Romance is Diverse AF

This week:

  • I read a lot of self-published Romance
  • Main characters can be diverse in a lot of different ways
  • Everyone deserves a happily ever after
Photo by Ron Lach

I have been reflecting on the books that I read in 2022.

It occurred to me that I have been reading some reasonably diverse books lately (and, no, this is not me patting myself on the back, this is me working out why I seem to have read so many banging books this year with characters that are crystal clear in my mind).

I realised that I have read books with main characters who are diverse in many different ways.

And then I realised that most of those books were Romance books.

My Romance reading

Something it is worth noting: I read a lot of self-published Romance and one day I might write a blog that is a passionate defence of self-published Romance against all the snobbery it faces (usually by people who have never read any of the actual books).

But that day is not today.

I just wanted to make it clear that I am talking about self-published Romance and not traditionally-published Romance because those two pools are very different.  I rarely read traditionally-published Romance and have very little idea of how diverse the characters are.

The Romance genre I’m talking about

Romance is a broad genre with many sub-genres.  It includes contemporary romance, historical romance, paranormal romance, and many, many more.  Each sub-genre has a whole load of sub-genres. 

So I am going to narrow it down, otherwise I have read a more diverse list of main characters than I thought, namely main characters who are dragons.

Right now, I am only going to consider main characters from the contemporary romances I’ve read.

That still has a range of sub-genres, including romantic comedy (light-hearted stories) and romantic suspense (thrillers with life-and-death stakes).

What are the ‘usual’ main characters in a Romance?

What people tend to expect when they think of Romance is chick flicks, with two hetero, cis-gendered people in their twenties (maybe thirties at a push) who represent the ideal body standards of the day, which includes being white and slender.

Sometimes there will be some variation from the middle-class, neurotypical, successful, family-orientated stereotype but not often.  It’s also worth noting that it’s mostly the female who is the less powerful of the two (often poor and working-class) and the male who is not family-orientated (but he learns a lesson about that by the end).

But that is also a subject for another day.

That’s not what you get in self-published Romance books

There is a huge range of books available and many, many sub-genres.

This article isn’t about the pros and cons of self-publishing (though I have some thoughts, good and bad).

However, it’s worth noting that the range of main characters in self-published books of all genres is incredibly wide, mostly because anyone can write their book and publish it and, yes, that means people often do that without taking due care and there is a lot of tripe out there…

But people who would never get a traditional publishing deal are suddenly able to get their stories out there.

And people are reading them.

What kinds of diversity are we talking about here?

There are a lot of ways in which main characters in a Romance novel can differ from the ‘expected’ protagonist.

For example:

  • Gender
  • Sexuality
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Class
  • Age
  • Body type
  • Neurodivergence
  • Mental health
  • Disabilities

In the past two years, I have read Main Characters who defy the ‘norms’ of Romance leads.

Please note, that’s MAIN CHARACTERS.  The actual romantic interest, the lead character, the protagonist.  Not a cute side-character who never gets romanced or if they do it’s by an equally ridiculed side-character because they are only there as comic relief.  The actual main character of the book.

In just the past two years, I have read characters who:

  • Are male
  • Are female
  • Are non-binary
  • Are trans men
  • Are gay
  • Are straight
  • Are bisexual
  • Are pansexual
  • Are polyamorous
  • Are white
  • Are Black
  • Are of mixed heritage
  • Are Native American
  • Are Asian American
  • Are Christian
  • Are Jewish
  • Are atheist
  • Are working class
  • Are middle class
  • Are upper class
  • Are late teens
  • Are in their twenties
  • Are in their thirties
  • Are in their forties
  • Are in their fifties
  • Are in their sixties
  • Are skinny
  • Are fat
  • Are muscular
  • Are average build
  • Have autism
  • Have PTSD
  • Have ADHD
  • Have anxiety
  • Have depression
  • Have narcolepsy
  • Have dyslexia
  • Are amputees
  • Are blind
  • Use a wheelchair

I think it’s wonderful that such a wide range of people who represent the population (mostly of the UK and the USA) are the protagonists.

Not only that, they are protagonists in a Romance.

Our predominant culture has taught us that, in order to be romanced, we must be cis-gendered, heterosexual, white, slim, beautiful, young, neurotypical and able-bodied.

If we’re not those things, there is very little traditional media that tells us we can have (and deserve) whatever kind of happily ever after we want.

I love that the self-published Romance community said ‘hold my beer’ and gave us something else.

And they’re cracking books, too.

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