Today Romance Writers of America issued a long overdue and welcome apology for a poll in 2005 in which it considered defining romance as
“a story in which a predominant part of the story line focuses on the romantic relationship that develops between one man and one woman on more than a physical level. Although other elements and subplots may be components of the story line, by the book’s conclusion the romantic relationship has been resolved in an emotionally satisfying manner”
“a story in which a predominant part of the story line focuses on the romantic relationship that develops between two people on more than a physical level. Although other elements and subplots may also be components of the story line, by the book’s conclusion the romantic relationship has been resolved in an emotionally satisfying manner.”
The RWA apology rightly says
“The survey … sparked a discussion that compelled our LGBT+ members to justify their existence to others and to participate in debates about their humanity and their capacity to love. This incident was a low point from which RWA’s reputation has never recovered. The organization later reaffirmed RWA’s commitment to making sure that ‘any definition of romance should be broad and inclusive.’ This statement, however, did not make it clear that, in issuing the survey, RWA failed its members, its genre and its mission. We want to make that clear now.”
It is also important to note that today’s RWA definition of a romance is a story that “has a central love story and an emotionally satisfying ending.” Numbers and gender of people are not specified.
Curious about the discussion at the time, I did some Googling. If you also do some Googling you will see a lot of homophobia; a lot of people discussing their conservative interpretation of Christianity; a belief that the romance genre is (exclusively) for married, monogamous and “moral” women; a lot of the expected “slippery slope” nonsense of pedophilia and bestiality, and a lot of moralizing against polyamory in novels and in life.
If you’re enjoying today’s victory (I was!), don’t do that Google. If you write polyamorous romance and were wondering why there’s hostility about it (not the totally aok “not my cuppa tea” but the “that’s not romance! get out of the genre!”), that’s one place to look. It’s not just about story preferences, the cheating taboo in romance, or misunderstandings of what polyamory is. It’s all about the language in the survey that was mostly apologized for today.
That language from 2005 doesn’t appear to have been accidental. If you do that Google (again, don’t do the Google if you’re in the happy place), you’ll see plenty of arguments on multiple sides of the issue that specifically reference the numerical part of the language.
I’m thrilled to be a member of an organization that is willing to apologize for events over a decade old and support the most inclusive and sensitive definitions of our genre. I’m also mindful that romance is personal for readers and writers, because while we seek fantasies in stories, we also, at least sometimes, seek people like ourselves getting their HEA. When people say “that’s not romance” it attacks not just authors and their books, but real lives.
I’m grateful to an evolving RWA for recognizing that.