What Are Good Books Featuring LGBTQ Characters?
Posted on 19th of April, 2019

Answers

LGBTQ representation has come a long way in recent years and I think it has now reached a point where you can walk into any bookshop or browse one online and you will have a whole section dedicated to it. It wasn't always this simple and convenient, so if you are looking for books from less enlightened times I would recommend you peruse one of these ones;

1. The Bell jar (1963) by Sylvia Plath - This is a very sad book in many ways because it mirrors the life of the author who also suffered from mental illness. It wasn't long after the publication of this book that Plath took her own life, so it remains her one and only novel. It isn't the protagonist of this story, Esther Greenwood, who non-cisgender, but actually one of the other characters, Joan Giling, who is a longstanding friend of her from high school. She's a relatively minor character in the story, but one of the most memorable. Joan ends up in the same asylum as Esther after trying to commit suicide, but ends up taking her own life in the end. Joan is openly a lesbian in the book and it certainly seems that she has feelings for Esther, so there has long been speculation that her suicide was due to her friend not returning her affections.

2. The Charioteer (1953) by Mary Renault. It wasn't until 1953 that this book by English author Mary Renault saw the light of day in the United States. What truly makes it unique for its time is that although it is a war novel, it doesn't shy away from making homosexuality one of the focus points of the story. The lead of the story is soldier named Laurie, who is injured and spending time at a military hospital. It is here that he has to choose between two potential love interests, both of them men. The author handled this controversial topic quite well and I think that to this day, it is still one of the favorite "classic" books in the LGBTQ community. The author also wrote historical novels that are set in ancient Greece, which contain a lot of LGBTQ elements. The reason why Mary, who was a lesbian herself, was able to write quite freely about these controversial (for the time) topics, was that she emigrated to South Africa. For all its faults, the country was quite liberal in their views of homosexuality, especially compared to Britain.
You may think that LGBTQ characters in literature is a fairly modern phenomena, but I have actually read a couple of really old books that feature them. They are not always as obvious about it as modern books, due to the norms of the time in which they were written, but it is usually pretty easy to spot them. I'm sure there are plenty of other people with more modern suggestions, so for the sake of interest here are two of the oldest books that I have read that contain LGBTQ characters.

1. Carmilla (Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu - 1872). Quick quiz, who wrote the very first fictional tale about vampires? If you answered Bram Stoker, then I am afraid that you are wrong! While Dracula is obviously the most famous fang faced blood sucker, Carmilla was written a couple of years before and featured a female vampire by the name of Carmilla. The story is told from the perspective of a teenage girl who befriends another girl named Carmilla. It wouldn't be a spoiler to reveal that Carmilla turns out to be a vampire, it is also quite evident that she is a lesbian. Not only are all her victims female, but she also makes a couple of sexual advances towards Laura, the protagonist of the tale. It also wouldn't be a stretch to say that Carmilla laid down the template for a lot of tales to follow where the female vampire is portrayed as a lesbian.

2. The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde - 1890). This book is perhaps a bit better known, but in case you don't know, it features not just one, but two queer characters. If you haven't read the book in a while it might not actually be that obvious since at the time when the book was written, it was still a crime to be homosexual. This resulted in Wilde's editor wading in and censoring most of the obviously homosexual content. It was obviously impossible to remove everything, but he certainly toned things down a lot. It wasn't until more than a hundred years later that the full uncensored version of the book was released and everyone could clearly see that Basil Hallward was obviously gay and Dorian Gray himself bisexual.
A favorite of mine is Daja Kisubo from Circle of Magic and The Circle Opens books by Tamora Pierce. She also features prominantly in The Will of the Empress, which is where I believe readers find out for the first time that she is a lesbian, or "nisamohi" as it is refered to in the book. She is a total badd*** and can perform magic that deals with fire and metal. Daja was an outcast for most of her life because she was the lone survivor of a shipwreck, which is sseen as bad luck amongst her people. This thankfully changes when she rescues some traders from a fire in one of the books.

Another sweet lesbian couple is Mom Jo and Mom Lara from the Ukiah Oregon series of novels written by Wen Spencer. They are the adoptive mothers of the main character in the books after Mom Jo caught him in a humane trap. (It's a long story, but he was raised by wolves before that).

For something a little more realistic and less fantasy, I would suggest seeking out a book called Trans-Sister Radio by Chris Bohjalian. One of the central characters in the story, Dana Stevens, undergoes a sex change operation after starting a relationship with a heterosexual woman. Being transgender obviously complicates her relationship, but the book also deals with the reaction of the community to the change.

Last up, I would suggest reading the Shadowhunter Chronicles by Cassandra Clare as the books feature a lot of lesbian, gay, bisexual and even transgender characters if I am not mistaken.

I hope this list helps, I know you could probably find a ton of books with queer characters in their own special catagory in the library or online stores, but I think these are some of the more "mainstream" books.
I'm seeing lots of books with gay or lesbian characters, which is nice, but trans people are still very underrepresented in books. If you don't mind reading something that is not fiction, then give "Trans: A Memoir" by Juliet Jacques a shot. It is the memoir of Juliet where she talks about her life and how she underwent surgery at the age of thirty. I would also recommend another non-fiction book written by a transgender author. It is "Tranny: Confessions of Punk Rock's Most Infamous Anarchist Sellout" by Laura Jane Grace. Even if you are not familiar with the the band "Against Me!" this is a fascinating tale of of their lead singer who dealt with gender dysphoria for a long time until revealing her transgender status in 2012. It's not your typical rock and roll memoir, but what else would you expect from someone who had the courage to name one of her studio albums "Transgender Dysphoria Blues." I'll end things off with "She's Not There: A Life In Two Genders" by Jennifer Finney Boylan. This book has the distinction of being the first ever book that was published by an openly transgender American author, which then went on to become a bestseller. It is a heartwarming tale and deals with a lot of topics that trans people who are in the act of transitioning with has to deal with.

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