Paranormal Romance is a genre that is surprisingly lacking in own voices, where the authors are of the same identity as the main character or one of the main characters. It has such a potential to be the sub-genre that can diversify romance. We’re talking the sub-genre that uses magical creatures, your vampires, your werewolves, your badger shifters, and uses that world to discuss the most complex and difficult realities of our own. That is an amazing way to bring in diversity.
But a lot of this sub-genre is white, cisgender, heterosexual.
For so long, this sub-genre used fantastical creatures of the night to discuss how we view prejudice in our own world. That darkness matches the most terrible parts of our own: white supremacy. Paranormal romance opens a light in a difficult world, where our couple fight against the injustices of the world. That’s what’s so amazing about paranormal stories. The problem is that this genre uses characters who are white to discuss prejudice…which is some color-blind crap with an huge dose of fascism.
And in case you’ve been under a rock, color blindness is the idea that we should treat marginalized peoples like their identity doesn’t matter (aka white people) as if they don’t have a skin color or that their skin color does not determine their lives in a racist world. Sorta like a white fantasy world where white people have convinced themselves racism doesn’t exist even though….it clearly does. This idea also erases people’s identities. It allows us to forget a person’s culture and identity, when in truth identity is very important to who they are.
I don’t see why the romance genre can’t use this sub-genre to progress into the future. We’re talking about historical romance’s problem. Let’s also talk about paranormal romance. Because racism and heterosexual exclusiveness permeates every section of this genre, as well as other genres. And that sucks. Especially for POC/Indigenous/Queer/2 spirit people.
Jeaniene Frost used vampires in her Night Huntress series to discuss prejudice. In her series, the heroine is human and vampire. Cat has abilities no human can recognize. Much like bi-racial people who are in between white spaces and their community, she can live in both worlds without being discovered (if she’s careful of her secret). But, each group judges her for the other part of her identity. Cat’s identity of hiding from humans could also be a way to discuss queerness and the way queer people sometimes must hide who they are. Her mother, for example, judges her for being a vampire. Justine sees Cat’s vampire identity as something to be ashamed of, as sinful and abhorrent. Cat being a vampire gives Justine an excuse to treat her like she’s not human, like a lesser being, unworthy of love. A lot of kids in this world have and still do experience prejudice from their parents, whether intentionally or not. This is something especially apparent for queer people. A parent teaching their child, whether intentionally or not, to hate a part of who they are is the worst because it comes from someone they trust and love.
Prejudice between mother and child becomes a major issue in the series. The love Cat struggles with is majorly for herself. It’s through falling in love with Bones that she learns to love herself. He helps her to realize that she is worthy of love just as she is. Her vampire identity is not something that should be a fault but something to love about herself. Like in many marginalized communities, hatred of self-identity is a huge problem due to colonialism, white supremacy, etc.
But sometimes I wonder what if there were more paranormal romances like Jeaniene’s Frost’s series but they featured black or queer couples? Jeaniene Frost told the story she wanted to tell. What if people, not just white cis het people, could tell similar stories outside of heterosexuality or whiteness? I think that’s something authors like Frost would be up for. I think the finger should be pointed at publishers, not so much authors.
Yes, I’ll admit there are authors that seem to paint their worlds exclusive to whiteness and that is a problem because it creates a very specific type of exclusive fantasy, where white heterosexuality likes to roll in its disgusting putrid rot.
Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling series deals with the prejudices Psy people have against Changelings. Singh, who is Kiwi and Indian, writes main characters from different backgrounds. Her world is very diverse and not at all whitewashed, unlike a lot of series in paranormal romance.
There are unfortunately not very many POC/Indigenous authors writing in this sub-genre. A lot of that has to do with what publishers think is sellable. And apparently, they think no one wants to read paranormal romance where the characters are queer, black, native, or latinx. I’m white so I’m not impacted like a POC/Indigenous person would be by this. But I am disappointed in the genre because I do not think only white cis hetero people should get to tell stories. I am not comfortable with romance being exclusive to people who look like me. No one should be comfortable with that. And I’m not satisfied with white fantasy creatures being exchanged for marginalized groups. I do love that paranormal romance discusses these issues but the genre can’t stop there. I love what Jeaniene Frost did with her series, especially concerning self-love. But publishers need to start encouraging authors who are not white heterosexual. I need to see more diversity, especially in a sub-genre that so heavily uses discrimination as a theme.
It’s not that every book needs to use this as an issue. I want to read books where discrimination is something the character deals with but isn’t a main theme. I want to see various types of storytelling. There is a reason romance is escapism. We escape from the terrible traumas of the world. As a woman, I read romance to escape all the misogyny and violence writers and the media place upon my gender. Not that I don’t think we can’t discuss these issues in romance but I do want to see marginalized people win in these books. On a basic level: I don’t want romance to turn into Game of Thrones. I also think escapism should be something available to people who are not white, cis, or hetero.
And let’s all think about the gorgeous aesthetic of Janelle Monáe’s music video Make Me Feel…which I can just imagine as an underground vamp club obvsly.
And I know that POC/Indigenous/Queer people would love that as well. I don’t just want cis hetero white author after white author writing about how hard it is for all these white shapeshifters. I want paranormal romances by POC/Indigenous/Queer authors. I want to see them welcomed in this sub-genre. I want to see worlds where black girls, native girls, queer girls also get to fall in love with that sexy were-beast down the street. I think there’s an amazing opportunity to have queer faeries and trans identities discussed through fantastical means. Who doesn’t want see lesbians stabbing demons, gender fluid faeries falling in love, and a cast of diverse vampires? I want authors to prove to me that their worlds REALLY are as diverse as they claim. There is room to use paranormal and supernatural as metaphors for marginalization. Authors like Talia Hibbert: writing paranormals with black monster hunters. What I don’t understand is why the gatekeepers in publishing would limit diversity in not only the characters but who gets to tell these stories.
Where do I place the blame? Publishers, the fucking gatekeepers, the ones deciding what authors I get to pray to, those shits.
This sub-genre has definitely gone down in popularity but it doesn’t have to stay that way. It means people are tired of all the whiteness. I don’t think it’s coincidence that people are all excited about vampires supposedly coming back. There’s a huge popularity with horror and paranormal stories. Just look to Jordan Peele, occult Netflix shows, the new revival of Charmed, and the upcoming Nancy Drew tv show.
You can only talk about how hard it is for all these white vampires so much before it becomes weird, you know. It’s not like WOC aren’t writing paranormal romance. It’s just that the big publishers and their white asses aren’t really paying attention (http://www.wocinromance.com/themes/paranormal/). Also: WOC in Romance is a great source if you’re ever looking to diversify your TBR.
Tell me publishers…. how thick are those gilded halls of yours that you would think the only interesting paranormal romance is white, cis, and heterosexual? Time to massacre this fascist shit.