When I first started coming out to myself as a child, my instincts took me to the public library.
After all, I reasoned with nervous fingertips hovering the keyboard, books had always made me feel more alive and connected to the world. Maybe, if I could just find one children’s book in which there was at least one character like me who wasn’t suffering, then I’d know my future could exist.
But as I hunched forward to cover the computer screen instead of consulting my favorite librarians, typing keywords that felt clinical and inappropriate into the catalog, what I found wasn’t encouraging. In small-town Indiana in the early 2000s, what little did appear was mostly in the adult nonfiction section ranging in tones from vaguely to deeply homophobic.
That first search was quick and surface-level. But I returned, again and again. And when historian David Carter’s Stonewall published in 2004, I finally came across a book about the pivotal riots and not another Andrew Jackson history.
In it was the detailed, irrefutable truth: I was nothing new or wrong but rather part of a long, storied, beautiful and diverse community, no matter how the nation tries to police it.
Through high school, I devoured any tangentially queer books available at my public and school libraries. They often skewed older, hidden in genres like psychology, philosophy and history. Some bookstores offered more digestible reading, but most young-adult fiction I could find certainly didn’t make main and well-developed characters gay or trans.
I used the self-checkout, or tucked the books between others and avoided eye contact with the librarian or cashier.
The discomfort that caused me to sneak around, though not without thrill, was of course internalized homophobia — there was, and is, nothing wrong with LGBTQ literature.
Luckily, in 2019, that search would go more smoothly. Depending on where they lived, today a child could ask their favorite librarian for recommendations without judgment, even find encouragement.
As this month is LGBT History Month and National Book Month, it’s the perfect time to lift up the many authors and LGBTQ-centric books available today.
Recently, I realized the majority of what I’ve read in 2019 has about or by LGBTQ people. From George Chauncey’s classic (if often dry) Gay New York to Andrea Lawlor’s (beyond thrilling) Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, what I’ve consumed has only enriched my life and infused more pride.
Fifty years after the Stonewall uprising, plenty of publishers have released retellings from a children’s picture book by Brandon author Rob Sanders to a broader history coffee-table book by Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown. YA fiction is publishing more stories that go beyond coming-out narratives, or finally showing ones from cultures and perspectives often ignored.
Many genres now explicitly name the identity or nature of characters instead of shrouding in plausible doubt or forcing a moral narrative that smites them, as publishers often demanded in the past. Perhaps now, they realize there is an audience.
For this week’s issue of tbt* Coast is Queer, I asked friend and colleague Claire McNeill, whose nose is almost always in a book, to review the posthumous memoir of her hero, Edie Windsor, and share favorites, as well.
The great difficulty was in narrowing down recommendations and reviews — there are simply too many titles to share. What a great problem to have.
Hopefully, this helps you take pride in reading, too.
A few of Claire McNeill’s favorite queer reads:
• The Essential Dykes to Watch Out For, Alison Bechdel
• What Belongs to You, Garth Greenwell
• The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
• Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, Andrea Lawlor
• The Hours, Michael Cunningham
• Edinburgh, Alexander Chee
• When Watched, Leopoldine Core
• Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson
• Her Body and Other Parties, Carmen Maria Machado
• Inferno, Eileen Myles
• Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls, T Kira Madden
• Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, Fannie Flagg
• Mean, Myriam Gurba
• The Song of Achilles, Madeline Miller
Ashley Dye’s looking forward to reading ...
• Feed, Tommy Pico
• In the Dream House: A Memoir, Carmen Maria Machado
• Bury the Lede, Gaby Dunn
• Are You Listening?, Tillie Walden
• Red, White & Royal Blue, Casey McQuiston
• The Tradition, Jericho Brown
• I Know You Know Who I Am, Peter Kispert
• A Year Without a Name, Cyrus Grace Dunham
• We Set the Dark on Fire, Tehlor Kay Mejia
• Queer Intentions, Amelia Abraham
• Welcome to Fairyland: Queer Miami Before 1940, Julio Capó Jr.
• On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, Ocean Vuong
• Black Queer Hoe, Britteney Black Rose Kapri
Some of Ashley Dye’s picks:
• Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation, Kate Bornstein and S. Bear Bergman
• We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir, Samra Habib
• Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin (though I put more emphasis on his other works like The Fire Next Time)
• We Are Everywhere, Matthew Riemer and Leighton Brown
• Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, Mariko Tamaki and illustrator Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
• Angels in America, Tony Kushner
• Amateur, Thomas Page McBee
• My Favorite Thing Is Monsters, Emil Ferris
• The House of Impossible Beauties, Joseph Cassara
• Tinderbox, Robert W. Fieseler
A sampling of YA:
• Paper Girls series, Brian K. Vaughan and illustrator Cliff Chiang
• Like a Love Story, Abdi Nazemian
• Orpheus Girl, Brynne Rebele-Henry
• Spinning, Tillie Walden
• Kings, Queens, and In-Betweens, Tanya Boteju
• Summer of Salt, Katrina Leno
• We Are Okay, Nina LaCour
• Queer Heroes, Arabelle Sicardi and illustrator Sarah Tanat-Jones
• Lumberjanes series, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Brooklyn A. Allen and Noelle Stevenson
Mostly Dead Things
The question of how a family with a taxidermy business collapsed and whether they can rebuild themselves is the subject of Orlando author Kristen Arnett’s debut novel, the weird, funny and, in its own macabre way, warm-hearted Mostly Dead Things. Sometimes, though, as a good taxidermist knows, breaking things down is the only way to put them back together. Sex makes us crazy and loss crushes our hearts and love, maybe, gives us a way to reshape ourselves. We’re all a lot the same, under the skin. — Colette Bancroft, tbt*
When Brooklyn Was Queer
One of the best things about Hugh Ryan’s history of LGBTQ Brooklyn is that he knows what he doesn’t know. So many histories overlook huge parts of gay life — women, people of color — but Ryan makes sure they’re part of his narrative. When the information isn’t available — which is often, with laws and social mores forcing gay communities to remain invisible — Ryan admits it. The author writes admiringly of a book about gay life that is “scholarly but readable,” and the same could be said for his book, which is at its best when he has the material to make people and scenes vivid. For instance, one house was practically the center of the gay world in 1940, when it was home to writers Carson McCullers and W.H. Auden, as well as performer Gypsy Rose Lee and composer Benjamin Britten, all of whom hosted dinner parties that included Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein and Paul Bowles. — Chris Hewitt, Minneapolis Star Tribune (TNS)
The Stars and the Blackness Between Them
Junauda Petrus’s new YA novel is “a love letter to growing up in south Minneapolis,” as her artistic partner put it. It has a lot of love for Trinidad and New York City, too. It’s also a love letter to blackness and queerness, to nothing less than the earth and the cosmos. “I’m always writing to a space that I want to have exist,” Petrus, 38, says, “a space that I think would have been a deep solace for me as a young person.” Here, she conjures two 16-year-olds — Audre and Mabel, an Aquarius and a Scorpio, a Trinidadian and an African-American — coming of age in Minneapolis and in each other’s arms. — Jenna Ross, Minneapolis Star Tribune (TNS)
An excerpt of Ilana Masad’s review in the Washington Post: Nicole Dennis-Benn’s sophomore novel is a deeply queer, sensitive and vividly written novel about a woman’s right to want in the United States and a child’s right to carve her own path in Jamaica; it is also, as Patsy expresses late in the book, about this hard-won nugget of truth: “Never let anyone define you. Always know that you matter. Your thoughts, feelings, and your desires matter. Your happiness matters.” — Ilana Masad, Washington Post
How We Fight for Our Lives
Saeed Jones, a prizewinning poet and BuzzFeed staffer, reflects on his experiences as a gay black man from the South in this slim, poignant memoir. He grapples with coming out and coming of age against a backdrop of homophobia and racism. — Angela Haupt, Washington Post
An excerpt of Ron Charles’ review in the Washington Post: In Frankissstein, British novelist Jeanette Winterson manages to pay homage to brilliant teenager Mary Shelley’s insight and passion while demonstrating her own extraordinary creativity. Winterson’s cleverest maneuver may be suggesting trans people are the pioneers of a self-determined future in which we’ll all design our own bodies. — Ron Charles, Washington Post
An excerpt of Jancee Dunn’s review in the Washington Post: Musicians, twins and LGBTQ icons Tegan and Sara Quin’s coming-of-age memoir is a sort of anti-yearbook that shows how music can be salvation. High School also reminds us that a compassionate adult can have an outsize effect on a teen struggling with their sexuality. — Jancee Dunn, Washington Post