Holiday Romance: Imagining Queer Potential

Curator's Note

Wedged between the classic holiday films on Netflix are a plethora of nondescript romances, like Christmas Ranch, Christmas Belle, and Christmas In The City. According to the Romance Writers of America, in order for a story to qualify as a romance it must contain two elements:

• A central love story

• An emotionally satisfying and optimistic ending

Nowhere in those guidelines does it say that these characters have to be straight—though let’s face it, all the ones on Netflix are. But ever since the pulp revolution occurred and launched Harlequin to prominence, there has been a simultaneous undercurrent of lesbian and gay romances. As e-books have taken over and self-publishing technologies became easier to use, there has been a proliferation of LGBT romance novels. With little start up or overhead costs, indie publishers and authors produce new titles frequently and in multiple genres—including the same kind of romantic holiday romp that Netflix has on right now. Take the two primary items needed to make a romance, adds some Christmas cookies, a misunderstanding about mistletoe, and that’s it. Just like Steve Grand has done with his holiday cover song posted here, romance novels produced by Dreamspinner Press, Riptide Publishing, and Less Than Three take typical holiday love stories and make them LGBT-focused.

But can these stories be called ‘queer’? In her book, Reading the Romance, Janice Radway tackled many critiques of romance novels (including that they perpetuated patriarchal values) by focusing on the reading networks women formed. By establishing a community, women gave themselves the space to talk about desire and imagine better futures. Radway’s conclusion reminds me of what queer theorist Jose Munoz says when we imagine what potential queerness can have: “Queerness is a structuring and educated mode of desiring that allows us to see the future beyond the quagmire of the present. […] We must strive, in the face of the here and now’s totalizing rendering of reality, to think and feel a then and there.”

So often, LGBTQ people don’t get a happy ending because they’re killed off by the end of the story. The idea that an entire genre is devoted to LGBTQ people finding love and ending happily, often written by LGBTQ people, means that they can, like Munoz and Radway suggest, start imagining a better future. Or at least this Christmas, a better holiday season.

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