As we celebrate Pride Month, it’s time to revisit exactly why this month exists and to appreciate the importance of the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights—yesterday, today and tomorrow. You don’t have to pour through pages and pages of political theory to understand why this month is important, but books have that fantastic way of really getting us in the feels and giving us a deeper understanding of life from different perspectives.
You don’t have to be LGBTQ to read books on the struggle for equality. In fact, it can be refreshing to see straight and cisgender people really engage with queer literature, and it can give the reader buckets of perspective to help us all in our efforts to build an inclusive society. Besides, many of these stories just so happen to have queer characters. However, their themes are universal.
1. The Boy from the Mish by Gary Lonesborough
Shortlisted for a trio of awards including the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards and the Children’s Book of the Year, this queer Indigenous YA novel is one not only for young readers, but for all readers.
The Boy from the Mish is set in a rural Australian community, following seventeen-year-old Jackson as he explores his identity. Part coming-of-age and part first love, this heartwarming read is an honest and well-written debut.
2. Reckoning by Magda Subanzski
One of Australia’s funniest performers on the small screen who also made the leap to film, Magda Subanzski’s memoir details more than just her coming-out story. It reveals parts of her family’s history as well as the journey she went on to find out the truth while asking some of life’s big questions.
Reckoning is funny, poignant and honest in its storytelling. You will be hard-pressed not to feel touched by Magda’s story.
3. The Monkey’s Mask by Dorothy Porter
The Monkey’s Mask was published more than 20 years ago, but the verse crime novel, which follows a queer detective through the mean streets of Sydney, has been adapted for radio, TV and film as well as having been published in multiple languages.
If you haven’t yet read this best-selling poetry meets crime-thriller novel, then be prepared to be fully immersed once you pick up the book. It’s that good.
4. The Lost Arabs by Omar Sakr
This poetry collection by Omar Sakr tackles the themes of faith and family, identity and sexuality, and nationality and belonging. The writing is visceral and full of energy, which is probably one of the reasons why The Lost Arabs went on to win the 2020 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Poetry and was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, the John Bray Poetry Award, and the Colin Roderick Award.
5. Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson
Award-winning author Inga Simpson’s ability to write about place is exceptional and the setting of Where The Trees Were draws the reader into a world that is populated by the experiences of childhood, friendship and the return to these times.
The story centres around Jay—the queer protagonist—and four friends who must come to terms with the one day that changed their lives.
6. Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave
This modern Australian classic, now a film directed by Neil Armfield and starring Ryan Corr and Craig Stott, is a memoir described as a real-life gay Romeo and Juliet story.
Set in 1970s Melbourne at an all-boys Catholic school, Tim Conigrave met and fell in love with John Caleo and this is their story of dealing with life, coming out, family pressures and the looming AIDS crisis that still affects many gay men.
Holding The Man is a story of life, love and death and everything in between. It’s true and you will feel.
7. The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska
Another YA novel on the list, The Dark Tide is a bisexual love triangle where saving the island-city from the rising tide is paramount. There are heroes, villains and monsters in this story where two witches find themselves falling in love with each other despite their differences and preconceived notions.
8. Fourteen by Shannon Molloy
Coming out in your teens and coming to terms with everything that brings can be tough.
In the touching memoir Fourteen, Molloy tells his experience of queer identity in high school, and the adversities that came with it. The story is described as “this generation’s Holding the Man”.
The book was longlisted for the 2021 ABIA Biography Book of the Year, and also went on to be adapted for stage play which was showcased at Brisbane Festival in 2022. Orange Entertainment Co has also acquired the film rights.
9. Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven
The winner of the 2013 David Unaipon Award, Ellen van Neerven’s Heat And Light is a three-part collection of stories that are part mystical and part mythical. They feel, nonetheless, very real and on this journey, its characters deal with the challenging predicament that is retaining a sense of belonging while at the same time searching for freedom.
The stories are exceptionally crafted and well worth your time.
10. Bodies of Men by Nigel Featherstone
Men at war and everything that entails will seemingly always be a gripping tale. But Nigel Featherstone’s account of two Australian soldiers in Egypt during World War II shows a tender side to the conflict as their childhood friendship blossoms into something more.
In the house of two strangers, they risk everything and this book is about love, masculinity and remembering Australian gay soldiers who fought for this country. It’s also about bravery in more ways than one.
11. When Things Happen Together by Jordan Clayden-Lewis
Gay romance meets Aussie road trip in this emotional and mysterious love story that follows two travellers who find each other a working holiday in Australia. However, the closer the pair become, the more they start seeing the numbers 1122 everywhere. Are the numbers just a coincidence, or is there something greater at play?
When Things Happen Together was nominated for the Reads Rainbow Awards 2022.