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The Student’s top five literary masterpieces for LGBT+ History Month

ByNiamh Anderson

Feb 17, 2019

It’s February 2019 and the gay agenda is out in full force. It is a time to celebrate our queerness, contemplate our history, and think about the work we still have to accomplish. But since it’s also February, however, it would be handy if we could accomplish all of this from our beds. Don’t worry, you can – just pick up any one of these literary masterpieces by LGBT+ authors. You’ll enjoy them and you’ll definitely learn something.

Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson

Let’s start with something old but gold (or orange). Winterson’s work is a cornerstone in LGBT+ literature. This 1985 novel fictionalises Winterson’s youth – she grew up in an English Pentecostal community, and when her adoptive mother found out she was a lesbian, she said, “why be happy when you could be normal?” This sad line is titular to Winterson’s autobiographical novel which addresses similar themes; growing up, family relationships, religion, and lesbianism. Oranges movingly captures the stigma faced by LGBT+ people in a time not long passed.

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

James Baldwin was a black gay man who lived from 1924-1987, publishing essays and novels exploring issues of race, sex and class. Long before LGBT+ social movements were prominent, Baldwin was fictionalising the plight of African American gay men, and 1956 novel Giovanni’s Room explores the struggle of embracing sexuality in the face of the expectations of a hyper-masculine society. It speaks to issues of identity even now, and is an essential read.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

This list needs some sex. LGBT+ literature and groundbreaking discussions of masculinity by the likes of Winterson and Baldwin, among others, paved the way for other types of LGBT+ works. Sarah Waters’ 2002 historical crime fiction novel Fingersmith is set in Victorian Britain and is notable for its eroticism (amongst much else). Set in a time when homosexual prosecutions against women did not exist, because lesbianism didn’t even cross male lawmaker’s minds, Waters’ totally absorbing depiction of women loving women whilst struggling in a male-dominated Victorian society winds and twists through the novel, drawing you into grim Victorian London.

Amateur by Thomas Page McBee

Moving into more recently published works, Amateur is an essential read, and having been published in 2018 it is possibly more accessible than some of the classics – it’s a very readable 200 pages. But Thomas Page McBee fits a lot into those pages – he was the first transgender man to box at Madison Square Garden, and his discussion of masculinity, facing hate, male violence, and how he somewhat reclaimed that male violence, is simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming.

The House of Impossible Beauties by Joseph Cassara

Another 2018 novel, Joseph Cassara’s debut novel follows notable figures in New York’s 1980s drag ball scene, inspired by real figures such as Angie Xtravaganza, Dorian Corey and Hector Valle. The queens and queers of New York are depicted coming to terms with their sexualities, dealing with homophobia, racism, the emergence of HIV and AIDS, whilst loving each other and processing trauma. This novel signals a new era in LGBT+ literature, one which pays homage to LGBT+ spaces of the past and glitters in a way which feels true to the scenes it tries to reconstruct.


Image: Ted Eytan via Flickr

By Niamh Anderson

Niamh is a fourth-year History student, who was Editor in Chief in her second year. She spends her ‘free’ time researching women’s lives and performing emotional labour by explaining emotional labour to men.

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