Happy Pride month! The month of June (i.e the anniversary of the Stonewall riots in 1969) is used not only to celebrate and recognize the influence of LGBTQ+ people, but also to raise awareness of the current issues facing the community and peacefully protest.
I, for one, know that it can be very easy to acquire a certain amount of tunnel vision when it comes to the reality and extent of the mistreatment of any marginalized communities. My social circles are filled with open-minded people who share my ideologies. My social media feeds are the same because of this, and it is very rare for me to come across anyone posting anything that could be considered discriminatory or biased. However, this is precisely the reason it is so important to educate yourself on the struggles these communities are facing, and to listen when they are telling you there are problems. I always find books a great place to start for this.
Apart from being a great step towards educating yourself, reading books by LGBTQ+ authors about the LGBTQ+ community is a really easy way to support them; buying the books will support the authors financially of course, but it will also demonstrate your willingness to learn and attempt to understand.
Now I’m not saying that you should go out now and buy all the gay books you can find and that’s going to end homophobia. It’s not. But by working titles from and about LGBTQ+ people into your ‘to be read’ pile, you are giving yourself a starting point from which to join the conversation about how our society needs to change.
It can seem difficult at first to have a balanced representation of authors on your bookshelf, be that in terms or sexuality, gender, race, or culture. The set books we are given to read in school, as well as the books that our society deems as ‘classics’ are more often than not written by old/dead white cis men. We are systemically encouraged to err towards the same straight writers from the same privileged positions. If we don’t subvert this with our personal reading habits, then we do a disservice not only to the diverse and marginalized communities that we should be supporting, but also to ourselves; we remain ignorant to the injustices they face and the (often very easy) steps we can take to help and effect change.
This is not to say that these ‘classic’ books have not earned their recognition and acclaim in and of their own right. However, they have been hogging the spotlight. One of my favourite quotes is from Tracee Ellis Ross: “I was raised to believe there is enough sun for everybody”. I think this perfectly expresses the kind of world we picture moving towards as we celebrate Pride; equal opportunity is not special treatment. So, while I love a bit of Shakespeare and Dickens as much as the next person, I am also really excited to read more books by LGBTQ+ writers. The more diverse representation you create on your bookshelf, the more responsible of a citizen you become; expanding your knowledge and understanding.
Here’s a list of books/writers that I think are a good place to start, as well as a few books coming up in my ‘to be read’ pile:
- Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit – Jeanette Winterson
This semi-autobiographical coming-of-age novel is about a lesbian growing up in a Pentecostal community in the mid twentieth century. Even though as a society we like to think of the wide-held heteronormative views of that time as outdated and archaic, they are still far too easy to find today, and this story of a search for acceptance outside of the normative heterosexual sphere still rings true.
- Adrienne Rich
A personal favourite, Rich’s writing was radical and represented strong feminist ideals within the poetic discourse of the time. Her work brilliantly explores sexuality, identity and gender.
- The Colour Purple – Alice Walker
Presenting the realities of sexual and domestic abuse, as well as the experience of POC, this book is perhaps not the most obvious to place in a list of LGBTQ+ themed recommendations, but I think that is why it is so important to include it. It should be remembered that sexuality and gender identity are only one part of a persons life. A person’s entire life does not just consist of them being gay, so why should a book? The overpowering message of this book is of love.
4. You Exist Too Much- Zaina Arafat
This books initially explores the shame that the narrator’s mother feels when her child tells her that they are queer. The plot follows the life of the protagonist from being a teenager to a successful woman, showing that everyone’s journey is different.
MY ‘TO BE READ’ PILE
- I’m Afraid of Men – Vivek Shraya
Vivek Shraya is a Canadian musician, writer, and visual artist. I’ve read lots of amazing views for this book, which explores ideas of masculinity, femininity, transphobia and misogyny.
- The Price of Salt – Patricia Highsmith
This book was the inspiration for the 2015 film Carol (which I loved). It’s considered a bit of a lesbian cult classic and centres on the relationship between a homemaker in the midst of a pretty messy divorce and a young stage designer/sales clerk in the fifties.
Words by Nell Wedgwood.