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What is queer fiction?

Author:
IMG_7257

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 :()

KEY:

* are for poc

b is for bisexual characters

a for asexual

I for intersex

t for trans

  1. The colour purple by alice walker*
  2. Snapshots of a girl by beldan sezen*
  3. Huntress by malinda lo*
  4. Aristotle and dante discover the secrets of the universe by Benjamin alire saenz*(b)
  5. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson*
  6. The song of Achilles by madeline miller
  7. Far from you by tess sharpe (b)
  8. She of the mountains by vivek shraya*(b)
  9. Not otherwise specified by Hannah Moskowitz*(b)
  10. None of the above by I.W Gregorio (i)
  11. Moon at Nine by Deborah Ellis*
  12. Pantomime by Laura Lam (i)
  13. From under the mountain by Cait Spivey*(a)
  14. A safe girl to love by Casey Plett (t)
  15. If I was your girl by Meredith Russo (t)

Thoughts From Latitude – Feminism, Class Politics, and Checking Your Privilege

Author:

By Cora Morris

latitude

British feminism has a class problem.

When I’d looked into going to Latitude in Suffolk earlier this summer I’d been pleasantly surprised to note the number of women performing at the festival. The stand-up comedy line-up at Latitude was almost two-thirds female – suggesting brilliant progression within an industry that is known to be (more than occasionally) sexist. Musical acts ranged from Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders to Lily Allen (who we all undoubtedly have opinions about) and Haim, the trio of Californian sisters who’s lyrics I’m yet to find too much feminist fault in. There was cabaret, theatre, and even an appearance from the English National Ballet. The poetry area was a favourite, with Hollie Mcnish’s spoken word stealing the show entirely. It was safe to say I was catered for – I felt incredibly lucky to be in a place where so many of the arts came together in a way that was of such a high quality, and where female performers were not dismissed or looked down upon in the slightest.

It is pointless to deny that Latitude is anything but a very stereotypically middle-class festival, and this is clear from the sheer scale of variety throughout the acts and attractions – are literary stages and quinoa stands really abundant in other festivals? We, as crowds, were referred to as ‘Latitude Lefties’ several times and ‘Guardian Readers’ at least twice – the privileged lives of many of the festival-goers was obvious. I’m not sure where the association between academia and class formed but it seems to be a false attitude in England which we supposedly can’t quite get away from. The problem is, feminism gets added into the equation too by way of being wrongly perceived as academic in its subject matter.

Awaiting a panel with Laura Bates (of The Everyday Sexism Project), Laurie Penny (PBG Blogger Sophia reviewed her new book, Unspeakable Things, last month) and Zoe Pilger (whose new novel, Eat My Heart Out, is becoming a personal favourite) regarding feminist fiction I look around to see who I’m sharing the literature tent with, and who is sticking around for a talk that I thought would have been one of the less popular of the schedule. I’m met by the unsurprising sight of mainly middle-aged women, a selection of younger, artsy looking types and a scattering of men – boyfriends, maybe, though I’m glad to see a few raise their hands when and we are asked who in the crowd identifies as a feminist. Some of them scurry away hilariously when Penny begins criticising Facebook page The LAD Bible, followed by her sniggering that ‘Maybe they run it… we’re scaring away the men, everyone!” Naturally, we all laugh. The talk continues and I begin to consider whether this evermore middle-class seeming crowd reflects the limited demographic feminism reaches out to and engages in Britain. Yes – the answer is yes.

I think the examples speak for themselves – to quote Marianne Wright-Eldman, ‘You cannot be what you cannot see’. The fact that significant numbers of this country’s most prolific feminists appear frequently as writers for newspapers such as the Guardian – a wonderful and insightful left-leaning publication, but one that undeniably primarily appeals/sells to Britain’s (if only slightly) privileged – says a considerable amount.

We do not have voices in this country at present that are speaking to everyone else. Not prolific ones, at least. Feminism is becoming almost trendy amongst the middle classes whereas it is much less so elsewhere. Intersectionality is so key – the ways we are increasingly considering the oppression of everyone is vital to the progression and expansion of feminism and its values. However, as I find myself being told more and more frequently that I’m ‘a privileged white girl with nothing to complain about’, thus ‘pretending men are causing problems because they’re easy targets’, I am wondering whether awareness of feminism’s modern form is really being reflected as what we’re all about. It has become a movement that strives for intersectionality, and space in the conversation for people other than ‘privileged white girls’. The problem is that in the public eye, we are represented by what are as a majority people who fall into this ‘category’ (so to speak). I don’t think that we can expect to engage a majority if we are being solely represented by a relative minority.

I am not by any means suggesting that the voices are not there. They are. They are all over Tumblr and Twitter and WordPress and LiveJournal. They are writing papers and reports. They are posting blogs, and getting angry with MRAs, and scanning zines they’ve drawn into their computers. Lots of them have been oppressed in different ways. Lots of them are angry. They are angry because their invaluable voices which make up substantial proportions of the population are not being heard in the public eye. Why are they not represented by our media? They are essential voices in this brilliant and potentially revolutionary conversation we are having, and to an extent, they are probably bored of being spoken for rather than doing the speaking themselves.

There is a great deal to say for checking privilege. A good number of feminist journalists in the public eye are semi-militant about this, with Laurie Penny claiming that she is “constantly checking” her privilege “in the manner of an anxious homemaker constantly checking that the gas is off’”. However, when Caitlin Moran says she “literally could not give a shit” about the representation of people of colour in Lena Dunham’s show Girls – well, that statement speaks for itself.

I think Caitlin Moran is brilliant – really, I do. She has done a lot for the cause in this country and elsewhere, which makes her inspirational by default. Besides, as Penny also mentions – “It’s easy to fuck up, especially when you live in a world that tells you, repeatedly and often, that as a white, straight middle-class woman, yours is the only story about women worth articulating.” But, again, it means we are getting representation that is presumed to speak for the majority and yet does not do much more inclusive opinions any justice.

We are not different species. Class shouldn’t be an issue. The idea of it probably shouldn’t exist. But unfortunately, it does. In Britain, it means a great deal to some, as I’m certain it does elsewhere. I use it as a means of acknowledging my privilege, though I’m always conscious of coming across as snobbish. It is there, albeit as another way of putting all of us into boxes by those who wish to do so.

Feminism is valuable for all of us, in all of the boxes. It is just as valuable for the CEO that raised her hand in the Q&A in that literature tent complaining that she was not listened to in the office as it is for the millions that are not in similarly highly paid positions. Again, there are different kinds of oppression – some of those might affect particular boxes more than others. All of the voices are there, and they are all speaking. But at present, not all of them are being amplified quite as loudly as others.

The Unspeakable Things Have Been Spoken

Author:

By Sophia Simon-Bashall

unspeakable

Laurie Penny. If you’ve not heard the name before, it’s about time you paid attention. I’m a little biased perhaps, as Penny is nothing short of a hero to me. But honestly, she’s great. She’s recently released a book in the U.K., to be released in the U.S. in September. It’s called ‘Unspeakable Things’, and hell, she talks about exactly what girls are told not to. If you’re looking for an easy going, ‘yes you can be a feminist, love pink, wear false eyelashes and shave your legs’ book, this is not for you. Laurie Penny in general, is probably not for you. She is not interested in sugar-coating this movement, making it appealing to the masses. In her eyes, its appeal should just be a given. Frankly, she thinks this kind of lipstick feminism is rather silly. For her, it’s about the nitty-gritty, the things that nobody likes to talk about. But she’s talking about them, and she certainly won’t be silenced any time soon.

Penny interlinks serious analysis of a range of issues, with the ways in which she has personally been affected, making for a very interesting and thought-provoking read. However, the personal side is no sob story – it’s a cold, slightly bitter narrative, at times, relaying the harsh truths of eating disorders, rape culture, and more. There’s no sugar coating, it’s completely honest. And yet, she’s not claiming to speak for everyone, which is an irritatingly common mistake in discussion of these topics. In fact, she regularly stresses otherwise, pointing out that she is a white, middle-class woman; therefore privileged, and unable to tell every woman’s point of view. It is often assumed that feminist texts speak for all women, and often writers assume this ‘voice of the people’ stance. It is incredibly refreshing that Laurie Penny openly refutes this.

The book is in many ways a rant. It is an intense outlet of anger about the world; about neoliberal capitalism; about patriarchal constraints; about transphobia; about white/male/heterosexual/cis-gender/middle-class privileges – you name it, Penny is probably pissed off about it. But it’s still very eloquently written, aside from the regular effing and blinding. She covers ground such as mental illness, single motherhood and abortion. It’s true, these are all topics covered before, but here is the view of a young woman – a view from someone of this generation. However, more importantly, she attacks things barely touched upon before like issues with modern feminism, cybersexism, and uniquely, men’s issues. But it’s not what you think. The chapter on guys is actually the best part of the book. If you only read one part when you pick it up in the bookshop, make it the ‘Lost Boys’ chapter. It’s genuinely eye-opening, and you won’t regret it.

Her unrelenting wit and her ingenious prose style make this book brilliant. Though it was a moving and engrossing read, there were moments when I found myself laughing out loud, because, yes, Laurie Penny kicks patriarchal ass. It is full of dry humour – fitting for the mood of the book and the nature of the issues discussed. Highlights include; “those who are so eager for women and girls to go back to the kitchen might think again… you can plan a lot of damage from a kitchen. It’s also where the knives are kept” and “Having it all now means having a career, kids, a husband, a decent blow-dry – and that’s it.” And that’s only in the introduction.

I’m not saying I agree with every little detail in the book. In fact, there were several points made that I frowned at and found myself strongly disagreeing. But that doesn’t mean I don’t value what’s said – quite the opposite. It’s a reminder that we don’t all have to agree on everything. It’s a necessary aspect of this movement – differing opinions, challenging others and being challenged, that’s how the Suffragettes arose! What matters is that, at the very core, we are united in ideas and are willing to fight for social change. This is how we will make equality a reality.

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