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The Importance of Queernorm Stories

When I sat down to write my novel The Grief Nurse about five years ago, I decided to craft a world filled with queer characters, whose queerness was neither a plot device nor an essential element of their character arcs. The Grief Nurse explores many themes, such as mental health, stigma, and shame, that could readily map to some people’s experience with queerness, but queerness itself is never the cause of the characters’ struggles, neither internal nor external. I simply wanted to spend my time in a world where being queer was as accepted as being straight is in our world; practically a given and certainly nothing to make a fuss over.

There’s a word for speculative worlds like this: queernorm or queernormative. Queernorm stories imagine worlds where queerness is as ubiquitous as heteronormativity is in our world. There’s no homophobia. Characters may struggle but their queerness has nothing to do with it. These worlds – though not always safe per se – are safe places for queer characters to love, fight, scheme, adventure and change. Speculative storytelling – like science fiction, fantasy, horror and the gothic – are particularly suited for ripping assumptions from readers’ minds and weaving a new way of thinking. That’s what queernorm worlds do – they make space for queer characters to be whole, rounded humans, who aren’t token characters or broad-stroke stereotypes.

Queernorm stories particularly shine in their ability to showcase queer identities that are often hidden, like bi and pan folks. These identities are often lost in the default assumption of heteronormativity. Queernorm stories challenge the assumptions about what queerness looks like; a female character may have a male partner or love interest but this doesn’t necessarily make her straight, and the world doesn’t try to put her in this box, either.

Ultimately, queernorm stories are freeing. Freeing for our characters, our storytelling, and ourselves as readers. I want to spend more time in places like this!

Here's a list of some of the queernorm novels I recommend!

Angie Spoto is an American fiction writer and poet living in Edinburgh whose debut novel The Grief Nurse was published in 2023.

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