If you watched a lot of YouTube, like I do, you might have noticed a trend among those who like to turn on their cameras and talk about pop culture: they miss romcoms. Where did the romcom go? they ask, the previous staple of the Friday night movie date is all but lost to nostalgic reboots and superhero sequels. And more and more people are interested, not just in the return of romcoms, but gay romcoms. After all, what better way to update familiar material?
Enter Queerly Beloved.
In 2013, Amy is living in the deep red of Oklahoma, closeted while working her day job at a bakery (The Daily Bread) during the day and bartending at the local gay watering hold on select nights. Life is looking pretty bright when she makes a date with the newest soft butch stranger in town, but then she’s outed and fired from the bakery.
But Amy is resilient, and a chance encounter-slash-conversation leads to a whole new career path: professional bridesmaid. For a reasonable fee, Amy will be the bridesmaid of your dreams. She will stitch up any tear, be careful of mascara while wiping away tears, and wrangle your drunk cousin at the reception before he ruins the toasts.
As her new business picks up, however, Amy is faced with the conflict between her genuine love for weddings and the raw fact that many of the people she’s assisting would fight against her right to ever have one. She’s just a closeted in this role as she was when working for ultra-conservative employers, and not all of her queer friends are wild about the connotations of her new job… including that new beau. Ultimately Amy will have to figure out how to marry her love of weddings — the fantasy, the fanfare, even the fondant — with her growing need for a more raw and unapologetic authenticity when it comes to her own queer identity.
Queerly Beloved is the debut offering from Susie Dumond, a Senior Contributor from the mammoth online presence that is Book Riot. As a queer writer from Arkansas, she brings a wonderful specificity to Amy’s conflict: the conflict of any queer person living in a polically inhospitable state who still treasures their local community and culture. Queerly Beloved is at its best when it shucks the narrative that queer people should just “move somewhere else,” showcasing them as an integral part of those communities — and pointing out the hypocrisy, especially, in asking this of Native queer people. There’s a lovingly detailed portrait of Red State queer life in its pages that adds something unique to the expected meet-cute-leads-to-misunderstanding of the romantic subplot.
The book is less sure when it deals with the issue of gay marriage as a concept. There’s a lot of meaty potential to be had in a story about a woman who isn’t legally allowed to marry the person she wants, making a career within the very industry that denies her. But that isn’t what Queerly Beloved wants to focus on — it’s having a lot more fun with stories of Amy’s last-minute saves and improvisational skills, true to its romcom inspiration. The disconnect between the potential seriousness of the subject matter and the book’s insistence on more lighthearted scenes can sometimes create an unevenness in tone, and Amy never really questions the depth of her commitment to weddings as a concept. Other people in the book ask questions like Why is marriage the chosen battleground for equal rights? or Are we chasing a heteronormative ideal when we pursue marriage equality?, but not Amy. When her friends bring up the political and social side of things, she dodges those issues with a straightforward affirmation: she loves weddings, and that’s all that is really important. Amy focuses on the things she can control, and in doing so creates a sphere of influence which can also give comfort and support to others.
Ultimately, Queerly Beloved is a celebration: of hot women in suits, of queer joy, of the diverse experiences and perspectives we have to offer as a community. Dumond urges you to fall in love with the fairytale, and to have hope for the future. Like all the classic romantic comedies, it makes the promise that, even with all the crazy ups and downs, everything will all work out in the end.