Keep It Queer is an original, biweekly feature on my blog where I talk about being queer and all the various things this has meant to me over the years. Sometimes this will also involve me babbling about LGBTQ books. It’s also a chance for others to share their stories.
February is LGBTQ History Month in the UK! So I thought I'd make this month's Keep It Queer posts all about books and movies that deal with LGBTQ history.
I'm going to take this opportunity to recommend Alan Hollinghurst, one of my favourite authors ever. I've only read two of his books, The Line of Beauty and The Stranger's Child, but I adored both of them. He writes adult books and they're quite literary, but if you're the type of person who likes slow, beautifully written books with keen human insight, you'll probably love these books as much as I do. The Line of Beauty is set in the 1980s as many books about LGBTQ history tend to, because of the AIDS crisis, but The Stranger's Child is far more sprawling and goes from the 1910s up to the modern day.
In terms of YA, I've read two YA books that deal with historical LGBTQ issues: Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan and The Miseducation of Cameron Post by emily m. danforth, both of which are absolutely amazing. Two Boys Kissing is set in present day America but narrated by a chorus of gay men who died from AIDS, so it has a historical perspective, and The Miseducation of Cameron Post is set in Montana from the late 1980s to the 1990s.
Two Boys Kissing begins like this:
You can’t know what it is like for us now — you will always be one step behind.
Be thankful for that.
You can’t know what it was like for us then — you will always be one step ahead.
Be thankful for that, too.
Trust us: There is a nearly perfect balance between the past and the future. As we become the distant past, you become a future few of us would have imagined.
And a few lines later...
You have no idea how close to death you came. A generation or two earlier, you might be here with us.
We resent you. You astonish us.
Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley is excellent as well and also has a historical setting but I'd say that the main focus in that book in terms of historical content is on the racial issues rather than on LGBTQ issues, as it's set in 1960s Virginia during the time of desegregation in schools.
I've bought a copy of Cinnamon Toast and the End of the World by Janet E. Cameron which is a YA novel set in Canada in 1987 about a teenage boy who falls in love with another boy, and Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt, which happens to be set in the exact same year but in New York this time, about a girl whose uncle dies of AIDS. It's marketed as an adult novel but since the MC is a 14-year-old girl, it has YA crossover appeal. I hope to read both before the end of this month and review them.
In terms of films about LGBTQ history, I can't really remember if I've watched any other than Milk (2008), based on the true story of Harvey Milk, a gay activist and the first openly gay man to be elected into public office in America. It was a beautiful and heartbreaking film and made me cry bucketloads.
I think I'm going to try and watch Pride (2014) and also, if I have time, The Normal Heart (2014) and talk about them in the next Keep It Queer, going up on 23 February! Pride will take priority since it is the UK LGBTQ History Month and I really haven't read or watched that much about LGBTQ history in the UK, so I must correct that. Pride is about gay activists in the UK campaigning to help miners during the strike of the National Union of Mineworkers in the summer of 1984. The Normal Heart is about a gay writer and activist in New York working to raise awareness and expose the truth about the growing AIDS crisis both to the government and to the gay community between 1981 and 1984.
I think it's obviously really important for us to keep in touch with our history. We are where we are now because of the efforts and sacrifices of so many in the past. As Robin Talley said in her author's notes in Lies We Tell Ourselves:
The values many of us take for granted today are the result of hard-fought battles that happened years, decades and centuries ago. Working alongside the civil rights leaders we revere today, like Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and Rosa Parks, there were hundreds, if not thousands, of now-forgotten activists who sacrificed everything they had so people today could live the way we do. Every generation needs to remember that — and to remember that it’s up to us to make sacrifices of our own for the ones who will come next.
She wrote this about civil rights, but it clearly applies to activists in all other areas, including LGBTQ activists. We cannot forget our past and the generations of people who lived, fought, loved, and died before us. It is the key to understanding our identities and building a better future.