It is Pride Month, and for many, deadline season is coming to an end, so now is the perfect time to diversify our reading lists and bookshelves to include more LGBTQ+ stories. There are a lot of gaps in the literature available to us, and lots of flaws in the world of publishing, but there are still so many queer texts and authors to choose from.
A recent standout is Bernadine Evaristo’s excellent novel Girl, Woman, Other, which delves into the lives of 12 Black British people, mostly women, many of whom are LGBTQ+. This Booker Prize-winning novel explores what it means to be black in Britain from the early 20th Century, to modern day, with a particular focus on gender and sexuality, and its relationship to personal identity. This book is well worth a read, especially to allies of the community, as it provides a really rich insight into some of the experiences of lesbian and non-binary people, and how they are impacted by race and class.
A slightly older favourite of mine which is perfect reading for Pride Month is Pat Barker’s Regeneration Trilogy. Barker often reimagines classical stories and themes, such as the sack of Troy (The Silence of the Girls), focusing on previously ignored aspects of history- like women, homosexuality, and class.
Many of the novels that have explicitly LGBTQ+ characters or plot focus are either sensational or youthful love stories, or tales of self-acceptance and liberation
Barker’s trilogy in particular details what could have been the experiences of war poets, and arguably homosexual icons, Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. Barker looks at the impact of war and PTSD on men and masculinity, and throughout the trilogy explores the secret and not-so-secret lives of homosexual men in wartime Britain. This thought provoking series is an important read to explore the history of gay rights and experiences in Britain, as it reveals much about both wartime and the hypocrisies of masculinity.
Looking further into more canonical literature, Virginia Woolf’s novel Orlando (1928) is an illuminating read, with a transgender protagonist, who lives for centuries. In the novel, Orlando suddenly awakes one day as a woman, and has various love affairs and encounters throughout the novel.
It has to be said that this extremely unrealistic portrayal of the trans experience is a shortcoming of the book. However, the happiness that Orlando has after their transition, and the novel’s address of the conventions of gender and culture, are still valuable takeaways from what is overall an enjoyable, if not slightly absurd read.
Across these three recommendations are featured an array of LGBTQ+ experiences, but this is certainly not an exhaustive list. The Independent has its own list for Pride Month 2021, and GoodReads helpfully categorises queer fiction into subgenres. Both lists are well worth a look.
A trend that often appears in LGBTQ+ fiction is plots that fall under one of two categories: romance and coming out. Many of the novels that have explicitly LGBTQ+ characters or plot focus are either sensational or youthful love stories, or tales of self-acceptance and liberation.
Don’t forget that LGBTQ+ fiction doesn’t stop being good at the end of June
Although these recommendations do in some ways fall prey to this trend, like so many other LGBTQ+ novels, they also relate to so much more.
Girl, Woman, Other and the Regeneration trilogy both prove to be extremely insightful glances into intersectionality in Britain, in very contrasting settings. This allows these novels to navigate through many different issues, as well as human emotions and relationships. These books also explore a variety of LGBTQ+ experiences, producing thought-provoking reads.
Orlando, on the other hand, focuses mostly on its protagonist’s transgender identity. This means that the novel provides a comprehensive look into Woolf’s perception of the relationship between gender, sexuality, and the self, much of which translates to questions and debates in the modern day.
Lastly, don’t forget that LGBTQ+ fiction doesn’t stop being good at the end of June. There are so many amazing stories and characters to be discovered in LGBTQ+ fiction, and one month is simply not long enough.