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The Writers' Room: Celebrating LGBTQ+ literature

Rainbow flags, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer pride and LGBT social movements, are seen outside the Stonewall Monument in New York City.
Rainbow flags, a symbol of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer pride and LGBT social movements, are seen outside the Stonewall Monument in New York City.

The late writer bell hooks defined queer as “not about who you’re having sex with … but as being about the self that is at odds with everything around it.”

As LGBTQ+ rights have expanded, so too has the canon of queer literature. According to industry tracker NPD Bookscan, LGBTQ+ fiction book sales sold almost 5 million copies last year, doubling sales between 2020 and 2021.

But, access to these stories is in jeopardy. More than 30 states have introduced anti-LGBTQ+ legislation this year. Some that of that legislation includes the so-called ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill that passed in Florida this March. That law bansthe discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms, including books that touch on those topics. More than a dozen states have introduced similar bills. 

Author Kristen Arnett knows the personal toll these kinds of bans takeas a gay teenager who grew up in Florida.

Whenever I sliced at my skin, or when I pulled the hair from my head in order to feel something other than the self-loathing of my secret burden, I needed that frustratingly inaccessible language. If only I were allowed a sentence. Even a word. If I could tell someone, anyone, without fear of repercussion, then I’d have found relief. I’m gay, I would have said. And the immediate follow-up: I’m gay and I’m scared.

For many exploring their sexuality and gender identity, writing can be the outlet they need to express themselves.

Sheila Rae of Austin, Texas, told us why queer stories have been so important for her.

I’m a 75-year-old bisexual woman. When I was 16 years old growing up in Hobbs, New Mexico, I fell in love with the poetry of Edna Vincent Millay. A few years later, when I was in college, I learned the term bisexual and that Millay had many lovers. Some were men and some were women. I still have the now-fragile copy of her sonnets as a reminder to me of how her poetry was a portal to my understanding that I am and always have been attracted to both men and women.  One reason I am out is to tell my story of eventually thriving despite having been ostracized for a long time until I had nothing left to lose. Free at last to be who I am. 

We asked you for your favorite queer authors and books with LGBTQ themes. And here are some of your recommendations:

Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin

Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown 

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides    

Torn by Justin Lee   

Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid 

Transgender Warriors by Leslie Fineberg    

The Magician’s Assistant by Anne Patchett 

Bodies of Water by T. Greenwood 

Orlando by Virginia Woolf    

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeannette Winterson    

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe    

Untamed by Glennon Doyle 

Birthday by Meredith Russo 

Gender Trouble by Judith Butler 

Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson  

Coffee Will Make You Black by April Sinclair

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