ENDING PRIDE MONTH WITH 5 ESSENTIAL LGTBQ READS FROM THE PAST YEAR



WORDS BETH CUTTING







Pride month is coming to an end, we all - hopefully - know why we need Pride, how important it is to march, celebrate and be an ally - both at the event and all year round. Pride creates space to discuss issues that still exist and reflects on how far LGBTQ+ rights have come. I realised that prior to this year I only had a vague sense of the origin of Pride so decided to do my research. Here are 5 facts that felt important:

1 : On June 28, 1969 police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village. Police raids on gay bars were common at the time but on this day over a hundred spectators gathered and decided enough was enough and finally stood up for themselves. It was the first time that the queer community fought back in such big numbers and is commonly cited as being the beginning of the modern Gay Rights Movement.

2: Stonewall Inn, in 1969, was run by the New York Mafia, liquor licenses could be revoked by the police if establishments were found selling alcohol to queer customers so the Mob paid off the police to turn a blind eye.



3 : Due to a viral tweet, a debate began in 2019 about whether kinks & fetishes should be allowed at Pride. The argument was primarily because people said they wanted to bring their children, however it’s important to keep Pride proud of each member of its community (it’s all in the name) - kinks and fetishes have enabled people to feel at home somewhere and a sense of identity. They are integral to the movement and shouldn’t be stigmatised. It was in fact members from the leather community (also known as Leathermen and Leatherdykes) who were among the first to care for victims in the AIDS crisis. Their work has been invaluable to exclude them, would be against the very essence of Pride and encouraging people to feel proud of who they are.

4 : L. Craig Schoonmaker suggested calling the movement Pride in 2015 when they said:

“A lot of people were very repressed, they were conflicted internally, and didn't know how to come out and be proud. That's how the movement was most useful, because they thought, 'Maybe I should be proud.”

5: With an estimated 3.5 million attendees in 2011, Sao Paulo, Brazil, hosts the world's largest Pride parade.

And because we can’t all rush to Brazil right now I wanted to share some books by queer authors I’ve adored from the past year. These books are about more than supporting queer writers, that’s a part of it, but it’s not always about ‘doing the work’ - to focus heavily on that makes it sound like homework and that’s a disservice to these authors’ progressive talent. Every one of these books is an incredible read, they are sensitive at times, brutally honest at others, they are daring and reflective, yet somehow all remain witty and deeply self-aware, and all of them an eye-opening joy to read.

Reading these books have reminded me why I love reading again and I’d go as far to say they have changed the way I read - I stopped skimming for good quotes and was sucked into the depths and origins of the stories. They are unpredictable explorations of real or imagine experiences. Each book looks into how queerness is integrated into their lives, and how it reflects, intertwines, and morphs other sides of themselves. What I love about each of these books (both fiction and non-fiction) is that the authors all breath life, add depth and expose the raw complexity of humanity. None of these books take the easy way out.




DETRANSITION, BABY

by Torrey Peters




Reeses ex lover Amy had previously transitioned (with Reeses help) and later down the line detransitioned to Ames. Now upon realising Ames might be a father, and desperately wanting her own child Reese finds herself in a predicament that could potentially entwine their lives again forever.

The novel jumps in time throughout Ames and Reeses relationship and explores how gender, motherhood and love can interlink - often in unpredictable ways. There’s the maternal instincts they experience when looking after newly transitioned women, there’s the mothering Reese and Amy feel towards each other “She had found him in a plastic state of early development, a second puberty, and she’d moulded him to her tastes. And now she was gone, but the imprint of her hands remained, so that he could never forget her.” And then there is the longing they both feel for their own child.

It’s a clever and often witty portrayal of broodiness, desire and the complexity of relationships. Cis character Katrina at times offers up naive assumptions and reactions due to her over-simplified view of trans experience. What I didn’t predict though, was how Reese and Ames also make assumptions about Katrina’s womanhood and relation to her body. “Reese again reddens with shame that Katrina has felt a need to justify anything, especially this thing that can never be Reese’s own experience.”

And in parallel Katrina has her own admissions “I wanted the good parts of queerness without the hard parts. At the first hard part, I had a panic. It was homophobic. I’m embarrassed.” It takes an unpredictable look at trans parenthood, culture, friendship, sexuality and love, primarily between three people. This book feels almost like a philosophy for dealing with peoples unique unpredictabilities, and although the characters don’t always deal with things in the most calm or collected way, they always try to conquer new levels of understanding, and ultimately manage to do something we can all learn from - they let go of trying to mould each other.

EXTRACTS:


“She had found him in a plastic state of early development, a second puberty, and she’d moulded him to her tastes. And now she was gone, but the imprint of her hands remained, so that he could never forget her.”

“He hadn’t understood how little sense he made as a person without Reese until after she began to detach from him, until the lack of her became so painful that he started to once again want the armor of masculinity and, somewhat haphazardly, detransitioned to fully suit up in it.”

“She didn’t make the rules of womanhood; like any other girl, she had inherited them.”

“The women you’re talking about, the marginalized women - they’re told that they shouldn’t have children, not that they shouldn’t want children. The wanting of children seems to be an accepted universal fact for women everywhere. Not to play the trans exception card, but I’m sorry, it’s not the same for trans-sexuals. It’s not considered natural when I say that my biological clock is ticking, because I’m not granted a biological clock in the first place. I ache when I see other moms with kids. I’m so jealous. It’s a jealousy of my body, like hunger. I want children near me. I want that same validation that other moms have. That feeling of womanhood placed in a family. That validation is fine for cis women, but it gets treated as perverted for me.”





100 BOYFRIENDS

by Brontez Purnell




Purnell is clearly gripped by what intimacy means, 100 Boyfriends is an anthology of fictitious stories about queer characters, it shows honest humanity seen through Purnells lens of what a boyfriend is / was / could be.

“I called them “boyfriends,” though this was not always the case. But they were all like pieces of bubblegum you chew hours after the flavour leaves and that you accidentally swallow, and then (supposedly) sit in your guts for seven years.”

He considers how the term (and the people associated) can be thrown around, tightly clung to or dropped out of nowhere.

Purnell writes in a technically blunt and relentlessly racy way yet forms stories and atmosphere with such specific detail that as a reader I am left unexpectedly moved and thought-provoked throughout. It’s funny, x-rated, ironic, bleak and hard to pin down. It can't be pigeonholed and that’s why I like it so much. It’s not got a clear genre, none of the narratives or people are packaged for close-minded convenience.

The NY Times didn’t manage to find a genre for it and described it as a ‘hurricane’; which I felt is a lazy weather metaphor. Perhaps if 100 Boyfriends did deserve a cliched weather metaphor having it’s own micro-climate would be a better one. The energy of the book reads nothing like a hurricane to me, it’s a carefully in tune set of atmospheric conditions that differ from most books in the surrounding areas.

It’s a micro-climatic book that is steeped in texture that feels deeply aware and anthropological, largely (but not restricted to) that of the experience of a queer black man. He has a sensitive ear and bold confidence for big issues such as consent, race, drugs, grief, abuse, money and love.

EXTRACTS:

“Sex is just light points on a grid, stars in the Milky Way, but really, the ether holding them all together is the waiting.”

“He derails all my concrete thoughts and platitudes, like “everything happens for a reason” or “that’s just how the cookie crumbles” and, my least favourite, “You’re just high on drugs and paranoid.” I don’t know how to explain to him that I’m not just high on drugs. I AM DRUGS…”

“What are the mechanics of desire? In what feels like all of three seconds my mind spins into a hard flashback on past lives - men I loved, some who I eventually hated; they are all still there somewhere, all hovering around. I called them “boyfriends,” though this was not always the case. But they were all like pieces of bubblegum you chew hours after the flavour leaves and that you accidentally swallow, and then (supposedly) sit in your guts for seven years.”



MILK FED

by Melissa Broder





Milk Fed is an erotic, amusing and imaginative novel about Rachel, a twenty four year old lapsed Jew who simultaneously suffers from mummy issues and an eating disorder. Rachel develops a regretfully sensual relationship with an Orthodox Jewish woman called Miriam who works in her local fro-yo shop. Miriam openly offers freedom of indulgence surrounding food and Rachel offers a sense of freedom around sexual desire. When the two characters collide - each armed with their area of confidence - it makes for an unexpected exploration of overindulgence underpinned by an undeniable resentfulness. Miriam's identity is steeped in her strait-laced jewishness and Rachels own sense of self worth tangled up in her small body size.

The two of them seem to nourish each others souls but destroy each others sense of control in the process. They, on occasion, have to make decisions on whether they choose jewishness or queerness. Milk Fed takes a long hard, funny, grotesque look at shame, approval, identity, eating disorders, bodies, religion, family and sex.

Unlike the other book reviews in this article, the main character in Milk Fed has a soft spot for the easy way out. “I’d entered therapy hoping to alleviate the suffering related to both my food issues and my mother, but without having to make any actual life changes in either area.” Motherhood in Milk Fed is seen through the eyes a daughter, and something Rachel often suffers rather than finds comfort in.

Milk Fed is an artfully written work of honest atmosphere. It adopts a style that is the opposite of glamourising, it harnesses subtle directness of an individuals idiosyncrasies; but consequently finds beauty in those moments and details. Then I lay back with my eyes closed, very peaceful. My head seems to be filled with space, more space than I’d known it could hold. She lit a clove. I chewed a piece of nicotine gum. A breeze floated in through the window.”

The beauty is in the initial acceptance of one another's differences, it’s an honest and unique dance of attraction. Broder has created a kind of erotic realness that feels suited to the theme of embracing flaws instead of shying away from them. “I was so near to her that I could smell the soy sauce and garlic and sweet liquor on her breath. She stifled a burp, and we both giggled. I wanted to say, it’s ok, don’t be embarrassed, let it out, I like you, the air inside you, all of you.

And I’m strangely left hungry for more.

EXTRACTS:

“They say the perfect is the enemy of the good, that if you strive for perfection you will overlook the good. But I did not agree. I didn't like the good. The good was just mediocre. I wanted to go beyond mediocre. I wanted to be exceptional. I did not want to be medium-size. I wanted to be perfect. And by perfect, I meant less.”

“I smelled something roasting, some kind of meat, and immediately thought, Turn around Run. The intimacy of it, the smell of another family’s life, was terrifying.”

“Every time I came, I would think, Oh god, please don’t let me like women… In these fantasies, I got to be both woman and man: shifting my conciousness from the wife to the husband to the wife to the husband. This felt less shameful than two women.”

EVERYBODY (ELSE) IS PERFECT: HOW I SURVIVED HYPOCRISY, BEAUTY, CLICKS AND LIKES

by Gabrielle Korn



Gabrielle Korn, as the former editor-in-chief of Nylon, reframes what success is - I immediately had the feeling that the ‘behind the scenes’ details I was promised in the blurb, would be spun for a good story or turned into a slightly gossip-y book about the industry. But I was wrong. It doesn’t gossip and it’s not an exposé either - I felt that Gabrielle Korn was honest, but in a pleasantly and appropriately complicated way. In the way that doesn’t come without years of self reflection and the acceptance of her own home truths. Not in the way we hear a lot at the moment - the way that feels like people are scared of past mistakes rearing their heads so they over justify past judgements and give in to endless admissions and faux genuine apologies. But Korn talks in a way that exposes flaws with good observational intention;

“What was the point, I asked myself, in working myself to the bone for big, fancy publications as a dyke if I wasn’t going to try and make the content accessible for other queer people?”

And she doesn’t shy away from how she has made her own mistakes, or unknowingly benefitted from systematic injustices.

“Despite my queerness, I was just another one of them. I understood that as a white Jewish lesbian, the parts of my identity that marginalize me were largely invisible; I was benefiting from the system while being tokenized by it.”

Korn knows who to call out; whether it’s herself, society, the industry or the company buying out the company she works for.

EXTRACTS:

“What was the point, I asked myself, in working myself to the bone for big, fancy publications as a dyke if I wasn’t going to try and make the content accessible for other queer people?”

“Despite my queerness, I was just another one of them. I understood that as a white Jewish lesbian, the parts of my identity that marginalize me were largely invisible; I was benefiting from the system while being tokenized by it.”

“In 2017 multiple [fashion] shows had models walking in variations on a theme of girl-power T-shirts, selling a political ideology that somehow didn’t extend to the actual women modeling the messaging.”

BLACK BOY OUT OF TIME

by Hari Ziyad



This is the most recent book I have read and ultimately my favourite; which was unexpected for me as I hadn’t heard of it and stumbled upon it in a book shop. After reading the blurb I expected to find a beautifully written book, however I didn’t expect so much to resonate and effect me. It’s written by Hari Ziyad, a queer Black man, who was one of nineteen siblings raised in Cleveland, Ohio by a Muslim father and Hindu Hare Krishna mother.

A very different experience to mine growing up, but I felt a kind of philosophical kinship with how Ziyad views the world and its events. He assess history, current events, and internal struggles and creates almost like an internal prism of reflection. He is consistently trying to understand how each effect one another.

“We are subjective beings. It is necessary to reimagine one’s past narratives without clinging to a false sense of objectivity, and to always question our biases and where they might come from.”

His way of recounting history is constantly assessed in parallel comparison to his life events. He is always acknowledging the push and pull that internal experience has with external circumstance. His analytical words narrate with meaning and reflect with sensitive awareness.

“All these words feel like cages to me, like I am being forced inside them against my will. Like I am being aligned to the world’s conceptions of gender when my Black experience has so little to do with the world’s.”

The importance of relatability is also addressed - often he felt different and unable to speak his personal truth unless he felt safe.

[on therapy] “it can be especially helpful if your therapist shares a marginalized experience with you. Then they are less likely to question whether your experience is valid. I’m not sure we would have gotten very far if my therapist weren’t Black and queer”

He acknowledges where societal shifts need to happen and when personal growth is due & also how one might stumble into the other and throw it off its path. Ziyad is unafraid to call out his own internalisations.

“Misafropedia creates monsters out of Black children simply for being children, and I had internalized this concept by virtue of not actively working against it. It’s wild how there didn’t have to be a specific, spectacularly terrible thing a Black child did in order for me to villainize and criminalize them spectacularly and almost automatically - how an ordinary story about ordinary childhood things can stick with you by anti-Black adhesive for so long if you aren’t critical of the ideas and beliefs you take for granted.”

It’s called ‘a memoir’ but reads as part history book. Hari Ziyad really is re-writing history. How we should read it anyway.

EXTRACTS:

“It wasn’t that she couldn’t understand my queerness or love me if she knew, but I believed that the parts of her that would understand and love me were buried so deep beneath her own pain that they would take years to excavate. Years I knew she didn’t have. Years that had been stolen from her, just like my childhood had been pried away from me.

How much could I blame her for what she had replaced them with? How much could I blame myself for internalizing self-hatred while trying to find what about me was worth saving in an anti-Black, anti-queer world that hated me, too? How much could I blame Mata? And how much should I hold accountable the world that separated us from our childhoods in the first place and told us blaming each other was all we could ever do about it?”

“We are subjective beings. It is necessary to reimagine one’s past narratives without clinging to a false sense of objectivity, and to always question our biases and where they might come from.”

“Misafropedia creates monsters out of Black children simply for being children, and I had internalized this concept by virtue of not actively working against it. It’s wild how there didn’t have to be a specific, spectacularly terrible thing a Black child did in order for me to villainize and criminalize them spectacularly and almost automatically - how an ordinary story about ordinary childhood things can stick with you by anti-Black adhesive for so long if you aren’t critical of the ideas and beliefs you take for granted.”

[his therapist] “He said I beat myself up too much. That I was talking on a lot with this whole “I have to choose queerness thing. I tried explaining that there’s a difference between beating myself up and holding myself accountable, between shame and self-reflection.”

“All these words feel like cages to me, like I am being forced inside them against my will. Like I am being aligned to the world’s conceptions of gender when my Black experience has so little to do with the world’s.”

“We are subjective beings. It is necessary to reimagine one’s past narratives without clinging to a false sense of objectivity, and to always question our biases and where they might come from.”

[on therapy] “it can be especially helpful if your therapist shares a marginalized experience with you. Then they are less likely to question whether your experience is valid. I’m not sure we would have gotten very far if my therapist weren’t Black and queer.”