Illustration by Sapna Satyanarayana.
In the small world of queer literature, Ruth Murphy explores lesbian vampires, film adaptations, and queers being queers.
While texts about Queer Theory are not hard to find, queer literature is another story. The oldest surviving LGBT bookshop in the world, which is a small shop above an optician in downtown Toronto, features many books that may just have a single gay storyline thrown in there. Queer main characters are hard to come by. While tumblr would have us believe that there are lots of us out there who want to read queer literature this bookshop, in a city that has rainbows painted on the streets of the gay area or gaybourhood, is not making a profit. San Francisco, known to some as “Gay Mecca” or possibly better-termed “Gay-Male Mecca,” is not bursting with queer bookshops. The gay SF bookshop A Different Light closed in 2011. Fun fact: most of the profits from the Glad Day Bookstore in Toronto used to come from porn magazines but nobody really buys those anymore.
You should be able to find LGBT+ books in Hodgis Figgis, Chapters, Books Upstairs, and the Gutter Bookshop.
Nevertheless, LGBT+ literature is making its way into mainstream bookshops. You should be able to find LGBT+ books in Hodgis Figgis, Chapters, Books Upstairs, and the Gutter Bookshop. The difficult thing is picking the texts worth reading. You may be aware that, like in film, LGBT books can be a little on the depressing side and/or can look at queers like they’re zoo animals. There seems to this belief that if you put an LGBT character into a text or script they must somehow face some horrible punishment whether self-inflicted or not; I’m looking at you Lost & Delirious, Boys Don’t Cry, The Danish Girl, and texts I do not allow myself to read or watch.
Some poor souls may then turn to Carmilla by Irish author Joseph Sheridan LeFanu as this has been adapted into a popular, though badly-written, youtube webseries. This series is however, a pretty loose adaptation and the original text is not quite a romance novel but actually a short story about a ghastly evil vampire who manages to lure sweet innocent young girls under her spell. This may have been the beginning of the lesbian vampire trope. The character of Carmilla is inhuman and probably represents a fear of female sexuality, not unlike the female vampires who haunt Jonathon Harker in Dracula. It seems a woman who could attract other women was the most terrifying thing for Bram Stoker and Joseph Sheridan LeFanu. For a woman to steal your girl well she just must be a vampire!
It seems a woman who could attract other women was the most terrifying thing for Bram Stoker and Joseph Sheridan LeFanu.
There are, thank God, texts that don’t kill off their queer characters and actually portray them as real people. This shouldn’t be shocking but it is. There are more LGBT+ texts available than ever before and not just on fan fiction websites. Even John Green co-wrote a gay text. Luckily, he did not write the gay character, David Levithan did. The text of which I speak is Will Grayson, Will Grayson. A novel that features a character who just happens to be gay, not much soul-searching or frantically seeking acceptance going on here. Unfortunately, though he is only featured in every second chapter.
Would you believe that there are even texts that feature trans people who live and are not bullied? Nevada by Imogen Binnie is an American novel that was not written for cishets (cisgender heterosexuals) but is a trans text for trans people. I’m not trans but I can tell you that it’s great! This novel does not explain the transgender identity, because there is no one transgender identity. It is about two transgender characters living their lives, smoking weed, listening to crappy music, drinking, and cycling. OMG, they’re just like us!
For a woman to steal your girl well she just must be a vampire.
Skim by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki is another good queer text. It’s a coming-of-age black and white graphic novel about a queer girl attending a Catholic girls’ school in Toronto. The text is not about being queer but instead about this girl and her experiences in shitty school with a teacher that says things like “I’m telling you, girls, you might think different, but chocolate IS better than sex!” The main character, Skim, practices Wicca which is an interesting part of the storyline that proves that there is more to her character than being queer.
I have saved my favourite for last, the amazing Carol, originally titled The Price of Salt, by Patricia Highsmith. You may be aware of the film but the book has so much more to it. Highsmith also wrote The Talented Mr.Ripley. This is her only gay text and some elements of the text may be based on her real life. Instead of staring at Rooney Mara’s deer in the headlights face for a couple of hours this text allows us to delve into the mind of Therese. Despite how little she speaks her mind is filled with thoughts. She’s a flawed human being who I found very relatable. This may be because she seemed a little bitchy inside.
These texts are just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t even mention Oranges are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. It’s a bit sad though. Queer texts are out there, it just takes a bit of searching.