Monday, September 6, 2010

Guest Post: Bisexual, Gender-bending, Romance is Still Romance by Cecilia Tan

Today's guest post is by Cecilia Tan, writer, editor, and sexuality activist. Learn more at


Romance is a genre where heterosexuality is widely celebrated, but in recent years gay male partnerships have also been emerging as the defining feature of a significant sub-genre. Lesbian publishers, meanwhile, have always had their share of lesbian romances, from the days of New Victoria Press to the current successes of Bold Strokes Books.

But if true love truly is for everyone, where are the bisexual and transgender romances? We use the acronym "GLBT" as a catch-all, but the B and the T are easily marginalized by the mainstream. A friend pointed out to me recently that the only transgender character to be a romantic lead in a relatively mainstream book is Chris Parker in Laura Antoniou's "Marketplace" books (which, by the way, are coming back into print via Circlet Press's new alt-sexuality erotica imprint, Luster Editions). And bisexual characters are usually secondary characters, as well, rarely seen in the leading role.

I'm trying to change that, though. I started writing paranormal romance in 2008. My first one was het, just to get my feet wet, but I couldn't stand to see the book be completely straight, so in MIND GAMES I gave our heroine a gay best friend. My editor kept telling me that in paranormal romance, it's completely normal for a main character to actually have more than one partner, even a threesome, and that this was the one of two places I'd see bisexuality making a niche in romance. ("Menage" is the other.)

I had been reading Laurell K. Hamilton, Anne Bishop, and various other paranormal "crossover" authors for years, and decided if they could go into that territory, then a bisexuality activist like myself ought to also, even while writing in the strict format of romance. I started work on a series of books called Magic University.

The premise of the books is a bit like what if we had a Harry-Potter-like scenario, where our hero suddenly discovers he magical, except he's going to college rather than grade school? My imaginary magic school isn't much like Hogwarts; it's Harvard, or more specifically the hidden magical university hidden in plain sight, called Veritas.

In book one (THE SIREN AND THE SWORD) our hero Kyle has his first serious girlfriend, falls in love the first time, loses his virginity--all that good stuff you'd expect for a young man living away from home for the first time. The story is rather heterosexual, but I figured it would be believable to start out that way, and in the meantime the secondary characters are well populated with both gay, lesbian, and transgendered characters.

However, by Kyle's sophomore year (THE TOWER AND THE TEARS), he decides to study sex magic, and is told that to be a practitioner of the Esoteric Arts, bisexuality is pretty much a requirement. (Not to mention multiple-partner rituals, some of which are downright kinky...) Kyle isn't sure what to make of that, but he's open to experimentation and finding out if he really can be attracted to another man.

I worry a little that some readers who enjoyed the first book will be put off as the subsequent books stray further from the heterosexual norm with each passing chapter. One of Kyle's mentors is revealed to have undergone a gender change earlier in life, and then even later, Kyle find himself attracted to a character whose gender isn't even simple to define. But there is no doubt that these books are Romance with a Capital R, as Kyle's ultimate quest is not to defeat evil like Harry Potter, but to find true love. By book three (THE INCUBUS AND THE ANGEL) he is coming to realize that he may only find it in places he didn't expect to look.

Ultimately, if there is a "lesson" to be learned at the Magic University, for Kyle or the reader, it is that true love knows no bounds of gender or socially constructed norms. And that may be the most romantic idea I can imagine.

About the Author: Cecilia Tan is a writer, editor, and sexuality activist. She is the author of Mind Games, The Hot Streak, White Flames, Edge Plays, Black Feathers, The Velderet, and Telepaths Don't Need Safewords, as well as the Magic University series of paranormal erotic romances, and the currently ongoing gay web serials The
Prince's Boy and Daron's Guitar Chronicles. She has the distinction of being perhaps the only writer to have erotic fiction published in both Penthouse and Ms. magazines, as well as in scores of other magazines and anthologies including Asimov’s, Best American Erotica, and Nerve. She is the founder and editor of Circlet Press, publishers of erotic science fiction and fantasy. She is also the Media Relations Director for the New England Leather Alliance (NELA). Learn more at

Related Links:
The Magic University Series - Info page

Print Book buy links:
The Marketplace
Mind Games
The Siren and the Sword
The Tower and the Tears

Ebook buy links:
Mind Games
The Siren and the Sword
The Tower and the Tears
The Incubus and the Angel


Mardel said...

I think it's great that more books are featuring gay, lesbian and the B & T of GLBT. But as an older hetero woman, I would like to see a better variety of characters in other genres - main characters and secondary. I wouldn't mind reading about a lesbian main character in an urban fantasy or mystery or just a funny fiction book. I have no problems with reading gay characters, but I am tired of reading romance and I'm not really into the erotica.

This would tie in with wanting to see more POC characters also - different skin colors and sexual orientation - it would be nice to see a well rounded representation of people, just like we have in the lives around us. I have gay couple friends and family members - and I'd love to see the same reflected in reading, without having to go search out erotica or romance.l I'm not sure what I'm aiming at saying here - other than showing support for GLBT writers and characters within all genres. If it's in a genre I would normally read - I wouldn't put it down because of lifestyles of the characters. I just want a book to be a good book.

Cecilia Tan said...

@Mardel -- oh, definitely, we could use more varied characters in all genres, not just romance. It's just interesting to me that romance, which was once the "most" heterosexual of all the genres has developed branches specifically to address variations on lifestyle and sexuality, meaning I can find myself in them now and I can write them without having to "straighten up."

Brad Jaeger said...

I am loving this blog. I am officially a new follower :)