The Books Briefing: Works That Chart New Queer Narratives

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Friday, June 4, 2021

Stories on visibility, self-understanding, and the development of queerness as an identity: Your weekly guide to the best in books

In A Little Life, a novel by the author Hanya Yanagihara, the tone is exaggerated, almost melodramatic. But the book brings nuance to a key realm—its portrayal of queerness—as its four protagonists each arrive at complex understandings of their sexuality.

Indeed the best works of queer literature create space for this complexity. For example, the critic Andrea Long Chu questions simplistic narratives about trans identity in Females, which itself resists genre characterization. Similarly, in “Bump,” a short story published in The Atlanticthe author Morgan Thomas’s aim was to “expand visions of queer and trans desire.” The Stonewall Reader, a collection featuring works by figures such as the writer Audre Lorde and the activist Kiyoshi Kuromiya, demonstrates this expansiveness in the variety of experiences it chronicles. The book is named for one of history’s most powerful displays of queer protest, but focuses instead on intimate self-reckoning. The pieces in it ponder visibility, self-understanding, and the development of queerness as an identity.

Tillie Walden’s sci-fi graphic novel On a Sunbeam imagines a world in which such identities are the norm. The book’s events are set on a spaceship with no human men (though there is a male cat). In Walden’s imagined world, characters fall in love and grapple with their desires without fear of prejudice.

An ambitious chronicle of queer life in America
“Just as Yanagihara’s characters challenge conventional categories of gay identity, so A Little Life avoids the familiar narratives of gay fiction.”

The variety of transgender experiences
“Opponents of trans acceptance maintain that trans identities are new and trendy, that trans teens today are jumping on a bandwagon. The claim is in one sense obviously false—many cultures, from Samoa to South Asia, have gender-boundary-crossing identities—and in another sense irrelevant: Our right to acceptance shouldn’t depend on how long ago we showed up. We are here now.”

The writer Morgan Thomas on desire and risk
“[The protagonist] Louie has several things—a lucrative job, a relatively stable long-term relationship, frank conversations with her grandmother—that I, as a genderqueer and queer person, have only recently dared to dream for myself. The first line opens the door for the story to expand visions of queer and trans desire.”

Tracing the internal queer revolution
“Today, as disputes about once-unquestionable definitions of gender and sexuality unfold in mainstream politics, it’s easy to see how gay rights has entailed a ‘consciousness shift’ not only for queer people but also for straight ones. The process for either group has in part been incremental: individual encounters, individual lessons.”

An intergalactic tale populated by women
“With On a Sunbeam, Walden has created a science-fiction universe that is about women, queer love, old buildings, and big trees.”

Story by: Kate Cray

Click here to view original story and view artwork associated with the reading