Piercing the Canon: LGBTQ+ Representation in Literature
As Miss Puddleton advises Stephen in The Well of Loneliness, ‘books are good friends’. Here are some classics to add to your book shelf.
The Well of Loneliness – Radclyffe Hall
Stephen Gordon always had an inkling that something was different about her. The Well of Loneliness follows her venture into adulthood from her conservative provincial upbringing to the lesbian subculture of 1920s Parisian salons. Due to its frank representation of homosexuality, the novel was tried for obscenity, attracting the attentions and support of T.S Eliot and D.H Lawrence, and it was banned in England until 1959. It’s a longer read, but well worth persevering with to reap the reward of burgeoning pride as Stephen becomes comfortable in her own skin and learns to live completely without apology. Touchingly sincere – you may cry – and easily one of the most significant contributions to queer literature of its time.
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
Centred around the life of intersex Cal Stephanides, Middlesex is a sharp yet profound novel about coming of age and the intricacies of family histories. Also known as Calliope, Cal was born with 5-alpha reductase deficiency which results in him having typically female characteristics. This Pulizter Prize winning novel explores Cal’s formative experiences as an immigrant and intersex individual from his first relationship to considering sex reassignment surgery – all against the backdrop of a rich political scenery that comments on historical events such as the 1967 Detroit Riot and the Balkan Wars.
The Collected Poems of Audrey Lorde
Born in New York City, Audre Lorde described herself as ‘black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet’. Lorde was a prolific writer and ardent activist; she wrote speeches and essays on challenging gender binaries, championed intersectional feminism, and played a pivotal role in the Afro-German civil rights movement of the 1980s and 90s. Unsurprisingly then, her poetry blends the personal with the political and speaks for the women who were silenced, oppressed and scrutinised, and her voice is still as pertinent today. For a solid starting point, look at ‘Echoes’ (1993) which captures perfectly Lorde’s sensual poetics with her cutting political edge.
The Color Purple – Alice Walker
Set in Georgia in the 1930s, The Color Purple tells the story of fourteen year old Celie and her experiences with love, religion, and growing up as black and queer. Another classic, this poignant novel can be a difficult and intense read due to some of the more explicit scenes and the brutality of the violent oppression of female characters. However, much of the book is about empowerment and endurance as Celie continues to grow and respond to her situation as an oppressed individual in a prejudiced and dogmatist society. If you don’t have time to read the book, the film is also worth a watch, starring critically acclaimed Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg.
The Art of Being Yourself – Lisa Williamson
Inspired by her personal experience working at the Gender Identity Development Service in London, Lisa Williamson’s book is a fresh and original love story. The novel revolves around friends David and Leo who are both at different stages of coming to terms with their trans identities. Their supportive relationship is moving and helps them both negotiate potentially stressful events such as David’s coming out to his parents. Lisa Williamson commented on her novel: ‘There is no universal experience and I wanted to communicate this’. Humorous and fast-paced, Williamson proves exactly why we need more queer stories like this to demonstrate and celebrate the multiplicity of trans experiences.
Image Credit: eNotes Blog