By Toni Brannagan
To kick off our Pride programming and to pay our respects to the 50-year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in downtown NYC, I asked a few of my fab coworkers to share a queer book they love… I’m super fun at parties, as you can tell. But hey, there’s nothing like the power of reading to educate, offer new perspectives, and even start revolutions.
Sharing stories about LGBTQ+ identity is an essential way to honor queer history, upend the literary canon that prioritizes heterosexual narratives, and to keep the fight for equality and visibility going.
Polish off those library cards, y’all. Here’s what we’re reading this month:
Are You My Mother? A Comic Drama (2013) by Alison Bechdel
I read Are You My Mother? fresh out of college and just starting a new career as a fifth grade special education teacher in the Bronx. Alison Bechdel’s richly layered narrative gave me a much-needed introspective escape on my long, early morning commutes to a job rife with emotional labor. A meditation on her relationship with her mother, Bechdel’s graphic novel weaves together memories, psychological theory, found letters, conversations, and other life ephemera to answer the question that tugs at us all: “How much of me is me?” And with cameos from writers (Virginia Woolf and P.D. Eastman), psychologists (D.W. Winnicott and Alice Miller), and her own work (Dykes to Watch Out For, 1983-2008) Bechdel provides us, too, with a profound roadmap for unpacking identity and experience.
-Laura Blackburn, Director of Giveback
Stone Butch Blues (1993) by Leslie Feinberg
This is one of those books that you’ll read and then feel emotional about every time it’s mentioned after you’re finished. Stone Butch Blues tells the extremely raw, heartbreaking, and tender story of Jess Goldberg, a butch human navigating gender (and violence) in small-town, pre-Stonewall America. It’s a book that’s hard to put down once you’ve started — and it’ll make you think a lot about oppression, authenticity, identity, growth, and kindness (y’know, a really light read!). Leslie Feinberg was an incredible storyteller and activist, and we’re so lucky to have this work live on. It can be tough to find copies because it’s out of print now, but the manuscript was available on Leslie’s website for a long time as a free, downloadable PDF — no matter how you get your hands on the story, the effort is worth it, I promise.
-Brianna Flaherty, Content Editor
Girl Sex 101 (2015) by Allison Moon
Scissoring, cunnilingus, strap-ons, lots of veiny dildos: these may or may not be positions/props used to depict lesbian sex in porn, your imagination, and via the horny grapevine. I’m not here to shame anyone’s kink (I def have some hardware of my own in a drawer at home) — instead I will recommend a book that really opened my eyes to how we can optimize our idea of what having girl sex is. Girl Sex 101 helped me improve my own communication, pleasure, and self-confidence with my lady lover.
Out of any sex ed book I’ve ever read, this one takes the cake! The to-the-point illustrations help navigate female sexuality and it features a working “road map” to facilitate your partner’s pleasure. The entire book is consent-focused and makes intimidating sex stuff more approachable! Not to mention, there’s a lot of pro-tips for the (not to be forgotten) stereotypes above. 😉
-Dani J. Berkowitz, Community Associate & Period Management Specialist
Orlando (1928) by Virginia Woolf
Virginia Woolf doesn’t have a reputation for being a super sunny writer, so if you haven’t read Orlando, you might be surprised to hear that it’s actually soooo much fun! In a nutshell, it’s basically an elaborate fanfiction Woolf wrote about her ~gal pal~ Via Sackville-West, and her family’s history. The titular character, Orlando, is a gender nonconforming poet who lives for centuries and hangs out with a bunch of key figures from England’s literary canon (while also casually switching out her gender and sex as time goes on). It’s also a well-adapted movie starring Tilda Swinton, who was maybe put on this Earth to play wonderful, androgynous characters like Orlando. (But of course, pls read the book first!)
-Toni Brannagan, Content Editor
The End of Eddy (2014) by Édouard Louis
The End of Eddy is not for the faint of the heart. The book opens with a graphic, violent scene depicting a (sadly) familiar experience for every queer kid who grew up feeling alienated. The story is loosely based on Édouard Louis's personal upbringing in rural France; the book is an emotional depiction of how it feels to grow up not only gay, but also plagued by poverty. Louis carries an exorbitant amount of shame for both. The book sits at the intersection of class, sexuality, and violence. It is a must-read for all water signs who want to cry this Gemini season.
-Shaobo Han, Designer
Girls of Paper and Fire (2018) by Natasha Ngan
I love the way queer stories are starting to weave themselves into genre books: I hope the next generation of literature can hold more of these stories in which a character’s queerness is just one aspect of their existence, not the main focus of the narrative. In Girls of Paper and Fire, teenage Lei is chosen to be a concubine — a Paper Girl — for the Demon King. Many consider this a great honor, but Lei is repulsed by the King himself and his regime, which was responsible for the disappearance of her mother years ago. In order to protect her remaining family, Lei reluctantly starts training as a Paper Girl, but develops unexpected feelings for a fellow trainee. The ensuing romance is tender, nuanced, and authentic-feeling, proving that Young Adult sci-fi can deliver big gay feelings just as well as realistic fiction.
-Sam Panepinto, Giveback Associate
Do you have a favorite queer book? Keep our Pride reading list going in the comments.