In a world that seems increasingly determined to silence the voices of LGBT+ people and communities, Pride Month offers the perfect opportunity for you to expand your bookshelves and engage with diverse literature. This year is especially important, as it marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, and the first Pride march, which paved the way for progress towards queer rights. As the fight continues today, both fiction and non-fiction books are valuable resources for education, as well as entertainment.
There are centuries’ worth of intelligent, passionate, and moving queer literature to discover (and not just during the month of June!). Therefore, this list is by no means extensive.
1)Maurice by EM Forster
This classic novel was written in 1913. However, it was not published until the author’s death in 1971, because he was concerned about suffering potential punishment due to the book’s explicit and controversial gay content. The novel follows the eponymous Maurice as he navigates his sexuality, and touches on additional themes of internalised prejudice and pseudoscience.
Maurice is undoubtedly an important novel as it provides an intimate window into queer life in the early 20th-century, a period in which the Modernist literary movement prioritised, and congratulated, boundary-challenge art, however hypocritically continued to force LGBT writers to the fringes of said movement. Additionally, the novel’s happy ending means that this story stands out from upsetting, tragic queer stories.
2) Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
Molly Bolt, a beautiful and intelligent lesbian, is the protagonist of this classic coming-of-age story. Adopted into a poor family and unashamed of her sexuality, Rubyfruit Jungle charts her various adventures, relationships, and unflinching willingness to challenge the confining expectations of the world around her. The novel is thought to be autobiographical, which both adds to the strangeness of Molly’s adventures, and importantly grounds it in reality.
Iconic and genuinely hilarious, Rubyfruit Jungle is a novel that celebrates love for women and for self, told with a sharp wit. Molly Bolt makes many choices that we may raise our eyebrows at, but she quickly becomes a best friend in whom we can see ourselves and who encourages us to embrace what makes us unique.
3) The Gilda Stories by Jewelle Gomez
A young girl escapes from slavery and is accepted into a community of women, led by two lesbian vampires who welcome her as a daughter. Later changed into a vampire herself, Gilda’s immortality allows her to experience the ways in which prejudice and love ebb and flow throughout history, all the while exploring her sexuality and gender. The book is full of characters of colour, queer couples, and a prevailing sense of perseverance and love for life that make it stand out as a touching tale.
The novel is passionate and tender, and offers a unique interpretation of classical vampire mythos that is particularly refreshing. Gilda’s lesbianism is emotional, sweet, and never toned down, packing this novel with crucial pride and self-confidence. Additionally, it introduces interesting questions, such as what it means to be part of a family and the pain involved in rejecting someone so close to goodness, but so far. A great novel not only for fans of queer literature, but for those looking for an alternative supernatural story full of romance and action.
4) Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saenz
Teens Ari and Dante meet at a swimming pool one summer and become fast friends. However, when their feelings start blossoming into something more, both must decide whether to dip their toes or dive straight in. Arguably one of the most important queer Young Adult novels to come out of the last decade, Aristotle and Dante is a poetic and heartfelt story of overcoming the poison of internalised homophobia while figuring out the beauty of first love.
This novel is notable for its inclusion of sympathetic, supportive family dynamics that provides an alternative to the more difficult parent-child relationships that often dominate coming-out stories. Additionally, the complex emotions of adolescence that the two protagonists go through are portrayed with delicate attention to empathetic detail, not over-indulgently upsetting or angst-filled, which gives the novel a respectable maturity. It manages to capture the simultaneously fleeting and forever feeling of summer romances, and is therefore a perfect read for lazy sunny days.
5) Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl by Andrea Lawlor
This coming-of-age story centres on the life of Paul, who just so happens to have the power to shapeshift at will. Using this ability to explore his sexuality and experiment with his gender identity, Lawlor’s new novel is a frank commentary on the muddled relationship between mind and body. It discusses queer experience with a casual tone that normalises even the most bizarre adventures, and constantly indulges the saucy – we therefore must recommend an age restriction of 18+ for this one! Drenched in 90s punk band merch and marinated in a restless sense of ‘what/who/where now?’, Paul is an unapologetic celebration of the ambiguous.
Paul is a fictional character study, rather than a plot-driven story, and Lawlor (who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns) admits that it is infused with autobiographical aspects. At a recent book launch and open mic event, they expressed their desire to emphasise the fun of creating queer narratives for queer spaces that feels no need to explain itself to cisgender, heterosexual society. Arguably, while fun, this freedom is also important and a comfort, especially in a world that often forces people to explain themselves within determined categories or boundaries. Detached from expectation, we can all learn a thing or two from Paul.
1)My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata
Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home, often appears on similar Pride Month reading lists, for a good reason: it is a funny, moving commentary on the suffocation caused by small towns and family secrets, and the masks that even those closest to us use to hide behind. However, Nagata’s autobiographical graphic novel offers a refreshing, equally arresting discussion of queerness and creativity in contemporary Japan.
This manga, rendered in sickly sweet pinks, is a surprisingly dark, intense account of the author’s life as she explores her sexuality and body, all while struggling with her spiralling mental health. Nagata goes to many dark places, but her triumphs and breakthroughs are equally motivational, and she maintains a good sense of humour over the course of her struggles. It is a story of finding strength, and offers a unique perspective on what it means to represent yourself on the page.
2) Even This Page is White by Vivek Shraya
Shraya’s collection of work demonstrates the power of poetry in the modern day, as it interrogates gender and race with an artistic, yet defiantly precise eye. Influenced by Vivek’s own experiences as a transgender writer of colour, the collection interrogates language, life on the fringes of this heteropatriarchal world, and firmly stands up to prejudice and marginalisation.
Poetry, moreso than prose, works to defy expectation – it can connect with our emotional cores, and can be playfully arranged on the page to great effect. Therefore, it is a perfect format for discussing and disturbing the boundaries that so many hateful groups attempt to perpetuate in contemporary society. Furthermore, Shraya’s work encourages its reader to be empathetic and challenge these binaries, proving her to be a crucial figure we can all learn strength from.
3) Zami: A Biomythography by Audre Lorde
Gorgeously written and emphatically defiant, Audre Lorde is well known for her essays and speeches, however Zami stands out as a masterpiece of personal storytelling. Detailing the haunting and triumphant events of her life from childhood to early adulthood, Lorde’s writing is immediately engaging and relatable, inviting us into her past to walk alongside her, to feel her passions and pains with her.
Lorde’s book not only discusses personal anecdotes from her life, but also reflects on social issues that impacted her. Examples of these include her confusion regarding the butch/femme spectrum, the secret suffering and trauma women are subjected to when denied efficient health care, and alchoholism. Furthermore, it deconstructs and criticises the racism that she experiences even from the LGBT+ community, analysing its ironic prejudices and how it continues to alienate those that do not fit within a socially-constructed mould; a prejudice that continues to permeate supposedly accepting, intersectional communities and spaces today. Undoubtedly a seminal text in the canon of great queer literature.
4) The Bi-ble published by Monstrous Regiment
A comprehensive anthology of essays on bisexuality, by bisexual people, The Bi-ble is a well-edited compilation of perspectives that finally gives a voice to a group typically left out of LGBT+ discussions. It tackles common experiences and frustrations experienced by bisexual people and communities, yet offers support and humour, making a safe space for itself in the midst of prejudice. An affirming, progressive collection that will be expanded in the second volume, which is currently in production.
5) Trans Like Me : A Journey for All of Us by CN Lester
Partially a memoir and partially a series of essays on trans history, community, and culture, this book is a great starting point for anyone looking to become more educated on transgender experiences. A multi-talented activist, Lester covers the basics of pronouns, hormone therapy, and more, in an informative and accessible way that also empowers us to challenge and change society.