Roan Parrish Talks Writing LGBTQ* Characters in Romance
We at RT know that love is love is love. We support all types of HEAs and we are proud to do so. Today, as part of our Pride Month celebration, we're welcoming Roan Parrish to the blog to talk about writing her first male/female romance, Small Change, which stars a queer heroine. Take it away, Roan!
There are queer characters in male/female romance. (Check these out if you’re looking for a place to start.) But because of the way genres break down, you might not know it. Within the category of male/female romance, queer characters are rendered practically invisible. Most often the covers don’t indicate that a character is queer (how could they?), and the formula for romance blurbs—one paragraph for each person in the relationship—often doesn’t mention it. In everything besides the text of the book itself, then, queerness falls away. But identification is part of the deep structure of character, and it has far wider effects than who that character falls in love with or sleeps with.
Small Change is my first male/female romance and it features Ginger Holtzman, a queer woman, who falls in love with Christopher Lucen, a straight man. I knew that Ginger’s romance would be with Christopher from the beginning—I had already written it into my first book, In the Middle of Somewhere, in which Ginger was protagonist Daniel’s best friend. I knew Ginger was queer, too, though I hadn’t known I’d go on to write her story.
One of the things that was central for me in writing Ginger was that her falling in love with a man didn’t erase the fact that she was queer. Ginger is part of a queer community, she’s had relationships with women and with a trans man, she’s active in queer politics. Of course, Ginger’s queerness is only one element of her identity, but in combination with being a woman in the male-dominated field of tattooing, and not looking traditionally feminine, feeling different has always been a constant in Ginger’s life.
Part of what aids in queerness so often being illegible in m/f romances with queer characters is that the characters exist outside a queer context. They aren’t described as having queer friends, communities, or investments. Sometimes this can be as simple as character descriptions. Of course queer people don’t all dress or act differently than straight people, and nor must queer characters. But … sometimes they do. And though it might seem superficial, appearance is a huge part of perception, and the choices we make about our appearance often work either to express our identities or to obscure them.
One of the ways that cultural scripts work is by rewarding people who look and act culturally normative. If we buck those norms, we mark ourselves as being different. If we are noticeably different, we experience the world differently, with all the attendant prejudices, exclusions, assumptions, and violences. Ginger is a woman who has a half-shaved head, is covered in tattoos, and dresses in tank tops and baggy overalls. She experiences a world that reacts to how she looks and to what it believes her looks imply. The way we experience the world contributes to the ways we act, what we believe about ourselves, what we expect from others, and how we protect ourselves.
In other words, if a character has grown up looking different, they have dealt with certain things, which have a huge impact on their character. Queerness, then, isn’t just about the shape of romantic or sexual desires. Queerness deeply shapes characterization. And characterization is the bedrock of romance. It’s what makes us understand why people are perfect for one another. It’s what makes us swoon when we see them getting exactly what they need, and it’s what makes us hope for them when they don’t.
Queer or not, my dearest hope is to read more and more complicated stories about complicated people who find the loves they want and need. We need them now more than ever.
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