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The Library


Writer and author of ‘We Can Do Better Than This: 35 Voices on the Future of LGBTQ+ Rights’, Amelia Abraham, shares the books that have been a source of comfort and discovery over the years


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Why are queer books important? A question I have asked myself at 3am, when frazzled, confused and exhausted, trying to write my own queer books (part-memoir, part reportage, my first was called Queer Intentions and came out in 2019. The most recent, We Can Do Better Than This, is an anthology on LGBTQ+ rights). It’s a question that has orientated me when lost, or unsure of what to literally put down on the page, and it’s also been a motivator. You hope, someone somewhere reads your words, and it helps in some small way.

This is, at least, what queer books have done for me. They have made me fall in love with queer culture, celebrations and community. They have shown me possibilities, especially models of what unconventional love and families can look like. They have exposed me to the experiences of those different from me and taught me how to be an ally. And more recently, they have reminded me that there is still so much work to do when it comes to building a better world for LGBTQ+ people. These benefits extend to anyone reading queer books, whether queer or not. But where to actually start reading? To mark Pride month, here’s six that have offered me new perspectives, at different points in my life. 

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Jeanette Winterson is a uniquely brilliant writer. She has such a mischievous sense of humour. This book is a kind of follow up to her most famous book, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, which is a novel about a lesbian girl growing up in a religious Pentecostal household in Lancashire. While that book is fictionalised, this one is closer to memoir (but follows a very similar story). Its title comes from a real question that Winterson’s adopted mother asked her (just after Jeanette had to undergo an exorcism when her parents discovered she was gay). Thankfully, Winterson still pursues the life she wants. Why Be Happy ultimately leaves us asking ourselves the opposite question: why be normal when you could be happy? A good motto for life, I think.

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Paul Takes The Form of a Mortal Girl

Andrea Lawlor’s book was 16 years in the making and you can see why – it’s an odyssey (actually, Lawlor was inspired by Greek myths, particularly Tyreseus). The hero, Paul, can change gender – shape-shifting as though by magic – and uses this talent to explore the world in his various forms. His experiences – from a women-only music festival, to having sex in dark rooms at gay men’s clubs – explore how different spaces are constructed for people with different genders, and expose how we treat people based on their body, their appearance. Set against the queer punk scenes of 90s America, it is the most fun, romping, rip-roaring way of pulling apart our cultural obsession with the male/female gender binary that you might ever encounter.

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Diary of a Drag Queen

I love this book. It’s kind of like Bridget Jones’ Diary, if Bridget Jones were a Northern, working class, nonbinary drag queen. Other than the fact that we haven’t really seen those experiences written about on the printed page, which is valuable in itself, this book is all about cultivating self-love and finding your people, at risk of sounding cheesy. It follows Tom from singing alone in their bedroom to Celine Dion as a kid, via a party girl stint in New York working in fashion, to London, where they meet their Mr. Darcy-like love interest and build a chosen queer family of misfits. In a sense, it’s a coming out story, and reading it leaves you with the feeling that – in a way – we are always coming out, insofar as we are constantly learning about who we are. It’s when the world is able to see and accept us as who we are that we find true happiness. Also, it is so funny I cry-laughed while reading it.

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Girl Woman Other

The generosity, scope and majesty of this book! Bernadine Evaristo’s eighth novel, Girl Woman Other, isn’t always categorised as a “queer book” but for me, it is so queer. In how expansive and experimental it is – it weaves together the stories of a dozen women and nonbinary of colour in Britain, whizzing back and forth across the last century – and in the queer plotlines that pop up throughout in sometimes unexpected places. There are powerful queer characters like Amma, a Black lesbian socialist playwright, and Morgan, a nonbinary person who begins to understand their identity over the internet. There are so many characters who are not like anyone I have met in my ordinary life but felt incredibly close to. On a fundamental level, this book is about the intimate bonds girls, women and others form with one another. The minute I finished reading it, I gave it to my stepmother, my sibling, my mother – every woman and nonbinary person in my life who means something to me.

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Detransition Baby

This sharp, caustic, witty, hilarious book is flying off shelves right now and rightly so – it feels so original and yet also relevant. It tells the story of Ames, a person who was assigned male at birth, transitioned to female and then back to male again, and then decides to have a baby with a colleague, but not before asking his ex, Reese, to join the arrangement as a third parent. If that sounds complex it’s because it is meant to – the book is all about rebuilding traditional family structures, and the challenges that come up along the way. Those challenges arise in the form of love, selfishness, jealousy, stigma, and ignorance. The characters are deeply flawed and deeply relatable. The resounding effect of reading this book is a reminder that – cis, male, trans, straight, queer, whatever we are – we are human in our shared experience of having to come to terms with lives that don’t always work out how we expected.

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People In Trouble

Sarah Schulman’s novel People In Trouble was first written in 1990 but recently republished by Vintage. I’m so glad it was as it still makes perfect sense today. Its protagonist, an artist named Kate, is married to a man, but having an affair with a younger woman, Molly, and also exploring cross-dressing. The romantic drama plays out against a backdrop of an apocalyptic New York City ravaged by poverty and the AIDS crisis, under the power of a Donald Trump-like property magnate. It’s really a book about discovering unexpected desires, particularly later in life, and also a book about our individual responsibility to ease other people’s suffering. It made me sit up and ask: Am I doing enough? Have I become complacent? That’s a powerful thing for a book to do.

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