Written by Sophie Wyatt
June 1969 saw one of the most significant gay liberation movements of the LGBTQ+ community to have ever happened, which presented itself in the Stonewall uprising. While in the sixties being gay or ‘masquerading as the opposite sex’ (being transgender) in the US would land you with a lengthy prison sentence, or at best a misdemeanour, the LGBTQ+ community were very limited in where they could socialise. The Stonewall Inn in New York City’s Greenwich Village was one of the very few gay bars in which members of the community could find peace. The few establishments that welcomed the people of any sexuality in, including The Stonewall Inn were subject to multiple police raids. However, the people of New York started to build activist groups with the goal of being able to build more businesses and general places in which people could live freely with their sexuality without fear of getting arrested.
During a police raid on The Stonewall Inn on June 28th 1969, the normal raid procedure did not go to plan and the patrons of the bar reacted by protesting the arrests. Around 150 people congregated outside the bar and resisted the police force, including black transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson and her friend Sylvia Riviera. The protests carried on for the following three nights. What were described as riots, but was in fact a revolutionary uprising for the community prompted the first pride marches in 1970. This uprising also lead to the creation of organisations such as the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR, which was founded by Miss Johnson and Riviera in order to advocate for young transgender people, and the stopping of police raids on gay bars.
It is because of this historical moment that the month of June was thereby named Pride month. While so much has changed within society in relation to LGBTQ+ people, the struggles they face still persist, and literature is just one of the ways in which those struggles can be translated to help others who are not part of the community understand, as well as making those who are still exploring their sexuality and identity feel more at ease. So we have put together a list of some of the books that are shaping modern day LGBTQ+ literature.
Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan
Naoise Dolan’s debut novel Exciting Times has added her to the list of hotly-tipped authors. From the point of view of Irish-born Ava we are taken on a journey of different emotions and relationships, both heterosexual and homosexual. Whilst working at a somewhat mundane job in Hong-Kong, Ava meets Julian, an older, richer banker who she finds common ground with but struggles to connect to on an intellectual level. When Julian leaves on a business trip, Ava is introduced to Edith, and finds herself dissecting her own feelings towards not only love but also commitment. Dolan also uses her debut book to talk about the regulation of abortions in Ireland and women’s rights. Exciting Times is full of honest thoughts, dry humour and thoughtful prose from the perspective of a woman still in the process of understanding who she is.
Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez
Growing up within a Jehovah background in 1950’s Black Country, Paul Mendez’s protagonist 19-year-old Jesse McCarthy struggles with his identities, both racial and sexual. The coming of age novel follows Jesse on his journey, as he escapes a repressive religious community and goes on to attempt to overcome obstacles which stand in his way, to do with not only sexuality and race, but also class and gender. Escaping to London and turning to sex work propels Jesse into a whole new way of life which unravels some realisations about love and spirituality.
Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn
Award-winning Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Patsy follows the life of a Jamaican-born woman who dreams of leaving her life in Jamaica behind and following her love Cecily to New York City to start fresh. However following this dream comes with consequences, one being that Patsy must leave her baby behind. However, the promise of a new life in a bright city is not all it turns out to be for an undocumented migrant. The story goes on to follow not only Patsy’s journey to reunite with her daughter again, but also her journey to find and understand herself for who she really is, not for what the world chooses to see.
After writing worldwide bestseller Call Me By Your Name, André Aciman’s prequel Find Me, was hotly anticipated. The prequel follows on from the intense and hypnotic romantic storyline of the previous book. Elio finds himself in a romantic relationship with an older man which continues to propel him back to thoughts of his previous lover Oliver. Oliver is a husband with a family who, in the midst of leaving for a business trip to New York, is also on the cusp of making a decision which could change everything.
Swimming In The Dark by Tomasz Jedrowski
Set in 1980’s Poland, Swimming In The Dark follows Ludwik Glowacki’s life as he is sent to an agricultural camp on a University project. There, the anxious Ludwik meets Janusz and they go on to spend a dream-like summer together, exploring their sexualities, trying new and exciting things, and falling in love. However, when the summer is over and they must return home to the lives they left behind, their choices become more difficult. The novel explores, love, loss and the choices we must make between our emotions and the lives we choose to lead.
The Times I Knew I Was Gay: A Graphic Memoir by Eleanor Crewes
The Times I Knew I Was Gay follows Ellie on her own personal journey of exploring and discovering her sexuality. Through funny illustrations, Ellie explains that along with never really being interested in boys, she also had a deep-sense that she didn’t belong from a young age. Her sketches paint our a picture of denial, awkward moments and times of confusion, alongside with funny and heartfelt times. Ellie’s story is used to show people that the realisation of who you are does not necessarily always come once you have fallen in love, but rather when you grow and begin to understand who you are yourself.
Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture by Amelia Abraham
Amelia Abraham’s Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture has not yet been published but is being eagerly awaited. Abraham combines both her own experiences within the LGBTQ+ community with pieces of journalism to try and piece together what it means to be queer in the modern day. ‘Join her as she cries at the first same-sex marriage in Britain, loses herself in the world’s biggest drag convention in L.A., marches at Pride parades across Europe, visits both a transgender model agency and the Anti-Violence Project in New York to understand the extremes of trans life today, parties in the clubs of Turkey’s underground LGBTQ+ scene, and meets a genderless family in progressive Stockholm’. Queer Intentions: A (Personal) Journey Through LGBTQ+ Culture is published 06/08/20.