First of all there is no evidence that this is true, there has never been any widespread surveys done on either the readership or writers of LGBT romance. The largest statistical survey of romance readers was done by Romance Writers of America, and did not include data on sexual orientation or gender identity. Small survey attempts have been limited and inconclusive. While anecdotal evidence would call a cishet majority into question.
Therefore the assumption that any branch of LGBT romance is prominently written/read by straight cisgender women is questionable at best.
And here is the thing, the vast majority of the time when this assumption is brought up it is in the context of shutting down conversations about diversity, GLBT politics, representation, fetishization, sexism and racism within romance.
Usually this argument goes "well this is what sells because this is what these cisgender heterosexual women want to read. I wish it were different but if you want to sell books you just have to put your ideals aside and get back to writing bare-chested firefighters." This is a problem because it supports the status quo and shuts down important conversations that need to happen. It also paints cisgender, heterosexual writers and readers in the worst possible light, as more interested in getting off than being allies.
Over the last three years that I have been actively writing in the romance genre I've come to the conclusion that this argument and assumption just needs to end. Whether or not it is based in any kind of statistical reality, we need to stop relying on it.
Not only does it shut down important conversations that need to happen but it also automatically assumes LGBT people are outsiders in a genre that deals primarily with representing them. It also assumes that the most important voices in the LGBT romance community are cisgender heterosexual ones.
For instance a lot of m/m romance publishers assume their readers and authors will mostly be cisgender heterosexual women with some gay cisgender men thrown in and the language they use reflects this. A lot of presses that started out as het romance publisher and have since branched into GLBT romance also use language that presumes cisgender heterosexuality. As does some presses that started out as m/m romance presses and became GLBT romance presses. Review blogs that started out or focus on m/m romance also often uses language rooted in this assumption. As does a lot of general romance, m/m romance or LGBT romance blogs.
Language is important. Inclusive language is something I look for when trying to tell if a publisher, blog or community will be welcoming and safe for me as a queer author and queer person. It doesn't really matter how many rainbows you plaster onto your website, if you participate in homophobia awareness events, or post lots of pictures of gay men kissing. If the language used is homophobic, transphobic or reads like this is a cishet only clubhouse it's going to give me pause. Or it may make me back off and not want to be part of that space all together.
For instance when I first came into the m/m romance community the phrase "chicks with dicks" was used a lot. Publishers used it, reviewers used it, authors used it. Now I've been in fandom, I've written fanfiction, I know that's where it comes from. On the other hand the phrase itself is incredibly sexist, marginalizes both cis and trans effeminate men and vilifies trans women.
Right from the beginning it's common use make me, as a effeminate trans dude, extremely uncomfortable, and made the space of m/m romance seem unwelcoming and unsafe for someone like me. Luckily people began to voice concerns with it's use, as did I once I was no longer a newbie, and it has since widely stopped being used. But these kinds of language choices that actively marginalize LGBT authors and readers should not be a part of the LGBT romance community at all.
What would cut down on these kinds of language issues I think is if publishers, reviewers, bloggers and authors would stop assuming a cisgender heterosexual majority.
This doesn't just go for publishers but for writers too. Take that whole narrative of straight cis women liking sexy men and two sexy men being better than one, put it in a box and bury it in the backyard. Because when we write romance novels about queer people assuming our audience is completely or mostly cisgender heterosexual we run the risk of doing several things that are kind of a problem.
First Othering and alienating actual queer people and queer experiences. By assume your readership is straight than you can more easily end up having a large part of your romance being about explaining what it's like to be queer to people who have never had that experience. Which says to those of us who live with those experiences everyday 'this book isn't meant for you.'
In fact there is an unfortunate tendency within contemporary gay romance to 'explain' to the readers that not all gay men are music theater loving hairdressers. It is not something any queer person needs to be told and quite frankly shouldn't be something straight people need to hear either. Yet it is so common multiple queer romance authors, completely independent of each other, have come up with special terms to refer to it. Laylah Hunter calls it the "Broadway musical moment."
Reading something like this pulls me out of the story and tells me I am reading something that isn't for me despite the fact that it is supposed to be about me. It feels like I've just walked into some straight fantasy of what my life should be like instead of representing any kind of reality I inhabit.
Which brings me to the second risk of writing LGBT romance for a presumed straight heterosexual audience, you become much more likely to fetishize queer people. Because queer people in stories aimed at cishet people are often not reflective of queer experiences or exploring queerness, they become much more of an exotic subject for people to live out their fantasies through. They become objects usually only defined by their sexuality and physical attractiveness.
Consider these very common statements:
The only thing better than one hot men is two hot men having sex with each other.
Why would I want to read a gay romance about men who aren't hot?
Why would I want to read a sex scene if there's no dick?
The reason straight women like gay romance is because straight women like dick.
The accusation of fetishization gets thrown around the m/m romance community a lot, and often in pretty sexist, and even transphobic/homophobic ways. BUT it is important I think for straight cisgender readers and writers to think very critically about the way they talk about queer bodies and queer sexualities within this community.
I am not saying this always happens when gay romance or any other kind of LGBT romance is written for a cisgender heterosexual audience. But it is a lot easier to reduce a gay couple down to the fantasy of two hots guys, a lesbian couple to two hot chicks, and trans people into sexual fetishes when you assume the actual people represented will not be the primary audience for these books.
Speaking directly to a queer audience will limit the amount of time a writer will spend describing queer identity and queer bodies as strange, exotic or Other. It also becomes a lot harder to fall into the trap of dehumanizing a gay, lesbian or otherwise queer couple, if you write with the intention that the majority of readers will be themselves queer.
I also think speaking directly to a presumed queer audience will encourage cisgender, heterosexual authors to police themselves, and think critically about their internalizing homophobia, transphobia and their privilege.
Another issue with a presumed heterosexual cisgender audience is that it puts pressure on out queer authors to write about queerness in certain ways that might not feel authentic or only write about say, gay men, rather than queer women or nonbinary people. It also teaches a heterosexual readership that they can demand certain things from queer authors and are entitled to get them. That if there is queer romance authors writing LBGT romance our experiences and our voices must always come second to heterosexual cisgender voices and experiences.
I can't count how many times I've been told or watched queer author friends be told "all gay romance is written by straight cisgender women for straight cisgender women." Thus denying the identities and very existence of all queer authors, privileging straight authors over queer ones, books written for straight readers or queer ones, and stopping conversations about queer voices within LGBT romance from even happening.
I don't know how many times I've voiced my opinion as a queer trans person only to be told "Yes, but most readers are ..." the heterosexual cisgender majority myth again. The assumption is this is the voice with the buying power, thus this is the voice we should be listening to. The reality being cishet comfort or personal taste is privileged over queer experiences and opinions.
This is how I ended up being lectured by a cishet man who was mad that I chose to write lesbian sex in a way different from what he found most appealing. Or how I get told that because cishet women don't like vagina I can't write about trans men and call it m/m romance. This is how the queer identities of a huge number of authors get erased every time the whole 'women can't write gay men' argument gets brought up.This is how we end up with situations where trans authors are forced to 'prove' they are not really 'women pretending to be men.'
In fact the whole controversy around trans men as characters gay romance does not stem from all straight cisgender women (or cisgender gay men) being against trans inclusion. But because the ones that are know that their voices will be privileged because they are automatically assumed to speak for the majority.
|read from the bottom up|
LGBT people don't have adequate representation, they don't get to see themselves heroes, don't get to see themselves has being deserving of happy healthy relationships, or non-judgmental partners, they don't get happy endings.
That's what romance brings, a chance for LGBT people to see themselves reflected in narratives that aren't solely tragic.
What kind of an industry are we to turn around and cynically say "but you don't matter. It isn't about you, or your happiness, or your pleasure." Because that what is really being said when someone says "our readership is cisgender heterosexual so this is the way things need to be" instead of talking about issues of diversity, fetishization, and language.
It says, we know these books are supposed to be about your but your not as important as the presumed cishet readership.
We cannot continue to write, publish, market and form communities under the assumption of a heterosexual cisgender majority. Because when we do we assume heterosexual cisgender needs and opinions come first, they carry the most power, they count for more. We should never ask or expect queer authors to cater their narratives to a cishet audience.
We can no longer continue this behavior where we hold the specter of a heterosexual cisgender readership over the heads of authors who want to write alternative kinds of queer bodies, transgender characters, non-penetrative sex or even female characters.
We can not privilege cisgender heterosexual voices, desires and tastes over queer authors, readers and politics.
We cannot say "all LGBT romance authors and readers are straight cisgender" and erase the queer identities of the authors (especially female authors) already working in these communities, the readers already buying our books.