All year round, but especially in June, we celebrate members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer/Questioning communities and remember and honor the lives of people who have advanced their human rights. Your Librarian for African American and African Studies, Katrina Spencer, recommends the following works as a way of helping you learn more about the peoples represented by the letters LGBTQ, their narratives, their questions, and their lives.
“Goodbye, My Havana: The Life and Times of a Gringa in Revolutionary Cuba”, Anna Veltfort, 2019
Author Anna Veltfort was an expatriate from the United States living in Fidel Castro’s Cuba. In this coming-of-age memoir, she must deal with the political tensions of world powers in the 1960s while also navigating her sexuality under a repressive regime that values obedience and conformity. True tales of scarcity, privilege, and clandestine gatherings are all shared in this beautifully illustrated graphic novel, recalling an historic, mid-20th century era with authenticity, fear, and longing. You can also read the e-book in Spanish, “Adiós, Mi Habana: Las Memorias de Una Gringa y Su Tiempo en los años Revolucionarios de la década de los 60”.
“I’m Afraid of Men”, Vivek Shraya, 2018
This intensely personal account tracks Canadian Vivek Shraya’s experiences in relationships and with her own femininity. Vivek is transgender and grew up in a society that rejected her gender expression. This autobiographical account examines the fear and doubt she has endured on her journey to self-acceptance. The memoir at once encompasses victimhood, struggle, and triumph. It importantly questions the tendency of society to require people of historically marginalized identities to first display evidence of suffering before receiving respect for their humanity. The title is brief yet the questions it posits are enduring.
“Redefining Realness: My Path to Womanhood, Identity, Love & So Much More”, Janet Mock, 2014
While growing up in Hawaii, author Janet Mock navigated questions of gender identity with little guidance or know-how and needed to escape her father’s overbearing masculinity in order to find herself. In this memoir, Mock reveals the ways in which people who identify as transgender and/or gender non-conforming are statistically more likely to experience bullying and marginalization. Particularly poignant are chapters that include testimonies about survival sex work and what has become known as “medical tourism”: visiting foreign locales in pursuit of expert, discreet and/or affordable medical procedures.
“Bim Bom: Historias de Lucha”, by Arturo Infante and Renier Quer, 2016
“Bim Bom” is the Spanish-language tale of three Cuban men who participate in survival sex work with male tourists in order to financially make ends meet. Largely by enticing clients off the street, the men attend parties organized by foreigners (many European) that include illicit drugs and orgies. The money they earn goes toward house repairs, child support, clothing, gym memberships, and other expenses. Some of the sex workers are gay; some are bisexual; some are heterosexual; many are underemployed and find difficulty supporting themselves outside of this market. This “moonlighting” for secondary income exposes them to a variety of dangers such as wage theft and jailing. This monochrome graphic novel is a brief read that shows more than it tells and documents a sex trade that is predatory and precarious.
“Brokeback Mountain”, Annie Proulx, 1998
Many of us are familiar with the cinematic adaptation of this title, but not necessarily the novella that inspired it. It’s a sparse work that tells of two men living in Wyoming as cowboys and within a community in which their love is strictly forbidden, harshly stigmatized, and fatally punished. Proulx is a master writer whose style of saying only what needs to be said mirrors the nature of the hard, unforgiving, traditionally masculine labors her characters carry out. I cannot praise this work enough and highly recommend it. The movie was highly lauded but the raw material from which it was born is the true gem.
For more titles that study themes of gender and/or sexuality, contact Erin Pappas and review the Library’s Women, Gender, and Sexuality research guide. Need a break from reading? Try out these podcasts!