queers in literature

Things you find out from reading the 20-page introduction to Dracula:

  • Bram Stoker was queer af
  • Walt Whitman called Stoker “a sassy youngster”
  • Which is yet more proof that Whitman was the 19th-century American incarnation of Tumblr
  • Though to be fair, Stoker was sending him a lot of fanmail
  • Bram Stoker married Oscar Wilde’s ex-girlfriend??? This girl really doesn’t care about her husband’s sexual orientation
  • Intro confirms that Stoker’s wife was either ace or lesbian
  • Dracula is based on the actor Henry Irving, Stoker’s crush friend
  • Apparently Irving was a total jerk, but Stoker was all  (♥ ∀ ♥)
  • Irving just happens to have no interest in women
  • Stoker becomes completely depressed after Irving dies
  • ya know
  • just bros being bros

Academic conclusion: Hypothesis that all Victorian writers knew each other and they were all gay is yet to be disproven

I want to open a queer bookstore every book has queer protagonists

there’s fantasy and sci fi and literary sections just like a regular bookstore but all the characters are queer

except there, in the corner, is the Straight Literature section. Which is like. Fifteen copies of the notebook.

When I’m in heterosexual company I find that if the topic of the epidemic comes up in conversation, most people always say the same thing. They tell me how ‘wonderfully’ gay men have responded to AIDS, how ‘marvellously’ the ‘gay community’ has united. They don’t want to know anything whatsoever about the epidemic, but they do like the idea that there is a plucky little community out there on the brutal heath of Tory England, ‘bravely’ holding its own.
—  Simon Watney, Imagine Hope: AIDS and Gay Identity.
A flood of emotions rushes into me. Pain and anger. Sadness and pity. But most surprising of all, hope.
—  Thirteen Reasons Why
I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do. I am going to write fire until it comes out of my ears, my eyes, my noseholes—everywhere. Until it’s every breath I breathe. I’m going to go out like a fucking meteor!
—  Audre Lorde, excerpt from a journal entry collected in A Burst of Light
Do you remember when we danced in the kitchen waiting for the water to boil? You wanted green tea. I wanted you.

You’re at a gender reveal party cutting a cake. But when you cut in to the cake, the cake is pie. It looks like a custard pie, but when you taste it, it’s a meat gravy. Cutting further reveals chunks of meat. You ask what kind of meat it is, but everyone around you remains silent. They’re grinning. Too wide.

You’re cutting in to a gender reveal pie, but it’s actually pie. What kind of pie is it? It’s cake pie. Everyone’s looking away. You cut in to the cake, and find a note. The note reads:

You cut in to a gender reveal cake, and the knife you were holding is gone, revealing instead a large sharp fish. It squirms out of your hand and flops on to the cake, which bursts its pie filling everywhere. Your guests applaud.

You wake up and cut in to the gender reveal fish. It tells you to mind the bones or you’ll be in real trouble. You’re walking down 51st street in New York. Now you’re in Paris. Now you’re in City-5 on Mars. Now you’re holding your child. They ask you why their genitals should decide their gender.

You push the plunger on the gender reveal dynamite. As it blows the side off your house you wonder how this was meant to inform anyone of the baby’s gender. ‘Congratulations,’ say the partygoers, ‘it’s a beautiful baby meat’.

You’re holding a baby and they reveal their gender to you. It shines brightly, cycling many colours. Vibrant blues and greens, then purplish oranges, greenish reds, colours you’ve only dreamed of. You’re holding a baby. You’re sure you’re holding a baby. What else could it possibly be?

You’re revealing your own gender. No one accepts it. You’re turned away from all support, you’re fired from your job, your wife leaves you, your mother and father won’t talk to you, everyone you’ve ever known questions and critiques you endlessly about the gender you’ve revealed to them.

You’re at a gender reveal party and you’ve never felt more alone. You’re at a gender reveal party and you want to sleep. You’ve been at this gender reveal party for so long now and it follows you wherever you go. You’re at a gender reveal party and you can never leave.

—  THE GENDER REVEAL PARTY by Jessica Liebelt (via @jessliebeltpoetry)

“You will always be loved, and you will always be in love with love. Don’t be afraid. There are exquisite things in store for you. This is merely the beginning.”

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)

A Week of Pride & Thanks

Our intern Kevin loved this new book from Sarah Prager, Queer, There, and Everywhere: 22 People Who Changed the World, and felt compelled to say thank you for all they did. In the book, Prager outlines the extraordinary lives of LGBTQ figures throughout history – a project of painstaking research and devotion, and a task not made easy by the many who have erased and revised the rainbow’s visibility within some of our world’s greatest contributors.

This is a series of Thank You notes to those figures featured in Prager’s book who have paved the way toward today, where Pride parades (or marches) may dance down city roads, streets clogged by the sheer multitude clamoring to participate in festivity; where marriage equality drapes its long laced veil across a vastly more accepting world, nation by nation; where LGBTQ stories win the highest cinematic awards; where LGBTQ athletes can proudly reveal their truths; where LGBTQ world leaders stand tall amongst their peers; and where there’s still terrible things we need to fix, but we know it gets better when we look behind us and see all that has hitherto been accomplished.

Dear Lili Elbe,

Thank you for your bravery! Not only did you transition in a time when such a thing was unheard of, but after the fact, you told the world. Your example gives us hope, and teaches us that transparency is not invisibility.  When you were Einar, you were a painter. But as Lili, your brushstrokes were most purposeful, your colors most beautifully vivid.

Dear José Sarria,

Thank you for utilizing your creative, curious mind to defend the queer community throughout your lifetime. When laws were written against us, you found the loopholes that would uphold our dignity. And as a renowned performer, you made sure we knew we were correct, and valuable. We are so grateful for you, an empress whose conquest was unforgiving stigma, and who crushed it beneath his red stilettos.

photo: Nate Gowdy Photography

Dear George Takei,

Thank you for acting as such a figurehead, piloting us into a more visible world. Despite the injustice done to you and your family during the period of Japanese internment in the 1940s, you have dedicated so much time and energy as an activist fighting for LGBTQ rights in a country that had once turned its back on you. Your voice, amplified so loudly despite its deep register, has given so many people hope. Thank you for widening your spotlight to land on our whole community.

More thank you notes throughout this week.

Find out the full true stories of these people and 20 others in Queer, There, and Everywhere, on sale now here.

employer: would you say you have any special talents
me: yeah well not to brag but I’ve gotten pretty good at sensing if books and movies are gay based on the vague language in the summaries… let me give you a hint: “close bond,” “has always been different,” “intriguing new boy/girl” “strangely drawn to”…

Maurice at 30: the gay period drama the world wasn't ready for
The elegant Merchant Ivory love story, starring a young Hugh Grant, was largely ignored on release but it’s now receiving a 4K restoration and might finally reach the audience it deserves
By Guy Lodge

Last year, Merchant Ivory’s Howards End, now a quarter of a century old, got a 4K digital restoration that didn’t seem obviously required. Until, that is, you saw the result. Those ornate Edwardian interiors, the sea of rain-spattered umbrellas, that field of bluebells, all made newly sharp and iridescent – it seemed appropriate treatment for what stands as the quintessential work from a film-making team now synonymous with elegantly reserved costume drama. With US distributor Cohen Media Group having bought up the Merchant Ivory library, one might have assumed A Room With a View would be next in line for this pristine treatment. The Remains of the Day, perhaps.                    

Instead, we’ve been thrown a curveball. Maurice, undervalued in 1987 and underseen today, is getting the digital makeover, hitting cinema screens in time for its 30th anniversary. It’s a surprise, but a welcome one. Adapted from a posthumously published EM Forster novel that is likewise overshadowed in reputation by other works in his canon – like, well, Howards End and A Room With a View – Merchant Ivory’s film opened hot on the heels of their broadly beloved, Oscar-garlanded adaptation of the latter. Almost immediately, it was filed away as, if not a disappointment, a lesser diversion. The Venice film festival jury was highly taken with it, handing prizes to James Ivory and then-fresh-faced stars Hugh Grant and James Wilby, but despite admiring reviews, few followed their lead. Box office was barely a 10th of A Room With a View’s; where that film had been nominated for eight Oscars, winning three, Maurice scraped a solitary bid for its costumes.

The film wasn’t at fault. A tender, graceful love story, performed with quiet emotional conviction and crafted with Merchant Ivory’s signature visual serenity and meticulous period detail, it was an exemplary distillation of its literary source – and a heartily realised passion project for Ivory himself, who adapted Forster’s novel in place of the team’s usual screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. What was different? Those even glancingly acquainted with the film or novel can probably work it out: Maurice was, put bluntly, too gay.

Ivory and producer Ismail Merchant were romantic partners as well as professional ones, though their films rarely reflected their sexuality in anything more than an oblique sense. Many of their greatest films evoke a sense of unspoken desire, of any persuasion, simmering beneath a placid surface of decorum – a repression with which many a gay person, unable always to freely articulate their romantic self, has been able to empathise. Maurice, in a sense, was the duo’s cinematic coming-out: the story of a young man growing into his homosexuality in politely hostile English society, it’s a film that exquisitely queers the stiff-upper-lip emotions so central to the Merchant Ivory oeuvre.

There’s a slight aloofness to Maurice that is part of its beauty. Shooting with glacial reserve, a minty chill present even in scenes of the great English summer, Ivory languidly explores the stuffy Cambridge social circuit, with its cricket matches and country-pile parties, that the title character is expected to inhabit; Wilby’s painstaking performance, too, initially comes over as glazed, absent, a man in search of something to want. The film only breathes when he finally does, first via a frustrating romantic affair with fellow student and social climber Clive Durham (Grant, perfectly his floppy charm years before Four Weddings and a Funeral) – but it’s heartbreak that gives the film its red-blooded feeling.          

From there, as a second romantic chapter with gamekeeper Alec Scudder (Rupert Graves, completing perhaps the prettiest posh-boy triangle in screen history) begins, Maurice gains both in emotional sweep and intimate psychological detail: a tame entry it may be in the LGBT canon, but few films have expressed quite so sweetly and nakedly the challenges of simply being a gay man, partnered or otherwise – how difficult it can be to run with human nature.

This is not emotionally universal terrain, and was a rare subject for prestige heritage cinema to take on: the film’s respectful but dispassionate reception in 1987, not an era rich with queer art in the mainstream, is no surprise in retrospect. Had Forster, for whom the novel also represented a cathartic release of his own sexuality, published it in his lifetime, he might have encountered similar resistance. In 1971, Maurice was received by the literary fraternity as minor by his standards – a verdict that all too often plagues depictions of desire that, while far from minor, is shared only by a minority.

Fast-forward to 2017, in the midst of a thriving LGBT cinema scene and in afterglow of Moonlight’s barrier-busting Oscar triumph, and perhaps audiences will be a little warmer, a little kinder to Maurice. Coincidentally, it hits screens again in the same year that Ivory is basking in the glory of a very different LGBT triumph: now 88, he’s a co-writer on Luca Guadagnino’s queer coming-of-age rhapsody Call Me By Your Name, a Sundance sensation that realises the first rush of gay love with all the woozy sensual excess that Maurice, true to its period, eschews. (They’d make for a remarkable, mutually flattering double bill.) Far from dated, Merchant Ivory’s Maurice looks positively ahead of its time: an honestly strait-laced depiction of alternative sexuality that dared to play by the same rules as any other respectable costume drama.

(Source: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/may/19/maurice-film-period-drama-merchant-ivory)

So I recently finished the complete works of Sappho and in the afterward–which was a ton of historical reference, literary analysis, and tribute writing about Sappho and her work– I found repeatedly that she was referred to by many as “The Manly Sappho of Lesbos” or just manly Sappho. Plus all physical descriptions of her say that she was short, dark skinned, had short hair, and was not very feminine or attractive.

So my point with all this is, Sappho was one of the first butch woman of color loving other women who didn’t conform to conventional beauty standards and I just am so much more grateful to have her as our sapphic saint after learning this.

I name myself “lesbian” because this culture oppresses, silences, and destroys lesbians, even lesbians who don’t call themselves “lesbians.” I name myself “lesbian” because I want to be visible to other black lesbians. I name myself “lesbian” because I do not subscribe to predatory/institutionalized heterosexuality. I name myself lesbian because I want to be with women (and they don’t all have to call themselves “lesbians”). I name myself “lesbian” because it is part of my vision. I name myself lesbian because being woman-identified has kept me sane. I call myself “Black,” too, because Black is my perspective, my aesthetic, my politics, my vision, my sanity.
—  Cheryl Clarke, “New Notes on Lesbianism in The Days of Good Looks: The Prose and Poetry of Cheryl Clarke, 1980-2005