By: Meg And Saumya
Humans are social creatures and people want to be heard and feel understood. LGBTQ+ individuals have often turned to literature as a source of validation and appreciation of same-sex attraction. Under conditions where being queer has been perceived negatively, LGBTQ+ literature has also documented the isolation and pain suffered by those facing prejudice, legal discrimination, bullying, violence, suicide, persecution, and other such barriers.
As time goes by, the massive increase in literature by queer authors as well as their popularity amongst the general populace has led to less alienation of LGBTQ+ people and has reduced the need for “masking” to fit into society. It has brought the community closer, introducing us to more people with similar thoughts and experiences, thus helping us establish our identities in a heteronormative society.
Years back, people grew up without queer role models around them as it was still considered to be a taboo subject. The 18th and 19th centuries saw a rise in novels with homosexual subtext as openly writing about such topics was still punishable in most places. Alluding to Greek and Roman mythological characters was a popular way of showing that the author sympathised or identified with queer readers or queer themes.
Books like Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Matthew Lewis’s The Monk and Sheridan Le Fanu’s Carmilla paved the way for a more unbarred discussion of queer culture and an evolved understanding of it in society by the 20th century. E.M. Forster’, Maurice (1913-14) and Blair Niles’s Strange Brother explored romantic as well as platonic queer relationships openly without the need for hiding them in subtexts.
As of the 21st century, many queer literary works have attained mainstream acclaim. Most authors are able to openly publish their work in a world which grows more accepting each day. Queer representation in YA novels, in fanfiction written online and in other forms of media have fostered a new sense of belonging. Becky Albertalli’s Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue, Claire Legrand’s Sawkill Girls and Adiba Jaigirdar’s Hani and Ishu’s Guide to Fake Dating have ushered in a new era of queer teen and young adult love stories along with wider representation within the community by including BIPOC, bisexual and asexual represenation, among others.
The disruption of norms is a key tenet of queer theory. By norms, we mean social norms, which, according to Merriam-Webster, are “standards of proper or acceptable behavior.” “Queer” is not the lumping together of multiple sexual and gender identities, rather it is the suspension of classifications. These identities are multiple and fluid which allows movement among these categories while also advocating for movement outside the categories.
Books like Kate Bornstein’s Gender Outlaws: The Next Generation looks into gender identities beyond the binary and the oppression faced by such people through a collection of poems, comics and essays. Queer literature interrogates and disrupts the age old notions of what it means to be “normal,” thus bridging the gaps of understanding and delivering its context to both minorities as well as the majorities.
However, we still have a long way to go. Much of the population is still stuck in a place where they aren’t able to relate to or see themselves in minority cultures because unlike queer communities or other minorities, they have never had to face being the splinter group which makes it hard for them to identify and sympathise with the struggles the LGBTQ+ community faces every day.
Mohsin Zaidi, author of A Dutiful Boy said, “stories help shape cultures and if you hear no stories about something that is a part of you then, to my mind, that part of you can’t possibly develop and mature at the same pace as the rest. That’s the importance of queer reading; it nurtures you, and helps every part of you grow.”
As representation increases, society starts to view being part of the LGBTQ+ community as something normal instead of viewing it as a shameful identity that must be hidden away in the darkness behind closed doors. Instead, we get one step closer everyday to a more accepting world where being queer is something as simple as being allowed to love beyond boundaries set by narrow-minded people.