Every February, the LGBTQ+ community and allies come together to celebrate LGBT+ History Month. Starting back in 2005, the month-long annual event aims to raise awareness of and fight against prejudice and persecution whilst celebrating its achievement and diversity. We’ve put together a list of 12 books you need to read this LGBT+ History Month, as recommended by our Instagram followers.
This selection of books features powerful and inspiring memoirs and irresistible romances that honor the journeys of LGBTQ+ individuals and a larger movement for love, acceptance, and equality for all.
Giovanni’s Room, James Baldwin
This groundbreaking novel from 1956 follows the life of an American man living in Paris. It focuses on the feelings and frustrations of his relationships with other men in his life, particularly Giovanni, an Italian bartender he meets at a Parisian gay bar.
Baldwin tackles themes of social isolation, gender and sexual identity crisis. The novel also explores conflicts of masculinity, as a young bisexual man navigates the public sphere in a society that rejects a core aspect of his sexuality.
Cobalt Blue, Sachin Kundalkar
Written when Kundalkar was just 20, this book was first published in 2006 in the Marathi language and then translated into English and re-released in 2013. When first released, it was a title that both shocked and spoke to Marathi readers.
It follows the story of a brother and sister in Western India who fall in love with the same man, an artist lodging in their family home. The novel is divided into two parts and depicts this stranger’s impact on two siblings when he disappears without an explanation. As both siblings try to come to terms with their own identity, the book features themes of homosexuality, loneliness and mental health. It gives readers a vital lesson in accepting yourself.
The Stonewall Reader, edited by New York Public Library
For the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, the New York Public Library created The Stonewall Reader, an anthology documenting the fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the 1960s.
The Stonewall uprising is considered the most significant event in the gay liberation movement and provided a catalyst for the modern fight for LGBTQ+ rights in the United States. The Stonewall Reader features a collection of first-hand accounts, diaries, periodic literature, and articles detailing the five years before and the five years after the riots.
Zami: A New Spelling of My Name, Audre Lorde
Published in 1982, this book follows the author’s journey through a childhood in Harlem to her coming of age in the late 1950s.
Included in the BBC’s ‘100 Novels that Shaped the World’ the biomythography focuses primarily on the close bonds that Lorde developed with women throughout her life. Growing up as a black woman and a lesbian in America throughout the 1940s, 50s, and 60s, much of the book details the author’s experiences living in a society that either ignores or rejects her.
Sissy: A Coming of Gender Story, Jacob Tobia
Written by LGBTQ+ activist Jacob Tobia, Sissy is a heart wrenching, eye-opening memoir following Tobia’s journey from a child assigned male at birth to a genderqueer activist on the national stage. In the thought-provoking account, Tobia shows how exposure to the world, and gentle, persistent expansion towards the femme, led to self-knowledge of non-binary gender identity.
By revisiting their childhood and calling out stereotypes many have faced, Jacob invites readers to rethink what we know about gender and offers a blueprint for a healed world, one which is free from gender-based trauma and bursting with trans-inclusive feminism.
With fierce honesty, humour and wrenching vulnerability, Jacob shatters the long-held notion that people are easily sortable into ‘men’ and ‘women’.
Redefining Realness, Janet Mock
Back in 2011, Janet Mock stepped forward as a trans woman for the first time, as she was profiled in Marie Claire magazine. The article was life-altering for the People.com Editor, turning her into an influential, outspoken public figure and desperately needed voice for the trans community. Throughout the memoir, she offers a bold and inspiring perspective on being young, multicultural, economically challenged and transgender in America.
This powerful memoir follows Mock’s quest for identity. With unflinching honesty, Mock uses her own experience to impart vital insight into the unique challenges and vulnerabilities of trans youth. The title is praised for being one of a small number of literary texts written by transgender people of colour.
The Argonauts, Maggie Nelson
Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Criticism, this genre-bending memoir offers thoughts about desire, identity, family-making and the limitations and possibilities of love and language.
Mixing philosophical theory with memoir, the book discusses her romantic relationship with the transgender artist Harry Dodge. As Nelson begins to go through pregnancy, she explores the challenges and complexities of mothering and queer family making. Nelson fuses her personal experience to a rigorous exploration of what iconic theorists have said about sexuality, gender, marriage and child-rearing.
Last Night at the Telegraph Club, Malinda Lo
Released in 2021, Last Night at the Telegraph Club was the first book featuring an LGBTQ+ woman to win the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, and in January 2022, the book also received the Stonewall Book Award for Young Adult Literature.
Set in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1954, the book follows the story of Lily trying to find her way in a society where she cannot truly be herself. Taking place in the backdrop of the Red Scare, the queer community, amongst others, face discrimination and persecution from the government and general public. Lily finds herself at the centre of the chaos, as minority groups experience the burden of the Red Scare and 1950s bar raids. The book challenges perceptions, including stereotypes about Chinese Americans and the invisibility of the lesbian and gay community.
Crystal Boys, Pai Hsien-yung
First published in 1983, Crystal Boys is often credited as the first gay novel written in Chinese. The text depicts the challenges faced by the LGBTQ+ community in 1970s Taiwan.
Set in Taipei in 1971, the story of survival follows A-Qing’s journey, a student who runs away from his father and enters the world of Taipei’s gay subculture. Crystal Boys tackles the collective struggle of a group of young men ostracised by society due to their sexual orientation.
On a broader scale, Crystal Boys represents a turning point for Taiwan’s societal perspective on LGBTQ+ people. The book has since been translated into multiple languages and adapted for the screen. Borrow from the SOAS Library.
Same Sex Love India, Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai
A Lambda Literary Award finalist, Same-Sex Love in India features an array of writings on same-sex love from over 2000 years of Indian literature.
The collection of writings defies both stereotypes of Indian culture and Foucault’s definition of homosexuality as a 19th-century invention. Instead, it uncovers a complex conversation of Indian homosexuality and the use of names and terms as early as medieval times to distinguish between same-sex and cross-sex love.
Some of the text has been translated for the first time, while others have been re-translated to show previously underplayed homoerotic content. Writings include religious books, medieval histories, biographies, modern novels, short stories, poems and more. This anthology is regularly featured on reading lists for courses in gender and queer studies, Asian studies and world literature. Borrow from the SOAS Library.
Guapa, Saleem Haddad
Saleem Haddad’s debut novel is a thought-provoking text from the viewpoint of Rasa, a gay man living in the Middle East.
He tries to carve out a life for himself amid political and social upheaval. During the day he spends his time translating for Western journalists, and pining for the nights when he can sneak his lover Taymour into his room. After the two are caught in bed together, Rasa is ashamed to go home and face his grandmother. So instead, he wanders the city, and his various encounters lead him closer to confronting his own identity.
As the main character confronts the collapse of political hope and his closest personal relationships, he’s forced to discover the roots of his alienation and try to re-emerge into a society that may never accept him. The book includes themes of anxiety, self-doubt, tension, hopelessness and shame. Borrow from the SOAS Library.
Orlando, Virginia Woolf
First published in 1928 and arguably one of Woolf’s most popular novels, Orlando was inspired by the tumultuous family history of the aristocratic poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West, Woolf’s lover and close friend.
The novel spans three centuries and chronicles the life of Orlando, who changes gender from male to female and lives for over 400 years. The work satirises more traditional Victorian biographies that emphasise facts and truths in their subjects’ lives. Although it may have been intended to be a satire, it also touches on important issues of gender and self-knowledge.
Considered a feminist classic, the book has been written about extensively by scholars of women’s writing and gender and transgender studies.
Forbidden Colors, Yukio Mishima
Yukio Mishima has written several LGBTQ+ books. Regarded as one Japan’s greatest modern writers, Forbidden Colors is a disturbing novel of sexual combat and concealed passion.
Published in 1951 and translated into English in 1968, Forbidden Colors represents taboo desires and beliefs for the time, most notably homosexuality and misogyny. Set in post-war Japan, the novel follows the story of a rich older man who sets out to avenge himself on the women who have betrayed him. Whilst on holiday, he meets a younger man, Yuichi, who’s beauty makes him irresistible to women, but who is also just discovering his attraction to other men. As Yuichi’s mentor presses him into a loveless marriage, his protege discovers the gay underworld of postwar Japan. Borrow from the SOAS Library.