By Megan Powell and Magali Prel
To celebrate pride, which takes place every year in June, the classics team wants to present you with some of their favourite LGBTQIA+ classic authors. These gems of literature are written by prominent members of the LGBTQIA+ community who sometimes write about sexuality and what it means to them. Classic literature is often believed to be written by authors from eras and societies where members of the LGBTQIA+ community were discriminated against and oppressed, but classic literature goes beyond these time periods. Modern classic literature contains many texts that centre around LGBTQIA+ topics which have been crucial in normalising same-sex relationships, being transgender and many other topics under the LGBTQIA+ umbrella.
Sun and Steel by Yukio Mishima
Yukio Mishima is an interesting author to discuss here. His sexual orientation, like many other aspects of his life, remains uncertain. Mishima was married to a woman and had two children, so it was assumed that he was a heterosexual. There are indications that he may have been bisexual or gay even though his wife denied such claims after his death in 1970.
In Mishima’s writing, he explores the theme of homoeroticism and includes depictions of same-sex relationships. It was rumoured that he had romantic relationships with some of his closest male friends. It is important to remember that Mishima deliberately and theatrically constructed his public persona. As a result, separating fact from fiction regarding his personal life can be challenging. It could be argued that with homosexuality being a taboo and controversial subject in Japan during his life, it is likely that Mishima made efforts hide his sexuality.
One of Mishima’s most notorious works is Sun and Steel, a blend of a memoir, philosophical musings and cultural analysis. In this novel, Mishima explores themes of body, aesthetics and conflict between the intellectual and physical realms.
The Colour Purple by Alice Walker
Alice Walker’s experiences and perspectives on sexuality greatly influenced her works and activism over the years addressing the themes of love, sexuality and relationships in her novels. She identified as bisexual, openly discussing her relationships with both men and women.
One of her most celebrated works is The Colour Purple, a novel that narrates the story of Celie, a young African American woman living in early 20th century rural Georgia. The novel is constructed in an epistolary format, consisting of a series of letters written by Celie herself. The novel addresses themes of sexism, racism, sisterhood and self-expression and explores the resilience of marginalised individuals in the face of systemic oppression, celebrating African American women’s strength and spirit.
A significant aspect of the novel is Celie’s growing relationship with Shug Avery, a blues singer and her husband’s former lover. Celie develops a deep love for Shug, and their relationship becomes a catalyst for Celie's self-discovery. Through Shug's guidance and support, Celie begins to find her own voice and challenges the oppressive forces that have defined her life.
Sister Outsider by Audre Lorde
This compilation of fifteen essays demonstrates Audre Lorde’s incredible and bold talent of writing authentically about her own identity. Sister Outsider explores numerous themes that relate to the author. She is a mother, a feminist, a black woman and a lesbian – to name a few. Lorde is also an activist, prolific writer and poet. This novel is a feat for change and an exploration of sexism, racism and homophobia. Lorde truthfully and inspiringly evokes action for change through her honest accounts. This powerful book demonstrates Lorde’s ability to write about her experiences to educate as well as challenge these harmful views.
As a black feminist and lesbian, Lorde is an essential author to read when celebrating pride month. The critical exploration that coincides with the need for change demonstrates Lorde’s dedication to authenticity and identity. She stresses the dangers of the westernised notions that ignore and separate differences rather than embrace them, which Lorde emphasises is essential for change.
Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg
Leslie Feinberg’s debut novel Stone Butch Blues was published in 1993 and is a profound novel that explores the complexities surrounding gender. The novel is an early example of developing the term gender to explore multiple expressions rather than describing sexes. The novel is categorised as historical fiction, although many of the events and characters relate to the life of Feinberg. This essential novel follows the life of Jess Goldberg in New York during the 1940s as she identifies herself within the New York lesbian community. As Jess faces institutionalised homophobia and experiences traumatising abuses of power throughout her life, she is conflicted by her identity, conforming to neither male nor female identity. Jess begins transitioning by having reconstruction surgery and starts to identify as male, although towards the end of the novel they stop taking testosterone. Feinberg explores how damaging sexual trauma is and how class is also linked to sexual identity. Content warning: this novel contains rape, homophobia and transphobia.