Book clinic: what are the best titles for LGBTQ+ representation?

Armistead Maupin, Jeanette Winterson and a host of other good writers have brought gay literature into the mainstream

Q: What are some good books with LGBTQ+ representation? I’m a bisexual Australian 16-year-old.
(Wishes to remain anonymous)

A: Hannah Jane Parkinson, comment and features writer on the Guardian and Observer
LGBTQ-themed books were once few and far between – either polemics relegated to dark genre corners of bookshops, or artless fiction with awful titles and even worse covers. Wider representation of LGBTQ people in publishing and progressive attitudes have pushed queer books into the mainstream, however. Works often now include gay characters and scenes without necessarily revolving around specific queer “issues” (though these are still important).

Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City series is a joyous novelistic chronicle of San Francisco’s queer scene (including many bisexual characters). Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body is a highly erotic novel about two women falling in love, while her debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, is based on her sexual awakening as a young teen in a religious household. Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty and Sarah Waters’ Fingersmith are two revered British queer literary novels. Meanwhile, an excellent exploration of bisexuality and lust in the 1950s is James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room. I’d recommend, too, the stylistic storytelling of Christopher Isherwood.

Rather less joyously, And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts is a rigorous exploration of the devastation caused by Aids in America. Shilts is also the author of an excellent biography of Harvey Milk, the campaigning gay politician assassinated in 1978.

Into poetry? Dive into the works of black lesbian feminist poet Audre Lorde, as well as Thom Gunn, Carol Ann Duffy and Anne Sexton. Oh, and, of course, Sappho. Epistolary gems include the love letters between Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. Sticking with Woolf, Orlando, in which a nobleman wakes up as a woman (a story partly inspired by Sackville-West), is among her finest. Oscar Wilde’s De Profundis, his writings to his former lover from jail after being convicted of gross indecency, is as beautiful as it is tragic.

Finally, it is worth checking out the source material of some recent films: The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff (a novelisation of the trans pioneer Lili Elbe (and much better than the film)), and Call Me By Your Name, by André Aciman. For fun, I have an obsession with 50s and 60s lesbian pulp fiction. Titles include Satan Was a Lesbian and Homicide Hussy. Amazing.

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Hannah Jane Parkinson

The GuardianTramp

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