Written by Nisha Chandran and Manasa Sai
When explaining this story of Covid – 19 pandemic and its impact to our future generations, we can proudly call ourselves “The Survivors of the Covid Era”, and perhaps publish a book on it. On the same subject of books, June being the pride month is the best time to deepen our understanding of the LGBTQ community.
LGBTQ+ literature is an eclectic mix with books on history of the queer community, memoirs, autobiographies and fiction. It is indeed a challenging task to pick favourites from such a wide-ranging collection of queer literature.
We have tried to rise to this challenge and here is our selection of some of the best books to learn and understand more about the LGBTQ+ community:
- The Queen’s English: The LGBTQIA+ Dictionary of Lingo and Colloquial Phrases by Chloe O. Davis – 2021
A colourful glossary of contributions from the LGBTQ+ community to English, this comprehensive reference guide comprises of words, terms and phrases related to the queer community. The terms for different gender and sexual identities are illustrated in a vibrant manner and details of not just the origin and meaning of each term, but also on how to use the terms during conversation, are given. This hugely informative book will answer several questions readers might have but is uncomfortable asking or discussing openly. Less of a dictionary and more of a reference guide, this book is a must-read and is a starting point to gaining a deeper understanding of the LGBTQ+ community.
- The World of Homosexuals by Shakuntala Devi – 1977
Shakuntala Devi, an Indian mathematician, fondly known as the “Human Computer” published the first academic study about Homosexuals in 1977. Based on facts, this book encompasses an academic perspective laid out as comprehensible insights by investigating the world of gay through personal interviews with homosexual men in India and abroad. This book covers the stories of two men, one of them a top executive, who is a married man from Bengaluru, who gets involved in several affairs with other men. This book touches many aspects of the homosexual subject, including class divide and emphasizes being humane, and compassionate towards homosexual men. This book also describes the rational scrutiny of the social and psychological repercussions of not being understood.
- Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin – 1956
A great, intense novel, “Giovanni’s Room” is considered as one of the most important classics in gay literature. The central subject of Giovanni’s Room is identity. The identity conflict, torment and shame that David undergoes, in contrast the kind of strength that Giovanni portrays as a reaction to it. David, an American narrator, and Giovanni, an Italian bartender enter into a love affair that begins soon after he meets Giovanni at a Parisian gay bar shortly after Davis’s girlfriend leaves for Spain. This book highlights the events in the life of an American man living in Paris including his feelings, frustrations with his relationships with other men in his life, and particularly with an Italian bartender named Giovanni. This relationship makes him realize the most important lesson, the kind of love David finally believes men cannot share with one another, which is real, true love.
- The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story by Revathi A – 2010
An autobiography, this book is a poignant, but hard read, at times. In her own words, this book narrates the story about a girl from the Indian transgender (or hijra) community identified as Revathi, who was originally named Doriasamy because of her biological sex. Doraisamy grew up being bullied in school for his feminine mannerisms and preferences. Slowly he began to feel that he was actually a girl, trapped within a male body, for absolutely no fault of his own. Not being able to tolerate his torments, Doraisamy fled to Delhi and discovered the possibilities of becoming a girl. He finally began living as a member of the hijra community by observing the various rituals and customs specific to their community that this book describes in intricate detail. This book opens our eyes to the kind of tough resilience one might need to survive as a transgender person in India.
- Boy Erased: A Memoir of Identity, Faith, and Family by Garrard Conley – 2016
A memoir, this book is a compelling read about the author’s story of growing up in a staunchly religious family in Arkansas, USA, while struggling with homosexuality. The son of a preacher, Garrard comes out to his parents, and his life turns upside down when he is sent to a conversion camp by his parents. The torture and horror that he underwent during his life at the camp is heart-breaking. In 2018, a movie titled ‘Boy Erased’ starring Russell Crowe was made based on Garrard’s book. This book, widely considered as a classic, is an important story of our times, a story of survival, of staying strong in everyday struggles, of being true to oneself, and always choosing kindness.
- Same-Sex Love In India: A Literary History edited by Ruth Vanita & Saleem Kidwai – 2000
Same-Sex Love in India is a book that brings light to the fact that “Gay Culture” is not a modern construct. This book offers an array of writings on same-sex love from over 2000 years of Indian literature. It highlights the way relationships between men and between women have been represented in history, literature, and mythology since ancient times with the societal reaction to such attachments. The book is divided into four broad parts: the first part deals with “Ancient Indian Materials”, the second section analyses the medieval convention, the third section has “Medieval Materials in the Perso-Urdu Tradition” as its subject matter, and the last section, discusses an interesting and diverse perspective titled “Modern Indian Materials”. This is probably the only book that deals with the history of written traditions of same sex love and traditions in India.
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller – 2011
This novel on Greek mythology retells the story of Greece’s greatest hero Achilles, from the perspective of his best friend Patroclus. Madeline Miller focuses on the love story between two best friends in this movie, while paying homage to Homer’s Iliad. The attraction between both men, who were best friends, built up slowly and over a period of time they became inseparable and their sexual relationship matured. Like all relationships, they had issues and conflicts. Patroclus goes against his lover’s wish to end the war and gets killed, and Achilles avenges the death of his beloved through a furious rampage. What makes this book stand apart is the subtle and poetic way in which Madeline conveys the beautiful relationship between two lead characters from Greek mythology.
- Long Live the Tribe of Fatherless Girls: A Memoir by T. Kira Madden – 2019
This book is an honest memoir about a girl who grows up in a privileged background with parents who have substance addiction issues, her coming to terms with racial identity, sexual assault and queerness. Narrated in a non-linear manner as essays, Madden commands attention with her writing style. A story that touches several aspects of human life, it is a highly impactful, affecting and powerful read that has the power to awaken our minds to the harsh and complex realities of the world, yet, reinstate our power in hope and healing. Books expand our knowledge, help us in developing empathy, and make our conversations thought-provoking and meaningful. Stories of people with lived experiences can normalize conversations around identity. And all these books help us in a gaining a deeper understanding of the queer community, be it a dictionary, novels, autobiographies, or memoirs. Happy reading!