A couple of months ago, I posted this on my personal Facebook page:
“Today is the birthday of the woman who was once my best friend. She was my maid-of-honor and, when he was born, elder son's godmother. There were a number of fractures in our relationship when we finally ‘broke up,’ but the final straw was when she wouldn’t babysit my son when she found out my husband and I were attending a gay friend's commitment ceremony. It was my birthday weekend and two weeks before younger son would be born. Younger son, who has become a vocal and eloquent advocate for social justice issues, especially gay rights.
She also once refused to read a short story I'd written because it was a romance.
So it makes me happy to see so many anniversaries, gay and straight, being shared today. It makes me happy to see one of my best friends from high school having a fantastic vacation in Greece with his partner. It makes me proud to see both my sons growing into fierce, eloquent voices for the disenfranchised. It makes me proud and happy to have become an advocate for the romance genre.
I celebrate love. I do my best. And on days like today, I celebrate. But sometimes I also feel sad, and confused and a little emotionally vulnerable. Being fierce and strong can take its toll and occasionally make you feel tired and lonely.”
A few weeks later, I posted the extremely disturbing Rolling Stone article on gay teens who were being abandoned in ever-higher numbers by their religious families. (Please read it. You can find it here.)
My ex–best friend is a talking head for one of the most conservative think tanks in the country. The kind of person who says things like “Love the sinner, Hate the sin” without understanding how hateful that phrase is. As if that phrase were in any way loving. As if a human being were a sin. As if her think tank supporting anti-gay laws in Africa that actually cause people to die for their sexual orientation is somehow noble, or sanctified.
As a romance advocate, I am used to being ridiculed and belittled for my reading choices, both by real-life friends and on public platforms (see: In Defense of Romance Vol.2) by supercilious intellectuals who apparently must put down a genre they don’t read and have never tried to understand, simply because they’ve been trained to believe that romance is beneath them. (Yes, I’m back on my high horse again....)
But romance novels are books. Yes, they are important books (to those of us that get them). Yes, they can be life-changing. They can represent the very best of the human experience—the power of love. And in my mind, no experience or emotion is higher than love.
I consider myself a romance advocate, but what I really am is someone who believes in love. Someone who believes that love makes us better and stronger, as individuals, as families, as communities and as societies.
I find this is something to celebrate. Everyone should be free to love who they love and read what they want to read. For kids who grow up thinking that there’s something wrong with them for feeling the way they do, then what a gift to find a book that represents exactly who they are or what they’re going through.
Saturday, Oct. 11 is National Coming Out Day. If you know an LGBTQ+ person in your life—especially someone under 18—I hope you’ll take the time to let him or her know that you think he’s perfect exactly as he is, just the way she was made.
And maybe buy him a book that expresses that he’s not alone. That she can find love stories about girls just like her.
I asked a few reader and writer friends to recommend some LGBTQ+ writers and they came up with a pretty long list, so I can only share a few. Here are some:
Sarah Waters. Perhaps the quintessential literary lesbian writer, her recent release The Paying Guests is a finalist for the 2014 Kirkus Prize.
Heidi Cullinan. Fever Pitch is pitch perfect gay New Adult.
Keira Andrews. A self-published gem, Forbidden Rumspringa manages to depict a gay romance within the Amish culture with tenderness and respect.
Amy Jo Cousins. Five Dates is simply charming.
Alex Beecroft. There’s lots going on in Blessed Isle, a terrific historical romance, including mutiny, shipwreck and forbidden love.
SE Jakes. You can’t go wrong with any her books, either as Jakes, mainstream romance NYT best-seller Stephanie Tyler, or half of fan favorite Sidney Croft (with Larissa Ione). Gay or straight, all of her couples are supersexy.
David Levithan. Everyone should read Every Day, a testament to human emotion beyond gender or labels or even identity.
In solidarity of the idea that Love is Love, I read my first-ever gay romance, Hot Head by Damon Suede. I have to be honest, I was determined to read it, because as both a romance advocate and, in a much smaller way, an LGBTQ rights advocate, I felt it was high time I’d read one.
I expected to appreciate it. I did not expect to love it. But I did. (I’ll be reviewing it on my Read-A-Romance site on Friday.)
One more drop in my vast ocean of understanding that love is love, and that the yearning to be loved for who we are is universal.
I also want to mention that the LGBTQ+ romance community has created its own month-long celebration, QueerRomanceMonth.com, which follows a similar format to Read-A-Romance Month. I am enjoying the essays, which offer a spectrum of powerful emotions and messages on why Queer Romance matters. All romance matters. All love matters. It’s a message worth repeating and worth fighting for, especially to those most vulnerable and who need the most support.