‘Queer, hilarious and full of joy’: the rise of LGBTQ+ romance fiction

Author Laura Kay is part of a new wave of authors releasing uplifting queer literature that casts its characters as the heroes of their lives – not the victims

‘It feels like there’s sort of a shift’ … author Laura Kay. Photograph: CWA Agency

have read some really fantastic fiction about queer women, but I have quite often felt that it leans towards the slightly gloomier side,” says author Laura Kay. For the London-based writer, it was natural that her debut novel, The Split, would be a rom-com. “I really just wrote the story that I wanted to read,” she says. Published last year, the story follows Ally, who, after a savage break-up, moves to Sheffield – taking her ex-girlfriend’s cat, Malcolm, with her.

Only after The Split was published did Kay realise its significance. “Other people started reading it, and telling me, ‘Oh my God, this is the first time I’ve read this story about queer women,’” she says. Readers praised the novel for being refreshingly joyful and funny – including a happy ending, which is not that common for a book with an LGBTQ+ plot. Kay also deliberately avoided reference to any trauma surrounding Ally’s sexuality.

Published in April, Kay’s most recent book, Tell Me Everything, is another rom-com, this time about therapist Natasha, who is still living with her ex-girlfriend. But Kay’s book is far from alone. This summer, a host of LGBTQ+ romcom novels are coming out (excuse the pun), crammed with blossoming romances and glittery escapism. “It feels like there’s sort of a shift,” says Kay. “I think that’s because the people that make the decisions are seeing that there’s an audience that are desperate to read queer romcoms.”

These titles include Lily Lindon’s recently published Double Booked, about a 26-year-old woman who realises that she is bisexual, and two queer coming-of-age novels: Cynthia So’s young adult novel If You Still Recognise Me and Henry Fry’s First Time for Everything. It’s a boom reflected in film and TV, too, notably with the release of Netflix’s Heartstopper, based on Alice Oseman’s graphic novel of the same name.

“Whenever I saw queer women represented, which was almost never, it always ended in tragedy,” says author Adiba Jaigirdar. “Even more than that, I never saw queer Muslim women represented or queer women of colour.” In a sign that this trend will continue, Jaigirdar releases her novel, Donut Fall in Love, next year. It sounds delightfully messy: Bangladeshi-Irish teen Shireen goes on a baking show with her ex-girlfriend and another girl on whom she develops a crush.

It follows Jaigirdar’s first two novels, The Henna Wars – which was included in TIME’s 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time – and Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, both featuring heartwarming love stories between young queer Muslim women. Until now, people like Jaigirdar had “never been given the narrative of happiness,” she says.

Although not strictly a romcom, Ryan O’Connell’s uplifting Just By Looking at Him, published earlier this month, offers much-needed representation to LGBTQ+ people with disabilities – the main character being a gay man with cerebral palsy – while Florence Given’s Girlcrush, published in August, is described by the author as: “queer, hilarious and full of joy”. Matt Cain’s latest novel The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle follows Albert, a closeted 64-year-old postman, as he sets out to reconnect with his former boyfriend. Cain believes the increase in LGBTQ+ fiction is in part the result of “greater visibility”, which he says has “showed the general population that we’re just like them”.

He adds that “acceptance is so much higher now than it was when I was growing up in the 1980s, way higher than I ever expected it would be.”

The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle has connected with straight and LGBTQ+ readers alike, Cain says. “Queer fiction can be freeing for all kinds of people who’ve felt limited or rejected or shamed by society,” he says.

Largely because of the popularity of Netflix’s Bridgerton, there’s a new demand for queer regency romcoms. One such historical romance is Alexis Hall’s A Lady for a Duke , which has a transgender heroine. Meanwhile Lex Croucher’s Infamous, out in July, is described on the cover as “Booksmart meets Bridgerton”, and includes bisexual, lesbian and non-binary characters. Croucher’s previous novel Reputation was another regency-era romcom. “The publishing industry is coming to the realisation that there is an audience for this stuff, there is money to be made telling these stories,” Croucher says.

It was while reading Casey McQuiston’s 2019 novel Red, White and Royal Blue that, says Croucher, “made everything click into place” when it came to their own bisexuality. “I’ve seen for myself, in my own life, how much of an impact seeing those journeys reflected in fiction can have on a person,” they add. McQuiston’s hotly anticipated next book, I Kissed Shara Wheeler, a young-adult fiction romcom, came out in May.

For authors writing queer romcoms, though, there is the added complexity of deciding when to represent the traumas that many LGBTQ+ still face, such as discrimination and familial rejection. Indeed, authors quoted in this article stressed the importance of having books focusing on these issues, coexisting with the positive stories.

This was the case for Chencia C Higgins who, in her recent novel D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding, incorporates obstacles faced by character D’Vaughn who comes out to her religious family, while still ensuring that “my girls get their happily ever after”, she says. “Having queer romcoms exploding the way they’re doing has been so awesome,” Higgins says. “Queer people are out here, living and loving, and having a grand old time, and we need to see that in our books.”

Higgins is also giving much-needed representation of queer black women in a genre dominated by white authors. “For so many black queer women, they do not see themselves and they deserve to,” she says. The impact of her latest book is clear. “This is the kind of feelgood black LGBTQ romance I’ve been craving and the world could use more of,” reads one five-star online review.

Kay, meanwhile, has chosen to include some “struggles around queerness” in her next book, but says the “overall message is that there is joy and happiness to be found for everyone”. Yes, LGBTQ+ people may face additional barriers, but lots of us just want our happy ending, too – whatever form that may take.

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The article was first published on www.theguardian.com



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