Queer Romance: A History with Lucy Hargrave
Lucy Hargrave shares her research into the history of queer romance. While Lucy dates published narratives of fictional happy endings for queer characters back to 1906, she charts the evolution since then in 5 significant time periods with different political, cultural, and technological climates. Plus, Lucy shares some results from her quantitative research into modern readers and writers of queer romance books.
Lucy Hargrave shares her research into the history of queer romance. While Lucy dates published narratives of fictional happy endings for queer characters back to 1906, she charts the evolution since then in 5 significant time periods with different political, cultural, and technological climates. Plus, Lucy shares some results from her quantitative research into modern readers and writers of queer romance books.
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Guest: Lucy Hargrave
Lucy Hargrave is a third year PhD student at the University of Birmingham researching Queer Romance Novels of the 21st Century. Her research explores the queering of the romance genre through a combination of literary critical and social science methodologies to analyse how queer romances rework heteronormative structures. She also produces content to help future and current PhD students on her YouTube channel, Lucy Hargrave.
Andrea Martucci: [00:00:00] Hello and welcome to Shelf. Love a podcast and community that explores romantic love stories in fiction across media time and cultures. I'm your host, Andrea Martucci. And on this episode, I'm joined by Lucy Hargrave, queer romance scholar, who is here to share her research on the history of queer romance novels. Lucy, thanks so much for being here. Can you share a little bit more about yourself?
Lucy Hargrave: Hello. So my name is Lucy Hargrave and I'm currently in the third year of my PhD at the University of Birmingham. And yeah, I focus on queer romance novels. And in particular, how the romance genre has been queered in the 21st century. And I got into that because, I did English literature all through undergrad and for my masters, but the books I've read since I was 14, have been romance novels And my mum said to me, one day, why don't you just study the books you read? And I was like, can I do that? Is that a thing? And it is, it totally is. So then I started looking into romance scholarship and realized there wasn't much out there about queer romance scholarship. And as a queer person, this needs changing this needs addressing because we deserve to be studied just as much as hetero romances, which is still getting off the ground.
It's a niche within a niche is what I always tell people about my topic.
Andrea Martucci: Obviously there are the topics that you study as a PhD student, but then you also have a YouTube channel about being a PhD student?
Lucy Hargrave: Yes. So I have a YouTube channel, which I update sporadically because for my mental health, I don't like to be too much online. I very much in the last year taken step back and only upload when I want to upload. But I have a lot of videos on how to do a humanities, PhD the realities of doing humanities PhD, all sorts of topics you can think around about doing a PhD.
And I have lots of feedback that it's very helpful. So if you are considering doing a humanities PhD, particularly in the UK, I would suggest check out my YouTube channel, which sounds very big headed, but check out my YouTube channel. It's just my name, Lucy Hargrave.
Yeah, there's a lot of good videos on that. A lot of good comments and people sharing kind of their experiences as well.
Andrea Martucci: Okay, I'm going to ask two questions. The first one is, what's your favorite part about being in a PhD program? And then question two. What is the part that is most surprising that you're like, this is the part I could do without?
Lucy Hargrave: I think my favorite part is I love talking to people about my research. I really do. And I really like the fact that doing a PhD has given me three years of time to research it and become an expert in a topic I love. And then being able to share that with other people. So I love doing the conferences, presenting all that jazz.
And then the part I could do without is, Oh I've gotta be careful here. That is a lot of toxicness around PhDs in academia. It's not necessarily the best place for mental health. And I think that is something that is getting better and it will obviously vary from university to [00:03:00] university, but I know universally a lot of PhD students struggle with feeling isolated and struggle with the amount of pressure that's put on us to constantly produce and constantly one-up each other.
And I could do without that. That's not a fun environment to necessarily be in, but obviously that's not a 24 7 thing. It's just a sort of background tone.
Andrea Martucci: So why don't we dive into the research that you've done, what you have learned about queer romance from all the reading and archive work you've done and all of that. And then the research you've done with readers .
Lucy Hargrave: So one of the first things that I had to do when I was starting, my PhD was really establish what is a queer romance, which sounds a very simple question, but it's surprisingly difficult because it's never massively been defined before.
And if it has, it's been defined as an M or FF, you don't have many definitions defining overall what a queer romance is. And I think a lot of people they ask me, oh, is queer romance, is that a genre or is it a type of romance or it's very confused about what it is. Some people don't see it as a thing. Some people do, some people only read queer romance. Some people are just like, I read the romance I read.
As part of trying to define what a queer romance was, I had to look back and kind of assess when they started, because you can't really define something if you don't know where it originated- well, at least that's what I think. This could partly be because like I love history, so maybe I just wanted to look at the history, but my research led me to, okay where did heterosexual romances start?
And that's when you get the classic Pamela, which I believe was published in 1740. A lot of people know, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen in the 18 hundreds and Jane Eyre by one of the Bronte sisters. But obviously I get them confused so badly, but obviously they're heterosexual. They don't have really any queer elements that you can draw on.
So then you have the 19th century and the Gothic where you start to see a lot of queer coded characters and characters who are now read as queer, even if they weren't read or even necessarily written as queer at the time. So you will get Gothic novels like The Monk by Matthew Lewis, which came on in like in 1796.
You have a very famous novella by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, I think is how you pronounce his name, where the title protagonist of the book or the villain of the book, I should say, Camilla is often depicted as one of the first lesbian vampire sort of prototypes. In the Gothic, you start to get these queer elements, but they're not happy.
You would not interpret these as a romance really in any way, because often it ends with the queer characters being killed or that the villains. Again, I was like, okay this is interesting. I'm starting to see where the queerness is coming in. I'm starting to see whether the romance is [00:06:00] coming in. So where did they start to meet?
The earliest queer romance that I found, which isn't very well known is a book that was published in 1906. And it was actually written by an American, but he published it in Italy. So Edward Prime- Stevenson was an American who lived and traveled a lot in Europe. So he self published and wrote arguably the first proto queer romance. And the reason I say proto is I don't think modern romance readers would necessarily consider it a romance, but it has all the core elements that we now come to know.
It focuses on a same-sex male relationship. It is very much about their relationship, it isn't about them as individuals. It's about them as a couple and learning to become a couple and it ends happily. So it has all the core elements, even if it's written in a very different style. And that book is called Imre: A Memorandum and was self published in 1906 in Italy.
And you can still buy it on Amazon. It is on Amazon, which I was shocked by.
Andrea Martucci: In defining what queer romance is. And I know you're still working your way through formulating that- I've been digging into why a recently and similar question like, where is the beginning of queer YA romance and what I started hitting up against is that there are queer YA novels, but they're not necessarily romance. However, books for teen readers, young adults, whether it was officially called young adult or not, because that's maybe a fairly new understanding of genre are primarily focused on formation of identity.
And particularly when it comes to queer identity. I understand that it's really more about the identity of a protagonist and what they're working out. And, obviously in the romance genre the happy or unhappy ending is critical, but you can have a really successful queer young adult novel that's really focused on their identity. And obviously you don't necessarily need to have a relationship there or a romance.
So then when just thinking about, queer romance, writ large, particularly for adults, in defining queer romance, is it about the identity of the protagonist or protagonists, or is it about the relationship on the page?
Lucy Hargrave: So the way I have defined queer romance is it has to be a novel focused on the relationship. And it has to include at least one or more heroes, heroine, protagonists, who identify as part of the LGBTQ spectrum. So for example, a book that I would consider a queer romance is Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert because the heroine is bisexual.
A lot of people will read that as a heterosexual romance because it's about a male, female relationship. [00:09:00] It ends with them together. And arguably Dani's sexuality as a bisexual woman isn't a huge part of that story, there's other kinds of primary concerns that it focuses on. That's not to say it doesn't cover it at all, but it's just not the focus in the same way that you would expect from a, I suppose more obviously queer romance, like The Falling in Love Montage, where it is very much focused on them and their identity and their relationship and being queer and being in a relationship and coming of age and all that kind of stuff. Cause I believe that is a young adult romance technically.
So I've defined it as has to focus on a relationship because that's the romance element, has to end happily because again, that's the romance element, but I do think queer romances, our version of happily ever after is not necessarily the same as heterosexual happily ever after.
And I think that's an important point to distinguish. And then it has to have at least one or more LGBTQ plus main characters in the relationship. And I say one or more because obviously you can get romances with three or four or any number of partners. So I don't limit it to just monogamous two partner relationships.
Andrea Martucci: Which then the next question: so what is queerness, right. Because there's things that I think maybe are easier to just conceptually understand as queer, like a cis man who wants to be in a relationship with other men. We're going to see that kind of in their relationship. And in Take a Hint, Dani Brown, Dani Brown is bisexual. Okay. She's queer. She would be in relationships with people of different genders.
Queerness though also can be conceived of really broadly. And you touched on this when you said, what does a happily ever after look like? It's not necessarily the same as in the heteropatriarchy's understanding or definition of what happily ever after looks like.
So how broad of a definition are you using for queer and maybe you could talk about that a little bit.
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah. So when it comes to queerness, I think you are a hundred percent right, in that it can be such a broad label, but at the same time, very defined, depending on the context. For example, I have read a lot of things that say queerness is just being other, or queerness is just fighting against the norm of society.
So some people would say, oh it's a queer relationship if the woman is more dominant or it's a queer relationship if they don't get married and they don't have kids and they live in different countries because they're that bucking the norm. And it's that otherness, that strangeness that makes it queer, not the actual sexuality or gender of the people involved. And that's been around for a while as a concept of queerness. And then increasingly queerness is becoming, oh, you have queer time, which is where, if time is strange - there's all these very complicated definitions of queerness by queer theory people that I won't get into because I find them confusing. So I don't want to [00:12:00] throw them onto other people.
But for me, because my research is grounded in the text as an English literature, PhD student, I am looking, to an extent of how queer are queer romances. So how far from the kind of heteronormative frameworks of society and the kind of the expectations that straight cis society, and when I say society, I do mean Western society. I'm looking primarily at America, the UK, Australia, how far did these romances or the relationships they portray differ from those heteronormative expectations that we find in het romances?
So that's why I'm looking at things like is the happily ever after different in queer romances? Does it have to include marriage? Does it have to have kids? So does it have to be monogamous? How often are these barriers being broken down in queer romances? Or are we just taking what we see in het romances and just putting them into a queer context by having two women or two men or whatever.
Andrea Martucci: So you were talking about what you had found as the earliest known queer romance that was published in 1906 in Italy. So then how does it progress throughout the 1900s and early two thousands?
Lucy Hargrave: So I identify these periods in time where I grouped them together basically on what is happening with queer romance novels in that time. So what I consider the first theme of queer romance is covert queerness. So for me, this is the period 19 hundreds to roughly 1930. And it's the First World War period.
It's the time when you're starting to see queer characters and queer novels, but they're not necessarily out in the open. So for example, the book I mentioned before, although it was published in 1906, I think he self-published 500 copies. This was not a widely known book. And of that 500 I can't imagine all of them were necessarily read.
So yes, it, existed. And I'm sure some people knew about it and read about it, but it wasn't exactly high profile and it wasn't in the mainstream in any way. You also then also you get other books. A lot of people know the EM Forster novel Maurice, there's a really famous movie with Hugh Grant in it, and that was actually written in 1912 or 1913, but it wasn't published until 1971.
So it's this idea that we are starting to see queer romances emerge, but they're still underground. They're still hidden. They're still very much in niche circles. The counteract to that slightly is there is a lesbian book, The Well of Loneliness that loads of lesbians read, like I think not so much now, but certainly for a time it was like the lesbian book.
And that got a lot of publicity because it got banned and it got put into like obscenity trials and all this kind of stuff. But the reason I don't necessarily consider that as part of this movement is because it doesn't end happily, arguably for the main character. So the main character, Stephen who lesbian, trans, you can read it a couple of different [00:15:00] ways, basically the end of the book, like pushes her bisexual lover towards a man.
So you could argue, it ends happily for her bisexual lover, but it doesn't end happily for the main character. So that's why I had this period of kind of covert queerness, where it was starting to be written about. And it was starting to be known in certain circles, but it wasn't publicly a thing really.
Yeah. Like wherever I'm at says we're still emerging.
Andrea Martucci: And so this is from the emergence of that first one in 1906 until
Lucy Hargrave: Until about the 1930s, which is when we start to see the pulps emerge yeah, so the pulps are like really iconic. I feel like everyone knows them in some way and they were considered really scandalous. And they were some of the first books to show homosexuality queerness, whatever you want to call it in a mainstream context.
So that's the next section that I look at, and not only the pulps themselves, because I wouldn't say all the pulps were romances in fact a lot of them weren't, they still were quite dark endings to the queer characters because of various laws. You just, especially in America, couldn't show queer as a positive decision or as a good life decision.
So often they would be about queerness or queer characters because they wanted that scandalous nature to bring readers in. But then by the end of the book, they had to show own it being queer as bad. So often you will end those pulps with the queer person being unhappy or alone or back in a male relationship or whatever.
Andrea Martucci: In your sense does it feel like the author is fetishizing the queerness or they wanted to write a happy queer story. And then they were like, and now I have to tack on this unhappy ending.
Lucy Hargrave: So I think the thing that's really interesting about this when I've looked into it for a start, lesbian romances, or lesbian pulps, whichever you want to call it were way more popular than their gay male pulp counterparts. It's interesting. Cause when you start reading some of these, there is almost, I would say a divide between one's written by heterosexual men and women, which are very much written as, oh, isn't this scandalous, it's that, you know, when you see a car crash and you know, you shouldn't look, but you do look and you can't look away, even though this is horrific, it's that kind of scandalous I'm going to bring you in and expose you to this other.
Andrea Martucci: Maybe I'll see something. I won't like it, but it will be like a big deal.
Lucy Hargrave: exactly. Exactly. So it's that they brought people in with the scandalous nature, but then they didn't necessarily want to condone this type of lifestyle. So you get those that are written by the sort of heterosexual authors, but then you do also get a lot of lesbians writing them.
But this is where it gets tricky because obviously if you were a lesbian in the 1950s, which then lesbian posts became particularly well known or commercially successful, you didn't want to be outed by writing a happy lesbian romance pulp, because that was dangerous. And that was not something that people wanted to do.
But on the flip side, you hear a lot of firsthand accounts [00:18:00] of how lesbians in the 1950s loved these lesbian pulps, because it was that only representation of what being a lesbian meant. It both defined what a lesbian meant for that time and also created what a lesbian meant for that time. It had this weird reality of being the, of being both, oh, this is what being a lesbian means and also completely creating what lesbian means. Cause it was the first time lesbian ism had been in the kind of public conscious in that way.
Whereas before it'd been very like pocketed and different aspects of cities and societies. And there is this kind of divide between one's written by lesbians and one's written by non lesbians, but both of them end unhappily on the large part. Both of them are not positive representations of a healthy lesbian relationship.
Andrea Martucci: You've hit on there sort of like legal reasons, there's censorship laws, there's social and cultural censure where it's acknowledged that queer people exist, but they're used as morality lessons slash titillation, they're not quite humanistic humanistic portrayal. They're not allowed that happy ending and fulfillment because obviously this is, and I'm saying this facetiously, like a deviant lifestyle and therefore they must in a morality play end with their just rewards
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah, exactly. And I think throughout this whole process where I've been tracking the history of queer romances, you have to look at what is happening legally and in a larger society, because we see these books and these people who were writing them didn't exist in a bubble. They very much lived in the society they were part of. So if you're not aware of the laws that are affecting them, you don't get the full picture of why they're writing in a certain way. Why are they, doing it covertly? Why are they giving them unhappy endings? And it's only once you start putting those altogether that you start to see, oh, okay.
Not only are queer romances evolving in parallel more so when we got to the later part of the 20th century to heterosexual romances, but they're also evolving in parallel with the kind of betterment I want to say of LGBT rights in countries like America, the UK and Australia. So it has been this interesting sort of merging of three different evolutions.
Andrea Martucci: Okay. So now are we about in the 1950s? What's the next era?
Lucy Hargrave: That takes us up to about the 1960s when you start to see some changes in law and definitely you start to see the end to pulps in the 1960s, and really the next section, I call it the queer revolution because this is the period of time directly following the Stonewall riots.
So in 1969 in June, you'll see had the Stonewall Riots. And this led, especially in America to a whole kind of new era in the 1970s, queer rights activism. And because of this, you start to see the creation of independent lesbian and gay publishing houses for the first time, because it was part of this, we're here, we're queer, we're not going to hide [00:21:00] anymore.
So in particular, this is where you start to see the kind of beginnings of the really distinct lesbian romances that still exist today, they had their own publishers, their own audience. You will get some people that will only read books from these publishers even to this day. And that really kick starts in the 1970s.
And it was very heavily influenced by feminist ideology. And then also the idea of lesbianism being a challenge to heterosexuality and mainstream feminism. In particular, I talk about the difference between the evolution of gay male romances in this time and lesbian romances and this time, that takes us up to about the 1980s.
Andrea Martucci: So in that period the like sixties, seventies, this is where we get, is it Naiad Press that publishes primarily or only lesbian literature?
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah. So this is when yeah. You start to get Naiad Press, they were a big one and yet they only did lesbian literature. And what they would do is they would often have these private, hidden mailing lists. So somehow you got into this mailing list, which they were only advertised in known queer spaces.
And then you, once you got on that mailing list, you would then be able to buy the books. And the books were only about lesbians. I believe they were only written by lesbians. So it was a whole lesbian production and a lot of them were romances. I assume that's what was popular at the time, obviously, I can't go and ask them now why they were romances, but the two biggest things were romances and crime fiction, which are still really big in lesbian romances today.
And you don't really in the same way, get that for the gay presses that existed. So although you had gay presses that were publishing, gay fiction, it was less genre based than the lesbian. So whereas the lesbian presses really went into the romance and the crime kind of genre fictions, the gay ones didn't as much.
And instead, their novels a lot more, wanted to document and explore the reality that gay men faced in the society. And it focused a lot on the victimization and oppression that gay men faced during the time these books were published. So you do get that interesting contrast where you don't actually have that many examples of gay male romances in the 1970s and eighties.
You obviously get some, but they're a lot grittier. There were a lot darker. Whereas the lesbian romances is more about portraying this idealist, romantic bliss domestic version of lesbian life, where, you will find a long term domestic partner and you will have a great life and all this kind of stuff.
Andrea Martucci: And so in, in those stories that you're talking about I assume they're writing contemporary romance as opposed to like historical or something like that. What have you kind of noted about the vision of what happiness looks like? What does happily ever after look like in those stories?
What are some ways people are imagining that?
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah. So certainly in the lesbian [00:24:00] romances, which I don't want to say every single one of them was contemporary, but 90 to 95% of them were set in contemporary. And basically there was a lot of backlash actually to the lesbian romances from lesbian feminists, because they felt that these romances enforced kind of heteronormative ideals like monogamy on two lesbians.
And it was just very much, you can be a lesbian and you can love a woman in a hetero way. You can have the wife and you can have the job. And it was this very rainbows and roses. And this still, this kind of fem butch divide of almost, it's very simplistic to say, oh, the fem books just mimics the hetero thing, but it was this basically everything, but marriage, because you couldn't get married because it wasn't legal, but everything else would be similar to a hetero romance where you meet someone maybe at work and you overcome your conflicts as individuals and you learn to be together and everyone around you suddenly gets quite accepting of it. And maybe you're out at work and you're out at home and everyone's okay enough with it that you can do that.
And you will live your happily ever after, in a house somewhere together and have these great jobs in this life surrounded by other accepting lesbian people.
Andrea Martucci: So the criticism is while they are bucking convention in that the people in these relationships are all women that they are still adhering to that gender binary and stereotypical traits of masculinity equals butch equals you're the breadwinner versus delicate, feminine femme partner, like who is the homekeeper or the whatever, right?
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah. And I think some of the feminists at the time were really critical of these books because they really disliked how, although the lesbian romances provided representation and affirmation of lesbian identity, it didn't challenge or really create a new model for what romance looked like for lesbians.
A lot of them argued it didn't reflect the realities of being a lesbian during this time, because you know the phrase, now we would use this homonormativity they were very heteronormative in a queer context. And I think a lot of the criticism came from the fact that people wanted them to challenge heteronormativity and provide a new model for what lesbian relationships could be.
And really instead they enforce these heteronormative gender stereotypes of what a lesbian relationship was.
So this period I end it actually with the AIDS crisis and the impact that had on queer romances and really it's the next time period where in Australia and Britain, you really start to see that conservative response to AIDS obviously in America that starts a bit earlier, towards the end of the [00:27:00] 1980s, you get Thatcher coming into power, in Australia you had the Howard government, which was in power between 1996 and 2007. And basically John Howard, the prime minister of Australia, publicly disapproved of gay marriage, and his government frequently tried to reduce or attempt to reduce the rights of LGBT individuals.
So you have Britain and Australia almost having this very similar political environment where you have a government that's working actively against LGBT people. And I think in America you have the same thing. It just starts a bit earlier.
Andrea Martucci: I'm going to make a bold assumption here that essentially all the pulps and all the books and all the presses we've been talking about thus far have been very white. And also, you've talked about how there was some of this kind of titillation factor with the pulps. And then I'm just going make a wild guess where you might see some people of color, but they're very stereotypical representations, not necessarily written by black indigenous people of color authors, even if they may be on page. And then I'm assuming also these like niche publishers, like Naiad Press and, or others are also fairly white?
Lucy Hargrave: Yes. One thing I have tried to do with my research consistently is both address my own biases as a white person and actively go out of my way to find BIPOC scholars, BIPOC authors, to include in my research and to look at, in my research. And as part of that for the history, I made a point of trying really hard to find sort of nonwhite evolutions of queer romances.
And yes, the majority of queer romances back then, and still today was written by white people or, seemingly white people. I don't want to assume anyone's race. And the main characters were white, but in the kind of mid 1980s, you actually do see a really interesting rise of Black gay romance novels in America.
And this was really a response to the whiteness of the gay rights agenda that really sought to exclude black gay men from the discussion. Marlon is one of the scholars who've looked at this and he shown how the romance genre was actually one of the few avenues available to Black gay men to legitimize and normalize Black love and Black relationships in a queer context. So you got this kind of small collection of authors. Like Larry Duplechan, James Earl Hardy, E. Lynn Harris who rooted their work and that romances in African-American culture to different degrees, but they all rooted in African-American culture and they explore intersectionality between being gay and being African-American and they look at inter racial relationships. And what did that mean? And how did that affect the romances? And I'm not saying they always got it right. Some of these, if you read them now, I think would be quite problematic in how some of these are portrayed, particularly between, the white person may be having more power than the Black person in the relationship, but it was really the first time [00:30:00] that interracial relationships and Black relationships were given a kind of public platform and a voice.
So it didn't revolutionize kind of queer romances in the sense of it still stayed predominantly white. But I think it's important to say that there was this time period in the kind of later half of the 1980s, that saw this kind of rise and increase in Black gay romances.
Andrea Martucci: So we've got the AIDS crisis is out there. There's a perception culturally that AIDS is a quote unquote gay disease.
And so this is a time where gayness is stigmatized quite a bit and associated with illness. There's a lot culturally going on and wrapped up in this.
There's kind of a conservative backlash.
Lucy Hargrave: I think AIDS is very big topic and I don't actually want to get into it because I know it can be a very triggering some people and B I don't want to misrepresent, because it's not my expertise, but the way I've looked at it is not only did AIDS bring gayness into the forefront of society, it created a lot of backlash. It created a lot of pain for a lot of people. And it actually, the kind of element that I focused on really changed how people, romance authors were writing about the male body, the gay male body, because before you saw a lot of thin, slender, male heroes very much in the kind of dandy Victorian style of heroes, where they would be quite effeminate and they'd be very slender and they'd be very not athletic, just slim and because of AIDS and kind of the health and the illness and the way it portrayed itself, that became almost don't do that.
We don't want to see the kind of thin, almost sickly gay or male body anymore because it has that connotation with AIDS. And that's when you really start to see the athletic, very muscly male body that I think you still see a lot now. And you can see this almost change during the AIDS period, because it is that rejection of illness and AIDS and not wanting to be associated with that.
I think the main thing with the 1970s and eighties is you start to see these distinct publishing ecosystems that are separate from the heterosexual romances, and you start to see the merging of lesbian and gay as two distinct sub-genres types of queer romances.
Andrea Martucci: And they're distinct from each other, right? They're not like a queer press. It's like a lesbian press, a gay press.
Lucy Hargrave: And that's the really crucial thing because in the 1970s and eighties, you see this emergence of queer romances, but it's not queer romances. It's lesbian romances in one corner and it's gay romances in another corner. And these are written by queer people written by lesbians written by gays for let's get in the gays.
So the next section that I've identified, I call underground once more and it's this very short time period, it's only 16 years and it's very deliberately only 16 years and it's from the [00:33:00] 1990 to 2006. And the reason I call it underground once more is because you basically have the cultural backlash of the AIDS crisis, particularly in America.
So it's very difficult to be queer in America at this time, a lot of the publishing houses fail. They go under, they can't make money. So you, that just disappears as a source of romance novels for queer people. And then in Britain and Australia, you have Margaret Thatcher as prime minister in Britain, and you have John Howard as prime minister in Australia.
And both of those governments are very anti LGBTQ people deliberately trying to promote the idea of the kind of hetero 2.5 kids, family, and actively, I would say working against LGBT people in terms of that rights and, getting married and all this kind of stuff.
So it suddenly becomes very hard to be a queer publishing house in this time period. You then also in addition, have more representation of queer people on TV with shows like Buffy, Will and Grace or you have queer coded shows like Xena Warrior Princess, which kind of provided people with a more accessible form of representations.
So a lot of the niche publishing houses just went under and a lot of the larger publishing houses that were still going like Mills and Boom and Kensington just didn't want to publish queer romances. They just, they saw it as very expensive back then to publish books and they couldn't really see what the audience would be like, who would be interested in reading these novels.
During the 1990s, you really see this kind of decline in queer romances that doesn't really pick up again until 2006. And I think the other point that's important to mention in this 1990 to 2006 time period is this is when we do see the emergence of self publishing, but it's not an overnight success.
Self publishing is theoretically an option for queer authors, but practically it wasn't. Most famously Stephen King tried to go down the self-publishing route with an unfinished serialized novel called The Plant. Even Stephen King, who at this time in the, I think that he did this around 2000 was a really big name, he stopped because he just couldn't do it because there just wasn't the technology that made it easy for readers to buy eBooks. There wasn't really trust in the technology, even if it did exist. And basically by the fourth part of this serialized thing, Stephen King just stopped it because people weren't buying it.
A, the options for publishing romances have decreased because of the cultural climate, because of money reasons. You then have this very public failure of a really high profile author trying to do self publishing and failing. And I think just both of those meant [00:36:00] that there just wasn't many avenues for queer romances to get published.
So they just went into decline.
You did have a couple of ebook queer romances being published. Most famously Josh Lanyon actually released their first book in this time. So Fatal Shadows came out I believe in 2001 or something like that. Maybe even 2000. So you do have early examples of queer romances and I'll see, Josh Landon is an old example of an M M romance, but these were very hit and miss.
Andrea Martucci: yeah, yeah. The technology aspect. Yeah, it just really wasn't feasible because the hardware wasn't really there, there weren't really standardized formats yet, and there were no commercial platforms to really purchase on. So like at best you had people, downloading files that then they didn't really know how to read and, putting your credit card into a browser at the time was not something that felt safe.
So yeah, the infrastructure was not ready for a market really, a successful market.
Lucy Hargrave: It just wasn't a viable option. And didn't really become a viable option until 2007, where we get The publication of Amazon and their ereader, and that's really what was the turning point for queer romances in the 21st century, which brings me into my next section, which I've called commercial queer love.
And this is the section 2007 to 2014.
2007 I see as a turning point for queer romances because Amazon releases their Kindle in 2007 and it is an overnight success. I think the first run of Kindles sold out in the first five hours, like it really did overnight become this new, massive way of selling, reading, consuming, and distributing books.
What I am really interested in is how, as a technology, this revolutionized queer romances because suddenly people could self-publish or small niche publishing houses could selling much more cheaply publish their authors books because Amazon controlled both the hardware and the distribution, which got rid of a lot of the technological logistical issues that we had seen in the previous 16 years.
You can also track the increase in queer romances, particularly m/m romances with the release of the Kindle. So after 2007, you really do see this kind of explosion in m/m romances.
Andrea Martucci: So when when does Bold Strokes Press start? That's Len Barot's And so she's really well known in lesbian romance circles. I believe she started Bold Strokes to publish her own work and then obviously publish other people as well. Was that part of that post digital publishing realm?
Lucy Hargrave: Sort of. So I actually interviewed Len, [00:39:00] really good talk with her about kind of publishing and how publishing has changed. So as a company, they were founded, I believe in 2004. So just before the kind of revolution as I'm going to call it in queer romances, but I think they were a very early adapter of the digital book, particularly for lesbian romances.
And that's, when, again, you really see this breakaway with lesbian romances of having their own audience and have our niche and almost being this very separate thing to not only heterosexual romances, but other types of queer romances that were existing at the time.
Andrea Martucci: Does the emergence of a lot of m/m, does that correlate at all with like fan fiction, which now that there's internet communities and kind of this community market for stories like slash stories? Yeah. I'm curious have you seen any relationship there?
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah. So I read a lot of fan fiction. I'm a big fan fiction fan. I'm not going to lie. So I have this like natural kind of personal interest in the connection between fan fiction and queer romances, but professionally and research wise, it has to keep them quite distinct because fan fiction studies and romance studies are two very distinct sort of areas of scholarship.
So for my PhD, I haven't looked massively into that connection. However, I do acknowledge that connection because certainly from speaking to readers and speaking to writers of queer romances and particularly m/m romances, a lot of them came from fanfiction, whether that was as readers, whether that was as writers or whether that was just knowing other people who were writing fan fiction and then giving, writing, and go themselves and then publishing it.
I think there was definitely crossover in the community, particularly partly because you have a lot of famous fandoms that their main ships are m/m. And the name m/m itself comes from fandom. It is a fandom term that's then been co-opted by the romance industry.
Andrea Martucci: Cause it's a tagging term, right? Where you're saying this is the relationship you're going to read. Whereas guess to talk about, the segregation of presses before, it was much more, identity-based like I am a lesbian, I'm going to write a lesbian book for a lesbian press.
And so now we're seeing this story is about this relationship as opposed to the identity of the author or the identity of the characters or et cetera.
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah. And this actually starts to cause a conflict within the two communities basically, because as a term, doesn't really tell you anything about the identities of the people in the stories, which isn't a problem in and of itself. And actually nowadays some people like that because it gives them a lot more freedom with the kind of people they can write.
You can have a gender fluid person with a cis man and call it mm. Problematic in its own ways. But it, it happens. But at the time, A lot [00:42:00] of m/ms that were being written and published, not all of them, but a lot of them, you would get a character who ended the novel in a same-sex relationship and very much loved the man they were with, but would still identify as straight or at least not identify as gay.
And you would often get these little scenes where they would be like, oh, I'm not gay. I just love you. And you got a lot of the what's it called? Gay only for you or
Andrea Martucci: Gay for you. Yeah.
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah, it was a huge trope in the early 2010s and things. And I do think that partly comes from I suppose this fact that it wasn't identity lead, and increasingly you started to see with m/ms, it wasn't written by the people who came from that community.
And that does mean you start to see this conflict because within this sort of ecosystem, because it became so big and it arguably was the first sub type of queer romance that really became commercially known. You started to get people who had been writing gay fiction, which had romantic stories in it, or even gay romances for gay men with the kind of gay publishing houses that were publishing only gay fiction started being known as m/m authors in other circles. And this really does start to cause a problem because those are very different tone of books. And one of the things I am highlighting in my research is I do think there is a difference between gay romances and, m/m romances in the relationships portrayed, the people it's written for, the people it's written by, and a lot of the times these authors like Jeff Erno, very famously was getting really criticized for his books because people didn't like the relationships he was portraying they were like, this isn't happy, or this isn't what I want to read about.
He wrote a blog post saying, look, I'm a gay man. I write gay romances for gay men based on my experiences as a gay person. If you don't like it, don't read it. And very publicly distanced himself and criticized the romance community because of the kind of way that they had fetishized and co-opted particularly the male gay relationship.
So yeah, you do start to get this really tense atmosphere, particularly online. Obviously most of this is online because it's such a global genre, it's people aren't having fisticuffs in the bar, but you start getting this tension online that really reaches its head in 2014, which is what I now it's my next section.
So in 2014 it's quite well known and I've done papers on this before, a couple of well-known female m/m romance authors basically had this interview with All About Romance, I've never actually, I've gone on it obviously for research purposes, but I've never gone on it as a romance reader.
Basically in 2014, they got a bunch of m/m [00:45:00] romance writers, and you can still find this interview it's still on there. So I'm not like digging up old history and you just have to search for it and it's there, but you had five very prominent at the time, female m/m romance authors go on and discuss m/m sub genre.
And there was a lot of problematic views and opinions expressed by them. They talked about how they love writing m/m romance because of the redemptive quality of being gay. And, some of them said, I feel like a man and it just became this really problematic time where it drew a lot of attention to the mm genre and what was happening in the m/m genre.
Rightly I think a lot of us now can look back, I read those romances at the time, but I can look back and be like, oh yeah, these were not good representations. And these were problematic in a lot of ways, but I think this was the first time it had been called out because it was such a new type of queer romance.
And I really do see 2014 as a turning point in how people were thinking about queer romances and mm romances and how they could interact and represent the queer community because really from 2007 to 2014. So again, it's a short time period, but for the seven years you had m/m romances booming commercially, but not really reflecting or representing the queer community in a good way for the majority of authors.
Again, there will always be people out there who are doing beautiful, brilliant things, but yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. So what happens after 2014?
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah. So the period following 2014 is queer romance today. So it's really just 2015 to the present. And this is when I really dived into data and started thinking about what do readers and writers think of queer romances today? Because there isn't that much research on it. It's when I started my PhD in 2019, I was looking at a period four years ago at the oldest.
So there isn't a lot on there. And I think this is when I really had to think about how was I going to find evidence basically of my theories and the way I did this as I did a massive data project of both kind of the publishing industry readership and also authors.
And there was two ways I approached this, the first one was I cataloged a bunch of queer romances published between 2010 and 2019. And these were basically gathered from a mix of publishing houses, both mainstream and independent on their websites and any back catalogs. Like I emailed some people and they sent me things and all that kind of stuff. But basically I just wanted to see how had queer romances, using that as the very broad term that I defined at the start, evolved in this ten-year period and particularly looking at the kind of before and after of that 2014 sort of moment.
[00:48:00] And then I also interviewed readers and writers and publishers about what was happening or what they thought of romances and queer romances now today. We're up to today.
Andrea Martucci: We're here now. Yeah. So you're cataloging the books and then you're doing these individual interviews with people. Did you do surveys too. Okay. And those are with readers.
Lucy Hargrave: So readers and writers. So I got a really good response to my surveys. So I went in expecting to get maybe 50 to a hundred people because I'm like academic surveys. Who's going to want to do that? And I ended up getting over 400 people filling in this survey. So I was like shocked.
And I had people writing to me, like I had some of my favorite authors writing to me, like Jay Northcote wrote to me cause he had a question about the survey and I was just like, oh my God, I'm fangirling so hard right now, but I've got to keep it cool because I'm a professional PhD student. So yeah.
So there's two types of data. There's like quantitative and qualitative very broadly. And you can get qualitative data from talking to people. Like this, if someone was to study this podcast, that would be qualitative data because they're looking at our opinions and how we say things and how we frame things.
But then quantitative data is the hard statistics. It's X number of people said this in answer to this question. So the surveys was to get quantitative data on what people thought of queer romances today and was very much standardized and same questions were asked.
And one thing I was very conscious of when I was doing my surveys is I didn't give people a lot of options to put other, so you know, how you get surveys and there'll be like answer BCD. And then E is other, I tried to limit other as much as possible because I knew if you give people an other, they're gonna use it.
And then that defeats the purpose of quantitative nature of these surveys.
Andrea Martucci: Unless you want to then spend a lot of time trying to code the responses and come up with a system for that, but you totally, right. People love the like, my answer is a little bit too nuanced for the options available. And it's like, the point is you have to choose the one that is closest,
Lucy Hargrave: yeah. Yeah. Like people did have the option for other. So the surveys were all anonymous, so I don't know who wrote them, but I do remember one answer to one of the, I think it was a reader survey and the question was, how do you buy your queer romances. And I had put everything you could think of.
I was like Amazon other, directs from the publishing website, bookstores, libraries, all this. And I still had someone put other I'm like, I think you're just the publishing survey looking to collect information to sell books. So I'm there, like, how is that even relative to the question, and I'm only asking this because it's useful to know how queer romances are being distributed, but yeah, you got crazy responses in the other section.
So any advice for people doing a survey limit, the other option, you don't want it. It's not fun.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. You got a lot of responses. [00:51:00] You presented like last PCA on this? What are some like interesting takeaways from the reader survey?
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah, so for the PCA, I actually mainly talked about my cataloging data, but I have since done a talk for the Romantic Novelists Association. And I talked to them about the readership data, just to give them some insights.
The RNA is the Romantic Novelists Association and it's our equivalent to the RWA, but it's a lot more broad, I guess you would say, cause it's romantic, it's not romance specifically.
Andrea Martucci: My understanding is in the UK, the genre of romance novels is much less solidified defined yet. a, It's a little bit broader. It's less of that HEA or bust. Here's a romance novel and it's more like love stories.
Lucy Hargrave: Yes. So there is only one book shop I think I've been to in the UK that has a romance section. And even then it's a women's fiction section with some romance in it. It's the massive Waterstones in London. And I remember I used to go there all the time when I lived in London, because I was like, oh my God, I can buy romances in a bookstore, but it's romance and women's fiction.
So you always have to be careful that you're not picking up some like tragic story about a woman something, something. Don't read unhappy books. So
Andrea Martucci: getting a divorce and then finding out that nobody will ever love her again and die alone.
Lucy Hargrave: yeah. So romances in the UK outside of Mills and Boon, which obviously that is a romance publishing, very famous publishing house.
You don't really have any exclusive romance publishing and certainly it's not sold that way in the book shops. It's often mixed in with the general fiction.
But in terms of what interesting data did I find out from the reader survey? One of the questions I asked was what sub genre of queer romances do you read? Not surprisingly contemporary is far and away the most popular and has been since the emergence of queer romances really right back until 1906. So I think 80 something like 82% of the people you answered the survey said they read contemporary queer romances. Interestingly Christian, more than I thought said they read queer Christian romance novels.
I put it as an option because I knew it was a genre, but I really wasn't expecting it to get any votes, but I think it got something like 2%, so not huge, but more than I was expecting.
Andrea Martucci: More than, yeah, that's out of 400 people, that's eight people.
Lucy Hargrave: I didn't even really know they were out there for be perfectly honest, but apparently they are. Yeah. And then the other thing was I asked about publishers because I was intrigued to see, do people recognize publishers? Do people care about publishers? Are there certain publishers that people really identify with queer romances?
And again, self-published was far and away the absolute highest option. I think something like 65% of people said that they read self published, queer romances, which isn't surprising. We know self publishing is a huge kind of avenue for queer romances. [00:54:00] But then interestingly, I think something like 35% of people said they just don't know and they don't care.
So I asked this question, what type of diversity do you feel is needed in queer romance genre as a whole, and I gave people, I tried to be broad with the answer. So they had the option to answer more racial diversity, more disabled diversity, gender diversity, age diversity, sexual diversity, and romantic diversity. And the top one by quite a bit was racial diversity. So I think something like 85% of people said they wanted to see more Black characters, Asian characters in queer romances, but the second highest was disabled diversity.
So people wanted to see more main characters with mental and physical disabilities in their queer romances. And I think that got something like 74%. And I wasn't expecting that. I was quite pleased as someone who is technically classed as mentally disabled because of my dyslexia by the UK government that it got that much, but I wasn't expecting it to, because I wasn't really a type of diversity that I've heard or seen much of a kind of call for within the queer romance community online. But that was quite interesting.
Andrea Martucci: And did you ask respondents how they identified, if they had one or more identities that fell under LGBTQ+?
Lucy Hargrave: So I did. Cause I know one of the big things that i s thrown at queer romances, particularly like m/m romances and even f/f to an extent is the, oh it's just all written and read by heterosexual women who aren't part of the queer community. And I therefore did ask those questions, obviously, it's all anonymous. I think something like 65% of the people came back as being part of the queer community who had filled in the survey and read the romances.
I asked them basically, what is your gender identity and what is your sexual identity and then gave a load of options and far and away, gender identity was cisgender woman. I think 75% roughly identified as a cisgender woman with the second high-speed non binary, but then when it came to the sexuality, less than 30% of people identified as straight or heterosexual, which means that 70% obviously broken into different sexualities and this kind of stuff of the people who answered the survey and are reading these books identify as part of the queer community.
So that is directly opposed to what a lot of people throw at the genres. Oh it's just straight people reading it.
Andrea Martucci: From a methodological perspective. Like how representative do you think this population of respondents is like, where did you distribute the survey?
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah, so I will say the survey definitely skews younger, just because it was mainly distributed online. But it was distributed through my various social medias. So Twitter, I got a lot of people from Twitter and then people re-tweeting it a YouTube channel Instagram. I then also sent it in a couple of [00:57:00] newsletters.
So I approached the the RWA Australia, Romance Writers of Australia and they put it in their newsletter. So I found people that way. I do know I got a lot of respondents through KJ Charles, because she was nice enough to put it in her facebook group. So I got a bunch of KJ, Charles fans filling it in because you basically told them to, and she filled in the writer one herself, and then we had a lovely email exchange.
So it does skew younger and I think it probably skews more left in a very broad sense. But I would argue probably the majority of people reading queer romances skews left, because if you were diehard conservative, you're probably not reading queer romances.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. It makes sense. I think it's a good hypothesis.
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah.
Andrea Martucci: Yeah.
And did you ask about their racial identity or ethnicity as well?
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah. So I did. So I asked people, what is their racial identity? And then I also asked people what their nationality was. So for the racial one, I just let them fill it in themselves because I didn't want to give predetermined boxes and pigeonhole people into boxes.
And I also didn't want to have an endless list of options that would just be very long and confusing. So I can't tell you like right top of my head about the racial stuff, but certainly nationality wise, 50% of respondents were American. I think, nearly 200 were American. The next biggest category was the United Kingdom and then it was Australia, but obviously I had people from all over.
But yeah, the majority were from the three countries that I was focusing on. But I did make it a global survey cause I didn't want to, I don't want to exclude people because I think at the end of the day, queer romances, especially now is a global genre. Although I'm focusing on three countries, it really is a transnational genre that countries become increasingly less and less important as it becomes more digital and online and interconnected just as a society.
Andrea Martucci: So when it comes to the today portion of queer publishing I assume also this is when we start to see some of the major traditional publishers starting to have either queer lines and, or publish queer romance in non segregated lines.
So it's a move away from these niche presses only, or like self publishing. Now there's a greater push for, and the beginning of adoption with traditional publishers.
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah, definitely. So know this is the time period where you really do see. I think, again, it's because of the popularity of queer romances in the post Kindle world, but you have Avon they have a separate input, but they certainly made a conscious effort to print and publish more queer romances. So you have think Olivia Waite is published with them. You've got Cat Sebastian who's published with Avon Impulse
Andrea Martucci: And I know this isn't really the focus, you're looking at the history and you're like, this has, this is the way things are. But I think that, [01:00:00] you you have Avon Impulse, you have Carina Adores, which is part of Harlequin.
And I think that you still though see like that segregation where these are digital first imprints. And I know they print some of them, but it's not like they're rolling out the same print distribution as like their, non segregated non-digital first lines
Lucy Hargrave: The big five as I'm going to refer to them have definitely made more of an effort to publish queer romances. However, they are still playing it very safe with the type of queer romances they publish. There isn't many big five publishers I think off the top of my head that are publishing queer romances, featuring trans people, for example.
And they're very much, they stick to certain authors like Cat Sebastiani, Olivia Waite, Alyssa Cole she's written and published queer romance. She does both, but she has written and published queer romances, I believe with Avon.
I would say they still publish m/m and f/f, and I'm not saying they publish it for a hetero audience. And I know some of the writers I've named don't identify as straight. But I don't think you get the same level of experimentation and I don't think you'd get the same level of representation from the mainstream publishers as you do from the niche publishing houses like in the UK we have Pride Publishing, which is one of the biggest sort of queer publishing houses in the UK. If not the only queer publishing house in the UK that focuses on romance. And you get with self published authors where you are seeing a lot more experimentation, a lot more niche kind of representation, and just a queer ing of romances that isn't just based on the kind of identity of the people in these romances, but also in how these relationships are portrayed.
Andrea Martucci: And so LGBTQ plus. Some of this has to do with just how people would have identified themselves over time and in cultural understandings of sexuality, but we've talked a lot about lesbian romance and gay romance and then that transitioned into m/m versus gay romance. But, so what about some of the other, the letters in there? So we've got so bisexual representation. We talked a little bit about polyamory obviously trans romance, asexual, a romantic. What are you seeing in terms of the emergence or like earliest books in those identities?
Lucy Hargrave: So one of the things that I was really keen to look at was how I suppose, the less well known identities within the LGBTQ plus spectrum were being portrayed like, are they being portrayed all they're being represented. And it was hard to track that from a historical perspective.
I did find some early, in the 1920s bisexual characters being written about, but I think it's definitely a 21st century sort of thing. So one of the things I actually looked at was this pre and post 2014 period. And do we see any change in the sexualities of the main characters and before [01:03:00] 2014, you really see that basically lesbian and gay dominates the sexualities that you see, you do get some bisexual representation.
I think about 10% of the 4,000 books that I cataloged had a bisexual main character, it i s predominantly gay and lesbian. After 2014, the period 2015 to 2019, you really start to see more sexualities being represented. So gay and lesbian are still the biggest, but they massively decreased. The number of gay main characters went from 70% of all the books to 50% of all books.
That's a massive reduction, and you start to see more pansexual characters and bisexual and asexual, and even aromantic. And then you even start to get some that just queer. And that's as much of a label as they want or need. You also start to get more nuance within that. So you start to see that means demisexual representation. So that was one thing I looked at.
And then the other thing I looked at alongside that was gender. And I think so before the scandal, as I'm going to call it before the 2014 sort of conflict, 99% of the romances that I cataloged featured cis-gender protagonists. There was barely any trans representation. Let alone then within the trans umbrella, non binary, gender queer gender fluid.
After 2014, you do see an improvement. The number of cis-gender main characters goes down to about 95%. So we're still talking very small percentages. And I think it's important to highlight that we are talking about very small percentages, but we are seeing an increase in the number of trans main characters.
You all starting to see non binary main characters, gender queer, and gender fluid, main characters. And you're even starting to see a very small percent of intersex characters, which I think is a part of the LGBTQ community that is often forgotten about. And it's certainly something that I'm very close to cause I have friends who are intersex and, they do often say to me, there just isn't any representation for me in romance novels, it doesn't exist. So you definitely start to see this kind of diversifying of queer romances after 2014, but it's slow progress and there's still a long way to go, especially with the gender kind of diversity.
Andrea Martucci: And and the numbers you're talking about are obviously these are all queer romances. So then this is a subsection of the larger field of romance novels. So are you also seeing in terms of numbers, the number of queer romances go up year over year?
Lucy Hargrave: That's a very interesting question because the answer was quite surprising to me. So I was expecting queer romances to just keep going up and up and getting, more and more being published, but what I actually found. So I, again, I catalog that period 2010 to 2019 and before 2014, it's going up and more and more [01:06:00] being published each year.
And then, it slows down until about 2017 when you suddenly, reached its peak. And obviously again, I have to emphasize I couldn't catalog all the self publishing. So I think that is an element of it here. But after 2017, with the publishers that I looked at you then start to see a decrease in the amount of queer romances they're publishing.
So you go from let's say 550 queer romance has been published in 2017 to 490 being published in 2018. And then in 2019, you're down to a 430. So you're starting to see a decline in the number of queer romances that these publishing houses are releasing, distributing, publishing, putting money into. I think it'd be really simplistic to say, oh they just don't want to publish queer romances anymore.
I think there's a couple of different things at play here. One self publishing has become massively more popular after 2017. And actually you saw a lot of authors choose to start self publishing, especially after they've built up a bit of a fan base because it gives them more freedom. It's easier for them to make money. They get to make more of the decisions.
You also started to see following 2014, a lot of the big kind of queer focused publishing houses closed. So Shyman MLR, Less Than Three Press, a lot of them closed. A lot of them had scandals as well. Like DreamSpinner, obviously there was a big author scandal.
And then I think also you had a big enough number of romance authors who, because of the backlash just stopped writing. They were just like I'm done. I don't want to write anymore. So I think that's why you see the decline because obviously publishing, especially more traditional publishing things are decided quite far in advance.
So you're not going to see the change overnight. You're going to see it a few years down the line.
Andrea Martucci: And when you said 2017, the first thing I thought of from the U S perspective was that Donald Trump was elected in 2016, which given the lead time in publishing I guess wonder if there was like a chilling effect.
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah. People have said that to me before as when I talk about the figure. And I don't think that can be like, pushed under the carpet, because certainly from talking to readers, especially when I talked to the American readers, it came up, they were like since Donald Trump came into power, cause I spoke to them when he was still in power, they said because he's in power, I don't want to read anything set in reality. I don't want to read anything that's political. I get enough of that in my real life. I get enough sort of reality. But then you had other readers who said I want to read stuff that's political because if it's a queer romance and it's not engaging with politics, it's not real, like it, it just feels like a fantasy to me and that's not what I want. So he definitely had an impact and he definitely, I think changed the kind of culture for queer people in America. So I don't think you can dismiss his impact. I just haven't massively looked at his impact.
Andrea Martucci: We talked about this a little bit earlier, I'm curious where you think you would kind of identify a turning [01:09:00] point in what I assume is a thing that started to happen which is that there was like a greater awareness of that like own voices. You were talking about that interview in All About Romance in 2014, where you have these cis het women or women who are presenting as cis het. Because identity is so fluid, it's hard because I know a lot of people are like sometimes people aren't out yet or ever will be out. We it's always hard to say, but there is this understanding that a lot of romance in particular is written by and consumed by people who do not share the identity of the characters.
And I think there's been a lot of conversation about own voices which is that if you going to write a story featuring the point of view of characters who have marginalized identities, that it is more authentic. If it is written by somebody who shares that identity or aspects of that identity, and it's a super messy conversation.
And I know that own voices as a tag, that the people who initially presented that the organization is it, We Need Diverse Books that they've almost started to say eh, this is not a term we want to use anywhere. It is super complicated. However, I do get the sense that there is a change in how people conceptualize, who should be writing these stories and which stories are going to be more representative of your identity, if you are queer .
What are your thoughts on that?
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah, it's a very messy topic and it is something that I'm trying to tackle within my PhD, because I do think the conversation around own voices and the kind of increase in attention that people started to paying to who was writing the books they were reading was one of the kind of fallouts of that 2014 interview.
I think increasingly you do get this sort of pressure on authors to come out or to declare their identity, or to show that, I am part of this community, therefore I deserve to write about it. And I think in some ways that's wrong because we shouldn't force anyone out of the closet. We also shouldn't be gatekeeping who can write and read what, but at the same time, I do think you need to make a point to support marginalized communities.
So what I found in my research, cause I did do a survey of writers and one of the things I did want to look at was the identity and gender of the writers because of this own voices kind of conversation that's became very big and then became very well this is a good thing. Is this a bad thing? It became very convoluted and there's a lot of nuance to it. So I just wanted to get some data on it and see who is writing these queer romances?
So I surveyed roughly around a hundred queer romance authors, and I say queer romance authors, as in they write romances featuring queer people. Not that they are necessarily queer themselves.
And what I found is actually a large majority of them did identify as, members of the LGBT community in the sense of only 9% of them identified as straight and only 58% of them [01:12:00] identified as cisgender. So obviously that's the over 90% of identified as some kind of queer sexuality and nearly 40% of them identified as some kind of queer gender identity.
And think that's a really good thing and it's good that we're getting more people writing about the identities they identify with and things like that, because that can lead to more honest and better representation of identities, especially like identities that, you can't really know what that experience is like unless you live with it.
But I also think on the flip side of that, there can be a lot of pressure upon authors to come out. That can be a lot of pressure put onto authors to justify why they write the books they write. And I don't think it's really the job of the internet or readers to force their authors to come out and things like that.
And I think just because you're an author, doesn't automatically mean that you owe everybody your life story. And on the other side of that, I know from my own experience and my own sexuality, it's not a static thing. When I was 21, I identified as bi and now I identify as queer because bisexual doesn't feel like the right label and I've learned so much more about myself.
I think it's good that more people have been given the opportunity to publish books from the LGBT plus community. But I also don't think we should put pressure on people to only be own voices authors and only be able to write about their perspective, because then we could be missing out on some really great books.
And also from talking to writers and readers, I know some wonderful lesbian authors who write amazing m/m. And I don't want them to stop writing m/m just because they're a lesbian and therefore they feel like they can only write about, women relationships because they write amazing male, male relationships.
So swings and roundabouts
Andrea Martucci: Yeah. And I think that, since you've done all this work, you've looked in the archives, you have been studying these different eras. I think it's probably still very fair to say that at every point and today that in sheer numbers, there is a lot more room for more and there's still a lot of stories that can be told that there's a market to be told and people who want to tell these stories.
And the own voices push, I think a lot of times is about who gets limited opportunities, there's two sides of that. If there are only limited opportunities, then who should have the greatest access to those opportunities? People who are writing from their own experience, that makes sense, especially in a spectrum of marginalization, if the least marginalized people always get the opportunities that's inequality.
But the other side of that is why are there still such limited access to these opportunities? And that's complicated because there's also limited access to opportunities period in publishing because it's a coveted opportunity, right?
Lucy Hargrave: Exactly. And I think, even apart from the, going beyond just the LGBTQ plus identity, we know for a [01:15:00] fact that Black people and Black authors are massively underpaid in publishing. They just do not get the same money as their white counterparts. And that's doubly true I think with queer romances, often I think Alyssa Cole is great, but I think she is almost in a unique position of being able to publish and have that publishing power as a queer Black woman.
But a lot of I suppose the independent and all the smaller queer romance writers, they just don't get the same recognition if they're Black, as they would as if they're white. And there's actually this really interesting interview that I watched. It's on YouTube between, Beverly Jenkins, Farah Rochon, Alyssa Cole, and Rebecca Weatherspoon talking about the realities of being a Black writer in romance publishing. I think everyone should go watch it. It's an hour. It's really interesting. And they just highlight a lot of the kind of prejudice and sort of blockages that there still is for Black people and Black women in publishing.
So I think own voices is a big conversation, but certainly from a queer perspective in the queer romances, we are seeing more and more queer people writing queer romances
Andrea Martucci: Before I wrap things up, I'll give you an other option. Is there anything that we haven't covered thus far that you want to hit on?
Lucy Hargrave: One thing that I'm trying really hard in my PhD is to create a language for talking about romances that feature non binary people, because I do feel like the term m/m and f/f are so gendered and they just don't work for more fluid representations of gender that we're starting to see and that exist in reality.
And I think a bit like with the terms lesbian and gay romances, they become less popular because it limits you to just lesbian and gay. Even if you're writing about a bisexual person, if you put that lesbian label on it, it doesn't quite fit. I know a lot of people now use nb slash whatever, but from talking to authors, they find that quite difficult from a purely marketing perspective, because it's not necessarily a a tag that people are searching for.
Like people don't often put into Google nb slash F romances. So I think that is one area that romance community, whether it comes from publishers, whether it comes from the readers and the writers, I think, need to think a little bit about our labeling of queer romances and how we look for in market queer romances as a type of romance.
Andrea Martucci: Lucy, thank you so much for sharing your research with me today and with Shelf Love's listeners. You started by talking about how there's a lot more to be done in this area. So I'm so glad that you're doing it. And also you're still like you're midway through, right? So you still got a lot of work to do
Lucy Hargrave: Yeah. I'm in my third year. So I've got about a year and a bit to go. But one of those is like the write-up year where you basically write your 80,000 word thesis. The majority of it, so there's still a lot to be discovered and a lot to be explored, but I'm enjoying it. So that's the main thing.
Andrea Martucci: Well, thanks for being here. Where's the best place for [01:18:00] people to find you online?
Lucy Hargrave: So the best place you could find me online is probably YouTube. So my YouTube channel is at Lucy Hargrave. In terms of my more everyday stuff. Twitter is where I talk a lot about things going on in romance scholarship. So that's @PhDlifewithLucy and then Instagram is just, if you want to see my dog, I'll be honest. My Instagram is mainly my dog and she's really cute. So that's also @PhDlifewithLucy. But thank you so much for having me, Andrea. It's been really good.
Andrea Martucci: Thank you. It's been fun.
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Alyssa Cole, Amanda Diehl, Andrea Martucci, Angela Toscano, Arielle Zibrak, Ash Dylan, Becky, Bree Hill, Charish Reid, Christina Fattore, Copper Dog Books, Dani Lacey, Danielle Knafo, Denise Williams, Diana Filar, EE Ottoman, Emma Barry, Eric Selinger, Erin Leafe, Esme Brett, Felicia Grossman, Funmi B., Hannah Hearts Romance, Hsu Ming Teo, Huike Wen, Jack Harbon, Jayashree Kamble, Jennifer Crusie, Jess, Jessica Lyn Van Slooten, Jhen, Jodi McAlister, Jodie Slaughter, Joe Martucci, John Jacobson, Julie Moody-Freeman, Karelia Stetz-Waters, Kate Clayborn, Katee Robert, Katrina Jackson, Kelly Reynolds, Kennedy Ryan, Kianna Alexander, Kini Allen, Kit Rocha, Lucy Score, Margarita Guillory, Margo Hendricks, Maria DeBlassie, Megan Erickson, Mia Sosa, Nicole Falls, Norma Perez-Hernandez, Penny Reid, Rebecca Romney, Rebekah Weatherspoon, Rosie Danan, Ruby Lang, Sandra Kitt, Scarlett Peckham, Sionna Fox, Steve Ammidown, Suzanne Jefferies, Talia Hibbert, Tamara Lush, Tasha L. Harrison, The Swoonies, Tif Marcelo, Tina Benigno, Whoamance, fangirl jeanne