by Kate Brauning
I want to talk about nuance. I want to talk about sexy, and imperfection, and happily ever after.
I want to talk about being a bisexual editor (and author) of queer YA and why every book I acquire is inclusive in some way, but I’m still looking for That F/F YA Romance. Or you know, twelve of them.
The YA queer fiction I’m receiving right now is amazing. I’ve had the honor of acquiring several outstanding YAs centering queer characters, and had to pass on many more that were just wonderful but not for me. The breadth of genre that I’m seeing in these submissions is fantastic, too—magical realism, horror, sci-fi, fantasy, contemporary, thrillers.
But there are still a few things in queer YA I’m not seeing much of, particularly in F/F.
There’s still, still, so much tragedy and phobia surrounding being queer, including “bathroom bills,” praise of public figures for their phobic, hate-mongering rhetoric, and so many news stories reporting the murder of queer youth and adults, as well as daily harassment and microaggressions. We absolutely need fiction that explores those issues and provides avenues for empathy, awareness, and catharsis, as well as allowing readers to see themselves and their experiences on the page in all types of stories.
But with that in mind, what I’m craving like cold water in the summer right now is a broader spectrum of stories that lean toward wish fulfillment and happily ever after, but don’t entirely erase reality.
And I have read some brilliant books that do just that. But we need more, because within that framework, there’s still a lot of space to fill.
The element of wish fulfillment here is important to me. It’s escape, it’s a potential reality, it’s a possibility right now. And I want to see more stories where a LGBTQIAP+ character can find her dream girl and live a happy life. And when we don’t have these stories, when what we’ve got on shelves and in-hand is framed by and often ended with tragedy, it makes me feel as if my story and others’ could not possibly have a happily ever after, either. We are not fated to have tragic love lives.
I want to see more F/F YA where things go wonderfully right, where these girls can have what they wish for. The queer community has talked a lot about the need for “fluffy” stories centering LGBTQIAP+ characters, and I absolutely agree we need more of them.
Alongside that wish fulfillment, though, I’m really wanting to see a more nuanced reality of what it means to be queer for these characters. Tragic stories have their place, and happy, fluffy stories have their place—but I’d love to see these romances I can trust will have a HEA have more nuance and authenticity than showing a life where being queer comes with no struggles. These books don’t have to be 100% fluffy, or else tragic. And the 100% happy story can write out a lot of the shaping forces and realities and struggles that we go through, even in the most welcoming spaces.
So one kind of F/F YA I’m looking for aggressively right now is one where I can trust the romance will end happily, but the story digs a little more into the reality of being who we are.
Love is hard, and awkward and messy and confusing and imperfect. And I want to see these books be those things, too. I want to read about girls who get it really wrong sometimes, and have it be okay and be part of falling in love. Their flaws and quirks and selves can be brought to the story without pieces of themselves being held back. If queer girls have to be closer to perfect than cis-het girls and aren’t allowed to mess up, get it wrong, and start over, then that’s another kind of tragedy because we’re being shown a world where perfection is demanded, we aren’t allowed to be human, and growth can’t happen.
And I would just love to see these wonderfully human girls who get their HEA sometimes have spiritual lives, too, and not always have that be at unresolvable odds with who they’re attracted to. I have been looking for it, but I so far have only seen something close to my own sexuality and faith life reflected in two YA novels yet—and never in adult fiction. And I’ve heard this from so many others that I’m starting to think a lot of people feel this way, too.
There’s one more thing (many more, but for this post, one more thing) that I really want from these nuanced F/F YAs with their HEAs and complex, flawed, wonderful girls who may or may not have a spiritual life, and that is chemistry and heat in the romance. This is especially important to me in these sweet, fluffy romances. Because it’s more than best friends forever. And there’s more to female sexuality than sweet first kisses. And in these sweet, fluffy romances, I’m just dying to see some with the level of sexual exploration and expression that we allow cis-het characters. And so far, I’m really not seeing much of that in F/F.
Queer girls can long for heat and heart-pounding romance, and they can spark that in other girls, too. And without that chemistry and deep desire in F/F couples, it feels a bit like we’re expected to wait for a boy to come along for the real chemistry. Or that that kind of chemistry can only come from tragedy, and that strong desire is somehow linked mainly to obsession, grief, secrecy, or shame. That unless something is going terribly wrong, girls can’t truly find deep chemistry and heat with another girl.
And if I start seeing more of these elements in my slush pile, and seeing more of them on the shelves, and seeing more writers writing them and readers reading them, I’ll be thrilled.
Kate Brauning is an acquiring editor at Entangled Publishing and the author of How We Fall and other YA books. She loves The Walking Dead, pie, and international travel, and runs the group author blog Publishing Hub. You can find her on Twitter far too often, or at her website, www.katebrauning.com.