Breaking Out author Lise MacTague discusses the importance of queer stories that go beyond coming out and grappling with homophobia.
This morning, like many mornings, I got out of bed, brushed my teeth, made breakfast, then headed up the stairs to work. I did all of these things while queer. I did none of these things because I am queer. It should be no surprise to readers that I am a lesbian; after all, I’m a lesfic author. Being a lesbian is part of who I am, but it doesn’t define me. Certainly, it colors how I see the world, in much the same way my Canadian roots do, or my love of storytelling does, or my need to bring order to my world does. There is so much more to me than one single facet.
This is a community which is founded on the joy of finding those like us, and not only in romantic ways. When will we see stories that focus on that?
We’ve started seeing more queer stories being told in mainstream media venues. The days of queer media being disseminated in isolated corners, or hidden in plain sight, are shifting. Whether that shift is for better or worse remains to be seen. However, a continuing trend I’ve long since wearied of is the emphasis these mainstream stories—often told by straight writers, actors, and others—put on coming out or facing homophobia, as if our collective queer lives can be distilled to these two instances. While these can be important points in our lives, they are not the most important. And while many of us are faced with the prospect of coming out and/or facing some form of homophobia time and again, neither contains the totality of queer experience. We deserve better than to be defined solely by our trauma. This is a community which is founded on the joy of finding those like us, and not only in romantic ways. When will we see stories that focus on that?
Hopefully this is a trend that will move on, and those who greenlight major media projects will realize that our existences do not consist solely of these often-traumatic experiences and they will realize our stories do not have to center the suffering of our community to be entertaining, to be worthwhile. Coming out stories are important, as are those that show us triumphing over the bigotry so often shown us, but they aren’t our only stories. They aren’t even the most interesting stories.
Concentrating only on these narratives ignores an entire range of experience and the majority of the lives of gay people. It should not be subversive to portray the lives of queer folks as normal – even mundane – as they are, for the most part. We don’t spend most of our days coming out to one person after another, standing on street corners shouting “I’m gay” at passers-by. Hopefully, we don’t have to spend most of our days contending with homophobia from others, though I recognize that there are many places and families in which it is not safe for queer folks to be their authentic selves.
I’m happy to be subversive, and I will continue to write stories that center the other 99% of our existence, not merely the uncomfortable tip of the iceberg that straight folks seem to have mistaken for our lives. In Breaking Out, my latest novel, Adrienne and KJ are a bi woman and a lesbian, respectively. There is no coming out. There is no homophobia. But there’s still plenty of opportunity for conflict and drama as the women navigate their growing attraction for each other. There’s also plenty of action, but that mostly takes place on the ice. It is a hockey romance, after all.
Breaking Out isn’t unique in its portrayal of queer lives. When we’re speaking to those in our community through our stories, we get to focus on what makes us happy. Apparently, a lot of straight people would be surprised to find out how boring our lives are, at least if we judge things by how they portray us in their media.
Our stories are important. They are important because they are about us and they center us, a phenomenon that hasn’t always (or even usually) happened in mainstream narratives. Things are getting better, progress is being made, but it’s feels so slow. Movies especially lag far behind. Television shows are starting to show a broader range of experiences (but don’t get me started on their typical depiction of a lesbian). Still, too often queers are killed off to further the plot of the straight (usually also white and male) main character. Publishing seems to be opening up to us in a way it never has before. The number of queer characters who are showing up in novels put out by the big publishing houses continues to grow.
Why is it then, that lists talking about the most exciting upcoming queer novels are so short of material from our queer publishers? We’re here. We’ve been here for decades, doing the work, representing our community when no one else would or could, and now that the mainstream has discovered that there’s money to be made from queer folks, our contributions continue to be ignored.
Maybe I’m greedy. Maybe I want too much and too fast. Maybe I want the rest of the world to see our community the way we do. Is it too much to ask? I don’t think so, not in 2021.