September LGBTQ Book Haul

I recently spent an afternoon in the amazing Gay’s The Word and came home with a fantastic selection of 8 books to recommend you all. There were a few I went in deliberately to buy, but most gathered from browsing. I think I walked backwards and forwards around the shop a hundred times trying to decide what to leave behind, it was such a hard decision. Eventually we came home with a shoulder-aching haul that are my picks for September:

 

 

Fanny and Stella: The Young Men Who Shocked Victorian England by Neil McKenna
Non-Fiction/Biography

28th April 1870. The flamboyantly dressed Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton are causing a stir in the Strand Theatre. All eyes are riveted upon their lascivious oglings of the gentlemen in the stalls. Moments later they are led away by the police. 
What followed was a scandal that shocked and titillated Victorian England in equal measure. It turned out that the alluring Miss Fanny Park and Miss Stella Boulton were no ordinary young women. Far from it. In fact, they were young men who liked to dress as women. 
When the Metropolitan Police launched a secret campaign to bring about their downfall, they were arrested and subjected to a sensational show trial in Westminster Hall. As the trial of ‘the Young Men in Women’s Clothes’ unfolded, Fanny and Stella’s extraordinary lives as wives and daughters, actresses and whores were revealed to an incredulous public. 
With a cast of peers, politicians and prostitutes, drag queens, doctors and detectives, “Fanny and Stella” is a Victorian peepshow, exposing the startling underbelly of nineteenth-century London. By turns tragic and comic, meticulously researched and dazzlingly written, “Fanny and Stella” is an enthralling tour-de-force.

 

Hild by Nicola Griffith
Historical Fiction

Britain in the seventh century – and the world is changing. Small kingdoms are merging, frequently and violently. Edwin, King of Northumbria, plots his rise to overking of all the Angles. Ruthless and unforgiving, he is prepared to use every tool at his disposal: blood, bribery, belief. Into this brutal, vibrant court steps Hild – Edwin’s youngest niece.

With her glittering mind and powerful curiosity, Hild has a unique way of reading the world. By studying nature, observing human behavior and matching cause with effect, she has developed the ability to make startlingly accurate predictions. It is a gift that can seem uncanny, even supernatural, to those around her.

It is also a valuable weapon. Hild is indispensable to Edwin – unless she should ever lead him astray. The stakes are life and death: for Hild, for her family, for her loved ones, and for the increasing numbers who seek the protection of the strange girl who can see the future and lead men like a warrior.

 

The Hungry Ghosts by Shyam Selvadurai
Fiction

In Sri Lankan myth, a person who dies may be reborn a “hungry ghost”–a ghost with a large stomach that can never be filled through its tiny mouth–if he has desired too much during his life. It is the duty of the living to free the dead who are doomed to this fate by transferring karma from their own good deeds. In Shyam Selvadurai’s masterful new novel, Shivan, a troubled young man of mixed Tamil and Sinhalese ancestry, is preparing to travel from Toronto, Canada, to the land of his childhood, Sri Lanka, to rescue his ailing grandmother and bring her back to die. But on the eve of his departure–as Shivan meditates on his turbulent past, recalls his gradual discovery of his homosexuality, and wrestles with his complicated relationship with the wily old woman–he discovers just how much his own heart’s desires are entwined with the volatile political, racial, and sexual mix of Sri Lanka’s past and present. In the end, Shivan must decide: will he rescue his grandmother, or join her?  The Hungry Ghosts is an unconventional exploration of the immigrant experience; a tale of family ties and the long reach of the past; and a heart-wrenching look at how racial, political, and sexual differences can tear apart a country, a family, and a human being.

 

Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin
YA Historical Fiction

In the summer of 1926, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson is sent to a lake resort to escape the polio epidemic in the city. She dreams of indulging her passion for ornithology and visiting the famous new amusement park–a summer of fun before she returns for her final year of high school, after which she’s expected to marry a nice boy and settle into middle-class homemaking. But in the country, Garnet finds herself under the supervision of equally oppressive guardians–her father’s wealthy cousin and the matron’s stuck-up daughter. Only a liberating job in a hat shop, an intense, secret relationship with a daring and beautiful flapper, and a deep faith in her own fierce heart can save her from the suffocating boredom of traditional femininity.

 

 

The Charioteer by Mary Renault
Fiction

Injured at Dunkirk, Laurie Odell, a young corporal, is recovering at a rural veterans’ hospital. There he meets Andrew, a conscientious objector serving as an orderly. The men find solace in each other’s friendship, which slowly develops into a covert, chaste romance. Then Ralph Lanyon appears, a mentor from Laurie’s school days, and now a naval officer. Through him, Laurie is drawn into a tight-knit circle of gay men with few illusions about life, and for whom liaisons are fleeting. He is forced to choose between the ideals of a perfect friendship and the pleasures of experience. 

First published in 1953, The Charioteer is a a tender, intelligent coming-of-age novel and a bold, unapologetic portrayal of homosexuality

 

Fighting Proud: The Untold Story of the Gay Men Who Served in Two World Wars by Stephen Bourne
Non-Fiction/History

Unearthing the stories of the gay men who served in the armed forces and at home, and bringing to light the great unheralded contribution they made to the war effort. Fighting Proud weaves together the remarkable lives of these men, from RAF hero Ian Gleed – a Flying Ace twice honoured for bravery by King George VI – to the infantry officers serving in the trenches on the Western Front in WWI – many of whom led the charges into machine-gun fire only to find themselves court-marshalled after the war for indecent behaviour. Behind the lines, Alan Turing’s work on breaking the -enigma machine- and subsequent persecution contrasts with the many stories of love and courage in Blitzed-out London, with new wartime diaries and letters unearthed for the first time. Bourne tells the bitterly sad story of Ivor Novello, who wrote the WWI anthem -Keep the Home Fires Burning, – and the crucial work of Noel Coward – who was hated by Hitler for his work entertaining the troops. Fighting Proud also includes a wealth of long-suppressed wartime photography.

 

Moonstruck, Volume One: Magic to Brew by Grace Ellis & Shae Beagle
Fantasy/Graphic Novel

Werewolf barista Julie and her new girlfriend go on a date to a close-up magic show, but all heck breaks loose when the magician casts a horrible spell on their friend Chet. Now it’s up to the team of mythical pals to stop the illicit illusionist before it’s too late.

 

 

 

 

The Flower Beneath The Foot by Ronald Firbank
Fiction/Satire

At the fantastical court of King Willie and Her Dreaminess the Queen of Pisuerga, maid of honour Laura de Nazianzi and His Weariness Prince Yousef whisper promises to each other in the palace gardens. But Laura is destined for disappointment. The King and Queen have plans for a royal wedding for their Prince, and the young woman in their sights is none other than Princess Elsie of England. The court is all aflutter.

First published in 1923, Ronald Firbank’s The Flower Beneath the Foot is a flamboyant court satire and lyrical tour de force of innuendo and eccentricity. Read by many as a subversive celebration of homosexuality, this is a classic of modernist literature from a stylist like no other.

 

All these books are available from Gay’s The Word. I’m starting with some novel research and reading Fighting Proud – if you’ve read any of these let me know what you thought.

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2018 Polari First Book Prize

Yesterday the longlist was announced for the 2018 Polari First Book Prize, an award given to a writer whose first book “explores the LGBT experience, whether in poetry, prose, fiction or non-fiction”.

It’s an interesting mix of poetry, memoir, history, play, fiction, and children’s picture book. Though it’s a shame that there’s no YA fiction on the list, there are still some fantastic books.

I’ve only read one book on the list, so I’ve taken a look to see what else I might want to grab a copy of. The ones that have spiked my interest are:

PaPansy Boy by Paul Harfleet
Children’s/Picture Book/Poetry

In this graphic novel in rhymed couplets, a young boy tackles homophobia in school by planting pansies at the site of homophobic attacks, taking strength from the flowers he loves. The power of his actions empowers his school to value what is delicate and different. The book comes to life in vivid graphic art and comes complete with a personal field guide to the flowers and birds included in its pages.

 

Little Gold by Allie Rogers
Fiction/Historical

The heat is oppressive and storms are brewing in Brighton in the summer of 1982. Little Gold, a boyish girl on the brink of adolescence, is struggling with the reality of her broken family and a home descending into chaos. Her only refuge is the tree at the end of her garden. Into her fractured life steps Peggy Baxter. The connection between the two is instant, but just when it seems that Little Gold has found solace, outsiders appear who seek to take advantage of her frail family in the worst way possible. In an era when so much is hard to speak aloud, can Little Gold share enough of her life to avert disaster? And can Peggy Baxter, a woman running out of time and with her own secrets to bear, recognize the danger before it’s too late?

 

Bravado by Scottee
Play

Scottee grew up around strong, brave and violent men and boys. Bravado is his memoir of working class masculinity from 1991 to 1999 as seen by a sheep in wolf’s clothing.Bravado explores the graphic nature of maleness and the extent it will go to succeed. This show is not for the weak hearted, it includes graphic accounts of violence, abuse, assault and sex.

 

 

 

Mussolini’s Island by Sarah Day
Fiction/Historical

When Francesco is rounded up with a group of young men and herded into a camp on the island of San Domino, he realises that someone has handed a list of names to the fascist police; everyone is suspicious of one another. Elena, a young and illiterate island girl on the cusp of womanhood, is drawn to the handsome Francesco yet fails to understand why her family try to keep her away from him. When Elena discovers the truth about the group of prisoners, the fine line between love and hate pulls her towards an act that can only have terrible consequences for all. A novel of sexuality and desire, of hidden passions and the secrets we keep locked within us. Based on the true story of the rounding up of a group of Sicilian gay men in 1939

 

The rest of this year’s longlisted books are:

Through Your Blood by Toby Campion
Poetry

A Marvellous Party by Ian Elmslie
Non-Fiction/Memoir

Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Fiction/Contemporary

Is Monogamy Dead?: Rethinking Relationships in the 21st Century by Rosie Wilby
Non-Fiction/Memoir

Trans Mission: My Quest to a Beard by Alex Bertie
Non-Fiction/Memoir

Good As You: From Prejudice to Pride- 30 years of Gay Britain by Paul Flynn
Non-Fiction/History

Carnivore by Jonathan Lyon
Fiction/Thriller

Elmet by Fiona Mozley
Fiction/Contemporary

 

Have you read any of the long-listed books? What would you recommend or what might you grab a copy of this summer? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or on twitter.

Books That Made Me: Trans voices

I often wonder what decisions I would make if I were a young adult now and had available to me the amount of information, in the form of blog posts, youtube videos, and books, that trans people are putting out into the world. So much of what we read about being trans comes from cisgender voices attempting to understand or diminish the lives of trans people.

In the last 12 months I have read some amazing articles and books that have helped me come to a better understanding of all the ways in which gender can be present and represented in a person and I want to share some of these with you.

Mark Gevisser’s 2014 article Self-Made Man is one of the more respectful articles I’ve found looking at the lives of trans young people. I’ve recommended it to many cisgender people who find the topics of gender-identity, and the terminology that comes with it, hard to get their head around. As a genderqueer person I found it a well written sympathetic piece that, at the very least, is a good start.

 

 

The Descent of Man – Grayson Perry
A fascinating insight exploring masculinity in the world today. Grayson Perry offers his own view on the damage that ideas of masculinity do to boys, men, and the rest of society. He offers, with intelligence and sensitivity, a vision of a different way that men can be. A thought provoking book that raises more questions than it answers.

 

 

 


C N Lester – Trans Like Me
An engagingly written book that deftly combines memoir, opinion, and academic research. It presents the journey for trans people from history (distant and recent) to current challenges, on to future hopes. Exploring the full spectrum of gender identity, this book offers the best explanation of trans I have ever read, challenging what we think we know and seeking a better way to live.

 

 

 

Juno Dawson – The Gender Games
In this no holds barred memoir Juno Dawson lays bare her life, thoughts, and hopes for the future as a trans woman. This is a personal story of Juno’s experiences and is told with humour, passion, and a clear love for all people to understand one another and support our journeys as we stand up against the ever-present forces of Gender.

This book is a fascinating look into the life of one trans woman, who is quick to point out she is not speaking for every trans person, and can only speak for her own experiences. It’s worth reading to understand how our experiences differ from each other, and the ways in which they’re similar. If you’re not a trans man or woman then I would urge you to read this book, it is definitely for you! It will make you look again at what you thought you knew about gender and reassess the bullshit way it affects all our lives.

 

Thomas Page McBee – Man Alive

A deeply personal memoir describing one man’s journey to discover what it means to be a man. Thomas Page McBee is a trans man who has written an honest, emotional, and oftentimes necessarily uncomfortable account. Through memories of child abuse and adult violence, Thomas talks with empathy and compassion about how he faced the journey for the truth of who he was and where he fitted into his family and the world. This memoir is beautifully written, with even the most harrowing events told with a light touch that makes the reader unable to do anything but sympathise with the circumstances that lead people to make the decisions.

Writing this article I was struck by how all these books are from white writers. These books aren’t difficult to find and are widely publicised by their publishers, so I wonder where the voices are from trans people of colour, are they being written? Are they being published? Please recommend me some if you’ve read any.

This post is the second of my BooksThatMadeMe series. You can find post three here.

How to talk about a plague

It was 1987 and my mum told me a story about her day at work. She’s a nurse and that day she was working in A&E, attending to patients waiting to go up to a ward. She tells me how she started her shift being told by another nurse “that patient has been asking for water, I’m not taking it to him, you do it.” Baffled, she asked why that nurse, and others, were refusing to take water to a patient. “He’s got AIDS”, my mum was told, as if this was answer enough for why a nurse would refuse to go near a patient. Mum thought, ‘well, I have no idea what that is, but I’m a nurse, so I’m going to help a patient’. She spent all night trying to get hold of the patients partner, a married man who was unaware his partner was possibly hours away from death.

I was 7 years old when my mum told me this story. It’s hard to imagine, for anyone who was born after the first cases of HIV were diagnosed, what it was like at the start. The lack of information on what this new disease was, the lies and rumours about how it was spread (even after it was known how, the denials that it was anything other than a gay disease).

There are some great novels and works of non-fiction that can educate and enrich your understanding of what life was like when this disease began to destroy lives, so I’m going to recommend a few you may want to start with.

If you want to learn more about just how horrific a time it was for those infected and their family and friends, you should start with How to Survive a Plague by David France. This book (and there is a documentary of the same name available) tells the story of a group of activists whose tireless campaigning changed forever the availability of drugs to combat HIV.

 

 

Paul Monette’s memoir Borrowed Time (which I reviewed a few years ago) is a devastating first-hand account of AIDS. Published in 1998 it is an intimate account of love and loss which has haunted me since the day I first read it.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt in a novel which brings HIV into the lives of young people through the eyes of a 14 year old who loses her beloved uncle to the disease. She has to confront prejudice and secrets caused by both HIV and homophobia within her family and her community.

The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín is a novel which doesn’t focus on AIDS as a central theme, but where the disease seeps its way into every aspect of the character’s life. Set in Argentina in the 1980s it tells the story of Richard, his family struggles, and relationship difficulties, set against a backdrop of political turmoil.

I’ve recommended the books above because these are the ones that I’ve read, but there are many more that explore the early days of AIDS and its effect on individuals, communities, and the world. Let me know your recommendations of any you’ve read. I really want to read some contemporary novels that deal with HIV so any recommendations are welcome.

What Lies Between Us by Nayomi Munaweera

Nayomi Munaweera has the ability to keep drawing you in, lulling you into a false sense of security where you think everything is going to be okay, and then it isn’t. The beautiful description of the seemingly idyllic childhood in Sri Lanka quickly gives way to one of those passages that I can only describe by how it happened in my head as I read it: ‘Hang on, did I just read that right…let me go back and…oh god…oh god no.” This happened several times as I worked my way through time, through her childhood and into adulthood, repeatedly thinking things might work out only to be shocked into reality.

The main character remains unnamed until the end of the novel and in a way I felt like I never got to know her, whilst at the same time experiencing all the emotions and confusion she does at the circumstances of her life. I felt as lost and floundering as the main character often felt, unsure if I could trust her memories or the people around her.

What Lies Between Us explores the way in which memory effects our life and interacts with our present. It draws out how the past, even if long distant and buried deep, can still shake the foundations of our happier times and destroy the things which should be able to offer us some relief. At times brutal but always delicately written this novel is outstanding and definitely worth exploring.

Buy the Book

Review: Borrowed Time by Paul Monette

Borrowed Time by Paul MonetteI can find no words within me to describe how achingly beautiful and heartbreaking this book is. At times an uplifting tribute filled with love, it also abounds with despair at the pointlessness of the ravages of AIDS, at a time when people little understood the illness, nor did they want to unless directly affected by it. I don’t believe I have ever read a more beautiful love story. While ultimately describing the end of a love as one partner dies, leaving the other faced with a future not only alone but also filled with the possibility of dying in a similar fashion; this exquisitely written book also manages to fill you with a feeling that, yes, there is such a thing as an ultimate love that exists in purity and simplicity, for no other reason than the joy of enjoying that love with another who loves you. This belief ultimately makes it heartbreaking when the inevitable death of Paul’s lover, who he refers to as his best friend, Roger, happens in the last chapter.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to you as a good read that you should experience just for being well written. I would implore everyone to read this for the vital lessons it will impart on you, about passionate love, decline and death. An amazing work!

Genres: LGBTQ+, Non-Fiction, Memoir
Published:  June 1st 1998
Available to buy now