Male/male romance has found a place in popular romance, but what about female/female romance? Editor and scholar Sarah Frantz discusses the history and appeal of female/female romance.
What is the appeal of female/female romance?
Honestly, I think the readers who read for the heroine are actually reading to identify with the heroine, just the way everybody assumes that they will and they still want to fall in love with a man. So, female/female romance doesn’t really cut it because you don’t have a man in it at all. I also, honestly, think because you don’t have a man in it, you don’t have that representation of patriarchy that I think is a large part of the appeal of romance no matter whether you read for the man or the woman.
But female/female romance has a very strong tradition in the lesbian community, that there are publishers out there—Len Barot publishing at Bold Strokes Books is the most important one, of course, but there are lesbian presses out there that have always published romances. And unlike a lot of the gay male fiction out there, which ends in death, you know, even if you have a happy ending, then you have to die. Lesbian romance did that in the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s, but broke out of it a little bit more in the ’80s at least. And then in the ’90s and the 2000s, they’re like screw it! And they just started publishing romances because that’s what they wanted to read. It’s market driven, right? It works [. . .]
[. . .] The romance readers who read heterosexual romance can make the switch more easily to reading male/male romance, I think, because of some of the gender implications and the power dynamics of why they read romance in the first place; and they don’t make the switch so much to reading female/female romance or lesbian romance, but it’s out there. It has its own community. It has a very strong community. The community is mainly lesbian, but I think that we’re seeing a lot more crossover with the readers who read mainstream heterosexual romance are discovering not only that there’s male/male romance but that there’s also female/female romance and let’s go and explore over there.