By Anna Hill
When I first started my search for mirrors in the form of queer books I was often recommended entirely non-queer books. I think this is because people have fundamentally misunderstood what queer fiction is and how good and valuable representation works. Here are some of the problems I have found:
One [side] character does not a queer book make
Throughout my journey the recommendations people made to me simply reaffirmed some of the things I already knew – that only white men are gay enough, or even interesting enough to be represented; and that if you are a lesbian or worse – a bisexual woman – you do not exist. I was recommended good books, but not good queer books. Books with straight girl main characters and straight romance pushed as the most important aspect of girls’ lives, with sad, buried gays and sick pitiful gay friends, but never part of the main story.
The lie that a queer book is one with a glimpse of a queer person has been spread, for example by lists like this. Books like Weetzie Bat and The Perks of Being a Wallflower have been put on it, but it’s Weetzie Bat’s best friend who is gay, it’s Charlie’s best friend that is gay! The main character in both these stories is straight. On other lists people have suggested Liberty’s Fire, Remix or Letters To the Dead – all of which have queer side characters, brothers or friends, but are lead by heterosexual and heteromantic love stories.
Queer books should be intersectional
On top of that the number of queer books I was recommended to begin with normally told the stories of white, cisgender, male characters. From Will Grayson, Will Grayson to lesbian classics like Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Carol or Fun Home (all of which do count as queer fiction), all are overwhelmingly whitewashed. The queer literature we continue to celebrate often simply reaffirms the idea that there is an acceptable, palatable type of queer and the majority of the queer community are not it.
The moments when you finally find those books that make you feel seen and validated are radical and nourishing. They are so important that, without them, I don’t think I would have survived. Being able to claim a historical and literary ancestry helps to centre queer survival and power today. Suggesting so-called queer fiction which doesn’t centre intersectional queer main characters allows all queers to be disempowered from their own narratives; we are not important or valid enough to be the heroes of any stories, even our own.
A quick counter-list of 15 queer books to read:
(I have yet to read any aromantic or agender books )
* are for poc
b is for bisexual characters
a for asexual
I for intersex
t for trans
- The colour purple by alice walker*
- Snapshots of a girl by beldan sezen*
- Huntress by malinda lo*
- Aristotle and dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin alire saenz*(b)
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson*
- The song of Achilles by madeline miller
- Far from you by tess sharpe (b)
- She of the mountains by vivek shraya*(b)
- Not otherwise specified by Hannah Moskowitz*(b)
- None of the above by I.W Gregorio (i)
- Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis*
- Pantomime by Laura Lam (i)
- From under the mountain by Cait Spivey*(a)
- A safe girl to love by Casey Plett (t)
- If I was your girl by Meredith Russo (t)