When I started reading romance a few years ago, I only read queer stories. I was looking for comforting books, and for me, queer love stories with happy endings are about as comforting as books can get. Since then, I have read some straight romances, but I still get the most joy from reading romances that center queer relationships. But queer relationship does not equal same-gender relationship. Equating queerness with same-gender attraction is a dangerous assumption that erases the experiences and identities of lots of queer people of all genders and sexualities. Queer M/F romances are just as valid as any other kind of queer romance.
There are lots of wonderful F/F and M/M stories out there, but those are only two of the many diverse pairings in which queer people find themselves. Queer people in M/F relationships are often invisible, or made to feel like they are somehow “not queer enough.” This is true in life and in books, and it’s awful, harmful, and unacceptable in both cases.
So whenever I stumble across a M/F romance that is wholly, deeply, joyfully queer, I pounce on it. Queer M/F romances are some of my favorite romances to read because they remind me of the complexity and variety of human experience that makes being part of the queer community such a delight.
These five M/F romances are queer to their bones, which means they all meet one or both of my two criteria for queer-as-hell romance (made up by me, completely subjective):
- Both main characters are queer.
- One or both main characters are surrounded by queer family, friends, and/or community.
Not all of these books fit both criteria. In some of them, both the hero and heroine are queer; in others, just one of them is. But in all of these novels, being queer is expected and celebrated. They center queerness, even though not every character in them is queer. Much like so many straight romances assume heterosexuality is the norm, even if one of the MCs is queer, these novels assume queerness is the norm, even if one of the MCs is straight.
Get ready to celebrate the wonderful diversity of how queer people love each other (and others) with these five queer M/F romances.
Their Troublesome Crush by Xan West
In this kinky polyamorous romance, two friends realize they have both have crushes on each other in the midst of planning a birthday party for their shared partner. Though both of these characters have their own challenges, and face a whole host of others as they navigate a new relationship, the story itself is full of queer joy. There’s a wonderful scene of a queer family meal and some truly beautiful interactions between queer best friends and housemates. All the characters take such good care of each other. There’s certainly conflict (I wouldn’t classify it as pure fluff), but the overall sense I had reading this novel was that of falling into a diverse and eccentric family of queers that I never wanted to leave. West has a knack for writing about consent, negotiation, and relationships in a way that’s full of kindness and warmth, without negating the real challenges their queer, disabled, autistic, fat, and kinky protagonists face.
Reverb by Anna Zabo
This is one of the most fiercely queer romances I’ve ever read. The third book in Zabo’s Twisted Wishes series, it’s a romance between Mish, a pansexual cis woman and the drummer for a rock band, and David, a queer trans man the band hires to be her bodyguard. At one point early in the book, Mish is complaining about how gossip sites are always wondering if she’s straight, despite having had hookups and relationships with people of many genders. “I’m so, so so not straight,” she says. Later in the book, David is talking about how he’s always been attracted to women, and says, “I don’t like the label straight, because it’s so often used in opposition to queer. And I’m queer as fuck.” It was such a balm to watch these queer characters fall in love. In both cases, their queerness is utterly a part of them, never diminished or invisible.
This novel also contains one of the most swoon-worthy queer families (the Twisted Wishes rock band) I’ve come across in romance, a badass heroine who refuses to compromise on what she wants, hot sex, great banter, and just the right amount of tension. What more could you want?
Gilded Cage by K.J. Charles
In this queer M/F historical, Susan Lazarus, badass detective, finds herself in the difficult position of defending notorious jewel thief (and old flame) Templeton Lane from a murder charge. Like all of Charles’s work, this book is full of flawed and complicated characters you can’t help rooting for, a richly-imagined setting (1890s London), and an intriguing mystery. Our heroine Susan Lazarus is bisexual, which is obviously fantastic, but what sets this book apart is the supporting cast. Our hero and heroine are completely surrounded by queer people. Susan was raised by a gay couple (fans of K.J. Charles will recognize them from the Sins of the Cities series). Templeton’s best friend and business partner is queer, and their third business partner is asexual; his partner is a trans woman. Susan and Templeton’s relationship is nurtured and upheld by queer family and community. Neither of them would be who they are without the queer people in their lives. It’s a joy to read.
Her Every Wish by Courtney Milan
This is probably the least blatantly queer book here, but as one of my favorite queer historicals, it absolutely deserves a place on the list. Crash is a mixed race bisexual man who’s always regretted that things didn’t work out with his old flame Daisy. Daisy is determined and resourceful, but her mother is ill and they’re running out of money. When Crash offers to tutor her in the art of swagger to help her win a contest that would allow her to start a trade, she reluctantly accepts. This novella is witty and funny and heartwarming. Both Daisy and Crash are imperfect people who learn a lot from each other; it’s a wonderful romance to watch evolve. And while Crash’s queerness is somewhat quiet, and doesn’t come up much in his relationship with Daisy, there’s a lovely sense of queer family on the edges of this book. Crash has a close relationship with his queer aunt and her circle of women friends. And while this queer family is not a major part of the story, it’s clear that it’s an important part of Crash’s life. I’m always on the lookout for historical romances that treat queer people like anyone else, rather than erasing them from the story, and this one fits the bill.
Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon
When her aunt dies, Xeni travels to a small rural New York town to settle her estate. Turns out her aunt left her a whole lot of family baggage…and a weird directive from beyond the grave: get married to Mason McInroy, a Scotsman with his own family baggage. What follows is a funny and tender story of these two humans navigating the bizarre circumstances of their marriage.
The queerness in this book is different from some of the others on this list. It doesn’t take place in a queer context, exactly; though both Xeni and Mason have other queer people in their lives, queer community is not front and center. But both Xeni and Mason are bisexual, and there is this wonderful thread of understanding between them around their identities. Mason, specifically, speaks openly about the biphobia he’s experienced in his past, and it’s a joy to watch the understanding, connection and comfort he receives from Xeni about it. This is a wonderful example of a book that feels—or seems—more typically straight from the outside. Once you get into it, though, Xeni and Mason’s queerness becomes this quiet undercurrent throughout the novel—not at all central to the plot or their relationship, but not in any way ignored. It’s a quiet, unobtrusive celebration of bi identities that is a joy to read.