Every time I go into a bookstore and ask about if they have a section for queer fiction, I always get this side-eyed glance. No, is ultimately the reply and the explanation as to why is always different, but has the same theme.
They don’t “segregate” their novels like that.
The idea of making queer novels easier to find being segregation is not a new one to me and it drives me up the wall when bookstores (particularly big chains) use it as an excuse for them to not have their LGBTQA+ literature marked out or differentiated in some way. Because it’s not easy for me to find queer fiction. You would think that since it was Canada and gay marriage has been legal for years, that I would be able to pick them out easily, but that’s not the case.
When I’m specifically looking for straight lit, I can close my eyes and pick nearly any book off the shelf. If I’m looking for LGBTQA+ fiction, I have to go to goodreads and search through lists to find a book that I’m interested in. Then I have to go see if the bookstore carries that book. It’s a tedious process and one that could be streamlined if I could search for queer fiction as a genre within the store.
When I talk about LGBTQA+ sections in bookstores, I think people think of a section in the back where no one can see it and that’s neglected because it caters to a minority. The same idea probably pops into people’s heads when I say I want a section for novels written by people of colour (although this idea is much more contentious). I don’t want these books taken out of the general population. They should be in the regular fiction section, but I want them to have their own section as well.
Why? Because it makes it easier to find.
I don’t want to have to swim through an ocean of literature that is catering toward people who are straight when all I want is a queer narrative. I want to be able to go and find exactly what I’m looking for in a way that a straight person would because when I go to the romance section of a bookstore, I’m unlikely to find LGBTQA+ romance included on those shelves. History novels are unlikely to focus in on queer history. And queer fantasy is buried somewhere in the back of the fantasy/science fiction section.
By trying to be “fair”, we end up burying queer narratives rather than elevating them and making it that much harder for people to find. The segregation argument assumes that I’m asking for a separate section because I want to keep queer fiction separate from the rest. It also assumes that there’s equal amounts of straight and queer narratives being published, that LGBTQA+ fiction is as easy to find in the general population as straight fiction is.
Despite the strides that we’ve made, the divide between straight and LGBTQA+ fiction is still a wide gap. We’ve come a long way from queer narratives either being forbidden or being exclusively about the painful existence that comes with being non-heterosexual. But it’s not far enough for me and until we reach that utopia of fiction, I’d like queer sections or queer books featured within the bookstores.
Think of them as training wheels on a bike.
When everything is exactly equal and we’ve come far enough that people who are queer don’t have to scour bookstores for novels that represent them… we can get rid of the “segregating” book sections. Until then? Gimme my queer section.