Well, it’s Gay (or LGBT) Pride month in the USA, and since I don’t think we have a specific national month here, I thought I’d give a little shout out to some of our queer writers. Now, I’m not sure about labelling, but Readings bookshop posted three years ago on “queer reads”, while Wikipedia has a category called LGBT Writers from Australia and the Australian Women Writers challenge has a list for Lesbian and Queer Women Writers. I have settled on queer for the title of this post, which I hope is acceptable.
That was the first decision. The next concerned how to narrow this post down to something that would be interesting but not too long. This involved some arbitrary decisions. One was to focus on fiction (including verse novels). This means no memoirs or other forms of writing. The other was to focus on content rather than the writer. In other words, I think it’s worth sharing some works that put queer people in the picture, because too often their stories are hidden. The more we see that everyone’s stories have similar truths – recognising of course that some of us don’t have to hide, or face discrimination and abuse – the better our world can be. However, even with this narrowing, there are too many books, so I’ll be focusing mostly on books I’ve reviewed here, with a ring-in!
So, here’s a small selection in alphabetical order:
Nigel Featherstone’s Bodies of men (my review): The most recently reviewed book in this list, Bodies of men is primarily a story about men and war, about what being a man is. But it is also a love story between two men, at a time when such relationships were taboo. However, while the relationship and its challenges are important, they are not, really, the defining issue that the two male protagonists confront in the novel.
Susan Hawthorne’s Limen (my review): A verse novel about two women on a camping trip, this focuses on issues and challenges external to the nature of their relationship, on changes and thresholds, physical and perhaps spiritual, to be faced.
Margaret Merrilees’ Big rough stones (my review): Spanning roughly three decades from around 1970s on, this novel tells the lives of Ro and her lesbian sisterhood in Adelaide. While Ro’s romantic relationships form part of her story, this book more widely encompasses the feminist activism and sociopolitical concerns of those decades.
Dorothy Porter’s Monkey mask: First published in 1997, this verse novel can, I think, be called a classic. Because I haven’t, to my shame, read it, I’m going to quote for you part of the blurb at GoodReads: “Fuelled by homicide, betrayal, and a femme fatale to go to hell for, The Monkey’s Mask is an erotic mystery novel written in verse. But forget what you know about poetry. This is not a love sonnet. From one of Australia’s most innovative writers, The Monkey’s Mask drives headfirst into murder, manipulation, and the consuming power of sex, and is a thriller to make other whodunnits seem mild”.
Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and light (my review): This complex book, with its three separate sections, explores all sorts of indentities, with, in the middle section, a very clever exploration of “othering”. The Readings post mentioned above describes it as follows: “Many of the characters are queer and Neerven writes about sexuality with a light touch that never feels forced.”
So, a small selection, but a varied and, I think, interesting one.
Now, before I conclude, I want to discuss what was really the first decision I made in writing this post – whether to write it at all. I’m still not sure it’s the right thing to do, and yet, promoting “diversity” is seen as a good thing. Diversity, in this sense, means, recognising that people vary in such ways as “race, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, social class, physical ability or attributes, religious or ethical values system, national origin, and political beliefs”. And promoting “diversity”, of course, is seen as a good thing because, historically, the majority – white heterosexual men, in particular – have controlled the stories that are told about who we are. I get this. It’s why I like to read widely. But I’m also uncomfortable labelling people, because it feels like slotting people into boxes, suggesting that that label is all they are. So, in the interests of balance, I refer you to this excellent post by novelist Andrea Goldsmith on her blog on the whole practice of labelling LGBTQI people. She makes sense to me, and makes me almost decide to pull this post. But, I’ve written it, and I’m hoping it serves a purpose, so I’ve decided to leave it here.
What do you think?