4.4.3 Reframing Collective Stories

The finding of a new, sustaining, perspective tends to involve "reframing." Stone and Lester explain that

Frames are the ways we perceive events or circumstances; they shape our reality. Reframing changes those perceptions. It constructs for people a new way to organize and view their experiences and turns liabilities into strengths. [...] Reframing also helps people to rearrange the furniture and change the decorations in a certain room of their memory—that is, to change their understanding of the past. (263)

Reframing need not be limited to personal narratives of the kind explored in the previous sections: it may also be employed to change perceptions of collective past stories. A particular culture or society, for example,

may actively discourage and even prohibit certain members, by virtue of gender, color, age, or handicap, from pursuing certain future stories. Pastoral caregivers must actively engage these cultural narratives, fighting to open up the future stories so that all persons have access to the full range of possibilities within their cultural setting. (Lester 136-37)

Oppressions such as racism or transphobia cannot be removed simply by reframing, but narratives which reframe past and future stories may sustain the oppressed, assisting them in moving "beyond mere resignation to affirmation" (Clebsch and Jaekle 9). For example, when Gwendolyn E. Osborne interviewed

Black women who regularly read romance fiction [...] each woman told me she read African American romances because she was drawn to stories about positive relationships between Black men and women (seen as missing in other forms of mediated communication) and that she liked stories about "women who look like me." (61-62)

Such positive narratives about African Americans forming loving, committed relationships provide an affirming alternative to existing, racist framings of African Americans in those "other forms of mediated communication" which draw on "pervasive stereotypes of black men as irresponsible, hypersexual, and deviant" (Moody-Freeman 2016, 114) and of "black women as jezebels, all body and no mind."

As we have seen, to change future stories, it is often necessary to address past stories. Sometimes they are damaging; in other cases they may even be missing entirely. E. E. Ottoman's Documenting Light (2016) makes the argument that

Power in general cut deep swaths through history, marking, scarring, and claiming everything it touched. It disfigured people, turning them into characters who had never really existed at all. It crushed places into dust and built castles of dreams, lies, and fantasies. It warped events until trying to see through the lies was like trying to see using only a broken mirror.

As Caroline Duvezin-Caubet observes, "The queer past is pieced together partly through unhappy archives, through the criminalisation and public exposure of queer acts. One could argue that real-life examples of happy queer romances left little to no trace in recorded history" (252). Yet, for Ottoman's nonbinary protagonist Wyatt, discovering

a past that would say, This is who we are, and this is how we fit into this world. [...] It mattered [...], it meant a lot, feeling connected like that. If he could know in some way that there were others who’d gone through what he’d gone through—not just the ones who were alive now, but people who’d lived their lives long before he was ever born—it would be important.

Wyatt's hero, trans historian Grayson, acknowledges that there is "no real way to prove emotions like love unless it’s written down—like, if there was a love letter" and, for various reasons including illiteracy, poverty and fear, many people in the past lacked the ability to create such documents and have them preserved for posterity. Ottoman's protagonists must therefore attempt to uncover evidence of "real-life examples of happy queer romances" (Duvezin-Caubet) using imaginative, innovative methodologies. Historical romances which draw on history but which also use imagination to fill gaps, can be considered to be using one such method. In doing so, they may become a source of affirming, sustaining narratives which can reframe the collective story of the past.

Beverly Jenkins, “a lay minister of the Episcopal Church” (Dandridge 2016, 152) who also writes historical romance, suggests there is a connection between her two callings:

There’s so much history that is not taught in schools surrounding or concerning folks of color who have made their contributions to American history. [...] I look at it as a quilt. The pieces pertaining to African Americans or Chinese Americans or Japanese Americans or Native Americans have been some of it ripped out, some of it cut out. And so I look at it as—I don’t know if you want to use the word ministry—to stitch those pieces back into the quilt. (Faircloth 2016, emphasis added)

By stitching these pieces of history “back into the quilt,” Jenkins is stitching back in the family histories of many of her readers and, in so doing, reframing their perceived place in society. To borrow Wyatt's words, such romances open up the sustaining "possibility that there is a space for people like me to exist in history too. To have a past. To look back with pride and say people like me lived and loved and endured" (Ottoman).