Reading Recommendations for LGBT History Month

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Jeffry Iovannone, PhD

Jeffry J. Iovannone is a queer feminist scholar-activist, who has a PhD in American Studies.

October is LGBT History Month in the United States. The month was established and first observed in 1994 by a high school history teacher from Missouri named Rodney Wilson. Believing that LGBT history was an essential part of the American history curriculum, Wilson and other like-minded teachers and community leaders proposed that a month be dedicated to teaching the history of the LGBT community, whose experiences are often erased within dominant historical narratives. October was chosen because it coincided with National Coming Out Day (observed on the 11th of the month) and the first march on Washington for LGBT rights, which occurred on October 14th of 1979.

In honor of LGBT History Month, I’d like to offer some reading recommendations from under-hyped queer and transgender writers. One of the main critiques of the creation of history months for marginalized groups is the implication that the other months of the year will revert to a focus on the experience of the dominant group. In offering this list, I hope to create an engagement with LGBT history and culture that extends beyond the month of October and considers intersections between LGBT and other marginalized identities.

  1. Alexis De Veaux

Yabo_cover_lores_mediumAlexis De Veaux, a black lesbian writer and scholar-activist, is best known for her Lambda and Hurston/Wright Legacy Award-winning biography of the feminist poet and activist Audre Lorde, entitled Warrior Poet. Beautifully written and meticulously researched, Warrior Poet presents Lorde in her multiple complexities and resists the temptation to mythologize a feminist icon. De Veaux is not only an excellent biographer, but an accomplished writer in her own right who has published in multiple genres. I highly recommend her most recent book, the experimental novel Yabo, which won the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction. Yabo is a multi-genre work that blends poetry and prose to examine the ways in which the African diaspora and legacies of enslavement impact black subjects, both past and present. Nearly all of Yabo’s characters are queer, though their queerness is not the central focus of their stories. In this way, the novel subverts traditional “coming out” narratives and presents complex queer and gender non-conforming characters of color.

  1. Kirsty Logan

bookcoverKirsty Logan is a queer writer of contemporary fairytales and folktales, based in Glasgow, Scotland. She is the author of two collections of queer fairytale retellings The Rental Heart & Other Fairytales and A Portable Shelter and the critically-acclaimed novel The Gracekeepers. While The Gracekeepers has received substantial buzz, particularly in online blogging communities, the queer content of the novel is often downplayed. What most impresses me about The Gracekeepers is the way Logan subtly teaches the reader about the major precepts of queer theory, a method of critical analysis that seeks to dismantle binary notions of identity and critique regimes of normality, through the beautiful and haunting dystopian story of a floating circus. The novel also incorporates the figure of the selkie, a mythical creature who is both human and seal, from Scottish folktales as a way to explore how we can move beyond limiting binary, either/or notions of identity.

  1. Casey Plett

51boQbtOBsL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Plett is the winner of the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction for her collection of stories A Safe Girl to Love, published by Topside Press. Her stories are both humorous and heartbreaking and feature 20-something trans women navigating the triumphs and tribulations of love, sex, identity, and growing up. What I most like about Plett’s work is that she creates trans women who are fully complex characters that are not reduced to their trans-ness. Yes, her characters are trans, but this fact is not the sole focus of their storylines. In this way, Plett subverts the tendency to represent trans women as “freakish” through a focus on medical transition, anatomy, or on the presentation of trans characters as exotic spectacles intended to perk the curiosity of cisgender readers. I would also recommend the column she wrote about her gender transition for McSweeney’s Internet Tendency entitled “Balls Out.”

  1. Raziel Reid

51HFZM4bkkL._SX344_BO1,204,203,200_Reid’s novel When Everything Feels Like the Movies is my young adult recommendation. The novel won Canada’s Governor General’s Award for English-language children’s literature in 2014. Reid’s win was controversial and generated an online petition with nearly 2,000 signatures that called for the Canadian Council for the Arts to revoke his award, describing When Everything Feels Like the Movies as “offensive and graphic.” The novel tells the tragic story of Jude, a flamboyant, neglected, and bullied teenager from small-town Canada who is murdered for his attraction to a popular male classmate (I’m not spoiling anything here, as we learn of Jude’s death in the first chapter). As a coping mechanism for the bullying and harassment he faces, Jude uses terminology from the film industry and celebrity culture as frameworks for narrating his experiences. In an article from The Guardian, Reid stated the following about the controversy created by his character: “If you are a flamboyant, gender non-conforming rebel who isn’t shy about wanting to lose your virginity to Zac Efron, you’re crossing a line and scaring people… The oppression my narrator Jude faces throughout the book is the same oppression I’m facing from critics. People only feel safe if they can fit you into a box.” Reid based Jude on the story of a real teenage boy from California named Larry King (who was possibly trans feminine), who was murdered for asking a male classmate to be his Valentine. I applaud Reid’s representation of queer youth in a provocative and honest way and for pushing the boundaries of queer representation in young adult literature. If you are generating controversy you are doing something right, at least in my opinion.

  1. Vivek Shraya

godloveshairVivek Shraya is a Toronto-based writer, artist, and performer. He is a triple Lambda Literary Award nominee for his books What I Love About Being Queer, God Loves Hair, and She of the Mountains. Shraya’s writing addresses intersections of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality; male femininity; and bisexual erasure. His work is particularly crucial to conversations surrounding the harmful nature of normative masculinity and the ways in which femininity in men is stigmatized. God Loves Hair is a collection of short stories geared toward a young adult audience narrated by a sensitive child who struggles to understand the complex realms of gender, sexual, and racial identity. The book also features illustrations by the artist Juliana Neufeld. She of the Mountains, Shraya’s debut novel, is an illustrated work that interweaves a contemporary exploration of love and identity with a queering of classic Hindu mythology. His first poetry collection, Even This Page Is White, and children’s picture book The Boy and the Bindi are forthcoming in 2016 from Arsenal Pulp Press. I wish I had had Shraya’s books when I was growing up. His destigmatization of male femininity and depiction of feminine men, especially those of color, as central characters are stories we desperately need in our current cultural moment.

  1. Rachel Spangler

51SBaz-SPuL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_If anyone is the literary child of Ann Bannon, the “Queen of Lesbian Pulp Fiction,” it’s probably Rachel Spangler, an award-winning writer of contemporary lesbian romances. I highly recommend her novel Timeless, a book for those who like their romance served with a side of magic and social justice. In Timeless, introverted writer Stevie Geller begrudgingly returns to her high school to accept an award. In an ironic twist of fate, she is transported back in time and must confront her high school bullies as well as her crush on her closeted English teacher, Jody. Like her predecessor Bannon, Spangler uses the popular genre of romance to confront social issues facing the LGBT community. Timeless contains some of the most thoughtful and accurate depictions of bullying I have encountered in fiction. Spangler’s adept mash-up of the conventions of young adult literature, speculative fiction, and romance is also noteworthy. In my opinion, Timeless should be considered a contemporary classic of queer literature.

If you read the work of any of the authors mentioned in this article, please feel free to comment below or tweet us @DrJeffGendrProf and @RadicalNotion1 to let us know what you think.