Why label LGBT/queer fiction?

As I’ve been getting closer to finishing Adrift and releasing it, I’ve been thinking more about how to summarise it for the blurb on the back of the book. I had a summary that I had written before I even finished the novel, but then as I was working on the book cover, I realised I didn’t like it any more.

Writing the blurb is hard. Honestly, it’s harder than writing the book, because although I know what the story is about, and what the highlights are for me, I don’t know what readers want to know about it before they open the cover.

On top of that, there are certain things I don’t want to give away before people have the chance to read the book themselves. I might be happy talking about them on my blog, and using that to attract readers who follow me, but that doesn’t mean I want everyone to know about them before they pick up the book and read it.

I was talking about this with some other writers recently, specifically mentioning that I didn’t want to reveal on the cover of the book that the main love of my female protagonist’s life is a woman. People argued that I should, because I shouldn’t risk alienating readers who don’t want to read LGBT stuff. I felt like I was being swayed in this direction so it could serve as a “warning” to people who are anti-LGBT rights, so they don’t have to risk going outside their bubbles and being challenged against what they believe in.

Why? Why should I warn people about something I see as perfectly natural and normal?

Because the thing is, if people like that don’t care about the rights of LGBT people, then I don’t see why I should care about warning them they might accidentally read about lesbian love. If they should read Adrift and become shocked and appalled at the lesbian sex, and want to rant and rave about it somewhere online to “warn” other people of the content, then that’s their right. I’m not going to argue with that. But I don’t think it’s my responsibility to nanny them.

For me, it’s more important to challenge expectations. I want there to be a possibility for anti-LGBT people to read my novel and see that love is love. Lesbian love is equal to heterosexual love.

Additionally, my novel isn’t exactly a romance. Should it be labelled LGBT fiction when the story is more important than the type of relationships contained within? We don’t label everything with heterosexual relationships heterosexual fiction. And it’s not like I don’t also have straight characters in the book.

Not too long ago a Facebook friend shared a video about real lesbians reacting to lesbian porn. You know, the kind that’s actually for men. Lesbians are fetishised by (some) men, and so accurate portrayals of lesbians in media are limited, especially if they want to attract a male audience. Do I want men to read my book? Sure, but I don’t want them to think I wrote it to give them lesbian porn. I want to give them a more accurate portrayal of a lesbian relationship. That way, if they’re still going to fetishise them, at least they will have better expectations of what women want from other women.

Would labelling my novel LGBT fiction limit my audience? I worry that it will make people think that only people in that minority group will be interested in the story. And whilst I would be thrilled to have them amongst my audience — because being bisexual myself, I know I desire more stories that feature such characters — I think my story is more universal than that. So far, half of my readers consider themselves straight, and still enjoy the story.

I think it’s time to break down the barriers. The best way for people to stop thinking that LGBT love is a Big Deal, and to help more people to see them — us — as normal, is to avoid the labels. Yes it can be talked about, but it doesn’t need to be shouted from the rooftops that THIS BOOK HAS LESBIANS.

It’s okay for mainstream fiction to have non-straight characters without drawing attention to it. Honestly, if they exist in the real world, it’s going to make a story more realistic to see them on the page.

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