The perils of being a romance/SFF genre dual-citizen

A joke about crossing the streams seems like overkill here, but feel free to make it inside your head 🙂

I saw this tweet going across my feed today, and the phrase “dual-citizen” jumped out at me because it expresses the way that I feel about my own genre-living status.

(Well, also my actual status, as a dual British-Canadian citizen. But that’s a whole other story.)

It’s something I’ve been thinking about and started to talk about on Twitter on Friday, after the Booksmugglers article kerfuffle, but 140 characters doesn’t really give room to do it justice. It also made me a little sad that SFF fandom has been so hostile to people who write books that fall into both genres, that people like Bree want nothing to do with it.

I have been reading SFF ever since I can remember. It’s the genre that informed my growing mind about stories and storytelling, and it’s what set me dreaming. It was always the place where I could go for spaceships, princesses, swords, magic, adventure,  fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…

Okay, maybe not the true love part. Because a lot of SFF doesn’t like having all the icky ooey gooey feelings in it. Stories with more than a hint of romance tend to get chucked over the fence into Romancelandia and labelled paranormal romance or sci fi romance or fantasy romance. Really, anything that could have a romance tag on the end is firmly put in Romancelandia, because it’s got all that kissing in and the kissing cooties might contaminate the spaceships or something.

I’ve been reading romance, on and off, since my early teens. I say on and off, because there was a phase in my twenties when I wandered away due to an excess of improbable sheikhs and stereotypical billionaires. I blame my local library, which only stocked the most cliched of category romance. The current wonderful world of historical romances and paranormal romances was nowhere to be seen at that time, at least in books I could get hold of. I suspect that the paranormal romances confused the librarians, because they clearly didn’t belong in SFF, but they didn’t have little Harlequin tags on them, either. I think historicals suffered the same fate, although they might have been tucked away in the family sagas where I never wandered.

I got my romance itch scratched by fanfic, like a lot of people. All those stories that combined big interesting plots and a significance dose of kissing (ahem, and more) and feelings? Catnip for me.

My return to pro romance came through recommendations from fandom friends, which is when I discovered the rich variety of historical and paranormal romance out there. The indie-publishing boom has made romance a much more interesting genre (IMO), and there is more out there that’s My Thing (TM) than I could ever possibly read.

My other Thing is m/m and f/f romance (another discovery through fanfic), which is where indie publishing and small presses have filled a gap. So many wonderful stories out there! You can probably see why one of my favourites is KJ Charles, who writes m/m historical and paranormal romance, and thus satisfies All My Things perfectly.

So I’m firmly a dual citizen, reading and participating in both genres. What I write straddles the line: paranormal and fantasy romance. The big magical plotty stuff is the main thrust of my stories, but the relationship side is equally important. I’m anticipating that no matter how many zombies or ornithopters I throw into my books, though, they’re going to be very firmly Not SFF No Way.

And this is the thing. I’m a dual citizen, many of us are, but SFF fandom does its very best to ignore, reject, and look down on Romancelandia, even where our genres have heavy overlaps. It’s noticeable (to me) that the reverse isn’t true (mostly). Romancelandia is very aware of SFF, acknowledges the influence, and the big events and issues in SFF seep across the border into romance discussions.

I have some theories about it. Romance and fanfic seem to be held in equal regard by the wider SFF fandom, and I can’t help noticing that both are forms of writing done primarily for and by women. I’m pretty confident that isn’t coincidence.

I’m not arguing that everyone in SFF needs to go out and read some romance. That would be as ridiculous as demanding that every romance reader/writer get some SFF under their belts. What I’d like to see is a more respectful discourse between the genres, and I think most of the work there is in SFF’s ballpark. The two genres have more in common than many people want to recognise.

SFF and romance are both looked down on and marginalised by other genres, and literary fiction as a whole. There’s a lot of content overlap. Many of the discussions around gender, sexism, consent, and trigger warnings have been happening for longer in romance than they have in SFF. By contrast, discussions around convention code of conduct and accessibility have been happening for longer in SFF, and some of the big romance cons could take a page out of the policies being developed by organisations like SFWA.

It’s easy to talk about being an SFF reader in Romancelandia. Nobody judges you or looks down on you for reading that stuff with the spaceships and the magical rings.

It’s hard to admit to being a romance reader in the SFF world. There’s a stigma attached to it. A judgement.

Every time I see someone that I know from SFF talking about the romances they read and love, I want to cheer for them. Then I cry a little inside when a big SFF site publishes yet another poorly-researched article about why romance is terrible. If we could get those big SFF sites to publish articles by dual-citizen readers, it would be a big step forward, but that means we need people to start talking about what they really read. All of it.

Even the books with kissing (and a bit more) in them.