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

“I I’ve read some really fantastic fiction about queer women, but often felt like it leaned to the slightly darker side,” says author Laura Kay. For the London-based writer, it was only natural that her debut novel, The Split, should be a romantic comedy. “I really just wrote the story that I wanted to read,” she says. Published last year, the story follows Ally, who, after a brutal breakup, moves to Sheffield – taking her ex-girlfriend’s cat, Malcolm, with her.

It wasn’t until The Split was published that Kay realized her significance. “Other people started reading it and saying, ‘Oh my God, this is the first time I’ve read this story about gay women,'” she said. Readers praised the novel for its refreshingly funny joy — including a happy ending, which isn’t all that common for a book with an LGBTQ+ plot. Kay also deliberately avoided referring to any trauma surrounding Ally’s sexuality.

Released in April, Kay’s most recent book, Tell Me Everything, is another romantic comedy, this time about therapist Natasha, who still lives with her ex-girlfriend. But Kay’s book is far from the only one. This summer, a host of LGBTQ+ romcom novels are coming out (pardon the pun), jam-packed with blossoming romances and scintillating escapism. “I feel like there’s kind of a shift,” Kay says. “I think it’s because the people making the decisions see that there’s an audience out there that’s desperate to read queer rom-coms.”

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

“Whenever I saw gay women depicted, which was almost never the case, it always ended in tragedy,” says author Adiba Jaigirdar. “Even more than that, I’ve never seen queer Muslim women represented or queer women of color.” In a sign that this trend will continue, Jaigirdar is releasing his novel, Donut Fall in Love, next year. It looks deliciously messy: Bangladeshi-Irish teenager Shireen is on a baking show with her ex-girlfriend and another girl she has a crush on.

Ryan O’Connell. Photograph: Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank/Getty Images

It follows Jaigirdar’s first two novels, The Henna Wars – which was listed in TIME’s 100 Best Books for Young Adults of All Time – and Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating, both featuring heartwarming love stories between young gay muslim women. Until now, people like Jaigirdar had “never heard of happiness,” she says.

While not strictly a romantic comedy, Ryan O’Connell’s uplifting Just By Looking at Him, released earlier this month, provides much-needed representation for LGBTQ+ people with disabilities – the character main being a gay man with cerebral palsy – while Girlcrush by Florence Given, 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 locked-up 64-year-old postman, as he sets out to reconnect with his former boyfriend. Cain believes the rise in LGBTQ+ fiction is partly the result of “greater visibility”, which he says has “shown the general population that we are 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 expected.”

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

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

It was while reading Casey McQuiston’s 2019 novel Red, White and Royal Blue that, Croucher says, “everything fell into place” when it came to their own bisexuality. “I have seen for myself, in my own life, how much impact seeing these journeys reflected in fiction can have on a person,” they add. McQuiston’s highly anticipated next book, I Kissed Shara Wheeler, a young adult fiction romantic comedy, was released in May.

For writers writing queer rom-coms, however, there’s the added complexity of deciding when to portray the traumas that many LGBTQ+ people still face, such as discrimination and family rejection. Indeed, the authors quoted in this article have underlined the importance of having books centered on these questions, coexisting with the positive stories.

Such was the case for Chencia C Higgins who, in her recent novel D’Vaughn and Kris Plan a Wedding, incorporates the obstacles faced by the character D’Vaughn coming out to her religious family, while ensuring that “my daughters be happy forever”. afterwards,” she says. “Having queer rom-coms blow up the way they do has been so awesome,” Higgins says. “Queer people are here, living and loving each other, and having a good old time, and we need to see that in our books.”

Higgins also gives much-needed portrayal of queer black women in a genre dominated by white authors. “For so many queer black women, they don’t see themselves and they deserve it,” she says. The impact of his latest book is clear. “This is the kind of feel-good black LGBTQ romance I’ve been craving and the world could use more of it,” read one five-star online review.

Kay, meanwhile, opted to include some “struggles around homosexuality” in her forthcoming book, but says the “general message is that there is joy and happiness to be found for everyone “. Yes, LGBTQ+ people may face additional hurdles, but many of us also want our happy ending – whatever form that may take.

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