I had Christmas lunch today with co-workers, including a new team member. After a glass (or two) of pinot gris, my straight middle aged boss says "Tell the new guy what you do in your free time!" I look at the new guy, he looks at me. I know he's trying to guess what I'm going to say, but there's no way he can. He's thinking I foster cats or arrange flowers. Maybe paint abstract watercolours. The words are still tricky to get off my tongue, but I say "I wrote a gay romance novel." I can see the new guy was not expecting that. The people around me laugh hysterically. I assume they're laughing at his expression and not my literary aspirations. New guy looks baffled.
I'm a straight female 30-something marketing manager in urban Canada. None of that precludes me from being able to appreciate queer romance novels, but apparently it's a weird fit for my co-workers. That probably says more about them then it does about me. Maybe you're in the same boat. So I thought I'd put together a rundown of why men in love is my jam.
What drives my appreciation of any romance is the story. I like familiar stories told in different ways. There will always be a part of me that wants a safe fuzzy romance where the biggest question is how many times the main characters almost kiss before I start to scream at them. But the ones that keep me coming back are the ones that make me work for it. If I can't see the twists coming six chapters out, or if I can see the work the writer puts in to making real, honest characters, then everything else is kind of secondary for me. Romance with two male protagonists makes familiar things new before a word is written, because it turns traditional romance gender roles on their heads from the get go.
I've got three different queer romances on my reading/watching pile right now. I'm actually enjoying all them, which is rare for me. So let's look at why they work.
1. Breakaway, by Avon Gale
Full disclosure, I am a Canadian who does not watch hockey. It's only a matter of time before the Mounties come and revoke my citizenship. I'm trying to work on my cover story by brushing up on my hockey through Avon Gale's Scoring Chances Series, but we'll see if they believe me.
Breakaway is definitely on the light end of m/m romance. There isn't a ton of conflict. No homophobic coach screaming from the sidelines. No locker room hazing. It's partially a coming out story. Partially a sports story. Can we call it a May to December romance if the main characters are 20 and 32?
Why I love this book: First off, the main character, Lane, is from Chatham, Ontario, which is like three hours from my living room, so I kind of have to root for him. And it's just a bonus is the book is super sweet. I can't say that it's authentically Canada. We don't all babble hopelessly like Lane does, but it fits him so well. Run on sentences are like catnip to me, but it's all in the execution, and Ms. Gale does it well. The story, along with it's sweet central romance, also has an interesting subplot about bisexuality, and what that looks like for people in same-sex relationships, and also for people in heterosexual relationships. It's thought provoking in a book that's otherwise light as air.
Also, the sex is hot, but never loses the goofy feel of the rest of the novel, which is awesome to see. If these two rough and tumble hockey players were suddenly entwined in a purple love scene, I'd be less pleased, but everything about this is cute and honest. Second full disclosure, I haven't actually finished reading it yet, but I assume the final twist is going to be as delightful as the rest of it.
2. Cut and Run, by Madeleine Urban and Abigail Roux
Ty and Zane are kind of the granddaddies of my queer romance reading life. This book was published in 2008, and while I probably didn't read it until 2011 or so, it was definitely one of the early ones.
It starts out like a buddy cop comedy. Roguish slightly unhinged bad-ass. By-the-book tight-ass. They're gonna find common ground and bang, aren't they?
Well yes, but not in the way you might think.
Fair warning, the book is not without its problems, and a lot of them are mechanical things that turn readers off. Ty licks his lips so many times he better own stocks in Burt's Bees. The writers are both overly fond of superfluous dialogue adverbs (characters often growl angrily or shout loudly). But if you can stick those quirks out, there's a really interesting story buried underneath.
Why I love this book: It bucks some trends and tropes, and I love seeing how the writers work around those. It has two bisexual protagonists, which is fairly rare in the genre. It's not even really a romance per se. There's sex, there's bonding, but no one's riding off into the sunset at the end of this. Ty and Zane are one of my top 10 slow burn pairings, in that it takes them a good long time (I'm talking full novels of time, not just chapters) to finally come to a (somewhat?) loving relationship. It's ambitious to play the long game like that, and this series probably benefits from a publication date before the advent of instant gratification via Kindle Unlimited.
3. Yuri On Ice
Deep breaths, Allison. No one wants to see you working yourself into a lather over this show.
But seriously. This show.
I found Yuri On Ice through Heidi Cullinan (one of my other gateway drugs into queer romance, along with Ty and Zane). Heidi started gushing pretty fervently about it right after the election. It took me a few more weeks to come around to it. I have no frame of reference for anime. Before Yuri, if you said anime, I thought you were talking about Sailor Moon, or maybe Pokemon. But then I read this Medium article and saw that gif. Is it possible for cartoon people to smoulder? Because Yuri does it with flair!
Why do I love this show? It would be a shorter list if I told you why not. Because the answer to what I love is everything. The art (the opening sequence is breathtaking), the music (the soundtrack is my go-to playlist at work), the storytelling...well...
In a lot of ways, this is a story about anxiety and depression. It's kind of amazing that neither of these have anything to do with the identity central romantic relationship. It's not a coming out story, even though it's never clear who's out and who's not. It's this beautiful little utopia where a same-sex romantic relationship happens without being the central conflict at any point. It's not even clear when the relationship turns romantic, but you'll find you don't even mind the lack of definition.
Heidi explains the beauty that is the ambiguity of this story much better than I ever could (warning, her article contains spoilers, click at your own risk). Suffice it to say, I've watched (repeatedly) the 10 episodes that have aired so far. There are two more to go. I have no idea what's going to happen, but just about all of the possible iterations are fine with me, because the story has been told so lovingly that I know I'm going to be a weeping mess when it's over. From Yuri and Victor's slow burn, to the shocking reveal in episode 10, no show has left me screaming "wait. what?" at the screen more. The hangover after it's over will be extreme. If you latch onto this show and are having trouble coping, let me know. We'll start a support group.
Did this post clear things up for you? Basically, if there's good storytelling, what's not to like?
Got a favourite romance, queer or otherwise? Leave a comment, tell me why it works for you.