Summer is finally here and with it comes the opportunity to kick back and relax with a good book.
When I was growing up and first realizing my sexuality I would frequently search out books with themes or characters that represented some aspect of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community, to explore and learn more about the rich culture that I had begun to feel a connection with.
As such, here are some suggestions for great books with LGBT themes and characters that you might like to read. While not in any particular order, I’ve picked out a few books from a spectrum of genres, and have followed that with a list of other books you might like to explore too. We’ve also got a couple of suggestions from Care2 members below so make sure to give those a look. And please feel free to leave your suggestions for great LGBT reads in the comments section!
Okay fellow bookworms, here we go:
Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette, the author’s protagonist and namesake, is a child that has been weened on a diet of very narrow religious teachings after being adopted by her pentecostal mother, a woman intent that her child “foundling” become a missionary to the “heathen” states. What with Bible quizzes, tambourine playing with the local Salvation Army and a stint of temporary deafness mistaken for communion with the Lord, Jeanette’s development is steaming along nicely – that is, until the local council steps in and requires that Jeanette’s mother send her to “the breeding ground”, the local school.
As a young woman of sixteen though, Jeanette’s problems with “unnatural passions” begin when she realizes that she is attracted to a local girl whom she thought to save. Upon discovering this, her mother involves the church who try to pray away the gay, or as they perceive it an orange demon that they believe has enslaved Jeannette. This sets the stage for a turbulent future relationship between mother and daughter as Jeanette outgrows her mother’s fanaticism and becomes unapologetic about her emerging womanhood and sexuality in this very English semi-autobiographical coming-of-age drama.
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
A soaring feminist exploration of black womanhood, sexuality and gender that positively sings. The story frames itself within an epic correspondence between sisters Nettie and Celie. Celie is a young women trapped in a loveless and abusive marriage in rural Georgia, while her sister Nettie struggles with her life as a missionary in Africa. Nettie’s activities sustain Celie throughout her darkest years, giving her hope. But Celie’s miserable, bruised life as “Mr.’s” wife is interrupted one day when Shug Avery, a songstress, force of nature and former lover of Mr.’s, blows into town. Through Shug’s kindness, Celie is awakened and feels at last a deep spiritual connection with her surroundings that empowers her and eventually gives her the strength to leave Mr. and embark on a brave new life of her own.
Gay Rights on Trial by Lee Walzer
Part of the “On Trial” non-fiction series, this book examines several American legal cases and the way in which they have been the lens through which to view the developing LGBT civil rights fight. Sporting an impressive collection of important legal documents and chronicling key cases while explaining their impact, this is a great read that also includes a brief snapshot of global LGBT rights and a concise timeline of events as well as a helpful glossary of terms. Published in 2002, this book will provide a reasonably easy to understand platform for further reading of current LGBT rights cases.
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
A deeply hypnotic piece of writing of incredible scope and feeling. This book is best described by its wonderful opening lines, so I will say no more other than this is a trans-relevant story with broad appeal:
“I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day in January of 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.”
The Writer’s Tale by Russell T. Davies and Benjamin Cook
Any Doctor Who fans out there? Russell T. Davies will be familiar to many as the man at the writing helm for the Doctor Who revival (replaced now, of course, by the equally wonderful Steven Moffat) but you may also recognize Davies as the man who created the ground breaking series Queer as Folk, a television drama about young gay life. In The Writer’s Tale and The Writer’s Tale: The Final Chapter, Davies and British journalist Benjamin Cook engage in a “great correspondence” a series of emails and text messages spanning several months in the production of Doctor Who, and its spin-offs Torchwood and the Sarah Jane Adventures. Obviously of interest for Doctor Who or Queer as Folk fans, or those wanting a career in screenwriting, this book also gives an insight into the witty, lusty and at times obsessive world of Russell T. Davies as a gay man widely considered to be at the top of his field and who writes very much with an LGBT audience in mind.
The Witching Hour by Anne Rice
When choosing a book from Anne Rice’s massive body of work to include in a list of LGBT relevant reads, many would no doubt go for Interview with the Vampire. However, nestled among the dense pages of The Witching Hour, which is the first tome in a series of books about the Mayfair witches, gifted psychic women who are haunted and serviced by a powerful, seductive and deadly spirit named Lasher, there is an intriguing character called Julien Mayfair. Julien is unique in that he is the only male witch to have any considerable power and to hold sway over the demon Lasher, even forming a sexual relationship with the spirit while taking several human lovers over the years, both male and female.
As is the case with nearly all the characters in The Lives of the Mayfair Witches series, Julien is capable of great acts of good and also great evil. His complex relationship with his sister Katherine is as heartbreaking in its conclusion as it is fascinating, as are his machinations even after death as he steers the family line by virtue of his ghostly presence. Richly detailed, this is a series strictly for those who are comfortable with very adult themes, but Rice’s characterization is ultimately very rewarding, with Julien being a devilishly potent and intriguing presence throughout the series.
Luna by Julie Anne Peters
Luna is a YA story of a male-to-female transgender teen called Liam O’Neil or Luna as she will come to be known. Like her namesake, Luna can not wait for night to come so she can be her true, glittering self, when she dresses in her younger sister’s clothes and makeup in the safety and secrecy of the family basement, all the while longing to reveal her true identity to the world. This is a secret that only Luna’s younger sister Regan knows and it is she who narrates to the reader the unfolding events of Luna’s awakening. This recommendation was brought to me by way of Care2 member Alice B. and her daughter Marcy Andersen. Read more about Marcy Andersen’s straight-ally advocacy here.
A Density of Souls by Christopher Rice
This is becoming a bit of a family affair, but Anne Rice’s son Christopher Rice has, with his debut novel, created a commentary on the destructive force of homophobia that is mercifully devoid of vampires — the only monsters here are the people. The story focuses on a group of four once inseparable friends and how the rage of adolescence rips them apart. They meet five years later to discover that what was once thought be a tragic accident was in fact a murder. At the center of all these events is Stephen, a young gay man who, as he discovers is own identity, finds his life inextricably bound to secrets from generations past.
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
A succulent slice of lesbian Victoriana about two orphaned girls whose lives orbit each other and then crash and collide. 17-year-old Sue Trinder, brought up in a den of thieves or “fingersmiths”, becomes involved in a plan authored by Richard “Gentleman” Rivers, a handsome man scheming to steal a fortune from a wealthy heiress called Maud Lilly. Sue agrees to help with the plan, for a price, and is duly installed as Maud Lilly’s new maid. But, as such plans tend to, things go awry when Sue gets cold feet as she begins to feel a deep attraction, not for the handsome Gentleman, but Maud Lilly, whereby she discovers she has more in common with Maud Lilly than just her gender, but who is scamming who?
Now comes our final selection from Diane T., administrator at GLBT Rights Global, a Care2 group where you can discuss LGBT rights news stories and all the latest happenings in LGBT culture. Here is her choice:
The Misfits by James Howe [For ages 10-15]
“The story revolves around four middle-school children (age 12) who don’t fit in. One is a tall geek, one is fat, one is a greaseball, and one is gay. These four children, Addie and Bobby and Skeezie and Joe, have adventures and misadventures and work together to change school policy.”
Also, here are some further book related news stories from GLBT Rights Global that were posted in the last week:
- Transexual’s memoirs break new ground in Arab world
- Books with Gay Themes for Younger Readers Take Off
Lastly, what you’ve all been waiting for, a list of further titles that may be of interest as you settle in for a sizzling summer:
L = Lesbian interest
G = Gay interest
T = Trans interest
B = Bi interest
Without mark = General
- Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (L)
- Wicked by Gregory Maguire
- Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet (G)
- Women in Love by D. H. Lawrence
- The Hours by Michael Cunningham (L)
- Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg (L)
- The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt (G)
- At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill (G)
- A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (G)
- Christopher and His Kind 1929-1939 by Christopher Isherwood
- Father of Frankenstein by Christopher Bram
- Transparent: Love, Family, and Living the T with Transgender Teenagers by Chris Beam (T)
- Ready to Catch Him Should He Fall by Neil Bartlett (G)
- On The Road by Jack Kerouac
- A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition by Gregory Woods (G)
- How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States by Joanne Meyerowitz (T)
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (L)
- Heather Has Two Mommies by Lesléa Newman
- Lesbian Film Guide by Alison Darren
- Stonewall: The Riots that Sparked a Gay Revolution by David Carter
- Loving Her by Ann Allen Shockley (Interracial lesbian relationships.)
- The New Gay Teenager by Ritch C. Savin-Williams
- Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger (T)
- The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government by David K. Johnson
- Bi America: Myths, Truths, and Struggles of an Invisible Community by William E. Burleson (B)
- Gay Spirituality by Toby Johnson
- The Mayor of Castro Street – The Life and Times of Harvey Milk by Randy Shilts
- The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín (G)
- Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodovar by Rosemary Stewart and Colm Toibin
- Sex Variant Women in Literature by Jeannette Howard Foster (L)
- Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters (L)
- Forbidden Love with a Married Man: E-mail Diaries by Dennis Schleicher (B)
- Untold Stories by Alan Bennett
- The Naked Civil Servant (Stranger Than…) by Quentin Crisp
- GLBTQ: The Survival Guide for Queer and Questioning Teens by Kelly Huegel
- Baby Be-Bop by Francesca Lia Block
- Sita by Kate Millett (L)
- Queer by William S. Burroughs
- Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
- The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith (L)
- Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez (G)
- Two for One by Sean David Wright (B)
- The Girl with the Golden Eyes by Honoré Balzac
- Becoming a Man by Paul Monette (G)
- Hunter’s Way by Gerri Hill (L)
- Curious Wine by Katherine V. Forrest (L)
- The Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo
- Tiger, Tiger by Galaxy Craze (B)
- In Transit by Brigid Brophy (T)
- Bi Any Other Name: Bisexual People Speak Out by Loraine Hutchins (B)
- From the Notebooks of Melanin Sun by Jacqueline Woodson
- Other Voices, Other Rooms by Truman Capote
- The Bisexual’s Guide to the Universe: Quips, Tips, and Lists for Those Who Go Both Ways by Nicole Kristal (B)
- Conundrum by Jan Morris (T)
- Bertram Cope’s Year by Henry Blake Fuller (G)
- The Bostonians by Henry James (L)
- Solitaire and Brahms by Sarah Dreher (L)
- RePresenting Bisexualities: Subjects and Cultures of Fluid Desire by Donald Hall (B)
- Ernesto by Umberto Saba (G)
- Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
- Proud Man by Katharine Burdekin (B & Gender Variant)
- The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas by Gertrude Stein (L)
- The City and the Pillar by Gore Vidal (G)
- The Angel and the Perverts by Lucie Delarue-Mardrus (L & Gender Variant)
- Vintage: A Ghost Story by Steve Berman (G)
- The Passion by Jeanette Winterson (L)
- She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders by Jennifer Finney Boylan (T)
This list was compiled with the help of the following great sites:
- Great books, authors and GLBTQ culture resources at GLBTQ.com
- LGBT teen fiction and non-fiction suggestions here
- Publishing Triangle for LGBT book resources