The Publishing Post
Romance and Queer Representation
By Hayley Cadel, Alexandra Constable and Maisie Clarke
The month of love naturally brings new romance releases often following repetitive storylines of boy-meets-girl and so on – nothing surprising. However, in recent years readers have been treated to a range of outstanding books which celebrate queer joy. It has been refreshing to see, not only because these books have found attraction from many different readers, but also because they do not dwell on LGBTQIA+ experiences of struggle and trauma, allowing readers to witness the beauty of queer joy. Sparked by graphic novels by Alice Oseman, young readers have been able to explore the genuine, optimistic journey of falling in love as a queer person by acknowledging difficulties without making them the premise of a romance. This article will explore the importance of these stories, looking towards writers such as Amelia Possanza and digging into history to explore the work of Radclyffe Hall.
The graphic novel Heartstopper by Alice Oseman has garnered continued interest since the release of the Netflix series of the same name. The show has not only gained attention for the books, but also proved market appetite for positive queer representation in the media we consume. It could be argued that the visual nature of graphic novels translates well to the screen, with the true essence being successfully captured. It is worth noting that the market desire for joyful queer representation arguably stems from the lack of it historically on the shelf. Heartstopper has been praised for its joyful depiction of queer teenage crushes. Another recommendation is The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes, a graphic memoir. Here, Crewes offers a fresh portrayal of queer self-discovery, taking the reader on their journey towards coming out. It is arguably the graphic novel style of both Heartstopper, The Times I Knew I Was Gay and similar which makes them so accessible to their audiences.
Queerness is represented in various ways in literature. This increased representation is also found in a heightened interest in history and reclaiming narratives from the past. An example of this is Amelia Possanza’s Lesbian Love Story: A Queer History of Sapphic Romance (2023) which documents the greatest love stories in LGBTQIA+ history that have remained unknown. It has been described as “part memoir, part historical investigation,” defying the parameters of established genres. It was also named by Times Magazine as one of the most anticipated reads of 2023 and has already received exceptional reviews. The book centres around not just one but seven different love stories of real lesbian couples from the 20th century. It also gives an insight into Possanza’s journey into these historical archives and what she learns about herself along the way. From Bushwick to Harlem, this book travels through history to bring us some of the greatest romances (so far, never told) in an act of reclamation. This is set to be released on 22 June and is available for pre-order from the Gay Pride Shop, so keep your eyes out this summer!
If you fancy diving into one of the classics, we recommend Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness (1928). The novel tells the story of English aristocrat Stephen Gordon who falls in love with a woman named Mary Llewellyn, whom she meets while working as an ambulance driver in World War I. Whilst their love for each other is filled with the usual joy of one’s first real romance, they are haunted by the threat of social ostracisation. The novel was banned for “obscenity” at its initial publication in the early 20th century but has since become one of the most famous and influential novels in the queer canon. In fact, the legal battles that surrounded the novel actually helped normalise and increase the presence of lesbians within popular British and American culture. If you are interested in learning about the history of queerness in British literature, this novel is an essential read. Seminal at publication, it has remained a timeless classic that we strongly recommend, and we hope it is added to your reading list this month!
Overall, there are many celebrated novels of queer joy which we encourage you to explore. As well as these, There Are Trans People Here by H. Melt, a short collection of poems recognising the hope in the trans community, is another brilliant way to engage in LGBTQIA+ experiences. The queer canon is brimming with exceptional works in both prose and verse. Also, Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters intertwines themes of motherhood and relationships. This is another important and enjoyable humour-filled novel on gender identity. We hope this issue has inspired you to add some more titles to your reading list this month.