Let the Resistance In: Resistance Romance After the Trump Election
By Samantha Garland
On November 8, 2016, Donald Trump was elected as president of the United States. While Trump supporters cheered and celebrated that night, Hillary Clinton supporters mourned the impending doom they perceived. A picture of four women comforting each other, two of them sobbing, at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center on election night (Taylor) captures the intense emotion of this election. Soon after this night, the so-called “resistance” against Trump began. In the wake of that resistance, Rogue Desire, an anthology of resistance romance short stories, was self-published by eight romance authors (Parker). I use this anthology to argue that outrage over the Trump election prompted targeted resistance romance fiction aimed at pushing back against both the presidency and romance industry norms. To do so, I first establish the resistance to the 2016 presidential election’s results and link this resistance to the conception of Rogue Desire. I next discuss the content of these short stories, how they both relate to the resistance against President Trump and demonstrate a resistance against romance industry norms. Finally, I tie Rogue Desire back into the greater lens of the romance industry and examine statements by romance industry professionals on romance fiction as resistance in light of the Trump presidency.
In 2016, the most popular hashtag on Twitter was #Rio2016 for the Olympics and the second-most was #Election2016 (Kottasova). The highest shared election post was Hillary Clinton’s concession tweet: “To all the little girls watching…never doubt that you are valuable and powerful & deserving of every chance & opportunity in the world” (Kottasova), indicating that social media users strongly supported Clinton’s message of hope. This support took an even more active form when in 2017 the most popular hashtag in the United States was #Resist (Machin). Included in the top ten most tweeted activism hashtags were also #ImpeachTrump (number 3), #WomensMarch (number 5), and #NotMyPresident (number 6) (Machin). This sudden influx of activism was also seen in attendance at marches in the District of Columbia and across the country. The day after President Trump’s inauguration, women across America rallied at the Women’s March(es) to fight back against Trump’s misogynistic comments during his campaign. Although no exact attendance numbers are known, Christopher Geldart, D.C.’s homeland security director, commented that “the crowd at the march…was more than the 500,000 that organizers told city officials to expect” (Hartocollis and Alcindor). Turnout in other large cities, such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and Chicago, also boasted attendance of well over 100,000 people. These large numbers of activists example an uptick of social activism due to President Trump’s election and inauguration. However, the push for resistance did not end after President Trump was inaugurated, as his subsequent decisions while being in office continued to prompt resistance. For instance, a photograph by Spencer Platt documents a crowd of protestors holding ‘RESIST’ signs in Times Square on July 26, 2017, to protest President Trump reinstating the ban on transgender individuals’ serving in the military (Seitz-Wald).
In the middle of activism tweets and hashtags, a joke between romance authors on Twitter emerged. It began by Emma Barry, who professes herself to be an author of “nerdy, often idealistic people finding love” (“Emma Barry”), tweeting about the 25th Amendment of the United States Constitution in reaction to President Trump’s election. Section Four of the 25th Amendment states that if the Vice President and a majority of either executive department heads or “such other body as Congress” submit to the president pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House “their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office” and a two-thirds majority of both the Senate and House vote to agree with this assessment, then the Vice President may become the Acting President (Staff). Given some of the public’s unhappiness with President Trump’s actions in office, it became a wish of many that Congress might invoke the 25th Amendment to boost Trump out of office (Petersen). As Emma Barry explains, “It was April, the president was tweeting about North Korea, and I went to bed wondering if nuclear war was going to break out overnight and if the Cabinet might invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment” (Bussel).
Other authors, including Tamsen Parker and Ainsley Booth, soon jumped on Barry’s tweet to add their own political, #resistance fantasies and brainstorm what they should write. Ainsley Booth soon commented, “I am here for this”, after which Amy Jo Cousins joined the project with, “I was just begging to buy it, but come to think of it… :D” (Booth). After this initial support grew, Ainsley Booth created a cover for the anthology, which was the final push for the authors to carry their joke through to reality (Parker). Eight authors came together with the tweeted support of several others, and only three months later on July 20, 2017, Rogue Desire was independently published on Amazon, Google Play, and iBooks. In her tweeted release statement, Tamsen Parker wrote, “It started out as a joke on twitter (thx @AuthorEmmaBarry) and then someone made a cover (looking at you @ZoeYorkWrites) and it was over…It has been a pleasure working on this weird little twitter-brainchild of an antho with @nystacey @AdrianasBoudoir @AuthorEmmaBarry” (Parker). Born out of resistance fantasies, the content of the short stories themselves are a resistance against America’s current political situation and limitations of the romance industry itself.
The content of Rogue Desire matches its conception. The anthology opens with, “When all else fails, find love… Eight brand new romances for fans of the West Wing, fired-up #resistance fighters, and everyone who ever had a crush on that guy at a protest” (Anders). Aside from directly mentioning the #resistance movement, the authors also reference the West Wing, a TV show (1999-2006) about a liberal President and his senior aides created by progressives during the George W. Bush presidency. The West Wing is not just a TV show for its fans, says a dedicated West Wing fan Paul Attryde, but a wish for “the president we all want but don’t have” (Pincus-Roth). This reference by Rogue Desire’s authors clearly places their work in line with the liberal idealistic world of a functional White House.
The short stories that make up the anthology continue this theme of resistance directly against President Trump. The first short story, “Grassroots” by Adriana Anders, focuses on Veronica Cruz, a teacher who runs a grassroots campaign for a seat on city council. Veronica, who describes herself as “a dark-haired, dark-skinned stranger, with a bleeding-heart message” (Anders et al. 9) nevertheless manages to win her election against a more established, wealthy, cheater of a man, Clint Rylie (8). The second short story, “Deep Throat” by Dakota Gray, chronicles the adventures of a hotel maid who leaks secrets from the hotel’s guests to a hacker and her romance with a male escort-turned-FBI-informant (76). The third, aptly titled “Resistance” by Amy Jo Cousins, follows a college teaching assistant’s inadvertent romance with one of his students when they attend a immigrants’ rights protest in DC (150).
Emma Barry’s contribution, like her original tweet, is the tale of two political servants’ attempt to convince the Secretary of Labor to invoke the 25th Amendment on their irresponsible president (212). Barry’s criticism of Trump shines through the entire piece, best seen through the line, “The cause of death for humanity was going to be feckless presidential tweeting” (213). Rogue Desire’s fifth short story sees this wish granted while also wishing for a saner Trump family, as it depicts the First Daughter leaking a document to a social justice warrior (256), which causes the Cabinet to successfully invoke the 25th Amendment (317). Jane Lee Blair’s short story, “My Delight Is In Her”, features love at protests, as separated college sweethearts are reunited through their resistance work (328). The penultimate short story, “Personal Disaster” by Ainsley Booth, tracks a journalist on her quest to uncover a resistance tweeter (392), allowing Tamsen Parker’s “Life, Liberty, and Worship” to bring the anthology to its climax as feisty Democrat Paige Robinson hate-fucks a Republican Study Committee member who later rebels against his Republican colleagues and joins a protest with her (456).
Even though the authors’ styles and their stories’ content differ across these eight short stories, the images of an immature, tweeting president, leaked information causing a dramatic 25th Amendment removal from office, and two people falling in love at a protest carry across the anthology. These themes provide insight into the role resistance romance plays for its readers. For anybody who feels worried by the president’s actions, it can serve as a wish-fantasy for them. When commenting on her addition to the anthology, Barry noted that she drew inspiration from news headlines, “‘but when I told my version, I had the happily ever after’” (Bussel). For those who actively participate (or want to participate) in protests, these short stories add romance to the other excitements of protest. For example, a direct comparison is made between the protests in the anthology and those in real life by the inclusion of pussy hats, worn by many protestors at the 2017 Women’s March and also by two characters in Tamsen Parker’s addition to Rogue Desire. By featuring these protests — and characters’ responses to these protests — the anthology also offers a type of guide to these protestors. For example, one of the first lines that Amy Jo Cousins wrote when brainstorming her addition to Rogue Desire, “Resistance”, was “Repeat after me: my revolution will be intersectional, or it will be bullshit” (“Nancy Holland on Twitter”). Her character Kaz is given the honor of this line, as well as the retort to his students’ grumble that revolution is hard: “Yeah, it is if you’re doing it right” (Anders et al. 163). Cousins offers not only a taste of experiencing a protest, but commentary on how protestors against the fascist, neo-Nazi faction of Trump supporters should conduct themselves. This commentary meshes with Jaime Green’s assessment that “one sign of the abating taboo on politics in romance is authors’ increased willingness to speak out directly, explicitly” (Green). Rogue Desire, in this way, offered its authors an opportunity to speak out, more didactically than standard (Green), and express their views on the current political situation.
Even separate from the resistance against President Trump, this anthology could also be interpreted as a resistance against the strictures placed on genre romance as well. In the romance industry, non-white authors wrote fewer than 8% of romance novels published in 2016 (Rosman). Most romance novels feature heterosexual characters, the hero and the heroine, which leads to little representation for LGBTQ couples. While Rogue Desire features examples of a heteronormative romance cast, it also includes a M/M pairing (Kaz and Willis in Cousins’ “Resistance”) and a black couple (Kim and Leonard from Blair’s “My Delight Is In Her”). These romances resist the norm of the genre. Fellow romance author Nancy Holland put it well when she commented on the original Twitter thread, “Don’t have a clue what’s going on here, but this is the coolest threat!” then responded to her own tweet with, “Thread! I meant Thread. But I guess threat works okay, too” (“Nancy Holland on Twitter”). Another romance author, Melissa Blue, quickly agreed with Holland’s comment: “lol It does” (“Nancy Holland on Twitter”). At its conception, Rogue Desire became not just a resistance to President Trump but also a general resistance to the world and the industry.
Rogue Desire did not constitute a simple, isolated resistance; rather, it was highly successful. After amazing reviews on review blogs and Goodreads (Rogue Desire (Rogue, #1)), many of the authors of Rogue Desire collaborated again with the help of a few new authors to publish a sequel, Rogue Affair, in November 2017, only five months after the release of Rogue Desire (Rogue Affair (Rogue #2)). The speed of these self-publications reveals both the authors’ enthusiasm for writing resistance fiction and the continued audience for these anthologies. This need continued — in January 2018, Rogue Acts was published (Rogue Acts (Rogue, #3)), and Rogue Hearts followed four months later in May 2018 (Rogue Hearts (Rogue, #4)). When the authors of Rogue Acts were interviewed about what drove them “to write something that could be classified as ‘resistance romance,’” they spoke of their need for diversity, love, and hope during the struggle of the Trump presidency (Lamb). For example, Stacey Agdern commented that “writing resistance romance allows me to tackle the more difficult issues that we face as a society while giving characters the happily ever after I can’t give the issues” (Lamb). For Jane Lee Blair, “resistance romance focuses on how we can’t do this struggle alone” (Lamb), while Ainsley Booth declares that “resistance romance is a label with a promise” (Lamb). These statements, offered at an interview promoting their work, focus on the happily-ever-after that readers need, the feeling of connection in a world gone crazy, and the activistic promise to help the world.
These feelings are also echoed by other professionals in the romance industry after President Trump’s election. Darcel Rockett, a reporter for the Chicago Tribune, noted that “there was something about 2017 and the pushback of diversity and inclusion with this administration, that I think it propelled [diversity] more to the forefront” (Rockett). In an op-ed for BuzzFeed News, Jaime Green agrees with this assessment, adding further that 2017 was “more of a time of heightened awareness and reckoning for a genre that has always been deeply attuned to the social and cultural politics of its time” (Green). One such social issues of the time, LGBTQ rights in the Trump era, was featured in Rogue Desire and possibly even saw an uptick in the romance industry. The president of LGBTQ publisher Bold Strokes Books, Len Barot, commented that, “we’ve also seen an increase in published titles featuring transgender characters as well as other subject matter dealing with issues ‘under fire’ in the current political climate: immigration, domestic terrorism, hate groups and climate change within the context of romance novels” (Bussel). Leah Koch, co-owner of the romance bookstore The Ripped Bodice, directly pins this effect on the election of President Trump. She comments that right after the election, “not a day has gone by that a woman has not come into the store and told us she just wanted to be in a safe space for women.” She adds that “interest in politically minded heroes and heroines is on the rise and we expect to see an entire wave of books featuring characters who are fighting back and resisting in their communities” (Bussel). And with this increased demand for politically minded characters in communities not often represented, “the mere act of writing about these communities falling in love is no less political than scribing a Trump-slamming tweet” (Canfield).
It is within this context that Rogue Desire was created, published, and well-received by romance readers. Rogue Desire was a product of this particular moment in time, as the resistance movement integrated into the romance industry and social activists and writers alike took to Twitter to air their frustrations.
Anders, Adriana, et al. Rogue Desire. 2017.
Booth , Zoe York /. Ainsley. “I Am Here for This. Novelette Sounds Right.” @ZoeYorkWrites, 26 Apr. 2017, https://twitter.com/ZoeYorkWrites/status/857400001047166977.
Bussel, Rachel Kramer. “Welcome to the Romance Resistance.” Salon, 30 Sept. 2017, https://www.salon.com/2017/09/30/welcome-to-the-romance-resistance/.
Canfield, David. “Romance as Resistance: How the Happily-Ever-after Genre Is Taking on Trump.” EW.Com, https://ew.com/books/2017/11/03/romance-novelists-resistance-trump/. Accessed 8 Mar. 2019.
“Emma Barry.” Emma Barry, https://authoremmabarry.com/. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
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Hartocollis, Anemona, and Yamiche Alcindor. “Women’s March Highlights as Huge Crowds Protest Trump: ‘We’Re Not Going Away.’” The New York Times, 20 Jan. 2018. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/21/us/womens-march.html.
Lamb, Joyce. “‘Rogue Acts’ Anthology Authors Share Their Embrace of Resistance Romance.” Happy Ever After, 23 Jan. 2018, https://happyeverafter.usatoday.com/2018/01/23/rogue-acts-anthology-authors-resistance-romance/.
Machin, Jennifer. “Twitter’s Most Popular Tweets, Accounts, and Hashtags of 2017.” Mashable, https://mashable.com/2017/12/05/twitter-most-popular-2017/. Accessed 6 Mar. 2019.
“Nancy Holland on Twitter: ‘@_AJCousins @TamsenParker @mel_thegreat @ZoeYorkWrites @AuthorEmmaBarry @CatSWrites @nystacey Thread! I Meant Thread. But I Guess Threat Works Okay, Too.’ / Twitter.” Twitter, https://twitter.com/NancyHolland5/status/857701360011284482. Accessed 8 Mar. 2019.
Parker, Tamsen. “#RogueDesire Is Here! Join the #Resistance AMZ: Http://Amzn.to/2t3r6tg Google Play: Https://Play.Google.Com/Store/Books/Details/Adriana_Anders_Rogue_Desire?Id=3XAsDwAAQBAJ&hl=en&PAffiliateID=1100lwpX … IBooks: Https://Geo.Itunes.Apple.Com/Us/Book/Rogue-Desire/Id1259492676?Mt=11&at=1010l8MM ….” @TamsenParker, 20 July 2017, https://twitter.com/TamsenParker/status/888084920404516864.
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Rockett, Darcel. “Where Are Romance Novels Headed given the Current State of Women’s Issues?” Chicagotribune.Com, https://www.chicagotribune.com/lifestyles/books/sc-fam-romance-novels-future-0206-story.html. Accessed 7 Mar. 2019.
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Seitz-Wald, Alex. “The Anti-Trump ‘Resistance’ Turns a Year Old — and Grows Up.” NBC News, https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/2018-state-of-the-union-address/anti-trump-resistance-turns-year-old-grows-n838821. Accessed 6 Mar. 2019.