Words: Uli Lenart; Pictured: Travis Alabanza (Photography by Faith Aylward)
Whisper it, but autumn is on its way, so grab your pumpkin-spiced lattes, cosy jumpers and hunker down with the best new queer reads. Here are our top three picks plus an LGBTQ classic that you should revisit...
None of the Above: Reflections on Life Beyond the Binary (Travis Alabanza/Canongate Books)
The mainstream media is riddled with anti-trans fearmongering. The messaging ranges from accusations of a direct, sinister threat to children and the integrity of society generally, to the eye-rolling dismissal of pronoun choice as an act of woke self-indulgence. Whatever the narrative may be, it directly impacts upon the mental and emotional health of our communities and their actual physical safety in the street.
So how can trans and non-binary people respond to this wave of enmity? They can speak their truth on their own terms. They can query and challenge the narrative around gender, trans and non-binary identity.
In this incredibly intelligent, revealing and nuanced memoir, Travis Alabanza interrogates seven phrases people have directed at them about their gender identity. Phrases which have stayed with them over the years. Some deceptively innocuous, some deliberately loaded or offensive, these sentences speak to the broader issues raised by a world that insists gender must be simply one thing or another.
Writing from their perspective as a Black, mixed-race, non-binary person, award-winning performer Alabanza turns a mirror back on society, giving us reason to question the very framework in which we live and the way we treat each other. They interrogate white, cis orthodoxy, the role played by internal shame in the policing of our bodies, celebrate the power of trans kinship and explore issues including class, economics and race. Potent, profound, sassy and deeply satisfying. A triumph!
All Down Darkness Wide (Seán Hewitt/Jonathan Cape)
The mesmerising literary memoir by the award-winning poet and book critic Seán Hewitt, All Down Darkness Wide is a story of desire, love, literature and heartbreak. When Seán encounters Elias on his travels around Colombia, he is irresistibly drawn to this charismatic young man. After a few lingering glances the two fall headlong into a wild love story, shining with promise. They soon move back to Elias’ native Sweden to be together but as the long dark winter draws in, everything begins to shift. Elias begins to struggle with severe depression and the couple comes face to face with crisis.
In an attempt to navigate these new, precarious depths, Seán Hewitt delves into his own history, enlisting the ghosts of queer figures and poets before him. A lantern of hope amid the ruination of depression; and an ode to the tender glories of queer love. Exquisitely beautiful and powerful.
Other Names for Love (Taymour Soomro/ Harvill Secker)
A transportive debut novel about a 16-year-old boy’s life-changing summer in rural Pakistan: a story of fathers, sons, power and hidden desire. On the train from Karachi, as dusk begins to fall across the desert, Fahad’s dreams of his summer in London are fading. He is reluctantly headed to Abad, the family’s feudal estate, where his father intends to toughen up his sensitive boy, to teach him about leadership, duty, family and manhood.
Once there, Fahad finds himself seduced by the wildness of the land and by the people he meets: cousin Mousey, who lives alone with a man he calls his manager; and Ali, a teenager like him, but stronger and more self-assured, whose magnetic presence proves a complex, irresistible draw.
Written in rich, measured prose, Other Names for Love is a novel about dynasties, desire, generational divides and the long reach of the past.
The Front Runner (Patricia Nell Warren/ Wildcat Press. First published 1974)
With 10 million copies sold across multiple languages, The Front Runner is one of the most popular and commercially successful gay classics of all time. First published in 1974, the setting of this simmering gay love story is the competitive world of long-distance running.
It’s 1975 and Harlan Brown is a tough, somewhat tortured ex-Marine college track coach on the cusp of turning 40. Now teaching at a low-ranking liberal New York college, Harlan is trying his best to put the past behind him after being falsely accused of inappropriate behaviour. Back doing what he loves best, teaching track, Harlan is happy enough, but lonely.
Cue Billy Sive, a brilliant 22-year-old runner. He and his two running mates have just been thrown off a major team for admitting they’re gay. Harlan senses that, with the right coaching, Billy could have a shot at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. But, before long, he begins to fall for his open-hearted new star athlete. Eventually, the two finally admit their feelings for each other and embark on some very intimate training sessions. But that’s just the start of the marathon that lies ahead.
There are scenes set during the Stonewall riots, a glimpse of New York’s Continental Baths and depictions of the sticky-floored gay picture houses of 70s Manhattan. There are occasional problematic moments for a contemporary reader, but this tender, sexy and moving story is captivating.