For our final post as part of pride month, here’s five queer classics you should read:
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
Published in 1993, this brave, original novel is considered to be the finest account ever written of the complexities of a transgendered existence.Woman or man? Thats the question that rages like a storm around Jess Goldberg, clouding her life and her identity. Growing up differently gendered in a blue–collar town in the 1950s, coming out as a butch in the bars and factories of the prefeminist 60s, deciding to pass as a man in order to survive when she is left without work or a community in the early 70s. This powerful, provocative and deeply moving novel sees Jess coming full circle, she learns to accept the complexities of being a transgendered person in a world demanding simple explanations: a he-she emerging whole, weathering the turbulence.
[NOTE: My friend recommended this to me and said it was essential. I’m really looking forward to reading it but it’s extremely out of print – and not even in the library- and fetching high prices on Amazon, so perhaps time for some charity shop diving]
Orlando by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf’s Orlando ‘The longest and most charming love letter in literature’, playfully constructs the figure of Orlando as the fictional embodiment of Woolf’s close friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West. Spanning three centuries, the novel opens as Orlando, a young nobleman in Elizabeth’s England, awaits a visit from the Queen and traces his experience with first love as England under James I lies locked in the embrace of the Great Frost.
At the midpoint of the novel, Orlando, now an ambassador in Costantinople, awakes to find that he is a woman, and the novel indulges in farce and irony to consider the roles of women in the 18th and 19th centuries.
As the novel ends in 1928, a year consonant with full suffrage for women. Orlando, now a wife and mother, stands poised at the brink of a future that holds new hope and promise for women.
In the Eyes of Mr Fury by Philip Ridley
On the day Concord Webster turned eighteen, the Devil died. The Devil’s real name was Judge Martin, but Concord’s mother called him the Devil. She said he boiled babies for dinner and made lampshades out of human skin. So why did she, who hated him so venomously, have a key to his house?
The key will unlock more than just Judge’s front door. It will also unlock a multitude of stories – where magic children talk to crows, men disappear in piles of leaves, and James Dean lookalikes kiss in dark alleys – and reveal a secret history that will change Concord’s life forever.
Philip Ridley’s second novel (following the sexually charged tour de force Crocodilia) was an instant cult classic when originally published in 1989. Now, for this new edition, Ridley has reimagined the story, expanding the original novel into the world’s first LGBT magical realist epic. A vast, labyrinthine, hall-of-mirrors saga, its breathtaking imagery and stunning plot twists – covering over a hundred years – reveal Ridley to be one of the most distinctive and innovative voices in contemporary fiction.
‘Philip Ridley’s stories compel attention.’ – The Times (London)
‘Ridley is the master of modern myth.’ – The Guardian
[This is my favourite book of all time. I read it in the original 1989 version and loved this. This version, republishing it for the first time, is heavily revised and expanded to over double the length. Get one version. Get both. Just. Read. It.]
Whipping Girl by Julia Serrano
In the updated second edition of Whipping Girl, Julia Serano, a transsexual woman whose supremely intelligent writing reflects her diverse background as a lesbian transgender activist and professional biologist, shares her powerful experiences and observations,both pre- and post-transition,to reveal the ways in which fear, suspicion, and dismissiveness toward femininity shape our societal attitudes toward trans women, as well as gender and sexuality as a whole. Serano’s well-honed arguments stem from her ability to bridge the gap between the often-disparate biological and social perspectives on gender. In this provocative manifesto, she exposes how deep-rooted the cultural belief is that femininity is frivolous, weak, and passive, and how this feminine” weakness exists only to attract and appease male desire. In addition to debunking popular misconceptions about transsexuality, Serano makes the case that today’s feminists and transgender activists must work to embrace and empower femininity,in all of its wondrous forms.
At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neill
‘Weren’t you never out for an easy dip?’ he asked . . . ‘I don’t mean the baths, I mean with a pal. For a lark like.’
Out at the Forty Foot, that great jut of Dublin rock where gentlemen bathe in the scandalous nude, two boys meet day after day. There they make a pact: that Doyler will teach Jim to swim, and in a year, they will swim the bay to the distant beacon of the Muglins rock, to raise the Green and claim it for themselves. As a turbulent year drives inexorably towards the Easter Rising of 1916 and Ireland sets forth on a path to uncertain glory, a tender, secret love story unfolds. Written with verve and mastery in a modern Irish tradition descended from James Joyce and Flann O’Brien, At Swim, Two Boys is a shimmering novel of unforgettable ambition, intensity and humanity.
‘One of the greatest Irish novels ever written’ David Marcus
‘The music of Jamie O’Neill’s prose creates a new Irish symphony’ Peter Ackroyd
‘Heartachingly beautiful’ Independent on Sunday
‘A vivid picture of human freedom’ Sunday Times