Rainbow Romances: Love Stories in the LGBTQ2S+ Community
I read romance novels. There, I said it. And I'm not embarrassed about it either. Ok, I'm still a little embarrassed but I'm working on it.
There's a lot of stigma around reading romance novels. Although there are some legitimate criticisms of the genre, like the lack of diverse representation or the romanticization of abusive behaviours, mostly they are criticized for being unrealistic, badly written and predictable. Frankly, a lot of the stigma around the genre is rooted in misogyny. The books are escapist entertainment often written by and for women therefore they are not serious fiction. This is, of course, nonsense. Don't get me wrong, romance novels often are formulaic, full of cliches and sometimes poorly written. I just don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. There is value in romance novels.
Reading a book takes energy. For some people, starting a new book can feel like they are risking their already low energy supply if they aren't sure whether they will like that book. This is one reason why romance novels are so popular with some people. You know that if you invest the mental energy into reading it, you are going to get the payoff you were looking for. The common tropes and formulaic plot lines mean your brain doesn't have to work as hard to follow the narrative. And it's really comforting to know that, no matter what happens throughout the story, everything is going to turn out all right. It's perfectly valid to believe in happily ever after.
I also think there is something particularly powerful about romance novels that feature LGBTQ2S+ characters. There are still too few queer stories that have a happy ending; they either end in tragedy and violence or the stories simply don't exist at all. Queer people deserve escapist fiction too. We deserve comfort. And we deserve fluffy, cheesy romance novels so that those of us who want romantic relationships can dream about our own happily ever afters.
I am pleased to say that the mainstream publishing industry is finally starting to catch up. There's still a long way to go, but over the last couple years I have seen a significant increase in romance novels written by and featuring characters from a much broader range of identity categories. We're getting bisexual, asexual and demisexual romances. Plus many of these characters are people of colour, some have disabilities and some of them are trans or non-binary.*
In an effort to spread a little romantic love during these tough times, and to make Valentine's Day just a little bit queerer, I present to you a list of rainbow romances!
As much as possible, I have tried to choose Own Voices stories, written by people who are a part of the community they are writing about, but in some cases, this information about the author is not available.
*For more information on these identity terms, there is a resource section at the end of this post.
Play it again by Aidan Wayne
Aidan Wayne's book is a cute romance but it's also a good example of intersectional identities. People aren't just one thing and, in this case, one of the protagonists is a bisexual, Jewish, blind guy from Seattle! The other is a shy, white guy from Ireland who has anxiety issues and is just figuring out that he might be on the asexual spectrum. They are both YouTubers and their relationship starts after they geek out over each other's videos. This leads to a series of really sweet (perhaps too sweet, at times) long distance, virtual interactions and eventually the all important in-person meet up.
Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole
Part of bestselling author Alyssa Cole's Reluctant Royals series. This novella features Likotsi getting a second shot at love with Fabiola, aka "the one who got away." A chance meeting on a stalled subway leads to a day spent exploring the city and a long conversation about Fab's reasons for ending their relationship so abruptly. But will the pair be able to move beyond their past to build a future together? I haven't read this one but Alyssa Cole is very well regarded in the romance world so I trust it's going to be good.
The Love Study by Kris Ripper
Sydney is a popular genderqueer YouTuber who produces queer relationship advice videos. Declan is queer, cis man who is convinced he is not meant for a romantic relationship – after all, he did leave his last boyfriend at the altar! When the two meet, Declan agrees to go on a series of blind dates and then recap them on Sydney's show (Don't worry, all the prospective dates are viewers of the show and fully aware that they will be anonymously discussed on the internet). The problem is that the only person Declan has any real chemistry with is Sydney. This is one wasn't my favourite romance narrative but I liked all the "found family" feels and that we got a genderqueer character written by a genderqueer author (NOTE: Sydney is described as non-binary in the book's synopsis but as genderqueer in the actual book). I also liked that, although there are some frank conversations about sex, the book does not contain any explicit scenes. The Love Study is the first in a series so if you like this one, keep an eye out for more books featuring their diverse cast of queer friends.
Conventionally Yours by Annabeth Albert
Conrad and Alden are both members of a group that plays a "Magic: The Gathering" style card game. The two can't seem to get along but they'll have to figure things out quickly when they find themselves the only two occupants of a car bound for a game convention on the other side of the country. There is a lot riding on this trip for both of them, including a chance to compete for a big cash prize and a place on the professional players' circuit. Road trips and "enemies to lovers" are both common tropes in the romance genre so there are no real surprises in the plot line but I liked that it had a neurodivergent lead character (Alden). Just be aware that Alden does discuss his struggles to gain independence from his well-meaning but overbearing moms who have spent a lot of time trying to figure out how his brain works and find him a diagnosis. Not strictly an Own Voices title but Annabeth Albert is bisexual and, based on the way the book's fictional game is written, she is obviously also a major gamer.
Not like the movies by Kerry Winfrey
Chloe Sanderson definitely has chemistry with her boss, cafe owner Nick Velez, but she has no interest in romance. Besides, she has too much going on in her life to have time for a relationship. She swears her life will not have a rom-com happy ending but will she prove herself a liar? On it's surface this is a pretty standard white, straight romance but it's actually not quite as straight as it seems. Chloe is openly bisexual and this isn't treated as just an interesting quirk that's only mentioned once or as something she experimented with in college. On multiple occasions throughout the book she asserts her identity as a bisexual woman, regardless of whom she is dating at the time, and her ex-girlfriend, who is now her close friend and confidant, plays a recurring role in the book. I could have done without so much emphasis on the "not interested in romance" trope, which I think reinforces the idea that actual aromantic people just haven't met the right person yet, but it did open up some space for conversations about the expected trajectory of romantic relationships (i.e. dating leads to marriage and kids).
Learned Behaviors by Jayce Ellis
Being a single father has always been the top priority for both Matthew and JaQuan but now they're finally focusing on their careers. This is another "enemies to lovers" romance with the pair initially butting heads over a work project before finding common ground... and mutual attraction. Ellis's book is still on my To Be Read list but I like that it is a queer, Black person writing a queer, Black story that features mature adults. The synopsis doesn't provide their specific ages but they've both got children who are old enough to go to college and get married so the two men obviously aren't in their early twenties.
Coffee Boy by Austin Chant
As a recent graduate, Kieran can't believe his luck when he lands an amazing internship with a political campaign. The shine wears off quickly as Kieran faces the realities of being an out trans man in the workforce and dealing with coworkers like Seth, the oh-so-proper campaign strategist. But beneath Seth's stuffy exterior is a supportive ally and Kieran soon finds himself developing an embarrassing crush. I've just started reading this one so it's too soon to report back on my findings but I'm always happy to have find a trans romance written by a trans person!
On the Ice by Amy Aislin
For the most part, this is a pretty typical gay hockey player romance (and yes, there are enough of those for me to use the word "typical"). Mitch is a college student with a real shot at going pro after graduation. And Alex, already in the NHL, is currently sidelined with an injury and taking the time to care for his aging grandfather. What makes this book distinct is that Alex is demisexual. As a demisexual person myself, I was pleased to find a book that specifically names this identity. I've read other books where a character might meet the definition of demi but the actual term is never used. I don't know if Aislin also identifies as demi but she did a decent job of explaining the identity and writing a relationship between two characters who have distinctly different experiences with sex and sexuality.
Ok, I think that's enough HEAs (that's "Happily Ever After") for one blog post. There are many more queer romances that I've enjoyed but there are also so many stories that still need to be told. Most of the romances featuring trans people seem to only have transmasculine characters so I'd love to see more stories with trans women finding love. Or a polyamorous romance where being poly is more than just an excuse to write a lot of explicit sex scenes.
What are your favourite queer romances? Recommendations are always welcome! Share below in the comments.
If you're interested in knowing more about different terms and identities used in the LGBTQ2S+ community, check out these sites.