Recommended Reading: Celebrating the LGBT+ Community in Literature

In honor of the US Supreme Court’s decision on June 26 to legalize same-sex marriage in all 50 states, here are a few literary works that celebrate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community. – Emily Smith, Curator

“Brokeback Mountain” appears as a short story in Annie Proulx’s Close Range: Wyoming Stories. It follows the sexual tension between two ranch hands, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, as they care for sheep at a seasonal grazing range. The two finally share an intense night in an isolated tent on the range, then carry on with their lives. Despite both marrying women and starting families, Ennis and Jack sporadically reunite over the course of twenty years. Reflecting on the story, Proulx mused that it explores the difference between who people think they are and what befalls them.

 

The fairy tale of Peter Pan is retold in Sassafras Lowrey’s Lost Boi – a world in which the orphaned, abandoned and runaways find common ground. Most importantly, the lost bois are trans* kids who were abandoned by their parents or by the failed social services system. In this retelling, Peter Pan is the savior of transgender children. Lowrey, a transgender author, has noted that the story works as part of the transgender civil rights movement in reclaiming mainstream and cultural touchstones.

 

In Nancy Garden’s controversial novel Annie on My Mind, Annie and Liza meet during a rainy day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and instantly become friends. Though Liza goes to a private school in an upscale neighborhood and Annie attends a public school “far uptown,” the two grow close and eventually fall in love. Because the book was written for young adults and many copies reside in public school libraries, it is often criticized by parents. During one incident, copies of the book were actually burned; however, the novel is so popular that’s it’s never been out of print.

 

The Hours, a novel by Michael Cunningham, explores the lives of three different women in three different time periods who are affected by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. The first is Woolf herself, the second is a closeted housewife reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949, and the third is socialite and bisexual Clarissa Vaughan who plans a summer party in 2001. The story structure mimics Woolf’s famous stream-of-consciousness style in that the narratives of each woman often flow into each other in unpredictable ways.


Nightwood is a Modernist novel by Djuna Barnes and one of the first to ever explicitly portray gay sex. The story follows Robin Vote and the characters that fall in love with her: her husband Baron Felix Volkbein, as well as her lovers Nora Flood and Jenny Petherbridge. It becomes increasingly obvious throughout the novel that Robin will never settle down, instead radically favoring polyamory. Many of the characters often seek out advice from Matthew O’Connor, a transgender medical student who acts as more of a spiritual doctor than a physical one.



Truman Capote’s Other Voices, Other Rooms is a Southern Gothic that follows the life of Joel Harrison Knox and his experience on an isolated Mississippi plantation. Joel struggles to come to terms with his sexual identity, but finds acceptance to be a liberation and not a surrender.

In 1970, Audre Lorde published Cables to Rage, which featured one of her most famous poems: “Martha.” The poem detailed Lorde’s experience coming out as a lesbian and the recovery of a former lover following a car crash. In the poem, Martha’s family arrives and the narrator sends them away, since both women have sacrificed their traditional family lives to have a relationship with each other. The poem also appeared in Coal.

One of Gertrude Stein’s most notable works on sexuality is “Lifting Belly,” which originally appeared in Bee Time Vine and again in The Yale Gertrude Stein. The substantial poem was heralded as a “lesbian classic” and a gift to women who love women. The poem is most notable for its unabashed approach to lesbian eroticism; however, much of the poem consists merely of dialogue between two women.

Giovanni’s Room focuses on the life of an American man in Paris, especially his relationship with an Italian bartender named Giovanni who works at a gay bar. The tragedy, written by James Baldwin, is remembered by the narrator on the day that Giovanni is executed in France. The novel is often lauded for its complex examination of gay and bisexual men; Baldwin himself was an inspiring gay rights figure, since he was considered the leading literary voice of the civil rights movement.

The Dream of a Common Language is a collection of poetry written by poet and activist Adrienne Rich. The book was published in 1976 following Rich’s announcement that she identified as a lesbian; the second section, “Twenty One Love Poems,” addresses love between two women and the cultural need to recognize that love as valid. Rich’s poems also discuss the alienation and disintegration of lesbian relationships in a social climate that regards them as shameful.

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