Reading with Pride

Brunswick colleagues share their favorite LGBTQ+ literature.

Christopher Calvert and Ann-Kathrin Richter from Brunswick’s London office recently posed a question to their colleagues: What books would they recommend people read to better understand and empathize with the LGBTQ+ community?

Accompanying the responses were poignant lines about why these recommendations carried such special meaning. “The book just shows how hard some of us had to fight to be themselves,” Ayrton Thevissen from our Brussels office said of one selection. Mark Seifert from the Washington, DC office chose titles that were “stories of love that were never available to me in my formative period.” Tshelane Reid from London suggests one author who made her feel, for the first time, represented. “When I was in school (not very long ago, I might add), not once did I study texts by black authors, let alone black queer authors.”

The following list is ordered not by merit, but rather colleagues’ surnames.

Amir Beshay, Account Director, New York

Lives of Great Men by Chike Frankie Edozien
As an immigrant in the US, reading Lives of Great Men was a refreshing look at being gay in Africa and the African diaspora in America. The short vignettes of Chike’s life and loves offer a view of gayness outside of the West that is interesting, emotional, and illuminating.

Christopher Calvert, Director, Brunswick Arts, London

Trans Like Me by CN Lester
Trans Like Me should be required reading for all cisgender people. It’s the perfect book for anyone who wants to begin to learn more about the day-to-day experiences of trans and non-binary people. CN Lester’s book takes the reader by the hand and guides them one step at a time without ever being patronising. This is the first book about trans and non-binary experiences that I read, and I learned so much from it—including genuinely practical advice on supporting trans people, which helped me to breakdown my own preconceptions and nervousness about approaching the subject. Maybe it’s a British thing, but when we’re worried about offending people, we tend to clam up and stay silent—but as we know, silence can be just as pervasive as discrimination. That’s why this book is so important. Trans Like Me is a thought-provoking, personal account which enables the reader to see beyond the labels to which we cling and see the people, personalities and potential within.

Paula Fiorini, Account Director, Brunswick Insight, London
Las malas by Camila Sosa Villada

A critically acclaimed autobiography that came out last year, it’s set in the province of Córdoba, Argentina, and offers an intimate perspective from the trans community. Beautifully written, the book portrays the terror and magic of life in the trans community of Parque Sarmiento—one of my favorite books of the year! It’s written in Spanish, and currently being translated into French.

Ruairidh Macintosh, Associate, London

The Straight State by Margot Canaday 
I loved this book because it highlights the many small (and not so small) ways that the US Federal government excluded gay Americans from the full benefits of citizenship for much of the 20th Century, precisely at the time when Federal power and authority grew rapidly. Through policy over immigration, welfare and the military the US government chose to prioritise the ideal of a heterosexual nuclear family and, in doing so, created a “straight” nation. But it also tells the story of how ordinary Americans, whether they thought of themselves as activists or not, challenged this process. So, as we celebrate Pride virtually this year, this book made me think of the efforts of all those who came before us—including one young soldier who, as Canaday finishes the book on, found herself in front of a military board in 1958 accused of “lesbianism” and bravely implored: “I don’t feel like I am being treated like an American citizen. I would like to know why.”

Jon Miller, Partner, London

Mama’s Boy, Preacher’s Son by Kevin Jennings
It’s a beautiful memoir and a fascinating (for a non-American) insight into the attitudes and history of the South: Kevin went from a confederate flag waving boy to an energetic human rights advocate. Plus Kevin is a bit of a personal hero for me. He was a mentor and helped with funding when we were setting up Open For Business. I found his book moving and inspiring—I’m sure others would too.

James Moss, Executive, London
The Story of the Night by Colm Tóibín

This moving novel by Colm Tóibín intertwines the personal story of Richard Garay, a gay Argentinian man with an English mother, and the political history of Argentina through the 1980s and 1990s. Considering the period, subjects such as AIDS are an important part of the story, and it provides an insight into the experience of living with AIDS through the eyes of the characters affected.

Pierre-Edouard Moutin, Associate, Paris
To the friend who did not save my life (À l'ami qui ne m'a pas sauvé la vie) by Hervé Guibert

When I first read Hervé Guibert, I was 20 years old and studying literature in France. Central to his most famous novel is AIDS, where he tells about the breakdown of his body and also describes the last days of his friend Michel Foucault, the great philosopher, (though the character is Muzil in the book). Guibert wrote many novels and was also one of the first French journalists who specialized in photography (for Le Monde). Many exhibitions have been dedicated to his work in France and abroad. Strangely, his novels weren’t included in the curriculum of any French university when I was a student!

Tshelane Reid, Junior Researcher, London

Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
I didn’t realise how significant it would be to read literature by a person who, like me, was a black lesbian woman, until I discovered Audre Lorde. When I was in school (not very long ago, I might add), not once did I study texts by black authors, let alone black queer authors. Reading the works of Audre Lorde, I felt represented. Sister Outsider is one of Audre's most outstanding books and it was one of the first pieces of feminist literature I read on my journey to self-discovery.

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin
James Baldwin’s writing is so delicate and Giovanni's Room is particularly beautiful in the way it depicts homoromantic relationships. This book evokes many feelings in me of both warmth and sadness. It subtly demonstrates the hardships of exploring sexuality while telling of the unique experience of gay men. Not only was James an incredibly complex novelist, but also an activist—the very act of publishing a novel depicting homosexuality in 1956 was a rebellion against the system and society’s standards.

Ann-Kathrin Richter, Associate, London

Tentacle by Rita Indiana (Translation from Spanish to English by Achy Obejas)
Tentacle is a queer, punk-spirited dystopian novel set in the Dominican Republic in 2037. The slim book manages to take on a set of big issues, from ecological crisis and inequality, to race and gender in the context of Caribbean colonial history. ‘LGBTQ+ sci-fi’ and ‘climate fiction’ are two other possible genres it might be fit into, but it’s delightfully hard to pin down. For me, there is something powerful and encouraging in being able to read queer, non-western perspectives of possible futures (even if they are deeply disturbing!) and in knowing that they are finding wider audiences.


Beyond my main pick, I’ve got three ‘honorable mentions’ for books that have more recently made a difference in my life and in those of the growing allies around me by opening up new and positive conversations between us:
Queer – a graphic history by Meg-John Barker and Julia Scheele
Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

Brendan Riley, Partner, New York
I scoured my bookshelf trying to pick “the one,” but that’s just not possible. For me, reading has always been a huge part of my sexuality, and as a teenager growing up in the mid-90s in Texas, literature was how I began to connect with my gayness. That’s continued through to today, and I am amazed at the things I read that give me new perspectives on the gay experience. So here’s my list, in no particular order (my picture doesn't include them all as I appear to have lent out a few of my favorites and not received them back)

How to Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS by David France
In the gay community, we sometimes tend to divide ourselves into generations. I’m not quite post-AIDS, as I grew up in the shadows of the epidemic, but I’m too young to have experienced that period. I wanted to educate myself on the epidemic, and I think this is the definitive book on that topic. In painstaking detail, but written like a suspense novel, France explains how community activism fought for change when governments around the world sat idly by and let thousands and thousands of gay men die.

The Heart's Invisible Furies: A Novel by John Boyne
I’m the gay, Catholic grandson of Irish immigrants, so this book struck a chord. It tells the story of its protagonist, Cyril Avery, in seven-year increments, against the backdrop of a rapidly changing Ireland.

Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman
I almost left this one off because it’s so obvious. But it’s also a phenomenal book. I found Elio’s experience so intense and so well told that I’ve been unable to read the book again despite really wanting to.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
A novel written for young adults that every adult should read. So much of Simon’s story reminded me of my own experiences growing up gay. The secrets, the fear, the elation, the nerves. The movie adaptation, Love, Simon, is equally good.

The Line of Beauty: A Novel by Alan Hollinghurst
Another book that frames the gay experience at a certain moment in time, this one Thatcherite Britain. Hollinghurst is always a great read, and he’s able to tell a story not only about one’s emerging gayness, but also about the classist nature of British society. He captures the hedonism of the 80s, but you always feel the pending doom of the coming AIDS crisis.

Honorable Mention: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Because Nick Carraway was so obviously gay and in love with Gatsby.

Mark Seifert, Partner, Washington, DC
I’m 58, an avid reader, and was raised in Alabama in the 60s and 70s. There just wasn’t a lot of gay literature to be had at the Homewood Library. As a result, there are two categories of queer literature that always speak to me.
One category reveals the stories of those who break out of the closet because the cost of staying in has become too much. These are my hero stories. They affirm choices, capture the fear and anxiety and triumph. There are many but here are two that hold a special place in my heart.
Maurice by EM Forester
The Front Runner by Patricia Nell Warren

The second category are the stories of love that were never available to me in my formative period. My husband short hands this absence: “We never knew what it meant to be able to ask the boy of our dreams to prom.” We were unable to legitimately experience the hope, the fear, the joy and the occasional disappointment of finding and perhaps losing a kindred soul. For someone who learned the by-ways of the heart much later in life after three decades of deception, stories of love presented in the richness and fullness of fully realized humans bring a special joy.
Tales of the City series by Armistead Maupin
Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

Ayrton Thevissen, Director, Brussels

Boy Erased is a memoir that tells the story of Garrard Conley, who was sent to conversion therapy by his Southern-Baptist family. It’s such a strong, touching story. Conley was outed by a fellow student who had raped him. Instead of compassion, he was then sent to conversion therapy where he was mentally abused—Conley shines a light on just how destructive these “therapies” actually are. Boy Erased shows how hard some of us had to fight to be themselves.

City of Night by John Rechy is about an unnamed young man who hustles in several large US cities in the 50s. What I love about the book is how modern and current it still is 50 years later. Rechy has an inclusive vision on LGBTQ+ and throughout the book the main character comes in touch with various sub scenes. He masterfully exposes the hypocrisy and homophobia in the US after McCarthyism. Rechy himself was also arrested during the Cooper Do-nuts Riot in 1959. Far less known than the Stonewall riots, this was one of the first steps in the gay liberation movement.

Jacob Tobia’s memoir, Sissy: A Coming-of-Gender Story, explains the spectrum of nonbinary identities in a subtle, very funny way, sharing the experience of growing up in a Methodist family in North Carolina and studying at Duke. The New York Times described it as a “memoir [that] subtly educates even the most uninformed reader about the spectrum of nonbinary identity.”

Wyatt Yankus, Associate, Brunswick Geopolitical, Washington, DC

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
For me, Pride is about representation and visibility, and this novel is a great example of that. Telling the story of Homer’s The Iliad from the perspective of Patroclus, the lifelong companion of Achilles, it shows the same-sex relationship that lies at the heart of one of Western civilization’s foundational stories. All too often, historical examples of gay and lesbian storylines are white-washed out in modern retellings (in the 2003 Brad Pitt film, Patroclus is merely Achilles’ nephew). Bringing these elements of classical stories back into the light is a great way to make it clear that LGBTQ+ community is not some aberrant lifestyle of the past 50 years, but a tale as old as time. It is also a great read and an impressive feat of classical scholarship by a talented young author. I’d also recommend her book Circe, a telling of The Odyssey from the perspective of a much-maligned female character.

An honorable mention for the The Deviant’s War. [Wyatt recently interviewed the book’s author, Dr. Eric Cervini, for the Brunswick Review.]