all, under this theory, have multiple orientations. For sexual attraction. For emotional attraction, or love. For friendship. One person might have same sex attractions for sex and for love, but opposite sex attractions for friendship. Or be hetero for sex and love, but not have any friends of the opposite sex because the attraction there was toward the same sex. And of course, given the nature of the spectrum, most people will fall somewhere in between the extremes in all their relationships and attractions. But because of how we focus on sex as the defining characteristic of attraction, the definition of homo- and hetero- that we most commonly use focuses on sex to the exclusion of all else.

(In remembering Possession, which is not a romance novel, it’s clear that what Byatt is portraying are complicated characters whose various emotional, sexual, intellectual and friendship attractions range all over these spectrums.)

When it comes to romance novels, I think that this focus on sex works to our detriment sometimes. I am, to be clear, a big fan of erotic romance and erotica, and I have deep appreciation for books that make me flush and look over my shoulder when reading in public, in the hopes that no one will suspect why my cheeks are turning pink. I find the intimacy and vulnerability of sex intensely fascinating. But the books that I love, the books that stick with me long after I’ve finished reading them, are the ones that dive deep into the emotional connection between the characters. So I think it’s worth acknowledging that emotional orientation is something different from sexual orientation. And that there’s a whole world of possibility for conflict in the idea that emotional and sexual orientations might not always be an exact match. Several authors I know have been discussing in recent months their interest in writing romances involving asexual characters, and exploring the idea of love and romance with someone who doesn’t experience sexual attraction. This is a fascinating idea to me and I hope they write these books. I’ll be ready to *one-click* in a heartbeat!

Some of the most interesting queer romance books I’ve read recently have been Heidi Belleau’s Rear Entrance Video series. Between the gender presentation fluidity she explores in Wallflower and the rather difficult to describe orientation of the straight guy who ends up in a relationship with a bisexual man in Straight Shooter, I’ve enjoyed reading stories that push my boundaries when it comes to imagining who can develop what kind of attraction to or relationship with unexpected partners.

The other reason I’ve been thinking about these spectrums of attraction is because my QRM post about parenting was referred to as an example of being a good ally. Which is lovely, but also discomfiting. Because I often think of myself as being part of the queer community. But not always.

I spent most of my life assuming that at some point I would end up in a relationship with a woman. It seemed impossible that that wouldn’t happen, since I am as likely to walk into a party or other social gathering and be as attracted to a woman as to a man. But the bottom line seems to be that I’m not actually as queer as I think I am. I think, to refer back to the homo/hetero article, that I hit pretty close to the bisexual center of the sexual and friendship scales, but it seems that my emotional/love orientation is more strongly hetero than I imagined. I’m still open to the possibilities, but I’m also forty-two years old. It’s rather difficult to imagine that non-hetero love is going to pop up out of the blue now. (Note to universe: feel free to bring it on though. I’m just saying.) When I read Alexis’ post about romance being about more than the sex, I nodded my head and thought, “That’s what’s missing with women.”

So I’m left with this odd feeling. Because it doesn’t seem like I can call myself queer if I’ve never had a same sex attraction on the friendship or the sexual end of things turn into love. But I also don’t think of myself as a straight woman who’s trying to be a good ally. I wrote a character in my first queer romance, Off Campus, who tells someone, “No one gets to define your sexual identity but you.” I am lacking definition for myself, which is an odd place to be at this age, and I’m trying to get comfortable with the idea that I might never figure this out exactly and that’s okay. In the meantime, I would love to read more stories about people whose sexual and love orientations create complexity in their relationships. Because orientation is about more than sex, and romance in all of its varieties fascinates me.

Posted in Life & Wonk, Reading, Thinky, Writing Wonkomance | 8 Comments