Michele Theil shares her lockdown reading recommendations
BY MICHELE THEIL
Lockdown has been hard on all of us, but LGBTQI+ people especially have struggled without the support of their queer community and chosen family, and even more so if they live in unsafe or homophobic environments forcing them to stay closeted.
While some have enjoyed events like Pride over Zoom, others have found solace in queer literature.
Growing up, there wasn’t as wide a variety of LGBTQI+ related books as there is now. This is great, showing the progress our society has made so far in making publishing more diverse stories and using books to introduce children, young people, and adults to LGBTQI+ lives and experiences. Looking back, I don’t think I read anything that represented queer relationships or other gender identities until a couple years ago.
During lockdown, I have had more time to read, and instead of reading queer people through a straight lens, it has been the perfect opportunity to delve into literature written by queer people for queer people. These wonderful books have allowed me to connect with my community, providing a more in-depth understanding of a variety of LGBTQI+ issues.
If you’re struggling without your community in lockdown, literature can be a great escape. Here are a selection of wonderful books to read.
Pulp by Robin Talley
Pulp by Robin Talley is a dual narrative about a lesbian in 1955 when homosexuality is illegal, and a young girl in 2017 figuring out her identity, and shows us how simultaneously similar and unique the lives of queer people can be in sharing a common goal with different circumstances.
This was the first book I read that explored a lesbian character in-depth, while also delving into the history of homophobia in the US that meant people had to hide who they really were. While we’ve made many strides in terms of LGBTQI+ acceptance and equality, there is still so much to do.
Pulp also sparked my interest in the history of lesbian pulp fiction, for which the book is named. I related to the protagonist Abby’s confusion surrounding her romantic relationships to women, something that I often find myself confused about too. Every character in the novel identifies as LGBTQI+, which is rare, and their experiences gave me a lot to think about in relation to my own identity and the anxiety that often comes with it in a heteronormative world.
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
Frankisstein by Jeanette Winterson is a modern take on the classic Mary Shelley novel Frankenstein (which in itself was considered progressive) with a transgender protagonist, and puts trans issues and characters at the forefront of people’s minds.
Shelley’s Frankenstein is one of my favourite books. Some critics have posited that there are homosexual overtones within the narrative, so to see Winterson explore that in further depth while taking scientific transformation and applying it to the process of transitioning is extremely interesting.
I am cisgender and therefore cannot speak to the experiences of trans individuals other than through research and testimony, but Winterson has expertly crafted a story which I think changes our understanding of gender and being human.
Red White And Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
Bisexual non-binary author Casey McQuiston wrote Red White And Royal Blue in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election, imagining a more progressive presidency with support for LGBTQI+ people and a loving but difficult relationship between the President’s son, Alex, and the Prince of Wales, Henry. Obviously fiction, it is the most wonderful escapist novel.
High-profile LGBTQI individuals are often the subject of targeted abuse on social media and by tabloids, which is why many of them keep their private lives private to avoid complications in their relationships. The relationship between Alex and Henry has all the hallmarks of those complicated relationships but multiplied by 10 due to their positions as the First Son and the Prince of Wales. But this doesn’t make their relationship any less special.
This story is full of love, kindness, redemption and acceptance, and despite disagreements from their families and the press, they always find their way back to each other.
I cried twice reading this book, and it was a wonderful way of showing that behind any person’s celebrity status or sexuality, they are just normal people with love to give.
London Triptych by Jonathan Kemp
Jonathan Kemp weaves a wonderful story of art, a tentative exploration of sexuality, and love from three different men in three different decades.
Between the 1890s, the 1950s and the 1990s, the three different time periods show how far we’ve come in terms of LGBTQI+ acceptance over the past century but how far we still have to go.
Reading about 1990s London, which seems so far removed from our current society, it is a stark realisation that it’s not so different.
Additionally, it was beautiful to see Kemp’s vivid descriptions of the gay scene in London, albeit in different times to our own, particularly as we’re in our third lockdown and unable to experience the wonderful queer spaces that London has to offer.
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