Queer subtexts have always existed in literature and novels, even the classics that sound so clearly straight. Just look at the relationship between Frodo and Sam to understand this. As a small queer kid growing up in a normative seaside town on the east coast of Australia, I always think how much easier it would have been to understand me if I had had a reference point of my existence in the pages of books. I grew up in a sea of reading material fueled by Tumblr – Bukowski, Plath, Nabokov. Not exactly gay soul food. With that in mind, below is a roundup of queer books, from new releases to fruity classics.
John’s roomJames Baldwin
An obvious choice and a classic of queer literature. James Baldwin tells the story of an American expatriate in 1950s Paris whose journey of discovering his sexual identity leads him down a path of love, passion, identity. It’s a desperate tale of two queer men struggling with their sexuality within their society. Heartbreaking and startlingly articulate, Baldwin traces the missteps that lead fervent love away from the promise of happiness toward devastation.
Variations of puzzlesAndré Aciman
Although it is not the most famous queer novel produced by André Aciman (call me by your name was a bit on the nose), Enigma Variations is one to add to the list. Go through the great loves of a man named Paul. Initially, a crush on his parents cabinetmaker from an early age, against a backdrop of southern Italy. Then, a tenacious desire for a woman he can never quite shake off, intercepted by the burning desire of a man he meets on the tennis courts of Central Park. Aciman writes about love and desire in a way that makes you feel like you’ve never experienced it, with words that will stick with you forever.
In the dream houseCarmen Maria Machado
Carmen Maria Machado’s classic horror-themed memoir about her same-sex relationship gone wrong is essential reading for just about anyone, but especially those who have been in abusive and toxic relationships. It’s dark and difficult yet cathartic and insightful. To offer a new and relatively unexplored perspective on what can happen when specifically same-sex relationships can turn abusive.
milk fedMelissa Broder
The story of a woman ravaged by an eating disorder who meets an Orthodox Jewish woman who works at a frozen yogurt shop and is determined to feed her. Broder’s novel is about appetites. From physical hunger to sexual desire, to spiritual desire and how we separate these instincts from each other, the novel is filled with exploration and tenderness.
Ruby JungleRita Mae Brown
Very often, the only queer stories we know growing up are those that end in tragedy and unfathomable darkness. Ruby Jungle was one of the first cult novels to bridge this gap in its time. That’s not to say it’s a joy of a novel to read – there are still dark themes, but how Rita Mae Brown writes so specifically and confidently about queer women is to be seen.
son of sinOmar Sakr
Recommended by digital writer Jasmine Pirovic and only released in February this year, son of sin is the debut novel by poet Omar Sakr, and follows the story of Jamal, a young queer Muslim with a charged family history who tries to escape the past. The one where memory and rumor intertwine like pernicious vines. Torn between faith and fear, gossip and gospel, family and friendship, Jamal must find and test the limits of love.
A single manChristopher Isherwood
Most people are familiar with the title of Tom Ford’s 2009 debut film, in which Colin Firth plays George Falconer, a queer college professor who mourns the sudden death of his longtime partner and plans to end his life. The original book follows the same plot, but with more in-depth and painful prose that documents the grieving process. The ups and downs and the turns, where George finally realizes that maybe it would be better to just keep living after all.
Chelsea GirlsEileen Myles
Published in 1994, Myles Autobiographical novel and arguably one of their most famous works to date takes us on Myles’ life journey as they navigate what it’s like to be a lesbian poet. from working class Massachusetts in the 60s to the 70s and 80s in New York. Their work is urgent, emotional and absolutely necessary to live.