LGBTQ reading recommendations

"Wet Moon: Feeble Wanderings" by Sophie Campbell (Oni Press)

Set in Savannah, Georgia, at an art school, graphic novel "Wet Moon" is a sprawling millennial soap opera (that's a good thing, by the way) that began in 2004 and consists of six volumes and a few hundred pages so far (this recent reissue is the first volume with a new cover by Annie Mok). Among the many reasons it still resonates is its firm grasp of how and why people say one thing in public, another in private, and then often another on the Internet, even if the days of LiveJournal and emo and goth web subcultures seem so long ago. Think Armistead Maupin's "Tales Of The City" for the DeadJournal generation and you're close. And through Sophie Campbell's sincere dialogue and thoughtful artwork—which recognizes varieties of body types and skin colors and the nuances of queerness—"Wet Moon" is casually, radically inclusive. Campbell's discursive melodrama allows its characters to be sincere and full of shit, catty and kind. I'm reminded of Virginia Woolf, who once said she "dig[s] out beautiful caves behind [her] characters." Campbell does the same. One of the most compelling queer works of our time. (Brandon Soderberg)

"Whipping Girl" by Julia Serano (Seal Press)

There is a mess of ignorant and outright hateful narratives about transgender people out there. In the recent growth in trans visibility, those narratives have been countered by firsthand accounts. Among the most important is Julia Serano's "Whipping Girl: A Transsexual Woman on Sexism and the Scapegoating of Femininity." The book was published in 2007, which doesn't seem that long ago until you consider how much the world has changed for transgender people in the last 10 years. But still the book feels relevant, and probably will for years to come. Serano, an activist and biologist, focuses on the relationship between misogyny (not going anywhere any time soon) and issues faced by transgender people and specifically trans women like herself. Sexism and trans discrimination are inseparable problems, because—duh—many trans people are women, but also because, in many ways, they come from the same root: the idea that "femininity is inferior to masculinity and that femaleness is inferior to maleness."

"By necessity," she writes, "trans activism must be at its core a feminist movement."

From this perspective, Serano presents thorough, no-bullshit cases against the sensationalized and objectifying depictions of trans women in the media, blindsighted nature-versus-socialization assumptions of gender (she argues that gender is an exaggeration of biological differences between male and female bodies and hormones—neither a total construct nor a fact of nature), and all the other muck that trans women have going against them. Too often, certain feminist circles reject transgender people from their cause. Serano calls for transgender people and their allies to take it back. (Maura Callahan)

"Schizophrenia" by Vaughn Bodé (Fantagraphics)

Best known for his trippy, post-hippy comix character Cheech Wizard and his bubbling, colorful head shop-friendly artwork, cartoonist Vaughn Bodé, who describes himself in this book as "auto-sexual, heterosexual, homosexual, masso-sexual, sado-sexual, trans-sexual, uni-sexual, omni-sexual" was a major influence on street art and a low key queer radical. This odd-and-sods book collects a number of obscure strips from the late cartoonist (who died due to autoerotic asphyxiation at age 33) as well as some autobiographical writing and ranting. The main reason for grabbing this collection is the titular strip starring Bodé himself flipping through space and describing his trans-ness in a roving, playful monologue that lays bare his feelings and frustrations with his body and the culture at-large. It feels like Bodé's final work even if it isn't—it's from 1973; Bodé died in 1975. A loud comic strip of self, similar to twilight works such as Mishima's "Sun and Steel" or Genet's "Prisoner of Love" but filtered through a kind of Disney-gone-existential attitude. (BS)

"No Future: Queer Theory and the Death Drive" by Lee Edelman (Duke University Press)

For obvious and not-so-obvious reasons, news of the shooting at LGBTQ club Pulse made me immediately think of the Virginia Woolf quote that prefaces Lee Edelman's chatty polemic: "Yes, I was thinking: we live without a future. That's what's queer..." Edelman here focuses on children and how through straight culture's idealization of the child, reproduction, and child-rearing are framed as counters to queerness and reasons why queerness isn't "natural." Moreover, Edelman runs through a cultural history in which queer characters in books and movies have been associated with death and, in an act of restorative heroic nihilism, pretty much asks, "Is that such a bad thing?" There has been an impulse among some older queers to dismiss members of the LGBTQ community who, say, want to get married or adopt or become "conventional" members of society. This thinking frames queerness as subversive in and of itself—and that's an error. But there are reasons why many reject domesticity and comfort and Edelman offers up a fervid, nuanced reason why. (BS)

"Autobiography of Red: A Novel in Verse" by Anne Carson (Vintage Contemporaries)

You probably remember the story of Herakles (or Hercules) and his strength and his Labors, which were penance for him killing his wife Megara and their children. Whether your memories of this story are even murkier than mine or not, it doesn't matter much because here because Herakles is not the main character. Set in modern time rather than ancient, Carson's poetic novel follows Geryon, a demure and quiet, but thoughtful and creative, red-winged monster, from his damaged childhood through a rocky adolescence and early adulthood, which are all full of rather workaday woes and heartbreak. When he's a teenager, Geryon meets Herakles—who, in the original story, had to steal Geryon's cattle for his tenth labor—but here they just fall in love (Herakles was also bisexual) for a little while. Later on, Geryon gets older, feels out his passion for photography a bit more, and goes on a personal journey to South America, and falls back in love with Herakles for a moment. As simple as these perils sound—at their root, they are—Carson describes them in such a heavily beautiful way, while also subtly reminding us (in case we needed a reminder) that LGBTQ narratives go all the way back. And that's Carson at her best, taking Greek classics and remixing them, hammering out something new and, at turns, even more profound and familiar than the original. (Rebekah Kirkman)

"Complete Poems" by Claude McKay (University Of Illinois Press)

One of the many queer voices of the Harlem Renaissance—Henry Louis Gates once asserted that the Harlem Renaissance was "as gay as it was black"—Claude McKay's work was an aggressively lowdown, confrontational affront to respectability and often good taste (his 1928 novel "Home To Harlem," for example, is essentially a retelling of "The Odyssey" only here Odysseus is Jake Brown, a black man just out of the army, and his Penelope is a prostitute who doesn't even remember his dumbass after their one night together). McKay's poetry is similarly coarse, with its embrace of colloquial dialogue and an ear for dialect and celebrations of the raw and visceral whether it's dancing or political revolution (he was maniacally dedicated to the people most literature had no time for). And although McKay's work mostly addresses issues of racism and social change ('White City' could be about Baltimore in 2016) and zeroes in on the working class (see: 'When Dawn Comes To The City'), his poetry bobs and weaves around identity and sexual orientation, particularly 'I Know My Soul.' (BS)

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