It might not surprise you that I love to read, but I write for a living. People and books don’t always go together for me, and there are days when I prefer books to people. For me, reading isn’t just a hobby or a way to pass the time on a rainy Sunday afternoon. It’s something that’s far more important to me. Reading was a way for me to get away from the small, conservative, and economically depressed town where I grew up. I could go to places I couldn’t otherwise. There were so many places I could go and things I didn’t know about. I could go to the Court of Versailles or Hogwarts. I could also visit Middle Earth or travel to worlds I had never heard of.
As a teenager, I began to question my sexuality, which made books even more important. During my childhood, there were no drag queen reality shows, Will and Jack were making us laugh, and actors who played LGBTQ characters didn’t get a lot of attention when they did. Books were able to fill in the gaps in media representation that were sorely lacking. Writers were able to write about a wide range of LGBTQ characters and themes because there was less censorship in the publishing world. When I was growing up, books were a way for me to feel validated and connect with other people who were like me. They were places where I could learn more about LGBTQ experiences and the history of the fight for rights. It was easy for me to connect with the characters because their lives were so similar to my own. Over the years, I’ve built up a large collection of gay fiction, from books that aren’t well-known to bestsellers that are well-known. I have put together a list of my 10 favorite things that I go back to time and time again. Do not get me wrong: I don’t think these books are the best in the genre. I think every gay man can relate to them on a very personal level.
Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda
By Becky Albertalli
After the book was first published in 2016, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda is about Simon Spier, who is 16 years old and lives in Atlanta, Georgia. Using the name “Jacques,” Simon starts an email romance with a friend he only knows as “Blue.” When Simon’s emails are found, he is forced to help a classmate or risk being exposed to the whole school and losing Blue for good. This book made me cry when I read it the first time. I’m not ashamed to say I was in tears by the end of it. This book, even though it isn’t the most groundbreaking piece of fiction out there, is a big step forward in teen genre fiction. It is the book I wish I could have read when I was a teenager who didn’t want to be seen. It’s hard for Albertalli, who used to be a child psychologist, to get inside the head and heart of a teenager who isn’t talking to anyone. Simon’s parents are very liberal and progressive, but he is afraid of telling them that he has been gay. Simon’s problems show how difficult it is for many LGBTQ people who are afraid of being rejected. Albertalli deserves a lot of credit for fighting the idea that coming out is no longer a big deal.
Trivia: The movie Love, Simon was based on the book Love, Simon. The movie was the first teen movie to have a gay character in the lead role.
A Place Called Winter
By Patrick Gale
Henry Cane, a shy and stammering young man, lives in a place called Winter at the start of the 20th century. A Place Called Winter was written in 2015. Henry is forced to leave England by his wife’s family because they found out that he was having sex with another man. He moves to Canada and is given a homestead in the small town of Winter, Saskatchewan. This harsh setting, a world away from his gilded life in Edwardian England, is where he embarks on a journey of self-discovery, self-acceptance, and acceptance.
Gale’s book is based on the mystery of his own grandfather, Henry Cane, who was also named Henry Cane. The real Cane, like the fictional Cane, left England and moved to Canada to start a new life and build a home. When Gale was looking into his grandfather’s story, he found out that the Canadian prairies were used as a gay “underground railroad” in the early 1900s. A lot of upper-class English families sent their sons who were “gay” to live on the prairies. I put “gay” in quotes because our idea of “gay” as a sexual identity didn’t exist back then. Even though there were very few women, many men found freedom in a homoerotic environment where there were very few men. There were indeed a lot of all-male dances in the prairies at this time. This book not only teaches us about gay history that has been forgotten, but it is also a beautiful and heartfelt read that will keep you turning the pages.
By Shyam Selvadurai
Funny Boy, which was written in 1994, is the story of Arjun Chelvaratnam, a Tamil boy living in Sri Lanka who has a hard time figuring out who he is and what he likes. Sinhala and Tamil riots took place in 1983. The story takes place in the years before that. The book is broken up into six stories that follow Arjun from when he was a child to when he was a teenager.
I first learned about this book in a Canadian literature class I took while I was in college. This book doesn’t seem to be as close to my heart as it is. When it comes to culture, Arjun and I come from very different places. However, Arjun’s experiences have a lot of things in common with mine. His childhood and his sense of being different is something that most gay men can relate to. There are other boys like him, but he isn’t like them. He has a lot of close relationships with women, but he doesn’t feel the same way about the men in his life. He also likes to wear his aunt’s jewelry and his mother’s makeup. These are things that many gay men remember when they think back on their childhood. The main point of the book is that many LGBTQ kids lose their innocence. Arjun’s view of the world changes dramatically when adult ideas about gender and sexuality are told to him. Selvadurai does a great job of making Arjun a fascinating and strong person. He does a great job of capturing the confusion, pain, and even excitement that comes with coming out.
Tales of the City
By Armistead Maupin
It was first published in 1978, and Tales of the City was one of the first books written about LGBTQ people in the US. It has led to many sequels and three (soon to be four) TV miniseries. The book, which is set in 1976, tells the story of Mary Ann Singleton, a twenty-something who moves to San Francisco on a whim. Mrs. Anna Madrigal owns an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane. She’s a little eccentric, mysterious, and grows a lot of pot. There are a lot of people who live in Mary Ann’s apartment building: the bisexual Mona, a sexy and woman-loving Brian, Michael “Mouse” the gay man, and Norman, who lives in a shed on the roof. Mary Ann makes friends with all of them. At some point she has an affair with her boss, learns the shocking truth about Madrigal’s past, and finds that her life has changed for the better for the better.
I’ve found that Tales of the City is one of those books that people either love or hate, even though it often shows up on gay fiction lists like this one. It’s easy for Maupin to make a group of characters that are instantly recognizable. Who wouldn’t want Anna Madrigal as their landlord? In this book, Maupin focuses on dialogue instead of exposition, which makes the book go by quickly and keep the story moving. After reading the book for the first time, a friend of mine said it was silly, shameful, and downright gaudy. He thought it was great, so he loved it. Where Maupin really hit it out of the park is when he adds San Francisco to the story. The city is a main character in the book, and the author does a great job of capturing the eccentricities of both the city and its people in the years before the AIDS crisis.
By James Baldwin
As one of the first mainstream books in the United States to talk about gay issues, Giovanni’s Room was a big deal. In Paris, David, a young American man, is having an affair with Giovanni, an Italian man. The story is about David and Giovanni. It’s hard for David to balance his desire to live the typical American life (e.g. marry his girlfriend and start a family), as well as his sexual attraction to men. He has a girlfriend living in Spain. His struggle eventually leads him down a path that turns out to be tragic.
Giovanni’s Room is one of the best books in the gay genre, and it’s on almost every list of books you should read. If you study queer literature at a university, you’re likely to have to read this book. As you can imagine, the book was very controversial when it first came out because of its honest portrayal of same-sex love. Baldwin talked about this later in his life. His publisher, Doubleday, didn’t want to publish the book because he thought it would hurt his career. Baldwin was a black writer in the pre-civil rights era, and his managers were worried that a book about gay romance would make both black and white people uncomfortable. As a result of Baldwin’s hard work getting his book published, Michael Joseph bought it from him in person in England. Before Dial Press took the risk and published the book in America, Baldwin personally sold the book to Michael Joseph in England. When I think about the book, one thing that always stands out to me is how timeless its themes are. Even though society has changed a lot between the 1950s and now, the book is still one of the best examples of what it’s like to be gay in a heterosexual world. A lot of people have tried to make Giovanni’s Room into a movie ever since the 1970s. Baldwin wrote a screenplay based on the book in 1978, but it has only recently been found. With the recent success of the film If Beale Street Could Talk, there is more talk about making Giovanni’s Room into a movie. It’s based on Baldwin’s novel of the same name.