Make this month the month of education.
As we celebrate Pride Month, it’s time to revisit exactly why this month exists and to appreciate the importance of the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights—yesterday, today and tomorrow. You don’t have to pour through pages and pages of political theory to understand why this month is important, but books have that fantastic way of really getting us in the feels and giving us a deeper understanding of life from different perspectives.
You don’t have to be LGBTQ to read books on the struggle for equality. In fact, it can be refreshing to see straight and cisgender people really engage with queer literature, and it can give the reader buckets of perspective to help us all in our efforts to build an inclusive society. Besides, many of these stories just so happen to have queer characters. However, their themes are universal.
1. Highway Bodies by Alison Evans
A post-apocalyptic setting and teenage kids who are just trying to figure out how to survive now that their families have become the undead. Sounds brutal.
Highway Bodies is told from the perspective of Dee, Jojo and an unnamed girl who all happen to be queer or gender non-conforming. Read along and follow their survival stories as they discover who they can rely on and trust.
Highway Bodies was shortlisted for the Readings YA Prize 2019 and Highly Commended in the Victorian Premiers Literary Awards 2020.
2. Reckoning by Magda Subanzski
One of Australia’s funniest performers on the small screen who also made the leap to film, Magda Subanzski’s memoir details more than just her coming-out story. It reveals parts of her family’s history as well as the journey she went on to find out the truth while asking some of life’s big questions.
Reckoning is funny, poignant and honest in its storytelling. You will be hard-pressed not to feel touched by Magda’s story.
3. The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter
The Monkey’s Mask was published more than 20 years ago, but the verse crime novel, which follows a queer detective through the mean streets of Sydney, has been adapted for radio, TV and film as well as having been published in multiple languages.
If you haven’t yet read this best-selling poetry meets crime-thriller novel, then be prepared to be fully immersed once you pick up the book. It’s that good.
4. The Lost Arabs by Omar Sakr
This poetry collection by Omar Sakr tackles the themes of faith and family, identity and sexuality, and nationality and belonging. The writing is visceral and full of energy, which is probably one of the reasons why The Lost Arabs went on to win the 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Poetry and was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the John Bray Poetry Award, and the Colin Roderick Award.
5. Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson
Award-winning author Inga Simpson’s ability to write about place is exceptional and the setting of Where The Trees Were draws the reader into a world that is populated by the experiences of childhood, friendship and the return to these times.
The story centres around Jay—the queer protagonist—and four friends who must come to terms with the one day that changed their lives.
6. Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave
This modern Australian classic, now a film directed by Neil Armfield and starring Ryan Corr and Craig Stott, is a memoir described as a real-life gay Romeo and Juliet story.
Set in 1970s Melbourne at an all-boys Catholic school, Tim Conigrave met and fell in love with John Caleo and this is their story of dealing with life, coming out, family pressures and the looming AIDS crisis that still affects many gay men.
Holding The Man is a story of life, love and death and everything in between. It’s true and you will feel.
7. The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska
Another YA novel on the list, The Dark Tide is a bisexual love triangle where saving the island-city from the rising tide is paramount. There are heroes, villains and monsters in this story where two witches find themselves falling in love with each other despite their differences and preconceived notions.
8. Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
Swimming is tough, but not as tough as coming out in your teens and coming to terms with everything that that means.
In Barracuda, though, Tsiolkas deals with more than just sexuality and gender. Class plays a role in the novel and so do the ideas of family, nationality, sport and politics.
Barracuda, through the trials and triumphs of its protagonist Danny Kelly, asks what does it mean to be a good person and also asks if we can overcome feelings of shame.
9. Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven
The winner of the 2013 David Unaipon Award, Ellen van Neerven’s Heat And Light is a three-part collection of stories that are part mystical and part mythical. They feel, nonetheless, very real and on this journey, its characters deal with the challenging predicament that is retaining a sense of belonging while at the same time searching for freedom.
The stories are exceptionally crafted and well worth your time.
10. Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone
Men at war and everything that entails will seemingly always be a gripping tale. But Nigel Featherstone’s account of two Australian soldiers in Egypt during World War II shows a tender side to the conflict as their childhood friendship blossoms into something more.
In the house of two strangers, they risk everything and this book is about love, masculinity and remembering Australian gay soldiers who fought for this country. It’s also about bravery in more ways than one.