I started reading romance—full-bore (eh heh), graphic romance—when I was eleven or so. At that time, I’d come off a science-fiction and fantasy YA kick and moved to historical adventures of all stripes, and from historical adventures to historical romance. My upbringing was such that there were precious few secrets of life at that age, so the graphic contents didn’t “bother” me all that much. I knew what sex was, how it was (generally) done, and had somehow come to the subconscious conclusion that all that was perfectly fine, in my limited experience with life.
During one of my strays back to science-fiction/fantasy, I picked up Anne McCaffrey’s initial Dragonriders of Pern trilogy—Dragonflight, Dragonquest, and The White Dragon. This is notable for two reasons: 1) “Oh! Oh! I want to be a dragonrider!”, said my imagination, and 2) it marked my first real run-in with same-sex pairings in the written word—in, most pointedly, a way that fundamentally drew my attention.
If I’d come across references prior to this, they didn’t impact me at the right time, or perhaps in the same way. Perhaps I was too young to notice the difference at the time, or too absentminded care. Whatever the case, all I know is that I was reading merrily along when a set of dragons launched into a mating race. Now, if you’ve read the series, you know that what affects the dragon tends to cross over to the rider, and since neither of the dragons who mated were gold queens, that meant that somewhere, there were two male dragonriders bonding in the same way we’d seen Lessa and F’lar bonding. Or at least, that was what I was left to assume, for the text never said any different.
That little moment, for some unknown reason, stuck with me. When I read Robert Heinlein’s Friday, I left it chewing over concepts like polyamory and the ability to love more than one person. As I got older and read books by Anne Rice (naturally), Poppy Z. Brite, and Clive Barker, they shared a darker side of same-sex pairings, and I filed it neatly with the darker side of the hetero pairings I’d read—uncanny how similar they could be.
I started wondering why same-sex love wasn’t as “open” in the romance world as it seemed to be in other realms of fiction—which wasn’t saying a lot, given the ratio.
As I talk about in this blog post here, one of my uncles came out to his family when I was a little younger than when I read my first romance book. When I was a older, and a little bit wiser, I began to see the impact sexuality had on one’s life—the bullying, the bigotry; and yes, the fear. As I grew up, as my writer’s brain started sharpening its toolset on the trials and tribulations of life, this seed of an idea began to germinate in ways that didn’t really make sense until I read Suzanne Brockmann’s All Through the Night.
I read romance because you can put characters through hell, drag them through the dirt, smear them in mud and blood and horrible choices, but in the end, you know they’ll find love—or, at least, a shot at it. It’s my absolute belief that everyone should have a shot at love, and until I read about Robin and Jules’ story, the prickly sensation I kept scratching at in my subconscious finally jarred loose.
Dear readers, writers, and world at large: if it’s okay to make LGBTQ characters suffer the same trials, experience the same heartaches, pay the same dues—metaphorical or otherwise—and endure the same losses as straight characters, then why isn’t it okay to find the same love?
What All Through the Night became was a missing piece of the varied puzzle that is my bookshelf: Watching Jules and Robin work out their issues—issues that are unsurprisingly similar to the issues everyone has to go through, gay or straight or in between—filled a void I didn’t realize was missing in my “reading experience” until then.
Why, then, were the large publishers so wary of putting out same-sex stories? Authors like Yasmine Galenorn and Suz Brockmann were the exception, trail-blazers with few to follow after, but why must it be an exception? A call for favorite LGBTQ characters on Twitter earned a slew of small/indie publishers, self-pubbed books, and e-first imprints—but only those very few familiar faces in the big publishers. Why? When so much “stake” is put in the big pubs, why not?
LGBTQ characters, protagonist or support cast, should be as common as the varied people in our lives. I don’t know about you, but any given week, I associate with, hang out with, deal with, talk with, laugh with, put up with, experience life with people who are gay, straight, bi-, brown, white, black, male, female, trans-, old, young, comfortably well off or strugglingly poor, and every mix and match possible. We are real people and we have real issues. Our lives are just as complicated as anyone else’s and just as ripe for storytelling as anyone’s.
The books I read growing up, the role model my uncle became, my own experiences and those of the people I loved, all of these conspired to make me hungry for stories, and I don’t want to be meeting the watered down worlds that don’t include facets of people that I know exist. So let’s give them the same voice we give the others, okay? You and me. Let’s make it better. Avon Impulse and I already started with Wicked Lies, Avon’s first m/m pairing—and 100% of the proceeds I make will be going to It Gets Better, because that’s how much it matters.
What say you add your voice, your talent, your readership to the worlds we’re weaving? And maybe some LGBTQ recommendations in the comments?
Dragonriders of Pern art by Michael Whelan
After writing happily ever afters for all of her friends in school, Karina Cooper eventually grew up (sort of), went to work in the real world (kind of), where she decided that making stuff up was way more fun (true!). She is the author of dark and sexy paranormal romances, steampunk adventures, crossover urban fantasy, and writes across multiple genres with mad glee. Visit her at www.karinacooper.com, because she says so.