Reading (and Writing) Romance in the Time of Trump

If you follow me on Facebook, you know I’ve taken the leap to pitching blogs to HuffPo and some other mainstream outlets. I mitigate the sting of rejection by repurposing that unclaimed content here. Please pardon any redundant thoughts or things that might seem totally obvious to anyone who already knows or follows me.

(Disclaimer: No bodices were ripped and no pussies were grabbed in the writing of this post.)

Romance novels get a bad rap. We know this. They’re dismissed as trashy, fantastical, formulaic. Romance is a joke, not something to be taken seriously. That’s the argument against anything by/for/about women, right?

But now more than ever, women are standing up and refusing to be quiet. We resist. We persist. And now more than ever, romance should, too.

My grandmother gave me my first romance novel in 1993, when I was in eleventh grade at the Academy of the Sacred Heart, an all-girls Catholic boarding school in south Louisiana. The sex was barely PG, but she gave me a warning anyway. “It’s a good story,” she said. “Just skip the dirty parts.” I tucked myself in my room and read it instead of doing my homework on the Sacraments. It was the closest I’d come to being a bad girl. I was hooked.

By the time I got to college, romance was my preferred guilty pleasure. I hoarded Harlequins to read between studying for organic chemistry and genetics. And after changing my major to English, I savored Nora Roberts in secret, far from the judgmental gaze of my literature professors and creative writing seminar classmates.

In grad school, I discovered Janice Radway’s Reading the Romance and learned the language of dismantling hegemonic patriarchal structures. But even as I wrote papers and pounded my fist about the importance of women-centered stories, romance remained something I sheepishly admitted to reading. Usually while blushing and saying something about how I alternated romance with “real” books.

That changed a few years ago when I finally gave myself permission to write the genre I loved. Suddenly, halting attempts and half-finished chapters gave way to a finished manuscript and a publishing contract. I met a community of readers and writers who not only love romance, but take it seriously. I got my first fan mail.

Now, I’m a college administrator by day who reads and writes lesbian romance novels by night (and early morning and weekend and the occasional sick day). I might still blush when people ask me what I write, but I’m much savvier in what I have to say.

Romance is hopeful, I say, and that’s a pretty radical thing. Name another genre where love conquers all and female protagonists—surgeons and Supreme Court justices and bounty hunters and CEOs—are front and center.

I make the business case. Did you know, for example, that romance makes up a 13% share of the adult fiction market? Then there’s the feminist angle. The romance industry is one of the few in the U.S. that is and has always been predominantly by women, for women. It’s also been quicker than other industries to embrace a host of diverse stories and characters—people of color and LGBTQ characters in particular.

But that’s my usual shtick. These days, there’s more to the story. Just like everything in the era of Trump, the rules have changed.

Romance isn’t just legitimate; it’s relevant. I’d go so far as to say it’s essential. In these days of alternative facts and grossly unqualified cabinet picks, romance keeps me centered. It keeps me sane.

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.

Take La La Land. Whether or not you’re smitten with the romantic musical comedy, it’s hard to argue with its record-tying fourteen Oscar nods. You’d be hard pressed to find another time when the drama-loving Academy picked an upbeat romance as its darling.

We’re living in a world where #lovetrumpshate is part of the vernacular. For every three articles or calls to action on our Facebook and Twitter feeds, there’s one about self-care. Resistance is exhausting, after all. Making the time to recharge is critical for the long game. I don’t know about you, but I’m in it to win it.

So I’m saying loudly and proudly: Romance is part of my resistance strategy. Because when women are repeatedly silenced and publicly reprimanded, romance amplifies women’s voices. When women are grabbed—literally and figuratively—by the pussy, romance empowers women’s agency, sexuality, and desire.

Romance is escapism, sure. But it’s also rebellion. I’d go so far as to say it’s a nutrient. Like vitamin D. And much like my pale, pale self in the throes of winter in upstate New York, I need all the help I can get.

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