Five Books for Your 2021 LGBTQ+ History Month TBR

04 February 2021

Our intern Georgia Popplett picks five books for LGBTQ+ History Month 2021. Follow her at @GeorgiaPoplett

As the anniversary of the first UK lockdown approaches, what better time to explore all the rich and varied modes of being as celebrated by LGBTQ+ History Month?

While contemporary queer expression has carved out a unique cultural space today, on the flip side of current (very necessary) social distancing rules are the brutal homophobic laws which prohibited queer contact up until the late twentieth century. This context makes LGBTQ+ History Month 2021 an opportunity to reflect on queer experience in unusually striking circumstances.

Here are 5 LGBTQ+ titles for the top of your LGBTQ+ History Month pile – no 2m rule required.

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In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado

Recently shortlisted for the Rathbones Folio Prize, In the Dream House is an inimitable and vital account of abuse in a lesbian relationship. Machado reframes queer domestic violence through a kaleidoscope of genres, bound together by a part-memoir, part-essay haunted house structure. Described variously as a ‘genre-bending queer gothic memoir’[1], Machado’s work will stay with you long after February 2021.

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Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters

The first book by a trans woman to be released by a major publishing house, Detransition, Baby is an unflinching portrait of the realities of being trans in all forms. When Ames – formerly Amy – discovers his boss Katrina is pregnant, he contacts ex-lover Reese and asks if she would join him in parenting their child. Ames has detransitioned, Reese is trans, Katrina is cis; but the tension in Detransition, Baby does not come from trans-vs-cis ideologies. Hailed by The Guardian as ‘the first great trans realist novel’[2], Peters moves mesmerisingly between typification and bold reconfiguration of what trans means.

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Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals by Saidiya Hartman

Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments is a stunning anthology of Black, feminist, and queer experiences in Philadelphia and New York at the turn of the twentieth century. Through the eyes of a chorus of characters drawn from archival imagination, Hartman interrogates the mythology of ‘nowhere’ – the slum; the ghetto; the in-between spaces beyond the confines of societal norms. As many people of colour redefined the meaning of freedom during the era, Hartman examines how this interacted with young women’s expanding parameters: of labour, of love, and of life itself.

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A Ruined Girl by Kate Simants

Kate Simants’s psychological crime thriller may be an unexpected addition to this list, but it is a good one: while protagonist Wren Reynolds deals with a major missing girl plot, she is also expecting a new baby with her wife. When a prime suspect in the case is paroled, probation officer Wren’s personal and professional lives collide with unforeseen consequences for all involved. Winner of the Bath Novel Award 2019, A Ruined Girl is an unputdownable drama about a broken care system with an LGBTQ+ undercurrent.

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To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life by Hervé Guibert

To the Friend Who Did Not Save My Life is a blackly comic masterpiece which is as heart-shredding as it is humorous. First published in 1990, the novel narrates three months in the life of a man diagnosed with AIDS, bearing witness to his physical and emotional decline. After the death of his friend Muzil, the narrator consults doctor after doctor, seeking answers in medication and alternative healing. Guibert died at 36 the year after the book’s initial publication. In arch, candid prose, his work is a searing testament to his life and character. This edition is translated by Linda Coverdale and published in July.

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[1] https://www.huckmag.com/art-and-culture/books-art-and-culture/carmen-maria-machado-on-lockdown-utopias-and-writing/

[2] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/jan/07/detransition-baby-by-torrey-peters-review-a-comedy-of-manners#:~:text=Perhaps%20Detransition%2C%20Baby%20is%20the,structural%20conventions%20of%20literary%20realism.

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