Every untold story deserves to be told — and read. So, this Pride Month, why not pick up a book to explore the breadth, diversity, and various facets of the LGBTQIA+ community, the voices of which often go unheard. Featuring narratives that range from deeply thought-provoking and tear-jerking to uproariously funny and effervescent, the Sabudana Things book club has compiled a list of books that convey the inherent struggle, hope, and sundry experiences of the community. These books are as beautifully diverse as the myriad colors of the rainbow.
Born Both: An Intersex Life by Hida Viloria
A personal journey, a portrayal of an activist’s work, and a representation of a movement, this book by writer and intersex activist Hida Viloria is a candid, compelling, and provocative memoir of gender identity and self-acceptance. Born Both is a journey of finding love and embracing one’s authentic identity in a world that boxes people into either/or. Using structural narratives like race, gender, and class, Viloria helps readers gain a comprehensive understanding of the movement and what it means to be intersex – both as a fierce activist and on a personal level.
Under The Udala Trees by Chinelo Okparanta
Set in 1960s war-torn Nigeria, Under The Udala Trees is a deeply moving and powerful tale about the dangers of living and loving openly. The coming-of-age tale is an evocative first-person narrative of a woman’s fight to assert her identity as she falls in love with another woman in a culture of sexual and gender oppression. Inspired by Nigeria’s folktales and its war, the book is a poignant portrayal of how the struggles and divisions of a nation are inscribed on the souls of its citizens and their identities.
Author contact: https://www.chinelookparanta.com/
The Truth About Me: A Hijra Life Story by A Revathi
The Truth About Me is a brutally honest and moving autobiography of a Hijra who relentlessly battled oppression, persecution, and violence to find a life of dignity. The author, Revathi, who is also an actor and activist based in Bangalore, portrays the struggle to break free from being trapped in the wrong body. In this book, she lays bare the incredible series of experiences she endured in her pursuit of carving her own identity and social inclusion for others like her.
How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir by Saeed Jones
Regarded as one of the best books of 2019 by The Washington Post, BuzzFeed, The Oprah Magazine, and more, How We Fight for Our Lives is a remarkable coming-of-age memoir. Jones narrates the story of a young, Black, gay man from Texas as he fights to find a footing for himself, within his family, within his country. From boyhood and adolescence to his turbulent relationships with his family and friends and flings with lovers, Jones examines race and queerness, love and loss, desires and fears, and he fights to find and become his true self.
Author contact: https://twitter.com/theferocity
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
One of the most celebrated novels of the 1980s and the first book by a Black woman to win the Pulitzer Prize, The Color Purple is a sublime portrayal of feminism and lesbianism. A book that was way ahead of its time, it follows the story of two sisters living very different lives and yet bound by an unbreakable bond even through impossible circumstances. Raped and abused repeatedly by the man she calls “father,” Celie has two children taken away from her, is separated from her sister Nettie and is trapped into an ugly marriage. However, life turns a new leaf when Celie meets Shug Avery, a singer and magic-maker, a woman who has taken charge of her own dreams and destiny, a woman she’s sexually attracted to. What follows is an exquisite portrayal of female friendships that not just offer refuge but also empower women to resist oppression and dominance in a world tainted with patriarchy.
Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
This book was on The New York Times children’s best-seller list for three weeks after its release and it was the first LGBT-themed Young Adult novel to do so. The novel follows two boys called Will Grayson. We see the two Wills’ POV, each written by one of the two writers. One is straight and the other isn’t. One wants to just blend in but is not able to and the other has nothing good to hold on to, but both of their lives get entangled somehow. This story is about love, friendship, and everything in between.
Author contact: https://www.instagram.com/johngreenwritesbooks/?hl=en, https://www.facebook.com/David-Levithan-139042149485971/
None of the Above by I. W. Gregorio
This is a Young Adult novel about a teenage girl called Kristin Lattimer, who gets voted homecoming queen. She’s a champion hurdler with a full scholarship to college and the crown is just another puzzle piece in her perfect life. However, there are some missing pieces and when she finds out what that is, her life changes completely.
She plans to take things to the next level with her boyfriend but something is wrong. When she sees the doctor, she learns that she was born intersex. It changes her perspective on self when her identity is leaked to the entire school.
Author contact: http://www.iwgregorio.com/
Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin
Baldwin’s second novel is considered a classic in gay culture. Set in 1950s Paris, this story is about an American man who is performing a conventional life by asking his girlfriend to marry him, but is unable to continue repressing himself.
He gets entangled with an Italian man, who is a bartender and has a long affair with him. Meanwhile, he’s tortured by his sexual identity while he sways between the young woman he wants to marry and the man he is attracted to. This complex story of death and desire might be a slow read since the language is unlike that of modern writers, but it is important to include this book since the author is an African American, who left America after facing racism. In exile, he was able to express some of his truth even though it was through a repressed language.
Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
When we think of a classic coming-of-age novel, usually J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye might top a lot of lists, but this landmark novel about growing up and becoming a person of your own is all about a lesbian girl, Molly Bolt.
Written in 1973, it remains a transformative work even in 2020. We learn to love Molly and Mae’s bawdy prose. The story of an adopted daughter of a dirt-poor Southern couple who forges her own path in America will leave you gasping. Beautiful, witty, and unapologetically herself, Molly realizes that women are drawn to her and feels no guilt over loving them back. This book is all about being true to yourself and, against the odds, living happily ever after.
Author contact: https://www.ritamaebrownbooks.com/
Queering India: Same-Sex Love and Eroticism in Indian Culture and Society by Ruth Vanita
Published in 2002, this book is not entirely up to date with the legal changes, and neither does it cover the full gamut of the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. However, it does show how colonialism made the prejudices against same-sex love and eroticism in Indian culture and society something to be “ashamed” about.
Using examples from cinema, fiction from regional languages, and popular media, the writer tries to show provide an understanding of gay and lesbian relationships. But, while this book is one of the initial attempts by a modern academician towards making the LGBTQIA+ community mainstream, it’s not complete in itself.
Author contact: https://www.facebook.com/ruth.vanita
Book covers: Amazon
With inputs from Nishadh Mohammed