Sixpence Nottthewiser (the dear!) recently posted an entry about the importance of reading. He writes about being horrified when he finds no reading material in some beautiful man’s apartment. Although I am in no danger of receiving a visit from Sixpence (or anybody else), and although anybody who did visit would be horrified for different reasons, I do sometimes read books. When Sixpence asked us for a favorite book to recommend, I had to speak up. So here are a few of the favorite books I have read over the past five years or so. Although I occasionally read books for straight people, for this entry I picked out books that are related to LBGTQ+ authors or themes in some way.
The Young in One Another’s Arms
by Jane Rule
Jane Rule is an amazeballs lesbian writer. Her strength is writing about the nuances of relationships. The Young in One Another’s Arms is about a one-armed landlady interacting with her boarders. The novel consists of the flow of everyday human relationships in a boarding house punctuated by surreal, sometimes violent episodes of ultradrama. It is such a strange novel.
Unlike some of her other works (eg Desert of the Heart) this book is not explicitly lesbigay, but it is so strange I feel compelled to recommend it. My guess is that you will either like it or be bored stiff.
Tomboy Survival Guide
by Ivan Coyote
Several autobiographical essays by a thoughtful, observant writer. I was not expecting to find an ally in the homosexuality wars from a butch lesbian who transitioned to male (sort of?) but there you go. (I think my allies in the homosexuality wars try to bring us together rather than driving us apart. But what do I know?)
Particularly memorable to me was the story “We’ve Got a Situation Here”, which tells the story of Coyote being scheduled to talk at a high school, and then the local Concerned Parent Organization finding out.
The Naked Civil Servant
by Quentin Crisp
Yes, it’s a classic. Yes, you have very likely read it. Read it again. Yes, it’s hilarious, because Quentin Crisp is a comedic genius who can turn a phrase like nobody’s business.
In some ways it is a very sad story about a crossdressing homosexual who just couldn’t bring himself to fit in regardless of the cost. I for one am grateful that this book helped him find his place in the world.
Real Live Nude Girl
by Carol Queen
As you know, I don’t fit into lesbigay culture that well. I feel like a freak and an outcast even among the homosexuals. Carol Queen gives me hope that there might be a place for freaks in this world. Queen is a sex radical to the sex radicals. She is partnered to (and has sex with) an openly gay man. She has such adventures! She goes to work as a peep show model to see what it is like! She trains doctors how to give pelvic exams by sitting in stirrups with her pants off! She goes to graduate school and watches seventeen simultaneous porn movies projected on a giant wall!
I am nothing like Carol Queen. But something about her approach to sex, about her rejection of labels, about her acknowledgements that sexuality is tough for everybody (even the straights) resonates so deeply with me. If I had to recommend one book that matched my sexual politics most closely, it might be this one. I was skimming through some illicit photocopies I made of some of the essays in this book, and I just want to type them all out for you word for word. This book is probably going to be difficult to find (it was published in 1997) but it is completely worth the search. If I had to pick a single recommendation, this would be it.
Far from the Tree
by Andrew Solomon
This book starts out fairly lesbigay. Solomon has an unusual family structure. He and his husband have some children and he is the sperm donor to some others. They make a complicated family. Solomon is gay, of course, and his gayness launches the explorations of this book. Gay children usually have straight parents, and the book explores how parents deal with children who are very different from them.
But the book does not stop with parents of gay children. It explores the lives of parents whose children have become criminals, about the lives of parents whose children are profoundly disabled, about parents whose children are on the autistic spectrum, and even about parents of children who are child prodigies. None of them have easy lives (do any parents have easy lives?) but the explorations are fascinating.
You might know Solomon from another landmark book: The Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression. This book changed the way I think about my broken brain. If you suffer from melancholia (or maybe even if you don’t) that book is also a worthy read.
Captivity: 118 Days in Iraq and the Struggle for a World Without War
by James Loney
This is yet another book that does not come across as particularly lesbigay (and it is yet another book written by a Canadian. What’s up with that?), but Loney’s sexuality is definitely a factor in the story.
You might remember James Loney’s story. He was a member of a pacifist group called Christian Peacemaker Teams, whose role was to use their First-World privilege to intervene in scenes of conflict, with hopes to de-escalate the situation. Loney was in Iraq when he and three of his fellow CPT members were kidnapped and held for ransom. Much of the book relates Loney’s experiences in captivity, and the complicated feelings he had about his treatment and his rescue. The book is full of contradictions, but Loney is aware of these contradictions, and faces them directly and with honesty.
In this hyper-polarized world Loney somehow looks for the humanity in everyone — even the captors who mistreated him. He fell in love with a philosophy that spoke to him, and he tried to live that philosophy at the expense of his own well-being. But he does not come across as a saint or a martyr. He is just a guy trying to live out his values.
The Kid: What Happened After My Boyfriend and I Decided to Get Pregnant
by Dan Savage
I have documented my affinity for Dan Savage before, and I continue to feel an affinity for him even though he is uncool and mainstream. He can be awfully strident at times, but he is also articulate and smart and once in a while he allows himself to demonstrate vulnerability. I like a good Dan Savage rant as much as the next mainstream homosexual, but Savage is at his best when he is off his soapbox.
I appreciated the ambivalence Savage showed in having children at all, and the mixed, politically-incorrect anxieties he felt in learning about the troubled history of his birth mother. (She’s giving up her unborn baby to fags. Duh.)
This book is very much a time capsule. I will never ever ever get pregnant or have a baby, but it is worthwhile look into the lives of a couple that really wanted one.
by Alex Cooper and Joanna Brooks
The subtitle of this book is “When I was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began”. The subtitle is not a lie. Alex’s nightmare, in this case, was being sent off to a reform house to punish away the gay. It’s harrowing. It made me angry. But it was well worth the read.
My Husband is Gay: A Woman’s Guide to Surviving the Crisis
by Carol Grever
What’s interesting about this book is that it was written in 2001, long before having a gay husband was acceptable. Much of this stuff is similar to stuff you will read on the “Gay Husband” corner of the blogosphere, but it is written well and all in one place.
Men who come to terms with their sexuality, come out of the closet and live their lives with authenticity have to go through an emotional journey. So do their wives, but we homosexuals often neglect that part. To some extent, this book fills in the gaps.
Self-Made Man: One Woman’s Journey to Manhood and Back Again
by Norah Vincent
Norah Vincent (a lesbian) wanted to know what men were like. So she went undercover, posing as Ned, a somewhat metrosexual man. She joined a bowling league. She went to a monastary. She tries to date women posing as a straight guy. She visits strip clubs. She goes to John Bly manhood groups. Sure enough, she learns what life is like in exclusively male spaces.
I learned a lot from this book. Despite being fairly male, and despite participating in some communities that are largely male, I have never felt in tune with male culture. I have never played poker or been to a strip club or joined the clergy. I do not really know what it is like to be a real man interacting with other real men. Ned enters these spaces and observes, and I am the richer for it.
We talk a lot about “toxic masculinity” these days, but I am still not sure what that is, or how it differs from regular masculinity. I guess this book offers some clues. It also offers sympathy, which appears to be a common theme of many of the books I am recommending.
It is worth noting that this book took a toll on its author, which Norah Vincent documents in her followup Voluntary Madness: My Year Lost and Found in the Loony Bin.
Boys Like Us: Gay Writers Tell Their Coming-Out Stories
edited by Patrick Merla
Back when I participated in an LGBTQ+ reading group at the Lurkville Community Centre, I read a lot of LGBTQ+ anthologies. Many of them were mediocre, with a few standout stories. This collection was much better than average.
I wrote about this collection before, in my entry about Chip Delany, but there were a number of other standout stories as well. We have all read a lot of coming out stories, both in blogs and in print. I am not certain that this collection has anything new to say, but it says those things in an interesting way.
The New Moon’s Arms
by Nalo Hopkinson
A flawed fiftysomething woman adopts a young boy who may or may not be a sea creature. I thought that this was going to be tedious and boring, but I was pleasantly surprised. It also does not seem to be particularly lesbigay, but keep reading.