Happy New Year! Sundown last night marked the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and the celebration will last through tomorrow night at sundown. I was raised with the cultural importance of these holidays, just as I was raised with the cultural important of Christian holidays, each without judgment or pressure, but a simple acknowledgment of the history of my family’s lineage. I have not been Bat Mitzvahed or baptized and I have no plans to extend my relationship with organized religion beyond the cultural observer.
That being said, it’s hard not to notice that one side of my family’s history is far more represented in the romance novel.
When it comes to the genre of Inspirational Romance, I tend to steer clear. That’s not because I don’t respect other’s right to have their beliefs, but largely because I feel these books do not respect mine. On the occasion I have picked up an inspirational or inspirational-leaning romance novel, I often feel as though I’m being preached to, as if my active lack of structured religion is a damning choice and there’s no saving my soul, la di da di da.
Is it fair to say this of all inspirational romance? Of course not. As I’ve said, I don’t read it often or intentionally and it’s possible my hackles are already raised when it does show up in the books I’m already reading. My agnosticism and personal spirituality is my choice and nothing is going to change that. But whether you read exclusively inspirational romance or you make a wide path around it, one thing is for certain: Inspirational does not refer to all religions.
Now, credit to the Romance Writers of America where it’s due. They have officially changed the genre category for the RITAs from Christian romance to Inspirational, so I could write a story about an east coast Jewish gal and enter it, no sweat. But the question is, why did they have to make this move? How has the Christian romance category become so dominant that it holds this unadulterated monopoly over romance even as the genre’s readership is skewing toward readers that more queer, more people of color, younger and more interested in reading the heathen literature of paranormal and erotic romance?
This is not an excuse for me to trash religion. That’s not beneficial to anyone and it’s not actually how I feel. The thing is, however, that when we discuss intersectional feminism within the romance novel, we should also be discussing religion or lack of religion. It is equally as important for a young Jewish girl or Muslim reader to enjoy romance where they are featured as it is to write romance featuring queer characters or characters of color.
And in that, changing the narrative on religious or spiritual romance is equally as challenging as changing the narrative on how many authors of color or books on queer characters are represented at one time. It is not a simple route toward representation with faith any more than it is with anything else.
But it is an important one.
As we work toward a more inclusive genre–as well as publishing, television, and films as a whole–consider if the stories you’re reading truly reflect the world around you. You may not be interested in reading one particular book. That’s fine. There are plenty of stories that don’t appeal to me. But consider that there is one girl, one young reader who finally, finally gets to see herself reflected on the page–on the screen–after a lifetime of misinformation and invisibility. Advocating for intersectionality in our books is not necessarily about creating books you want to read. It’s about bettering the genre so every single reader and writer feels they belong.
At the start of a new year, let’s all work to be better. Together.