My friends. My loves. My dudes.
If you want f/f books, you gotta buy books from creators who want to write f/f. That’s it. That’s literally the ticket. The more Queer books you buy from Queer authors who are doing the work — the more content there will be. The end.
Last night I saw this Tweet go by on my timeline. I let it go by and then scrolled back to find it because it was bothering me. And then I wrote a thread about why.
I have screen-capped the Tweet for anonymity because, as I said in the original thread, the person is making a valid point about market-driven content and the need to support creators of the work we want to see out there in the world with our dollars. I also don’t want to pile on this person I have no prior relationship with. But this is a sentiment that circulates with moderate frequency in discussions about whither the f/f romance and I have some feels about shaming and blaming readers for the fact that they aren’t finding the f/f stories they want to read.
First, this argument doesn’t engage with the fact that f/f fiction is structurally more expensive than other kinds of queer romance. I can buy three m/m stories at $2.99 a pop from authors I trust or one $9.99 f/f book from an author I have never read before. Should I be willing to pay more for f/f to support emerging f/f writers? Maybe. But what about readers who only have the $2.99? Too bad for them? Readers don’t have unlimited budgets. We make choices. Cost is a real barrier to access.*
Second, this argument flattens f/f into a single type of story you either want or don’t. Most readers have more specific tastes. I like historicals and paranormals that grapple meaningfully with gender, class, race, include meaningful chosen family networks, and have narratively significant sex. So while I want f/f, I want a pretty specific type of story — a similar type of story to the m/m and f/m narratives I gravitate toward. My other preferences as a reader don’t just swirl down the drain the minute I start sorting by the f/f category tag. If authors writing f/f are not writing in the romance flavors I enjoy, I might feel strongly about the political value of supporting f/f writers in the abstract but as a reader I have low incentive to purchase. Do I pay $4.99 for an m/m or f/m histrom paranormal my trusted social-promotional networks are buzzing about … or $9.99 for a contemporary f/f, the blurb of which makes me feel meh?
And third, those social-promotional networks really matter! Right now, the social-promotional network for f/f seems to be almost entirely separate circle on the Venn diagram from the social-promotional circle of m/m and f/m. (Much like the fandom crossover between original media that inspire f/f pairings and original media that inspire m/m pairings seems to meet only rarely.) In addition to person-to-person recommendations, the algorithimic “readers also bought…” recs in Kindle and cross-promotions at the end of m/m works are rarely (never?!) f/f.** I would totally pay $2.99 to try a new-to-me f/f author with my romance specs if they’re recommended to me by a person whose taste I find reliable vis a vis my own. This ALMOST NEVER HAPPENS with f/f. I am a queer woman romance reader, who follows a lot of queer women readers, and I almost never see this type of squeeful signal boosting of good histrom or paranormal f/f that effectively handsells the author to me (which is how I find most of my m/m and f/m authors). So the books aren’t making it in front of eyeballs is my point. The ecosystem is broken.
In sum: “Pay authors to write f/f!” is not the simple feminist fix it seems. I mean, I would be 1000% happy to be proved wrong and to wake up tomorrow morning to my mentions full of histrom, paranormal, non-transphobic, diverse, sexually explicit f/f romances for $5 or less. (Narrator: This didn’t happen.) But when I ask for recs I mostly get crickets and sympathy.
I anonymized the original Tweet above because I don’t want to attack the person who is making an important point about labor and compensation and demand. However, I think the patronising tone of the message presumes we potential readers of f/f just want good stuff for free. That we’re lazy and cheap. In my experience, romance readers — perhaps particularly romance readers who care about more diverse romance, including queer romance — generally respect author labor and care about supporting the folks who write the stories we love to read. But our feminist political commitment to supporting queer f/f writers doesn’t mean we are all rich and it doesn’t mean we want ANY AND ALL f/f content as individual readers. We pick and choose the f/f stories we will take a chance on just like any other romance purchase. And, sadly, the more times I have chanced that f/f purchase and been disappointed, the more reluctantly I approach the next offer.
One more story. There was a great panel a few years ago about the early years of On Our Backs, the lesbian feminist porn magazine. They had a centerfold — in the great tradition of porn magazines — and one of the former editors on the panel, Susie Bright, told this wonderful story. That they used to get letters from readers AGONIZING about their feelings of desire for the centerfold. “What are her politics?” they would write and ask:
“Dear “On Our Backs,” — one letter-writer would say– “I do not know how to feel about your centerfold model. What if she’s not a good person? I do not know her politics. I cannot decide whether I should attempt to jill off to this picture when I do not know where she stands on ecology, race relations, veganism.”
And the editor was like: “Here is the gift of a naked woman! Can you not just accept this gift if it makes you feel good??”
“But I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel if I don’t know her stance on nuclear proliferation!!!”
Women who desire women (cis and trans alike, though we experience cultural pressures differently) experience a lot of shame and anxiety about not getting desire “right”. Am I feminist enough? Am I gay enough? Should I enjoy penetration if I’m a lesbian and a feminist? If I’m not turned on by this woman is it a sign of internalized misogyny? When I speak with other queer readers yearning for f/f romance in the marketplace we acknowledge the shame and self-blame that happens every time we read an f/f story we feel less than enthusiastic about: Is this just not a story I like OR AM I A BAD QUEER FEMINIST???
So shaming queer women for not buying more f/f — and blaming them, as reader-consumers, for the lack of f/f stories being published — is all tangled up in this long history of queer, feminist women worried about getting our sexual pleasure correct politically. OF COURSE readers have absorbed all manner of biases (sexist and otherwise) as part of our cultural stew. Asking ourselves why we are compelled by certain narratives and not others is TOTALLY valid. But, “buy f/f and stuff you like will eventually be written!” is…not that call to self-reflection.
*I don’t talk about libraries in this post in part because they are another access point/barrier to reading queer romance. I have a library widget on my browser that tells me if a book is available at any of the three public library networks I have access to. Only rarely are the romance novels I am looking for available to me free from the library. So readers who cannot afford even the $2.99/book pricepoints have even more barriers to access.
**Unless it’s an f/f by the same author — thankfully an occurrance growing in frequency