The world of gay romance novels is, if not quite as vast as the world of m/f romance, still quite expansive. Are you looking for a royal-commoner romance? A fake marriage? Something dark and gritty, or something that’s the literary equivalent of a basket of puppies? Whatever it is that floats your romance boat, I guarantee there’s an m/m romance out there that will satisfy.
In making this list, I’ve highlighted as many #ownvoices authors as possible. There’s a misconception that the only people who write m/m romance are straight women, and while it’s true that some of the biggest names in gay romance are straight women, there are also dozens of queer men writing fantastic gay romance. But because of the biases and shortcomings of publishing (and a slew of other complicated factors), it’s straight women who often get the most recognition in the genre.
This is not to say that straight women can’t, or shouldn’t, write gay romance novels. You’ll find several (including some of my absolute favorites!) on this list. You’ll also find many wonderful books by queer men that deserve the same praise and recognition. I’ve tried to make this list as wide-ranging as possible, and it includes books about diverse characters written by queer men and women, queer authors of color, and trans and genderqueer writers.
Over the years, these tales of queer happily ever afters have brought me much joy and comfort. Whether you’re entirely new to gay romance novels, or whether you’ve been reading them for years, I hope they’ll bring you the same delight.
Note: Books marked with an asterisk are #ownvoices, which, in this case, means that the author is a queer man. Many of the other novels on this list are #ownvoices for different reasons. I’ve chosen only to make note of books written by queer men, but it is by no means intended to erase or ignore the many other identities held by the fabulous writers who have produced these works.
35 Fantastic LGBT Books to Read This Pride Month
Celebrate Pride with inspiring picks from a variety of genres.
During Pride month every June, a lot of attention turns to LGBTQ culture, including its artists, creators, authors. For 30 days, virtually every product you can buy comes in a rainbow motif, TV commercials for everything from beverages to cars trumpet their company’s support of the LGBTQ community, and we see stories about LGBTQ people splashed across the media. But the community doesn’t just emerge once a year. Increased visibility during Pride month shouldn’t serve as an annual check-in, but a starting point to expand what your media consumption looks like all year long.
These books by gay authors and LGBTQ writers and books with gay characters show us that our literary journeys can be as beautifully diverse as the world we live in. And just like the rest of the literary canon, LGBTQ books come in all shapes, sizes, and genres. romance novels, humor, young adult and middle grade fiction, old stand-by classics, new releases, and of course, literary fiction and memoir are all represented in this list of must-reads. Add them all to your own pile of all the best books or pick up a few as a great gift for the book-lover in your life.
In a novel that has resonated with the queer community since it was first published decades ago, a young man finds himself caught between desire and morality in 1950s expat Paris. While much has changed since Baldwin wrote it, many aspects of life, love, and heartbreak remain the same.
Molly Bolt is the adoptive daughter of a poor Southern couple who makes her own way across America, finding love of all stripes in between. This steamy novel proudly describes the author’s love for the female anatomy as well as love, full-stop. It’s a true celebration of being true to yourself, whoever that may be.
This steamy novel was written in 1913, but not published until after Forster’s death in 1971. The title character meets and falls in love with Clive while at school — though Clive eventually leaves his lover and gets married to a woman. But then, Maurice falls in love with another man. You’ll have to read it to find out if everyone lives happily ever after.
This hysterical read is all about self-discovery, sexual awakening, and how a bad relationship can push you to learn about yourself. It’s honest, revelatory, and definitely NSFW so maybe don’t share it with the kids.
Walker’s masterpiece about the love between women isn’t just an LGBT classic, it’s a must-read book in just about every way. Made into a major motion picture, this National Book and Pulitzer Prize-winner follows the story of two sisters living very different lives and the unbreakable bond between them, even through impossible circumstances.
Take a trip into the underground world of gay hustlers, drag queens, and sex workers in this book that scandalized the literary world when it first came out but went on to become a classic. It’s inspired musicians like the Doors and earned the author comparisons to authors like Kerouac, so if you like either of those, pick this one up.
This stunning memoir plays with structure and form as it takes us through an abusive relationship and what that does to a person. In a world where many people still believe abuse only occurs when a man is involved, Machado’s work is essential.
The introduction to this amazing novel reads, „I was born twice: first, as a baby girl, on a remarkably smogless Detroit day of January 1960; and then again, as a teenage boy, in an emergency room near Petoskey, Michigan, in August of 1974.“ This intersex coming-of-age story has received some criticism, but it’s undoubtedly one of the landmarks of queer literature.
Many times, our world focuses on stringent labels: What we call ourselves, how we identify, and what those labels mean. In this maze-like book that has more layers than grandma’s yellow cake, Oyeyemi explores the idea of keys and locks and how we interpret them. Like all of her work, it’s delightfully strange and totally absorbing.
A chance meeting, an illicit romance, and the freedom of the open road — this classic has it all. That is, until one of the women is forced to choose between her lover and her child. Grab the tissues before picking up this suspenseful LGBT book. If you didn’t think a thrilling story could also tug at your heartstrings, this will change your mind.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this poetic exploration of fatherhood, blackness, identity, and what freedom really costs cuts right to the core of a national reckoning that’s long past due. Even if you don’t generally read poetry, Brown’s is an excellent place to start.
Seventeen-year-old Leda arrives in Bueno Aires in 1913 with just a suitcase and her father’s cherished violin. But when she arrives, she discovers the husband she traveled there to reach is dead. What follows is a love story with tango and with an authenticity she discovers through it all.
This young adult book has won several awards for good reason: It’s a breathtaking account of two young boys of color who fall in love, despite it all. This star-crossed lover story is great for older kids and young adults, but adults will find lots to enjoy here, too.
Madden grew up the only child of parents who were too involved in their own struggles to give her the support she needed, so she found her tribe with a group of girls in her hometown of Boca Raton, Florida. This story grapples with the dichotomies of privilege and isolation, coming to her own queerness and biracial identity, and how friendship can mean salvation.
The first in a series that sparked a popular TV show (and a remake!) this is the story of the goings-on in an apartment at San Francisco’s 28 Barbary Lane. If you missed the TV series the first time around, check out the book to acquaint yourself or fall back in love by giving it a read.
For anyone who has ever grappled with the complexities of sexual orientation within a religious context, this coming-out novel will feel familiar. The evangelical Jeanette considers herself one of God’s children, but when she discovers her sexuality, it throws a wrench into her family’s plans for her.
After Maggie’s mother dies unexpectedly, she returns home to California to deal with the aftermath. But what she finds is a collection of sealed letters her homophobic mom wrote to her apparent lovers. When Maggie sets out to deliver them, she learns a lot about her parents‘ relationship, her late mom, and her own misconceptions.
Comedian Klein grew up as both a late-bloomer and a tomboy, a situation that led to some awkward encounters. In this hilarious yet touching memoir, she recounts her experience coming of age in a world that didn’t seem made for her, in a series of stories that many of us can definitely understand.
If you read this classic about a man who doesn’t age while his hidden portrait gets older and older and missed the gay subtext, it’s time to give Wilde’s story another read. Maybe one of the most subtly LGBT books on this list, you’ll catch the references the second time around.
This memoir by a trans artist and activist from the Philippines charts a journey that travels many different areas of her life, through her childhood and into her life as a Harvard student. It reminds us that transition isn’t a monolith in essays that will transport you.
Don’t sleep on this fiercely funny, sharply poignant graphic novel of a dysfunctional family and a daughter who just wants her dad. Bechdel’s clan is led by a father who’s part funeral director, part English teacher, part historian and as it turns out, has some illicit partners. Once you read this powerful story, you’ll understand how it became a popular Broadway show.
As a kid, Jacob was called „sissy“ for being creative, sassy, and obsessed with glitter. But as they got older, they began to identify with different, more neutral words like „gay,“ „transgender,“ and „nonbinary.“ This story of gender revolution calls out the stereotypes that were probably rampant in many of our childhoods in a book that will make you laugh and cry, maybe even at the same time.
A young Irish woman living in Hong Kong gets mixed up in love a triangle with a wealthy man and woman who seem to have it all. But you know what they say about buying love. Romance fans will eat this one up.
After getting displaced by civil war in Nigeria, a young girl begins a love affair with a fellow refugee. The cards are stacked against them in a variety of ways: They’re from different cultures, different places, and they’re the same gender. The way this book reckons with both culture and sexuality is beautiful, and worth a read.
Drawing on the life of Virginia Woolf, Cunningham weaves several stories together to paint a rich tapestry of characters struggling to meet the demands of friends, lovers, and family. This extraordinary book will resonate with anyone who’s ever had to juggle multiple roles at once, especially when they conflict with one another.
After a young girl admits her queerness to her mother, she’s told „You exist too much,“ a sentiment that cuts right to the heart of so many of us. Told in stories that shuttle back and forth between the Middle East and the U.S., this book follows its protagonist as she pushes the limits of desire. It’s the kind of book that needs to exist more.
This modern retelling of the Cinderella story explores what happens when a young girl must choose between dreams and reality, true love and the safety of solitude. While it was originally written for younger readers, it rings true to adults as well, in the same way we all return to our favorite bedtime stories.
Part laugh-out-loud memoir, part cultural criticism, this new release from an Elle columnist is as delicious as its eye-catching cover. Let Thomas open your eyes to what it’s like being a queer person in America right now. You’ll never close them again.
The title of this one says it all. McBride became the first transgender person to ever speak in front of a national political convention at the age of 26, but that doesn’t mean her transition has been easy. This book weaves her personal journey with the steps the country has taken toward trans acceptance in a memoir that’s both deeply individual and a primer on national civil rights.
Kentucky native Katie has a deep-seated set of traditional values, but she’s just been dumped by her fiance and is still smarting. Cassidy is a powerful, self-assured New York native and Katie finds her irresistibly sexy. This rom-com flips the script on your favorite tropes, while still following them in ways that are as comfortable as an old pair of pjs.
18 very gay and very good books you should read this Pride Month
Pride Month is officially here and that can only mean one thing: time to load up your reading list with stellar queer stories.
Of course, you should be mixing gay books into your to-be-read pile no matter what time of year, but this month, as you celebrate Pride, queer books can be the perfect way to explore the breadth and diversity of the LGBTQ community.
Fortunately for anybody looking for a great gay read, the book world is filled with a bevy of queer stories of all genres.
Whether you’re looking for a meditative poetry collection about queer identity and mental health, a deep dive into the New York City’s ballroom culture in the ’80s and ’90s, a comic about a group scouts who find themselves plagued by supernatural creatures at camp, or a coming-of-age story about a shapeshifter who is navigating life and dating, there is a queer book out there for you.
Here are 18 very gay and very good books you should read this Pride Month.
You’ve never read a coming-of-age story like this. Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl details the adventures of Paul Polydoris, a student in Iowa City who studies queer theory. Oh, and did we mention that Paul is a shapeshifter who can change from Paul to Polly at will. On the surface, it’s an absurd sci-fi premise, but Lawlor uses it to deftly explore gender, identity, and the way we form relationships with other people as well as with ourselves.
Joseph Cassara’s The House of Impossible Beauties takes a deep dive into New York City’s ballroom culture in the ’80s and ’90s by following a group of characters, each who enter the scene for a different reason. But what stands out about the book isn’t just the novel’s vivid portrait of the past, but also Cassara’s breathtaking and unforgettable characters who are all trying to find their way.
Andrew Greer’s 2018 Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Less starts off with a character in crisis: our protagonist Arthur is a struggling novelist, feeling existential as he approaches his 50th birthday, and, to make matters worse, he’s just received an invitation to his ex-boyfriend’s wedding. Instead of despairing, Arthur says „NOPE“ and instead embarks on a haphazard literary world tour. But what sells the book is Greer’s resounding heart and humor, making this tale of romantic misadventures as funny as it is earnest.
Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit follows Joanna „Jo“ Gordon, an out teen who is suddenly pushed back into the closet when her evangelical father remarries, moves their family from Atlanta to Rome, Georgia, and asks Jo to hide her queer identity for her senior year. The only problem is Mary Carlson, the sister of Jo’s new friend in Rome, who Jo is falling for. The result is a heartfelt novel about coming out and discovering young love. Also, shout out to the infinitely charming title of this book!
You’ve probably seen explores feels universal and extremely relatable.
Under the Udala Trees is a book about star-crossed love. The novel follows the life of Ijeoma, a young girl who, at the start of the book, is sent away from her family in order to stay safe during the Nigerian civil war. While away, Ijeoma meets Amina, another girl also separated from her family. The two begin a brief relationship… only to find out that their love is forbidden. What follows is a beautiful novel about love and hardship as Ijeoma is sent home, forced into an unhappy marriage with a man, all the while grappling with her attraction to women.
Don’t forget to add a bit of poetry to your reading list this Pride Month! If you’re looking for a collection to start with, check out sam sax’s collection madness. The poems in this collection cover everything from sexuality to mental health to culture and heritage, but what shines through and connects each of these threads is sax’s incredibly thoughtful and evocative prose.
If there is a hidden gem of queer lit, it’s ReleaseMrs. Dalloway somehow feels nostalgic and charming as Patrick Ness outlines one teen’s struggle to define himself.
If the Babadook has taught us anything, it’s that Pride is not complete without a little noir. To that end, if you are looking for a darker read this month, make sure you check out Caleb Roehrig’s Last Seen Leaving. The book is a coming out story masked as a mystery thriller about Flynn, the primary suspect in an investigation when his girlfriend January disappears. Flynn’s answers about his life with January don’t quite add up… but maybe that has less to do about January and more about the secret that Flynn is keeping.
Nevada offers a thoughtful look at identity and the trans experience.
Noelle Stevenson, Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen
If you’re looking for some comics to check out this Pride month, be sure to check out Lumberjanes the perfect Pride Month read.
Fun Home is a graphic memoir about coming out and finding love, centered around two people. The book documents Alison Bechdel (who also came up with the Bechdel test), her experience exploring her attraction to women, and the way that her father resisted her identity. But, after Alison’s father is hit by a car and killed, she reflects on his past and realizes that he may have had his own struggles with his sexual identity.
To read Alexander Chee’s essay collection How To Write An Autobiographical Novel is to stand in a hall of mirrors, watching as a single person, and all of the identites that compose them, is reflected from all angles. The essay collection is a deep dive into Chee’s past as he documents his expereinces as a gay rights and HIV/AIDS activist, a rose gardener, a writer, and more. But at the core, the book explores how we use writing to shape who we are and how who we are shapes our writing.
As the title probably suggests, They Both Die At The End is not what we could a „happy“ book. The novel follows a day in the life of two boys, Mateo and Rufus, who get early morning calls from Death-Cast telling them that today is the day that they’re going to die. Though initially strangers, Mateo and Rufus are soon brought together through the Last Friend app, a social network that connects people on their last day alive. But as Mateo and Rufus embark on a quest to check items off their bucket list while they still have time, their friendship grows into something more, ultimately exploring what happens when we fall in love with someone we know we only will have a very limited time with.
Sometimes all you need is a good friend. And that’s where You Know Me Well reveals how our friends can become our greatest lifeline.
The Argonauts radiates with stunning observations about being queer and in love, making the memoir feel less like a book and more like the perfect rendering of a person’s heart on a page.
Fair warning up front: Don’t Call Us Dead is a devastating poetry collection. But this book is as beautiful as it is painfully raw. Throughout the collection, Smith writes about race, queer identity, and AIDS, with an electrifying amount of passion and care, making this book a must-read for Pride Month.
You may know Becky Albertalli for her novel Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda reveals that Leah is struggling with her identity too: she’s bisexual and working to muster the courage to come out to her friends. But as Leah navigates her senior year of high school, she realizes that she may love one her friends more than anyone else might expect.
Gay Love, Romance & Relationships
10 Gay Novels You Should Read
It may not come as a surprise to you since I write for a living, but I love to read! If I’m being honest, there are days when I prefer books to people. For me, reading isn’t just a hobby or a way to kill a rainy Sunday afternoon, it’s something far more personal.
Growing up in a fairly small, conservative and economically depressed town, reading offered me an escape to places I otherwise could not go. With the flip of a page I could be whisked away to the Court of Versailles, attend classes at Hogwarts, visit Middle Earth, or travel to the far reaches of the galaxy to worlds I had never heard of.
As a teenager, books took on even greater meaning as I questioned my sexuality. I came of age in an era when there were no drag queen reality shows, before Will and Jack were making us laugh, and before playing LGBTQ roles became Oscar bait for [mostly] straight actors.
Books provided representation that was sorely lacking in the media. The less stringent censorship found in the publishing sphere allowed writers to explore a multitude of LGBTQ characters and themes through the lens of diversity.
For me, as for many LGBTQ folks, books were a source of validation and connection. They were founts of knowledge where I could learn more about LGBTQ experiences and the history of the rights movement. They provided characters I could relate to since their experiences were so much like my own.
Throughout the years, I have amassed a large collection of gay fiction from obscure to mainstream bestsellers. I have compiled a list of my 10 personal favorites which I return to time and time again. I do not argue that these novels represent the absolute best in the genre, but I believe they are novels that every gay man can connect with on a deeply emotional level.
First published in 2016, Simon vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda centers on Simon Spier a 16-year-old closeted gay teen growing up in Atlanta, Georgia. Using the pseudonym of ‘Jacques,’ Simon begins an email romance with a fellow student he only knows as “Blue.” When Simon’s emails are discovered, he is blackmailed into helping a classmate or risk being exposed to the entire school, and lose Blue forever.
When I first read this novel, I’m not ashamed to say I was in tears by the end. While not being the most ground-breaking piece of fiction available, this novel represents a major step forward in teen genre fiction. Frankly, it is the novel I wish I had access to when I was a closeted teenager. Albertalli, a former child psychologist, has an uncanny ability to tap into the angst and fear of a closeted teenager. Simon’s parents are very liberal and progressive, yet he is terrified by the prospect of coming out to them. Simon’s struggles highlight the emotional impact and insecurities of many LGBTQ youth who fear rejection. Albertalli deserves a massive amount of credit for countering the notion that coming out is no longer a big issue.
Trivia: The novel was successfully adapted into the 2018 film Love, Simon. The film marked the first widely released teen film to feature a gay character in the starring role.
First published in 2015, A Place Called Winter follows the story of Henry Cane, a shy and stammering young man, at the dawn of the 20th century. Henry is forced by his wife’s family to flee England to avoid scandal after they discover him engaging in a sexual relationship with another man. He immigrates to Canada and is allocated a homestead in the rural village of Winter, Saskatchewan. It is in this harsh setting, a world away from his gilded life in Edwardian England, that he undertakes a stunning, violent, maddening, and moving journey of self-discovery and validation.
Gale’s meticulously researched novel is based on the mystery of his own grandfather also named Henry Cane. The real Cane, like his fictional counterpart, fled England and moved to Canada to set up a homestead. While researching his grandfather’s story, Gale discovered that the Canadian prairies were something of a gay underground railroad during the early twentieth century. Many upper-class English families cast their ‘gay’ sons out to the remote Prairies — I put gay in quotes because our connotation of gay as a sexual identity didn’t exist in this era. Ironically, many men found freedom in a homoerotic environment where there were very few women. Indeed, the all-male dances depicted in the novel were common in the prairies during this time. This novel not only contains forgotten gay history, it is also a beautifully crafted and highly emotional read — a definite page-turner.
First published in 1994, Funny Boy is the coming-of-age story of Arjun Chelvaratnam a Tamil boy struggling with his sexuality and gender identity in Sri Lanka. The story is set in the years leading up to the 1983 Sinhala-Tamil riots. The novel is divided into six interconnected stories that follow Arjun from childhood to his teenage years.
I first discovered this novel in a Canadian literature course I took in university. On the surface, it seems like a book that shouldn’t resonate with me as deeply as it does. Culturally, Arjun and I come from different worlds, yet there is a universality to Arjun’s experiences. His childhood and his sense of difference is something most gay men can connect to. He is different from the other boys and often blurs gender lines. He easily forms deep friendships with women but feels disconnected from the men around him. He also enjoys wearing his aunt’s jewellery, and wearing his mother’s makeup. These are experiences familiar to many gay men when they look back on their childhood. The central theme of the novel is the loss of innocence experienced by many LGBTQ children. Arjun’s view of the world is drastically altered as adult constructions of gender and sexuality are imposed on him. Selvadurai does a remarkable job of making Arjun such a fascinating and resilient character. He perfectly portrays the confusion, anguish, and even excitement indicative of the coming out process.
First published in 1978, Tales of the City has become a seminal piece of LGBTQ American fiction. It has inspired numerous sequels and three (soon to be four) TV mini-series. The novel, set in 1976, follows twenty-something Mary Ann Singleton who moves to San Francisco on a whim. She finds an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane owned by the eccentric, mysterious and pot growing Mrs. Anna Madrigal. Mary Ann leads a life she never expected, making friends with her fellow tenants: the bisexual Mona, the sexy and woman loving Brian, Michael “Mouse” a sweet and loving gay man, and Norman an odd and socially awkward man living in the rooftop shed. Along the way she conducts an affair with her boss, learns the shocking secret of Madrigal’s past, and finds her life changed forever.
I’ve discovered that Tales of the City is one of those novels that people either love or hate despite its frequent appearances on gay fiction lists like this one. Maupin creates a group of quirky characters that are instantaneously memorable — who wouldn’t want Anna Madrigal to be their landlord? This is a quick read with Maupin focusing on dialogue over exposition, setting a fast pace. After reading the novel for the first time, a friend of mine summed it up by calling it silly, shameless, and downright gaudy — naturally he loved it. Where Maupin really knocks it out of the park is his incorporation of San Francisco. The city is a key character and the novel beautifully captures the eccentricities of both the city and its inhabitants in the years just prior to the AIDS crisis.
First published in 1956, Giovanni’s Room was a game changer as one of the first mainstream novels in America to deal directly with queer themes. The story centers on the life of David, a young American man living in Paris who begins an affair with an Italian man, Giovanni. David, who has a girlfriend living in Spain, is struggling with his desire to lead a conventional American life — e.g. marry his girlfriend and start a family — and his sexual attraction to men. His struggle ultimately leads him down an unexpected path with tragic consequences.
Giovanni’s Room is regarded as a masterpiece within the gay genre and appears on virtually every list of must-read LGBTQ books. The novel is generally required reading in any university course dealing with queer literature. As you can imagine with its frank portrayal of same-sex love, the novel was highly controversial when it was first published. Late in his life, Baldwin describes that his publisher, Doubleday, refused to publish the novel arguing it would destroy his career. As a black writer in the pre-civil rights era, Baldwin’s management was fearful a novel about homosexual romance would ostracize both black and white communities. Baldwin, determined to get his work published, went to England and personally sold the book to Michael Joseph before Dial Press took a risk and published the book in America. Despite being over sixty years old, one thing that has always struck me about the novel is its timeless themes. Regardless of the social changes between the 50s and today, the novel is one of the most accurate portrayals of being gay in a hetero-normative world. David’s social isolation, self-loathing and ideas of masculinity are as much part of the gay experience in 2019 as they were in 1956.
Trivia: Since the 1970s, there have been frequent attempts to bring Giovanni’s Room to the big screen. Baldwin wrote a screenplay based on the novel in 1978 which has only recently been unearthed. With the recent critical success of the film If Beale Street Could Talk based on Baldwin’s novel of the same name, there is renewed talked of bringing Giovanni’s Room to the big screen.
First published in 1986, The Lost Language of Cranes centers on the lives of a father and son who are both coming to terms with their sexuality. Philip comes out to his parents after falling in love with a man for the first time. Unbeknownst to Philip, his father Owen is struggling with his own suppressed homosexuality. Philip’s coming out leads to a breaking point in his parents’ marriage and changes the direction of all of their lives forever.
I’ll admit that when I first read the novel in my early twenties, I wasn’t all that impressed by it. Yes, it was a good book but something about it failed to ‘wow’ me. It was only on a recent revisit that I really came to understand and appreciate the story Leavitt crafts. The novel is really an allegory for the history of the LGBTQ experience in the twentieth century. Philip, the young 25-year-old gay man, is more comfortable and open about his sexuality representing the newer more self-confident gay identity of the late 20th century. Owen, on the other hand, is a man who came of age in the 1950s, an age of conservative family values. He spent much of his life denying who he was and followed the hetero-normative conventions of the American dream by marrying, having a son, and leading a respectable career. The novel is an interesting spin on the classic American father-son tale in which the father traditionally acts as the guide for his wayward son.
First published in 1974, The Front Runner focuses on Harlan Brown an athletic director at Prescott College, a fictitious liberal arts college in New York City. Harlan comes to Prescott after being forced to resign from a coaching position at Pennsylvania State University, stemming from false accusations of sexual harassment made by a male student. While at Prescott, Brown is persuaded to coach three track stars who had been expelled from their home universities for being openly gay. It is during this training that Brown and one student, Billy, fall in love and start a relationship. Along the way, they must face the homophobia and hyper-masculinity found in the sports world.
The Front Runner became one of the first gay romance novels to achieve mainstream success and was a New York Times bestseller. Despite its success, the novel has become somewhat obscure, and I struggled to get a copy of it. I only became aware of this novel following the death of Patricia Nell Warren earlier this year. When I was reading the novel, I was struck by how ahead of its time it was. If it weren’t for some references to the politics of the late 60s and early 70s, its themes of same-sex parenting and gay marriage provides a very contemporary feel. Warren crafts a highly emotional story that keeps you gripped for much of the final chapters with a shocking turn of events. Like Tales of the City, Warren paints of vibrant picture of the gay community in New York City in the decade before the AIDS crisis of the 80s.
First published in 2017, The Heart’s Invisible Furies centers on the life of Cyril Avery — but not a real Avery — from conception to the end of his life. Cyril is born out of wedlock to a teenage mother in a rural Irish community. Exiled by her family and unable to raise the child on her own, Cyril’s biological mother gives him up for adoption to the eccentric Avery family. Cyril spends a lifetime coming to terms with who he is in a life that is filled with love, tragedy and humour.
At nearly 600 pages, this book is epic and stretches across much of 20th century Irish history. Yet despite this, it is a delightful, moving, and often hysterical read. It is one of those books that is very difficult to put down. With Cyril, Boyne creates an everyday man who is highly relatable and lovable. He leads a fairly underwhelming and average life despite all the extraordinary and shocking events that take place around him. His unrequited love for his best friend, Julian, is one of the underlying stories of his life, and very relatable for any gay man who has fallen for the unobtainable straight guy. Boyne is such a talented writer that aspects of the story that should be viewed as cliched are so well written, and often hilarious, you can’t help but love his choices.
First published in 2007, Call Me by Your Name centres on the romantic relationship between a seventeen-year-old Elio and his father’s twenty-four-year-old doctoral student Oliver. The novel chronicles their summer romance in Italy during the late 1980s, and briefly follows their relationship for twenty years through Elio’s first-person narration.
This novel is one of my favourites of all time. Aciman crafts such a wonderfully simple story and it is this simplicity that makes it so beautiful. At its core, it’s a story of first love with all the excitement, delight and fear that typically contains. Elio personifies many gay men’s experiences of falling in love with another man for the first time. There’s resistance, fear and exhilaration at being with someone who feels the same way you do for the first time. The novel dwells on the question of how first love defines our lives, and how we never really let that person go entirely.
Trivia: Earlier this year, Aciman confirmed a sequel to the novel will be released in October 2019 entitled Find Me.
Originally self-published in 1991 and later published in wide release in 1994, Invisible Life follows Raymond Tyler’s coming of age as he faces the realities of being black and gay. A successful law student, with a beautiful girlfriend, and a wide range of career options, his world changes when he engages in a sexual relationship with his best friend Kelvin. After graduation Raymond begins the challenge of living his life as a closeted black man. He engages in relationships with men and women before falling in love with Basil, a closeted football player for the Warriors.
This book holds a special place in my heart as it was the first gay themed book I read as a closeted teenager. I came upon this book purely by accident in my local library and read it in one evening alone in my bedroom. E. Lynn Harris, who sadly passed away unexpectedly in 2009, creates a gripping, emotional and sexy story that is a real page turner. Even today, LGBTQ fiction is dominated by white characters, so, this novel, and its subsequent sequels, gives a much-needed voice to the gay African American experience. Harris highlights the intersectional prejudice faced by many black gay men within both the white and black communities.
As I stated at the beginning, this is not a definitive list of the best gay genre novels in existence, but ones that have deep meaning for me. Did you agree with these choices? Are there books you think I should add? Please comment below!
20 LGBTQ+ Books for Teens Coming Out in 2020
LGBTQ+ representation in young adult literature is still on the rise, and this year’s crop of YA books shows signs the industry may finally be diversifying. Along with stories of white, cisgender teens are tales in which transgender, nonbinary, and intersex youth are the heroes and queer people of color get the spotlight.
Below, we’ve listed 20 of 2020’s LGBTQ+ YA offerings — many of which are available for sale already — with protagonists including a trans brujx, a bisexual K-Pop aspirant, a bigender guardian angel, and characters for whom labels don’t really matter.
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Our Favourite Gay Romance Novels To Remind Us: Love is Love! ?
It can be tricky, sometimes, though, to find a gay romance novel to read that portrays gay love in all its many aspects. That’s why we’ve brought together a list of some of the best books about gay romance that reminds us of the universal nature of love.
Many of our favorite novels have been turned into films, which then because our favorite gay coming out movies and gay comedy movies – in case even the idea of reading a whole book makes you yawn.
But, in our humble opinion, there is nothing quite like a good book and your imagination – So let’s get reading!
Our Favourite Gay Romance Novels To Remind Us: Love is Love! ?
Our Favourite Gay Romance Novels To Remind Us: Love is Love! ?Call Me By Your Name (André Aciman)On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (Ocean Vuong) A Single Man (Christopher Isherwood) A Gentleman’s Position (K.J. Charles) For Real (Alexis Hall) Captive Prince (C.S. Pacat) Brokeback Mountain (Annie Proulx) The Men From The Boys (William J. Mann) Maurice (E.M. Forster) Beijing Comrades (Bei Tong) Inertia (Amelia C. Gormley) Find Me (Andre Aciman)Days Without End (Sebastian Barry)
Lost Proust stories of homosexual love finally published
Written in the late 1890s but held back from publication, the nine tales in Le Mystérieux Correspondant are due out this autumn
Nine lost stories by Marcel Proust, which the revered French author is believed to have kept private because of their “audacity”, are due to be published for the first time this autumn.
Touching on themes of homosexuality, the stories were written by Proust during the 1890s, when he was in his 20s and putting together the collection of poems and short stories that would become Plaisirs et les jours (Pleasures and Days). He decided not to include them.
You don’t have to be a young adult to love young adult fiction.
Whether you’re the age of a young adult fiction protagonist, or well past your high school years, these novels about gay characters will draw you in and keep you turning the pages.
So here are 10 of the best gay YA novels you’ll love no matter what!
1) True Letters from a Fictional Life by Kenneth Logan
James fits into his small Vermont town. He’s a star athlete, a decent student, and boyfriend to Theresa. But James has been filling his desk drawers with letters to everyone in his life—letters he doesn’t want to send. In the letters he tells the truth: it isn’t Theresa who lingers in his thoughts. It’s a boy.
4) Draw the Line by Laurent Linn
Draw the Line is a graphic novel that follows Adrian. Adrian is good at blending into the background. He’s a sci-fi geek, a talented artist, and gay—which aren’t traits he wants to highlight in his Texas high school. Instead, he expresses himself through his own secret superhero world and his character Graphite. When a hate crime flips Adrian’s world upside down, Adrian has to decide what kind of person he wants to be, and what he’s willing to stand up for.
5) You Know Me Well by David Levithan and Nina LaCour
Two of LGBT YA fiction’s biggest authors teamed up for this story where a gay guy and lesbian girl are given equal weight. Mark’s in love with his best friend, and Katie has just bailed on the chance to meet the girl she’s fallen for from a distance. The two classmates who were once strangers come together to work through their love lives.
6) We Are the Ants by Shaun David Hutchinson
We Are the Ants tells the story of Henry, a boy with the power to save the world—but who isn’t quite sure if he wants to. Henry’s family is falling apart, his boyfriend is dead, and aliens have placed the weight of the world on his shoulders. When he meets Diego Vega, an artist with a secret past, he decides the world might just be worth saving after all. But first, he has to save himself.
9) A Safe Place With You by César L. Baquerizo
In Ecuador, the Grow And Live Normally clinic treats homosexuality as an addiction. The book, inspired by true events, follows Tomás Díaz as he tries to survive the clinic and an era of ignorance and hatred with his newfound friends.
10) Tagged Out by Joyce Grant
When all-star player Jock joins the inner-city Toronto Blues baseball team, it looks like they may be able to turn the lousy season around. But when a rival rich kid team, the Pirates, finds out Jock is gay, they ambush Jock and Nash, and Nash has to decide if he’s willing to stand by his teammate.
The Gay Agenda by Ashley Molesso and Chessie Needham
Assembled by the queer and trans power couple behind stationery company Ash + Chess, this lushly-illustrated “modern queer history and handbook” for readers old and young pays tribute to LGBTQ+ events and icons — from Stonewall to Pulse, from James Baldwin to Jodie Foster, from Emma Goldman to Laverne Cox.
Music From Another World by Robin Talley
In 1977 Orange County, closeted teen Tammy Larson can’t be her true self with anyone around her, least of all her vehemently antigay aunt. Luckily, a pen pal program connects Tammy with a kindred soul in San Francisco teen Sharon Hawkins, another punk music buff who’s fighting for queer rights as the pivotal 1980s loom large.
The Best Classic LGBTQ+ Novels
Recently, Alan Hollinghurst said the gay novel is dead. “There was an urgency, a novelty to the whole thing,” said the gay authorThe Line of Beauty. “And in our culture at least those things are no longer the case.” With all due respect to Hollinghurst, it is still an urgent time to write (and read) about LGBTQ+ lives. Queer people face dangerous and deadly challenges — both in the United States and abroad — and it falls on writers to continue to bring these stories to light.
To this end, The Advocate asked the fiction nominees of the 2019 Lambda Literary Awards to nominate the best LGBTQ+ novels of all time. Oureditors then added our own selections. Spanning from the 19th century to the present day, these books demonstrate that, while much has changed for LGBTQ+ people, many struggles persist. Their words have much to offer in lessons about our history, our shared experience of being otherized, and how to address the challenges of today.
Below, see The Advocate’s ranking of the best LGBTQ+ novels ever written. Nominate your own favorites in the comments.
1. Giovanni’s Room, by James Baldwin
Author Chavisa Woods is far from alone when calling Giovanni’s Room “masterfully written, heartbreaking.” It’s a book that has resonated with so many queer people since first being published in 1956, speaking to issues of identity even now. Woods, a Lambda :Literary Award nominee for her novel Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country, says Baldwin succeeded at “blurring the lines of hero and villain and bringing the complexity of human nature into horrifying focus.” Maybe that’s because Baldwin said the book isn’t actually about being gay. “Giovanni’s Room is not really about homosexuality,” said Baldwin in a 1980 interview about queer life. “It’s the vehicle through which the book moves. Go Tell It on the Mountain, for example, is not about a church, and Giovanni is not really about homosexuality. It’s about what happens to you if you’re afraid to love anybody.”
3. The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith
On the heels of her successful debut novel Strangers on a Train (with its own intimations of queerness), an encounter Patricia Highsmith had with a New Jersey socialite while working at a shopgirl at a department store became the seed for 1952’s The Price of Salt. The result, which Highsmith’s publisher forced her to publish under the pseudonym Claire Morgan at a time when a bold depiction of desire between women that eschewed the requisite tragic ending for those who transgressed could have tanked her career, would become that rare example of a lesbian-themed novel with what would prove to be a radically hopeful ending.
„A novel that is simultaneously of its time and timeless, and it holds the distinction of being the first of its kind to have a happy ending,“ Yolanda Wallace said of the novel. SJ Sindu, author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies, called it, „One of the first Anglophone works to challenge the trope of the sad/suicidal gays who die at the end, this book gave us a blueprint of what queer fiction could look like.“
The Price of Salt’s dizzyingly erotically charged prose also telegraphed her signature sense of an ominous „menace“ (in this case, the threat of being caught or found out just as the Red Scare hit the United States). Highsmith went on to write more queer-tinged fiction, including The Talented Mr. Ripley and all of the Ripley novels to follow.
The Price of Salt, of course, became the critically acclaimed Todd Haynes-helmed 2015 film Carol ,starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara.
5. Maurice, by E.M. Forster
Although the great E.M. Forster (A Passage to India, A Room With a View, Howards End) wrote the benchmark gay novel Maurice circa 1913, it was published posthumously in 1971.
In a lush tale of manners, position, and desire, the titular character meets and falls for his classmate Clive while at Oxford. The pair embark on a two-year affair until Clive leaves Maurice to marry a woman and live out his proscribed life as part of the landed gentry, leaving Maurice in shambles and seeking to cure his homosexuality.
But Forster’s novel does not end in gay tragedy. Maurice falls in love with another man, Alec Scudder, and finally abandons his station so that they can be together. The author of Night Drop, Marshall Thornton called the novel „the original gay romance.“ A note found on Forster’s manuscript for Maurice, which was discovered tucked in a drawer, read “Publishable, but worth it?” Ismail Merchant and James Ivory adapted the novel to the big screen in a gorgeous film starring James Wilby, Hugh Grant, and Rupert Graves.
7. The Line of Beauty, by Alan Hollinghurst
Alan Hollinghurst famously questioned the future of the gay novel this year, which is striking since he’s often viewed as helping make queer books accessible to a mainstream audience. His 2004 novel broke through in a major way — The Line of Beauty won that year’s prestigious Man Booker Prize for fiction.
Hollinghurt was praised for his expert command of the English language and his flawless re-creation of upper-class British society and conservative political circles of the 1980s. Hollinghurst set his pen on the sexual hypocrisies of homophobic politicians, many of whom had their own indiscretions behind closed doors. The book follows Nick Guest, a gay graduate student unofficially adopted by the family of a schoolmate. Nick gets a sneak peek at the aristocracy, while indulging in no shortage of sex and party favors; the fun comes to a crashing halt as AIDS enters the fray. Amid all the human drama, there’s an amusing and memorable cameo from the Iron Lady. „Captures a vitally important era in lovely prose“ is how Night Drop’s Marshall Thornton describes Hollinghurst’s most acclaimed book.
8. Rubyfruit Jungle, by Rita Mae Brown
Many queer female writers see Rita Mae Brown’s 1973 coming-of-age book as an iconic work of LGBT literature: „[I love Rubyfruit Jungle] because, well, because. I think this was the first ‚lesbian‘ book I ever read! And devoured. And loved,“ writes The Year of Needy Girls‘ Patricia Smith. Yolanda Wallace, author of Tailor-Made, tells us, „When I was a teenager questioning my sexuality, this book provided the answers I was looking for.“
Semi-autobiographical, Rubyfruit Jungle follows Molly Bolt’s amorous adventures from childhood to adulthood, including a stint in swinging New York City. While Molly has sexual adventures with men, her true love is women, and Brown never shies away from describing Molly’s insatiable passion for the ladies (the title perfectly captures Molly’s zeal for female anatomy). Now assigned in many queer literature courses, Rubyfruit Jungle is brazen and brave; its frank discussion of lesbian sexuality can seem shocking to modern readers who imagine life in the early 1970s was less raunchy. Rubyfruit Jungle is a page-turning reminder that queer lust and queer sex are timeless.
9. Zami, by Audre Lorde
„She calls it a biomythography and leads us through a heart-wrenching account of the black lesbian experience.“ – SJ Sindu, Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction Winner
This 1982 autobiography by the iconic queer black poet Audre Lorde is an experience of intersectionality, in a genre of intersections. Lorde classified it as biomythography, which combines history, biography, and myth.
A fierce love letter to the strength women have given her throughout her upbringing, the book explores her challenges growing up blind in 1930s Harlem, fighting for dignity in the heat of Jim Crow, and finding a voice in the New York City lesbian bar scene.
While books like The Price of Salt show lesbians walking away from motherhood, Zami celebrates the beauty of when mothers stay through the harshest of challenges.
11. The City and the Pillar, by Gore Vidal
The City and the Pillar shocked America when it was released in 1948. The queer coming-of-age novel about Jim Willard and his search for love was the first novel from a respected writer (Gore Vidal) to speak directly and sympathetically about the gay experience in an era when homosexuality was still very much taboo. The book is remembered today for this legacy as well as for various themes — Hollywood’s glass closet, being gay in the military, the poisonous effects of homophobia on society — that still reverberate today.
12. The Picture of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde
The only novel by the great Oscar Wilde may not be overtly gay, but there’s plenty of gay subtext there for the careful reader – about as much gay subtext as a popular author could get away with in 1891.
Dorian’s friends Basil Hallward and Lord Henry Wotton express intense admiration for his beauty, and passages that show Basil’s feelings for Dorian as more clearly homoerotic were excised by an editor, according to Nicholas Frankel, who edited an edition presenting Wilde’s original text in 2011.
Even the text as originally published has references to Dorian’s corruption of not only young women but young men: “There was that wretched boy in the Guards who committed suicide. You were his great friend,” Basil tells Dorian at one point. “There was Sir Henry Ashton, who had to leave England, with a tarnished name. You and he were inseparable.” “At the Wilde trials of 1895, the opposing attorneys read aloud from ‘Dorian Gray,’ calling it a ‘sodomitical’ book,” Alex Ross wrote in The New Yorker in 2011. “Wilde went to prison not because he loved young men but because he flaunted that love, and ‘Dorian Gray’ became the chief exhibit of his shamelessness.”
13. City of Night by John Rechy
City of Night, a 1963 novel by John Rechy, is a seminal piece of fiction that follows the life of a gay hustler in New York City, Los Angeles, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Through stream-of-consciousness narration, the reader gets a glimpse of queer life in mid-century America, with a long and fascinating cast of characters that includes drag performers, S&M practitioners, and sex workers. The book has inspired music from the Doors as well as a film by Gus Van Sant, My Own Private Idaho. „This epic chronicle of gay culture in the American sixties is as far-reaching as it is important, giving us a glimpse into identity and motive,” affirmed SJ Sindu, the author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies.
14. Stone Butch Blues, by Leslie Feinberg
Well ahead of its time, Leslie Feinberg’s 1993 Stone Butch Blues, about Jess Goldberg, a butch working-class lesbian, took massive strides in breaking down the gender binary. A story that is both hopeful in Jess’s determination to forge an identity and heartrending in its depiction of violence against her for her daring to be herself, Stone Butch Blues endures as essential to the queer canon. Feinberg, whose bio reads “writer and transgender activist,” would in later years become known more for activism, but the landmark novel about Jess’s refusal to fit into a prescribed box for gender is arguably Feinberg’s legacy.
15. Tales of the City, by Armistead Maupin
Gay literature was forever changed the day Mary Ann Singleton first met her transgender landlady, Anna Madrigal, when she moved to San Francisco’s 28 Barbary Lane. What began as serialized stories in the San Francisco Chronicle by writer Armistead Maupin became a 1978 novel. It was followed by a Tales of the City series of books, which chronicled decades of queer life in the Golden Gate City, including the AIDS crisis. Tales of the City was adapted in 1993 into a PBS television miniseries, which starred Laura Linney and Olympia Dukakis. The pair are set to reprise their roles in an upcoming Netflix adaptation, proving the enduring power of Maupin’s words.
16. A Boy’s Own Story, by Edmund White
A Boy’s Own Story is comparable to another literary classic, J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. The 1982 book by Edmund White, which begins with the first sexual encounter of a 15-year-old boy, is based on his own experiences coming to terms with his gay identity as a youth in the Midwestern United States. White would later write two additional novels, The Beautiful Room Is Empty (1988) and The Farewell Symphony (1997), which follow his gay protagonist into young adulthood. Together, they form a poignant trilogy that chronicles a gay life in the latter half of the 20th century.
17. Well of Loneliness, by Radclyffe Hall
Integral to the lesbian canon (despite its being considered somewhat problematic) British writer Radclyffe Hall’s 1928 novel focuses on Stephen Gordon, an upper-class lesbian who dons men’s clothing and becomes a novelist who eventually becomes a part of a literary salon in Paris at a time when there were no overt laws expressly barring homosexuality. Hall’s novel was groundbreaking in her introduction of the views of “sexologists” Richard von Krafft-Ebing and Havelock Ellis, who posited that homosexuality was an inborn, unalterable trait that was considered a congenital sexual inversion that simply meant a “difference” and not a defect. The novel also stood trial on obscenity charges both in the United Kingdom where the book was deemed obscene and ordered destroyed, and in the United States, where it was eventually banned.
18. Fun Home, by Allison Bechdel
You might not expect to see a graphic novel in this list, but iconic cartoonist (and Bechdel test namesake) Alison Bechdel always takes the less traveled road. Off the success of her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, she created the deeply personal Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, which touches on her dysfunctional relationship with her father through a lesbian lens. Chronicling Bechdel’s confusing childhood in rural Pennsylvania, the book took seven years to create in Bechdel’s laborious artistic process, which included photographing herself in poses that are drawn into each human figure.
This queer exploration of broken family, unraveling emotions, and suicide was a New York Times best seller, and snagged nominations for the National Book Critics Circle Award and three Eisner Awards – becoming a mainstream critical and commercial success.
The book was adapted into a musical, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. When it hit Broadway in 2015, it won the Tony Award for Best Musical.
19. Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann
Some might say Death in Venice is not necessarily a gay novel, since there is no overt same-sex coupling or coitus. Others might say it’s about a man with pedophilic tendencies. Then others might say it’s brilliant.
German writer Thomas Mann crafted this novella based on his own experience in Venice, where he caught sight of a handsome young man who captivated him, body and soul. Is Aschenbach, the 50-something protagonist, just fixated on beautiful objects, where human beings and centuries-old buildings are of equal lure? Or is it something more lustful and disturbing? It’s difficult, in 2018, to divorce the rich subject of sexual desire from the fact that it revolves around a 14-year-old boy. But the novella’s legacy endures, amd it serves as an important artifact of secret desire at the turn of the 20th century.
20. Under the Udala Trees, by Chinelo Okparanta
„This lyrical book is a wonderful story with a background of a civil war and a love story between two young girls on the frontlines. Wonderful book,“ gay refugee activist and columnist Danny Ramadan raves about the global-minded story.
The book unpacks the emotional life of a young girl displaced by the Nigerian civil war who begins a gut-wrenching affair with a fellow refugee. These girls are from different ethnic communities, forcing them to face not only the taboos of being queer but the prejudices of surviving in a nation that is eating itself alive.
„A great recollection of everything anyone would say in Nigeria against homosexuality using the defense of religion,“ explains David Nnanna Ikpo, the Nigerian author of Fimisile Forever.
21. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, by Jeanette Winterson
Jeanette Winterson’s first novel, published in 1985, is a semiautobiographical coming-of-age story about a girl growing up in a Pentecostal family in England’s industrial Midlands region.
Winterson captures the weirdness of religious zealotry with the authority of someone who’s lived in this environment, and her portrayal of the young woman’s burgeoning lesbian sexuality – problematic in the Pentecostal world – rings true as well. Quirky and memorable secondary characters further enhance the novel, which made Winterson a literary star overnight, esteemed by both readers and fellow authors.
“A beautiful piece of fiction, this novel takes us through the complicated relationship between religion and LGBTQ+ identity.”, says SJ Sindu, the prize-winning author of Marriage of a Thousand Lies.
22. The Hours, by Michael Cunningham
Cunningham’s 1998 novel, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the PEN/Faulkner Award, tells three parallel stories involving queer characters in different times and places.
In England in the 1920s, Virginia Woolf struggles with depression and writing Mrs. Dalloway, a novel to which Cunningham pays homage; in mid-20th-century Los Angeles, housewife Laura Brown, discontented with her life, confronts her attraction to women; and in 1990s New York City, Clarissa Vaughan, who is lesbian, plans a party for her best friend, writer Richard Brown, a gay man dying of AIDS.
Cunningham weaves their stories together seamlessly and movingly in a novel that is deservedly recognized as a modern classic.
The 2002 film adaptation, written by David Hare and directed by Stephen Daldry, received several Oscar nominations, and Nicole Kidman won Best Actress for her portrayal of Woolf. It costarred Julianne Moore, Meryl Streep, and Ed Harris.
23. A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara
In 2015, when the novel was published, reviewer and author Garth Greenwell declared in The Atlantic, A Little Life: The Great Gay Novel Might Be Here.” Hanya Yanagihara’s story of four friends — Jude, Malcolm, JB, and Willem — lasts over 700 pages as you witness the evolution of friendship and love between these men who met in college. We follow them for three decades, withstanding alongside them the waves of trauma that life so often sends. The friends survive together, as described in intensely vulnerable detail. Yanagihara talked with The Guardian about friendship and hardship. “We might all have had that feeling: as a friend, what is my responsibility to save someone who doesn’t want to be saved? Or tell someone to keep living when they don’t want to live?” Gay men are often blindsided by A Little Life’s penetrating clarity about what binds them or drives them apart.
24. Tipping the Velvet, by Sarah Waters
Sarah Waters’s 1998 page-turner is the coming-of-age story of Nan, a Whitstable “oyster girl” (talk about a euphemism) circa 1890 who, upon taking in a show in her local theater, becomes smitten with the charismatic masher (male impersonator) Kitty. Waters’s heroine follows Kitty to London, where the more experienced woman schools Nan in the ways of impersonating a dapper dandy onstage.
The pair begin performing as men together and become the toast of London’s music halls while simultaneously falling in love. Heartbreak eventually ensues and Nan is left to her own defenses on the streets in the big city. She dabbles in sex work to survive before she becomes a boy-toy for a wealthy older lesbian renowned for throwing Bacchanalian gatherings of women. Finally, though, without the trappings of a male alter ego, Nan comes into her own.
The book, an immediate smash with queer women for its frank depiction of lesbian desire and of flirting with gender roles, was made into a 2002 BBC miniseries that reinvigorated interest in the novel, which won the Lambda Literary Award and earned a place on the New York Times list of notable books the year it was published.
„Love the sensuousness of it, the unapologetic portrayal of Nan—the sex scenes,“ said Patty Smith, author of The Year of Needy Girls.
25. Faggots, by Larry Kramer
Larry Kramer, a founder of ACT UP and the playwright of The Normal Heart, may be known for his vocal AIDS activism. But his 1978 novel, Faggots, was also a loud statement that portrayed the hedonism of gay New York City. The book features a cast of dozens of gay men, who variously engage in bathhouse orgies, use a slew of party drugs, and cavort in clubs with names like The Toilet Bowl and Fire Island. The book was condemned by numerous LGBT people upon its release for what many perceived as sex-negativity. But the ensuing AIDS crisis established Faggots as a bellwether of the storm to come.
Benoit Denizet-Lewis asked our country’s leading queer writers to suggest five indispensable books.
Of all the gay books on the shelves of A Different Light Bookstore in San Francisco, I’m not sure why I left with Larry Kramer’s Faggots.
I certainly didn’t see myself as a faggot (I played sports, I was a top), but there was something about that book, with its yellow cover and audacious title, that made it irresistible as my first gay-themed book purchase. Still, I was sure to buy it alongside Dan Woog’s Jocks: True Stories of America’s Gay Male Athletes. Even in a gay bookstore with a blue-haired lesbian working the cash register, I was self-conscious about what people might think.
The year was 1997, and gay bookstores still existed in most big American cities. I was 21 and back home for the summer in my hometown of San Francisco, where a year before I had come out to my dad. “I guess this is what I get for raising you in San Francisco,” he’d said, slumping down in a chair as if he’d been shot.
My dad and I can laugh about it now while watching Modern Family, but at the time it struck me as a snotty thing to say. (What I really needed was a hug.) My dad had it all wrong, anyway. Growing up a few minutes from the Castro didn’t make me gay—if anything, it made me less likely to see myself that way. I couldn’t relate to AIDS or leather chaps, both of which seemed to be afflicting many of the gay men I saw on the corner of Castro and Market, where, in middle school, I had to transfer buses on my way home from school.
When gays from small Midwestern towns tell me how cool that must have been, I smile politely and don’t dare tell them I would have gladly traded places. Growing up near the Castro in the 1980s was confusing and occasionally frightening, and it probably delayed my coming out by a few years. “If this is what gay is,” I thought to myself, “then I’m definitely not that.”
I couldn’t really relate to the characters in Faggots, either, and I don’t think I even finished the book. But it’s still on my bookshelf all these years later, sandwiched between Scott Heim’s terrific novel Mysterious Skin and Frank Browning’s probing sociological portrait of gay life, .
I wish someone had given me a list of required gay reading when I was coming out. Gay men gave me a lot of things back then (porn, theater tickets, crabs), but no one gave me book titles. As a young gay man, I could have used a literary roadmap to help me put my experiences—and my feelings—in some historical and sociological context. As a young writer, I could have used being better read. Why didn’t anyone tell me that I needed to know who Paul Monette was?
In an effort to right those wrongs, and to do my part to promote gay cultural literacy in a time of vanishing gay bookstores and vanishing attention spans, I’ve asked some of the country’s most interesting and iconic LGBT writers—including Michael Cunningham, Edmund White, John Waters, and Patricia Nell Warren—to suggest five books that every LGBT person should have on his bookshelf (or Kindle).
I also came up with my own list, doing my best to choose books that didn’t appear on many others:
Limiting important LGBT-themed books to a short list isn’t easy. “No single set of five books can possibly serve the diverse hungers and desires that make up LGBTQ,” Kate Bornstein, a transgender author and performance artist, emailed me to say when she turned in her selections, which include Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City and the classic BDSM novel The Marketplace. Bornstein’s right, but the remarkable diversity of the books on these lists means that there’s a good summer read for just about everyone.
What’s the best gay book ever written? The work that appears on the most lists is James Baldwin’s Giovanni’s Room, which is set in Paris’ gay subculture in the middle of the 20th century and which writer Alexander Chee selected as one of his five titles. “It’s a searing, perfect novel,” he explained, “with few if any rivals for the way it brings us into the mind of a closeted young man fighting both to love and not to love his one great love, and the cost of this battle within him.”
Other writers with books nominated multiple times include Jean Genet, Andrew Holleran, Alan Hollinghurst, Christopher Isherwood, Anne Carson, Herman Melville, Alice Walker, Virginia Woolf, Edmund White, Alison Bechdel, J.R. Ackerley, and Tony Kushner. Though author Michael Cunningham didn’t include Kushner’s play Angels in America among his five titles, he urged me to give it its due. “Although it is not prose or poetry, I can’t quite imagine a roundup of gay and lesbian literature that didn’t include it,” he wrote. “Angels in America is, to me, probably the seminal work to date about gay life (and so much of un-gay life at the same time).”
Several writers I reached out to wrote eloquently about how discovering the books on their lists—often as fearful, closeted teenagers—had changed the trajectory of their lives. “I am not being hyperbolic when I say that Good Times, Bad Times saved my life,” Mississippi Sissy author Kevin Sessums emailed me to say about James Kirkwood’s little-known novel, which is set in a boarding school run by an evil headmaster. “I read this it thrice during my teenage years in which I suddenly began using words like ‘thrice.’ It’s about the nuances of male bonding as well as the price one pays for being different and, yes, defiant. Just typing these sentences makes me want to read it for a fourth time. I’m sure it will speak just as profoundly to me as an adult because somewhere deep within the truest part of myself is still that 16-year-old from Mississippi who longed for romantic love when what he was offered had to be defined as friendship.”
Many of the nominated books are not explicitly gay-themed but drip with homoerotic subtext. Patricia Nell Warren, author of the classic gay novel , emailed me to explain why she included T.E. Lawrence’s 1922 book Seven Pillars of Wisdom among her selections.
“Few LGBT readers ever mention T.E. Lawrence’s war memoir, yet it deserves a key place among our historical classics,” Warren wrote. “Colonel Lawrence outed himself as thoroughly as a war hero and army officer could dare to do in post–World War I Britain. He never uses the word ‘gay,’ of course, but it’s crystal clear what he’s talking about. In the early 1950s, I read it in high school for a World War I book report, and cried my eyes out over the love story of Daud and Farraj, with its setting of the horrors of desert warfare. It was the first book that I ever happened upon that mirrored to me what LGBT identity is all about.”
Want to know what other books made Warren’s list? What follows are the literary favorites of some of our country’s most accomplished LGBT writers.
Before we get to that, though, I thought I would leave you with some terrific advice—too often unheeded in my own life, I’m ashamed to admit—courtesy of John Waters. “We need to make books cool again,” he said. “If you go home with someone and they don’t have books, don’t fuck them.”
19. The Thing About Harry (2020)
Peter Paige‘s delicately radical Freeform original takes the comfort of Hallmark and Lifetime romance movies we love as the framework for a modern LGBTQ classic. Jake Borelli and Niko Terho star as high-school rivals reunited in young adulthood—after they’ve both come out, opening the door for romance. It’s well-acted, warm and insightfully written— with surprising emotional punch. Ironically, the comfort-food foundation is what makes it feel edgy and so savory.
9. Love, Simon (2018)
You may never find a film more quietly revolutionary than this, the first-ever Hollywood studio-released picture centered on a gay teen. You’ll also be hard-pressed to find a movie that’s sweeter–like, honestly genuinely sweet, nothing saccharine or phony about it. Seventeen-year-old Simon Spier (Nick Robinson)’s coming-out story generated a coveted A+ CinemaScore from test audiences, and in its way, it’s already an all-timer. Coming out is never easy, and it’s not an overstatement to say Greg Berlanti‘s accessible, often hilarious movie about it can change and even save lives.
7. Stranger by the Lake (2008)
Perhaps the darkest film on this list (it’s probably even darker than The Favourite because there are some slayings)–but too glorious to skip over, this French suspense yarn is set at an eerily quiet cruising ground and nude beach. Its appeal isn’t that far removed from Twilight, only it’s much smarter. At the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, Alain Guiraudie won Best Director, and L’Inconnu du lac also won the Queer Palm. The film features graphic sex scenes, some filmed with body doubles. Stranger by the Lake has so much on its brain that it would be entirely reductive to just label it a “gay movie.”
Tactical Submission by ada maria soto
MCs: a gay SWAT commander who’s mostly in the closet about being kinky and submissive and a bisexual, polyamorous kinky doctor who works for the coroner’s office.Setting: L.A. CountyTropes/themes/secondary plot: BDSM, polyamory, characters dealing with PTSD, lots of on-the-page sex (this one is definitely erotic romance) bisexual, polyamorous MC
* by damon suede
MCs: two lifelong best friends and Brooklyn firefighters (who may or may not have been hiding their feelings for each other for years) who decide to work as models for a gay porn website because one of them is basically broke.Setting: Brooklyn post-9/11Tropes/themes/secondary plot: friends to lovers; total hilarity; a satisfying and authentic secondary cast of friends and family; tasty homemade Italian food described in gay MCs
*Tigers and Devils by Sean Kennedy
MCs: a famous football player who’s spent his life in the closet and a mega football fan who is also kinda lonely and runs an independent film festival.Setting: Melbourne, AustraliaTropes/themes/secondary plot: sports romance; lots of angst; celebrity romance; characters dealing with homophobia (from the public and in their families); a wonderful and heartwarming collection of friends and chosen family surrounding both gay MCs
Gays of Our Lives by Kris Ripper
MCs: a somewhat grumpy recluse who has MS, which sometimes means his body does not act as he wants it to, and a super cheerful, open and not-at-all grumpy artist/hipster.Setting: Oakland/Bay AreaTropes/themes/secondary plot: adorable opposites-attract romance; a character that deals with chronic illness on a daily basis, especially as his illness pertains to sex; BDSM; a strong sense of queer community and queer disabled MC