Seeing and Being Seen: seeking out LGBTQ+ stories

June is Pride month, one of the most relevant moments to spotlight books that centre their narratives on the queer experience, and in particular, the experiences of black and minority LGBTQ+ voices. After all, it was predominantly trans people of colour protesting at the Stonewall Inn in New York, who began what we now know as ‘Pride’ in the first place.

Pride Month is a great time to reflect on the past and on our present day, and perhaps we should all ask ourselves what we can do, even on a micro-level to ensure that the voices of the LGBTQ+ community are heard?

One of the first things we can do is to educate ourselves, and what better way than with books?  Lives are interesting, complex, messy, difficult, and joyous. The more diversely we read, the more we realise how richly woven the texture of society is. As my Grandma Beryl always says:

 ‘It wouldn’t do for everyone to be the same, would it?’

If you are scratching your head, wondering where to start in the vast canon of LGBTQ fiction and non-fiction, how about starting with these:

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood

Carol by Patricia Highsmith

Sister, Outsider by Audre Lorde

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Growing up as a gay person in the ‘90s, the books I consumed were varied. However, they all had two crucial things in common. It didn’t matter if the characters could conjure spells, fight with magical beasts/their Mums, or go on wonderfully transformative adventures with their friends: they were all straight and they were all cisgender.

There  were, of course, countless books with queer subtexts, but subtext was not and will never be enough. Sure, George from The Famous Five felt like a queer character, but unless this is stated at some point over the course of a book series, it does not carry the same significance.

Of course, I am not saying queer characters did not exist, but there were certainly none within reach of this particular bookworm from suburban Leicestershire. YA as a meaningful and fully realised genre was still in its early days and being forced to the edges of adult fiction, I eventually found some kinship in Idgie Threadgoode in Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café by Fannie Flagg and Sarah Waters’ campy but exhilarating historical characters. Yet I never read anything that explicitly felt aimed at someone like me.

Over the years however, I have managed to expose myself to some great contemporary work. The canon is consistently being added to and it couldn’t be more exciting!

Here are some interesting, more contemporary books that you may want to get stuck in to:

Her Body and Other Parties and In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Bad Feminist and Hunger by Roxane Gay

Against Memoir by Michelle Tea

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

On Earth We Are Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Under the Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta

Pages For You by Sylvia Brownrigg

Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Boy by Andrea Lawlor

Don’t Call Us Dead by Danez Smith

Less by Andrew Sean Greer

If you or a young person you know are seeking out books written by trans authors, perhaps reach for these great reads:

Margot and Me by Juno Dawson

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

I Wish You All The Best by Mason Deaver

Black Flamingo by Dean Atta

Along with Gabby Rivera, Alice Oseman, David Levithan, Adam Silvera, and Bali Rai, these are just a few names who are successfully writing for children and teenagers in a refreshingly LGBTQ-inclusive way.

Once you discover the vastly different voices of the LGBTQ+ community, you can begin to appreciate the wealth of ideas and experiences.  Food writer, Ruby Tandoh for instance, writes beautiful longform pieces about identity in relation to the food we eat. Her Book Eat Up! is perhaps one of my favourite books and while it isn’t exclusively framed around the queer experience, the fact that she has been able to discuss such profound issues as a queer person of colour, is not something to be dismissed.

Queer people have always been here and they always will be. If you have not read anything actively by a non-straight person, that’s okay- you can start now!

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