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My Queer Book Club: Recommendations That Make Me Feel Seen By Rachel Quick

In my local newspaper, a lot of letters get published. Letters that seem to give people an excuse for hatred and ignorance. A recent entry entitled ‘Anti-woke stance is not being uncaring’ repeats this expectation. “I would also like to highlight that section of the LGBT single-issue brigade,” it reads, “who, in typical woke manner, are doing everything they can to actively promote their transgender views, including to schoolchildren.” I was saddened to see this letter had got through so many people to be read by the public, and that its message of not teaching LGBT+ issues seemed to be supported in the comments. Its content seems to have been partially provoked by the addition of Drag Queen Story Hour at the local library, an organisation which provides fun and interactive children's shows with talented drag performers. The only LGBT+ book club in the local area was also battered for its existence, and now has meetings every few months rather than every two weeks. I cannot say for sure whether this was caused by negative responses, but I have to wonder. I want young people growing up where I once did to feel safe, to feel like they can go to an LGBT+ book club without feeling judged or confused.

"I want young people growing up where I once did to feel safe, to feel like they can go to an LGBT+ book club without feeling judged or confused..."

So, I present to you, dear reader, a list of my top three works of queer media!

1) Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (2006)

Described aptly as a family tragicomic, Fun Home is a step into Bechdel’s psyche. She recalls a childhood where her parents ran a funeral home and, later, the reveal that her father secretly slept with younger men. The protagonist tries to reconcile her own queer identity with her father’s, replaying moments where she could have known and said something to him. There is a sense of sad contemplation in the novel. She could never talk to her father about his struggle with sexuality before his suspected suicide, and ask him how he kept it a secret for so long. Although he is not painted in a wholly sympathetic light, Bechdel reflects what their relationship could have been like had they both not been so closed about their feelings. The reader is forced to reflect whether the protagonist would have met the same fate as her father – closeted and alone – had she not seen where he went wrong.

2) Portrait of a Lady on Fire by Céline Sciamma (2019)

French director Céline Sciamma has a knack for telling stories with as few a word as possible. One of her first films, Tomboy (2011), depicts a young person realising their transgender identity, and Sciamma continues the portrayal of queer characters in this film. Set in France in the late 18th century, we follow painter Marianne as she is given the impossible task of painting a subject who refuses to stay still: Héloise. Filled with stunning landscape visuals and candle-lit intimate encounters, this film depicts a love that fights to be known but must be kept a secret. There are barely any male characters in the film – Sciamma crafts a world apart, where women can express their hurts and passions freely. For example, Sophie, the maid of the remote house, undergoes an abortion. The scene is filmed entirely as a close-up to her face, focusing on the emotion of the scene rather than the procedure itself. Through this technique, Sciamma creates a deeply human film that is essential viewing.

"Sciamma crafts a world apart, where women can express their hurts and passions freely..."

3) Disclosure by Sam Feder, Amy Scholder and Laverne Cox (2020)

This feature-length Netflix documentary traces the history of transgender representation in media all the way from the birth of cinema to FX’s series Pose. Interviews with various ground-breaking figures in trans representation are spliced with often upsetting yet eye-opening historical footage. The extracts are well chosen and researched, analysing stereotypes that the untrained eye may not notice. Footage of trans women constantly being portrayed as sex workers or murder victims played back-to-back takes its toll, and the effects of years of marginalisation are made abundantly clear. It shows how just one negative portrayal of transgender characters can completely change someone’s perception of themselves and others. Shows such as Orange is the New Black (2013 - 2019) and Pose (2018 – 2021) are shown as examples of how far media has come, but the directors are not afraid to show how trans performers and writers are still treated as inferior.

"It shows how just one negative portrayal of transgender characters can completely change someone’s perception of themselves and others..."

Representation is getting better. These are examples that affected me the most, but everyone’s list will be different. Even though the area is still filled with insular views and narrow-minded complainers, the book club is still going. It is still supporting the growing queer community of my home, still defying those who refuse to listen.

"Even though the area is still filled with insular views and narrow-minded complainers, the book club is still going..."

I want to end on a quotation from the Disclosure that truly highlights the importance of queer people pushing through boundaries and being represented:

“I cannot be in the world, until I see that I am in the world.”

Credits:

Created with an image by lillen - "flag pride the lgbt movement"