Tag Archives: romance

Rethinking Romance

One of the many things that bothers me about hetronormative depictions of romance, is the way it’s all supposed to happen by magic. Great sex just happens spontaniously when two people who are attracted to each other get into bed. People are supposed to magically know what other people want in this and all other contexts. Failure to magically know what the other person wants is romance-fail.

At the same time we get repeatedly exposed to the idea that women are strange, incomprehensible creatures whose wants, feelings and needs can never make sense to a man. “What’s wrong,” he asks, in all innocence. “You should know,” she says, or maybe she tells him she’s fine.

Why do we hang on to this curious belief that not communicating is somehow romantic and that the proof of love is not needing to tell someone stuff? 

For kinksters, this just isn’t an option. You can’t assume anything about what the other person wants, you have to talk. If you’re queer, plural, trans, nonbinary, assexual, or doing anything else that falls outside the narrow scope of hetranormative romance, you can’t assume much and you have to talk. This is such a blessing and an advantage. It’s one of those rare areas of concern where being cis and straight really doesn’t give you privilege, it gives you a monstrous weight of toxic cultural baggage.

Good relationships depend on communication. If you go in expecting other people to be different from you, then you’re going to be more open to finding out who they are and how they want to do things. The assumption of similarity is a barrier to talking. There have been enough cis-het people in my life for me to be confident that most people are complicated. To feel obliged to play along with social stereotypes is to have unmet, unspeakable needs. I think a lot of apparently normal people experience a lot of feelings of loneliness, isolation, maybe even freakishness because they aren’t really as normal as they think they should be.

I’m not convinced ‘normal’ is even a real thing. I think it’s just a social construct to keep us tame and limited. It’s much more romantic to talk. It’s sexy to communicate. Relationships based on exchange are much more interesting than ones based on fear and assumption.


Unromantic poetry

I have a small, ongoing project around writing deliberately unromantic poetry. I’m on a mission to debunk things that are presented as romance, but are really toxic, or bullshit. Here’s the latest.

Refusing to die of a broken heart

I will not drink poison for you

I do not offer my last breath

Nor the blood in my veins.

I will not crawl over broken glass

For you. there will be no proof

Of faith in a death from grief

I will not cut out my heart

To place it in a box for you.

No slashing back of soul and self

To make offerings of wounds.

I will not become smaller for you

There is no romantic splendour

In the fatal cup, the ravaged life

The early death.

This is not romance.

I will not die for you.

I did not promise to suffer.

Tell me to live for you, to endure

To flourish for your sake also.

Love is measured not in torment

But in the co-creating

Of better days.


Stories about love

When you’re a straight, cis person in a monogamous relationship, being out is easy. My guess is that you don’t worry so much about how people will react to your romance unless there’s something else queer about it – a sizeable age gap for example,  or being in a mixed race or mixed religion relationship where the people around you might not be ok with that.

I’ve always been polyamorous, but I’ve not always been out as polyamorous. Early on I had no idea how to navigate around friends and family with this, so mostly I didn’t. The emotional expense of being honest about your relationships may be more than you can afford. For some people, owning the queerness is genuinely dangerous. Complicated, non-conforming relationships can be challenging enough without all the work of having to emotionally support other people in dealing with you well.

The worst part of all this, for me, has always been the breakups. The invisible, unspeakable endings of relationships I never made properly visible in the first place. When a conventional relationship breaks up, people tend to own it and the people around them tend to be supportive. When you’ve fallen out with your other lover… how do you even talk about that? Can you be confident  of expecting support, rather than blame, shame, judgement and more pain?

Many of my most important love affairs have been romantic rather than sexual, so I don’t entirely fit in what many people imagine ‘polyamorous’ means in the first place. I can get deeply emotionally involved with a person without it ever being a physical thing. So, what a relationship is and means to me is not necessarily the same as what it means to the other person – that’s always interesting to navigate. I know there are people in my history who, for me, were life altering love affairs, and who almost certainly never thought the same way about me. Which is fine – love is what I do, not what I expect.

So here I am, grieving the end of a love affair that never quite was. Letting go of something that, for a while, was pure enchantment for me, but that maybe only existed for me. Wondering what to say to who, and finding out who knew me well enough to have spotted it anyway. It’s a strange place to be. There are no maps for this kind of territory. There are no roles readily supplied to slot into, there are precious few stories to navigate by.

I’ve also got to the point in my life of being unable to be other than myself. I’m too tired to hide the inconvenient bits. I’m past caring about people judging me – and increasingly willing to shrug and let go of the people who aren’t ok with me as I am. One of the consequences is that I can, and will start mapping this territory and telling stories about love that are not the stories my society usually tells.


River Magic – a review

River Magic by M.A. Phillips is witch lit, romance, and magical realism and I heartily recommend it. This is a contemporary set novel with a main character exploring the Druid path in America. It’s a really lovely book with a great deal to recommend it.

While this is a straight romance, there are a number of queer characters in the story, which made me really happy. It turns out that I enjoy het romance a lot more when it isn’t set in a hetronormative context. Much of the book deals with the developing relationship, not just the opening gambits of  getting into a relationship – I really like this I think we need a lot more stories about people who are together rather than just obsessing over people getting together.

The Druid content is perfect – because the author is a Druid. It goes deeper than the rituals and beliefs though. This is a story that is absolutely rooted in a landscape and where the seasons are intrinsically part of life. There’s great richness to the writing around the river, the mountains, and trees that not only brings the story vividly to life but really conveys a sense of lived Pagan experience. I loved reading this, and realised how much I need this kind of story that reflects my values and priorities.

The magic is compelling, and Pagans who have had their own woo-woo experiences will recognise the challenges this brings. It’s one thing doing a tarot reading for love guidance and quite another acting on otherworldly instructions. Again, it’s wonderful seeing this sort of content handled by someone who clearly knows what they are talking about. I also really like the way the author tends to avoid big drama, and keeps the characters in a more realistic relationship with reality.

This is a beautiful book, and I loved it and look forward to the rest of the series. It’s very human, and warm and grounded, while also being magical and soulful.

More on the publisher’s website – https://shadowsparkpub.com/ma-phillips

This is part of a blog tour, and you can find out more about that here – https://www.storytellersontour.online/2020/10/20/tour-schedule-river-magic-by-m-a-phillips/


Putting the romance back into Necromancy

I wrote this poem in response to Necromancers, by Penny Blake. More about that book over here – https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2020/03/07/necromancers/

I was rather charmed by the scope for playing with romance tropes in a distinctly wrong sort of way…

 


Necromancers

Putting the romance back into necromancy… Necromancers by Penny Blake is a funny, twisted sort of a tale. There are pointy things to be said about religion and the use of humour and fantasy to make comment on human behaviour reminded me very much of Terry Pratchett. I didn’t feel I could review this one, having proof-read it just long enough ago to be unhelpful. I very much enjoyed it.

I can tell you that my slightly evil teenage son chortled all the way through and pronounced it to be excellent.

 

For your delectation…

 

 

 

An Extract From NECROMANCERS By Penny Blake

A terrible accident involving a minor miscalculation has flooded almost the entire planet with lemonade. A few sparse scraps of humanity cling to flotillas of cobbled junk in attempts to sustain some semblance of civilised existence. War, famine and caffeine withdrawal have turned the erstwhile peaceful world into a post-apocalyptic nightmare.

Meanwhile, on the remote and inexplicably unaffected island of Eilean Claigeann, an ancient cult are still obliviously serving the obsolete ‘supreme ruler of the universe’, Wiz, and trying to fathom the secret of immortality. Sort of. Actually daily temple life revolves more around cake sales, bridge nights and village fetes… until two novices discover the secret of immortality themselves and unleash a couple of very unlikely ‘gods’ upon the previously peaceful community.

This LGBTQIA+ short story is part of the Ashton’s Kingdom series and takes place approximately 500 years after the events in The Curious Adventures Of Smith And Skarry

 

CHAPTER 1: Cake or Death

Thunder, lightening, rain, hail, ominous fog and all the other things that accompany the beginning of an iconic horror movie or damn fine tale about Tea, Cake and lashings of Untimely Death, were occurring all over the little island known colloquially (and everywhere else) as The Skull.

Douglas skidded and stumbled over the vindictively slick cobblestones, cursing the length of his disgustingly sodden red robes, the ineffectual protection offered by his floppy wet cowl, the stupid little purse that dangled at his waist and was constantly expelling all his valuables into the muck, the fact that his favourite pocket watch had broken – again – and any and everything else that passed through his mind as he finally staggered, panting and wheezing, to the top of the hill.

Sheet lightening flared for a second, silhouetting the crumbling chapel as Douglas clasped the cold iron ring in the studded wooden door and, with a cautious shoulder, silently eased it open.

The eerie luminescence of a hundred flickering candles vanished in an ebbing wave, to be replaced by darkness and smoke and a smattering of accusatory choking noises.

Thunder shook the walls and lightening flashed again, gleaming on several stiletto thin blades, poised in mid air.

Sorry,” Douglas ventured, shuffling sideways along what he hoped was the back row of folding chairs. There was an almighty crash as something large and metallic clattered to the flagstone floor. “Sorry! So sorry, Francis, er, Your Grace…”

Douglas!”

Sorry!”

Buy the book here – https://www.amazon.co.uk/Necromancers-Ashtons-Kingdom-Penny-Blake-ebook/dp/B083RVWP2G/


Sexy paranormal creatures

If you read folklore or fairy tales, you will find that the paranormal creatures are more dangerous than they are sexy. If they seem sexy, it’s just as bait to lure you in so they can eat you. Mermaids, sirens, alluring maidens sat near ponds – they’re just hungry. Vampires, werewolves and zombies used to be grim, grotesque and horrifying. What happened? Somewhere in the 20th century, the dangerous supernatural creatures of our folklore turned into objects of desire.

For me, those paranormal creatures have always suggested the wild and the wilderness. They may be the un-tame hazard inside us all. They are the things we find monstrous about ourselves as well as the things we fear in the dark, in the woods and in the wilderness. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that sexy paranormal stories come at a time when we’ve pushed wildness to the margins. With deforestation, everything mapped, and wild places exploited for profit, where is there left for paranormal creatures to haunt your imagination? And so, just as the wild places are commodified and exploited, so the paranormal creatures become sex objects.

There may be social aspects too. We’ve broken down a lot of taboos around the world about who can love whom. There’s still a lot of work to do. It’s no longer comfortable to present people of a different ethnic background to your own as the exotic, desirable mystery. Romance depends on the beloved being difficult to obtain. As the barriers to human love come down, keeping the story shape alive calls for new challenges. The paranormal creatures slot neatly into our desires for certain story shapes.

As we become more alert to gender politics, the bad boy archetype of many a romance novel becomes less attractive. Women writers may be less keen now to sell us the aristocratic male with issues of authority and entitlement. He’s a bit old fashioned. Werewolves on the other hand have much better excuses for anger management issues, and are the ultimate bad boy you might want to tame.

For me, there’s a process here that goes along with a lot of other human processes. We see everything as existing for our use, benefit and amusement. We no longer imagine anything is more powerful than we are. The monsters of our old stories can’t continue as monsters any more. We turn them into sex toys. If I thought this was a case of replacing violence with love, I’d be a good deal more comfortable. To me, it seems like yet another expression of how we like to knock mystery and hazard out of the world in order to better own it, tame it and contain it.


Anti-romantic poetry

All those heart metaphors

 

I wore my heart on my sleeve for you.

I spilled my guts.

 

I put my spleen on my shoulder

Was that helpful?

I draped my lungs over my ears,

Put my liver in the upturned cuff

Of my trousers,

Wore my pancreas on my wrist.

 

Do I make sense now?

Can you read my entrails?

Is the hollow place under my ribs

Understandable? Clearer?

Do you need to see all my bones?

 

Is honesty the exposed inner workings

Or was it the mysterious whole?

Where’s the true layer?

What should we dig down to?

 

I put my heart on my sleeve for you.

Just offal and mess, it turns out

And not much good at all.

 

(I may be going to do a run of these, exploring ideas around romance and dismantling them in whatever way occurs to me at the time. Especially what we’re supposed to do with hearts – which discernibly work better on the inside.)


The Dirigible King’s Daughter – a review

When Alys West guest blogged with me recently about living tradition (https://druidlife.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/referencing-the-tradition-by-alys-west/) she mentioned a Steampunk novel, so I asked for a review copy.

The Dirigible King’s Daughter is a steampunk romance and I liked it as a romance because it deviates from the usual story shape in some interesting ways. We know from early on that the protagonists are in love with each other – it’s never really in doubt, but it’s more a case of whether love is enough and what it might cost them. This is a question I’d like to see asked more often- I think the assumption that love will always be enough is a harmful one that needs challenging.

On the steampunk side, there’s enough action, adventure, dirigibles and other technology to cheerfully tick all those boxes. There’s also (which is really important to me) a political aspect to it. It’s not all titled people having jolly adventures. Alys has things to say about class and the way in which wealth impacts on how people are treated. She also has a lot to say about gender politics, both historical and by implication, contemporary.

What really caught me off guard though was the emotional intensity of the book when it came to the main character’s backstory – which you slowly piece together heading towards the reveals near the end. No spoilers from me! There turned out to be a number of difficult subjects in this book, handled with empathy that resulted in something both moving and engaging.

I usually don’t pick up books in which a female protagonist is defined in the title purely in relationship to a man. I made an exception for this one, and I’m glad I did, because the story is very much about dealing with the implications the central character – Harriet – has to deal with from having been defined to herself and others by her father’s actions. This is a story about a young lady taking control of her life and emerging from beneath the long shadow her father has cast, it is about becoming someone other than The Dirigible King’s Daughter, and I very much liked that about it.

You can read the first 2 chapters here – https://alyswest.com/the-dirigible-kings-daughter/tdkd-sample-v2/

Or find the book on Amazon –  https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dirigible-Kings-Daughter-Alys-West/dp/0993288677


If love is not a scarcity

We tell each other stories in contemporary white, western culture about love as a big, dramatic event. We are supposed to fall in love with one person, for the rest of our lives, and live happily ever after. It puts a lot of pressure on a relationship.

Desire can strike us like lightning, kicking off some intense body chemistry reactions that, for a few weeks, may give us all those feelings of drama and foreverness. This chemistry wears off, and sometimes leaves very little of use or value in its wake. Finding that it wasn’t the one big true love of our lives, we feel sad and move on. We have to stop loving one person to move on and have the next go at the love affair that will be the big one.

Imagine what would happen if we did not treat love as a rare and scarce commodity. Imagine how it would be if we considered it pretty normal for people to love other people. If it was normal to love lots of people. Imagine if to love one person, you didn’t have to first stop loving someone else.

Rather than looking for the movie style high octane life shattering romance, we’d maybe have different priorities. We might want to get into relationships with people we like – so many straight relationships seem like battlegrounds, but it need not be that way. We might get into relationships with people because we have similar tastes and interests, and get along well and suit each other – which is essential if you’re trying to live with someone. We might feel ok about having differently shaped relationships with different people who we love.

If we choose how to manifest love, it becomes an active process. Not something that happens to us, where we are passive recipients, powerless to resist. What if love is what we choose and what we do? Not some accident of the universe, but something we make, with our choices and actions?

It is pretty unreasonable to ask one person to be all the things in your life. Not everyone is good at all the things. Not everyone wants to do all the same things. Sometimes it’s useful to have a fresh perspective. If we put down the idea of the one big dramatic love, we might have a bit more room for the modest but very meaningful loves that enrich a life. It might be easier to get along in relationships if we didn’t have to try and be all the things for each other all of the time.

And then, the big love story arc tells us that we should be willing to die for love, Romeo and Juliet style. We should be willing to throw away anything, and everyone, for the prize of that once in a lifetime romance. We should be willing to go cold, hungry, barefoot if it means we can be together. This is utter shit, and does not make for a long term, viable relationship. Sacrificing everything for love puts unbearable pressure on people and does none of us any good. The room to be a bit more pragmatic is valuable indeed.

If love wasn’t viewed as a rare commodity, but as a normal part of how we interact with people, how much else would change?