Is This the Golden Era of Queer Literature?

“Queer writers have always been there, brave and unapologetic,” says Jackson Howard, a young, queer editor representing an impressive roster of LGBTQ+ writers at the publishing house Farrar, Straus & Giroux. “But if you look at canonical queer fiction writers, many had to fight and bounce around the underground. They haven’t had as much support or crossover as they have now.”

To say we are in a golden era of queer publishing is a controversial assertion. “You’re making a very big mistake,” says lesbian writer Sarah Schulman when I suggest it. “everything is more conservative in the United States right now, so the idea that something progressive is happening in corporate publishing is absurd, given the national tenor.”

Indeed, across the US, queer books are being banned amidst a wave of anti-LGBTQ+ censorship laws, epitomized by the recent passing of the “Don’t Say Gay Bill” in Florida. Author Carmen Maria Machado’s Into The Dream House, a bestselling experimental memoir about an abusive queer relationship, has been banned from multiple schools in Texas—at one, a parent brought a dildo to a school board meeting in protest. (For context: the book mentions a dildo.)

Yet talk to any young, progressive, and avid reader of literary fiction or nonfiction, and they’ll note that there are more “queer books” and there is more mainstream recognition for LGBTQ+ authors than ever before. Torrey Peter’s runaway hit Detransition, Baby springs to mind, as do Her Body and Other Parties and In the Dream House, both by Machado. “I feel very excited to be alive and writing right now, and with my queer peers being who they are,” says Machado, pointing specifically to genderqueer and trans writers including Jody Rosenberg, Gretchen Fletcher, and Peters. One might add to the list Andrea Lawlor, author of the acclaimed punk, trans odyssey Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl, or Snowfall by the trans writer Imogen Binnie, originally published by an indie press in 2013 before being reissued by FSG this summer.

In the UK, several brand-new LGBTQ+-focused bookshops have been opening their doors in cities beyond London. Amidst a general climate of transphobia (transphobic hate crime reports have quadrupled across Britain in six years) Shon Faye’s 2021 book The Transgender Issue—soon to be published in North America, and six other countries—has topped sales charts. “Books that wouldn’t be picked up abroad three to four years ago are being picked up all over the place,” Howard observes. Similarly, on-screen adaptation deals are flooding in. Detransition, Baby is being turned into a television series, as is Akwaeke Emezi’s novel Fresh water; and real-life by Brandon Taylor, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2020, is being developed as a film.

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